Click

I am extremely envious of my wife, who is able to achieve a moderately high level of productiveness, constantly, all day long.  She gets up at seven and works steadily all day, and then crashes precipitously exactly twelve hours later, leaving me at my own recognizances for putting children quietly to bed. The next day, same results.  My own productivity runs more like those Halloween costume stores you see in October.  No one knows where they came from, but they do a bang up job for an extremely short period of time before disappearing into the night.

I have to wait for the click.

Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a surprisingly useful piece of literature for reflection.  In it, Brick Pollitt spends the majority of the play drinking, in pursuit of “the click,” a certain peaceful state of mind.  Fortunately, alcohol has nothing like that effect on me, but I find I am only really productive after a similar click, where I enter in to a flow where I become insanely productive for several hours.

What gets me there is quiet meditation, so it’s something like a Zen state.  Only thinking about nothing is not a valid kind of meditation.  Prayer works, and singing.  But mostly for me it’s reading.  Especially when I’m stressed, I wake up and it hurts.  Nothing physical, but my mind is out of joint.  Mentally, I’m thirsty.  I need to read.

Reading scripture is best; it leads to praise and prayer, but I usually start with popcorn text: Facebook, Twitter. Thoughtful articles on various blogs.  Long-form investigative reporting. Then scripture.  Then Bible commentary.  Slowly inching up, widening my aperture for thought.  Then: click.  I can think.  Widely, broadly, productively.  Occasionally, practically.

Under stress, from a hard start, it’s a process that can take 3-4 hours.  I don’t usually get 3-4 hours. But I get what I can with the time that I have, hiding in a makeshift study somewhere, building up reserves until I’m interrupted by some event, called upon to react.

I don’t like being reactive; much better to wait for the click; ten times the productivity.  But so hard to get together the necessary blocks of time.

Caffeine helps, of course.  It kind of jump starts the entire process.  With a sufficiently large dose of caffeine, I can skip straight past meditation into 2-3 hours of reactive productivity.  Very useful in my line of work.  But there are diminishing returns.  Too much caffeine and the mind is dizzy the next morning.  Always better to wait for the click.

Sometimes I think that I might get similar results from a few hours of intimate conversation, but it’s been a very long while since I could test it.  So many conversations are… reactive instead of meditative.

So there it is.  Is this introversion?  I’m not really hiding from people.  The need to be kind draws me out.  But I’m thirsty for the flow state, always waiting for the click.

More Than Just Listen

I believe that the preacher has two duties:to teach the people how to read, and to teach the people how to think. By reading, I don’t mean the ability to look at letters and turn them into words and sentences, but the ability to look at words and sentences and understand the context and subtext, to read critically. And by thinking, I don’t mean the ability to think approved thoughts, but the ability to take approved thoughts and evaluate them according to an ultimate standard.
I’m always dismayed when I go to hear a sermon and I hear words being read, but no Reading being done, thoughts being recommended for adoption, but no Thinking bring demonstrated. It does no good to convey truths to a people like a black box, and give them no hope of learning how those truths actually integrate. How then when other preachers come and authoritatively hand out more attractive untruths?
It’s as though a soldier was added to the roster of a military unit, and was subjected every week to his captain and first sergeant demonstrating on his behalf all the skills of a great soldier, but was never trained to perform those skills himself. How then when he deploys? How when he is promoted will he handle increased responsibility?
I don’t remember, growing up, if I was subject to  good preaching on Sunday mornings. I remember a few really good pastors, but I also remember moving a lot. What I did have was a mother who was faithful to teach me doctrine, and recordings of great preaching, and an excellent library. We had lots of theological conversations growing up. We probably had a lot of conversations that no other family would have. I’m always running into situations where a friend learns, as an adult or a reasonably mature Christian, something that was part of normal conversation when I was a kid. (Of course, I’m also always filling in lots of gaps.) My point is that I was taught to read and I was taught to think. Oh boy was I taught!
God has ordained two primary channels for Christian education: the parents and the preacher. Every other role is a supporting role.  And it’s the preacher’s job to train the parents. My mom did her job, and an excellent one. But not every Christian gets an excellent mom. How much more then does the preacher have a heavy responsibility to teach the people every week to do more than just listen?

I must be on vacation

Everything I read seems interesting, and worthy of comment.  Either everyone goes on vacation at the same time that I do, or I function more coherently with a little bit of rest.

Here’s five links, with some commentary:

  1. Polar Bears.  If you remember, a few years ago, polar bears got upgraded to protected status.  The story was that global warming was wiping out their habitat, which consists of ice floes.  Here’s an article on how Scientists count, and how easy it is to (mis)count them.  For instance, they only put radio collars on adult females because juvenile bears grow too fast and could choke on the collars, and the adult male bears necks are bigger than their heads.  It’s a common problem we have in the Army as well.
  2. Catholics usually make super-hero movies instead of zombie movies.  It’s because zombies are better left to people who don’t believe in purgatory.
  3. There’s a new concept floating around that it is impossible to unilaterally forgive somebody. One party has to forgive, and the other party has to receive forgiveness, repent, etc. You can see this concept at work in Salvation.  Nobody gets saved against their will, and nobody in hell will be allowed to offer the excuse that God should have just forgiven them instead of holding on to all that bitterness.  Presumably for God forgiveness ends in a restored relationship.

    But this makes me wonder what the right word is for this other stuff we’ve been pushing.  When you get mugged, and the next day you decide to write off the experience and offer the open hand to a fellow you will likely never see again, if that isn’t forgiveness in the Biblical sense, what is it?  For that matter, at the end of days, when God is judging the quick and the dead of all their deeds, and our hypothetical mugger comes up, having never repented, and the Lord of Heaven lays out a just sentence for all his crimes, do you stand up and say, “But Lord, I forgave him!”?

  4. It’s been a saying in my family for a long time that the best way to stifle a child’s love of reading is to put him in a primary or secondary English class.  Here’s a post that covers why.
  5. Last, a fascinating post on the trouble of translating mythological sounding words in scripture.  Are they Fauns or Jinn, or just plain old goats?  Well, it was fascinating until the part about Adam and Eve. That was just horrifying.

The Way of Kings

Just finished reading The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. It was very good. Sanderson is pushing into the realm where he’s starting to possibly compete with Tolkien. He certainly handles religion better than any fiction author I’m aware of.

The beautiful thing is that he goes there, when so many writers, infected by the practical atheism of the day, are writing stories about a magical world where people have no religion, and religion never occurs to them. Sanderson takes religion seriously, and he doesn’t lay all his cards down either. While it does come out that there are some “right” answers, in the mean time the opposing views get their say, and some times the argument that wins is clearly not the author’s own. That said, there’s still just a hint of a Mormon squint to it. So, like with Orson Scott Card, somewhere you’re going to find out that “God” is a little more mortal than you expected, and that holiness comes to those people who just work hard enough at it. (My standard caveat: if you’re afraid of that awful Mormon cult, don’t be. They aren’t a cult, they’re heretics, on a level with people who think Jesus was a great teacher. Mormonism is Pelagius, plus science fiction)

In the mean time, his characters and world building are believable, and they have good reasons for some pretty decent philosophical and theological debates. There were a couple of different places where he got my heart rate up.

The book is a little thick: At 1000 pages plus, it took me a little over a week to read.

Now I’m going to switch back to non-fiction, and see if I can plow through 200 pages in a month. I’ll probably quit the book, as usual.

We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’d say reading can’t be taught in a classroom any more than patriotism. (Classrooms are good at dissecting specimens. The bedroom and the dinner table, the bathtub – that’s the place for books!) but being a reader is a kind of culture that can be passed down. As far as I know, every child that has come through my mother’s house has come out with a stack of books under each arm. Reading is a kind of prejudice, and you have to be carefully carefully taught.

As for this article… this guy is all over the map! My jaw dropped when he mentioned the Dewey decimal system as the culmination of the effort to organize books. When he started talking about our need to skim in a modern world full of so many books, I started skimming. When he rambled on the the subject of filtering, I began to filter.

Things that make me happy

  1. A regular routine.
    Getting up at the same time; going to bed at the same time; having the same sorts of events each day take up roughly the same portions of the day… Things I do repeatedly, I get better at. The better I am at something, the more mind space I have to improvise and work on other projects.
  2. Free time.
    Somebody a bit more snobbish might call this “quiet time.” Either way, it’s not incongruous with the above point. It’s the purpose for it. I want a regular schedule so I can block big open spaces to sit and think. The key is the biggest blocks possible. A two hour block is twice as good as two 1-hour blocks, which would be still better than 4 ½-hour blocks. Every chaotic experience requires a certain margin of time before I’m able to operate smoothly again. This cuts into the free time that I have available on paper.
  3. Plenty of time to read, reflect, and write.
    As before, this is the whole purpose of the point above. I can always squeeze a little reading into the crevices in my schedule, but reflection and writing require nice big blocks. And it’s only when I’m ready to write that I first begin to notice that I’m becoming happy. It’s the foundational joy of an ordered mind.
  4. Prayer. Continue reading “Things that make me happy”