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.
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?
I’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.
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!
This idea is not new to me. I find, though, that you can learn alot about a person by finding out about the books that they would take if they knew that they would be stranded on a desert island. Here’s my top ten:
1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Quite simply the greatest artistic creation in the history of the universe. I billed it this way to my eleventh grade English students and it managed to live up to this billing. Ol’ Will really hit one out of the park with this one! Can’t say enough great things about it. My favorite book to teach, by far!
2. Homer’s Iliad. Still possibly the greatest epic in human history. Homer is especially unsurpassed for his descriptive powers of blood, guts, and the reality of the battlefield. This always makes me wonder if he is glorying in the heroic ideal, or showing us the futility of the heroic ideal.
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. At least I’d have time to finish the darn thing. On several occasions, I’ve gotten about 400 pages into it and found it to be a great story, well written. It’s reputation for being more useful as a doorstop than a book is thoroughly undeserved. I’ve always gotten distracted and never kept the momentum going to finish it.
4. The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. My favorite book by Lewis. I reread it probably once a year to remind myself of why I’m a teacher and what my core values as a teacher are.
5. Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. Lest I become conceited or no longer think that I need to be challenged in doctrine and devotion, learning and piety. Possibly the greatest mind who has ever lived, and surely one of the most holy. I’m counting the Summa as one book. You may not think that’s fair, but it’s my post. Again, I’d at least have time to read the whole thing.
6. Calvin’s Institutes. Gotta have at least one book from my own tradition. Same criteria as the Summa.
7. The Book of Common Prayer. Beautiful, well composed, Scripture-saturated prayers. A great resource to remind me of both the transcendence and the immanence of God. Thomas Cranmer makes the English language sing in the service of worship and prayer to our Lord. Wouldn’t want to be without this one.
8. Something by Charles Dickens but I can’t decide which one Maybe Hard Times, Bleak House, or Tale of Two Cities.
9. Bible. I’m a convinced Protestant so this might seem like an odd edition. If I was going away for a while, I’d want to read the Apocrypha. The RSV is not a bad translation either. I’d either go with that, the ESV (which is descended from the RSV), or the Authorized Version.
10. Can I take my Kindle?
What books would you want to take if you were going to be stranded somewhere?