Focussing on practice

I was reading Chris Bowler’s most recent email newsletter today. In the intro to it he makes the comment:

It has simply been a matter of waiting and looking for the right things to write about. And maybe to focus on practicing more than preaching (always a good thing).

I can identify with both searching for the right things to write about, and especially the focus on practicing rather than preaching. I did go through a period a few years back of literally preaching in church, and often my blogging has been somewhat preachy. My current phase of life one of trying to concentrate more on the practicing aspect.

I am reading the Bible more than I was a year ago, am absorbing what is taught at church rather than arguing with it, and am searching for what my role should be over the next five years or so.

As far as blogging or writing goes, I’m still finding my way. Obviously I’ve not written much over the last few months, instead I have been reading and slowly making a balsa wood toy boat for my son.

I’ve been learning a bit about science writing and creative nonfiction, a potential direction that makes sense of my background and training. However, deep down I would also really like to write fiction so I’m still not sure which direction to move in. I guess the sensible thing would be to do the best I can at one or the other in order to gain practice as the experience can be used whichever way I finally go in.

Decluttering

young-scientist

It is not spring yet, but I am having a clear out of stuff that is no longer useful to have in my life. Some of this is physical clutter such as old lecture notes that I haven’t looked at in over a decade, some is digital stuff like the 2,000 web clippings in Evernote about blogging that I’ve deleted. Books I’ve kept but obviously will never read again, clothes no longer fitting, hobbies not pursued.

Then there are the old dreams and ambitions that have lain mouldering for decades, a few more recently shelved and now accumulating dust. These are taking longer to sift through, many need to be reckoned with before tossing them into the fire:

Why did I ever think that was a possibility?

How did I forget about this one?

Can I not keep a few, just in case?

Just in case of what? In case I get younger? In case I can undo the wasted years? In case these weaknesses, this personality, this life I’ve lived, is not really all I’ve got?

No. They have to go, despite what has been spent on some of those dreams in the past. Time and events cannot be undone, I am not a redeemer – these illusions need to be put to rest and space made to live and breathe in the life I currently have.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
(Ecclesiastes 3:6 ESV, emphasis mine)

It may sound overly dramatic, but what I’m doing is looking at my inner life of desires, motivations, dreams, anxieties, worries, priorities, fears, insecurities and assessing whether they fit who I really am. Are these the things I want to define me or am I wearing a life that is a few sizes too small (or too big)?

Childhood is many years ago for me now, yet plenty of childish things continue to influence how I think and act. I have been a Christian for 27 years but in some ways still think as an unbeliever. I lived single and without responsibilities for a long time, now I consider my wife and children first when faced with choices.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV)

At a superficial level, social expectations enforce a certain level of maturity in adults. Yet many childish ways can endure and I think God expects us to do the work of identifying these to replace them with maturity and wisdom based on His revelation in Christ.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2 ESV)


Image:iStock
The significance of this image is that one of my childhood dreams was to become a scientist. In reality I partially fulfilled that dream but not in the way my child self imagined.

Digging for bedrock

Learning to dig for the bedrock of Christ and writing from that foundation about the messy details of life.

When I was a teenager my Dad worked in the tunnels being constructed to stabilise the mountains around the Clyde dam. It was a strange underground world of darkness, dirt, noise, and water. The work of tunnelling through solid rock was arduous and exhausting.

The reason for all the drilling, digging, and blasting was because the rock is not as solid as it seemed. The mountains in that area are riddled with fault lines, underground water and massive, slowly moving landslides. Placing a gigantic concrete dam smack on top of a fault line meant the mountains had to be stabilised to prevent them cascading down into the newly formed lake.

As humans we like to think our work will last. It is demoralising to work hard on something for it to be demolished by someone who doesn’t care. We order our lives to ensure stability of home and income. Education is an attempt to predict what knowledge is worth gaining that will be of lasting value.

Over recent weeks I’ve been wondering what direction I should take with this blog. Writing blog posts can be a significant investment in time, and running a blog that is not crammed with advertising is a reasonable monetary cost. If I’m to continue writing I’d like it to have purpose and meaning, both for me and the few who read my posts.

I’ve asked God to help me determine what my focus should be, and so far the clearest idea I have is to keep digging into bedrock. The rock is Christ and knowing Him. Encompassing more than just blogging, for the time being I need to single-mindedly pursue Jesus. I’m confident that in doing this, other stuff will slip and slide into their rightful places.

I’m not sure how this will affect my writing, hopefully by making it better. My gut feeling is that I’d like to write about the intersection of life and faith. There are thousands of Christian pastors who write blogs. Yet it is oddly difficult to find blogs written by ordinary Christian men about the challenges of living faithfully for God in the messy details of secular work, marriage, and being a dad. This is where most of us live for most of the time.

Good writing, like any good art, needs to confront the most challenging aspects of life. Whether exploring our pain, anger, or fears, writing won’t ring true if it fails to confront these deeper issues or only offers pat solutions to complex issues. (Ed Cyzewski, How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write)

While I don’t consider myself an artist, confronting the challenging aspects of life is a large part of why I write. I also have a deep dislike for pat answers. Life is messy and complex, trite answers don’t help anyone. This is where blogs can offer something useful with thoughtful posts and discussion in the comments to tease out the knotty intricacies of our real lives.

In the meantime, I have some digging to do. Let me leave you with a reminder that Christ is the rock that even incessant ocean waves cannot erode away.


Image 1:Drilling a blast hole with a jackhammer in 1942. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image 2:Fingal’s Cave, Staffa (Scotland). Courtesy of Gerry Zambonini (flickr)