Sunday, November 4, 2018

Oops!


Oops! I didn’t mean to publish that last post — I actually didn’t think I had. I wrote it very late at night, re-read it, decided it wasn’t good enough, and figured I’d work on it again the next day. Which I didn’t, but life. So I just went to try to improve it and I see that it published. So — sorry for the mediocre work. Or maybe it’s always that way...

A long time ago — more than ten years — I was living in Michigan with a dog and a cat, trying to sell our house. Alex and Bruce were here in Alabama in an apartment that didn’t allow a dog and a cat. So I was coming down to visit them and I sat next to this guy on the airplane.

You know how it is — you’re stuck on a plane with someone and it could be fine, it could be not fine, so you kind of ease into any talk and keep it light and surface-y in case they’re someone you don’t want to be talking to for the next three hours. So I don’t know how I got to talking with this guy, but I did. He was a businessman, flying from Toronto to I-forget-where — but his plane stopped in Detroit (where I got on) and he was stopping in Memphis, where I was changing planes (maybe he was flying to Memphis, which seems right now that I think about it.

Anyway, we talked about lots of stuff. LOTS of stuff. He asked me how old I was going to be when I die and I said “eighty.” Then he said, “Imagine that you’re on your death bed, looking back at your wonderful life. What is different about the vision you have of that life and the life that you have now?  What are you doing today, this week, this year to move your life closer to the vision that you have?”

He showed me a series of spreadsheets. His “life goals” were things like providing a good living for the people who work for him, having a good marriage, spending one-on-one time with each of his children every year (they were older — he did weekend getaways with each of them), and to play the saxophone well enough that he could do it in public. He divided his life into three parts. The first part was the things that were actual revenue-generating activities that he did for his company — like the meeting he was flying to Memphis for. The second part was all the “overhead” things that he had to do to make the revenue-generating activities possible — like the airplane flight he was on to get to the meeting. And the third part was everything else — all of the non-work activities. The important things. He told me that his goal was to, first of all, reduce the time spent on the second category as much as possible. He did this by delegating as much as he could to his secretary and other assistants. The second goal was to get to a place where he could minimize both the first and second categories, so that the important things got the bulk of his time. To do this he had goals that he created for the week, month, year, five years. Each of these sub-goals had to be focused on helping him to reach his overarching goal.

I think about that conversation a lot (there was more — a lot more — and it’s amazing how much I remember about it). My takeaway is that I have an idea of how my life should be and it differs from the reality in which I exist.

Two things: first, I’m very happy and content with my life, don’t get me wrong. And second (but more important), God is in and around and through all of these ideas of mine. In fact, every single goal, every idea, relates back to God — even things like diet or exercise or cleaning house, because God gave me my body and I should take care of it and he blessed me with this house and I should take care of that.

The funny thing about all this is that it’s been weighing on my mind for most of the last year. I listened to a podcast by Matt Chandler on something called “Rule of Life.” Your Rule of Life is unique — tailored to your circumstances. And it can be set up in different ways. For instance, you can set it up by time. You can say “Every day I want to read my Bible joyfully and I want to pray. I want to get 10,000 steps each day and every week I want to go to the gym at least three times. Every month I want to read through the book of Psalms and I want to check to see how I am doing in adhering to my Rule of Life. Every month I want to spend conscious (intentional) time with friends, rejoicing in the blessing of the dear friends God has given me. Every year I want to take a vacation with my husband.” And so on.

Or you can arrange it by area — what you want to accomplish in your work, church, family, and life with friends. And your items don’t have to be anything like what I wrote except that your goal is to list things that draw you closer to God and eliminate (as much as possible) things that come between you and your relationship with him.

So I need to spend a little time thinking of how I want to lay out my plan and what items I want to include in it. We had talked — some friends and I — about going on a retreat and doing our own life plans, but the main person we were going to do this for couldn’t go, so we canceled. But maybe that was all a part of the plan, too — I need to think about it and work on it myself before I try to share the idea with others (except here, of course — this blog is a space to work things out). I’ll be wrestling with this for the next couple of weeks.

More later...

Friday, November 2, 2018

Answer to Irene, Part Last


Finally. Well, finally, I have other things to talk about besides just books. Books are important, but so are a lot of other things. I wish I had 30 hours in every day and more talent and then I could do everything I want to do (and I’m sure I’m the first person who’s thought this).

I did just finish reading something, though. It was by Tom Wolfe and the title is Radical Chic & Mau -Mauing the Flak Catchers. Awesome title, right? The title alone made me want to read this.

Y’all know Tom Wolfe. He’s probably best known for writing The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities. Always wore a white suit. He reminded me of Hal Holbrook, for some reason (although Holbrook is more handsome). Anyway, he died last May at the age of 88. 

This book is actually a pairing of two long-form articles that Wolfe wrote. The first, which appeared in New York Magazine in 1970 was called “These Radical Chic Evenings” (Wolfe coined the phrase “radical chic” in this article). It was about a party thrown by Leonard Bernstein and his wife for the Black Panthers and is amazing because he rips just about everyone who was at the party to shreds. Halfway through the book I was amazed I’d ever heard of Tom Wolfe — this article had to have made him a ton of very important enemies. 

Basically, Wolfe describes the “radical chic” — the guests at the Bernsteins’ party. These included  people like director Otto Preminger, Barbara Walters, and a host of wealthy socialites. They were meeting with a leader of the Black Panthers to discuss ways to help their cause. White liberal guilt, you see.  Wolfe is an amazing writer and I had to laugh out loud at the way he describes the party goers and their bizarre form of virtue signaling (a phrase Wolfe should have invented).

“Mau-Mauing the Flak catchers” describes the goings on at the Office of Economic Opportunity ain San Francisco. “Mau-Mauing comes from the Mau-Mau Rebellion in Kenya and basically means intimidating. The flak-catchers are the mid-level bureaucrats whose main function is to take abuse from the young blacks and Samoans who are supposed to benefit from the economic programs administered by the flak -catchers.  It was good, but I liked the first article more — because it was so shocking, I guess. I don’t know if Mau-Mauing the Flak Catcherswas shocking in its day but it’s kind of accepted practice these days.

The book is not too long — about 150 pages — and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think I would have wanted to know Wolfe — he obviously was not shy about putting his cquaintances into his writing — but I did enjoy reading him. This was the second Wolfe book that I’ve read — he wrote a few novels and I read one: A Man in Full — I wasn’t really a fan. I do want to read some more of his nonfiction, though.

And I want to write about contemporary Christian music lyrics, too. Maybe tomorrow.

More later...


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Answer to Irene, Part 2


I figured I should take advantage of the Halloween filter because it probably won’t be around tomorrow. Hence the purple hair and Gene Simmons lipstick. (Okay, his was black, but you get the idea.) And by the way — every picture you will see of me on this blog has been filtered up the wazoo and then some.

Part two of whatever-this-is is about podcasting.

A few years ago I read an article by Nicholas Carr called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” . It’s about how digital media change our reading patterns (and our brains) — particularly how they inhibit our ability to do long-form reading. I won’t go into the whole thing here (it’s a really interesting article, so I’ll link to it — he’s written more about this subject since, but this was, I think, his first). I recognized that my ability to sit down and read for an hour was basically nonexistent. This worried me, but in his article he assured us that we could regain the ability (and I’m happy to say I have).

Anyway — this renewed my interest in reading books. I have yammered on in other places about my infamous reading lists (note to Bruce: print them out and display them at my funeral because I hate to think that my beautiful, wonderful lists will never be seen by anyone except me) and I wanted to attack them in a more serious, concentrated way.

One thing I’ve also yammered on about is that the more you read “good stuff” the more you want to read good stuff (GS). I have little patience these days for mediocre books. So I’ve been reading GS. Tons and tons of it. Last year I read more than 104 books — a little more than two books a week. Most of them GS. This year, too — not as many, but just as worthwhile. All sorts of books — fiction, biography, theology, history — you name it.

I have a lot of friends who love to read and a lot of friends who love to read worthwhile books. David is foremost — I talk with him about books more than I do anyone else. But — of course — he doesn’t read like I do because no two people like the exact same things. I would finish a book and feel frustrated because I didn’t have anyone with whom I could discuss it — and that’s when the idea of a podcast about books popped into my head. I could read whatever I wanted and talk about it for half an hour.

At first it went well — I had fun, anyway. But by the end (it lasted almost six months) I was noticing that it was affecting my reading. I have been hesitant to read long books — especially Proust — because I wouldn’t have much to talk about when it comes to books that might take me a few weeks to finish. I don’t get paid (obviously) for doing this podcast, so if it is going to affect my ability to read what I want it becomes a less desirable effort.

So the other day I thought I might not keep doing the podcast thing...but I might go back to blogging. Because if I blog I can write about what I read, but if that’s not all that interesting I can write about something else.

More later...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Answer to Irene, Part 1



There’s so much I want to say that I’ve been putting it off for a week now; I’m not sure where to begin. So I think I’ll just start and maybe ramble a bit, but if I start writing I’ll eventually say all the things I want to say. And I have to go way, way back — so this might take a few days.

There are three parts to this...this...whatever this is. The first part is the blogging part. I can’t even remember how long ago I started blogging — but it was so long ago that I had to explain that the word blog came from “web log” and still people weren’t sure what that was. I started on Live Journal, but moved to a blogger/wordpress site for no particular reason. It’s like how when someone gives you an AOL email address and you’re kind of shocked that folks have that still. Live Journal was where you started blogging, but then you moved to a more advanced, sophisticated, anything-but-Live-Journal site. Whatever.

When I first started blogging it was to keep track of my diet and exercise programs. That’s it. But when I lived in Michigan I didn’t have any friends, so blogging became a way to stay in touch with...something. There was no Facebook, so faraway friends could read and comment on my blog and I could know that someone, somewhere, remembered me. So I expanded my repertoire.

Lots — lots — of politics. I used to be addicted to politics. Trump knocked it out of me, so I have him to thank for that at least. But I went on a plant-based diet binge, too. An everything binge. I have always leapt from passion to passion and I probably won’t ever change. And what I was passionate about I wrote about.

Here is the embarrassing secret. I used to think that my blog would fill some void in the universe and it would grow and become a financial thing. I don’t mean I’d be rich — that was never a serious thought — but I would make a few extra bucks from blogging. I am not, however, that good. (If I AM that good I’m really lousy at publicity.)

Then I decided to use my blog to talk about my faith. A better aim for sure. But the problem was that with a Facebook outlet (and real, live, present-with-me friends) blogging became less of a necessity for me. So I was not consistent and each attempt died on the vine.

I’ve had at least four blog incarnations. No — five. Five names, five purposes. Some lasted for years, some days. I think it would probably be a good thing for it to last for a consistently long period, but who knows. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

So we are at the sixth version of my blog. Numero six-o. As always, I hope to blog often. As always, we’ll see.

More later...




Sunday, December 31, 2017

Resolutions


I read somewhere that Christians shouldn't make New Year's resolutions. I don't remember who wrote it or what the reasoning was behind it because it was so outside the realm of the way I think that I couldn't process it. No less an authority than Jonathan Edwards made resolutions -- he ended up with seventy -- and whether or not they were "New Year's" resolutions is not exactly the point. The point is to consciously set goals and to assess (and reassess) where one is with regard to those goals. So if you want to set "birthday resolutions" or "Labor Day resolutions," it's all good. The important thing is to have intentions and goals and objectives and to remind yourself regularly of the things you say you mean to accomplish. You need to walk the talk. (I need to walk the talk.)

I need no one to persuade me that resolutions are valuable. I am a resolution maker from WAY back. I think if you never make a resolution there is something a little bit off about you. Surely you don't imagine that you've achieved a level of perfection that is so near the ultimate that you don't have anything in your life you'd like to change. And resolutions don't have to be about becoming a better person -- they can be about checking items off of a to-do list, too.

Anyway -- here are mine. I always think there should be more, but this is what I've come up with for now.

1. The Spiritual Stuff

  • My prayer life is a perpetual resolution and I think it always will be. I want to pray better, more consistently, more fervently.
  • Related (but different): in James 4 we're told that we don't have because we don't ask. In Ephesians 5 we're told to be "filled with the Spirit." In Luke 11 Jesus tells us to ask -- repeatedly. So here's what I want: I want more of God. I want to be willing to accept his gifts, to be open to them, and to use what he gives me to bring him glory and honor. I want to understand in a visceral way that he is my exceeding great reward. I want to love him more, trust him more, think of him more.
  • I want humility. This is my besetting sin: thinking more of myself than I ought to think and thinking more of myself than I do of others.

2. The Health Stuff

  • Fire up the ol' low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet. It works for me when I let it.
  • I need to head back to the gym at least three times a week; bonus points if I go four. My Fitbit died, but I'm going to ask for one for my birthday. That's not until July, but July will come.
  • Get control of my sleep schedule. This is the resolution most likely to fail, I am afraid. I try and I try and I try and I fail and I fail and I fail. I love the nighttime. I'll be tired and draggy all afternoon and evening and around 10:00 I get a surge of energy. It's annoying and frustrating.
  • Bring a salad to work (three times a week). Because I don't get to bed until 3:00 I sleep until 11:00. I get up to be at work by noon and I don't usually have time to eat breakfast (and I don't usually feel like it). I bring nothing to work...so around 3:00 I'm starving. And I eat junk. I need to be proactive about this -- a salad is the way to go.

3. The Mind Stuff

  • Learn Latin. I got a book a couple of years ago. I just need to do it.
  • Work on my own personal reading challenge (I posted it on Facebook; basically it involves finishing Proust, starting John Frame's A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, and reading the Book of Common Prayer).

4. The Rest of the Stuff

  • Finish my online course in lettering (faux calligraphy). I signed up (and paid) for this course over a year ago and only did the first lesson.
  • A few years ago I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a cordless Dyson vacuum (which I love -- as much as one can love a vacuum, anyway). It won't clean the whole house on one charge, but it's so light and quick that if I did a little every other day my house would stay clean with minimal effort. Stella seems to be in perpetual shed-mode, so this really needs to happen.
  • Blog more. And here we are.
  • Implement the recommendations in Tim Challies' Do More Better. This is a book, broadly, on time management/productivity. It was the first or second book that I read for my challenge in 2017 and I kind of brushed it off because I didn't feel like I needed it. I started working last summer, though, and even though I'm not sure why that made such a big difference in my life (as far as remembering where I need to be and what I need to do), it has. Challies' advice (helpfully given from a Christian perspective) centers around three technological tools: a time management tool (like Todoist, Wunderlist, etc.), a scheduling tool (like Google Calendar, Outlook, and others), and an information tool (like Evernote, OneNote, and so on). 
  • Set up my office. Painting, filing, furnishing -- it's a whole thing.
So that's it. Fourteen goals for 2018 (I should come up with four more...). 


More later...

Saturday, December 30, 2017

More Is More


There is a very popular article trending right now on The Gospel Coalition web site entitled "3 Ways I Plan to Read the Bible Less in 2018." It doesn't take a genius to understand why this is a popular article: anything that gives us permission to do less in the area of spiritual disciplines (while achieving more!) is going to be popular. Like "Great Abs in 3 Minutes a Day." And we all know how that turns out.

I think the article makes some good points but that its broad conclusions and prescriptions are not the most beneficial. The author writes about reading cursorily, plowing through a daily reading just to check it off his to-do list, never (never?) finishing his read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans. He reminds us of the purpose of reading God's Word (adding a great D.A. Carson quote: "No one drifts toward holiness"). All of these are not only valid concerns, they were warned against by the granddaddy of all reading plan writers, Robert Murray M'Cheyne. In other words, they are nothing new. But here is something I learned in 2017 by reading 104 books as I conquered Tim Challies' reading challenge.

There are different kinds of reading with different aims and different results and benefits. Everything we read can't be meditated upon thoughtfully or we will only read a few verses a month or a book or two a year. Meditation is very important, but so is a deluge of Scripture -- a sort of bathing in God's Word without pausing to dwell deeply. That deep consideration is vital to a Christian's growth, but reading -- even quickly, almost cursorily -- provides its own type of benefit. Less significant, no doubt, but life can't be all kale and broccoli. We need less nutritionally dense foods too -- bananas and brown rice (much less nutrient dense than the aforementioned green vegetables) are a part of a very healthy diet, too.

When I was plowing through Challies' program I did not have time to pause to savor some of the chewier works that I was reading -- books by Puritan authors, for example. Yet, fast reading has benefits. First, I was exposed to books that I'll want to come back to when I have the time to concentrate and ponder. More importantly, though -- it's surprising how things stick, even when you don't think they will. Little snippets of things I read quickly asserted themselves when I was conversing about a particular subject. Apparently we are not as stupid as we think we are -- just being exposed to things can have at least a mild effect.

Here's the thing: when it comes to Scripture (and things of God generally) less is never more. More is more. We DO have time. If you literally waste no time in a day and have no extra moments to spend in God's Word -- well, to be honest I can't even imagine that. I think anyone who makes that claim is a liar (maybe even deluding himself). We can -- we just choose not to.

I think the best idea is to plan on two types of reading in 2018. First, the daily devotional reading that we do and, second, the reading of subjects that we are going to dig deeply into and study and meditate on and mull over. (There is often overlap, of course.) I've never thought that my daily Scripture reading was going to take the place of study.

Reading cursorily should not mean that we don't realize and recognize what we are privileged to be holding in our hands. The Bible -- all of it, including Malachi, the genealogies, the arcana of sacrificial law -- is God's truly precious gift to humanity. Reading something quickly without pausing to meditate on it does not -- should not -- mean that we consider it less important or not worth our time. On the contrary -- it is so important that we want to bathe in it even while we are also studying deeply one section or topic at a time. The solution to thinking of a daily reading as something on a to-do list is not to stop the daily reading -- it's to alter one's attitude toward the activity.

If we don't follow a reading plan there are parts of God's Word that we'll never get to. Let's face it: the average person is unlikely to decide to embark on a close study of Nahum. We're going to study the gospels or Romans or maybe the Psalms. Not Leviticus. But all of God's Word is all of God's Word. As M'Cheyne wrote, "If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians." Because "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable..." A reading plan ensures that we take advantage of the "all." (To be fair, the author of the TGC article says he reads the Bible through every year, albeit without a formal reading plan. I just don't think most people are wired in such a way as to do this without guidance.)

There are read-the-Bible-in-two-years plans if something like M'Cheyne seems too ambitious (with M'Cheyne you read the whole Bible in one year and the Psalms twice and the New Testament twice). But I am not a fan of giving people permission to be slackers. We do that fine on our own -- instead believers should be held to a higher standard and encouraged to do more, study more, learn more. Remember that Carson quote above: we have to discipline ourselves to becoming holy; it is not something that "just happens." When I teach sanctification to third- and fourth-graders I always tell them that it is the one part of the salvation process that is 100% God's work and 100% our own. We participate in our sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit. If this is not so, then Paul wastes a lot of time telling us to do thus-and-such and not to do this-and-that.

So this year: resolve to follow some sort of Bible reading plan, ambitious or otherwise. And resolve to dig deeper into and study and meditate upon one particular book, subject, chapter, etc., at a time. It's not either/or -- it's both/and.

Today I will read the second-to-last chapter in II Chronicles, the second-to-last chapter of Revelation, the second-to-last chapter of Malachi, and the second-to-last chapter of John. Tomorrow I will finish each book and then the next day I'll start Genesis, Matthew, Ezra, and Acts. I will also embark on a close study of the book of Ecclesiastes. Both/and.

More later...

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Governor's Mansion

For the past four years I've gone to tour the Governor's Mansion at Christmas time. The first two years I did it with a group of three friends, then one moved, then one more moved...so this year I asked all the women at my church and eighteen of us (I think) made the trek to downtown Montgomery (it's only about fifteen minutes away) to see the house decked out in all its holiday finery.

The mansion is open for evening tours the first three Mondays in December, from 5:30 to 7:30. The last three years we just waltzed right in. This year it was MOBBED. LONG line to get in -- it was crazy! Part of it, I think, was that we waited until the last night -- I've never done that before. But they said they've never had this many people take the tour, so it could have been just one of those things. Anyway -- next year we'll go the first or second Monday!

I didn't take a picture of the outside of the house this year and my pictures of past years are currently "lost" (because they're on Facebook and I can't get to them with my account deactivated), but I took pictures inside.

The tour begins at the Governor's Mansion Gift Shop, right across the street. The small shop has a lot of cute Alabama items -- mugs, stickers, magnets, ornaments -- you name it, they've got it. They also have products that were made in Alabama -- candles, textiles, food items. They were giving away samples of jellies and relishes and sweet dips out back and we tried everything we could! The tickets for the mansion tour are handed out by the cashiers, so that was our real purpose for going there.

In years past we've entered the mansion from the side grounds, taking a pretty drive that winds a little bit through the grounds. We always see our friend Donald Hollums who works as a law enforcement officer and is always at the mansion when we're there. This year -- I don't know if it's because of the crowds or for some other reason -- they had us walk down the street and come in from the front lawn. But -- we DID see Donald, so our tradition was maintained!

The choir from the First United Methodist Church was singing on the grand staircase when we walked in. They were amazing -- just beautiful. I was with Wilda Clark (and Susan Waldrop and Jean Shepherd and Carol Bowman -- we were the last of our group) and Wilda knew one of the singers (I think he's a doctor in Prattville). Pardon my less-than-stellar videography.


We always step to the side and take our picture in the mirror above a sideboard in the dining room. This year no one was walking back there, but Wilda and Carol were brave and snuck out of line to humor me. The only thing wrong with the picture is me -- it's not a good shot, but tra-dition! (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)



Last year Governor Bentley was either divorced or about to be divorced from his wife of 184 years. I know they don't actually do the decorating, but we all agreed that the house felt...off. Not as warm or welcoming. Well, let me say -- the house has NEVER looked prettier than it did this year! The decorations were lush, there were more of them, everything was just perfection. I don't know if Governor Ivey had anything to do with it, but I'm inclined to think she must have. This next picture is mainly a shot of the table in the dining room, but Jean and Susan are in the background.



In the drawing room there was a spectacular tree decorated with all sorts of things made by schoolchildren -- here's a sample of some of their creations (plenty of tiger paws and "Roll Tide" decorations).


The house next door -- the Farley-Hill house -- was decorated far more than it ever has been before. And it was spectacular. It's used as a kind of spillover house -- if they need extra space, a place for folks to stay, etc. This is a picture of me standing on tiptoe in the dining room trying to peer over the decorations on the fireplace mantel to get a shot. (If anything in these pictures looks tacky, that's not how it looked in person. In person it was all gorgeous, and a proof of the maxim that sometimes more is more. Really pretty.)


Decorations on the beautiful staircase in the Farley-Hill House.


The last room that we toured was decorated by the Master Gardeners and it was my favorite. I'm not sure what the room is used for -- it's relatively small, there's a fireplace in it -- maybe a sitting room or a parlor. Anyway, all of the decorations are made from natural materials: gourds, dried okra pods, cotton, dried flowers, etc. The next pictures were all taken in that room -- it was all so pretty!








I should have taken more pictures of the people I was with -- maybe I'll get it right next year! Dinner was delicious (I had a steak -- the last time I had a steak was a year ago on the same occasion). Very fun evening with women I love. I'm blessed.

More later...