Category Archives: Living Wisely

On Crankiness

Crankiness.   Most people find this posture rather annoying or just plain boring.  Yes, there is the occasional H. L. Mencken, whose curmudgeonly writing is entertaining partially because of its cranky tone.  But Mencken has a rare capacity for the mot juste, which makes one willing to suffer through page after page of cantankerousness to find the inexpressible one-liner that will knock one’s socks off.

However, crankiness ought to be rare rather than routine.  Yet, it seems that in the writings of the two vocational groups to which I serve, crankiness is routine.  I am a minister in a small, somewhat strict Presbyterian setting, and a classical Christian school teacher.  I’ve read somewhere that there are something like 107 different classifiable feelings.  But in the writings of some in these settings, all of these feelings are easily reduced to one:  crankiness.

I’m writing this because this is a temptation that I’ve often succumbed to.  I’m repulsed by it.  Most of us find complainers insufferable, but we often notice that one is rejected from certain affinity groups without the proper undertone of complaint.

I understand the reason for crankiness.  Pure and simple, the reason is a misappropriation  of conservatism.  Not 21st century American political conservatism, which is ill-defined and cranky in it’s own way, but classic conservatism.  Classic conservatism at its root entails a sense of loss, a mournfulness that the tried and true heritage of the past is being rejected in favor of the new and novel.  Classic conservatism sees an arrogance in this rejection of the past, a lack of humility and teachability, and a dishonor for one’s fathers and mothers by those in the present age.

However, this crankiness quickly turns into a requiem for the past and a scorn for the opportunities of the present.  Yes, true conservatives do and should long for a celebration of the best of the past.  However, what is required is not the proverbial turning back of the clock but the joie de vivre of seeing the opportunities of the present day and a creative imagining of a preferable future and the faith-filled steps and processes to bring this preferable future into place.  A robust theological and philosophical vision must be brought to bear to face the “fallen condition focus” of the environments in which people serve.

Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not enough to grieve the virtues of bygone eras. Biblically, the only “good ole’ days” were the ones before the Fall.  While many “white-bread” American Protestants look back with longing at the fifties, one does not need to think too hard in questioning if our African-American brethren experience a similar longing.  Crankiness is an unfortunate lapse into the flesh and a blessing of what is more properly called the lack of joy in our lives. Crankiness is the work of the flesh that the Christian must put off.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that we must “put on.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, rejoice.”  While this is easier said than done for a habitual pessimist like myself, this is the imperative of the gospel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows us to rejoice, even when temporal circumstances may not bring happiness or optimism.  As long as God is present, all things are possible.  This is what is cause for rejoicing, rather than bygone virtues or present optimism.

 

 

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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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Broad and Narrow Reading

   Both of my vocations require a fair amount of reading merely to stay current with my
responsibilities.  I’ve often considered how, why, and even if it’s beneficial to read more broadly outside of these demands.  I’ve come to the conclusion that if I don’t read more broadly, I stunt my intellectual growth and lose the ability to speak to the issues that I write, teach, and speak about.
Today, one of the choices that I need to make is whether or not to take the time to stay current on my Bible reading plan, or go straight to the sermon and claim this as my “Bible reading” for the day.  I don’t necessarily think that there’s a right or wrong answer, but I do believe that if I don’t maintain the daily habit of reading other parts of Scripture than I’m studying to preach and teach from, then I’ll regress in my understanding of and command of Scripture, not to mention personal godliness and enjoyment of God’s Word.
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Likewise, whether it’s mass-market fiction or other genres, reading broadly helps me to think through the connects between the material for my current projects and other items that create interest in them and relate to them.  So, I need to continue to make the effort and schedule the time to read broadly outside my disciplines.
What are your reading habits?  What has been most helpful to your spiritual, personal, and professional growth?
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Copyright Your Faults

It fascinates me to listen to people who are good at their craft and passionate about it.  I’ve posted about Dan Carlin and Hardmainpic_hh-1core History before.  His interview on The Tim Ferriss Show is an excellent conversation that really gets at the intersection his passion for his craft and his proficiency at it. Dan Carlin is a podcaster who has excellent content and practically flawless delivery.  One of points that I took away from this conversation is his line, “copyright your faults.”  In other words, don’t spend all your time trying to fix your weaknesses but be yourself, and use the actual weakness into a strength.

I found it interesting that he didn’t say, “work on flawless delivery,” and even goes into some flaws that have been pointed out to him with his delivery.  Rather than trying to change those, they have become a part of who he is, and given him a distinctive voice.

The phrase “copyright your faults” really captures the idea of not trying to conquer your weaknesses but  to strengthen your strengths and make your weaknesses part of your individuality better than anything else I’ve heard.  Rather than flat out imitating someone who have been an influence on me, I’ll be more effective in the long run by building on my skills and abilities and cultivating my own style.

In my own setting, as a teacher, there are probably as many ways to bring about good learning outcomes as there are teachers.  If I care about what I’m teaching enough and I care about the material enough, I can usually find a way to connect students with the material.  There’s usually a human interest element that may be behind or beyond the text that we are studying.  I really want to connect this to my students to broaden their interests and to continue the process that was begun with me in high school, when I first encountered teachers who were passionate about their craft and good at it.

What are you learning about being passionate about your craft and being proficient at it?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Learning

“We learn how to do things by doing the things we are learning how to do” (Aristotle.  Ethics ii.1).

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Vegetarian? Vegan? Macro?

I made my post Christmas pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble a couple of days ago.  It’s a “pilgrimage,” because I enjoy the blessing of having raised a family of avid readers.  So, there’s no shortage of books in our home, and no shortage of enthusiasm for visiting bookstores.  Indeed, aren’t bookstores the real reason for shopping?

The object of my quest was to find a book that was a combination of personal journal/explanation/how to concerning making the change to a vegetarian, vegan, or macrobiotic diet.  The thought of making this change has been rattling around in the back of my head for some time now, and I wanted to read more than Wikipedia had to say about this.  I’m not exactly as svelte as I was in my 20’s, and realized that most likely I’ll never get there again.  But I’ve talked to people who have done this, and they seem happy that they made the change.  Those whom I’ve talked to feel better, report health benefits, and seem to be able to eat all they want within the range of their food philosophy.

I wanted to find the story of someone who “waded in the shallow end” of this journey and didn’t try to do it all at once — someone who would make me think that this might possibly be achievable for someone who includes friends and loved ones in their eating habits.  I also felt like I needed to be “sold” on the why of doing this, and read the words of someone who enjoyed and benefitted from making such monumental changes.

Alas, I found no such book!  I didn’t look at the books that were mostly scientific information– I’m just not going to read that.  The science seems pretty sound from what I’ve read — at least it’s more on the side of a plant based diet than what I’m eating now.   However, it just cannot be that there has never been anyone in the history of mankind who considered attempting this change one meal at a time.  I’m astonished that there is no one in the history of the planet who contemplated taking baby steps toward this.  The books I found were either straight-out cookbooks that assumed that I was sold on their particular philosophy, or “how-to” books.  Of the two varieties, the how-to books started out with advice such as “take everything out of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and throw it in the garbage.”  No consideration whatsoever that person who may attempt to follow such advice may be married to a spouse who would advise reasonable, prudent steps toward a better diet, or more like exclaim, “you’re throwing hundreds of dollars of food into the garbage!”  No advice given on how to win over a skeptical spouse whose wisdom has been nothing short of life-saving.

So, my quest was halted in frustration.  However, I’m sure that there is at least one person in the history of the planet who has been in the circumstances described earlier who has written a book about their experience that’s worth reading.

I’d love to hear from you!  If you have researched transitioning to vegetarian, vegan, or macro and found a helpful book that is makes it sound fun encouraging, and achievable, let me know!

 

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Do What You Can With the Body You Have!

I posted yesterday on how I’m in doubt about plans for future ultra events.  However, there’s another take on this subject, or for that matter, any other physical challenge.  This attitude is, “do what you can with the body you have!”

Now, this attitude is not original with me.  I read this somewhere, and I can’t remember where.  But it makes sense.  Rather than trying to diet, slim down, and get into “better condition,” whatever that may mean, do what you can now.  And push yourself to do more.

The idea here is that physical perfection is probably beyond most of us,  So we use this mythical ideal to hold us back, rather than enjoy what we can.  So, do what you can with the body you have !  And enjoy yourself!

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Why blog?

Why blog?  This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for the last couple of years.  If you follow this blog, you find out that the usual answer is, “there’s no reason to.”  And for the past several years, I’ve managed to marshal some reasons not to blog that sound like good arguments.

I don’t have anything to say.  In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t already been said.  Now, this form of thinking is one to which I am prone.  What I’ve discovered, however, is that there are new ways of saying what has been said, and new audiences who are looking for a fresh take.

I’m not that interesting.  Blogging is a good way to become interesting.  It’s good to have a driving force that will push me to be more engaging, develop new interests, and to pursue the interests that I have more wholeheartedly.

I’m not a narcissist.  While there is more than enough shallow, self-centered banality that sounds narcissistic, it doesn’t follow that anyone who wants to put their thoughts in public is a narcissist.  There are writers whom I read who stimulate me, challenge me, and edify me.  These are results that don’t come from navel-gazing narcissists.

I don’t write that well.  My self-evaluation of my writing has deterred me from sharing most of my writing with anyone.  But the opposing point of view says, “how am I going to improve?”  The path to improvement is regular writing, revising, and sharing what I write.

I don’t care about being famous.  There are bloggers whose readerships is in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.  Developing an audience and bringing dependable content to that audience sounds like pressure.  But building an audience is not easy.  It takes effort.  At this point, I’m writing as if I have an audience, but I’m far from being famous.

I’d rather teach than write.  Fair enough.  But won’t writing and editing and revising make me a better teacher?

I’d rather while away the hours in unproductive pursuits.  This is the honest truth.  But it’s one that I want to change.

What keeps you from blogging?  Why do you blog?  What motivates you to keep sharing and publishing content?  I’d love to hear from you!

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About Changing the Script

     I read an article a couple of weeks about changing one’s internal script with writing.  It was one of those self-help things that you read and say “meh”.  However, on greater reflection it’s been surprising helpful in thinking ahed toward 2015.  The idea that stuck with me is that through reading, reflection, and writing, It’s possible to change a person’s inner thinking, and as a consequence, change their story.  It’s possible to bring the best out of yourself instead of scraping through every day unthinkingly.
     This year’s 500 word challenge turned out to be a trial run at this.  While I didn’t follow through with it for the rest of the year after the 31 days, there was something powerful about it that began to change my internal script; that is, the instinctive and reflexive governing of my life that is so influential, and often so self-limiting.
     “Change the Script” is a powerful imperative, like “Take Permission”, my theme for 2014.  While I still need to follow through with the Take Permission imperative, something deeper needs to change within me to generate the boldness to Take Permission.  That’s where Change the Script comes in.
     To begin with, there are a couple of ways I want to work toward Changing the Script:
     Internally:   I want to generate optimism, positivity, and encouragement instead of cynicism and negativity.  My default script tends to be cynical, sarcastic, negative, and a sense of smarminess that “I know better”.  I find this repulsive when I see it in others but tolerate and advance it in myself.
     Move forward to initiate new habits:  I can take charge of myself.  I can initiate change with others, I can work to lead those within my sphere of influence to a preferable future.  While my sister tells me I’m “regimented,” this regimentation can be positively used to work toward being willing to experiment, to try new things, to take risks.
     What are you thinking in terms of changing your script?  I’d love to hear about your thoughts and plans!

2015 Annual Plan

2015 Annual Plan

Last week, I shared my 2014 annual review.  Putting forth what I learned in 2014, here is my annual plan for 2015:

Long term desires:

  • Keep current work and life situation.
  • Initiate more in relationships – network in areas of commonality.
  • Become more self-aware and take better preventative measures to maintain good mental health.
  • Continue to educate myself and develop my craft.
  • Travel more
  • Family vacation
  • New York City at least once.
  • Weekend away with my wife.
  • Running goals
  • Ultras
  • Overall fitness – strength, stretching,

 

How to structure to move forward: Minimalize. Essentialize. Throw out about 90% of old key result areas.

Moving forward:

 

Disciple:

  • Live a more consistent Christian life
  • Devote myself more to prayer
  • Incorporate more books and audio to enrich my soul
  • Work harder at going from Biblical insights to application
  • Become more self -aware and take better preventative measures to maintain good mental health.
  • Initiate more in relationships – network in areas of commonality.
  • Be more conscious of the preciousness of time and act accordingly
  • Cut about 90 percent of the to do list
  • Do things that matter as opposed to spending large amounts of time in what amounts to trivia

 

 

Husband/Father:

  • Initiate more communication and planning with my wife
  • Continue to live within our means.
  • Continue to slightly accelerate paying on house
  • Rebudget in light of income changes– how much to keep contributing to in retirement vs. current expenses and short- term savings.
  • Initiate more and work harder to keep and improve relational ties among children.
  • Reduce book inventory in garage by 90% — go through one box a week – keep, sell, give, toss.
  • Initiate working together with my wife on more projects.

Teacher/Ministry Partner:

  • Continue to focus on the joy and excitement of my calling and its resounding affirmation.
  • Actively seek out ways to get better at my craft.
  • Love my students, my texts, my coworkers, and my parents well.

 

Pastor:

  • Keep focus on teaching, administrating, and prayer.
  • Keep focus on supporting our lead pastor and the session.
  • Work more on “on the spot” shepherding.

 

Athlete:

  • Goals were too ambitious last year (I did enter 4 races and finished two, rather than entering 5 and finishing 5). Decide on some events and do those only.
  • Rediscover the wonder and enjoyment of endurance sports.
  • Work on maintaining and enhancing overall fitness. Maintain an average of 5 times a week of cardio exercise.

 

 

Scholar/Writer:

  • Look into how to move into writing for an audience from zero to some.
  • Develop another reading plan to unfollow. Or look at old ones. Push toward 50 books per year.
  • Continue to seek to maximize time through reading and audio.
  • Expose myself to a steadier diet of positive authors and speakers who can speak into my life.
  • Develop writing skills.
  • Develop audience

 

Note: Just about all of these are process-oriented rather than SMART goals. As I move ahead in the year, I will need to tweak current processes and put new ones in place as occasions arise to move from vision into action.

Looking ahead, what are your desires for 2015?  How do you plan for a new year?  I’d love to hear from you!

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