Et Liberi, Et Libri

Do my kids keep me from being productive?

They could, perhaps, and I used to lean more toward that irritation. I prefer quiet for reading and writing, for study and sermon preparation, you know, for the “important” work. But, along with being married and talking with my wife, my kids give me a greater reason to think about things and figure out how to say them. In other words, I may not crank out more words, but God uses my kids to crank me.

Nietzsche used the Latin pun aut liberi, aut liber, “either children or books.” He made the word play about what survives, to legacy through library or through progeny. I don’t know for sure whether he meant to pit them against each other, as if we could only choose one. But whatever he meant, why not both?

Some people—think your stereotypical ditch-digger—need to find some time to read (or listen to) good books. Some other people—think your stereotypical seminary student—have a moral obligation to have kids and spend more time with them. I write for my kids (whether they read it or not, now or ever), and I am learning from them. This relates to my thoughts about all that I’m learning from helping to start a school. I have a life from which to speak, rather than wrongly acting as if speaking is my life.

Most productivity books, writing books included, talk about setting up cognitive space, as in actual spatial spots (in a study, a barn, a coffee shop), that prepare the mind to think deeply and creatively. Get away from distractions. Tell others you aren’t available during that time. And sure, if you have the luxury to choose your cup of tea, drink up. But isn’t art often identified by the constraints? Aren’t some of the best artists the ones who can succeed within the constraints? Then why can’t the “constraints” that come along with responsibilities such as fatherhood enable better flavor?

Jonathan Edwards wrote some profound things, like down near the bottom of mankind’s depth. He was a deep dude. Biographers record that some days he spent thirteen hours a day alone in his study. On occasion he would leave the dinner table, which was still full of his family and guests, in order to go get back in his “zone.” While I strive to honor God with all my affections and industry, I no longer assume that such effort and energy is separate from my dad life, it’s more rich because of it. So let’s adopt the Latin phrase into et liberi, et liber, “both children and books.”

For some additional thoughts, read A Bad Equation by Austin Kleon.

More Bad Ideas

If you like to create things—and why wouldn’t you as an image-bearer of your Creator—then listen to this podcast by Seth Godin: No such thing (as writer’s block). It’s not that he provides the silver bullet, but he certainly hacks at the Excuse Monster that we often hide behind.

Especially for those who regard their work as precious, who hold their ideas inside too long and often squeeze the interesting juices out of the idea before it even has the chance to get out, we should try out trying out more things.

“Your problem is it that you don’t have enough good ideas, your problem might be that you don’t have enough bad ideas.”

A Story Culture

A Story Culture

Interesting article about attention to the hierarchy of information, data, knowledge, and wisdom at Rands in Repose titled, A Story Culture. The point: people like stories, and synthesis-ability (wisdom) produces the best stories.

The construction of a story has very little to do with writing. It has to do with the semi-magical process of you taking disparate pieces of information, combining them into something new, which includes your experience and understanding, and then giving them to someone else.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot: why write if the people I know/who know me aren’t reading? In other words, what would make someone who doesn’t know me want to read what I wrote? Friends and family are often satisfied at the information and data levels. The shared facts, even if nugatory, fit into an already informed narrative, so need to connect the dots is a low bar. Students may get by with data and knowledge. And if not, we can pass the blame by telling them it’s their fault for not being interested. But the stranger/distance reader wants wisdom or he’s gone.

The value of the idea is one part that it is yours and one part that you gave it to someone else. It’s you and something new.

The closing line was good, too.

In this digitally distant world full of information that appears to only be moving faster and faster, you get to choose: how much will I consume and how much will I create?

My take-away: in order to create more (interesting things/stories), I need more work and more wisdom.

A Spectacular Something

The annual resolutions review is good. And humbling. And heartening. And yes, both at the same time.

My two 2009 resolutions were very much related to two teaching series that occupied my mind: a verse by verse study through Genesis and a retreat on Repentance.

  • Articulate something six days a week.

This resolution was spectacular, a spectacular fail. It was my “most specific resolution ever,” and though the wheels rolled, they never left the ground. The pilot of my mind was either too lazy, too undisciplined, or too slow to leave the torpor tarmac.

Now, I did do a little light journaling, tweeted a tad, made a few offerings to the Void, sent 52 Weekly emails to our youth staff (probably my most gratifying effort), and answered a plethora of electronic and handwritten correspondence. I also figure I preached between 90-100 times in 2009, many of those messages required new prep. But I know the authorial intent behind my resolution, and spinning the story still won’t make it fly.

On the bright side, this resolution to write was originally charted due to my study of God’s creating men as His image-bearers. As far as that goes–meaning my understanding of His mandate and my perspective on being made for responsibility and relationship–my life, marriage, and ministry have never been more Trinitarian.

Tangentially, I have also taken long strides in my interest in, and capacity for, celebration. The Persons of the Trinity could not be more happy, and my happinesslessness reflected wrongly on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ve repented of running only on the commiserating leg, and that leads to the second resolution.

  • Initiate individual and interpersonal repentance.

By God’s grace, repentance was back on my heart’s radar week by week. I neglected regular confession in private prayers less, and I did better at including confession in times when leading corporate prayer. I saw (some) sins more clearly and tasted sweeter delights by turning from them. Though it was humbling, a bellyful of knotted-stomach grief came out as I sought forgiveness from others, especially from some who are close, those for whom the flesh prefers to save face. Speaking about repentance at the snow retreat wasn’t done from a platform of perfection, but neither was it done from pretense.

It’s certainly possible that someone reading this may feel like I missed one, with them. If that’s the case, there is no statute of limitations, and let’s get some gospel on it. Otherwise, repentance is one of those resolutions that I hope to have less need for, but am quicker to do, for a lifetime of sanctification.

So You Wanna Be a Writer

series by Nathan Wilson

State of the Void

Today is the first snow day of the school year. Since I’m not teaching at a school anymore, a snow day isn’t the novelty it used to be. But the church office is a virtual ghost town when the Academy is closed, and it’s always fun to stay home anyway. In a while, the kids and I will bundle up, throw snow at each other, build a snowman or two, shovel off the driveway, and spend a couple hours looking forward to hot chocolate.

Because the day’s schedule is different than usual, I committed to myself that I would write something for the Void. I miss it. Though I have been working on various other projects–one of which I’ll be free to publicize here in a couple days–I like writing and posting more than pithy quotes from dead theologians and amusing anecdotes from home.

So what’s the problem? Where are the gold bars of new posts? It appears sitting my rear in the chair and turning away from distractions are still the most difficult parts. I am fearful of becoming another armchair pundit who acts like he knows everything about everything, but the primary blame falls on my mental laziness.

There are reasons for me to write. First, I am a pastor, and this blog is one platform for fulfilling the teaching part of my responsibility. Having a blog doesn’t mean I’m the best teacher or only teacher. But for my sheep, this site ought to be a resource connected to our larger ministry context. Second, being a shepherd is a personal thing. This site ought to be a place for the sheep who normally don’t get to hang out with me to get to know me a bit better. The blog format also preserves my holdout from Facebook for at least a while longer, and hopefully provides more substance than updating my status or notifying followers when I’ve been tagged in a photo. Third, the blog helps me stay connected with far away friends and family. Undoubtedly some of my posts are tangential to their lives and interests, but they can read if they want. Fourth, it lets me practice writing. Most writers I’ve read have written that if a person wants to become a better writer, they should write more. Fancy that. Fifth, composing a post often helps me think through a given issue more clearly. Sixth, the blog provides a place to communicate things that didn’t fit the flow of a sermon or that I ran out of time to say. Seventh, the blog is a better platform for sharing things I think are silly rather than turning my preaching into a comedy bit. Eighth, I just like it.

As I look to the end of this year and a review of my 2008 resolutions, and as I consider opportunities for spiritual progress in the new year, I’m ready to include more writing and posting to the Void in the process. So there it is; I finally wrote something. For me, that’s better than nothing.