Monthly Archives: January 2015

Yard Sale

1506_405323316216228_14675588_nI’ve finally turned the corner on this deathly virus.  All I’ve been able to do is the bare minimum to be prepared for class and to survive.  I was sick enough to go home early from work Thursday, which for me, means near death.  It seemed a bit narcissistic to call in sick for the blog, but I had to suspend posting until I experienced a turn for the better.
I did finish Paradise Lost.  I’m not sure I feel any more prepared to teach it but I did outline the introduction to our class discussion and was surprised how much I was able to put it all together.  This is one of those works where you really need to trust the author to take you where he wants you to go.  Being familiar with the Scripture is a big help in getting through this tome.  Even though I get the big picture, I feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s really an inexhaustible treasure.
I started listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of days ago.  Absolutely gripping.  The setting is a futuristic dystopian society that is controlled by a cult that has some Christian elements in it.  I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it appears that the ability to sire and bear children is rare due to the collateral damage done by the wars that have plagued that society.  The protagonist is a “handmaid,” one who is set apart to bear children for the wife of one of the commanders.  Anyway, I got to thinking about this book along with a book that came out a couple of years or so ago by Jonathan Last called What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.  For years, the worry among the progressive elites of Western culture has been overpopulation.  But now, the West is experiencing something unprecedented — a demographic death spiral that is taking place throughout the West, as many families have instituted their own voluntary one child policy.  Last forecasts an alarming decline in economic growth, productivity, standard of living, and quality of life.  It’s an eye-opening read.  The juxtaposition of the two books is almost enough to make one paranoid that we are teetering on the edge of a collapse of civilization, and we don’t recognize it.  Quite interesting.  I don’t think Atwood realized that there may be a time when her effort at speculative fiction may be closer to the mark than she thought.
I’m mostly working on sermon preparation for when I preach in two weeks and Latin III translation.  We’ve moved further into Latin than I’ve ever been in this year’s Latin III class, so I’m having to do the translations with pencil and paper before class now rather than just sight read them.  I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m seeing myself become more competent in the language.  My Latin is completely self-taught, so this milestone and challenge is rather gratifying.
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It Takes A Long Time To Learn To Do Something Well

I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight.  It’s quite a challenging read.  Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.41Ux+jGSkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere.  The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text.  Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot.  But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft.  It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process.  It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.

It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English.  But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold.  Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance.  Diligence.  Industriousness.  Making the most of my time.  Applying myself.  These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood.  So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey.  I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others.  It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.

Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?

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Early to Rise!

Screen-shot-2012-10-11-at-2.15.22-PM-300x421I’ve discovered that I have a self-sabotaging habit that I need to stop.  I have the habit of going on Readability, Longform, Medium, and other such sights and sending articles that may be of interest to me to my Kindle.  When I open my Kindle, I ask, “why is this here?”  And I’m determining more often than not, that it’s “because I could send it there.”  The result is a feeling of unresolved guilt.  Who cares if I don’t get around to reading all of those articles.  Better yet, I should delete them all and just read books!

Had a worthwhile Lord’s Day yesterday.  Amy and Hannah were both ill, so I went to church by myself.  I was inspired to read some Puritan literature from A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.  Finally got over the intimidation factor to crack the covers.  I read the first chapter on preaching, on the Sabbath and Religious Worship, and a couple of other chapters  Pure gold!  For those who really want to see the best of theology applied, I can’t recommend this volume highly enough.  I’m sensing a new appreciation for the graciousness of God in the gospel and a personal renewal in Bible study, prayer, worship, and studying the Word to preach.

I got up earlier so that I could spend more time reading and studying.  I’m in the process of turning my internal clock back to getting up at 5 AM so that I can be a little more selfish with my time and read and study more when there are no other demands on my time.  Right now, this is about the only way that can envision doing the reading and writing that I’d like to do.  I’m pretty worn out by the time evening comes, and this is also the only opportunity that we have as a family to visit and check in with each other and see how the day went.  So, here we go!  Early to rise!
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Yard Sale

Self-Talk-Poster-2-15-13Self Talk.  I knew it would a good day today because I slept late and woke up with an attitude!  I don’t remember the last time that I did that.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it.  Typically, if I wake up at 8:30, my internal taskmaster screams at me with his loud voice, “YOU’RE BEHIND!”  But today, I’m talking back.  “Behind WHAT?”  “Behind WHO?”  Generally, if I wake up with that much of an attitude, it’s going to be a great day.
Today, what gives this self-talk credibility is that I am in a good place for being ready for next week.  Grading for the week is finished and posted.  Lesson plans still needed to be done and copies of quizzes and handouts still need to be made, and the “play chart” still needs to be made, but that only takes about 2-2.5 hours.  Domestic chores need to be done too, but again, the amount of work is far from overwhelming.
Daily Run.  I ran three miles today, continuing to listen to A Year of Reading Dangerously.  It’s still a compelling listen.  I love books about books, but it will truly do its job if it spurs me on to devote greater time and effort to reading.  However, heading south down the beach into the cold, driving rain, it may have been more enjoyable to listen to the cornucopia of sound provided by nature in the crashing of the waves against the shore, the swish-swish of my feet upon the sand, and the driving wind and pelting rain I headed out into.  Close call.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll opt for immersing myself in the echoes my surroundings instead of an audiobook.
Plato’s Republic.  The detailed reread of Plato’s Republic plus taking notes and outlining it is taking its toll on other books that I want to get to.  However, it’s well worth it as I’m getting much more out this read (I think it’s my eighth) than any previous reading.  Halfway through it and still going strong!
Paradise Lost.  I still need to make it through Paradise Lost with some degree of comprehension of the plot, structure, characters, allusions, and an informed opinion about what Milton is trying to do in this epic, which is no mean feat.  Right now, I’m having to trust our Puritan forebear with this.  I’m finding it the literary equivalent of finding a 32 oz. chateaubriand on my plate and being expected to at least make a dent in it to show gratitude to my host.  It’s about the richest work I’ve ever read outside of the Scriptures.  I feel like I’m missing so much every time I pick it up.  Maybe I need to think about what I’m taking away rather than what I’m missing.
What kind of self-talk do you give to yourself so that you can get through the day with “attitude”?  What are your strategies for getting through difficult tomes like Paradise Lost?
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An Audiobook Got Me Out The Door Today

51eJJdCffZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Well, yesterday’s run didn’t completely kill me.  I was hesitant about heading out today but once I shuffled about half a mile or so, I felt alot better and managed to put in four miles.  So, four days in a row.  In itself, this won’t exactly get me to the starting line but if I can keep it up for another several months I’ll at least make a dent in the fitness situation.

I started listening to audio while running recently.  It used to be that I only listened to audio if I absolutely couldn’t get myself out the door otherwise.  Then I would crank up some tunes . . . either mostly bad 80’s music that provides an initial burst of energy but gets annoying after a while because it’s just bad music, Motown, or in some cases, chill out to some jazz.  Lately though, I’ve started listening to either audiobooks or podcasts on the way home and gotten so enthralled that I’ve taken them out on the run — and even end up running farther just because I want to get more into the book.  Today, it was The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.  It’s a memoir of a English man who has a rather mild midlife crisis  — no red corvettes, blingy gold chains, or anything like that, but rather, a sense of disappointment with some aspects of his life that he has passively settled into. He begins to desire to “improve himself,” makes a “list of betterment,” with books that he has resolved to read, and sets out to read about a book a week, and writes about his experiences with these books.    Some of them are classics such as Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch.  Others are books he became interested in for one reason or another.  In one of the most memorable sections, he relates the experience of reading Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea.  From what I gather, the protagonist of the novel is a rather pompous and disturbed retired actor.  Food plays a major part in the novel, and Andy Miller’s relating of some of these dishes is ‘laugh out loud” funny!  What’s even funnier is, not knowing much about cooking, he attempted some of the recipes of the novel’s protagonist himself, and got to experience firsthand Iris Murdoch’s irony.  Anyway, now I need to put The Sea, The Sea on the reading list.

My wife is at class tonight so it’s reading time tonight.  Another book and a half of Plato’s Republic with taking notes to get ready for class Monday.  Need to keep moving through Paradise Lost because I’m teaching it later this year and feel woefully underprepared.  Of course, I’ve taught the Republic for eight years now, but it’s so rich that every year, I feel like I’m starting all over again.  Then, I’m hoping to get into something that I’m not reading to prepare to teach a class.  So, that’s the daily wrap-up.

What tricks have you used to get yourself out the door to exercise?  Is there a particular kind of music or audio that is helpful?  I’d love to hear about it!

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Back To Running

atlantic_beach_jacksonvilleMy oldest son and I decided to run a marathon together in the Fall of this year.  So, I decided to get my act together and actually follow a training schedule for a change.  I pretty much took a Christmas break from running, so I’m feeling rather soft and out of shape.  I’d like to lose some weight and improve my speed so that if my son decides he wants to run the whole thing with me, it won’t be absolute torture for him to go as slow as I do.

The first two days, it was tough to get out the door to run 3-5 miles.  However, today something started to kick in.  I set out to run three miles and continued to stretch it out and ended up running up to Hanna Park, a city park north of my house, and doing some trail running to end up running eight miles.  It was an absolute blast — the sun shining on me and then being able to watch the hues of the sun setting, the rough terrain of our somewhat eroded beach, and being able to be outside and move on a warm January day.  I can’t remember the last time I came home from a full day of work and put in eight miles!  Usually, it’s a four mile or so trudge after getting home from work.  I was pumped!  So it looks like I’m good for “sticking with the program” for this week.

I’ll be lining up some events for late spring and early summer to test my fitness.  Meanwhile, I’ll see if I can lose some weight, feel better, and gain more energy.

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Catechism of the Catholic Church

catechism-of-the-catholic-church-200I woke up thinking through Plato’s view of the human body today.  This will come up next week when I teach Books IV and V of the Republic.  Expecting some associations with and attempted slanders of the Roman Catholic view of marriage and physical relations in marriage, I read up in The Catechism of the Catholic Church  on marriage and the expression of marital love to confirm that the Roman Church is not Neo-Platonic in her conception of the physical body.  The degree in which the Catechism is not Neo-Platonic in its view of the human body, marital love, and the gift of children is rather astonishing. Plus, I experienced the added bonus of reaching the beautifully written and theologically informative document that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is.   If only we had something like this as Protestants!
We do have the Westminster Larger Catechism, Baxter’s A Christian Directory, and the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Institutes that are somewhat comparable in scope.  However, the Reformers wrote catechisms for every generation and even sometimes the faithful in their own churches.  Alas, I think it was David Wells who said, “our is not a creed-making age”.  If this is an accurate observation it makes the Catechism of the Catholic Church an even more amazing achievement. It seems to me that this is the one theological work of the 20th century that future generations will see as a “classic.”
The Catechism covers not only issues of personal belief and conduct, but also social issues such as just war, birth control, abortion, etc.  and is so beautifully written.  I probably should put it on the reading list for this summer.
The structure of the Catechism is the same as most Reformation era catechisms.  The first part contains “what we are to believe concerning God.”  The second part contains “what duties God requires of us.”  Another way to summarize the Catechism is that it has three sections:  The Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  All of the Reformation catechisms except the Westminster are organized around these three symbols of the faith:  what to believe, how to live, and how to pray.
I haven’t been able to read much in it.  But from what I’ve read, I highly recommend it for both Protestants and Catholics.  Protestants will find much more common ground with our separated brethren than many would expect, and where there are differences, It behooves both Protestants and Catholics to be informed about what those differences are and be able to accurately understand and express those differences.
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Latin iii, Depth of Teaching, and Shared Inquiry

One of my maxims is that “good teaching comes out of depth.”  If a teacher knows his subject deeply and the particulars that he wants to teach for the day, he can make it interesting, provocative, connect it with other areas of the lives of his students.  In other words, if I’ve read Plato’s Republic eight or nine times, I’m able to teach it out of the depth that comes along with that experience, as well as what I’ve gained from reading other things about Plato and the republic.  It’s helpful, even indispensable to be able to see how the parts relate to the whole and the whole to the parts, and how the Republic relates to later works of philosophy.  To the contrary, if a teacher is still trying to master his subject, his teaching is going to be the source of a great amount of confusion.  Last night, I was thinking about this in relation to the shared inquiry approach to teaching.
This tends to be the traditional approach to teaching.  How does shared inquiry fit into this, when a teacher is a learner along with the students.  The teacher is a facilitator, guiding the students through the discipline of study, asking questions and engaging the material. For example, I’m learning Latin III right along with my students.  I’m far from being sure that this is the idea method, but it does have its strengths.  I’m able to identify with their roadblocks and weaknesses.  I get the joy of discovery along with my students.  The students end up doing most of the work in the class instead of the teacher.
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In terms of colleges, St; John’s College is exclusively devoted to shared inquiry as well as a handful of of others.  A poetry specialist might be teaching Newton’s Pricnicipia Matehatica, or science person may teach Aristotle’s Politics.So, while I’m not on shaky ground since others do this, I’n trying to figure out what the advantages are, if any.  However, to provide an education better than the one I received,  I have to branch out and challenge myself to be able to teach it in a worthwhile manner.
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Blogging and Editing

editingQuestion:  How much do you edit and revise your blog posts?

I’m really conflicted over this.  I’d like to post “finished writing,” but find that in order to produce consistent content at the pace I’d like to and to keep up with my other commitments (work, family, fitness, church) that the process more often is to draft a post in my journal on Evernote and do an extremely quick edit.  Ideally, I’d work on skills like literary present tense, strong verbs, consistent point of view, and continuing to make my writing simple, clear, and direct.

What I’m noticing is that the benefits that I’m striving for in my writing process are happening already.  I’m able to church out 400-500 words at any given time on just about any topic I have some level of command of.  I’m also remembering the stylistic emphases that I’m working to incorporate as I write.  So, benefits are accruing faster than I expected, and carrying over the writing that I do in my employments, which is a real plus.

So, I’d love to hear from you how you handle editing, revision, and style!

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Momentum, Processes, Goals, and Sisyphus

I steeled my will to go to the gym and spend an hour on the elliptical machine.  It wasn’t exactly quality cardio, but I did get it done.  Probably helped me to sleep and is building momentum toward more and better training.  I seem so far removed from even being able to think about getting fit for an ultra.  However, getting out and doing something every day is the first step.  Getting momentum going is what is key at this point, rather than a state of fitness at a future date.
I’m finding this is true in other disciplines as well.  Reading.  Writing.  Counseling.  The temptation is to think in terms of goals completed.  This can be depressing, as my thinking tends to drift toward how far away I am from the goal and how much effort it will take to get there.  Unfailingly, this turns out to be an exercise in self defeat,  as I ponder the Sisyphian labor involved in reaching this milestone.  It works much better for me to hold the goal loosely, and instead, work on the process that should move me toward that outcome, and every day continue to take the steps necessary to move toward the objective.  “Success” seems to be more of an exercise in taking disciplined steps to move things along on a number of fronts rather than arriving at a “Eureka”moment.  Momentum is key to continuing to be faithful in this discipline.  What you do when no one sees is what turns your endeavors from brainstorms or ideas into reality.  When momentum accrues, the labor no longer seems Sisyphian, and the process becomes the focus rather than the outcome.   496164907155199844_338ba033584f
I still shudder to think of some of the minimum objectives I need to achieve to keep the status quo.  I don’t know why the word “goal’ is such an intimidating word, why it screams “failure!”  It’s possible that in challenging oneself, there must be a strong possibility of failure.  Otherwise, the endeavor wouldn’t really be a challenge.  However, my slothful self doesn’t quite see it that way.  Even my wife hates it that the word “goal” is such a taunt to me.  I even felt this way when I was competing in cross-country and track in high school and college,  I surpassed a significant number of seasonal goals.  It’s probably the distance from starting the process to completing the process, only to do it all over again.  It can quickly get into the mentality of “can you top this?”  Such an equation puts a person under a great deal of pressure, because there comes a point when every achievement can’t be built upon, or the point of diminishing returns for one’s effort is reached, and it is folly to go beyond this point.
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