How do I approach time management?

How do I approach time management?

A former student asked me if I’d write a post about how I manage time successfully.

Answer: I don’t always.

And writing a “How to” on the topic is like writing a book about prayer. No one does it without a sense of hypocrisy.

Still, here are a few things I try to do:

1. Don’t spill things on the laptop.

I did that last week. Much time was lost. Also, half my screen is currently cloaked in a dark haze. Maranatha.

2. Get up early, even when you don’t have to.

I rarely work late. But I do get up early (5:45am), regardless of whether it is “Summer Break” or not. It’s amazing how much one can accomplish when few people are awake to interrupt you, and when the coffee flows like rushing river in a repetitive early 2000s worship chorus.

My early wakeup is bookended by an equally geriatric bedtime (9:05pm). Though in my experience, very little “time management” happens after that anyway.

3. Avoid unnecessary meetings.

Like the plague. This is a touchy one because it’s not always possible, and it can prevent one from “climbing the ladder” in certain settings.

But if you are trying to make the most of your time, unnecessary meetings are Dementors that will suck your soul and leave you wondering why a single, carefully-worded email would not have sufficed. Not all meetings are like that, but some are.

4. Reading before Netflix

Since a fair amount of my work (writing, preaching, teaching) benefits from time spent reading, I bookend my morning research (usually theology) with evening fiction or biographies. This summer that has involved some Steinbeck, Alan Jacobs, C. S. Lewis, and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian [#yikes]).

If I do writing before bed, I can’t sleep. I just rehash it all night long in a kind of editorial fever dream. But reading fiction for about 45 minutes before switching to Netflix helps redeem the evening time. It makes me a better writer; and it’s fun — unless I’m reading Blood Meridian.

5. Sabbath

When I moved to Boston for Seminary, I didn’t know a single person. And as an over-achieving firstborn, I felt like the best way to maximize productivity and stave off loneliness was to work seven days a week and in the evenings too.

(Fun fact: I also had mono, so you can guess how well that turned out.)

The next year, Brianna moved closer, and I started taking evenings and Sundays off. In short, I took a Sabbath. One might think this made me less productive, but it actually did the opposite. My grades were better. My mood was better. My soul was healthier. And (after a tonsillectomy) my mono finally left the building.

Sabbath: It’s almost, like, a commandment.

6. Name your non-negotiables

There are only so many hours in a day. And on many occasions that means that something on my “to do” list isn’t going to get done. The question is just which “something” that will be.

I have a few non-negotiables that will happen regardless of Hell or high water: (1) Early morning time in Scripture; (2) at least some time writing and researching every weekday; (3) evenings with family; (4) four to five workouts per week with my buddies (if I’m in town).

This blog isn’t on that list. Nor is Netflix. Nor is time spent reformatting a New Testament lecture that I’ve given twenty-seven times.

Some of my non-negotiables may seem odd since they have nothing to do with my job requirements. I am not required to publish. Nor am I required to workout or spend evenings with family. But those things matter; they make me feel alive; and that enables me to do the stuff I don’t like nearly as much.

Your non-negotiables will be different. But it’s helpful to “name” and “claim” them (~Kenneth Copeland).

7. Figure out what can be done on “Empty” and what must be done on “Full.”

The cerebral frontal cortex is expensive to operate. That’s the part of the brain that controls much of our higher cognitive skills, emotional expression, problem solving, memory, and language. And it takes a lot of energy to run well. Mine starts shutting down around noon (see Point #2).

That means that I need to save activities that I can do “on Empty” for the afternoon, while reserving activities that require more “cerebral bandwidth” for when I’m full (i.e., full of caffeine). Sermons must be written on “Full”—so too with books and any creative activities. Grading, answering emails, dish-washing and (oddly) workouts can be done on “Empty.”

In fact, doing the workouts on “Empty” often has the surprising effect of making me feel “Full” again when I head home to be with the kids.

CONCLUSION

There are a hundred other things that could be added to such a list. But I’m probably not very good at those. And I’m out of time.


 

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The “liberal drift” of an all-male clergy

The “liberal drift” of an all-male clergy

“There will be millstones.”

That was O. Alan Noble’s succinct summation of the Southern Baptist Commission’s recent report (here) on widespread sexual abuse within America’s largest Protestant denomination.

The findings were heartbreaking. Though I applaud the efforts to bring them to the light in order to elicit change (see here).

Still, the most damning reality in the run-up to this week’s SBC annual meeting was that much more energy seemed to be expended by certain leaders to keep women out of almost any form of leadership than to ensure that they be protected against abuse and cover-up.

The optics were, shall we say, not flattering.

NOT JUST AN “SBC” PROBLEM

It would be unfair, however, to see this as merely an SBC problem. And it would be downright sinful to congratulate ourselves (who reside in other traditions) for being superior: “Thank you Lord that I am not like those people… .”

Regardless of denomination, if you’ve seen one online argument over women in ministry, you’ve seen ‘em all.

At some point in the predictable “Inquisition by Gif,” at least one well-meaning (?) person will make the following two points:

  1. Many denominations that affirmed women in ministry went “Liberal” and experienced numerical decline.
  2. Ergo, affirming women in ministry leads to the package deal of “Liberalism” with all that it entails (Marxism, veganism, compulsory man-buns).

The first point has some basis in reality. The second is absurd even without my parenthetical silliness.

The problem starts, as with so many logical trip-ups, in the linkage of two ideas that confuses correlation with causation.

On the basis of this false connection, the conclusion follows that if the fundamentalist Twitter-verse allows someone like Beth Moore to give a Mother’s Day message at her local church, it’s only a matter of time (probably minutes) before a vegan, Marxist, SBC death-panel forces Al Mohler to don a man-bun and preach exclusively from Rob Bell books.

But he won’t, because: Bonhoeffer.

If this description quickly devolves into exaggerated nonsense that is precisely my point. It is both foolish and inaccurate to equate an affirmation of women in ministry with a drift toward the package deal of “Liberalism.”

“CONSERVING” THE SPIRIT-DRIVEN PARADIGM

One reason is that there are numerous arguments for women in leadership that proceed on the basis of a high view of Scripture.

Though I’m not a biblical scholar by trade, one might begin by noting these two videos by Ben Witherington (here and here), and the fantastic series of blog-posts by my former seminary schoolmate, the New Testament specialist, Nijay Gupta (here).

If these scholars are correct, then Scripture provides both theological basis and real-world examples of women in leadership and ministry—including Deborah, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe, and the daughters of Philip. And if this is so, then the “liberal revisionist position” is actually the refusal to “conserve” that Spirit-driven paradigm (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17).

So let me be the first to say it (though with a touch of good-natured, imitative sarcasm):

“I’m really worried about the “liberal drift” of complementarianism.”

THE FALLACY OF UNNECESSARY BUNDLING

A further problem in the two points above is the false assumption that “Liberalism” and “Conservatism” are theological package deals that can be simply defined by our contemporary news-cycle.

Whenever this debate arises on social media, the assumption of the “Emojihadeen” seems to be that to care about “Progressive” causes (e.g., racial reconciliation, misogyny, sexual abuse) invariably means that one must not care about “Conservative” ones (e.g., abortion, religious liberty). This is nonsense.

I have spoken of it elsewhere as the fallacy of unnecessary “bundling,” since there are some issues for which our colloquial use of “Liberal” and “Conservative” are just not helpful.

Overall, Christians would do better to stick with biblical categories, as in whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).

CONCLUSION

None of my words  should be taken to imply that a biblical conclusion on women in ministry is either simple or uncontested. The so-called problem passages must be addressed.

Nor am I claiming that complementarians are always motivated by misogynistic drives. Some aren’t. And the SBC has some fantastic servant-leaders. It will not do, therefore, to replace one exaggerated ad hominem with another one.

My argument here is only to urge a “retiring” of the false assumption that affirming women in ministry signals a slide into “Liberalism.”

When we do that, we hazard tethering ourselves to Twitter feeds that may one day be “linked” inexorably to millstones.

 


 

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“Drowning” doesn’t look like drowning

“Drowning” doesn’t look like drowning

Some things you shouldn’t read at the beach.

This past week, as I’ve been monitoring our four children in the Florida surf, a friend of mine posted this frightening piece that challenges the myth about what a drowning person actually looks like (read here).

In short: drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

Some excerpts:

When someone is drowning there is very little splashing, and no waving or yelling or calling for help of any kind.

In 10 percent of those drownings [involving children], the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.

Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is a secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.

Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.

So, if a crewmember falls overboard and everything looks okay, don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look as if they’re drowning. They may just look as if they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?”

Drowning does not look like drowning.

BEYOND THE WATER

My main takeaway–strange as this may sound–is that it applies on land too.

Last year, I wrote a piece entitled “American Suicide” (here) just after the death of Anthony Bourdain. I loved Bourdain. But one thing that struck me is that so many of his friends claimed later that they had never seen him so happy. This is not uncommon.

Because drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

Once, while on vacation, we visited a very large church (You don’t know it; it’s located on one of the moons of Saturn). They had just completed a building program. The place was bustling. But the pastor’s sermon gave clear evidence that it had been mostly prepared the night before.

Each illustration was a story from the prior 48 hours. He was a very gifted speaker. Then he mentioned that he had preached the funeral of 20-something young man the day before. As a preacher myself, I recognized the signs of burnout.

When I heard then of the pastor’s DUI arrest, I wasn’t shocked.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

CONCLUSION

I could repeat these “dry-land” examples till the tide comes in.

Anxiety. Addiction. Marital strife. Infertility. Grief.

In so many of these cases, drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

And in some ways, the advice of the article holds true here as well:

“They may just look as if they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, ‘Are you alright?’”

There are some things that you should remember in more places than just the beach.


 

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Model worshippers and trendy legalism

Model worshippers and trendy legalism

Thanks to The Wesleyan Church’s “Voices” blog for posting a piece I wrote on new form of legalism within some segments of the church.

Read it (here) and hear about my former life in skinny jeans and my current plight of male pattern baldness 😉

the breathless chase for “relevance” and “excellence” can sometimes lead us to places we ought not go. For one, it is hard to imagine the apostle Paul (much less James!) laying down such rigid standards of beauty and trendiness.

 


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The church as echo of the press

The church as echo of the press

On September 10th of 1939, just as Great Britain was declaring war on Hitler’s Germany, C.S. Lewis got into an argument with his local vicar. The polite disagreement centered on an extra petition that had been added to the church’s morning prayer.

“Prosper, O Lord, our righteous cause.”

As Lewis put it in a letter to his brother, Warnie:

“I ventured to protest against the audacity of informing God that our cause was righteous—a point on which He may have His own view.”

In place of the line about “our righteous cause,” Lewis suggested a petition composed by Thomas Cranmer while England was at war with Scotland in 1548. This prayer asked for the ability “not to hate our enemies” and for “a speedy wearisomeness of war … that we and [they] may … praise thy most holy name.”

To many, Lewis’s objection may seem strange.

After all, his small island nation was literally on the verge of being overrun by Nazis! So how could stopping Hitler not be “just”!?

Some rather obvious motivations for the’ complaint can be ruled out immediately. Lewis was no pacifist; he had been a badly wounded war hero from WW1; and he would later affirm his support for the Allied war against the Nazis.

But in explaining to his brother why he had taken exception to the vicar’s prayer, he added this:

I see no hope for the Church of England if it allows itself to become just an echo of the press.

JUST AN ECHO OF THE PRESS

Eighty years later, Lewis never could have imagined the advent of Cable News, social media, Russian troll farms, fake news, and Twitter bots. Or perhaps he could have; read volume three of his Space Trilogy (That Hideous Strength).

He could not have fathomed the extent to which different factions of the church, either liberal or conservative, Right or Left, would become mere ciphers for the different factions of “the press” and the political Machine. Or perhaps he could have; read The Abolition of Man.

For Lewis, the takeaway was this: Even the most “just” of national causes can pose a threat to Christian faithfulness and mission because it causes us to give unqualified allegiance to something or someone other than Christ.

And by all accounts, the sin of nationalism—and it is always a sin—is rising around the world.

We must not allow our prayers and posts and sermons to be outsourced to siloed and self-serving merchants wearing “press” badges. For when we flip the media “credentials” over, the epigraph is almost always the same:

“Prosper, O church, our righteous cause.”

I see no future for the “church” of England that becomes just an echo of the press.


 

Credit for this correspondence from Lewis goes to Alan Jacobs’ book: The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.


 

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On abortion and “argument by meme”

On abortion and “argument by meme”

In the increasingly heated debates over abortion, the following meme has been making its way around the inter-webs.

Kbell2
Don’t fault KBell for the missing apostrophe. #LetItGo

“Men shouldn’t be making laws about women’s bodies.”

In so many cases, I agree.

I have no desire to tell anyone (not least women) what to do with their bodies—so long as their bodily-choice does not involve depriving other “bodies” of their basic human rights.

THE TROUBLE WITH MEMES

But, of course, even this most basic of caveats cannot survive what I will now dub: “The meme-ing of the American mind” (i.e., the reduction of all ethical and political issues to a snappy bumper sticker that carries emotional freight but almost zero argumentative rigor [on another example, see here]).

To be clear, I would love to see the percentage of women increase in all branches of government, including courts and legislatures. And I have written forcefully about what I take to be the misogyny and sexism of certain evangelical “darlings.” The problem is real.

But the idea that laws are only valid if passed by someone who shares your “body-type” is just absurd. By that logic, only roosters could outlaw cock-fighting; only pit bulls could decide the fate of Michael Vick; and only female fetuses could have legal opinions on abortion.

Hogwash.

ALL LAWS REGULATE A “BODY”

A second faulty assumption in the meme is the implication that one can do whatever one wants with their own flesh and blood.

This too is nonsense.

Speed limits constrain what you can do with your body while driving an automobile.

Rape prohibitions regulate what you can do with your body when it comes to sexual consent.

And libel rulings say what you can legally publish with your body if it turns out to be knowingly false, defamatory, and damaging to others.

To repeat, every law in existence is designed to tell humans what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. Every. Single. One.

And that includes the ruling known as “Roe v. Wade”—a judicial fiat handed down by an all-male court. By the logic of the meme, “Roe v. Wade” would also be invalid, since it involved a bunch of old men issuing a decree that involved the “bodies” of both born and unborn women!

How many fetuses served on that judicial bench?

Should we then amend the viral claim as follows: “Non-fetuses shouldn’t be making laws about fetuses”?

CONCLUSION

The primary concern for any law is simple: Is it just for all parties?

And the bar of justice ought to mean that my bodily right to swing my fist ends where my neighbor’s nose begins. Hence the crucial question on abortion is precisely that once asked of Christ: “Who is my neighbor?”

Does that human category include those not yet born?

Whatever one decides on that final question (see my view here), it would better if both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice advocates chose to have this debate in a way that acknowledges (1) the real issues at stake, and (2) the real value of both the unborn and the pregnant women placed in difficult situations.

We can do both.

That will mean support for pregnant moms, improved adoption processes, a willingness to listen, and grace for those who have already had abortions (a group often overlooked).

All that is possible, but it will require something more than memes and blog posts* to accomplish it.

 


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But the anthem was recognizable

But the anthem was recognizable

I’ve always loved this line from Steinbeck (East of Eden) on the raucous brand of revivalistic Christianity that sought to “save” the American West.

Somehow it manages to be both an insult and a compliment.

They fought the devil, no holds barred, boots and eye-gouging permitted. You might get the idea that they howled truth and beauty the way a seal bites out the National Anthem on a row of circus horns. But some of the truth and beauty remained, and the anthem was recognizable.

The churches, bringing the sweet smell of piety for the soul, came in prancing and farting like brewery horses in bock-beer time…

The sectarian churches came in swinging, cocky, and loud and confident. … The sects fought evil, true enough, but they also fought each other with a fine lustiness. … And each for all its bumptiousness brought with it the same thing: the Scripture on which our ethics, our art and poetry, and our relationships are built.

they brought music—maybe not the best, but the form and sense of it. And they brought conscience, or, rather, nudged the dozing conscience. They were not pure, but they had a potential for purity, like a soiled white shirt (East of Eden, ch. 19:1).

It is far easier to (1) see only the church’s stains, or to (2) excuse those blemishes without recognizing their full seriousness.

Steinbeck does neither.

In his view, even this prancing, fighting, farting form of frontier Christianity had value; because while the “players” were often misguided, there was enough truth and beauty to make the anthem recognizable.

 


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