$300 Websites – Now Open for Business!

Ok, so I don’t usually hawk products or services on my blog, just ideologies. BUT…

I get asked on a fairly regular basis if I do webdesign or webconsulting, and I do–I just haven’t been very organized or “systematic” about it up to this point. I’ve worked for pay, for free, for large organizations, for smaller ones…and usually just make up the rules as I go. (You can see some of the results to the right). But I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with charging an hourly rate for a project that isn’t clearly defined, or worried that I’m charging too much (or too little) money for the type of services I’m providing, or the types of people I’m providing them to. Plus, now that I’m back in school, a regular secondary stream of income would be nice, so I decided I needed to get organized. The result?

300 Dollar Websites. A flat rate for some very specific (and appropriately limited) services that I enjoy doing — I’m especially hoping to help small organizations or individuals who currently have little or no web presence, and I’m pretty good at working patiently with people who are not too technically inclined.



Youth Church & Culture Podcast

Faithbridge Presbyterian Church

Of course, that probably doesn’t apply to most people reading this blog — but you can still help me by passing on the word to anyone you know who might be looking for some inexpensive, simple and straightforward web work. More information can be found on the $300 Websites tab at the top of my blog. Thanks in advance for anyone you send my way!

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New Haircut

Posted in Autobiographical, Life, Pictures | 5 Comments

Jesus Who?

This post was inspired by Pastor Ellen (one of my last remaining Methodist Pastors) who emailed me the following question as she prepares for a class:

Did Jesus know who he was and what he was going to do on earth? At what point did he know if he did? How does that connect w/fully man and fully God?

It’s a question that we’re dealing with right now in my Systematic Theology class, and one we dealt with last semester in my Early/Medieval Church History Class. And once again, I’m on the verge of throwing up my arms and yelling, “WHO CARES?”

Ok, it’s not that I don’t really care. I think maybe I just don’t care quite as much as most of Christendom throughout history.

I think we’re a little over-obsessed with the whole “Who was Jesus” question. Maybe we miss the boat sometimes when we spend all our time, energy, intellect, councils, and creeds trying to figure out the nature of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, and to what extent, and in what way, and when, and….

Jesus didn’t really tell us that we had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out who he was.  In  fact, of all his many teachings and acts, Jesus only brought up the question once.  But he did spend a LOT of time telling us other things we should do, like “feed my sheep” and “love one another as I have loved you.”  And Jesus’ disciples certainly didn’t acknowledge him as divine, or messiah, or much of anything else when they first chose to follow him — unlike today, where we expect people to confess him as divine savior as a precursor to following him.  I imagine that Jesus’ disciples followed him because he seemed somehow interesting or compelling to them — or maybe because they had heard about how awesome he was from others.  Some probably even followed him for the wrong reasons entirely.

I wonder if you really have to understand who Jesus is to recognize the value in what he told us to do, and then to just do it.  And then, long into your journey, if you decide, like Peter, that Jesus is the Son of God, good for you.  If, on the other hand, you stick with Jesus’ own preferred designation of himself (Son of Man)…great!  Jesus didn’t criticize or disown the other disciples who didn’t (or couldn’t) answer the question.  But please, please, please…let’s not waste any more time on councils, creeds, theological tomes, or debates while we could actually be doing the work Jesus asked us to do…whoever he was/is.

Posted in Christianity, Jesus | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Open Letter to Joe Satriani from a Former Fan

Dear Satch,

I’ve been a loyal fan since I was in high school — when I played the song Always With Me, Always With You so many times I wore out and broke my cassette tape (I realize I’m dating myself here) Surfing With the Alien album.

I have to admit, though, some of your albums (the new CD versions I bought as soon as CD’s became popular) had been gathering a little dust on the shelf. But when I heard the new Coldplay song Viva La Vida, and heard people saying Coldplay stole it from you, I dutifully took out Is There Love in Space, dusted it off, and listened to If I Could Fly again. I do admit, they have a lot of similarities. But mostly, I was just glad for an excuse to listen to you again–I even got on the web to see what you’re up to these days. In that sense, all the publicity around your song and Coldplay’s is a good thing.

But then I read that you were suing them. And that’s where you lost me, “Saint” Joe (suing your neighbor is equally as unsaintly as stealing from him). Because I’m not sure what suing another music group will ever accomplish, except for making you look bad. Here’s what I mean:

When Coldplay first landed on my radar, I heard their song Clocks on the radio and immediately thought it sounded almost exactly like a song I wrote and recorded years ago with my high school garage band, right down to the repeating triplet piano part (which in our version was voiced by background vocals). Now, in my case, it’s obvious that there’s no way Coldplay could have possibly copied the song from us, as we only made a handful of demo tapes of the recording for our family and friends. But it does show how two separate musicians can come up with remarkably similar chord progressions and even riffs independently. When I heard Clocks, my only reaction was “Yeah, they must have good musical sense, ’cause I did that, too!”

So unless you think they deliberately sat down and said “Hey, how can we turn this Joe Satriani song into our own song” (which I think is highly unlikely, given the originality of most of what they do) I’m left asking myself why on earth you would want to sue them? Is it for the publicity? Because you’d have that even without suing them. Is it the money? Because the best way to make money as a musician should always be by writing and performing great stuff, not worrying about what “other” people are doing, and certainly not worrying about songs you wrote five years ago. Or worse — are you one of those musicians who thinks you have sole, eternal ownership of a certain way some notes are arranged on a piece of paper? I hope not, because if those sorts of musicians are successful (and I count Lars Ulrich as foremost among these), it will signal the end of creativity and growth in the music industry, not a new beginning.

I really, really hope you’ll consider backing down from your lawsuit, and recognizing Coldplay’s song for what it is: a good song that owes a debt not to you, but to whatever inspirational muse you’re both in debt to. And I hope you realize that before you lose too many fans in a new generation that overwhelmingly and unstoppably has radically new views on copyright and music ownership.  If you want to be around and relevant in the future, take a page from Radiohead’s playbook — not Metallica’s.

Despite all this, I’ll still probably go see you in concert if you’re ever in the New Jersey area. But now I’ll probably be a lot more hesitant to take my son — a burgeoning 4-year-old musician in his own right — with me. I’ll still listen to your albums, but I’m not sure how much money I’ll want to spend on them, when you seem to want to collect money in a different way. And when someday my son asks me the inevitable question about who I think is the greatest guitar player of all time…I don’t know what I’ll tell him. Because to me, greatness is about more than just technical skill. Great musicians are the ones who, in addition to precision and creativity, acknowledge at the end of the day that we don’t own the music. It’s the music that owns us.

Sincerely, but no longer yours,

Neal Locke

Posted in copyright, Music, Pop-Culture | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Lo! I am the Monster (Rowr).

When I left teaching behind several years ago, I made a commitment to myself not to leave Shakespeare behind as well.  Shortly afterward, I successfully auditioned for and then played the role of Friar Laurence in a Frisco Community Theater production of Romeo and Juliet.  So when I arrived here in Princeton, and was told that the seminary was undertaking a student production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, how could I resist?  I auditioned for the role of Caliban, and found out yesterday that I got the part.

From the start, I was interested most in the character of Caliban because he is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters.  While he is often described as a “monster” he evokes (if played well) a full range of emotions from the audience/reader:  laughter, disgust, sympathy, and even wonder.  He has been treated by various productions as villain, clown, and even tragic hero — the noble savage who is the victim of colonialism and slavery.  And like the timeless characters of Mordred and Judas, he betrays his master and teacher.

Personally, I think of him along the same lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s character of Gollum.  In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Tolkien drew upon Caliban for inspiration.  The Tempest is one of only two Shakespearean plays (the other being A Midsummernight’s Dream) that are considered “fantasy,” and as such might have been a great interest to Tolkien, the “father” of modern fantasy literature.   When one reads (or watches the film versions of) Lord of the Rings, one doesn’t quite know whether to love, hate, fear, pity, or laugh at Gollum (who also betrays his master in the end).

In any case, it’s certainly a fascinating role, and a challenging one to play well.  Rehearsals start next week, and performances will be April 2-4 @8:00 in Scheide Hall here on Campus, and then a matinee performance Sunday, April 5th at 3:00.  Hope to see you there, my precioussssesss…

Posted in Literature, Seminary, Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twitter as Scholia

scholiaLast month, during Jan Term, I had an interesting conversation at a lunch-gathering with my Pseudo-Dionysius professor, Dr. Paul Rorem and a few other students. We started off talking about the inauguration, and I mentioned that I would be watching and “twittering” it along with 50 or so of my closest twitter friends. This comment shifted the conversation instantly to the subject of twitter, and my twittering “habit.” What follows is more of an approximation of our conversation than a transcription:

ROREM: So do you also twitter during sermons at church?
ME: Yes, and sometimes during interesting class lectures, too.
ROREM: But don’t you find that to be a distraction from what you’re trying to focus on?
ME: Possibly some times, but I also think of it as an enhancement. It’s broadcasting the sermon/lecture/speech to a wider audience, and bringing more voices back into the discussion.
ROREM: So when you’re in the middle of a really interesting novel, do you stop to twitter that? Doesn’t it break the flow of the story?
ME: I do sometimes twitter when reading a novel. And I also use my cell phone to look up words or concepts I’m unfamiliar with. In that case, my focus has already been broken by my own ignorance, and looking something up instantaneously actually restores my focus.

I didn’t have a good response to the part about twittering while reading a novel, but in the days since that conversation, and especially today, I think I have one now — ironically drawing from a medieval tradition I’ve studied in at least two of Dr. Rorem’s classes over the course of the past semester: Scholia.

Scholia are basically marginal notes in an ancient manuscript. They were often corrections made by a copyist based on comparison with other manuscripts, but sometimes they also served as commentary on the content of the manuscript itself — expounding, elaborating, or even disputing a section of the manuscript. The scholia themselves were then copied along with the text by successive copyists, and sometimes played an important role in the acceptance or understanding of the original. For historical purposes, they also provide insight into how a text was received in a particular era or by a particular person.

Now, I write notes all the time in the margins of the books that I read for seminary AND for enjoyment — including novels. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most marked up book I own. But those notes are primarily intended for me. Even if they were intended for others, I’d have to pass the book around to one person at a time. And if I want to know what someone else thinks about that particular book, the best I can hope for is an essay or a book review — not a play-by-play commentary on every page. Granted, my Bible does this, but sometimes I get frustrated that the footnotes (aka commentary) seem to represent one perspective, usually scholarly, and almost always Christian. I think that in many ways, the enriching, broadening, yet detail-oriented aspects of the practice of Scholia have been undervalued in the modern age.

Enter Twitter. If you don’t already know about twitter, watch this. If you’re already on Twitter – follow me! While twitter was intended as a way for people to answer the basic question “what are you doing” it has (in my opinion) evolved considerably. The first time I realized this was during last summer’s Presbyterian General Assembly. I couldn’t be there in person, but I watched the live video feed of the event, excited about Bruce Reyes-Chow standing for moderator of the PCUSA. I was also logged into twitter, as were most of my Presbyterian twitter-friends — some who were at the event, and others like me from afar. Not only were we witnessing denominational history, we were commenting on it. Not long, blog posts on the big picture, but little comments in response to certain specific sections of speeches and events. What’s more, we were sharing those comments with one another, and even commenting on comments. We were writing in the margins of an historical event!

Later, we all did the same with the U.S. Presidential debates, and just recently, with the inauguration. And of course, it wasn’t just Presbyterians commenting in the margins of Barack Obama’s historic inauguration — it was millions of twitterers across the world — kings, scholars, and peasants alike. Assuming that these “tweets” are somehow preserved in the ether (which I think is about as likely as the preservation of velum and papyrus over centuries) consider what an immense wealth of historical information and perspective they provide. Among the marginal comments can be found explanation, reaction, criticism, defense, and elaboration of just about every line of text, as well as comments pertaining to the visual, audio, and other perceptible aspects of the event — from those who witnessed it in person, to those who witnessed it a world away.

Today in my Systematic Theology class, my professor said something interesting, and I immediately pulled out my cell phone to twitter about it. I remembered Dr. Rorem’s question about being distracted from what would be said next. But I also saw several of my classmates taking notes on the lecture, and wondered if their note-taking distracted them from what would be said next. Perhaps. But unlike their paper notes (or even laptop-word processor notes) that will most likely be shelved after the final exam, or serve to benefit at most one person — I am filled with the hope that like the scholia of old, my comments in the margins of today’s lecture/novel/text/event will be shared in both community and in perpetuity. That seems worth a slight distraction.

Posted in Books, Classes, Web 2.0 | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Thoughts on Inauguration, Obama, and the USA

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to blog about today’s historic inauguration of Barack Obama. If I didn’t, I might regret it later. Of course, with that said, all inaugurations are historic, just for different reasons. Anyhow, here are some of my “historic” observations…

Twittering the Inauguration: Last week I was having lunch with my church history professor, Dr. Paul Rorem, and some students from my Pseud0-Dionysius class. We were talking about our different plans for watching the inauguration, and so I mentioned that I would most likely be both watching and “tweeting” it with 30 or 40 of my closest twitter friends (which I did). It was an interesting conversation, and I’ll blog more about it later this week, but for today, suffice it to say that the inauguration confirmed a theory I’ve been working on about Twitter as Scholia — basically a running commentary on important events in our culture and society, not unlike the notes that medieval monks and theologians wrote in the margins of scriptures and other important texts.

Grady and Presidential “Powers”:  Walking my four-year-old son to school this morning, I brought up the subject of the inauguration, since during the election he had announced his  support for ‘Arack Obama (despite my own preferences).   He still likes Barack Obama, but I’m not sure he has that much of a grasp on what exactly a president is.  So I thought I would help clarify with a little analogy:

DADDY:  Do you remember the character Ajihad, in the book we’re reading (Christopher Paolini’s Eragon)?
GRADY: Yes, Daddy.  He’s the leader of the Varden.
DADDY:  Ok, that’s kind of like a President.  Barack Obama is our country’s new leader, like Ajihad was for the Varden.
GRADY: Oh.   [thinks about it some]  So what does Barack Obama fight with, then?

And that’s how you can tell you’ve been reading too many fantasy novels to your son (if that’s possible).  Still, I should have told him the President fights with a magic spell book called “The Constitution,” and with a sword called “The Executive Order.” I hear it can slice a Congressman in half with a single stroke. Oh, and let’s not forget the shield of “Presidential Privilege” and the helmet of “Plausible Deniability.”  Didn’t work so well for Nixon, but Reagan and Bush seemed to have wielded them often enough…

Obama’s Speech:  There was much to like in Obama’s inauguration speech, but I didn’t think he “hit it out of the park.”  Perhaps because everyone was comparing him to JFK and MLK, I was expecting more.  Kennedy’s inauguration speech and MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech still send shivers up my spine.  Obama’s speech was good, and he delivered it well, but it won’t go down in history as one of the great speeches of all time.  His speech during the campaign about race, on the other hand, actually might.

Here’s the part of today’s speech I liked best:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

I hope he can keep that pledge, and that congress will help him do it.  I also like that he called on all those who “enjoy relative plenty” to join in the effort.  I think we could do no better than to start with our neighbor to the immediate south, Mexico.  I noticed that he didn’t say anything about immigration reform, but that’s not too surprising — Bush saw the border as a “homeland security” issue, but Obama’s speech overall gives me hope he’ll see it through the more compassionate lens of “love for neighbor.”

Here’s my least favorite part of the speech:

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Sometimes I do think we should apologize for our American way of life — especially when it involves invading innocent countries because we “suspect” them of terrorism, or polluting the environment to assuage our rampant consumerism.  And let’s not forget that we, too, are guilty of slaughtering millions of innocents. I would have been more comfortable if he had said “we will defeat you with our ideals, our integrity, and commitment to justice.”  But he didn’t.  He just ended that paragraph there, letting Conservative hawks assume he meant, “If you mess with America, we’ll still kick your ass.”  And who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what he meant.  Considering what I read my son, I’m probably not one to judge.

The overall tone of the speech, continuing themes from his campaign, was one of reconciliation and hope.  And I certainly think he’s an improvement over our last president.  Obama’s election and inauguration are long deserved triumphs for African-Americans and indeed all Americans on the frontier of race.  But at the end of the day, I must remind myself (and everyone else) that he’s not a savior, not a messiah.  Just a man, confined within the limits of a two-party system, an enormous bureaucracy, and a plethora of special interest groups.  I hope he can navigate all of these things well, and I don’t mind being pleasantly surprised. So congratulations to the USA, and to you, President Obama.  I will earnestly place my hope in you, but (I hope you’ll understand) not my faith.  In fact, I think we’d be a little better off if all of us placed a little more hope in our country, and a little less faith.

God Bless America? I found it fascinating that Rick Warren led the nation in the inaugural prayer, and that Bishop TD Jakes preached the private inaugural sermon this morning.  Sadly, the ministerial voice most absent was the one I find myself most often in agreement with:  Jeremiah Wright.   I hope Obama’s rejection of Wright, and turn to these two more conservative pastors is not a preview of changing beliefs or politics.  I understand the political expediency that required Obama to distance himself from Wright, but I hope the reconciliation in the air extends to Obama’s long-time pastor, too.  Jeremiah Wright got fried over a brief clip from a sermon that was taken entirely out of context.  But I think my closing sentiments echo his true message a bit better:   May God Bless America:   South America…Central America… Mexico…Canada… And may the United Sates of America stop worrying so much about getting blessed, and start worrying about how we can bless those around us. Despite Wright’s absence, I sensed his influence in parts of Obama’s speech.  And so, I too, have hope today.

Posted in Immigration, Politics, Superheroes | 2 Comments