Thursday, August 31, 2006

I've moved to a new blogging platform (goodbye Radio Userland, hello WordPress).

But if you read through an RSS aggregator (this is really important, so pay attention):

If you read directly from the website, everything will work as before at my preferred URL, The new site includes several syndication buttons that make it easy to add Blogos to your Bloglines, MyYahoo!, or other readers.

If you have any problems with this, please send me (sean) an email at semanticbible daht com. I don't want to lose any readers in the transition (there aren't that many to start with!).

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 Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Modern

Several in the blogosphere have commented on this diagram from Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! about how social communities scale. Horowitz divides the community of value creators into three camps: creators (those who might start a thread), synthesizers (those who participate actively and comment), and consumers (lurkers who read or otherwise benefit from the content). He sees an order of magnitude relationship between the groups: 100% of the community benefits (consumers), though only 10% (synthesizers) are active participants in response to the actions of the 1% who actually create. His fundamental point: "social software sites donít require 100% active participation to generate great value."

This kind of power law relationship is common to a lot of human activity, and there's a whole literature around Zipf's Law (including a few Blogos posts). As one example, churches are typically directed by a small handful (pastoral staff) with a vision and a full-time commitment to accomplishing it. Typically a significant cadre of committed personnel (the core) are required for public worship services, including music, facilities, etc. And then there's the congregation (or attenders) as a whole: the consumers. I've been in many churches that struggle with "how do we get more people involved in leadership?" (which usually means "helping run the organization"). But i think this is just the way groups behave: while it's a nice ideal, it's not realistic to expect 100% of your attenders to get actively involved, and it's not necessary for them to derive benefit.

The Classic

One of my Valentine's Day gifts to donna was an audio lecture series (42 CDs!) on Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition. She listens to them as she's exercising, and i've been doing the same. It's a great academic overview and sampling of literary history, from the earliest (Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Old Testament) to William Faulkner.

In today's lecture on Aeschylus, the classic Greek tragedian, the speaker was describing the organization of a Greek play, and the relationship between the actors and the chorus. Typically there would only be three actors, and therefore each played a variety of roles, using masks to identify their different roles (and to hide the distraction of it being the same person each time). The chorus would be 15 or 18 people, often from the margins of society (the elderly, or slaves): their role was not to actively tell the story, but only to comment on the action, providing background information, or representing the opinion of the common person. And then of course, there was the audience, often numbered in the thousands, watching the play itself.

The old becomes new again ...

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 Saturday, February 04, 2006
Courtesy of ThinkChristian, there's a pointer to a very lengthy piece at First Things about the state of Christianity on the Internet. It's mostly from a Catholic perspective (it took me several re-reads of the first paragraph about Pope Michael to figure out what was going on!), but has a nice survey of major sites, blogs, on-line worship, etc.
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 Friday, January 06, 2006

"You should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor your name.
Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.
(Pericope 073: Jesus teaches about prayer; Matt.6.9-13, CEV)

I take it as given that Jesus didn't provide this model prayer just for rote recitation Sunday mornings in church. Though conventionally known as the Lord's Prayer, it is really the Disciple's Prayer (which i'll call Our Prayer): a model from our Lord of how we should pray as his disciples. As a model, Our Prayer has implications both for how we think (cognitive aspects) and how we act (behavior). As disciples, our prayers are both requests of our Lord, but also expressions of what we believe and want to be true. We have so institutionalized Our Prayer that we easily miss what praying like this means for us.

The cognitive side of being a disciple includes at least two things: our view of reality and the world around us (our worldview), and our values. (By the way, if you've never read James Sire's Universe Next Door, go order it now and read it: i'm not kidding, it's that important!) Our values overlap with our worldview to some extent, but also include what we consider important. Another cognitive dimension of Our Prayer is adjusting our priorities: in our increasingly ADD, entertainment-addicted, data-smogged, multi-tasking society, what we pay attention to can be more important than what we say we believe (but ignore in practice).

The behavioral side includes both our attitudes and our (external) actions. Just because attitudes are internal doesn't mean they're not behavior: how we think about something is still a choice.

(Read the rest)

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 Thursday, January 05, 2006

I've been reading some material at work on faceted browsing, a different paradigm for searching large information collections. Rather than trying to find just the right keywords to retrieve just the right documents, . You can see a nice demo of this at, where they show browing a collection of information about wines ("resources" in their parlance) via facets like type of wine, region of origin, and price (using a slider interface).

Faceted browsing has some significant advantages:

  • The continual exposure of the next level of detail helps you understand the nature of the data more than the sodastraw view of keyword retrieval. I don't need to figure out what subcategories of wine types are, or how they're named: i can see them and select them directly
  • Adding information about how many resources fit in particular facets reduces blind alleys
  • Even an enormous collection can quickly be reduced to just the items of interest through the intersection of several facets

I posted previously about a prototype browser for New Testament Names using Longwell from the Simile Project, a nice faceted browser that runs off RDF.

So now i'm thinking more about the Composite Gospel and what facets would enhance search. Once i finish NTN (alas, still a work in progress, and too slow progress at that), person and location names are two obvious facets that will then be easy to add. There are some obvious top-level categories as well:

  • historical periods in the life of Jesus (birth, ministry of John the Baptist, Holy Week, his Passion, etc.)
  • parables, other teachings
  • a collection of imperatives, that is, commands that Jesus gave, whether general or specific (another yet unfinished project). Once i've got an initial catalog, i'd like to organize these in an ontology: imperatives about prayer, about our relationships with others, about our attitidues, etc.

This really comes back to a deep and fundamental issue: why do we read Scripture? The basic factual tasks are to understand the history of God's interaction with people and his revelation in Jesus (as well as the history of the early church). But beyond this, it's really about change: learning a different cognitive framework or worldview, adopting new attitudes, and changing the way we behave. How do we structure this information in a way to make it easier and more transparent for disciples to grasp and internalize, resulting in their own transformation, and subsequent teaching and training of others? That's a cognitive and learning challenge behind the task of making disciples in the 21st century.

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 Saturday, April 09, 2005

Two interesting articles in Leadership Journal recently discussed how to determine your church's ethos, the normally unacknowledged culture that dominates what really gets done, and what the values are. Ethos is defined by the author, Angie Ward, as "a set of shared attitudes, values, and beliefs that define church and shape its practices". Of course, these things aren't usually written down anywhere, and in fact are often in direct conflict with "mission statements" or other explicit goals. As Ward points out, we can aspire to being a "seeker-sensitive" church, when in fact our practices are downright seeker-hostile.

The two articles are: Discerning Your Church's Hidden Core Values and a follow-up, 9 Clue to Secret Core Values.

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 Thursday, June 17, 2004
There's an interesting and engaging description of a house worship experience at theOoze, from a Methodist church planter.
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