Thursday, June 15, 2006

What I Would Do

"Mountains of My Childhood" Jon Trott, 2005.

Have you ever had one of those "hero" daydreams, where you rescue someone, do some great thing, and everything comes 'round okay? I do. But as I thought about it, this lyric popped to mind. A little inspiration, perhaps, from Alanis Morrisette's "21 Things I Want in a Lover," though the lyric has no relationship to hers I can discern...

What I Would Do

If a man was hurting my dear wife
I would pray to strike hard and true
And then I would weep for the rest of my life
For the life I’d taken because I love you

What I would do
What I would do
Is probably not what I say I’d do

If a man was raping and I caught him
I would act to stop him now and future
And I would wonder the rest of my life
What made him his own worst monster

What I would do
What I would do
Is probably not what I say I’d do

If my misleader makes war for Jesus
I would pray please wake up our shame
Free us from this Christian flag-waving
That prays and smiles, then acts in Satan’s name

What I would do
What I would do
Is probably not what I say I’d do

If I saw Jesus bleeding on that cross
Scream bloody murder try to get him down
Knock Christians Jews and Romans
Just to free Love from that thorny crown

But I’m just a writer stuck in headland
Where heart and hands are held in derision
And Jesus did that dying for me
While I’m paralyzed by sin-decision

What I would do
What I would do
Is probably not what I say I’d do

If I did do right, it would be for you
It would be because of you
Sweet lover of my soul so true, so true
It would only be for you

(c) 2006, Jon Trott. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fits & Starts (It Isn't Love at All)

I'm posting a few things today that I wrote a while back. Here's another.

Fits & Starts (It Isn't Love at All)
(c) Jon Trott, 2006

They’re gathering guns and bombs and lies
Build high that Palestine Wall
But my baby knows the true good news
She’s Wisdom and few hear her call
The way she smiles tight in my arms
All warm and soft and small
Is like a choir singing praise to God
And a preacher standing tall

Love that doesn’t overtake everything
Really isn’t love at all

Another woman once tore my heart
My wounds by Love were healed
Or at least they’re healing now, I pray
Through suffering Love is revealed
Through tears dried and sins repealed
I am the rain or am I the dusty field?
I carry my cross in fits and starts
But on my hands and feet no blood’s congealed

Love that doesn’t overtake everything
Really isn’t love at all

Jesus dance me across dry stubble
Across the stone and tears and rubble
No matter how far no matter the time
She thee and me - Oh Triune rhyme!
Wisdom's in the street again
With few friends and without a gun
They killed another terrorist
And made themselves twice one

Love that doesn’t overtake everything
Really isn’t love at all
Love that doesn’t overtake everything
Really isn’t love at all at all...
It isn't love at all.

What Betrayal Does

No comment about this one. It came as is, and here it is.

What Betrayal Does

(c) Jon Trott, 2006

Carry that heart of splintered brick and wood
Feet walk a road between live oaks
Mud deep closes over his shoes
His long hair drips with rain that soaks
His mind’s eye sees her with the other
Open window, bodies twined, he chokes
Stumbles on the rutted road, unknown
Freezing in the darkened rain that cloaks

I saw his eyes so deep and distant
Eternal sorrow in one instant
Heaven and earth shake because
Of what betrayal does

His sad eyes move up beyond bare trees
They raise their arms in wordless pain
And he remembers her warmth against him
The night she left, long whistle of the train
“Time heals all wounds” – a lie with no comfort
His flesh remembers ever-fresh anguish
He falls against the ancient tree and clings
Lightning starts what won’t extinguish

I heard his prayers rise up as crows
Harsh screams and moans to full extent
All neat answers, sentiment falter
When suffering shows what evil meant

A woman gathering wood sees him
And drops her branches to bend low
Why are you here? She does not ask this
But bends beneath his weary bodied soul
She’s a servant of the Crimson Prince
And he the one with empty heart and hands
Gently she leads him like a beast or child
While rain and storm o’erwhelm the land

I felt his tears upon my face
Woke up to screams he knew were mine
All your words are knives to me
But her deeds prove God’s still Divine.

Christ’s suffering proves Love is mine.

Linux and Bible Programs

Argh! He's at it again, geeking out when he's promised us politics and God!

I early posted on using SuSE Linux vs. Ubuntu Linux. These open source versions of the Linux operating system both initially gave me fits installing. But I have -- again! -- reversed my opinion. Ubuntu, which I bailed on after highly unstable behavior, has again replaced SuSE. Turns out the latter removed the drivers I needed for my Hawking wireless NIC from their newest version. So. Back to Ubuntu. And this time I installed it very carefully, not loading up anything unnecessary until well after updating and stabilizing things.

But now that I have Ubuntu's "Dapper" (6.06) version running, I found an unexpected bonus. The Crosswire Bible Society's Sword Project Bible (another open source project ported to Windows and Linux) offers various bible texts, commentaries, dictionaries, and more for free. And the Linux interface (which runs in both gnome and kde desktop versions) is quite slick, though with a few missing features in the gnome version (such as the devotionals section available in kde's "bibletime" front end).

An extremely slick feature of both gnome and kde versions is that they allow on the fly downloading of more bible texts, books, devotionals (kde only), commentaries, and so on from the Sword Project's main site. These are seamlessly installed. Removal is just as easy if, as a Wesleyan, you found yourself having inadvertently downloaded Calvin's Institutes. Hehehehe...

There is also the ability to keep notes -- on a verse by verse basis -- of one's own. And in the neatly designed multi-window views (Bible text, commentary, dictionary) one merely clicks the verse number and all the windows refresh to that verse. Pretty high-powered for a free program. Yes, other bible programs that cost $$ may have more full-featured power -- and some translations this public domain-based program doesn't. But for my favorite New Revised Standard Version, I use the Linux "wine" (Windows Emulator) to run my old Quickverse 4.

Below is a screen shot of the gnome Sword Project running on top of Quickverse for Windows (ver 4) on my Linux desktop.

So, I'm using Ubuntu happily. I've got Sword Project, Quickverse, and of course all those web-based bible tools. I use Open Office 2.02's word processor and database to read and write to Microsoft Word / Excel. And I'm one pleased camper.

A brief tech note re Ubuntu Linux. You can obtain a free DVD that will do either a "live boot" from the DVD or install to your hard drive. I recommend getting the new Dapper version rather than updating from a previous version as I did. That is where some of the great difficulties came in for my disasterous first experience with Ubuntu. When you get your DVD, test it against your hardware by booting up with the "live" option. If you get good results, you can then easily install it to your computer, providing you've made room on the hard drive for it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Romantic Jesus: One Man's Encounter

Below is the basic text of a sermon I offered up to the Jesus People USA Evanglical Covenant Church May 28. In it, I try to talk about the Jesus I know -- a very subjective, existential topic and open to intellectual reproof on any number of levels. But in case someone is interested... the above photo, by the way, is on my childhood farm but just a year ago. The mountains and golden grain were there, but no horses. My sister's family since "imported" those beauties...

Most of us have heard the hype around this new movie, “The DaVinci Code.” And by hype, I mean both the hype from Hollywood and the hype from Christians getting a bit hysterical over it.

I don’t plan on seeing “The DaVinci Code.” And I understand why Christians are upset. If someone walked up to me and began maligning my wife’s moral character, I’d be tempted to pop them one. Likewise, when someone writes a story about Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene! But a punch in the choppers is hardly the Christian form of communication, whether the person being verbally abused is my wife, Mary Magdalene, or Jesus.

I’d like to use this movie as an excuse to talk about the Jesus I know – the Jesus that many of you know. In other words, just like I love to talk about my wife and my love for her, often embarrassing my grown kids, I like to talk about the only One that keeps me sane or whole. The Jesus of the New Testament and of history and how he came to own my heart…

A Montana farm boy that had two very smart—and often very wise—parents, four brothers and one sister, my childhood years are mainly filled with memories of being loved, feeling certain of love. My mother cheerfully disbelieved much of the bible -- especially the miraculous parts -- yet had us all go to church; my dad played his beliefs about God closer to the vest. I think it was that golden childhood -- surrounded by wheat fields and mountains in the summertime, and an idyllic little town called Fort Benton for the rest of the year -- that laid a foundation for my deep understanding of love as the only meaning, and meaning as being rooted in love.

At a very young age I remember a magic moment, going to the doorway of our Fort Benton home and opening the door. It was a spring day, and light streamed into the living room. I was filled with an inexpressible sense of Presence, and of peace. My mother walked up behind me. "What are you doing, Jon?" I looked up at her face, which of course was love to me. "I opened the door to let God in!" My mother smiled. "And what is he wearing?" she asked. "He's wearing a suit with purple polka-dots," I said, without missing a beat. I guess that was the only way for a four or five year old kid to describe the indescribable.

When I was eight or nine years old, my brother Jim -- eight years older than I -- took me to a bible study / prayer meeting. It was part of a late 1960s revival among teenagers that took place in and around Highwood, Montana, and had swept Jim up. At the meeting a young woman spoke beautifully in tongues, and another person gave an interpretation that seemed poetic to me. I had no idea what was happening but I did sense it was something positive and gentle and about God and therefore good. I did end up in an argument with my brother on the way home about whether the bible was wholly true or not. My slam-dunk discussion-ender: “Mom and Dad don’t believe it is true and they know a lot more than you!”

But those golden childhood years were partly illusion; at some point, I was forced to realize I was both a mortal being and a moral being. That is, death and sex both became real to me as I entered my twelfth year.

By thirteen, I was a haunted kid, goth before there was goth, a gloomy sort of kid that asked his friends weird questions like “Why does anything matter at all?” or “When you say you believe in God, what do you mean by the word ‘God’?” My favorite music was Black Sabbath, the Who, King Crimson, and a really blasphemous band called Methuselah, whom I'd discovered in a record store's 99 cent bin. I was reading stuff, continually, sometimes one or even two books in a day: everything from pulp SF novels and Marvel comics to Franz Kafka, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and even Christians such as C. S. Lewis.

Lewis was good even though I was young. I got much of what he was saying in Mere Christianity quite clearly. He made Christianity intellectually respectable for me. But the first book making a deep inroad into my heart was Nicky Cruz’s Run, Baby, Run. It had gangs, violence, sex… and an inner alienation I resonated with. These were Nicky Cruz’s realities. The Living, Present God who would care for a lonely, sinful boy such as Nicky moved me. The book was no work of art. But for me, it rang true.

Around that time, I saw a TV special on the Jesus movement; I loved the idea of young Christians living communally and trying to be like Jesus, even though I had no idea of what being a Christian really meant. The Jesus commune in the story seemed to embody the coolest elements of the 1960s and touched on some mysterious level the yearnings of my heart.

I first "went forward" that same year during a Lay Witness Mission our liberal Methodist Church had mistakenly invited to come to hold services. These down-home Texans were warm, earnest Christians. I especially remember one older man who, after I’d gone forward, gently urged me to read my bible and pray often. But my father didn’t understand the whole thing; when I eagerly told him I’d become a believer, his baffled response seemed to kill something in me. I actually remember thinking an anti-prayer at the very moment: “Well. Forget it, then.” And I tried to.

One doesn’t forget God. And occasionally I'd flirt with him. Other times, I'd test him with ridiculous methods: "If you are God," I said more than once while playing basketball alone on our driveway court, "make this ball go in." And I'd close my eyes, fling the ball heavenward, and then open them just in time to see it bounce off the garage roof into the street. God apparently didn't play by my rules. Other times alone in my room I'd scream at Him (quiet so my parents wouldn't hear), "Why won't you prove to me you exist?!" Silence.

Between fourteen and fifteen, I put up a wall of stuff in my room in Fort Benton. A diagonal line of scotch tape I’d hand-colored with green marker to make it visible ran down the wall. On one side of the tape, a bunch of Christian tracts and fliers. On the other side of the tape, an array of atheist literature I’d gotten mailed to me by a group producing such stuff. A small but highly visible hand-lettered sign posted directly over the tape's dividing line made my anxiety clear. “Which?” That’s all it said.

But beside Christianity and atheism there were other choices. Malcolm X’s autobiography deeply impressed me, and probably radicalized me in a way I still believe is almost totally good. He helped strip away my dangerous white naivety. Because of him, I flirted briefly with Islam before discovering that Islamic cultures had themselves sometimes had slaves. And I wasn’t compelled by the Islamic story itself – Allah’s mysterious, imperious, and seemingly impersonal distance had no purchase on my imagination and no resonance of authenticity. The Muslim Jesus -- Isa -- was a teacher -- and I didn't need a teacher. I needed a Savior, a Lover, a Friend. I needed the all-powerful, yet completely vulnerable, God-Man.

I also dabbled with the westernized versions of eastern Hindu-based mysticism. They seemed rooted in a universe where “goodness” was defined only by knowledge. If you had the “inner knowledge,” you became one of the masters, one of the so-called “adepts,” maybe even a guru. What about someone starving, or being oppressed? It was their karma; they deserved what they were getting. No wonder middle-class Americans were flocking to this cotton candy theology!

But first and foremost it occurred to me that maybe all religions were merely a thin, self-deceiving veneer over the harsh reality that our lives mean nothing – nothing at all. What if we were accidents, a sort of evolutionary joke from a random and closed universe? If that was true, the best answer to my quest was in fact only a godless, meaningless pleasure, pleasure until the sadness at last overwhelmed me and the choice of exiting existence by one's own hand would be exercised.

Yet Christ haunted me. The story rang so true, even though the story-tellers were almost always lame. Some of them were sincere, and those I respected even while – with that deadly Trott ability to judge everything into dust – I declined to live in the neat frame of their dogmatic certainty. One missionary from a local bible church threatened me with hell, glaring at me kindly through his thick glasses. “I’m not afraid of hell,” I responded truthfully, if naively. “I’m afraid of believing something that isn’t true.”

Yet I grew up in a Methodist Church where the opposite of that missionary’s belief was preached; the historical truth of the bible was openly questioned, and even the gospel story itself was deemed untrue, or to put it more accurately, unimportant from a historical point of view. I was not a Christian, but was astonished at the pastor. We crossed swords more than once, me asking him to explain what he meant when he used the word “God” and him telling me “God means many things to many people… there are many roads to Rome.” My snarly response: “I thought that’s what you meant. Truth is, when you say 'God' you don’t know what you mean!”

There was one more thing I hated about almost all varieties of American Christianity. It seemed mixed with a moralistic nationalism. Heavy emphasis on the nuclear family, American values (meaning white middle class values), and mixing sacred Christian images with images of flag and country. Martin Luther King got his head cracked by a brick in Chicago, then outright murdered in Memphis, but while growing up I never heard one word uttered from a pulpit – even our so-called “liberal” Methodist pulpit – about racism or classism in America. Where was the Jesus who said, "As you've done it to the least of these you have done it to me?" Their tame, white, blue-eyed American Jesus had no meaning for me.

And so with all or most of this swirling in my head, teenaged angst mixed with way too much teenaged testosterone, I went to a music camp. Music – classical voice – was what I did best. And with the music I had sex with a girl and smoked dope – repeatedly – and went to a Transcendental meditation seminar and came home convinced I’d finally become “mature enough” to let go of that Jesus thing once and for all.

My mother confronted me. “We know about you using marijuana at that camp.” And coolly, calmly, I said to her, “Yes. And that’s not all I’ll be doing.” After all, at camp I’d been reading Carlos Castaneda’s A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and was interested in trying hallucinogenics if I could get my hands on some.

Later that afternoon I went outside our Shonkin farmhouse and sat looking off at the mountains near our farm. Blue in the distance, they could have in their mysterious immovability represented the questions still running through my head… stars, one by one, began coming out. The sky above me was clear but for a wispy cloud or two, and the slightest breeze caressed my face. I began congratulating myself on my new, gently hedonistic outlook. And then – “That was wrong what you said to your mother.” Startled, I wasted no time in praying one of the most honest prayers I’d ever prayed. “I don’t know who you are – Moses or Jesus or Billy Graham – but I’m sick of you. I’m through with you! I don’t need you anymore! Just leave.” And I absolutely meant it.

Something did leave. For a moment, it was as though I was falling into myself. There was nothing there but my self, falling inward deeper and deeper to a darkness I sensed was my own emptiness. And – this is the part you may disbelieve, which is understandable – something else happened. The sky suddenly filled with clouds – how much or little time passed I do not know – and the breeze turned into a shifting, twisting wind blowing harsh against me. I leapt up, ran into the house and down the stairs to the bedroom I shared with my four brothers. Once in bed, I tried to convince myself that what had happened was a “psychological episode” created by my subconscious. This was not successful.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and I knew now that He was real and not to be dismissed as I’d tried to do. But what did I need? Did I, like Nicky Cruz, need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Even to speak in tongues? Is that how I ended up kneeling on the farmhouse floor of a young Christian, Gary Huffman? On that floor, on a Tuesday or Wednesday night in mid-July, 1973, a few miles outside Highwood, Montana, I did pray desperately with this guy I barely knew. And I spoke in tongues, but that wasn’t what mattered. At that moment in history, I met Jesus. I mean, really met Jesus. I went under. I was being bathed in, flooded with, swept away in a current of absolutely powerful and irrefutable and pure and overwhelmingly real love. I met Jesus as His beloved, and He met me as my all, my story – not just a story anymore, but MY story now. He was, is, and will always be my story.

When high school ended, I chose a Christian college near Boston, only to discover to my dismay that many of my classmates there were raised evangelical and apparently were more interested in partying than Jesus.

I was alienated by this evangelical subculture, increasingly aware that I simply didn’t belong there. Where did I belong? I looked at a Cornerstone newspaper, one I'd held onto after having it handed to me as I walked through Chicago's O'Hare airport on the way home to Montana. Cornerstone was a freaky underground looking publication by a Chicago group called Jesus People USA. I struggled with what seemed increasingly a sense of being called to go to Chicago. Finally, completely desperate, I was confronted by God: “Why should I tell you what to do, when you won’t do it?”

Stung, I repented. And I knew instantly in the most quiet and peaceful way that God wanted me at JPUSA. I joined Jesus People USA January 16, 1977. And by the time I lived with these crazy, fragile, sinful yet being redeemed people for four or five weeks, I knew I’d found my tiny place in God’s kingdom. JPUSA was a family of misfits, and I fit right in. We were wounded, broken, sinful people – still are, in case anyone forgot – but in the midst of us I once again met Jesus.

After nine or ten months doing all sort of things from moving to painting to woodstripping, I became impatient. I wanted to write for Cornerstone. Instead, I was once again conscripted to take a crew of guys out in a moving truck. Only this time we were going to the Calumet City dump, with a load of old windows and other trash removed from the community's 4431 N. Paulina building. And all the way out there the guys in the truck were whining and fighting with each other. We got out there, dumped our load, and I tried to straighten everyone out.

As I drove us home, I started arguing with God. “Is this it, then? Is this why you had me leave Gordon and come out here? To drive a truck?" And unmistakably in my inner heart, I heard the Lord's direct reply. “If I asked you to drive this truck the rest of your life, would you do it?” This was God talking to me. I had to tell the truth. “Yes, Lord. If it was you asking me, how could I refuse? I'd drive this truck for you.” And rolling down I-55 a tremendous sense of peace filled me. Again, I met and trusted Jesus.

Only weeks later, I was asked to join the Cornerstone staff. Prayers answered, but also the place where Jesus did much of his deep work in my life. Dawn Mortimer – though she'd not met Curt yet back then – was used by the Lord to get at my passivity. That was some nasty stuff, because it masqueraded as niceness. But it was stubborn rebellion, a way of saying “no” without actually saying anything at all. And so “nice Jon” started dying, while a more real version of me slowly emerged. I learned to meet and submit to Jesus through the words of others, even words I did not want to hear as well as words that encouraged and built up.

I married, and had two precious girls with my wife. But she became restless married to me and living in the community, and left me just two weeks short of our eighth anniversary. Again, Jesus met me. I found myself abandoned, alone even in the midst of the community. Without the community I'd have been far worse off. But even in community, one discovers there are times when a burden can only be partially shared. I felt a potent sense of rejection, of loss, and of fear. I once woke up to a scream – a scream I slowly realized was my own. But I began reading the Bible aloud to myself, spontaneously pausing and praying between verses. The words flowing over me were food, drink, and the embrace of my Father, Comforter, and Friend. I knew the marriage would only survive if my wife chose for it to, but I continually feared for my children. Perhaps God knew what a heart can bear, because by his grace my girls remained with me when, in June of 1988, the divorce was finalized.

I noticed a woman in the community whose husband had left her and her twin boys. Carol cheerfully lent me her entire library on marriage and divorce, just about every Christian book there was it seemed like. And as we talked over days and months, I began to see her as a fellow traveler. It became a matter of prayer. We talked both with each other and with others we respectively were close to and trusted for spiritual discernment. I watched her with my girls – Tabitha once said to her, “Can you pretend to be my mommy?” Carol doubtless watched me with her boys. And despite the fact I almost wrecked Chris' hand by tossing him a super-pop-fly which almost busted his thumb, she seemed to think I was alright as father material. We married, and were glad.

Jesus met me in Carol. And he meets me every morning in her and through her. For sixteen years, all I have had to do is see her and I think of Him, feel his Presence. In Proverbs 31 it talks about a woman doing a man good, not harm, all the days of her life. Well, that's my Carol. And my love for her is so associated with my love for Him in my heart that I can no longer neatly divide them.

And that is how it is with all of you. I have lived in this community for 29 years and counting. And I see Jesus – I meet Jesus – in each of you. I pray and hope that sometimes the reverse is also true, that you meet Jesus in me. It isn't always easy, holding on to the love that brought each of us here. It isn't always pretty, the intersection between sanctification and sin in each of us and in all of us as we move and live together. But I meet Jesus here. I see Jesus here. Do you? I can't imagine, for myself, being without you.

I look back to the young man who was so full of doubt, so painfully unable to see Jesus in anything. And what seems to have happened to me is that, though my physical eyes are much worse, my spiritual eyes seem to see Jesus everywhere. It is not poetry when I say that I see Jesus in every act of kindness, every pure kiss, every tear. Love is so fragile on the one hand, so easily dismissed, belittled, and rejected. Yet love is as strong as death, jealously as strong as the grave. God is jealous for me. He has torn me, and is tearing me, out of death's grip. Sometimes it hurts. A lot. Other times it is ecstasy. But always it is through and in Jesus' love, His Word, and His reality.

I met Jesus this morning. I meet him as I look around at you. If anyone here wants to talk about meeting Jesus, or returning to a place of restoration in Him, please come up afterwards and talk. Could some of our deacons stick around, too? Let's pray, and then we'll dismiss.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Notes from the LInux Front -- Yes, I'm One of THOSE People

Had some fun -- and frustration -- this weekend installing Linux on my laptop. For those used to my more somber posts, here's another, lighter side I'll try not to let out too often. Hehehehe...

LINUX Overview

Linux, for those of you not feeling particularly geeky today, is a complete operating system alternative to Microsoft Windows. How serious a contender is it? Well, as far as those running networks, adminstrating web services and so forth, Linux beats Windows. That is, more folks who are "in the know" regarding hard-core server power use Linux than Windows.

But the average user's desktop still belongs to Bill Gates and Microsoft. (And yes, I am dismissing Apple out of hand until they wake up and sell computers as cheaply as the Intel-based boxes and laptops--and until they get a new attitude minus the designer jeans mentality.)

Linux, however, is getting ever more serious as a desktop contender. It comes with powerful office suites (including the killer Open Office), an art program comparible to Photoshop (the GiMP), handfuls of audio player and recording programs, and much more. Did I mention all this is FREE?

How's that? Did he say "free"? Uh, yes. Free in both the monetary and non-proprietary senses of the word. And to understand why, how, and what all that works, one has to bone up on the whole "open source" software phenomenon. I won't bother going into it here but can suggest for those interested taking a gander at the topic, checking out the GNU / Free Software Foundation pages.

But back to this weekend, and my wild and wooly adventures with Linux (see end result in this photo).

Linux, you see, not only is a free OS (operating system), but it also is a communal venture. And, as with all human activities involving cooperation, there are many "denominations" of Linux out there. That is, unlike the monolithic Microsoft Windows OS, Linux has dozens and dozens of unique "flavors" or distributions, some with very specific purposes in mind.

A friend who gets Linux Magazine (and thus a free DVD of the newest Linux flavor each issue) hands the DVDs on to me. I know... whatever makes a person happy. There was one flavor, "Extreme Gaming," that I did not install but was amused / impressed by. If only I played games on computers... besides solitaire, that is.

The Installs

The two "distros" I decided to try were Ubuntu 5.10 (which updated itself to 6.06 without initial troubles, but soon thereafter turned into a quagmire I had to bail out of by wiping the drive clean) and SUSE (Susie!) 10.1. Mostly I'll focus on Suse, so here's all I'll say about Ubuntu. It is a wildly fun distro -- but a bit too close to the wild frontier for this homesteader. In short, my warning is this: if you install Ubuntu, do NOT -- I repeat, do NOT -- install the "kubuntu" (that is, KDE-desktop based version). Stick with Ubuntu's default flavor, which works off the gnome-based desktop. Kubuntu on my laptop acted, well, like MS Windows on a bad day. It froze completely, repeatedly. In light of all the great press Ubuntu has been getting, I was sad to say goodbye to it and go a bit more conservative. I really like the KDE desktop, and want a distro that uses it without the Microslop-like crashing.

Suse Linux, one of the more venerable distros, is known for being rock-solid if (in the past) a bit stodgy as far as updating. When Novell -- augh! a corporate entity! -- bought Suse a while back, many of us thought it was the end of Suse's open source ways. Initially Novell did in fact try to create two versions -- an "OSS" (Open Source Suse) and their more locked down Novell version. But with version 10.1 Novell seems to be saying, "The heck with that." It's more complex, but never mind.

I use Suse 9.1 or 9.2 (forget which at this moment) on my ancient Pentium II file server / backup box / network printer server. And I have always liked its easily used "yast" management program for internet services, hardware, and the like. So 10.1 on my laptop sounded good.

Okay, geek stuff -- I installed this on a second partition of around 15 gigs on my Compaq 2545 Presario laptop. That is, I have Windows XP on the thing already, and due to needing a few programs that only run under Redmond's system, can't just wipe the drive and run 100% Linux. I do, however, spend ever-increasing amounts of time using Linux. One day?

SUSE has one of the simplest installs. In fact, if you download the DVD version, it has a "live" version that you can boot your machine from and never install one byte to your hard drive. This allows for testing your hardware out before installation. All that is just wonderful, and works great.


Unless you have a wireless laptop cursed with one of those windows-only network cards. I ended up being forced to use my laptop's wired network card initially. No problem; it worked fine and SUSE updated the install with the newest patches and fixes. Then I installed a Linux fix for winduhs-only wireless cards called "ndiswrapper." This file, which comes with SUSE and most Linux distros, allows (with more hacking than is ideal!) a person to install the Windows driver via nidswrapper. That is, the linux OS reads the windows driver and runs the card!

Pretty cool, but hard to set up. And with SUSE 10.1 it was even harder due to a new feature (still tryng to decide if it is a feature or a bug) called knetworkmanager. I ended up crashing SUSE -- again, felt too much like Windows for a while -- before finally hacking my way into a functional system. (The above screenshot details the package manager in action -- very nifty for installing and uninstalling software from the CD or via the web!)

So if this sounds like fun to you -- and it was fun for me, call me what you will (out of earshot, please) -- try the "live" DVD/CD version of SUSE or whatever distro you are thinking about before installing it. But also be aware (as I found out) that the live distros may not run ndiswrapper at all -- only installing will tell you for sure, though a surf on the web re your specific card's workability via ndiswrapper will probably yield results. Try sourceforge for starters.

A little philosophical ending... very little

Nothing really profound. But the idea of Linux -- and the idea of open source software, a software that is open to constant revision and improvement by those actually using it -- reminds me of life in the commune I'm part of, Jesus People USA. Linux is like a living thing in that it constantly morphs as each new user / contributor enters the Linux Universe. The whole is truly the sum of the parts.

There are hard-core Linux zealots who dislike not just the Windows OS but Bill Gates personally (which is over the top to me, since very few of us even know Bill much less have reason to hate him). Haters are haters. Period. I'd rather be a happy Linux user. Sort of like White Sox fans finding it necessary to hate the Cubs. Sigh... why? The Cubs seem quite good at being bad... like MS Windows. So why kick 'em when they're down?

But about the "Jesus" in Jesus People... I find in Linux a sort of shadow of the relational story implied by the Gospel. And that is this: in Christ, we are One Body, each contributing her or his part to the whole organically related organism. It is all in the code... and the writers of the code. Are we co-authors with Christ of this relational OS that is made known by love? I pray so. Linux is a beautiful OS, a work of art that each human user helps to paint to one degree or another. Like Linux, love sometimes gets ugly because the human coders made an error or even broke code by supposedly "improving" it. But leaning on one another, the code comes right again and becomes better than ever. Likewise, as a believer in Christ, I feed off the knowledge, the passion, and the love of my fellow "Love-coders." We blow it so often. But man when it works -- and it really does work -- life together in Him is a beautiful adventure.

Not one of my more profound moments, this. Sure. But everything -- even my OS -- is about Jesus.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

PBS "Frontline" On HIV/AIDS -- The Evangelical Plusses and Minuses

I can't do justice to this by posting a lengthy riff on it -- no time, as books and articles in "real life" are impinging on my blog time. But don't miss Frontline's The Age of AIDS program. If necessary, you can view it online. Evangelicals, and some less harsh members of the Right, will enjoy seeing a program where President Bush does something humanitarian. And who won't enjoy hearing and seeing U2's Bono rousing the troops, or (wierdest of all) even changing the mind of Jesse Helms on AIDS relief? There is a lot of positive commentary on evangelical contributions to (in particular) the African AIDS crisis.

But the program also delves into the darker, as in realistic, side of just how hard it is going to be to beat AIDS. At one point, AIDS is compared to the hare and AIDS relief efforts to the Tortoise. That is, AIDS is infecting five million new people per year. And those with it now will not likely ever be cured; they only manage the desease.

There is also the uncomfortable (for some evangelicals) discussion about just how prominent the discussion of condom usage should be. It is unfortunate that the otherwise pretty positive discussion on evangelical contributions, including that of Franklin Graham, Billy's son, is somewhat blunted by evangelical / Christian Right obtuseness on the condom issue.

At any rate, do see this. I don't think any of us who claim to care about Jesus and the least of these for whom He died can afford not to see it... and to grapple with the many questions it raises.