Articles by Tim Butler


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A Theology of Pluralism: Out of Context

Part One in a Series on the Problems of Religious Pluralism

By Tim Butler | Posted at 22:12

I am working on getting this piece published, so I decided against posting it here on this blog. I'm sorry about the inconvenience.


By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:30

I feel like I've been in between decisions for months now. This week, I've started to try to clean things up and push toward tying up loose ends, but I still have way too many things up in the air. I know God is leading me somewhere, but I am just too dense to know where. Part of me thinks I just need to sit back and enjoy the ride for awhile, part of me think that His leading is to start being more proactive. What I fear is that I am too comfortable with the status quo and maybe that is part of the problem.

The Genealogy of SAFARI (Or How Blogging Revived Old Code)

By Tim Butler | Posted at 15:30

SAFARI (Standardized Automated Format and Retrieval Interface) began its life in 1999. I had a simple goal and wanted a simple solution: I was redesigning my church's web site and I wanted an easy way to post the entire church newsletter online. At the time, I had been tinkering with Perl for about two and a half years and thought I was a much better Perl wrangler than I really was. So I decided what every overambitious Perl programmer would decide: I'll write a content management system.

At the time, there were far less CMS's out there, I wasn't aware of more than a handful, and none of them did what I wanted — provide a way to sort articles by issue, a must for a monthly publication. I started working on SAFARI, and quickly started to realize the enormity of what I had taken on. I had no idea where to begin. But I trudged ahead, creating a relatively modular CMS that uses a flat-file database (that's a fancy term for a text file that stores your data), provided multiple levels of user access and eventually even a rudimentary search engine. In 2001, I released the code here, although honestly the code has some serious flaws which I knew, even at that time, needed to be corrected.

In fact, SAFARI was so focused on issue-based content, that I had to go with PHP-Nuke when I launched OfB, simply because SAFARI didn't work in the proper fashion for a normal internet publication. It was rather depressing, but laziness has a way of winning over pride, and so that was that. OfB was launched two months before I even released the SAFARI code, which made the release of SAFARI ever more depressing. However, SAFARI did serve its niche well, so I did release it with hopes that maybe someone would find it useful.

Blogging Days
My blog launched in February of 2002, at the time before blogging had really become all that well known. In fact, while I had heard the term, I had ignored the trend, and when my friend and fellow DMOZ-editor Ciaran Hamilton told me he had started a blog and offered his then-unreleased Journal script to use, I decided to give blogging a spin. This did compound the fact that within four months I had passed over using my own SAFARI script not once, but twice, but by that time I had given up any grand plans for SAFARI.

I did not have any real intentions with my blog. Given that Ciaran was the only blogger I knew, I didn't really do much with it for a few months. Given my minor amusement rather than serious interest in the idea, I didn't even start it with a proper, memorable entry. No, the entry, as immortalized in Christopher's In the Beginning post that catalog's many blogs' first posts, said rather un-eloquently:
Hiya! My friend Ciaran Hamilton gave me this nice script, waddya think?
How I wish I had the foresight that I'd still be blogging today. Eduardo started by invoking the muse from Homer's Illiad, I start with broken English that makes me cringe. But, I digress…

Ciaran's Journal code is probably one of the tightest blog codebases you will find. It is a compact, two file package that gets the job done well. I know that much, since it served me well from February 21, 2002 through December 23 of this past year, when it finally died for a reason I still do not know. During that time, I synchronized with his official code based once in November of 2002, after which I forked the code, adding commenting capabilities, a much more standard issue look (attempting to mimic MovableType somewhat) and a few other features.

This is the point at which my interest in blogging would become galvanized. Blogging was only so interesting when you didn't know if people were actually reading the posts. I know Ciaran and Kevin were at least occasional readers, but only because I knew them from elsewhere. It was my first post with commenting support that Christopher left a short comment and I realized I had a reader originating from the blogosphere — maybe I could get into this thing after all!

The Christian Directory Project (OpenMoz/FreeMoz)
Another important thread in this genealogy is the ill-fated FreeMoz project. FreeMoz is key for two reasons — first it is the project that brought me into contact with Ciaran and also some of the lessons in database design that I learned working on it figure into SAFARI later on. Long before my DMOZ-editorship lapsed, I made a post on the editors forums asking if anyone knew of a way to get the DMOZ codebase to create another specialized directory. Ciaran answered and after exploring the options, we decided to write our own replacement. I hacked the basics together in December of 2001, Ciaran added some much needed functionality and we would continue to work on it on-and-off for about a year. The project died, as Antony Flew would say, a death of a thousand qualifications, as we sought to garner support to develop the software needed to create a Christian variant of DMOZ. The impetus for the project was an issue, or I should say, issues with DMOZ, such as DMOZ's listing of X-rated material as well as the simple fact that “FaithMoz” could hopefully leverage the same concept to bring together a directory of Christian sites perhaps even better than DMOZ's, since there would not be as much “noise.”

Like SAFARI, building a whole directory project was a big deal. Hoping to attract developers to create the code-base, which would be useful for many directories, I began talks with Richard M. Stallman (RMS) of the Free Software Foundation about making the software, re-badged FreeMoz by RMS's request, an official GNU Project. We ended up getting bogged down in legal (i.e. avoiding infringement of AOL/Netscape's DMOZ) and editorial freedom issues, and the months we spent on that ended up killing off the momentum of the project. It was my fault for worrying to much about amassing major support, rather than the FSF's fault for worrying about legalities.

Back to SAFARI
In March of 2003, OfB was hacked, thanks to PHP-Nuke's poor security model. Having taken a week of vacation that very week, I resolved to spend the time figuring out a replacement for PHP-Nuke. I became convinced that all of the Nuke-spinoffs had issues, and blogging software simply wasn't quite right for a news site. What was I going to do? I decided it was time to revive SAFARI. However, SAFARI needed to be improved vastly for it to work on OfB. I would need to lose the issue based mentality of the CMS (or, more correctly, relegate it to one of several modes of viewing the content), add commenting, and most importantly, port the whole thing over to a SQL backend instead of the inefficient flat-file database.

I was able to do the last item within about three days, but after my work-vacation ended, I did not have time to finish the project. I also invested some time in fixing parts of PHP-Nuke, so I gave up the idea of bringing back SAFARI, once again. The promise of a really useful version of SAFARI, that I could use somewhere other than just my church's web site, was starting to seem like vaporware.

Over the next year, OfB would be compromised again and, at the same time, I started noticing things that were lacking in my forked version of Ciaran's Journal code. For example, I could not delete or edit posts or comments without editing the database manually (editing was especially tedious because the db was encoded). I also noticed that asisaid was becoming extremely slow and a huge resource hog, since each view of any post required the entire one megabyte database to be processed thoroughly. At some point, I resolved that I would make asisaid a test site for SAFARI, since it was a low traffic site and needed a needed a CMS — once I got SAFARI into a state where it worked satisfactorily here, I could move OfB to it as well.

Over the past year or so, every few weeks I'd take some time (usually a few hours) and start rewriting functions of SAFARI. I integrated the comment code I had written from my old Journal code, finished SQL-support and started implementing a more sensible theme system, similar to the one used by PHP-Nuke. The comment code is essentially SAFARI's only link to Ciaran's code, although it also incorporates some of the ideas from Journal codebase.

Back to Genealogy
If you've been following this byte-wasting toy of mine all the way to this point, you've probably noticed that SAFARI doesn't have a clear genealogy. SAFARI is an older codebase than Journal is, but it is also, in some senses, the decedent of Journal. Likewise, while porting SAFARI to SQL, I incorporated many of the ideas I had first tried out for FreeMoz, which had, conversely, borrowed some ideas from the original SAFARI. Once I complete the project, SAFARI 2 will probably have enough new code that it might be fair to say that it is the grandchild of SAFARI 0.9, Journal and FreeMoz, but it is not a simple linage at all.

Why I've kept working on SAFARI for so long could merit an entire essay of its own. Part of it is the practical reasons I've listed above, but in some ways, it may have been almost more efficient to start off with someone else's code base and grow from there. Another part is that SAFARI has almost taken on a life of its own — code, in that way, is sort of like poetry, I guess. It is sort of comforting to work on it, like talking with an old friend. Now that my old friend is approaching being a robust, modernized CMS, it is also becoming rewarding to look at my blog and realize all of this work has finally started to come to fruition.
Lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses. Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the printers` shops. Thus doing, you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface. Thus doing, you shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all; you shall dwell upon superlatives. Thus doing, though you be libertino patre natus, you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles — Sir Philip Sidney

Johnny English

By Tim Butler | Posted at 22:49

I watched Johnny English tonight (with Rowan Atkinson of “Mr. Bean”). It was quite a bit like I expected — completely ridiculous. :-) Sometimes that's exactly the kind of film you need to see, ya know? Don't expect a long blog post on this — there isn't all that much significance to it. But, if you like Atkinson's brand of humor, you'll enjoy this film. I know Christopher posted on this film in 2003, but I cannot seem to locate that post. At any rate, it was a good movie for ninety-nine cents at the drug store. I made my throat hurt from laughing.

QOTW #7: Eat Me!

By Tim Butler | Posted at 20:07

Leap Day Humor

By Tim Butler | Posted at 18:46

“Leap Day” deserves a bit of humor… okay, it isn’t new, but it is funny.

Jesus and Satan have an argument as to who is the better computer programmer. This goes on for a few hours until they agree to hold a contest with God as the judge.

They set themselves before their computers and begin. They type furiously for several hours, lines of code streaming up the screen.

Seconds before the end of the competition, a bolt of lightning strikes, taking out the electricity. Moments later, the power is restored, and God announces that the contest is over. He asks Satan to show what he has come up with. Satan is visibly upset, and cries, “I have nothing! I lost it all when the power went out.”

“Very well, then,” says God, “let us see if Jesus fared any better.”

Jesus enters a command, and the screen comes to life in vivid display, the voices of an angelic choir pour forth from the speakers. Satan is astonished.

He stutters, “But how?! I lost everything yet Jesus' program is intact! How did he do it?”

God chuckles, “Jesus saves.”

Christians and Secular Music

By Tim Butler | Posted at 19:55

I've considered this debate a number of times. First on ChristianSource about a month or two ago, and just today I considered it again when Jake wrote about it. In my opinion, in our consideration of this issue we ought to judge the artist not on what they don't say but what they do say.

The artist might not mention the words “Jesus” or “God” every other breath, but do they advocate a Christian lifestyle? Do they avoid advocating sinful activities? Are the things they say in harmony with the Bible? I see no reason why a Christian band can't sing secular songs so long as this is the case.

In the discussion on ChristianSource, I brought up one of my favorite groups, Sixpence None the Richer. They are a group of Christians that created a mostly secular band. Not entirely mind you, even the name is derived from Christian thought — it's from C.S. Lewis' masterpiece, Mere Christianity. But at least for the most part, their songs are secular songs, songs about various problems and events in life. In that discussion, I wrote:
At the time when they hit the top of the charts in the late 90's with “Kiss Me,” they were attacked by many Christians for betraying their Christian
fan-base with pop music. As a Focus on the Family article noted at the time,
the song wasn't really un-Christian at all, it just wasn't a religious song.
Just like talking about Linux here on ChristianSource doesn't betray our
Christianity, talking about matters other than faith doesn't necessarily
betray an artist's Christianity. Other songs on the same album did have more
“noticeable” Christian tones, I might add.

In actuality, while Sixpence has a Christian fan-base, they have actually never aspired to be labeled a Christian band. They will readily admit to being Christian, however. Part of this, I think, is because we have boxed our artists in. We say “if you're a Christian artist and you sing about any non-Christian stuff, you're a traitor that used Christianity to make you money.” Thus, bands like Sixpence avoid the label even though it applies to them very much (and is placed on them by retailers and the like).

They've attracted Christians with songs like Breathe and Dizzy, that are very Christian. For example, here is part of Dizzy:
I'm like Peter crying crowing burning my ears still you come near, you take my hand
and place in my palm an eternal chance I give you myself
it's all that I have
broken and frail
I'm clay in your hands
and I'm spinning unconcealed
dizzy on this wheel
for you my love

It's really a touching song, as are many of their other ones, but many are secular, most notably their big hits Kiss Me, There She Goes, and Breathe Your Name. Since Kiss Me became popular in 1999, I've heard many people complain about how Sixpence was going secular. Never mind that several tracks on the CD had noticeably Christian lyrics (and less obvious paraphrases of Pauline letters). However, Sixpence has always had this mix of secular and “sacred” music — all the way back to their first CD.

This isn't an isolated incident either. Michael W. Smith often suffers similar attacks, for instance. Perhaps its out of fear that he will follow in the steps of the musician he formerly played under, Amy Grant, but I remember a few years back reading about how MWS was betraying Christians and going secular. I think people were upset about the few secular songs on Live the Life that actually made it on pop radio. Again, never mind that much of the music on the CD was Christian, MWS must be evil to do secular songs!

The problem is that Christianity isn't just about singing praises to God. That's very important, but Christians still deal with the rest of life. As long as we do, why shouldn't our artists sing about it too? Put another way, I might ask if we ought to consider the parts of the Bible that deal with the rest of life “non-holy.” I'm sure everyone would yell “blasphemy” if I suggested such. Yet, here we are saying Christian music that deals with secular, but not necessarily bad, things is somehow wrong?

It's time we stop putting artists in the box and consider them Christian not by the frequency of keywords but their testimony and the overall message of their music. Hopefully if the bagger at the grocery store says he is Christian we will accept that unless we see proof otherwise. Let's do the same for Christian artists.

I'm an Island!

By Tim Butler | Posted at 19:26

Japan - Viewed as the technological powerhouse of the 21st
Century, it has lived a reletively solemn and
singular history.

Technologically Advanced.
Economic Superpower.
Healthy Populace.

Isolated and Sometimes Ignored.
Unlucky with Disasters.

Which Country of the World are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

The Creative Penguin

By Tim Butler | Posted at 15:55

Welcome to

By Tim Butler | Posted at 22:42

Timothy R. Butler is a pastor, professor and writer. He serves as Pastor of Discipleship at Grace Presbyterian Church. Previously, Tim served as the University Chaplain of Lindenwood University, where he created “the Chaplain's Office,” which reintroduced chapel services and other ministry events at the university. Tim also served as a writer and was editor-in-chief of Open for Business for a decade. He has experience writing on theology, literature, philosophy, technology and politics. Butler earned a B.A. in English Literature and Religious Studies from Lindenwood University and an M.Div at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Reformation Studies at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis).

Tim's Writings and Sermons

  • Sermons: Tim's messages from Grace, Lindenwood and elsewhere.
  • OFB: Tim serves as Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.
  • asisaid: Tim's personal blog.

Connect with Tim

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