Friday Feed (9/27/2019)

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In case you’re confused by Wednesday’s post, YES, I’m still going to post a #FridayFeed from time to time! Just because I don’t want to be just a curator doesn’t mean I’m not gonna share some cool links with you people!

Submitted for your perusal: 10 posts worth checking out this weekend.

Hope you find something useful here. If you do, maybe pop into the comments below and let me know? That would help a lot. Thanks.

 

Shareable, skimmable, skippable.

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I’ve been trying to catch up on my RSS feed’s “Read Later” tab. (After a few weeks of effort, I started the day at around 270 bookmarks.) I farm my RSS feed for links to share in my #FridayFeed posts (which seem to be most of my posts these days–I’m working on that!).  But I noticed as I mechanically cycled links this afternoon that I was merely skimming to see if the post was worth sharing, instead of reading to see if it was beneficial to me. I wasn’t reading; I was just curating.

Reversing the roles, I’d probably be disappointed if readers were only skimming my posts to weigh if they were “good enough” to share or retweet.

I have to admit, the pressure to put *something* up on the blog makes it easy to slip into that role of curator instead of creator

So I decided to chop my voluminous “Read Later” list down to things that I [gasp!] actually wanted to read later, even if doing so cut against my info-hoarder tendencies. The list is now below 150. Even if a link touched a topic I might want to read at some point, if I didn’t want to read it now, I deleted the bookmark.

Here’s my point: As much as you are able, only read what you actually want to read. There are no prizes for reading the most blog posts or news feeds, beyond the prize of what you actually retain. So read what you like, read what feeds your brain and heart and soul, and skip the rest. (And hopefully, I’ll create some of that good stuff for you along the way.)

Side-note: It’s also fascinating how little the BIG NEWS COMMENTARY of 6 months ago matters now. It’s almost as if, I don’t know, the 24-hour news cycle produces a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing in about a week. Hmm.

Friday Feed (9/20/2019)

Happy Friday, friends! I’m back with some cool links and videos for your amusement this fine Friday afternoon. (I almost said “fine fall afternoon” but depending where you live, it may still be in the 90’s like it is in my neck of the woods. That’s not fall weather!)

Here we go!

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That’s it for this week. Thanks for your patience through some erratic posting. I’m hoping to get back to a normal schedule soon. (I feel like I say this a lot.) I appreciate that y’all keep coming back.

Have a great weekend. See you next week.

Say the words.

Last week, I tweeted out that I wasn’t doing well. Things were hectic in multiple areas of life, and I was feeling overwhelmed–not despondent, but definitely blue. Over the next few days, several people checked up on me via texts, tweets, emails, and in-person handshakes and hugs. They asked me how I’m doing, if things are getting better, how they can help.

I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. And it reminded me that I need to do that better.

I know several people struggling with different issues right now: unemployment, separation from family due to work, mental health struggles. Chronic issues that can wear down a person’s hope.

It costs me absolutely nothing to take a few moments and send a text or make a call or zip out an email saying, Hey pal, I’m thinking about you and praying for you. You matter to me. I’m ready to lend a hand however I can.

I don’t know why I don’t do that more often. I should.

The news yesterday about Jarrid Wilson’s suicide drove this point home for me. Even the people who seem to be doing okay may not be doing okay. I was reminded of this again in an exchange last night with another friend who confessed how hard the mental/spiritual battle has been for her lately.

So, my encouragement for all of us today:

If you know someone who’s hurting, tell them you care about them.

If you know someone who’s fighting the darkness, remind them that they matter.

Don’t try to diagnose them, fix them, or give them an easy answer. Often, there are no easy answers.

Just tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them they are not forgotten.

Point them back to the compassion and tender grace of Jesus, and then keep doing that.

We all need to hear that more often.

Journal like a Monk: My Thoughts on Using the “Monk Manual” for 2 Weeks.

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If you do much reading about productivity or personal/spiritual growth, keeping a journal or day-planner is often recommended for daily practice. Whether it’s bounded by 5-minute timeframes, uses bullets, helps you Get Things Done, or just records your prayers or Bible-reading insights, the practice of reflection and record-keeping can be very rewarding. So I was intrigued when I heard about the Monk Manual.

Let’s go ahead and address the name: Monk Manual?

Immediately, my suspicious mind asked, “What kind of monk?” Was this journal coming from a specific religious background? Would it lead the user into certain religious practices? The answer, as far as I have seen, is no–or at least, not necessarily. I get the sense that the creator of the journal, Steven Lawson (not that Steve Lawson), has in mind some sort of mystical monk tradition (and some of the language under the “Grow in” tab of the website sounds a bit New-Agey), but the journal itself reads much more generally than that. The daily and weekly pages I’ve used do not point to any specific religious practice, either, beyond giving a space to record “what God is teaching me” or “what I’m thankful for.” Folks like me who try to be discerning about spiritual subtext and teaching can rest easy, as far as I’m aware.

The designer’s idea here is to follow some of the reflective practices used by monks and apply them to a productivity and planning context. But (at least in terms of the daily and weekly pages) they aren’t presented in a way that encourages specific religious ideas or habits. The user would have to bring that to the table, in this context.

So what’s a Monk Manual? Will it train me to be a monk?

The Monk Manual is a journal/planner system based on the idea of the PAR Method (Prepare, Act, Reflect). However, instead of focusing solely on accomplishment of tasks, the Monk Manual points the user to some bigger-picture questions, like recognizing blessings, thinking about relationships, and considering how they are really doing internally.

I admit, writing it out that way sounds a bit hokey, but it’s actually pretty refreshing. There’s still an element of GTD in the Monk Manual, and it can be useful in that regard. But the journal is designed to help you step back a bit and think about who you are as much as what you do, which may be beneficial for those who are results-driven or who feel guilty for not doing enough in general.

The Monk Manual is divided into 3 sections: daily pages, weekly pages, and monthly pages. I have not seen the monthly pages yet, but I used the daily and weekly pages for two weeks, with only a day and a half missed–that itself being a minor miracle. Consistency in anything new is a struggle for me.

Taking Time to Reflect.

I found the daily and weekly pages to be a helpful and encouraging exercise because it encouraged me to consider not only what I was doing, but why. Merely the act of assigning a goal-habit and a theme for each week helped to reframe my actions and some of my decisions, so that I was able to look back on them in a slightly-different way.

The act of reflecting at the end of the day is a helpful practice that I don’t do often enough. Some of the end-of-day questions include writing down highlights of the day, times you were “at your best,” and times when you felt uneasy. Taking a few moments to consider my emotions/reactions helped me put some things in context and recognize how certain choices led to consequences I didn’t like. As someone who doesn’t really journal at all, doing that was a benefit that I want to keep going.

When it comes to spiritual matters, you get out of this journal what you put into it. As stated above, there are some vaguely spiritual prompts that a Christian can easily apply in their own worldview without concerns of syncretism. I was able to consider and track some of my personal spiritual disciplines in this journal in an effective way.

Final Thoughts: Like Any Tool, It’s Up to You to Use It.

That’s really what it comes down to: if you decide to use this tool to help improve your day-to-day life and keep you focused, it could be helpful–but it won’t “fix” you and it won’t do the work for you. There are no magical powers in the Monk Manual, and other than providing prompts for consideration, it’s paper and ink just like any other notebook. (Point of fact, I didn’t even use the actual journal that’s for sale–I printed out the free pages and popped those into a folder!)

Would I recommend using the Monk Manual? Sure, if you are interested in trying out a new type of journal and don’t already practice that daily reflection piece. If nothing else, it could encourage you develop a habit of taking a few moments to think about the day, plan for tomorrow, and pray for God’s grace in accomplishing what He’s set before you. That could be a help to you.

Here’s My Pitch

You can try the daily pages of the Monk Journal for free (as a downloadable PDF) from their website by signing up for their email list.

If you use my unique URL to do so, it could help me out by unlocking more freebies for me.

Thanks to a couple of folks who used my link via Twitter, I was able to “unlock” the weekly pages. If a few more folks use my link to sign up, I can “unlock” the monthly pages (and possibly even get a free journal myself!).

So, I’ll make a deal with you: If this sounds interesting, and you don’t mind signing up for MM’s mailing list and getting the free daily pages, once I hit the benchmark needed to get access to the monthly pages, I’ll check those out and then write a follow-up post to let you know what I think of them. Fair enough? You get to check out the daily pages, and you help me get to try out the monthly pages.

Once again, if you’d like to check the daily pages out for yourself, and help me get access to more stuff in the process, use this link to join the MM email list. 

I hope it is a benefit to you. Please come back and let me know if you try it out.

Five-minute update.

Hey readers!

I’ve missed checking in, so I wanted to give you a five-minute update (5 minutes to write, not to read!).

  • Things are busy. Just…really, just busy. Work is busy (yay, computer system overhauls!), church life is very busy (yay, church mergers!), home life with a wife and two littles is very busy (so many tantrums!).
  • I haven’t been reading much (got 75 pages into a 600-pager and stopped because I knew I couldn’t finish in time!), and I have a stack of short-story books on my shelf that I need to work through before they’re all due back at the library. What that means is you will get more #52Stories posts very soon. I’m going to finish that project, even if it’s just for me, folks. So I hope you don’t hate it. 🙂
  • I’m also thinking about starting a series of posts on Mondays where I work through what I’ve been teaching in Sunday School lately: a fly-over summary of the Minor Prophets. Basically, it’s just an overview that gives you the historical context, major themes, and some application points. If you’d be interested in something like that, let me know in the comments!
  • Coming up later this week: my thoughts on using the Monk Manual personal planner for 2 weeks. It’s been a different kind of daily-journal / productivity experience, and I look forward to sharing that with you.

That’s it, time’s up, see you later this week!

Friday Feed (8/30/2019)

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Happy last-Friday-of-August, y’all!

Here are some useful and/or interesting links for your weekend:

Hope these were helpful. If you liked any of these links, I’d appreciate you leaving me a comment below (or hit me up on Twitter!) so I know what you find helpful.

Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

52 Stories #24: “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver

baking bread breakfast bun
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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Oh my goodness, I’m excited to talk to you about today’s #52Stories selection. This tale by Raymond Carver from his 1983 collection Cathedral was recommended by John Reid over at the GOLiverse Facebook page. What a great selection. Very grateful for this.

Let’s get into it!

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The Pitch

A family’s birthday plans are suddenly altered by an accident.

The Payoff

If you’ve never read this story, I don’t want to say too much here that would spoil it for you. Carver provides a glimpse into the souls of his main characters and draws you into their confusion and pain. This story about the fear and grief of a parent was deeply moving in a way I wasn’t expecting, and the bittersweet ending just crushed me in the best way. It’s absolutely worth your time. Go find it and read it.

The Takeaways

I’m putting up the great big SPOILER WARNING tag here, because I don’t want to spoil your reading of the story. So, please forego the discussion below if you have any intention of reading this one!

Here we go:

  • First, let’s talk about the setting, or rather, the lack thereof. I didn’t pick up on any specific identifiers of place or time period, but the vibe I got was suburbs outside a mid-sized city (somewhere like Indianapolis or Pittsburgh), anytime from the 50’s to the 80’s. There are a few details that might help you zero in on a more specific era, but they’re understated enough that the story feels more timeless.
  • Ann’s contemplation of the baker’s abruptness with her sets up the end of the story nicely without being heavy-handed. I forgot about this detail until I read the story a second time. It’s subtle and effective.
  • I had to keep track of the passage of days in my notes. While Carver does indicate when each day passes, the sections in the hospital feel like a blur, and in my first reading I lost track of how many days had passed. Scotty dies only 2 days after the accident, but it feels like much longer–the reader waits anxiously along with the parents for something to change.
  • I found myself getting frustrated with Dr. Francis and the hospital staff as the story progressed. Obviously, Francis was constantly underselling the seriousness of Scotty’s injury, and there was a point at which I started feeling like this was injurious to the parents. At the same time, I had to remind myself that doctors don’t always know what’s happening, and that doctors and nurses work such long hours and see these tumultuous events happening all the time such that they become inured to it. On the other hand, the narrative is so effective that the reader begins to resent that the hospital staff isn’t more impacted by the Weiss family’s tragedy.
  • The conversation between Ann and Franklin’s parents demonstrates that the Weiss’s are not the only ones in that building facing the pain of loss. It’s a good reminder from Carver that there are many families, each of whose stories are powerful in their own right. Grief can isolate us, making us feel as if we’re the only hurting people in the world, when the reality is there are hurts all around us (as the end of the story also demonstrates).
  • I loved the moment when Ann and Howard each admitted that they had been praying, as if they were afraid that it would sound silly to the other. Carver then comments that Ann realizes that Howard is in this with her, and it makes her grateful to be his wife. What a moving consideration of the isolating and yet uniting effects of grief.
  • The calls from the baker are frustrating and sad. The reader immediately realizes what’s going on, but there’s no way for Howard or even Ann to understand the calls in context. It becomes another layer of tragedy, when they start trying to assign meaning to these seemingly random and cruel prank calls, even wondering if the hit-and-run driver was taunting them. All they can see is the pit of worry and grief they are dwelling in, and it isn’t until after the worst happens that they are able to remember what happened before Monday morning.
  • Scotty’s death was brutal to read as a parent. I just can’t even imagine.
  • Carver takes time to describe in effective detail how each parent expresses their grief. Even though we have minimal description of their lives before this story, they still feel like fully-orbed characters.
  • Ann’s confession that she wants to kill the prank caller is a bold choice. Carver risks alienating the reader if the statement sounds too melodramatic, but the way she says this, graphically but not sensationally, feels authentic.
  • The climax of the story really is when Ann realizes the caller is the baker, and they go to confront him. They both realize that he couldn’t have known about Scotty’s death, but they need someone to blame, someone to receive their anger. However, once they lay out their anger toward the baker, the atmosphere changes, and I think it has everything to do with how the baker responds. This self-admittedly abrupt and unsympathetic man sees the anguish and confusion in these two people, and he chooses to be empathetic instead of defensive. He apologizes for his demeanor and poor communication, and asks them to sit at his table. This is both reconciliation and condolence.
  • The baker delivers the title of the story in a line that hit my heart and stayed there: “You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing at a time like this.” He offers them coffee and cinnamon rolls, but more than that, he shows them that they have to push through the deep grief that threatens to overwhelm them.  His kitchen table becomes a refuge to Howard and Ann. He later offers them more to eat, saying, “There’s more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There’s all the rolls in the world in here.” The baker is able to open up as well, confessing his own hurt and loneliness and finding a sympathetic ear in this couple.
  • The final line of the story: “They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.” A beautiful and hopeful ending to an emotionally draining story.
  • All in all, this was a masterpiece. Carver is able to flesh out character and motivation with minimal exposition, demonstrating “show, don’t tell” to its fullest extent. There’s an authenticity to the dialogue and thoughts of these characters, which makes their heartache that much more affecting. The ending was unexpected. As soon as Scotty was hit by the car, I was hoping the “small, good thing” was that he would recover. In actuality, it was that kindness, compassion, and a shared table are powerful in helping to comfort broken hearts and encourage them to endure in the face of great loss.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

In praise of simple solutions.

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Sometimes, simplicity beats sophistication.

Part of my day job involves creating, revising, and maintaining documents across different platforms, using a variety of templates. These templates often include a series of broken lines for signatures and dates.

One of my colleagues spent some time creating a specialized two-column template feature with specialized margins, lines as embedded objects, the whole nine–and plopped that into our template. It works great–as long as you don’t touch anything.

My preferred approach? Typing a line of underscores, tabbing over a couple times, and then typing a smaller line of underscores.

Sophisticated? Obviously not. But the simplified approach works for me because it’s easy to create, easy to explain, and easy to fix if you accidentally “break” it with some errant copying and pasting. I’ve lost quite a bit of time trying to un-break sophisticated template formatting over the years.

Obviously, if you have more sophisticated needs or complex procedures, you should use the tools and techniques that are appropriate. But too often, I think we assume that the most sophisticated and complex tool or approach is always the best choice for the task.

A question we should consider instead is: How complicated does this solution really need to be? And how simple could it be and still do the job I need it to do?

Friday Feed (8/23/2019)

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Happy Friday, friends!

I need to take a quick breather from the #52Stories sprint, so here’s a list of updates and interesting links for your perusal:

  • First, a quick sneak peak for what’s next on #52Stories: Lately, I’ve been reading stories by Phoebe Gilman and Wendell Berry, as well as working on notes for stories by Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, and Flannery O’Connor. I’ve got a big stack of short story collections on my shelf from the library, as well, so we are set and ready to go. I hope you’ve been enjoying these entries–I sure have!
  • In addition to short stories, I’m currently still reading through Dr. Al Mohler’s new book on the Apostles’ Creed (and really enjoying it), and I’m a little ways into Jocko Willink’s Disclipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. With other obligations ramping up in my life, I’m having to dial back my long-form reading quite a bit for the next month or so.
  • Speaking of Dr. Mohler, his annual list of recommended summer reading is always worth a look. Of course, his definition of “summer reading” may be a bit different than everyone else’s.
  • I found this Washington Post article about the challenges of student journalism at Liberty University quite fascinating. The issues described aren’t just limited to universities with presidents currying presidential favor. Some elements of this sounded a bit like my own minimal experience at a private Baptist university.
  • We’re entering an exciting and challenging season at my church, as we’re contemplating merging with another congregation and reforming as a new body. (We would appreciate your prayers on this issue over the next several months!)  This story about a successful church merger was an encouragement to read at such a time.
  • I forget at the moment who recommended the webcomic Wondermark to me (Amanda? Matthew? One of you lovely people…), but if you’re not reading it, it’s a hoot. This recent entry hits a little close to home, if you’re an expert procrastinator like I am.
  • This admonition from Tim Challies is a good reminder that creative work (especially things like blogging) are best when they’re focused on doing good by the audience.
  • Great writing advice from the king of pithy posts, Seth Godin.
  • And finally, a few videos I dug recently:

Ben Kenobi has PTSD–this one’s heavy:

Childish Gambino covers Chris Gaines (Garth Brooks’ pop start alter-ego):

I love “How It Should Have Ended,” and this is another homerun entry:

That’s all I’ve got. See you next week, gang. Stay outta trouble, okay?