Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's been an even more turbulent week

More than a week has passed since I last gave the "weekly report". Sorry for my absence. Many of the days during this time were chock full of what I can only describe as turbulence. Much of that was at work, but some was personal, especially yesterday. I can't say anything publicly. The immediate crisis has passed, but a long term crisis looms.

But, each cloud has a silver lining, right? The good news is that all the stress has about taken away my appetite. I've reduced to the lowest weight I've been at for two or three years.

Hopefully tomorrow I will find time to get back to the Wesley letter of recent posts, then to a Carlyle letter I began research on three weeks ago.

We can hope.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Body and Soul

Life continues to conspire against me, against giving me time to write, and to do so many things I would like to do. Alas, how hard it is to embrace Emerson's words, which I championed on this very blog, "...there is time enough for all that I must do...." But there is, there is; I need only to keep reminding myself of it, and chipping away at the massive monolith that is my to do list.

I want to go back to the quote from one of John Wesley's letters, which I wrote about two posts ago. Here's the quote, with particular part I want to focus on today highlighted.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue!”

"Of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood." Those who have studied the life of John Wesley might almost laugh at this. Who, in church history, other than John Wesley developed his soul when young, yet had many years of strong body and active service ahead of him? Who shunned leisure, and ministered so fervently that he changed a nation? Yet, Wesley wrote these words in his young adulthood, when he was 28 years old, unmarried, fairly new in his university teaching career. His Georgia mission and his Aldersgate Street experience were years away. The Methodist movement was a single, struggling club, subject to more derision than to praise. From Wesley's perspective when he wrote those words, he had a legitimate concern. We know, however, that he did what he needed to overcome that fear, and developed his soul into maturity and maintained it so for decades, long before his body wore out.

All of us should have a legitimate fear of this happening to us, of not developing our soul--our mind. I have heard it called "Biblical illiteracy", and it is rampant among church-goers. How many have really dug into the scriptures and learned what they have to say? Too few, I'm afraid. The proliferation of modern entertainments crowd out soul-development time. How easy it is to go from radio on the drive home to network news during supper to a game show to a sitcom to a drama to the Internet to computer games, and find myself exhausted and to bed too late to have the rest I need to optimally function the next day.

I'm fortunate, though, that God seems to have given me an inquisitive mind and abilities to articulate and to work with both grand concepts and minutia. Digging into the scripture, into non-scriptural books related thereto, into books old and new, secular and sacred, is just about the greatest discretionary pleasure I can think of. Well, add to that writing about them. Has this writing bug infected me for the purpose of dovetailing a love for these writings of others with writing of my own? The Bible study I'm currently working on for our adult Life Group has been an incredible blessing and joy. I titled it "The Dynamic Duo: Lessons from the Lives of Elijah and Elisha." I pulled ten events out of their lives (could have done closer to twenty, but I thought this about the right number for our class), and have been intensively studying the passages, then developing the lessons each week, both teacher's notes and student handout. I taught lesson 5 last Sunday, and just finished lesson 7 prep last night. I should be able to complete the remaining three lessons in the next week, putting me ahead of schedule and giving my substitute all he needs to teach on May 11 and May 18, two weeks when I believe I'll be away.

But, as I've been preparing this lesson series, thoughts for three or four more Bible study series have come to mind. I have captured those thoughts most briefly (a title on a page, waiting for a skeleton on which to put meat and sinews), and have them ready to work on next. Maybe, just maybe, this is the direction my writing should be going in. In the process of doing what will hopefully enlighten others, my soul is being developed.

My body, now--well, that's another subject.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Turbulent Week

I can't believe I let the entire week go by without posting! I had such good intentions, planning to write two more posts from the Wesley snippet I found, then going on to something else. I can only plead the strangeness of the week, and the turbulence thereof.

On Monday we had another corporate downsizing. Twenty-two people were laid off in our offices nationwide, I think eleven in our Bentonville home office and the rest scattered among all offices. In addition, pay cuts have been implemented, affecting me and many others. Management took the greatest pay cuts, and people who are wholly in production took none at all. This seems a fair way to do it. No one wants to have a pay cut, but that is better than looking for a job.

I spent much of the week on drainage issues on two or three projects, including some "heavy" calculations for one project. I say "heavy" because I haven't had to do this for a few years, and we have new software that I have barely used. I found it easy to use for most things, but some complicated features of a storm water detention pond could not be easily handled. I entered data and ran the program, thought I had it right and printed, only to find when perusing the report that it wasn't right, and I had to do it all over again. I don't know how many trees I killed with printout I found were erroneous. Our recycling box was considerably fuller by the end of the week. But, I got that done, went on to other projects that I had to review (not do the calcs), and found a bit of closure at the end of the week. I still have one more set of calculations to run on Monday-Tuesday, and will have to begin a fairly major flood study about the same time, but my workload seems manageable.

Then, I wrote two lessons in the Sunday School series I'm currently teaching, "The Dynamic Duo: Lessons from the Lives of Elijah and Elisha". That puts be one week ahead, and with another started and well along, almost two full weeks ahead. I need to be two ahead--or three if possible--because I will miss two weeks in May, if all goes well. That is really the only writing I've done this week, except for a series of e-mails to a project manager in our Dallas office, explaining to her how to run a public bid project. I don't suppose those qualify for creative writing, though.

I will hopefully be back before the day is out, and make a follow-up post on Wesley's letter, then will be more active this week.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Growing old too soon

Continuing with that quote from John Wesley's letter to Ann Granville, here is a shorter version of it:

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue!”

Wesley interestingly expresses concern about growing old in body, but not being mature in his mental development, of "having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood." This is something we all need to be concerned about. The body grows old as a natural process. Development of our soul (i.e. our intellect, our emotions, our spirit) is NOT a natural process. This is something we need to be deliberate about.

Of late I have been very concerned about my intellectual development. The result is that I have chosen reading material that I feel will improve my mind. I suppose one could say that all reading improves the mind, and I would agree with that in part. Obviously some things we could read will improve the mind more than others. I've also been concerned with advancing in my spiritual development. It seems that this goes in fits and starts. For a period I will be incredibly focused on the Bible, and study it with great intensity of mind and find myself growing. At other times, secular concerns crowd out Bible study, and stagnation develops. Maybe that is the way it will always be. Maybe intensive spiritual study for too long a period can be draining--exhausing--and I must back away until mind-improving activities of a lesser intensity have a chance to give my mind a rest.

At present, the Elijah and Elisha Bible study I'm doing is a great springboard for Bible study. First with a general reading and selection of items to present to the class, then in intense reading of the selected passages along with a couple of commentaries, and finally to preparing a handout for the class to have each week, I have found this study quite meaningful, and have felt my mind, soul, and spirit growing. We just finished the fourth lesson today. Six remain, with most of the intense study still ahead. I guess by the end of May I'll be ready for a breather.

But this part of the journey is certainly a joy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's been a worse week

Yes, after writing last week that the week had not gone well, this week was worse, mainly from the standpoint of not having the time to do much that I really wanted to. Work has been intense. Life Group preparations have been demanding. The world, the flesh, and the devil have all pounded on me. As with Wesley, "leisure and I have [indeed] taken leave of each other", except this week not due to a conscientious intent to accomplish, but due to commitments of life. I was working on a post to this blog, something from the letters of Thomas Carlyle, when life swallowed up the small amount of time the research required. Maybe this weekend.

Yet, in all of this, God remains on the throne, not high and lifted up, but in a still small voice close at hand. Praise His name!

May next week bring improved state of mind to mirror my state of soul and spirit.

An Arrow Through the Air

I’m slowly reading the letters of John Wesley. I found these on line at The Wesley Center. I have downloaded the first two volumes and formatted them for a maximization of trade-off between easy reading and concise printing, and printed them. I’m thus reading them from my printed copy. I found this interesting piece today.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, 'as an arrow through the air,' without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!

Wesley wrote this on 27 September 1730 to Miss Ann Granville. This is part of the “Cyrus-Aspasia” letters, not printed in most early collections of his letters, which are believed to be coded affectionate (if not love) letters between Wesley and the young widow Mary Granville Pendarves. Ann was Mary’s younger sister, and Wesley wrote her as well. In these words by the founder of Methodism and, more importantly, the driving force behind the 18th Century revival in England, I find much to think about and much to inspire. I may take a few days to discuss this.

First up is his thought “Strange to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark….” Is that not a perfect description of the average person’s life? Oh, we all leave marks behind us. As a genealogy hobbyist who has found lots of these marks left by otherwise unknown ancestors, I know this. But for the most part most people have no impact beyond their immediate family and perhaps a few close acquaintances. How apt Wesley’s metaphor is. An arrow moves through the air at great speed and for great distances. It has an effect at the end of its journey, but the territory it passes through is not affected except for a momentary disturbance of unseen gases.

So could any of us look back on years passed and wonder, “What have I accomplished in the last [X years, or Y decades]? Has that much time really passed? They seemed full at the time. Why do I have such a sense of non-accomplishment?" Many people want to have an impact on our world: help someone, teach someone, train-up someone, create something, discover something, improve something. Yet, many more people don’t give a thought to any of this, worrying instead about eight hours work, dinner on the table, and television all evening. Quite a dichotomy. Unfortunately there are likely many more people who fit the latter description than the former. And many of the former devise no game plan for doing more than momentarily disturbing unseen gases

For those who, like Wesley, want to accomplish so much that they wish “the wheels of life stand still”, a game plan for accomplishing influence is necessary. I pray that God would help me to develop that game plan, and have that influence.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Leisure and I…

One of John Wesley’s most famous quotes is, “Leisure and I have taken leave of one another.” I found this quote in his letter to his older brother, Samuel Wesley Jun. The letter was written 5 December 1726. Those familiar with the chronology of Wesley’s life will recognize this as very early, during the Oxford Holy Club days, long before the Wesleyan revival, long before his missionary time in America, long before doctrines developed that would become the foundations of one of the greatest Christian movements of all times. Wesley was just twenty-three years old when he wrote this. Sixty-four years of fruitful ministry lay ahead.

I don’t know if Wesley might have written this many times in his works, rather than just this once. Possibly this was sort of a life motto for him, possibly this shows up regularly in his writings (which I will find out over the years as I read more of them). But I find it most interesting he wrote this so early in his life, and that he seemed to have done what he said. Even a cursory biography shows that he was not a man of leisure, and seldom did what we would consider leisurely things. I don’t know that he ever took vacations. His occupation caused him to have to work on the Sabbath, so did he take another day of the week as a day of rest, or did he just plow right on with his work? Did he have any sort of a weekend as we know it? Of course, the times he lived in were much more work oriented than ours. The four day work week was unheard of—actually, the five day work week was unheard of. Six days a week was the norm, and I imagine some workers found themselves working all seven just to make ends meet. The European concept of a month-long vacation was unthinkable. Even the American concept of two weeks of vacation, with a trip to the beach or the mountains, was something maybe the idle rich could afford, but no one else. Yes, Wesley’s taking leave of leisure was quite a bit different than it would be today.

So how does this affect us now? If Wesley gave up so much leisure and accomplished so much, what of us, who in the 21st century have much we want to accomplish? If we take leave of leisure, we will be branded “type A personality”, whatever that is, and looked down upon by most of those we encounter. But so what? Most of them have nothing they want to accomplish beyond a good bracket in the NCAA tournament, or calling the automated tee-time reservation system the very second reservations for a new day become available. If they don’t want to accomplish much, why should that deter me?

I am impressed that Wesley established this pattern of intensive ministry long before he accomplished most of his life goals. Aldersgate Street is about twelve years in the future. The revival followed that. Fifty years of fruitful ministry accompanied the revival. But those twelve years of having taken leave of leisure must have somehow been essential for that to happen. Again, Wesley was twenty-three when he made that statement. I seem to be thirty-three years behind him. Yet the need to accomplish much outside my chosen profession didn’t hit me until somewhat late in life. Have I time to take leave of leisure and accomplish something? And how does this mesh with what I wrote of Emerson’s words, “There is time enough for all that I must do”?

No answers, only questions to be pondered and hopefully answered in the next couple of months.

Friday, April 4, 2008

It's been a bad week

I know a blog of a professional person is supposed to be about a brand of some kind, not a diary of all that life throws at you. The fact is, though, I've been down in the dumps this week--big time, so I'm going to give you a diary entry. The problem is not that anything is actually going bad. A problem or two has arisen at work, but solutions have also developed and other things have worked well. Nothing has broken at the house, the bills are paid, and my weight is even dropping a little (agonizingly slowly, though without exercise) as I ate well and avoided snacks. I didn't get a ticket; the truck and van didn't break down; and I bought gas this time the day before an 8 cents price hike. I have come within one calculation of completing my Federal income taxes, subject to mathematical quality control of course, and I'm a week ahead on preparing my Sunday School lesson--oops, they call them Life Groups now. Even the rain on three days, which usually perks me up, didn't. So, you ask what's wrong? What would put me in the dumps?

It's writing, specifically the lack of time to get to it, and another dose of reality at the almost impossible odds of becoming published. I did plenty of writing this week, mostly business letters via e-mail, and a few via snail mail or its semi-electronic cousin, the fax. I also wrote that one Life Group lesson and started on the second, it being well along. I had to study a lot for those, but it was good study and my mind was engaged. But none of that (except possibly the Life Group lesson) takes me an inch closer to being published. Every day filled with life--life to the full, as Jesus wants it to be--is a day further away from the dream. I'm at that point in life where each day is a precious commodity as it relates to fulfilling a dream. Youth is gone, and I have only so many days left.

Writing as a dream looks to be something that will cause an emotional roller coaster in life. I've experienced that before, first in my days as an expatriate and later in my days as a foster parent. The swing of emotions are energy sapping, leaving the brain little ability to create, even little ability for normal function. It requires considerable toughening to keep going. This week, I didn't have it. What will next week hold? If I finish my Federal taxes this weekend, get another Life Group lesson prepared to put me one week ahead, and maybe have time for a blog post for three days in a row, maybe I'll approach next week as a dynamo of brain-power. At least I can hope.

In addition to which, for those loyal readers who remember my posts a while back about capturing ideas for future writing, I did manage to capture two this week: one could be an article or a book; the other could be a Life Group series, which could later be a book.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Ides of April Constrain Me

Yes, I'm working on my taxes, working on preparing my weekly Sunday School lesson which includes writing a handout as well as teaching notes, and have found almost no time to write except for that. Also, the class my wife and I are taking Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the community college is cutting into all things avocational and leisurely. The good news is the taxes are well along. I might finish the Federal tonight, though will take a couple of days to perfect it. I actually finished the lesson for this coming Sunday last night also, so I might be able to prepare another one this week and be a week ahead. I'd like to be two weeks ahead, if I can.

So, in the place of writing a new post here, I'll be lazy and copy in a post I made at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, in the poetry discussion forum. This is the first of several posts I'll be making in the thread on poetry craft.

Quote: "A few weeks ago, I was asked to judge a chapbook contest, partly because I enjoy a little recognition locally and partly because it's hard as hell to get someone to judge these things. I just finished going through the stack of pocketfolders that cradled the entries.YUK! After I finished, I almost wanted to cry. Most of the "poets" who entered this contest knew nothing about the craft...."

Okay, after saying I wouldn't get to this for a while, I decided to use my lunch hour to do this instead of planned things. The wind at 30 mph and the threatening rain are excellent excuses to not take my noon walk.

Concerning the quality of the poems submitted to the contest, I would like to know to whom the contest was opened. The general public who might have seen a contest notice? High school students? University students? Members of a local poetry society? That's important to know, because for each group we would expect a different aggregate quality of the entries. If entrants are people who responded to a notice posted in the library and in a newspaper, we would expect pretty poor quality. If these are English majors in college, we would expect something better. Since these are chapbooks and not individual poems, that tells me the entrants are more serious poets than the population at large, in which case the lack of quality is more disturbing.

We tend to think that there is more dreck being passed off as poetry today than at times past in history. I wonder, however, if that is true. Dissemination is so easy today, due to technological advances not available to poets in a ruder era, that more people see the dreck. But maybe, as a percentage of all poetry written in any given era, we have no more today than in eras past. Mercifully only the best of those eras survive; we don't see the dreck that was written simultaneously as Keats' odes, or Shakespeare's sonnets, or Chaucer's epics.This might not be true when one factors in the expansion of literacy, as Haskins said. More literate people, as a percentage of the population, might indeed produce a higher percentage of crap than did a people in the past. Either way, sponsor a chapbook contest in 1800, and I'll be you'd get plenty of chapbooks at which you'd want to gag. Again, all those chapbooks were destroyed by knowledgeable heirs who found them tucked away in chests and realized the judges were correct in writing on it, "Foresooth, these stinketh."

Other parts of your post will have to wait for a later time.

I guess there's something to be said for lack of notoriety; no one is asking for me to judge anything. May it ever be so.