Adam Frieberg
Minister, Computer Programmer, Geographer, Photographer
Ministry

captures, reflections, sketches of and about images Even though Adam lacks classical training, he tries to pay attention an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Adam serves the church and the world, experimenting with non-traditional models of ministry "didn't I already solve this once?"
the reminders of frontend (JS/TS), backend (C#), database (T-SQL)
issues and how Adam has solved them
August - November 2014
Adam and Heidi go across the U.S. on trains, retreat at monasteries,
and live in Jerusalem and Rome. Attempting to be "guests" for the entirety.
Discovering new ways of looking at humans' relationships with each other and their spaces

I celebrated my 32nd birthday by officiating a wedding for my cousin, Matt Rowles, and his wife, Elizabeth Wyatt Rowles. It turns out that the destination was much more comfortable than the journey.

Let me say it clearly: Matt and Lizzie are an awesome couple and NONE of the weekend's calamities had anything to do with them.

The weekend was layers upon layers: I'm not just a minister; I'm a computer programmer and a geographer. Those commitments filled my week leading up to the journey to Iowa for the wedding. The weekend was also made up of other layers: the trip with Heidi, the logistics of leaving our pets at home and arranging for their care, even - to some extent - the momentous family reunion and all the different times we re-enacted it that weekend.

It was GREAT.

Except for the calamity that I introduced.

I left Chicago and headed to Iowa for the weekend and thought I was ready. I had a plan. I had the ceremony. I had the sermon. I knew where I was going.

And when I arrived at the hotel in Des Moines, I realized I'd left all of my dress clothes and vestments hanging by the front door at home.

Luckily, my support network is huge. One of my minister friends in Iowa, Rev. Travis Stanley at Norwalk Christian Church, had a stole for me for the weekend. I also have a very resourceful brother (Luke Frieberg) who had a local clothier in Beaverdale, The Backroom Clothing. Our suit choice at 10am and the rush tailoring over the lunch hour meant that the wedding at 4:30pm was every bit as focused as it should have been.

Even in the midst of the preacher's worst nightmare, it's really not that bad.

Thanks all!


Here's Heidi and I during a break between the ceremony and reception. Thanks Travis and Luke!

In this face, you will see the face of God.

This March I received the gift that keeps on giving. I joined the International Affairs Seminar (IAS) for the Christian Church in Oklahoma (Disciples of Christ).

With 24 high schoolers and 5 other adults, we went to Washington, D.C. and New York City to learn about the complex, multi-faceted evil of human trafficking, as well as steps churches + non-profits + governments are taking to fight it.

In the 10-day journey, I helped document what it takes to make an IAS trip happen.

I also took over 10000 pictures -- 3000 of which are decent enough I didn't delete on-the-spot. (Yeah, kind of glad I'm out of school and graded on my own curve).

As with most of my photography projects, the editing is the most arduous task. Capturing the moments = easy; selecting which are moments worth sharing for a specific purpose = challenging.

As I edited each photo, I stumbled into a ritual:

  • Who am I looking at?
  • What are their needs?
  • Who is God making them into?
  • What of their virtues do I need to ask God to help them with?
  • May it be so.

It's not hard to look at these wonderful human beings in their late teenage years and imagine all that they have in store. They're priming and readying themselves for life. They're developing themselves, choosing to show who they are.

What was difficult, in the ritual of editing their photos, was to figure out what - of myself, that - I was projecting onto them. What did they really need me to pray for them for? (rather than what did I need to pray for myself for?)

I give you a glimpse - a gallery - of each of their faces. I'm not identifying them by name (modern search technologies offer too much danger with that). I'm not identifiying their locations or their churches. But I am giving thanks to God for their experiences and the small ways God forms them:

Ignatius of Loyola wrote as the preamble to his Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

I'm grateful not only for what these youth experienced that week -- but I'm also grateful for how they helped me glorify, revere, and seek God more. Thanks y'all.

A couple of weeks ago I learned from a high schooler how intimidating change can be. For many changes in our lives, we don't get a choice; external forces are at play and we may just be along for the ride. But for some very few decisions where we get to feel like we're in control, the possibility of change in those moments can also be paralyzing.

I was on a trip to Washington D.C. and New York City with 24 high schoolers. On a Friday afternoon, we split up into small groups and each group got to pick what they wanted to do in Manhattan. You'd think the choices were endless, right? Well, in our group's case, the choices were so numerous that they stifled us.

One of the choices I'd been lobbying for was to go ride bicycles for an hour in Central Park. We had amazing weather. We had energy. We had all of the time in the world. But what we didn't have was all of the high schoolers wanting to do it. One, in particular, said she was nervous since she hadn't ridden a bike since she was very young.

As leaders it was tempting to find a way to bring her around to the rest of the group's desires.

Enough assurances from us and we probably could have talked her into it.

But if that would've happened, the actual bike ride would not have been the same as we were wanting. We'd be worried about if she'd fall. We'd be worried about the group staying in a pack with the tour guide. We'd worry about lots of other "what-ifs."

Choosing to try to persuade someone from reluctance to a group consensus -- that process isn't really about consensus. That process is about transfer.

In this instance, it would have been a transfer of the girl's fear to the leaders. It would have been the transfer of responsbility for the group to make the choice on activities, to instead have the persuader assume the responsibility.

So what does this leave? LCD consensus-building? (LCD = "Lowest Common Denominator")

Done poorly, yes - that's exactly what results. Decisions get watered down to irrelevant, boring, no-one-is-happy results.

Done rightly, however, and group consensus doesn't mean settling; it means hearing out and saying "not now" when the group hasn't coalesced on a possibility they all can live with.

I'm curious what this model requires. I know of a church (Spirit of Joy in Lakeville, MN) that doesn't take votes. I know of discernment groups for people considering lives of ministry that have no finite deadline; there's no point the decision needs to be reached by.

Had we as leaders tried to talk the high school girl out of her fears, it would have been a disaster. Had we as leaders tried to talk the group into a Manhattan-sized, unpalatable adventure, it also would have probably been a disaster.

Instead, we let the youth decide. And they decided on Times Square, the Toys-R-Us store, empanada and hot dog stands for lunch, Union Station, the outside of the UN, and an awesome coffee shop outside of Chinatown.

There was no one point of consensus throughout the day. There was also no talking group members out of their fears.

And I'm grateful for all of it.

Heidi's denomination (the Episcopal Church) has a Book of Common Prayer that has the prayers written - if not in totality, then at least in majority - for what people speak during the service.

In it is a tradition called Rite I - a worship service written with very dated, but beautiful language. For example, the beginning of one of the stanzas says: "And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify ..."
We don't talk like that any more. But many Christians around the world still pray that way.

Every once in a while, at special services at Heidi's church, we use Rite I for a worship service. At this year's Ash Wednesday, something stuck out to me. Maybe it's because I'm a computer programmer; maybe it's because I was willing to get lost in thought at just the right moment.

There was a phrase, with a homonym (a different word that sounds the same) -- a phrase with changed meaning and deeper insight into God because of the mistaken identity.

"... rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same."

Innumerability


"I dare you infinity x infinity + 1". Surely I wasn't the only one who'd put conversations into infinite loops when I was a kid. I would try to think of the most biggest, largest, bigger-est number I could in order to one-up friends. This especially worked well with dares -- since everyone knew that double-dog-dare was so much more of a dare than just a normal one.

So innumerable benefits? It's like the number of stars in the sky. Like the grains of sand. Uncountable. Unknowable. Immensely, exorbitantly many.

Innumerability is pretty nifty -- especially when it's God bestowing benefits on creation.

Enumerability


But I didn't hear in the prayer "innumerable benefits"; I heard "enumerable benefits."

And for a computer programmer, if something is enumerable, it means we're in business and there's a heck of a lot we can do with it! Innumerability may be the red light for going further; enumerability is the green light.

One of the interesting things about enumerables is that, at least in C#, they're collections of things ... but they're collections with some tight restrictions. One of their most basic forms is that of a lightweight version of a collection with some basic functionality. They're not meant to be the Swiss Army Knife of collections. But there are other types of generics that can are built for certain performace and feature needs. Lists, Dictionaries, Queues, Hashtables ... the types of collections are many.

But at their core, when something is enumerable, it means it's a defined, finite, knowablecollection of things.

And when it's enumerable, it gains the benefits: searchability, sortability, comparability, index-ability, neighbor-identification, etc.

Two Sides of the Same Thing


Hearing about the benefits God gives to all of creation -- they're surely innumerable to us; but they're also just as surely enumerable to God.

I'm going to hear that prayer differently from now on. I want some of those same benefits that enumerability brings. I want to be able to search the stars and count them. I want to know my neighbors. I want to be findable and never orphaned. I want to be searchable.

There's a meeting place where enumerable and innumerable touch -- I want to always be moving closer to that place.

[FYI - this post is a long one; a sort of a multi-sermon, too-many-ideas rant.]

There are some benefits to being multi-vocational.

One of those benefits is the creativity that comes from the vocations colliding. In these collisions, there are certain words and phrases and concepts that -- when looked at from the perspective of another domain -- bring such stark clarity that the tension of an issue gains such definition that it quits existing as an abstract concept and starts looking "real."

There are some disciplines in life and study that naturally lead to this type of cross-hybridization. Ethicsis a major one. Granted, every professional discipline has its own process for deciding its own rules. Most of them take on the name "Ethics" - even though many classically trained ethicists would squirm at the broad brushstrokes these disciplines use to paint their rule-making process. But Ethics, at its best, involves discussions of value that automatically bring in more than one voice. Similarly, there are entire disciplines in the Sciencesand the Artsthat are sprung out of the combinations of other disciplines.

Every so often, I find strange ways to combine my Religion and Computer Science training.

Not only is my income related to how I blend them (and focus on them individually at different times) -- but I've reached a point where part of my identity comes from how I blend them.

If I cannot find ways to cross-pollinate them, I'm lost.

Can that scale?

Computer science and programming are oftenfocused on scalability. Developers often live by the D.R.Y. principle: Don't Repeat Yourself. In programming, if you find yourself typing something over (meaning: copying-and-pasting) then you can probably do it better. The process of making it more abstract, in order to not have to duplicate more code ... that process is what it means to refactor the code. To boil it down to its essence. To add another layer to make the code more flexible, more reusable, more readable for future developers who will see your work.

And then, all code ultimately faces a stage in its life where it's "shipped." This may involve deploying to a remote computer; or, building and running the program locally; or, running it on some other device. There are tons of possibilities for shipping.

But early in the design process, developers have to consider where all the code will / should run. When shipped, where will the code be living?

Often, if it's a memory-intensive or processing-intensive set of tasks the code is doing -- there's the question of "well, could multiple instances of that code be running?" Often the concept of scalabilitycan turn into this: is there a way, when needed, that the code can replicate or new instances of it can be started to ease the load.

Obviously that's an over-simplified explanation of one type of development process. And there are entire investigations I'm not alluding to that developers have to face -- especially when considering "cloud" scalability.

Can the Church scale?

What a ridiculous question! Can the Church scale?!?

(Hasn't it already?)

No -- but in all seriousness, this is often a question that congregations (and less importantly, legions of church consultants) are asking when they talk about mission. Can the church scale?

This means different things for different congregations. And I think congregations need to figure out why they're asking it. Here are some models I think they're trying to follow:
  • Saving the World, one individual at a time -- If Jesus commanded to "Go and make disciples" then the churches should continue and try to make every person into a Christian.
  • Cultural cache -- If the Church can reach a critical mass, then it can influence government, public policy, and help make the world a better place.
  • Operational efficiency -- If the Church can run itself more efficiently, then it can serve more and spend less time on its own business.
  • Church for all people -- If the Church can create enough communities where people can always find a place of people like them, then the Church can be accessible to all people.
All of these types of "scalability" and "mission" (in addition to ones I'm most definitely missing) need some of the core theological questions asked of them: what does it mean to be church? What does each of these models say about Jesus? What do they say about God and how God works?

Efficient for whom?

In my small strand of Christianity - the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - there's a tendency that many congregations face as their demographics become older and fewer. The churches ask what they can do to be more "efficient."

Often, but not always, it's a veiled question they're really avoiding about whether they can still afford to pay staff, have a building, do church the same, etc.

My cynical view is that this is a way for congregations to avoid asking the theological questions, and instead, stealing a page out of 20th-century business management books.

Why, World??

Market Forces?

I hear from clergy and photojournalist friends that the job "marketplace" is leaving them out to dry as positions become fewer and HR and personnel overseers say that the positions don't bring enough value for their expense.

Obsolete by Technology?

I see low income jobs around my community where the threat isn't from cost/benefit analysis but instead from technology making the jobs obsolete. These are jobs where people spend their days on repeat -- not really challenged and, often, not doing anything new.

Generational Priorities?

I know of jobs that are going away -- not because of wider demographic sustainability questions, and not because of technology making them obsolete -- but there are jobs going away because there's no one to pick up the mantle. In the past, previous generations had stepped up and filled the gap; now, in some cases, newer generations have looked at the jobs and said, "nope, not for me."

ALL OF THESE HAVE LITTLE, IF ANYTHING, TO DO WITH CHURCH SCALABILITY

If the church needs to scale in order to keep itself alive; or to make sure another generation of ministers are gainfully employed; or to get a 21st century audience to repeat a message just as our 1st century predecessors did ...

... then the church doesn't really need to scale.

Why the Church should scale

Church repeats; it's a good thing

Even though in programming, it's a sign of bad design or lazy development for code to repeat itself ... in church, it's an asset and a virtue. Churches are built on practices that shape how we believe. We don't repeat the Lord's Prayer every Sunday because we think the words are poetic or beautiful. We pray them to shape us as individuals and to shape our communities.

Churches not only repeat what we do each time we gather; but we repeat what others do. In the "marketplace of ideas"; churches have it in our history to take the practices that work for our brothers and sisters and see what they would look like in our own context.

I'm leading a Bible study on Paul's Letter to the Romans at Heidi's and my church during this season of Lent. Paul's letters weren't just transmitting ideas ... he was introducing entire communities to each other and their common leaders who were sharing their best practices. The list of saints in each letter are just the start of the practice-shaping he was doing.

Our modern church "tribalism" and "brand-loyalty" makes me think we've missed this fact. (Our churches aren't each called to be unique and different from each other; it is just called to be Christ's body in each neck of the woods.)

Efficiency can sometimes be avoidance

Discussions on efficiency often value the "simplicity" or the "quickness" of doing something.

"If only our minister could trim down the prayer list so people aren't on there for more than two weeks ... then we'd be able to have a shorter worship service."

That's bulls**t.

We had a funeral this weekend and had a wonderful time remembering one of our older members who died last week. Her funeral wasn't unique or remarkable; it wasn't cathartic, nor was it tumultuous. It was the good, slow work of sending one of our loved ones back to God.

Whenever I hear discussions about the Church "deserving better", "more efficient leadership" ... I think back to this member's funeral. The work of the church - of helping bring Good News to the world - isn't about efficiency or a race against time. It's good, slow work. It's letting ourselves be shaped, not with precision or into a mold, but instead by the waters of baptism that we remember and hearken back to throughout a continual decision to follow the Way of Jesus.

The Church shouldn't scale in order to become more efficient; it shouldn't scale in order to not repeat itself.

The world needs more congregations of the Church to stand for the needs of the powerless in their communities. They need the Church to lose its self-righteousness and help serve others. They need the Church to be an incubator for ideas to see what is possible; and then, when something works, to replicate that as it also scales out its other ministries.

The Church can and should scale. My hope is that its leaders (and its periphery legions of consultants) can find the right times and the right reasons in making it happen.