Category Archives: Uncategorized

Journals of Bygone Days

I’ve never been disciplined about revising and rewriting.  Ever. Not in any genre or for any audience.  Almost all the papers that I submitted in college, graduate school, and seminary were first drafts.  Even when I write my sermons today, two drafts seems like a luxury.

While I’ve been blessed with the ability to exceed the standards of others in the first draft, I don’t see this as a virtue anymore.  I’m almost 55 years old, and as an outgrowth of editing and helping my students revise their papers, I’m learning how important revision is and beginning to discipline myself to engage in this labor.  In my garage sits a container full of old journals.  Today, I began to reread them, wondering if there is material that could be rewritten or revised to share with others.  So far, I have not discovered the great American novel, or much that would interest even my family members.

Today, I skimmed through about half of my journals from 2010.  These journals consist chiefly of thinking through daily living.  Dilemmas at work, in the church, within our family, and my own heart, mind, and soul pervade these pages.  Efforts to think through blessings, questions, problems, and uncertainties fill these pages.  The most striking quality is the sameness of my mental deliberations today, almost seven years later.  Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much movement of my interior furniture.  Children have graduated, gone to college, and found employment.  Throughout the rest of our lives however, we’ve experienced great stability and continuity.  My wife and I will soon celebrate our 29th anniversary.  We’re going on eight years of serving together in the same place of employment, and nine years of living in the same home.

While continuity may not make for the most interesting reading,  it does give great reward and satisfaction.  I’m grateful to God that He has allowed us to experience this degree of stability.  May He grant us wisdom in how to profit from it.

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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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Platonic Irony

I’m continuing to think about Plato’s Republic and how I’m coming to believe that there is a good deal of irony behind Plato’s “political prescription.”  Yesterday, I posted on communal marriage in the Republic and how it casts a shadow of a doubt on any rigid interpretation concerning whether Plato writing exclusively about what is best for the individual human soul, or the community.  This got me thinking about a couple of issues.

First, Plato may have viewed communal marriage as the lesser of two evils between not having a mate for live vs. the fierce jealousies and political rivalries that marriage was inevitably a part of in his day.  I can almost see him thinking out loud with his friends over a glass of wine, “what’s a little casual sex compared to the destruction that Oath of Tyndarus and the Trojan War brought about?”

However, I think that line of thought ultimately fails for a number of reasons:

 I don’t think Plato thought that people would be reading his works 2400 years into the future from when he wrote them.  In other words, he didn’t write the Republic to us or for us.

I’m more of an interested reader than an expert on this, but the more I think about it, the more inconceivable it is to completely remove the family from any kind of government, anywhere, anytime, in the centuries before Christ.  Again, I’m no expert on classical Greek social structures, but if they were anything like their Roman counterparts, the paterfamilias was the chief social unit.  These were essentially extended families led by a patriarch.  For the upper classes, these units were the building blocks of society and the units who kept society stable.  This resulted in each city-state having an oligarchy who maintained power and influence.

Essentially, the change that Athenian democracy made was that it expanded the oligarchy.  There was nothing like universal male suffrage extended to the citizens of Athens.  Plato’s “democracy” was nothing like the democracy that we know today.

Also, the proposed government of the Republic lacked the tools for social control that later revolutionary governments would have.  In the 400’s BC, there was no means of constant state surveillance such as what we find in George Orwell’s 1984.  And there is no thought of pacifying the proletariat with medication or meaningless activities like we find in Brave New World.  Apart from constant state surveillance, mass communication of propaganda, and the possibilities for social control that technology brings, it doesn’t seem that Plato’s Republic is feasible.

Finally, Plato leaves many essentials for human flourishing out of the Republic.  In place of faith, he proposes a religion subservient to the needs of the state.  He redefines marriage and family, which have traditionally been the social units of human flourishing.  Then, there is the whole question of being an individual within a community.  Both individuality and community are essential for the good life.  Yet, Plato subsumes each individual as merely a part of the community, while 21st century urban society tends to make individuality the ultimate priority to the exclusion of the flourishing of the community.

I think what Plato wants to do is to engage us in these questions rather than providing answers for us.  I’m not sure he really tells us what he thinks, but instead, intends to provoke us so that we will think about what is necessary for the good life.  If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you!

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Theme for 2015

2015 Annual Theme: “Change the Script!” It seems that I’ve built a life script of making excuses instead of working to bring out the best in me and those around me. In order to begin to bring out the best in me and in others, the script that plays in my head, I need to change the script that “writes” my life. Instead of striving to achieve a breadth of goals a mile wide and an inch deep, I choose to focus on areas that bring the greatest joy, satisfaction and return on investment.

Have you developed an annual theme that captures your desires in coming year?  I would love to hear from you!

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I’m back! With A New Motivation!

Writing and sharing my writing has troubled me in the past because it seemed so self-serving.  In the midst of working to develop a more God-centered, others-seeking ethic, I couldn’t see where writing (at least to share with other readers) quite fit in.  But rather than a self-serving, self-seeking, me-centered activity that may potentially lead to more self-serving, self-seeking, me-centered opportunities, i’m beginning to see how this activity fits in to an other-seeking ethic.

True confession — I often find the voices inside my head more interesting than the thoughts of the people around me.  So often, I prefer to retreat into my interior world than to “be present” and actively listen and interact with others.  In doing so, I’m doing them a disservice.  I’d like to get some of these voices out of my head, and if for no other reason, to be truly present with I’m interacting with the people and love the people better who surround me rather than retreating into this interior world.

500 Word Challenge: What I’ve learned So Far

After five days of the 500 Word Challenge by Jeff Goins,  I’ve already learned much more than I had planned.  Here are a few things:

Writing begets writing.  Progress in the number of words that I’m able to write has increased exponentially.  In other words, it’s not five times harder to write 500 words than it is to write 100 words.  In fact, it might even be easier once you get used to it.

Showing up is 90 percent of the battle.  Once you get started, the words and sentences start to flow.

Pen and paper work just fine.  Whatever I’m going to put out there for others to read needs to be edited anyway.  I know that people do it, but it seems like writing straight to your blog is like posting nude pictures of yourself on the internet — I can think of a million reasons not to do it and not a single reason to do it.

I’ve written at least 3000 words this week.  Multiplied by 50 weeks (I’m sure I’ll miss at least two somewhere in there), that’s 150,000 words for a year.  So in terms of the number of words, there is a book in me somewhere.

There are some days when a good percentage of my 500 words will actually be usable.  There are other days when very little of it will be usable.

You have to persevere through the days when writing is laborious and very little is useful to get to the high yield days.

The 30-40 minutes that it has been taking me to write the 500 words often seems like 2-3 minutes.  

If I want to average 500 usable words each day, I’ll probably need to aim higher.  On the other hand, if you have the words on paper (or in cyberspace) you can probably find some use for the words that you have written if you are willing to do some serious editing.

Tragic Vision: Meditations of a Midlife Adolescent

One of the pivotal changes in my recognition of needing to grow up took place in the unlikliest of settings.  In the Fall of 2010, my wife and I went to visit our oldest son for Parents’ Weekend at The King’s College in New York City.  I attended a lecture given by Dr. Anthony Bradley.  The big idea of this lecture was that our assumptions about the nature of humanity every aspect of our worldview.  In other words, “bad anthropology yields disastrous results.”

The portion that was really eye-opening for me was when he introduced a book by Thomas Sowell called A Conflict of Visions.  Dr. Sowell describes “visions” as basic beliefs.  They are paradigms, ways of seeing, overall “grids” in the way that we perceive data and events , perhaps even below the conscious level.

Dr. Sowell noticed that people whom we might call “liberals” and “conservatives” tend to talk past one another.  He attributes this to “a conflict of visions.”  The two fundamental visions that Dr. Sowell expounds upon are the “tragic,” or “constrained” vision, and the “unconstrained” vision.

The main factor that drives the tragic vision is the recognition of human limitations. One could describe these limitations as limitations of ability and limitations of morality.  It is the recognition that humanity is not omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnicompetent.  While this does not rule out advances in innovation, discovery, technology, and civilization, it does recognize that there are some things that will not be able to be done.  Ever try running a one minute mile?  Eliminating poverty?  Making wars to cease?  It is the assumption that all of the scenarios are complex problems, so much so that we may not even be able to identify all of the variables inherent in them, much less solve them.   The recognition of having limits of morality assumes that human beings are fundamentally selfish organisms.  We do not naturally incline toward virtue.  It is a Hobbesian view of man in the state of nature, of which he said, “life is nasty brutish, and short.”

Now, this may sound like a morbid understanding of human nature.  However, for me, it was positively liberating.  While my outlook on life was previously anchored in the tragic vision, I previously did not see the implications of this.  Because of this, I was always looking for “the perfect solution for every problem.”  I was striving for the “perfect career fit.”       This discovery also freed me from the tyranny of perfectionism and made me a better evaluator of changes that I contemplate, both in my personal life and in my vocation  The tragic vision insists that there are no “perfect solutions” and “perfect fits” from East of Eden to the New Jerusalem.  All “solutions” and “fixes” involve trade-offs and unintended consequences.  This is not to say that one ought not to take risks.  But it is to focus attention on the processes inherent in living, and to put our trust in wise processes rather than ephemeral products.

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Ph.D. vs. DIYU

One of my resolutions when I began this blog — and that I’ve carried out religiously, meaning with the frequency of Christmas and Easter, is to round out my education. As a teacher and a manager of an educational program that would be classified in the “educational reform” genre, it has dawned on me recently that to speak of “reform” properly, there must be a “form” to “return to”. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. So, what is the “form” that we are supposed to be returning to?

The “form” that previous generations have followed is a classical education. However, we have had many important thinkers arise since the Classical period. It seems to me that something along the lines of a Great Books education would incorporate both the insights of those from the classical period and later thinkers. It would also shield one from provincialism, as a number of the Great Books writers were Christian, but others, such as Nietschze attacked the Christian faith.

I have resolved to acquire this education myself. However, there is a newly minted Great Books Ph.D. via distance from Faulkner University that looks intriguing. I’m checking it out now and am deliberating whether to forsake DIYU for some more disciplined instruction. Any comments?

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Renegotiating With Myself

Strewn all about my desk, I see the detritus of agreements that I have not kept with myself.  Books not read, articles not written, tasks not accomplished, meeting not set up.  What has taken their place?  Other tasks that have taken longer than expected, tiredness, escapism into food, television, reading mindless literature . . . What is to be done when all that is seen are evidences of ambitions not met, plans not carried out, and things that are not getting done.

It’s time to renegotiate with myself.  I made a number of agreements in good faith that I am not able to carry out at this time.  It’s time to declare the bankruptcy of good intentions and begin to edit my life ruthlessly.  As a creature, I can only do one thing at a time.  While I have twenty four hours in a day, it’s time to get down to the most essential tasks that will carry me through meeting the most fundamental commitments in my life.  Time to purge the Kindle, the RSS feeder and all of the other things that seem like good ideas at the time but take away time, focus, get down to the essentials, and move forward with them.

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Half Baked Manor’s Foray Into Geekdom

While I have not become a full-fledged, card-carrying geek in this past week, I can share with you how to prepare yourself for your computer’s demise with a minimal loss of productivity.  It’s a fact of life — computers die — and you need to be prepared for this.  Here’s a quick guide to preparing for the worst.

Save all your files in Dropbox, Google Docs, or some other form of cloud storage.    This is 90 percent of the preparation right here.  If you can access your files from anywhere and not be dependent on one computer, this will help you immensely.  Go to https://www.dropbox.com/home and set up an account.  It’s free and it will pay you exponential dividends if you use it.

Use Firefox or Google Chrome.  Give them your data.  I recognize that this may be a controversial recommendation.  But Google already has your data anyway!  You may as well get something out of it!  If you set up your browser in your old environment and save your preferences, it will transfer seamlessly to your new environment.  All of the movements at the keyboard that have become second nature to you can stay that way.  You can pick up where you left off.

Find an old PC.  It doesn’t really matter what vintage it is.  Laptop, desktop . . .  If you have one hanging around your house that you are not using and you can get an internet connection on it, you are good to go.

Install Linux on it.  This may be the most daunting step.  I installed Ubuntu on my old PC laptop.  If you go to http://www.ubuntu.com/, there are tutorial videos that will show you how to do this.  It’s alot easier than it sounds.  You can either install it for a dual boot system so that you can run Windows as well, or you can do like I did and get rid of the safety net of being able to use Windows and go strictly with Ubuntu.

So, why Linux?  It runs very efficiently with a small amount of RAM and a low-speed processor and it doesn’t crash.  It’s open source software, so just about all of it is free.  And it really works!

So far, the experiment has worked out really well. I’ve had very little loss of productivity.  This nice little backup is doing the job quite adequately.

P.S.  I got the news on the Mac.  It will require a new hard drive.  I found out what I needed, ordered a 650 GB (!) hard drive for about $60 and the special Mac screwdriver for about $5.  Not nearly as devastating as I had feared.  

 

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