An Invitation to Debian Novice Night – December 1, 2010

It may be short notice, but if you are new to Linux, interested in Debian and live or work in the New York metro-area, check out Novice Night. It’s coming up this Wednesday. Info below is from Debian-NYC.

Debian-NYC would like to invite you to our next Novice Night.

Novice Nights are Debian-NYC’s meetings for everyone. If you would like to install Debian, come on by. If you would like help with configuring or making Debian do what you need, we can do that too. If you want to hang out with Debianistas to pick up tips and tricks, come on by. We can also provide some help with other derivatives of Debian, such as Ubuntu.

Novice Nights are free-form: bring your questions, and you’ll be able to talk to people to answer them. There isn’t a set structure here or presentation, so you can come and go as you would like. There may be mini-presentations throughout the night. We will be able to help with new installations or fixing/configuring existing ones. We can make installation CDs or USB drives. You should bring your computers you would like help on (and your friends!).

We welcome groups. If you have a group attending, feel free to contact us in advance so that we can prepare something for you. If you have questions, please direct them to Richard Darst .

Where and When: Eyebeam, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, 18:00.

Getting there: See Eyebeam directions. Eyebeam is on the west side of
Manhattan, in Chelsea. A/C/E/½/L trains are the closest.

Contact: IRC at #debian-nyc on ; ;
or Richard Darst (rkd at zgib dot net).


Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel

“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Bob Pierce

For quite a while I kept hearing good things about Richard Stearn’s book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Someone at my church read it and said it revolutionized his thinking. The book was available for purchase for a while at church, and others who read it agreed that it was eye-opening. Recently I got around to reading it for myself. While I appreciated the book a great deal, I suspect that it was less  less of an impact on me because most of it really wasn’t news to me. I’ve been trying to get informed over the past few years about issues of poverty and justice around the world, and so perhaps that prior knowledge stole some of this book’s thunder, so-to-speak.

One part autobiography, one part World Vision promotional work and one part Bible study, Mr. Stearns crammed a lot of data and quite a few stories into slightly less than 300 pages of text. These three threads are interwoven throughout the book.

The autobiographical portion details how Mr. Stearns became a Christian, going from a convinced atheist to a committed Christian, his professional rise (with setbacks) in the business world, and finally his struggle with the call he perceived to accept the role of president of World Vision USA. It was on this latter decision that the narrative becomes a little tiresome in places. I suppose because it was such a monumental shift, not only for him but also for his wife and children, he wanted to convey how hard it was to step down from a place of wealth to one of much less wealth. Further, he clearly didn’t believe he was the one for the job due to his lack of prior experience with poverty and relief work. Still, not so many words were needed to get this point across. On the other hand, I appreciated his story of coming to faith in Christ so much that I shared it with my teenage daughter.

Clearly, as World Vision president Mr. Stearns has a duty to advocate on behalf of the good work his organization is doing. This isn’t something I can criticize, but only note as fact regarding this book. Clearly this is where his experience lays as well, so it is natural that he would cite more examples from his charity than any other. At the same time, he does mention throughout the book several other ministries that do great things for the poor around the world. So it isn’t “all World Vision, all of the time.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of this book for many Western Christians, and evangelicals in particular, is the Bible study. Verse after verse is presented to support helping the poor as a biblical mandate. He mentions The Poverty and Justice Bible, which I have discussed elsewhere, and emphasizes the reality that around 2000 verses or more of the Bible deal with poverty and justice issues. This fact may surprise some Christians, particularly those who only think in terms of Christianity as a transaction that gets them to heaven (personal salvation through Christ, avoid egregious sins, repent often then wait for eternity to come) rather than as a call to grace-filled, Spirit-led active discipleship in this world while we prepare for resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth.

This book is generally very good, but I would recommend it in particular to anyone who wants to begin exploring for the first time what the Bible really says about helping those in need. It will most certainly help give you a clearer vision of God’s heart for the poor.

How to Set Up a Rails Application That Uses MySQL on Ubuntu

Setting up a new Rails app using version 3.0 I found that the default database engine is SQLite 3. For various inconsequential reasons I prefer MySQL, so I did a little research on how to create an app already configured for use with MySQL. As Ubuntu is (for now) my Linux distro of choice, these instructions are specific to that OS.

First, make sure you have the MySQL packages installed on your system. Use either the command line or, more simply, the Synaptic Package Manager to install these, including the MySQL client and lib packages.

Second, assuming you’ve already installed Ruby and have the rails gem, also gem install mysql.

At this point you can simply create the new app, defining MySQL as the default database.

$ rails new example_app -d mysql

Check out the Gemfile and you’ll see MySQL listed there. You are good to go!

Moving Favelas Out of the Margins

Earlier this year I asked some questions about community development in Brazilian slums. I never received any direct answers to my questions, which was disappointing (then again, who really reads this blog anyway?). Recently, though, I came across a very encouraging article from the Center for International Private Enterprise. In it the situation of residents of  Cantagalo, one of Rio de Janeiro’s older favelas, is described.  For around 100 years people have lived on land they didn’t legally own, passing it on to the next generation and even selling it. The matter is complicated by the fact that legal ownership is with a mix of private and public parties. An initiative was started by the Atlantic Institute and the Security Project of Ipanema to legalize the situations of residents and businesses of the favela.

A respected leader of the community association got involved and several local law firms helped to find solutions to the many complicated issues that legalizing an old property invasion can bring up. Separate solutions have to be found for each condition, and apparently there will even need to be an amendment to the state’s constitution to carry the solution forward to conclusion.  There has already been an improvement in quality of life, as crime rates have dropped and people have begun taking real ownership of their community.

In that prior post I wondered how Christians in particular could deal with the thorny matter of community development on what amounts to a very well-established squatter camp. Clearly a big part is going through legal channels and patiently untangling the mess that was made by the ongoing trespass.  In more recently established favelas I have to imagine that this is far more complicated, given that the theft is so recent. Still, rather than dodge the issue, community developers should face the issue head-on and pursue amicable solutions, however daunting or unpleasant the task.

See The Center for International Private Enterprise’s blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed.


What’s Going On Here?

Every so often I come across a blog that’s a floater. It’s part of the debris of the shrinking blogosphere, the implosion of which seems to have roughly kept pace with the growth of Facebook. As people have found that (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) to be more convenient ways to keep in touch online, blogs have been abandoned. In other cases bloggers have simply lost interest in writing, or the novelty wore off. Many times these blogs have no new posts for months, then a final one where the blogger apologizes for his/her absences and promises to be back soon. This final post is usually a few months old as well by the time I see it.

Well, this isn’t one of those “final posts,” and Igneous Quill isn’t going “floater.” I have actually remained pretty active on one of my other blogs,, where I blog about social issues, community development, mission and youth ministry. This blog,, is where I blog about technology and programming. Lately, though, I haven’t had the time and, quite frankly, haven’t been learning much.

After being laid off from the start-up where I’d been employed nearly two years I found work as a site producer with a major magazine publisher. This is a great job and a good company, but I’m not learning much about the kind of technology that interests me. At home I simply haven’t been making the time to sit down and study, so there hasn’t been much to talk about here.

This will change. I’m committed to preparing myself and my family to return to Brazil for full-time community development and mission work, specifically utilizing open source solutions and education to help poor and at-risk youth in Brazil to rise above their circumstances and take advantage of their nation’s emerging economic status. I’ll be using my time more wisely in coming days, seeking to learn all I can with the devotion I have to the mission of God, and I’ll share here any tips, tutorials or other information I come up with in this process.

Thanks to anyone who reads this and possibly my other blogs. I hope that what I write is helpful.

Remember the Poor

Last January, after the massive earthquake in Haiti, we saw round-the-clock coverage and an outpouring of aid for the troubled nation. Haiti has a long, terrible history. The indigenous inhabitants died or fled when the Europeans moved in, and African slaves were taken there to work the plantation colony. It’s a history of oppression, idolatry (European/American avarice, Haitian superstitions) and terrible violence.

So, it came as an enormous shock one day when someone working on the same floor as me at 1 Penn Plaza commented on the news reports, complaining that there was “all this coverage” of people overseas, when “our own people” were losing their homes in California. She was referring to million-dollar mansions that were being lost to mudslides in that state.

Stunned, I muttered, “the history of Haiti and the history of California are considerably different.” She replied loudly, “We should be helping our own people.”

Incredible. How can anyone compare the misery and absolute poverty of Haitians with the loss of an affluent Californian’s home? It’s incomprehensible to me.

There is a more subtle way, though, that we can all fall into a trap of immunizing ourselves to the sorrow of poverty.  We can misquote Jesus, saying, “Well, we’ll always have the poor among us.”

What he really said was, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 NIV In saying this he was echoing the Old Testament, which says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11 NIV Far from a fatalistic statement of unmovable fact, these words give us a call to action. Jesus was telling his disciples that yes, he was with them then and was doing vitally important work for the world’s salvation, but that of course they’d be helping the poor once he was gone.  The words of Deuteronomy remove all doubt about this, showing us that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who came in the flesh as the carpenter from Nazareth, the God who is forever faithful and who’s character is unchanging, wants us to look after the poor.

A few weeks ago I was given a copy of The Poverty and Justice Bible after participating in a youth conference hosted by the American Bible Society in New York. Although I’m not terribly impressed with the translation (Contemporary English Version), I appreciate the justice and poverty-related devotionals included, along with the roughly 2000 verses highlighted in the Bible that deal with how God views the excluded, marginalized and oppressed of our world. Think about that. More than 2000 verses in the Bible talk about God’s love and concern for the poor, and his wrath against people and systems that keep the weak down.

Clearly, we have a duty to the poor.

This coming November 21 my home church, Central Jersey Church of Christ, will be taking up a special offering for the International Day of Giving. My family won’t be there that day, as I’ll be supply-preaching for the Echo Lake Church of Christ, but I fully support the efforts of HOPE worldwide and other Christian organizations in their work to put into practice the church’s call to serve those on the margins.

Next month a group of Christians will be going down to Honduras for the now-annual “Jesus Banquet,” held in a dump and served to men, women and children who eke out an existence eating or selling for recycling whatever they can find in the trash.  check out this video to get an idea of what this is all about.

With the holiday season upon us, people in the West are thinking more about the needs of others. This is traditional. The call to serve and lift up the poor and disadvantaged is prophetic and belongs to the people of God. What is your church, family, or just you doing to help those in need, nearby and around the world? There’s so much need. We can’t do everything, but we must do something.

Day Well-Spent: Embodying Hope Campus Ministry Conference

On Saturday, October 23, 2010, my wife and I participated in an event that we almost missed. Over a month before I had received a brochure in the mail about this conference and, mistaking it for an appeal for donations, almost tossed it as junk mail. After I registered online to attend I lost both the link to the registration page (which offered no information anyway) and couldn’t find the brochure. In the end it took a tweet to Jeremy Del Rio and a call to the American Bible Society to get the date and location information again. I’m so glad I put the effort forth.

The day began with a great breakfast. I mean really good. Eggs, bacon, juice, coffee…the works. From there we went into a time of worship and prayer, followed by a video about the work of the American Bible Society.  Here’s the video:

The first session of the day was led by Jeremy Del Rio, described on his website as “Youth Specialist, Organizational Strategist, Author and Speaker, Justice Advocate.” He spoke on the challenge of literacy, providing an example from his own experience helping a boy from his son’s grade school class to improve his English and reading/writing skills. This boy in particular is from a Muslim family. This isn’t just a New York thing, it’s a matter of the kingdom of God reaching across cultural and religious lines and barriers. It’s about disciples of Christ extended a hand of friendship and help to their neighbors. It’s good.

After a brief break, Abel Lopez gave an excellent presentation of the work of CLAY Student Leadership. This is an effort to encourage churches to partner with local public schools to provide a non-sectarian (but harmonized indirectly with Scripture) curriculum that teaches solid values, self-worth and leadership. The point was made that just in New York there are five churches for every one public school. What if those churches could just agree to pray consistently for their local school? What if just one of those churches took the initiative to reach out to help the schools in whatever ways they need?

Lunch was provided (it was great!), and then we worked at our tables discussing how to implement something along the lines of CLAY in our own communities. It was a worthwhile discussion. Some questions were raised about implementation, such as finding volunteers who would be available during school hours to help, but these were set aside for future training and orientation from CLAY.

Our discussion concluded, we moved on to the announcement of the relaunch of Elementz of Life magazine. This periodical, a project of the American Bible Society, is aimed especially at urban youth and deals frankly and biblically with the sort of challenges they face. Each participant received a free copy of the magazine, and my wife and I were both impressed. It appears that rather than a subscription magazine, each edition will be sold individually and in bulk. At the end of the day a reception was held, complete with food and drink, to celebrate this relaunch. They certainly fed us well at this conference!

The final session of the day was led by Fred Lynch, lead pastor of  Tha Myx church in Dallas, Texas. He gave a moving message from Scripture and his own life, focusing on lessons learned.  Here are some of his best lines:

“The thing I don’t have going for me is the best thing I have going for me.”

“My weakness sure has made me strong.”

“Hey, I know me, so I know if things are turning out successful, it’s God.”

Point is, those of us who feel led to work with youth may feel that we are facing giants and mountains, but our success doesn’t depend solely upon our efforts. If it did, we’d be in trouble.

We closed out the day taking tours of the Society’s museum of Biblical art, and enjoyed the reception I mentioned above. We were presented with certificates of participation and each received a “goody bag” including booklets and a copy of The Poverty and Justice Bible (click here for my comments on it).

What an amazing event. So great to be well-fed, spiritually and physically, end encouraged to do the work we feel called to carry out. Now to get down to business.