Posts about philosophy (old posts, page 1)

usefulness of tools

It’s interesting to me how dependent the usefulness of a tool is on the person using it. More specifically, it is important to match the right tool with the right person.

I think it’s safe to say that this netbook was never particularly useful to Andi; yet here I am, watching films on it while waiting for my flight in the airport.

MobileOrg for journaling

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to point out that I’m using mobileorg’s capture feature to take these notes. The asyncronous syncing of the system should make it relatively easy to port these notes back into a desktop when I return (albeit via my slice). The plaintext format leaves me feeling in control of the content, too.

There will be a bit of an impedance mismatch between org and markdown, but it shouldn’t be too bad. Who knows: I might even be able to automate the process.

MobileOrg push by way of git

Following up from yesterday, I now have a fully automated MobileOrg environment. Simply pushing into my org file git repository provokes a post-receive hook that calls a bit of elisp:

#!/usr/bin/emacs --script

(load "~/.emacs")
(setq org-mobile-directory "~/public_html/org")

Setting org-mobile-directory in the hook allows me to keep it more generalized in .emacs (that is, via /ssh:, so I can run org-mobile-push and, especially, org-mobile-pull from a desktop.

Now, when I do a git push, I also get this (among other, more verbose logging) in my stderr:

remote: Files for mobile viewer staged

MobileOrg push

I just spent the last hour and a half fighting with webdav, emacs, and MobileOrg. I thought that I had all of this settled a while ago, but, as before, org-mode just keeps surprising me with new functionality that I hadn’t yet realized that I needed. Now I can capture from my mobile, as well as update todo states.

Next up, I want to do the org-mobile-push from the emacs running on my slice, rather than from Aquamacs running on the desktop; and I want to dispatch it as a post-commit hook in my bare orgfile git repo.

Communion lesson | 15 October 2010

People who read this (if there are such people) have probably noticed the trendy little tag cloud in the bottom-right corner of the front page. I put it there mostly as an exercise in playing around with ikiwiki, the wiki compiler that generates what you see here. The unintended consequence has been a harsh light on the fact that I’ve posted much more about gaming and programming than about faith and scripture. These are the things that are supposed to be primary, but I pay them much lower attention than comparative trivialities.

I can provide all kinds of excuses for this (a lack of focus doesn’t imply a lack of esteem); but, in the end, my actions define who I am, not some abstract internal definition of self.

This bit of naval-gazing comes to a point now as I prepare for my upcoming lesson to be presented at our worship group this Friday. As is my pattern, I will attempt to prepare in a publicly-visible place in hopes that it will spur me to action and follow-through.

In our last meeting, Amir asked how often we were going to share communion together. Though Mark and I had discussed it before we separated into smaller groups, we only came to a position of “as often as is meaningful.” That can be a bit nebulous in practice, so last week we decided to pray about it separately and come back together on Friday to discuss it (and definitely at least share communion then).

For what it’s worth, I plan to make sure that I have suitable elements (bread and grape something) set aside and available whenever we host worship, so that we’re not physically constrained in the future.

In any case, all of this got me thinking that we could probably do with a lesson about communion: it’s history, purpose, and meaning, or some such thing.


I don’t have much for reference materials. I left most of my books on Christianity in the ’States back when we were ignorant about customs, so aside from my Bible I mostly just have the Internet. That’s fine in theory, but my aforementioned lack of faith-focused action means that I don’t have a lot of trust built up around online Christian reference material. I’ll do what I can, though.

Scripture passages

I keep wanting to jump back to assumed parallels with the passover meal, searching for explanation before question. In order to stop that, I’m going to focus on the gospels first:

  • Mark 14:12-25

  • Matthew 26:17-30

  • Luke 22:7-20

  • John 13:1-16 John’s gospel doesn’t deal with the use of bread and wine as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but talks about foot-washing as a symbol of servanthood. It might not be directly related to communion, but its presence at the same point in the timeline makes me think that I should be thinking about it.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

  • Exodus 12:1-28

Writings and such by John Piper.

  • Why We Eat the Lord’s Supper, Part 1 2 3

My glances over this so far focus a lot on transubstantiation vs consubstantiation vs symbolism, which isn’t really where I want to go with this lesson. There’s probably other useful stuff in there, though. (There might be other writings on communion elsewhere on the site, too.)

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology

Alex sent me Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology this morning (awesome!) and pointed out the chapter that deals with communion.

  • BC sacrifices serve as a reminder of sin (Hebrews 10:1-4)

  • AD communion is a reminder of Christ’s death being the absolute sacrifice for sin

  • AD communion is a reminder of future celebration in Christ’s presence (do in remembrance of me points to the future, too, when Christ will again “drink of the fruit of the vine” with us)


Read the story of the Lord’s supper.

Luke 22:14-20.

Christ is celebrating passover with his disciples.

Read the story of the first passover

Exodus 12:21-27

Give a brief overview of the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, the plagues, and the sparing of Israelite children.

  • Blood

  • Frogs

  • Lice

  • Flies

  • Livestock death (pestilence)

  • Boils

  • Hail

  • Locusts

  • Darkness

  • Death of the firstborn

One of the first institutions of the Israelites, predates the law.

The lamb provides salvation from death and destruction. As it did in the past, so it will. Christ’s followers get to share in the feast, but Christ does not: he is the lamb; the one who suffers for the salvation of others.

John 1:24-29 (John calls Jesus the lamb of God)

Jesus uses a fundamental tradition to teach, similar to how he uses parables.

Jesus asked us to share in the supper in remembrance of him. We remember his sacrifice when we perform it; but we also remember that we will be with him one day.

Luke 14 says “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” and “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Matthew 14:29 is more specific: “I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

John 14:1-3 (go to prepare a place); Revelation 19:6-9 (marriage supper of the lamb)

Marriage is often used as an example of the relationship that Christ has with the Church. (Jesus describes it this way in parables in Matthew 22 and 25) We are betrothed, promised, or engaged to be the bride of Christ; he has gone to make a home for us, and will come to call for us one day.

Acts 2:43-47 (maybe communion for the early church?)

1 Corinthians 11:23-34 If nothing else, we should take away from this passage that we should prepare ourselves for the Lord’s supper, remember it as a sacred act, and remember that it is about believers coming together in unity with Christ. Always be mindful of each other and each other’s needs.

Communion for our group

I want to have the elements (bread and something made from grapes) available in our home whenever we host a gathering of believers. This way, we won’t be contrained if we feel led to share communion together.

I think (not necessarily correctly) that we should set aside a time each week, separate from the lesson, and definitely separate from the meal, for anyone to share communion who would wish to that day. This makes it available to any and all, while also making it easier for each to judge for himself whether he should partake. (See 1 Corinthians 11)

Servanthood as it deals with the passover

Amir asked us to pray for guidance on how to serve. Amazingly, this is also part of the passover meal that Christ shares with his disciples.

Talk a little about synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) vs John’s gospel.

John doesn’t mention the Lord’s supper, but he places a big focus on servanthood.

John 13:3-17

Service is the very definition of a Christian life.

Acts 6:1-7

breakfast with Khan

My attempt to follow the Ramadan fast this year is going much better than last year. (I didn’t get violently ill after one day, after all.) I think it’s about ten days to go now, so I seem to be in the clear.

It’s been an interesting experience. I’ve learned a bit about myself, and about the centrality of food (specifically eating) to society. I haven’t spent much time with my coworkers during the fast: there’s no lunch, no coffee breaks…

Yesterday wasn’t so good of a day for me, both for completely unrelated reasons and because I hadn’t had enough water the night before. We were out of food, so I was at Tamimi to get something to eat for iftar. There was Khan: “Jon! Come have breakfast with me!” For once, it just felt right. I went with him, and shared iftar with Khan and his coworkers in the back of Tamimi.

It was awesome.

Safari bookmarks, git repositories, and automatic updating

I recently added ~/Library/Safari/Bookmarks.plist to my homedir git repository in the misguided hope that it would be a magically sensible way to keep my bookmarks sync’d between my various systems. This evening was the first real test:

Kay:~ janderson$ pgit pull
remote: Counting objects: 9, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (3/3), done.
remote: Total 5 (delta 2), reused 0 (delta 0)
Unpacking objects: 100% (5/5), done.
From ssh://
   9d1b3c1..5fdae45  master     -> origin/master
Updating 9d1b3c1..5fdae45
 Library/Safari/Bookmarks.plist |  Bin 1951 -> 2498 bytes
 1 files changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
Already up-to-date.

Not only did the day’s changes propagate to my local system, but Safari implemented the change immediately, in the current running process, in the current window, without intervention. I’m sure this has something to do with fsevents, but it’s just one more example of the extent of behavior you can get away with if you implement a system properly in the first place. (After all: it’s not as though Apple had this use case in mind.)

Of course, the true test will be how well the file format copes with an n-way merge… but I’ll cross that bridge when git blows up in my face.


I use a couple of git repositories in my home directory to track and sync my configuration and org files across multiple platforms. Originally I used a single repository for everything, tracked at ~/.git, but when I split the two concerns I knew that I would want a simple way to manage all of my local git repositories at once. Inspired by my use of existing pssh-style commands, I wrote a quick (not quite so) parallel pgit:


for repo in ~ ~/org
    echo 1>&2 $repo
    cd $repo
    git $@
    cd - >/dev/null

I want to improve this at some point with a configurable repository list (likely a custom section in ~/.gitconfig) and actual parallel execution, but at least for day-to-day, this has already been satisfying to use.

I can’t always figure out the reason

I’m obsessed with reason. I have to be able to explain things to myself; to understand why things are. That doesn’t mean that my reasons are rational, but I have to put it somewhere in the taxonomy of my mind.

When our house flooded, and the ceiling caved in, KAUST moved us to a house five doors down the block that was identical in design, except that it was the mirror image of our first house. To reconcile the disruption in my mind, I decided that the reversed house represented a turning point of the reversal of our experience at KAUST. From that point on, things would be easier… the reversal of the frustration we had experienced before.

We had a very frustrating time traveling back to Saudi Arabia after our trip to the states for thanksgiving. Our flight from Indianapolis to Chicago was delayed (picking us up) so our entire itinerary was disrupted. We were rerouted on a different airline network, so none of our new flights had any record of us. Andi’s ticket didn’t match her passport (both via nicknames and married names), causing us to almost miss our flight out of Heathrow after a nine-hour layover (three hours of which was spent arguing that Andi should be allowed to board the plane).

I spent a lot of time during our our last flight (Saudi Airlines from Heathrow to Jeddah) praying to God that our luggage would be at the airport when we arrived. We were returning to a strange country with no house to go to, and no idea where we would be staying. We had been through a lot of frustration in transit, and we were both frustrated and frightened. Andi was falling apart, and, as always, I decided it was my responsibility to make it right. To keep things together. If our luggage was at the airport, against all odds, I would have evidence that, through it all, God was watching out for us, and helping us through our times of trial.

We landed at a strange airport with no luggage, no idea where we were, and no driver to pick us up. I was crushed. I didn’t swear off my faith or trust in God, mind you; but my reasoning went something like this:

  1. God does everything for a reason.

  2. God had the power to guide our luggage to us at the airport.

  3. Our luggage was not at the airport.

  4. There was no reason why we should get our luggage later, rather than immediately.

  5. God must not need us to get our luggage.

  6. We would never see our luggage again.

I had it all figured out, and I had doomed myself.

A week later, though, and we had our luggage back. Why? Because I was driven back to the airport by a wonderful man named Arnold. The same man who took Andi and me to Jeddah for Nerph’s first visit to the vet. He told me all about his family back home, why he was working in Saudi Arabia, and how he hopes to be hired as a KAUST employee so he can bring his family with him.

Later that week, he came to my house and beat me at chess. Three times in a row.