Thoughts On Recent Podcasts

I’ve taken up walking again. One would think riding the hamster wheel of productivity would have given me enough exercise, but it really didn’t. It just made me tired but didn’t burn one damn calorie or build up my flattish butt even a little bit. So midafternoon, I have been parking the kids in front of their various screens, putting on the unobtrusive-under-the-hair headphones and listening to podcasts while walking for 45 minutes. Since I finished Tullian’s Romans series, I have moved on to the Mockingpulpit and The White Horse Inn. I’ve heard David Zahl do his magic, taking varied secular sources like The Onion, The New York Times and Brene Brown, and weaving it all into the story of our human condition and God’s amazing grace. My favorite quote from his talk on forgiveness (Matthew 18) “The only thing better than being right is feeling wronged” (the sad truth of which I experienced this morning in an incident which will remain shrouded in mystery.)

I have also heard Michael Horton interview Mark Galli, Douglas Rushkoff and Os Guinness on The White Horse Inn.

I’ve had the good providence to hang out with Mark Galli a few times, so it was fun to be able to picture him as he talked with Michael Horton about two of his recent books, Chaos and Grace and God Wins. As the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today magazine, he knows A LOT about what is happening in all the streams of Christianity, and is funny and compassionate. I’ve never read Love Wins, but I have been tempted to watch an episode of The Rob Bell Show on the Oprah Network.

The interview with Douglas Rushkoff reminded me how much I love sociology-based non-fiction. His book Present Shock is right up my alley (and I am smugly pleased to remember that I read Future Shock in the 9th grade, when my brain was way more well-functioning than it is now) . The premise of the book is how many people now see life as existing in the present moment, rather than seeing the present as one part of the past/present/future triad. I wonder how this relates to postmodernism (which I don’t understand all that well, but which distrusts unifying theories or metanarratives) and/or emergence theories (which I understand even less than postmodernism).

He makes a simple reference to how a digital clock differs from a traditional clock. In a traditional clock, you see the time in context with the whole of the day and even see it progressing with the second hand. But in a digital clock, it is simply 2:37. There is also the issue of constant streams of information, the “latest” news, the most recent tweet by your favorite Bird. What does this do to our mental state? Does it contribute to anxiety because now is when everything happens? Does contentment fly away when we are always looking for the next big thing? (Those may actually be my own questions). He mentions how this focus on the now is very different than the zen or tao idea of being present in the moment. “Presentism” (as Mr. Rushkoff calls his theory) seems to be about how much you can do or consume in a given moment, while the zen idea of the now is how much you can pay attention to what is happening in and directly around you in a given moment.

While I don’t know if Mr. Rushkoff is a Christian or even religious at all, he made the interesting response to a question from Michael Horton – that this is a What Would Jesus Do period, rather than a period where we look at the whole narrative of Christ. That’s not to say that we don’t make choices in the moment or live existentially in Christ, but that the focus becomes what we are doing right now for God, that it’s somehow all riding on what I do in the present, rather than what Christ did in His Grand Narrative. I’m sure he didn’t mean it in the same way, but that is similar to the idea I’m seeing in a lot of recent reading and listening – that when the focus of the Christian life becomes the life of the Christian (meaning my life and your life) the gospel is shrouded both for ourselves and even for unbelievers. It is shrouded for ourselves because we are myopically focusing on ourselves, gazing at our spiritual navel (is it an innie or an outie? does it need a good cleaning?) It is shrouded for unbelievers because the gospel is about grace for total losers, and when we try to hide the fact that we ourselves are total losers, we perpetuate the myth that God Likes Christians Because They Are So Squeaky Clean. And that leads to unbelievers either:

1) seeing through us and rightly calling us hypocrites or

2) feeling that their own non-squeaky-cleaned-ness means God could never forgive THEM

As for Os Guinness, I had heard of him but didn’t know what he wrote about or that he was a Christian or that he had one of those incredibly soothing British voices. He was being interviewed about his book Rennaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Hard The Times. It sounds like he probably shares with Michael Horton the belief that Christians get too easily wrapped up in a culture war mentality. I was so soothed by his voice that I may have been lulled out of consciousness a bit, because although the book sounded interesting, I can’t remember much from the interview. I did remember that I had on my very own shelves a copy of his book The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever, so I pulled it down so I can attempt to read it if my brain complies.

Listening to all this good stuff has reminded me of my pseudo-intellectual past and roused my alter-ego who is a bohemian and regularly hosts late-night gatherings of intellectuals, philosophers, poets and artists at her loft.

I am thinking of ordering every book by an author I hear interviewed on one of the walking podcasts. Although I don’t want to get re-entangled in intellectual productivity and/or identity enhancers, I know that I need to slowly rebuild my brain cells, and the books all seem accessible for a low-brain cell person like myself. I also would like to challenge myself to read more of the articles linked at Mockingbird and maybe read the Brain Pickings Offerings more closely (without making that a new law). One of the wrong assumptions people have always made about me is that I am well-read. I am, in fact, not well-read and even when my brain cell count was much higher, I was never a great thinker even though, yes, I did read a lot of books compared to, well, a non-reader. I was also opinionated and somewhat articulate (especially in writing) so I could pull the wool over people’s eyes pretty easily about my intellectual prowess. Maybe the fact that I’m not spending so much time and energy wool-pulling will eventually translate into energy spent really learning (and that goes for the creativity stuff as well).


More Thoughts About Not Doing Anything “Impressive”

This is the first post on a new blog, my first time having my own domain name!

I have dealt with this topic in a bit of a series. You can read the other posts here:

My inner life has definitely been more peaceful since I have stopped struggling to fit art, writing etc. into my days. Although that might just be hormones (the peacefulness part). All I have been doing is getting up and drinking my latte, and then spending the rest of the day doing basic household work and cooking, taking the little kids outside, going on 45 minute walks while listening to Tullian’s Romans podcasts, and maybe reading a few chapters of a book or watching an episode of my current television show. When I have to go to the store or take the kids to some lesson or go to the gym, it hasn’t been stressful because I don’t come home to a mess or a rush to get food on the table.

I definitely see this is a spiritual exercise and not just an opportunity to relieve some stress. I think it’s perfect timing that three of my friends are having some artistic success right now, because it’s great for the ol’ humility to not being doing anything impressive while other people are. I’m pleased to say that in general, I am rooting for them and am enjoying living vicariously through them, instead of feeling competitive. Hopefully I don’t get self-righteous about being so magnanimous.

One thing I have been thinking about for a few years is the very real possibility that I don’t have anything particularly unique to offer the world. Listening to the Romans podcasts has added to the peace I have been slowly developing about that fact. You may know that I have spent my life trying to distinguish myself with either my intellect or my creativity or by tireless service (this mostly within my own family), and it has been exhausting and depressing. Learning that it’s okay if I’m never all that successful at anything has been a relief. I still like writing, art journaling, painting and occasional debates about anarchism, but I know that many others do all these things better than I can, and that the earth will keep spinning for however long I don’t add my proverbial two cents. I am finally learning what it means that He should increase and I should decrease, and right now it’s not even a personal struggle to be decreasing. I don’t expect that to last, but I am enjoying it while it does.

I just re-read Mary Pipher’s autobiography, subtitled Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. A big part of her story is how she had a breakdown trying to live with the stress of being a successful author, with all the traveling, the talks and speeches and the expectations. When she finally realized that she had to get off that treadmill,  her recovery came through complete simplification of her life. She spent months doing nothing but sleeping, cooking and eating, reading and non-professional writing, yoga and other gentle ways of getting in touch with the feelings stored in her body. I wasn’t quite at that point when I read it a few years ago, but it seems providential that I am in my own decompression period and focusing on the same type of things. Her children were all grown by the time she fell apart (so she was able to have a lot more solitude than I will get) but I am hoping that I’ll experience some long-term healing from whatever simplifying I can manage in my own circumstances.