Tag Archives: lessons learned

Injury Update

Below, you can see the carnage of our recent auto accident.  We are blessed to have survived and to have the assurance that we should fully recover.  In the meantime, there are daily difficulties that arise from being limited because of injuries.  I don’t want to write this in an ungrateful spirit, because my wife and I are so thankful for the kindnesses, meals, rides, errands, and many other tangible expressions of love from the Providence Extension Program (PEP) community where we both serve.

IMG_5229

Perhaps I’m reading the wrong book for this time in our lives, but I’m listening to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Broadly speaking, Gawande writes about the intersection between medicine and aging, and often finds that treating aging and its complications according to a medical model results in a tradeoff between safety and quality of life.  Gawande’s narrative is mostly comprised of the stories of people as they age, and are confronted with physical, medical, and lifestyle challenges that accompany growing older.

The experience I’m sharing with those in Gawande’s narrative is that because of the injuries sustained by my wife and me, everything takes longer and is much more complicated.  Even daily tasks such as laundry, finding clothes to wear, driving when I’m sufficiently between doses of pain medicine, making sure that Amy’s medications are within reach and organized, and having to take frequent breaks from working guarantee that productivity is a dirty word to me.   A couple of experiences have really surprised me about all of this.

I’m surprised by the amount of joy that caring for my wife gives me.  Amy and I took care of my sister for over a year.  Much of that time, Cathy was more dependent on others than Amy is.  Being in a position to help my wife has been the greatest joy of the accident, and an experience that makes me hopeful for the years ahead.

I’m surprised at how easily little things can upset me.  People have cooked for us and brought us dinner almost every night.  Most of the meals have been delicious, and even people who live far away (45 minutes or more!) have gone out of their way to help us.  But last night, I almost broke down because I wanted to have the foods that we used to cook before the accident.  Since the accident was right in the aftermath of our trip to Peru, we haven’t eaten a meal that we have cooked in five weeks.  Again, the sheer generosity of people is overwhelming!  Most of us would love to be in this position!  But the combination of missing the foods that we have made in the past and my inability to prepare them almost caused me to have a meltdown!

Unfortunately, I’ve been difficult to live with.  The last thing Amy needs is a cantankerous husband!  I need to pause and take a deep breath more often.  Amy and I are well cared for.   Our children couldn’t be more sympathetic or helpful.  But pain and loss of function are difficult realities.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a foreshadowing of what old age will look like for me.  God is showing me how much I need to grow in grace for us to have a gracious, happy, and peaceful home, which is something that with His help, we can achieve no matter what our limitations are.

Advertisements
Tagged ,

Recent Reading

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor.  Yes, it’s taken me about a year and a half to get through this massive tome.  I still have a little bit to go but I should finish it this week.  Philosophically, I feel like it’s the story of my generation.  There’s so much in this book that I could write about, and at least as much that is over my head, and that’s not even mentioning the untranslated French paragraphs!  Taylor’s case is fairly complicated.  While the title implies growth in secularity over time in the West (which Taylor affirms), the two most useful concepts for me were the concepts of “disenchantment” and the reasonableness of the secular paradigm even for the religious.

The idea of disenchantment is that for persons living in the West in the Modern Age, it’s difficult to believe in the supernatural and ascribe explanations of phenomena to the supernatural, even for religious people.  For example, Medievals would likely ascribe pathological evil to supernatural activity such as demon possession, while Moderns would look to explanations rooted in nurture and environment.  The “secular age” is one that is denuded of the supernatural.

This is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to teach Medieval literature such as Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.  For Malory, everything is supernatural.  The idea of not believing in the supernatural or ascribing cause and effect to the ineffable is as unthinkable is not breathing.  Characters that readers consider both good and evil possess this worldview.  In contrast, the modern reader, even if religious, sees the secular paradigm as a conceivable option, and may often see the rationalistic option as more viable than that which is rooted in the Divine.

In this respect, A Secular Age helped me to understand my own story and my own perception of the world.  It’s a valuable work in this respect, and one I’m glad that I plowed through.

Tagged , ,

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.

 

 

Tagged ,

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.
Tagged , ,

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!

Tagged , ,

Organic Growth and Development in Writing

I was listening to an episode of a podcast called “The Tim Ferriss Show” last week  Tim was interviewing Dan Carlin of “Hardcore History.”  The excellence of Dan’s preparation, delivery, and subject matter is fascinating.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you check this podcast out.  He explores the “why’s and the “what ifs” in a way that really grabs you and provokes you to think.  He’s also terrific at making connections with different events and movements taking place at the same time, as well as events and movements that preceded and influence each story he covers.
What interests me about the segment that I heard though, was his theory of how our work and art evolves and becomes what it is over time..  An example he used was “Seinfeld.”  Mr. Carlin said, “go back and watch the first five episodes of Seinfeld.”  He goes on to talk about how the “Seinfeldness” of “Seinfeld” evolved over the course of the show.  The quirkiness and uniqueness of Seinfeld wasn’t a given at the start of the show.  There was organic development within the cast, the writers, and the audience that made “Seinfeld” distinctive.  He went on to apply this insight to any long-term artistic project.
My takeaway from this is that with any long-term creative project, we must have a key concept and a plan. But we must also expect the project to organically incorporate elements that we do not foresee, and once momentum is created, to taken on a life of its own.
This gives me a great deal of encouragement in teaching, writing, and in my pastoral role in the church.  I’m blessed to have been providentially dumped into a great organization that has allowed me to make the most of my abilities and given me the freedom to do this and enjoy it.  Once I’d been at Providence Extension Program for a while, it felt like I should have been doing this all along.  Yet, my teaching eight years down the road has organically grown as I’ve achieved greater command my subject matter to teach out of depth rather than last-minute preparation.  I’ve grown in my ability to create classes as learning communities, in such a way that even if I teach the same prep four times in a week, that each experience of that material is remarkably different.
My hope is that I will persevere in my writing, in such a way that the same kind of organic development will happen, that I will be able to develop discrete concepts within the unity of personality and interests, and express them in an inviting and compelling way.
What examples of organic growth and development have you seen in your writing?  I’d love to hear from you!
Tagged , ,

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!

Tagged , ,

Why You Need A Mentor, Part Two

I began writing yesterday about the influence and life lessons of a mentor who invested in me twenty years ago.  Here are a few more lessons learned:

Be willing to initiate uncomfortable conversations.  Most of us are not fans of uncomfortable conversations.  So we tend not to initiate discussions about items that lurk beneath the surface that really need to be addressed.  I think it was Tim Ferriss who said something like “your satisfaction in life is directly related to the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.”  Through this past mentoring relationship, while I was usually on the receiving end of uncomfortable conversations, I learned how to initiate these and the benefit of doing so.

Be straightforward.  We can all live with the truth, or at least we should be able to.  Tell it like it is.  I don’t mean to be ignorant of the art of tact, diplomacy, or the other person’s point of view.  Don’t just assume that people “get it” and then “write them off” if they don’t.  If you have a point to make, make your point briefly, clearly, and directly.

Be willing to challenge people.  We tend to be afraid of challenging people.  We’re more interested in protecting our psyche from rejection.  But many people really want to be challenged, especially when it comes to living for a cause larger than themselves.  Don’t be afraid of this.  Give people opportunities to develop their skills, to invest in a cause, and to become part of a community.

How have people invested in your development?  What have you learned from them?

 

 

Tagged ,

Why You Need A Mentor, Part One

This past weekend, I ran into a man who had mentored me in my first ministry position twenty years ago. He’s about twenty-five years older than I am. We have never been close. Since we have parted ways, we have mostly traveled separate paths.  When our paths have converged, we have often disagreed.     At the time, I thought I needed a friend, a sympathetic ear, an encourager.  He provided encouragement, but in a different way than I thought I needed.  He was a taskmaster.  He challenged me, and I hate to say it, but I wilted under the challenge.

My first ministry position was something called a “church plant.”  There was a small group of people in Palm Coast, Florida, who were part of a church in our denomination about thirty minutes away.  They wanted to start a church in their community, and they hired me to help them.  We started with ten people, six of whom were over 65, not very much money, and a pastor who was extremely inexperienced, both in life and ministry.  For me, it was pretty much a disaster.  As far as the church goes, they survived me.  Although they had me as their pastor, they persevered and there is now an established church in that community.

After running into my previous mentor, I began to think about the time I spent with him.  As I’ve indicated, this was not an ideal relationship, mostly due to my recalcitrance to be challenged.  Yet, I began to think of all the things that I learned from him and carried into future endeavors that have helped me, and realized that without the influence of this man, my life would be extremely impoverished.  Here are some of the lessons learned:

1.  The value of hard work.   Most of my life up to that point had been spent in school.  I thought going to class, studying, and having a part time job was “stressful.”  I was quickly challenged about the the appropriateness about this idea by the example and encouragement of my mentor, who was putting in 60-70 hour weeks to accomplish his dream.  While I have read The Four Hour Work Week twice since then, I still maintain that hard, productive, focused work is the main element in developing competence and accomplishing your dream.

2.  Building relationships with people who are different than you.  We are naturally inclined to seek out and spend time with people who are like us — same interests, stage in life, socioeconomic status, values . . .  While this man was a former corporate executive who was most like other business types, he pushed me to seek out people who were of different backgrounds, ages, interests, stages in life, seek to understand them, and build relationships with them.  In the beginning, this is difficult to initiate, but it is a habit that will richly reward you.  These days, most of my time is spent with people who are different than I am — middle school and high school students.  Little did I know that far from being an intimidating experience, this would become a labor of love.

3.  Become competent in every area of your craft.  While I generally agree with the idea that the greatest gains may come with we build in areas of strength, it can be greatly limiting not to become competent in every area of our craft.  My mentor could have been extremely successful by coasting on his administrative and people skills.  Yet, he worked hard to become a competent teacher.  It took me another fifteen years to learn this lesson and become competent as an administrator and manager.  While the bulk of my work continues to be with ideas and people, becoming a competent administrator has been the skill that has enabled me to pursue other interests.

What have you learned from your mentors?  If you could use the help and encouragement of someone who is ahead of you on your journey, what steps could you take to initiate that relationship and secure that help?

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: