Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jesus Comes Through Again  

So I've been working my ass off on something at work for the past ... oh, I dunno, two weeks. That's not entirely true - I've actually been working on it since September, but the really nasty, push 90-hour-weeks two-or-three at a time have come in about four surges, two last year and two this year. Nothing I seem to do seems to push this forward, because it isn't a coding problem, it's a manipulate-large-sums-of-data-produced-by-massive-systems-to-generate-an-evaluation-for-a-feature-launch problem whose intermediate steps take anywhere from thirty minutes to eight hours and whose end-to-end steps can run from four hours to a whole week. So if you make a mistake early on in the process - and it's easy to do - it's no fun starting over. And if something else changes during your work on the process, guess what? You start over again, even if you did nothing wrong.

So what can you do? Work harder, work smarter, ask for help from those more experienced - and there are probably a dozen blogposts I could write on how I've improved my process during all this - but sometimes that's not enough. So you come in early, stay up late and stress your body out until you're so sick you have to call in and work from home because work-related stress is tearing up your guts so much you can't eat or sleep and you just want to GET this DONE. And still sometimes that's not enough - so you keep pushing harder.

Or, you can pray.

I'm not a "Bible believing" Christian. To me, that's almost an oxymoron - Jesus Christ was a real person and what the community of faith that he founded wrote down about him is a pale and often misleading substitute. But a Christian has to take the Bible as the first primary source about Jesus - Scripture is what we've got, and Tradition and Reason have to take it as it is. But even as Reason speaks quite loudly that we can't take Scripture literally as history ... it also speaks loudly to ask us why the Church that Jesus founded was inspired to collect those books in the first place. Just because the Israelites and the early Church didn't have modern standards of evidence, we still have to ask: what experiences did they have that prompted the writing of these books, and what lesson did the collators of the Bible want us to learn?

Turn to the Old Testament. During much of the latter half of Exodus through the Chronicles, the authors of the Bible depict the Israelites committing shocking acts of genocide against the native peoples of Caanan - as a friend of mine said, it would suck to have been an "-ite" in the days of Joshua. But did the Prince of Peace really want those stories recorded as an example of how Christians should behave? Not for the genocide, surely, and even in the Old Testament text when the Commander of the Armies of the Lord speaks to Joshua son of Nun, he does not take sides even as the Israelites are about to attack Jericho and destroy it. I think instead it's to demonstrate why we should put our faith in the Lord. Again and again through the Old Testament, the Israelites are shown failing on their own merits and succeeding when when they put their faith in the Lord: overcoming giants, huge armies, and even toppling the walls of Jericho. Whether or not the battle of Jericho happened as depicted in the Bible is beside the point - the meaning of the story is that people can tackle impossible odds if they put their faith in the Lord.

Case in point: my Jericho, that massive data collection problem that I've run rings around for months. I literally made myself sick last night staying up super late to get the evaluation done and, while I produced some approximate estimates, I still had many problems. I worked from home all day, again literally fading in and out of productivity and half-conscious stupor, until finally I'd done all I could do. I tossed my estimates "over the cube wall" via email, grabbed some dinner, and went to Writing Group. On the way home, slightly rested and refreshed, started thinking about the problem again. There were a few minor things to try but the very next step was starting over from scratch. I thought back about the power of prayer, about recent sermons I'd heard and readings I'd read, and I turned to Jesus (not theologically, I've already done that, I mean, once again, literally here, I think of him riding in the seat next to me in the car, or exercising on the next treadmill when I'm working out) and said: you can solve this, can't you? Because I can't do this on my own.

When I got back to my home office and opened my email, my feature had been approved for launch.

Nothing supernatural is required here, if you're not inclined to believe. I know that. I'd worked hard, reduced the data load of my feature, produced a new set of estimates, and even though this class of estimates had previously been deemed unsatisfactory, the new load was low enough for approval to be granted. You might think it was weird that the approval came on the heels of the prayer, but a proper skeptic, thinking it through, should say that there was nothing mysterious about it: even the timing of the prayer was only to be expected given how long I'd been working on it. (And even if you are NOT a skeptic you need to learn the mental discipline to realize that these things CAN just be coincidences, or you're going to go crazy and turn yourself into a nutcase seeing miracles where there aren't any). So ... was this simple response to a long period of hard work designed to produce that exact outcome an actual miracle? Not necessarily. Almost surely not.

Mmm-hmm. Suuure. You go on believing what you want. As for me? Thanks, Jesus, for coming through again.

-the Centaur

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If you pray to do well on an interview, and attribute doing well at it to Jesus, then you should also blame Jesus should you get sick right before. Otherwise you're committing confirmation bias. Believing in a supernatural being is one thing, and thinking it is good is entirely another, and requires its own, separate, evidence.
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 12:05 PM
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