Categories
The End of Many Books

How to Take Smart Notes

Yes, this is a book about note-taking. I read it last year during the global lockdown, because I was interested, and because it was about something other than a virus. Mentions of it swelled among the productivity bloggers for a while, and it seemed as if it might be profitable for efficient capturing and curating. Even more, it claims to offer a way to think better, especially for sake of making connections between ideas.

The book examines the workflow of Niklas Luhmann who wrote hundreds of articles, and considered his copious output as a result of his system of input.

I haven’t implemented all of the workflow, but I keep thinking about ways to make progress in organizing and writing. My reading of the book also had a serendipitous connection with the beta of an app called Roam Research. It is perhaps the ideal digital tool for the Smart Notes approach, especially as it focuses on a network rather than hierarchy of notes, as well as on blocks rather than pages or documents. Roam makes it easy for the same block to be referenced in multiple places rather than tucked away in only one place.

If you are still reading this review, you are probably the type of person who would be interested in the book as well as in Roam. 🙂

4 of 5 stars

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Not a Blank Canvas

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

—Edwin Schlossberg
Categories
The End of Many Books

Keep Going

by Austin Kleon

This was probably my least favorite of the three (along with Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, but it still has a bunch of little verbal shots in the arm to keep one going, which is the point. I especially appreciate “Forget the noun, do the verb.” You can read more on that idea here and here, or obviously buy the book.

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Show Your Work

by Austin Kleon

Like the first book in the series, Steal Like an Artist, this book is short, delightful, and challenging. The following quote from Alain de Botton is a great summary of Kleon’s message”

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Steal Like an Artist

by Austin Kleon

This is a small book, easy and enjoyable to read, with good reminders to keep looking and learning. I laughed at the following quote, used it in a talk already, and think it’s a good summary of the benefit of Kleon’s book. As the French author AndrĂ© Gide wrote,

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

On Writing

by Stephen King

This book is often near the top of the favorites list by some writers I like. I still like those writers better than this book. It’s the only one by King I’ve read, and it gives me good reason to keep it that way. I was most interested in the Postscript where he describes what it meant to him to get back to writing after his accident.

3 of 5 stars

Categories
Enjoying the Process

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 libri, “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.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

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.”

Categories
Enjoying the Process

My 2009 Resolutions

I’ve been marinating much in 1 Timothy 4:11-16 since Eric Alexander took it as his text at the 2003 Shepherds’ Conference. My recent ordination also put the passage back on my mental front burner. Verse 16 strikes at the core of my responsibility: “pay close attention to yourself and to the teaching”; I do desire for my “progress to be evident to all” (verse 15).

My flock benefits most when I grow personally, and according to Paul, my salvation and the salvation of those who hear me depends on it. There may be few things as demoralizing, or as dangerous, as a stagnant spiritual leader. And I’ve found over the last few years that a year-end review and resolution-making helps keeps me in check and provides accountability for future progress.

There are any number of things I would do well to examine this year. I need to continue thinking through how to best apply the sabbath principle. I want to keep praying more and more and more. I want to learn how to appreciate the “narrative.” Mo might add that I should make a commitment to be nice to my wife all the time.

But in light of ordination to the gospel ministry, and in light of being an image-bearer, here are my two 2009 resolutions.

Articulate something six days a week.

As an image-bearer of God, I am responsible to use the skills and desires He has given me. As a pastor, I am required to pay close attention to “the teaching.” Writing until I’m clear fulfills (at least parts of) both.

Of course, articulating something doesn’t require writing it out. Articulating simply means to express, to put in words, or to communicate. But I specifically have in mind writing out or annotating something all the work days of the week. Writing is a good discipline, beyond the physical, and more mental and possibly spiritual (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8) depending on the topic.

This is my most specific resolution ever. It is not a commitment to post to the Void six days a week. But whether I handwrite a sermon, post to the Void, dash off a rough draft, tweet a paragraph summary, or journal various thoughts, putting down more words on paper is my desire. It’s time to work and produce, even if it isn’t much. When I began running on the treadmill, I wasn’t stumbling over as many revolutions of the belt as I do now. I took it step by step. Now I’ll work sentence by sentence.

Initiate individual and interpersonal repentance.

As an image-bearer, I am made for relationship. Nothing disrupts community like sin, and the first step toward reconciliation is repentance. Likewise, in light of ordination, I must pay close attention to myself. I know it is easy for me, as a leader, to be defensive rather than humble when I’ve wronged someone else.

Repentance is the starting point of the Christian life, let alone a new year. While certainly not every problem under the sun comes from sin, most of them do. Sin is the dominant human problem, not personality flaws, not a genetic defects, not adolescent hormones, not difficult environments. Simply ignoring sin won’t make it go away. Rationalizing sin won’t overcome it. Medicating sin won’t pacify it. Repenting from it is the only proper course of treatment.

The fact that sin is our fundamental problem turns out to be good news in a way. If sin isn’t the problem then we are really stuck. There is no hope if the diagnosis is something other than spiritual. God doesn’t make any guarantees to get us out of a particular situation, to help us get organized, to increase our metabolism, to change our academic ability, or even to alter our emotional or mental make-up per se.

But He does have extraordinary news if the problem is sin. There is a Substitute Sacrifice who takes the guilt of our sin. There is a Spirit who frees us from slavery to sin. There are promises revealed in His Book about the impotence of sin for those united with Christ, along with detailed instructions on how to kill remaining sin. We can make all the resolutions we want, but unless those resolutions tackle our sin problem we are going to be fighting at the wrong front.

Nothing stunts personal spiritual growth like sin. Nothing cripple’s a leader’s influence like sin. I want to grow. I want to influence. So I want to be a person and a pastor whose default response is to consider my own sin, not another’s. When we sin for what it is and repent, we increase our influence rather than loose it. That certainly was the case for Augustine. Reading his Confessions, as well as his biography by Peter Brown, has been a great example to me of changing the world by confessing, not covering, sin.

I should have plenty of opportunities to put this particular resolution into practice since plenty of sin remains for me to mortify. Building this commitment to initiate repentance into my response paradigm is hopefully a good start.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

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.