Luth3r hacks iChurch, makes Bible open source

GENEVA TRIBUNE, August 1517.

New things are afoot in the world of Scripture freedom. Two days ago a hacker, who goes under the pseudonym Mart1n Luth3r, released a set of 95 bullet points outlining how to hack iChurch’s core systems. Some of the hacks are totally new, but most of them are ancient hacks that haven’t been used for several centuries.

Tribune reporters found Luth3r openly promoting his hacks on the streets of Wittenburg last night. Luth3r was happy to discuss his 95 points, stridently noting how greedy iChurch employees have become in the years since Pope Stephen’s passing.

“iChurch has become selfish, even downright abusive, and not just to their own employees. They claim to respect Scripture, but only let high-ups in management even read it. What’s worse, they’ve translated the entire work into their proprietary language Objective-Latin, which only their wealthy clients can read.”

“They’ve also amassed hundreds of diabolical Scripture patents, many of them covering some of the most basic and well-loved parts of Scripture. My 95 points clearly show iChurch’s flawed reasoning in all of these cases.”

Pope Timothy has already pronounced anathema on Luth3r for undercutting iChurch’s key principles, violating their many Scripture patents, and transgressing the non-disclosure agreement he signed on joining iChurch. Luth3r confirmed to the Tribune that he did in fact break the agreement, but not without many “intense nights” arguing with himself over what was best to promote truth.

“Most of the iChurch management staff are no longer interested in truth, but only in promoting their own iTruth Indulgence Store. iTruth itself has become so self-focussed and bug-ridden that it’s hard to find any virtues there, let alone real truth.”

“In fact, our Programmer has clearly stated in Scripture that truth should be open and free. Scripture is one of the core components for the operation of truth. Which is why, starting tomorrow, I’m publishing my plain-German translation of the Scriptures as open source on LitHub.”

Fellow hacker JoNNox, who established the Free Scripture Foundation, says, “It’s the first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of proprietary Scripture — well done Luth3r. But unfortunately he doesn’t go far enough. Just being ‘open source’ isn’t enough. Free Scripture is more about freedom than about being low-cost. And publishing his Scriptures on LitHub, when LitHub themselves are not open source, is just plain wrong.”

Pope Timothy’s pronouncement hasn’t stopped Luth3r from gaining a following, however. Crowds of supporters pledged to show their agreement by attending his trial at iCourt next month. One of his fans in Switzerland, J0n Calv1n, even created a virus that spreads itself using the patent-free WordOfMouth technology, using the words, “Support Luth3r — go on a Diet of Worms!”

There are many issues at “stake” in this debate, and at this juncture the Tribune is unwilling to takes sides. We’re sympathic, though not supportive, of this new turn of events on the Scripture scene, and we’re awaiting with interest the outcome of Luth3r’s hearing next month.

Please send in letters of support or criticism for Luth3r, and the Tribune will do its best put them in his hands. As Luth3r himself said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

Note: I don’t like how closed Apple is, but this post ended up sounding much more anti-Apple than I really am. :-) The idea originated after a friend called me an “iconoclast”, and I started thinking about the Reformation in hacker terms: “wherein Martin Luther hacked the Roman Catholic Church and made the Bible open source”. It’s tempting to think of the Reformation as boring theological history, when in fact it must have been a terribly exciting, freeing time to be alive.

References: Martin Luther, Ninety-Five Theses, Luther Bible, John Knox, John Calvin, Diet of Worms, Martin Luther quotes, Objective-C, Software patent, GitHub, Free Software Foundation, Computer worm.

Why I stopped reading a classic

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a classic, or so I’ve heard. It’s one of those books so great and so worth reading that no one you talk to has actually read it.

A 700-page novel is something of a commitment, but I approached this one with an open mind and a daily subway commute. I’ve heard writers are supposed to paint with words, but if so, Dostoyevsky sure uses a lot of paint: five-page dialogues, chapter-length digressions, extensive and unhelpful discussions about religion, the narrator going back and forth in “by the way, I need to tell you about this” blurbs … and the list could go on.

All this in the midst of what could otherwise be a good story: a drunken, absentee father has three sons who aren’t exactly evil, but one of them ends up hating him so much that when the father is murdered, the son is accused of patricide. Sorry for the spoiler — I didn’t actually read that far — at page 200 out of 700 I was annoyed by the digressions, sick of being dragged again and again through the mud of human nature, and just plain tired of the verbosity.

Dare I say this about a classic? Yes. It was boring. Long and boring. Maybe if Dostoyevsky’s editor had studied fractions, he would have cut the length to 1/3 of the original. I really think a 200-page Brothers Karamazov would have been worth reading. After all, Lord of the Flies makes much the same point about human nature — but in a way that’s actually engaging — in a mere 180 pages. (Sorry, English majors, for the fits about my naivety that you’re having right now.)

It’s not that I mind long books. At over 1000 pages, The Lord of the Rings is a good read (mild understatement). And for something I’ve read more recently, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok clocks in at 400 pages, but is a very engaging tale.

So yes, I stopped reading a classic a third of the way through. Actually, the final nail in the coffin for me was when I found out (thanks Wikipedia) that The Brothers Karamazov was a great influence for Sigmund Freud. This was Freud’s favourite book? Ugh. No wonder I wasn’t enjoying it.

So, Dostoyevsky, I don’t know how you’d say this in Russian, but in English we say that “brevity is the soul of wit”. Witty, Brothers Karamazov is not. But then again … maybe it’s shorter in the original Russian?

Proof that we are Americanizing

I have Uncrustables in my freezer. Yes, ma’am, I tell no lie. Uncrustables in your freezer means that you have attained to the great feat of crossing over to The Other Side. For any of you ignorant folk who do not know about the beauty of Uncrustables, let me introduce you.

They come in a box, found in the freezer aisle of any self-respecting supermarket. The box contains 4 individually wrapped gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and get this — without crusts!

They are highly nutritious. No cholesterol!

The crusts aren’t crudely chopped off, oh no, they are shaped into a beautiful round with scalloped edges.

We proudly assimilate.

An uncultured laugh (specially for April Fool’s day)

When I went to The Cloisters with Hannah and Eva, there were a few sculptures/carvings that I took pictures of purely to post on here with funny comments, because they sure made us crack up. My apologies go to the artists who did not create their masterpieces for us to laugh at, and to those of you who find Roman Catholic artefacts more meaningful than un-cultured moi.

I have to apologise for the low quality of some of the photos because flash photography was not allowed in the museum, and the lighting in there wasn’t always the best.

First off, we have John the Baptist on his cell phone. I bet you didn’t know that they had those around in his time!

This is Mary Magdalene (I think) showing us how you shake a cocktail.

I have no idea what these holes in the wall was at the front of one of the chapels, but it sure looks as if Mickey Mouse had run through the wall!

In the stocks! On the other side of the chapel were these holes that looked just like stocks. We placed Hannah in them to demonstrate how to look stylish in the stocks.

“I can’t hold this much longer!” The face of the little guy on the very bottom left looks so concerned to me, and they both look like they’re about at the end of what they can handle with holding all that weight! But then, I’d be concerned too if I was in such close proximity to a beast like that.

I shouldn’t have had that 359th coffee!! I can’t sleep! I can feel my heart racing!

These two seem to be sharing some sort of inside joke. (Maybe they’re laughing about the time she had her prosthetic hand on and then let Herod’s soldier shake it. You should have seen his face when it came off — never saw a soldier run that fast!)

This guy is looking pretty concerned about his alabaster friend who seems to have lost his head. “Horace! Horace, is that you?!”

And it would seem that putting your fingers in your mouth and pulling a face has been around for a long time. This guy was hiding beneath a prayer bench seat that could fold down.

Okay, that is enough irreverence for now. :-) But hey, who said museums are boring?!

Why Barbie is a big deal

Today’s post goes out on a limb a bit. It’s probably going to be controversial and many of you won’t agree with me, but these are some thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for many months, and that some of you might find beneficial. I know that I have some young readers (hi nieces and nephews!), so if that’s you, ask a parent before you follow the links — not all are what you would call wholesome, but they are necessary to prove some points.

Barbie dolls have become such a common toy in little girls’ toy boxes that hardly anyone these days would question owning a Barbie doll. They’re everywhere, and pictures of them adorn backpacks, lunch boxes, bedding and pretty much anything else a little girl might own. I owned Barbie dolls when I was a kid, I loved them and never thought too hard about it. And then, last year, I followed a link to a blog article titled Naked Sex with Barbies.*

While I’ve always had some ideas about why I don’t want my kids to play with Barbies, that article brewed away in my mind and prompted me to put my reasoning on paper — for myself, but also for when people ask. This has turned into something much bigger than I first thought it would be, and has led me all over the internet, reading lots of different opinions and making me realise that my defence of “Oh, but it’s just a doll!” was weak. There’s a lot more to this topic that we think –at least, much more than I ever thought.

I’ve been thinking hard about the effects Barbie dolls have on the girls playing with them and have come to the conclusion that Barbie is not welcome in our house for 2 main reasons. Here they are. If you disagree with me, I won’t think any less of you. Just please don’t give my girls a Barbie doll for Christmas. :-)

(If you’re interested in a bit of history, wikipedia has pretty good articles on the Bild Lilli Doll (the doll that Ruth Handler, the co-founder of the Mattel toy company who makes Barbie, based the first Barbie doll on), and on the history of Barbie.)

So here are my reasons:

1. Her sexualised body, immodest dress and how girls play with their dolls.

A very young girl might play with her Barbie doll in a very innocent way, but it doesn’t take very long before the reason for Barbie’s voluptous curves start creeping into play, especially when Ken joins the show.

If you really think that kids are going to play with Barbie without exploiting her physical features at some point, you are naive. There is of course the school of thought that argues that sexual play is important for kids to discover their own sexuality. In short, I’m not in this school of thought, but would rather not expand on it right here and now.

Disclaimer: I’m by no means suggesting that when kids play with Barbie dolls they only ever play ‘naked sex with Barbies’. I enjoyed many, many fun hours as a kid building houses for my Barbies, putting clothes on them, etc. But I think you can find other kinds of dolls to do this with who don’t have the exaggerated female anatomy of Barbie.

A pop group of the ’90s, Aqua, put out a song called Barbie Girl when I was about 13 and it’s remarkably close to the truth. Sometimes pop artists capture things really well, even in parody. At the very least, it shows me I’m not the only one who realises that Barbie-play isn’t always innocent! Here’s the chorus and one verse for your, uh, edification:

I’m a barbie girl, in the barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!
you can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

I’m a blond bimbo girl, in the fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly
You’re my doll, rock’n’roll, feel the glamour in pink,
kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky…
You can touch, you can play, if you say: “I’m always yours”

Part of the fun with owning dolls is that you can make dolls’ clothes and put them on the dolls. The problem with Barbie’s wardrobe is that a lot of it is immodest and skanky. Yes, there are modest outfits and there certainly are very pretty gowns, but the majority of clothing leaves very little to the imagination. I wouldn’t let my daughters out of the house wearing this, why would I let them play with a doll dressed like it? I guess you could make modest clothes for Barbie, but that won’t change her anatomy.

As an aside, it seems unfortunate that most people like it that way. I’m afraid I forget where I found this quote, but it’s interesting:

“Disney doesn’t have to come out with more conservative Barbies. Consumers buy Barbie dolls like crazy and have never demanded more conservative versions of them. Parents buy what’s available…either Barbies in adult suggestive clothing or Barbies dressed in gowns. Neither of them represent how little girls dress.

Except sometimes it does represent how little girls dress. And then it certainly is not healthy.

She has a boyfriend (and ex-boyfriend)tattoos, she is the ideal woman and also a bimbo, she is the spiritual mother of Britney.

Does all this really encourage little girls to just play innocently with their dolls? Maybe so — unlikely, but possible. Yet nobody can ignore her body, so here’s my second reason.

2. Her unrealistic body and what that does to girls’ viewing of themselves

Barbie’s body proportions are about as natural as the plastic she’s made out of. Let me say first off that I’m not against beauty, but I AM against unrealistic beauty!

We know that long legs look nice, full lips are appealing, bigger eyes and breasts are attractive and a small waist and large (comparatively) hips are feminine. The makers of Barbie exploit this and have made dolls that exaggerate all of these features, plus some, giving young girls the idea that one person can have all these features of beauty.

So it’s not really a surprise that many women who are perfectly beautiful in their own right have self-esteem issues because they think they are fat, or that their legs are too short, or whatever. I am not the only or the first person to write about this — this is usually the reason people give for being anti-Barbie. Barbie gets blamed for eating disorders and for giving girls bad self-esteem. But guess what — even so, Barbie has been accused of having fat ankles (?!).

Barbie’s body proportions are very unrealistic, and whether this is true or not it has been said that a woman with Barbie’s proportions would not be able to menstruate due to a lack of body fat. But Mattel doesn’t put up with too much criticism, as what happened when The Body Shop had an ad to celebrate normal looking women.

Do all girls who play with Barbie dolls want to look like Barbie? Probably not. But I think the number of 10-year old girls who wouldn’t want to be a Doll for a Day would be pretty small.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not sure how far to take this — will I only ever let my kids play with realistic toys? If a truck doesn’t have realistic dimensions, will I not let my kids play with it? If the baby doll isn’t to exact proportions, are they not allowed to play with it? No, of course not. Mainly because I don’t think there are bigger underlying issues with those kinds of toys.

But this goes further than just little girls playing with Barbie dolls, because those little girls grow up, and become women. Women who are bombarded with The Perfect Body everywhere they turn. The totally unattainable, unrealistic, Perfect Body. Barbie’s body is seen as the perfect body. Why? Because the 5% of the population who is considered beautiful (with a bit of make-up and photoshop for good measure if you’re lacking in any way) looks just like her. Don’t believe me? They are the women you see in ads all the time. Ads that objectify women. Ads that make you look like someone else. Ads that are so incredibly harmful and destructive. (You might want to turn your sound off for that one. Some people might find some of the ads shown in the previous link disturbing, just as a warning.) Feminist Jean Kilbourne has a lot of good things to say (even if she might come at it from a different angle) about women in advertising and the harm it can do. Her book, So Sexy So Soon, has some interesting things to say about the effects of Barbie and Bratz dolls on young girls. Have a look at chapter 2 here.

Everyone who knows me in person know that I have a fair bit of extra padding. :-) I recently lost some weight and left the ‘obese’ group on the BMI behind and have joined the ‘overweight’ group. (Yes, size 14 is considered obese these days.) I won’t go into detail about what kinds of insecurities some extra flab brings to a woman, because I think that most of you are at least to some extent familiar with it. Let’s just say that even though I have an amazing husband who tells me that I’m beautiful every single day, I only believe him on the days I don’t feel fat.

What is it that has messed with our minds so much that we can see the beauty in so many things around us except ourselves, unless we meet that impossible ideal of beauty? It’s the images and shapes we are bombarded with from childhood through to the day we die — first through toys like Barbie (or Bratz, etc.), then through advertising. It almost feels like a conspiracy organised by the giants in the industry: toy manufacturers, advertising groups, the fashion industry and photoshop (to name only a few). Is this really all just about money? Is it about trying to bombard us with their worldview up to the point that it becomes ours? So we will buy their products? Is it that base, that low? Or is something else going on here?

So there you have it. Bye-bye Barbie (et al!). I want my girls just to be girls as long as possible! Is it possible? I pray for it. And like the mom in this blog post, I will fight for it. This is at least a start.


* While I don’t agree with the writer’s responses to her daughter, I do think that she is doing a great job of talking with her daughter about sex. Kids should feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex without any feelings of shame, and am especially thankful to my own parents for giving me that when I was growing up.

Should churches care about branding?

Centuries ago (in internet time) graphic designer David Airey wrote a blog post asking folks whether they’d seen any good church logos. My brother Bryan responded with a thought-provoking comment asking whether churches should even be concerned about “branding”.

Bryan’s answer is a fairly firm “no”. His comment is worth quoting in full:

Apologies in advance for the length of this comment. It’s a subject I feel pretty emotional about, I guess.

I believe in the power of a good brand.

Why don’t churches give more serious thought to their logos? Simply put, many churches — as you faintly suggest when you disregard the question of morality — aren’t businesses, and they shouldn’t be.

Branding is important for businesses because people become emotionally attached to a particular brand, and the ethos and lifestyle it represents. Every business has a different logo, because no business wants to be associated with another business’s ethos.

It’s tempting for churches to do the same, so that people become emotionally attached to their unique brand of lifestyle. But attracting people should never be any church’s primary focus. And emotional attachment to a particular brand at the expense of a love for God and his people is “good” old-fashioned idolatry, in the Biblical sense.

The other reason is that when individual churches have logos, they differentiate themselves from each other. The Bible has harsh things to say about Christians who group themselves into separate schools — when it talks about people who say, “I follow Paul” and “I follow Apollos”. Yes, I know, we’ve got the Baptists, Catholics, Brethren, etc. It’s wrong and I don’t like it, but we can work for positive change from where we stand. I believe branding will set us up for worse competition.

It’s not so much a question of right or wrong, as of what is important. The emotional attachment of a brand is much shallower than that of a human to a human, or of a human to God. And we churches simply don’t want that superficialness. We don’t want to attract people who love God less than they love our branding.

The Church of God is global. Always has been. In fact the Church has always had “logos” of a sort — but we tend to call them “symbols”. It’s a similar idea, but it goes much deeper. Deepest is the symbol of the cross. It’s a symbol based heavily in reality, and it represents the most horrible, and at the same time the most beautiful thing that God ever did. We also have symbols that are actions rather than images — when we eat bread & drink wine together, we remember the last time Jesus did the same with his closest followers. When we wet a child or new christian with water, we symbolize how God has already washed their guilt away, and we welcome them into God’s family.

Many Christians don’t wear or draw crosses, because they don’t believe a visual symbol is necessary or good. I respect that. But I (like you) believe in the power of a visual symbol, and the cross is one that I believe is deep enough to be worthy of what it represents.

To be honest (without wanting to moralize!), when churches want to have their own brands, it says to me that they don’t think the original symbols of the Church are cool enough for them. But that’s not really my call, at the end of the day; it is God’s call.

Told you it was thought-provoking!

And there’s a commenter further down who notes how “the original Greek logos means ‘word’, which to Christians is Jesus.” It’s kind of strange how a word which to us means “image” came from a word meaning “word”, or the Word.

So, what do you think: should churches be concerned with their “branding”?

Scaling down

Some of you have probably seen this coming, but this is just a little announcement to say that I’m going to scale back a bit on blogging. In fact, I’m scaling down whatever time I’m spending on the computer in general. I have two beautiful girls who are going to be all grown up before I know it, and I do not want to have them remember me as mum-always-in-front-of-the-computer. I’ve had enough of saying to Marica, “Mamma will be done on the computer soon, just go play a bit more”.

I have realised that I’m often spending time on the computer when I don’t need to. There is absolutely no point in having my philosophy about not having a TV if I simply use the computer for the same thing (zoning out, mindless entertainment, pointless link-hopping or perusing Facebook or the news).

Life is precious, and it needs to be lived, breathed, tasted, and ferociously hugged. Spring is coming. There are noses to be wiped, parks to be explored, books to be read.

I am a mother with the extravagant privilege of being home with my kids. If I’m present in body but not present in mind, I might as well put them in daycare and go get a job. Yet I have realised that I spend too much time looking at things on the computer. Interesting things, worthwhile things and blogs; keeping in touch — I don’t play games (anymore!) or read celebrity gossip.  It’s not as if I spend all, or even most of my time at the computer. But for me and my kids, it’s been too much. I want to be free from it, so that if a day or two goes by without me checking my email, it doesn’t feel like I’m going to go into withdrawal. I want to live deliberately.

I’m not saying that I’m renouncing the computer! On the contrary, I’m renouncing the way I have been using it. It is a tool to be used, and a necessary part of modern-day life. Like my very wise husband said when I talked to him about this, “Well, blogging was made for man, not man for blogging.” So, I will still email, and I will still blog, but not if it puts my family on hold. I will not stick to some blog schedule, I will blog sporadically. Some weeks you might get one post (or none) and other weeks you might get 5 (unlikely). Hopefully this way the posts are a bit more interesting too. :-)

If you feel you’re not staying in touch enough with what we’re up to, by all means flick us an email. We’ll appreciate it, and we will reply. Skype is also a great means of staying in contact and we use it regularly, so feel free to call. Our Skype name is “benhoyt”. We still update the funny things Marica says on Twitter, and every now and then we put new photos on Flickr.

So long, until next time!