Adam Frieberg
Minister, Computer Programmer, Geographer, Photographer

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

[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."


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.

OK, so I was in over my head almost as soon as I tried to tackle this whole self-hosted Ghost blog project.

For one -- I learned a heck of a lot about doing GitHub deployment to Azure. The ability to not only push new versions of the source code, but then also revert and restore to previous safe versions when you screw it up. That's almost the holy grail of version control. (Or by holy grail -- maybe it's just the starting foundation that took us decades to get to ...)

Azure also has some sweet debug tools. The Kudu debug console is slick.

Why I switched Hosts

When travelling on a 10-day trip in March 2014, I ran into an issue with my blog. I hadn't pushed any changes (no new deployments). I hadn't posted any different content (no changed database). For some reason, though, the IIS Node instance completely crashed and said several of the Node modules were inaccessible.

I have no idea why that would have happened. There should have been nothing on my site that changed.

But it did ... and it crashed ... and trying to get it restored was just too much of a hassle.

What other options were there?

Oh, nothing major ... except for the hosted option by the makers of Ghost. Considering for a $5/mo fee, I can get my own custom domain, hosting and upgrades and security by them, and not have to worry about mucking it up as I've proven I can do.

I realized very quickly: if you want to learn, start doing it yourself; if you want it stable and cutting edge, go with the Pro version.

I'm not turned off from using Azure -- I use it for plenty of other stuff. For this type of development stack that I'm not fully familiar with ... I'm glad there's services like Ghost to do the configuration for me.

PS - In other news, the Ghost 0.4.2 upgrade made some very nice improvements in my touch-sensor retina display settings for the in-browser post editor. Exciting stuff from the Ghost team!

I tried something for Lent: to take on Facebook again.

Two years ago, I'd given up Facebook for Lent ... and I immediately noticed I wasn't focused on the world as much as I had been. I wasn't constantly worried and constantly focused on others. I was taking time to work on myself.

This year, I decided it would be good for me to get back on it. It would be good for me to take time each day to focus on others and their needs.

So on Ash Wednesday, I tried to get on it again. I tried to give it another chance.

I lasted 10 minutes.

Deactivating my account again felt like an instant breath of fresh air.

I've been trying to figure out why.
  • It's not the user interface. Even though I prefer Google+ and its cleanliness and transparency of what's being shared to whom (seriously ... the "View Profile As" dropdown that lets you see yourself as others would see you ... is phenomenal!) Still, Facebook has gone leaps and bounds in making their user interface better.
  • It's not the content. I follow many of the same people on the other networks as I do on Facebook. They post the same links to their blogs on those as they do on Facebook. I see some of the same memes on Facebook as I see on Twitter and Pinterest.
  • It's not the rigid content types of Facebook. I get my creative kicks from Adobe Lightroom and other software. I don't need my social network to be flexible enough to let me be "creative" on it.
Facebook doesn't offer memuch.

I am grateful, however, for what it does offer to the world. It pushes humans closer together - for better and worse. It gives a fairly large megaphone for the public to keep institutions accountable or at least under pressure. And perhaps, most importantly: it pushes the internet forward with an emphasis on global connectivity.

Facebook has made it a priority to make their software almost leave no user behind. Their focus on making their software work in the "developing world" and its prior generations of Android and other operating systems ... has to be maddening for developers, but life-saving for its users. For more of this, listen starting around minute 43 of the podcast at

I realize Facebook isn't for me -- but I'm so grateful for what it does. Ghost is an instant classic. And by classic, I mean it was popular once. And still could be, I guess.

BTW - Ghost is the blog software running this site. It runs on NodeJS ... which makes its buzz-worthiness skyrocket. For good reason.

The buzz leading up to it, in its Kickstarter days, was monumental.
The buzz as it first launched was pretty good.
The buzz around release 0.4 was barely a trickle on my Twitter stream.

I'm now in week two of getting my self-installed, Azure cloud-hosted version of Ghost live and exposed to the world.

There may be security loopholes we don't know about yet. There may be some weird configuration problem I made that'll make the site crash, catastrophically. Lots of opportunities for "may be" to get in the way and cause havoc and mayhem.

(Which is just another day on the internet, if you ask me ...)

Throw out the old?

Launching a new site always leaves a question for server administrators: what do you do with the old one? (Trash it? Archive it? Co-exist for search engines?)

In my case, I had a blog I started in college, diligently kept up during my study abroad, half-assed in seminary, and then sporadically sprinkled with random thoughts in my first years of bi-vocational ministry.

That blog went through many addresses as I moved in life. It also went through at least three different RSS aggregators. My brother at one point said, "Adam, it's like you're tryingto make it impossible for me to read what you write."

For the time being, I think I'm going to move the blog over to (no, I haven't done it yet!)

How old is OLD?

This is a touchy subject with those whose default reactions to change isn't appreciation: how do you honor the past while moving forward?

Is the blog "formerly known as"? Is it OK to call it "old"? What about "legacy"? "Classic"?

In deciding the new address, I decided I was fine with "old" -- mostly because I wrote it when I was so young - no one would mistake those words as those of a wise sage with life experience.

The label means little without the referent

Last week one of the blogs I follow had a picture and featured comment that were hilarious.

The Online Photographer: Canon doesn't do Retro

They also, conveniently, illustrate this point: saying something is classicor oldor legacymeans little without the full context of what it refers to. Old compared to ________?

I have enough journeys this coming year that I'm looking to pack lighter and smaller. I will banish the memories of that time my 40+ lb camera backpack caused me to dislocate a rib. Gone will be the days of looking more like infantry personnel than an on-the-go reporter. People will notice me not for the 18lb telephoto at my waist, but only for the decisive moment when I raise my point-and-shoot to my eye.

At the risk of re-enacting Midnight in Paris, why pick the 1980s as my classic -- why not go back another generation or two and imitate the golden age?

Obviously, more tk ...

Part of the 2014 Annual Meeting for the Church of St. Benedict in Bolingbrook, Illinois

Heidi's and my church (the Episcopal Church of St. Benedict in Bolingbrook, Illinois) apparently has a love-hate relationship with their annual meetings. I can't say I blame them.

Every year, usually around the end of January or beginning of February, the church stays after worship for a 45-minute meeting. The "love-hate" aspect comes in because sometimes these meeting are boring. Long finance discussions, lots of banter between the congregation and the speaker(s) ... of which not many people can hear -- it's no wonder attendance drops on those Sundays. But there's a loving aspect to it too; the congregation often loves the potluck meals afterwards. They also are willing to get creative with Heidi as she leads them into brainstorming sessions on where they've seen God working in the past year.

Typically, I don't get to go to those meetings. It's a situation I'm usually fine with. Usually I am lucky enough to be the adult sponsor for the youth. Sometimes we go out bowling; sometimes we take care of the littler kids; sometimes, like this year, we have Sunday School like normal.

I did get to contribute to the meeting in a way that made me there in spirit - if not in real presence. When Heidi asked meto create a slideshow from some of my photography from the past year, I made an executive decision:
No, I won't create it Powerpoint; no, every slide won't be 0.8 seconds longer than it should be (at 4 seconds); and no, we're not going to have this going in the background as ambient visuals throughout the whole meeting. My photos tell stories and this slideshow was going to tell A STORY!
The video at the top of this post is what came out of that decision.

The story: our congregation received an amazing gift from the Diocese this year. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, of which our congregation is a part, paid off the remainder of the mortgage for our building. It's exciting news for us as a church. Our annual meetings switched from focusing on creative ways to meet the funding gap between pledges and the mortgage payments ... and instead moved to how we can do more local ministries in our community. We're already in year two of our partnership with Morningstar Mission in Joliet. We're going back to the basics and reinvesting in our Christian education programs to help make more disciples. Theologically, I've noticed that we've switched from a theology of scarcity ("will we have enough?") to a theology of abundance ("God is already doing so much ...")

It's a good story, and it's not even to the middle chapter yet.

Hopefully Heidi and I get several more years of these types of slideshows to make.