How I Spend My Day

I’ve been working at Logos Bible Software since April, and ever since then people have been asking me, “What do you do there?” I do my best to explain, but I’m not always sure that my explanation makes sense. For those of you to whom I’ve explained what I do but you didn’t quite understand, and for those of you whom I have not seen recently enough for you to ask me this question, here is what I do:

I work in the Design and Editorial department (D&E). If we were a different sort of company, I suppose this would be called the Research and Development department. We work on new features to be included in the software. When we are done with putting together those new features, we hand them over to programmers who write the code that makes the program go.

Within D&E, people specialize in different things. Some work with tools that help people get into the biblical languages, like reverse interlinears (which have the English words of the Bible on the main line with the corresponding Greek or Hebrew underneath them). One person designs what the software looks like on the user’s computer screen.

What I have done so far, though, is work with sets of data that are behind some of the features in the software. For example, before I started working at Logos, D&E put together the data behind a Biblical People/Places/Things tool. With Biblical People, you can type in the names of people in the Bible and instantly get a brief description of who they are, a list of where they appear in the Bible, a family tree so you can see how they are related to other biblical people, and a list of entries for them in various Bible dictionaries. Here is the Biblical People result for John the Baptist:

John the Baptist (Biblical People)

Biblical Places and Biblical Things operate in a similar way.

Behind these tools is data that had to be compiled by an actual person in D&E. For the Biblical People entry on John the Baptist, someone went through the Bible and made a list of the places where John the Baptist was mentioned. He also had to be differentiated from other Johns in the Bible, so that when people go looking for information on John the Baptist they are not getting information about another John, like Peter’s father.

I am one of those people who goes through the Bible and compiles sets of data. I didn’t work on Biblical People/Places/Things, but that’s the sort of thing that I have been doing. I won’t talk about the data that I have actually been working on, because the feature it will be a part of hasn’t been released yet. When it is, though, I’ll write a post to give some background on it.

Advertisements

I Need Friends. But I Have Friends. But I Need Friends!

According to Facebook, I have 457 friends. I am not the kind of person who will accept just any friend request, either. To be my friend on Facebook, I have to at least know you, or remember meeting you. I am Facebook friends with a few people (and if you are reading this: it’s not you) whose faces I couldn’t quite remember when they asked me to be friends. But after a while, my memory kicked in, and I accepted the request.

Despite the large number of Facebook friends, I sometimes feel that I am lacking in good real-life friendships. A reason for this could be that I have not been living where I now live for very long. I moved here in 2008, after graduating from seminary. My wife grew up here, so she has plenty of friends who still live in the area. I have become friends with some of them as well. And yet, it sometimes happens that when we are deciding what to do on a free evening, or a weekend, we can’t think of anyone to call.

The problem isn’t that I don’t have friends. Of my 457 Facebook friends, I am quite close with several of them. But those people with whom I have formed close friendships usually live hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. It seems that I have not lived my life in such a way as to have a lot of friends who live close by. Let’s recap:

When I graduated from high school, I moved to another state to go to college. This ensured that I would not be seeing friends I made in high school on a regular basis. I would see a few when I would return on breaks, but now that I am out of school (and hence no longer have regular breaks), I don’t make it back as often. Many of the ones I have kept in close touch with don’t live there anymore, either.

When I chose a college, I went to a private one rather than a state one. This ensured that most friends I made while there would inevitably be from different parts of the country. When I was in college, I made many friends, but I didn’t know a single person from my hometown.

When I graduated from college, I spent two years in Europe, teaching English with a missionary organization based in California. This ensured that I would get to know a lot of Europeans who don’t get to my side of the Atlantic much. It also ensured that most of my fellow American teachers would be from different parts of the country.

When I finished teaching overseas, I decided to attend seminary in Vancouver, BC, a place I had never been in my life. This meant that in addition to the many friends I had made from various parts of the United States and Europe, I would add friends from Canada and elsewhere in the world, while simultaneously adding to my total of American friends from various places.

Now I’m starting over again in a new place, and I guess I have myself to blame for the lack of good friendships. It’s true that even if I had stayed in one town my whole life, many of the friends I made there would have moved away by now. Despite this, I still feel that by all my moving around, I have been part of the problem rather than the solution.

It is also true that if I had stayed in one town my whole life, I would not have been able to see all the places I’ve seen. I’m definitely grateful for the places I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met. I have grown through my experiences, I have wonderful memories, and I now have friends to visit all over the world – if I set aside the time and money to visit. All the same, though, I think I’m ready to be rooted. The problem is, rootedness doesn’t happen quickly. Friendships sprang up quickly in school because there were so many of us in the same position, and often living in close proximity to one another. Building friendships in a new city is much harder, and slower, work. So if you’re my Facebook friend and you live in Bellingham, let’s spend some time together. I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, at least if I can help it.

Whew

Well friends, I’m back to blogging. April has been an incredibly busy month, but I’m starting to feel again that I have things to say and a little more time to say them.

March 31 was my last day as a school bus driver. Leaving was bittersweet, since I truly became attached to those kids. However, I would not want to go back. Right now, I am the beloved former bus driver who can do no wrong. If I were the current bus driver, I would again be Satan’s brother as far as those kids were concerned.

On April 5, the day before my 31st birthday, I started a new job at Logos Bible Software, in downtown Bellingham. It has gone well, though the huge difference between it and my previous job has required some adjustment. Now I sit at a desk for eight hours a day, looking at a computer screen. While school bus driving did require a fair amount of sitting, it also required a bit more in the area of physical exertion. I mean, somebody had to stop the bus and go thump those kids (just kidding. I never laid a hand on any students, as the camera on the bus could attest).

Despite the fact that I am now much more sedentary, I do enjoy my new job more than bus driving. The great thing about bus driving was that I had three hours off in the middle of the day, and when the best thing about a job is the time that you are able to spend not working, something is wrong. I work in the Design and Editorial department at Logos. The main job of “D&E,” as far as I can tell, is to make all the information available to a Logos user more accessible. When people buy a Logos base package, they have access to hundreds of books. But those books are not on a bookshelf in one’s house, so it’s easy to forget that they are there. We come up with features and databases that make that information more accessible. I like to think of us as phantom librarians. I have been working on a new feature since my first day, and I am most likely going to continue working on it for a few more months. I can’t tell you what it is, though, because then I would have to kill you.

In addition to getting used to the new job, one thing that made April so busy was that I continued as intern at BCC. I will finish at the end of May, just before the new intern takes over. For the past month, even though I was now working a full-time job, I still had my intern duties – which included a 4-week Sunday School class on Colossians, and preaching on April 25. Now that the preaching date is finished, I look forward to relaxing a little bit next month and thinking about how I would like to be involved as Elliot the regular old layman, instead of Elliot the Intern. It should be fun.

Soon and very soon, I will review the books that I have been reading for the past couple of months. I finished a lot in March, but because of the busyness of April I should only finish about two this month.

Encouragement

Thanks to all those who commented on my earlier post, in which I shared how discouraged I was that I had no ministry job prospects two years after having graduated from seminary. Thanks especially to those who prayed.

Since I posted that, I ought to post this to let people know how things are turning out: I got a job!

A few weeks ago, I got a mass e-mail from a church acquaintance who works at Logos Bible Software (which is based in Bellingham) that they were hiring people with “computer skills and editing skills.” Since Logos is a company that creates software, I figured they were primarily looking for programmers. A look at their Web site confirmed that this was indeed the case. But there were a few positions that looked interesting to me, so I wrote up a cover letter and e-mailed them my resume.

Last week, the head of the Design and Editing department e-mailed me and asked me to come in for an interview. I went in Monday afternoon, interviewed for about 2.5 hours, and was offered the job shortly after the interview. I’ll start on April 5.

During the interview, I took a test that showed me the sorts of things that I will be doing. It tested my biblical knowledge, my ability to sort things into categories, and my research skills (maybe more was being tested, but that is all I was aware of). I’m very excited for this opportunity. I’d still like to serve in a church, but who knows? Maybe I’ll love this job and want to stay there for a long time. In the meantime, I can continue to volunteer at my church, and Mary and I can continue to live in Bellingham!

Discouragement

In May, it will have been two years since I graduated from Regent College with my Master of Divinity degree in hand. Later this summer, I will have served two years as a pastoral intern at Bellingham Covenant Church. In June, I will have spent two school years as a bus driver in the Ferndale School District.

When I graduated from Regent, I didn’t expect those last two sentences to happen. What I expected was that I would graduate, I would serve as an intern for maybe a year, I would marry Mary, and I would get a position as a pastor or associate pastor in a Covenant church somewhere.

The most important of those things I expected and wanted to happen, marrying Mary, did happen. The rest didn’t.

A few months ago, I was talking with a friend and fellow former Regent student. We have a lot in common, the two of us: we both have a strong desire to serve the church, we both are passionate about the education of laypeople… and we both have been disappointed in our search for jobs as pastors.

When I was at Regent, and even before I got there, I was under the impression that pastors who would preach the gospel were in high demand. I don’t know how I got that impression. Maybe it was in a preaching class. Maybe it was in classes that dealt with missions, like “Equipping the Church for First-World Re-Evangelization.” Maybe it was from poring over statistics about the high rate of baby boomer pastors who were on the verge of retirement age, or shrinking churches and denominations who were looking for ways to revitalize.

Wherever I got that impression, when I left Regent I was ready to go out into the church and, if not change it, at least begin learning how to be a good pastor.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I began to look for positions in my chosen denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, and found that there were few positions to be found, desirable or otherwise. All I kept hearing about was “The Glut” of people, like me, who are attracted to the Covenant and join it, thereby creating far more potential pastors than churches they might serve.

While I was at Regent, I attended a Christian Reformed church in Vancouver. I liked that church. But as time went by, and I thought about what it would take to become ordained as a pastor in the CRC, I began to have doubts. Specifically, I had doubts about the Canons of Dort.

The Canons of Dort is a document drawn up by the Synod of Dort, which met in the Netherlands in 1618-19 in order to reject Arminianism and affirm the Reformed faith. People ordained in the CRC are required to say that all of its articles and points of doctrine “fully agree with the Word of God.”

The problem is that I don’t think they do. That is, I think that when it comes to the question in the Bible of who is saved and when, there are two answers. One is that God chooses to save or damn people before they are born, before they do anything. Another is that God desires to bring people to himself, but he gives people the freedom to reject him, and some choose to do that.

Christians have been arguing about how to reconcile those two biblical answers for a long time. The Canons of Dort, as I read them, decisively come down in favor of the former. The problem that I have with the Canons of Dort, then, is not that they are unbiblical. It is that they resolve a tension within the Bible that I think God has seen fit to leave intact.

When I talked to people in the CRC about this problem that I had, they didn’t think it was a problem. They emphasized how God didn’t actively damn people before they were born, but just “passed by” them. Since all people have sinned, I supposed they deserved what they got, but the whole scheme seemed kind of arbitrary to me. What was the difference between “passing by” and active damnation? It seemed to me there was none. The more I talked with people in the CRC, the more I realized that they interpreted the Canons of Dort differently than I did, and that they had no problems with it. If I interpreted the Canons of Dort the way they did, maybe I wouldn’t either. But I decided that if I was going to be the one signing the form of subscription, my conscience had better allow me to do it, and it didn’t.

That is part of the story of how I got into this mess, of having graduated from seminary with no church to serve in. I sometimes wonder, even after having spent four years there, if going to seminary was a mistake. If wanting to be a pastor is a mistake. If it is, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be redeemed. Maybe I’ll end up with a job that isn’t pastoring at all, but that uses the education I have. God is in the redeeming business, and I’ve certainly made mistakes that have been redeemed before. But if it isn’t a mistake, then I need a push, because right now I’m struggling with discouragement.

Heard on the Bus

My school bus route can be a difficult one, especially when it comes to taking the elementary school kids home in the afternoon. They can get pretty worked up, and I spend a lot of time telling them to sit down, face the front and stay out of the aisle.

Every now and then, though, the kids say things that make me laugh. Here are a few from recent weeks:

Girl: “They call him Ham, but his real name is Hambone.”
“Hambone”: “My real name is JAMES!”

One first grader to another: “Hey, let’s talk about awesome stuff!”

A fifth grader, to me: “Elliot, you should install machine guns on the bus. That way, when war breaks out with Skyline [another elementary school down the road], we can fight them.”

One Week

… until Mary and I get married. The big things (like where to have the wedding and reception, who else will be involved in the ceremony, etc.) have been taken care of. Now it’s the time to look at other things, such as

What music are we going to play?

I’ve been mostly put in charge of making this decision. I’ve spent time coming up with a 4-hour “background music” playlist for the reception, and another 4-hour “dance music” playlist. That has been a lot of fun. What has been a little more difficult has been trying to decide what music will play at particular moments, like our first dance and our dance with our parents (Mary with her dad and me with my mom).

The first thing we decided was that there was going to be only one song for us to dance to and one song for us to dance with our parents to. Some weddings make it a more drawn-out process, where the bride dances with her father for a whole song and then the groom dances with his mother for a whole song. That’s not going to happen.

We also decided that we’re not going to have a separate announcement, “And now it’s time for the dance with the parents!” Once the song we’re dancing to is over, it’ll go right to the next song and we’ll grab our respective parents.

So what songs are we going to play? For our dance with each other, we’re going to go with a song by Bing Crosby, “Constantly.” We both like Bing’s style and voice – and after all, he is a native Washingtonian!

The decision about what song to play next was more difficult. There are a few lists around the Internet of “Father-Daughter Dance Songs,” and they generally have “Butterfly Kisses” at the top of the list. I’m sure it is very special to a lot of people, and maybe I will understand it better if I have a daughter – but I would rather elope than have “Butterfly Kisses” played at my reception. And the rest of the songs on these lists are no less sappy. We decided, in the end, to go with Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” – a classic, and instrumental.

We’re still working on what to play during the ceremony itself. Any suggestions?

Driving Again

This summer has been great. Since I stopped driving a school bus for the summer in late June, I’ve devoted more time to reading, working at the church more, and wedding planning. School started again last Wednesday, and despite the fact that I won’t have time to do those other things as much, it is good to get back to work.

One major change from last spring is that I am now working much more than I did at the end of the school year last year. When I was hired on as a bus driver in April, I got the route that nobody else wanted: a 4.25-hour route where I was only driving elementary school kids to school. Most other routes have a high school/middle school route in addition to elementary, which kicks them up quite a bit in hours.

There was some shuffling that went on this summer, though. Because of budget cuts, three routes were eliminated. This would have put me and the others at the bottom of the food chain in jeopardy, except for the fact that four drivers left, three of them through retirement. The day before school started, all the bus drivers got together in a room, and when the “bidding” process was over, someone had taken my 4.25-hour route (which had jumped up to 5 hours over the summer because it was combined with another route). That was the bad news. But the good news is that instead I took a 6.25-hour route. And not only that, but it is the same route that I drove for five months last school year as a substitute – so I know most of the kids already. Despite the fact that it is a longer route than my former route, nobody wanted it because it mostly picks up kids from the “projects” (subsidized housing) on a nearby Indian reservation. Because of that, it has a bad reputation with the other bus drivers. And honestly, the elementary kids on the route can be a little wild – mostly, I think, because some of them don’t have a lot of structure and parental supervision. But the middle school and high school kids are no worse, behavior-wise, than any other route. So, despite the fact that I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, I’m satisfied with where things sit. With a wedding coming up, I can use all the extra cash I can get.

Bureaucracy at its “Best”

I got a letter recently that made me angry. It was from the U.S. State Department. It was writing me with regard to my recent passport renewal application.

It said, in part:

There is a discrepancy between the data written on your current passport application and the data shown on your previous passport.

To which I responded, in my mind, “No S%$#, State Department.”

Let me explain. In 2000, before studying abroad for a summer, I sent in a passport renewal application. I filled out the required form, and wrote down my birth date: April 6. When my shiny new passport came, it contained a birth date that was almost, but not quite, my own: it had the same year and month, but read “16” instead of “6.” I thought at the time, “This is unfortunate. But my trip is coming up too quickly for me to do anything about it now. Hopefully it won’t cause any problems.” And it didn’t. At least, not then.

Two years later, in 2002, I was teaching English at a secondary school in Prague, Czech Republic. In order to have this job, I needed a visa provided by the Czech government. I waited a very long time for my Czech visa. I wasn’t too worried about it, though, because other foreign English teachers at the same school were waiting a long time for theirs too. But when December rolled around, and I had already been teaching at the school for four months, I got the bad news: my visa application was rejected. The Czech government never told me why my visa application was rejected, but my guess is that the birth date on my visa application and on my passport were different. The State Department peon who mistyped my birth date had, most likely, now cost me a job.

Now that I realized this birth date discrepancy could cause me problems, I went immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Prague. There, I was able to talk to the appropriate people and produce the appropriate paperwork, and an official stamp was added to my passport. It said, in effect, “The birth date of the bearer of this passport has been corrected to read April 6.” There the matter has rested for seven years.

Fast forward to July 2009. I have applied for a renewal of my passport, and what has reared its ugly head again? What has returned from the dead like a monster in a B-movie!?! This mistyped birth date!!!

The frustrating thing about dealing with bureaucracies as large as the U.S. State Department is that there is no way I can find the person who originally mistyped my birth date. He or she may no longer work in the State Department. I can’t sit down and have a heart-to-heart in which I share, perhaps with tears, how much trouble this mistake has caused, and urge him or her to be more careful next time.

However, there is good news (I think). Despite my misgivings about navigating such a huge bureaucracy, I called the State Department, talked to a couple of different people, and referred the second one to my corrected birth date. She said that I would be contacted again if there were any further problems. Otherwise they would just continue to process my application. That was a week ago, and no news has been good news. So perhaps bureaucracies can work efficiently at times, after all.

What is an Audition?

On Wednesday, Mary and I took the day off work and went down to Seattle for a Jeopardy! audition. I took an online test back in January, then a few weeks ago they sent me an e-mail inviting me to the Westin Hotel in Seattle to see me in person.

There were about 21 people there, and we met in a conference room in the hotel at 11:30. We filled out forms, they took Polaroid pictures of us, and then the three contestant coordinators introduced themselves to us. They were pretty high-energy, but I suppose they have to be in order to get us retiring, academic types out of our shells. We watched a video introduction from Alex Trebek, and one of the contestant coordinators explained to us what kinds of clues often appear on the show, and how to look for clues within the clue. We did a few of those all together to practice and get used to the format, and then we took a 50-question written test. I felt really good about the test; there were really only two or three questions that I had no clue on. Once the test was over, we had a few minutes to mingle while they were being graded. We started out asking other people if they knew the answers to the questions we missed, and then settled in to more traditional getting-to-know-you talk, like asking each other where we were from. Most were from Washington, with several from the Seattle area, but others came from as far as Montana, Idaho and Prince George, BC.

Once the contestant coordinators came back, we all took turns coming up front, three at a time, and playing a mock game. We played on a game board on which a new category appeared every time an existing category was finished. After each mock game, the audition staff took a look at our “interesting facts about us” sheets and interviewed us based on that. I was one of the last three people to be called up, and I think I did pretty well. During the game, I gave my first response in a low voice (because I wasn’t too sure about the answer) and they told me to speak up, but after that I did well. They asked me about my job, about teaching in Prague, and what I would do with the money if I won on the show.

Now, I’m in their contestant files for 18 months. I’ll probably be more deliberate about watching the show (I’d like to think especially about how to determine wagering), and I’ll spend some time studying things that come up on the show regularly, like Shakespeare. Even if nothing happens, at least I got a free Jeopardy! pen. Also, for the next 18 months I now have a response for the people who tell me, when I watch Jeopardy! or play a trivia game with them, “You should try out!”