2019 Reading

Some reading goals for 2019:

The remaining books of the Bible that I haven’t read yet

The remaining books are:

  • Judges
  • Kings (1 & 2)
  • Job
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Chronicles (1 & 2)

I have two confessions to make:

  1. The “Old Testament” I have been reading is actually a Jewish Tanakh, so the ordering of the books is different. I picked it up decades ago as part of a job lot of Religious Texts (including a Koran, a Dhammapada, etc.). Presumably the translation is slightly different from a Christian translation, but I like the translation.
  2. I read the Book of Revelation when I was a kid — read it as a bit of exotic weirdness. I don’t have much interest in reading again.

Non-scriptural Christian writing

  • I have Augustine’s Confessions & it’s been on my “to read” list for too long.
  • I see quotes from G. K. Chesterton from time to time & his theology intrigues me.
  • Modern and contemporary Christian authors. For example Madeleine L’Engle, Elizabeth Goudge, Eugene Vodolazkin.
  • Speeches of Martin Luther King (update after reading Only Love Can Do That – The Voice of Martin Luther King Jr.)

Male bloggers, British bloggers

I wrote about these two last February. The problem persists.

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Men

There are two things about my Christian blog/twitter reading that I’d like to change. I do try to tackle these periodically but generally end up back where I started.

  • Almost all the bloggers I read are from the US, none are Brits.
  • All the bloggers I read regularly (actually only three) are women.

The first is not a big deal. It might be nice to hear some voices from closer to home but otoh those voices will bring a lot of local cultural and political baggage that I am not interested in.

The second point is perhaps more interesting, especially given some of the issues I am dealing with on this blog. So why don’t I read more — any — male Christian bloggers?

Many of the male Christian bloggers I’ve come across seem much too keen (for my taste) to lay down the law, as if their role model is Paul rather than Jesus. Women bloggers are much more like, “Here I am, a Christian”. In the women’s blogs the law (I mean the Good News) speaks through a person’s life; in the men’s blogs the law is stated as such, with examples (sometimes from the blogger’s own life).

This might only go for American men (US masculinity seems very narrow); it might only be the tiny sample I’ve come across.

Perhaps I just prefer women’s voices.

Perhaps there is nothing to be explained: I’ve been blogging in this persona for 4 1/2 years and I’ve only found three blogs I like enough to read regularly. Perhaps I just have very high standards.

Anyway, I am going to make a conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone of these three blogs and seek out (a) British voices and (b) men’s voices.

How, I don’t know. Perhaps run twitter searches for “Philippians” and see what turns up.

All recommendations and suggestions welcome.

First Steps (good habits)

I think focussing so much on sin and on stopping my bad habits has been affecting my mood. :(

At least with all that I have made a start. For notes on this chapter I’ll think about good habits I’d like to cultivate.

good habits to start

A habit is a means to an end — e.g., I’ll exercise daily because I want to get/stay fit. Come to think of it, that will go for bad habits too, though the end might not be conscious (but that’s a story for another time).

More generally, keeping good habits — as long as they don’t interfere with each other — can lead to an orderly and harmonious life.

I have three areas to work on:

  • I’d like to incorporate study time into my day. Three languages I am supposed to be good at have rusted away to almost nothing.
  • I’d like to be fitter. I get plenty of aerobic exercise cycling to work, but I am not very flexible. I used to go to yoga classes so I’d like to bring that back. Also, yoga would give an outlet for my “sensual side” that can be public and not sinful.
  • I’d like to pray every night at bedtime. I enjoy it and it helps me sleep better, but I often forget, even if there’s something specific I want to pray about.

ideas from the book

There are a lot of good ideas in the chapter. Two are particularly relevant.

start small (study, yoga)

The theme of the chapter is “start now” — don’t put off starting your new habit until the “right time”. One way of doing this is to start small, even find the smallest thing you can do that “counts”, and do that every day. Finding and doing “the smallest thing” can have other benefits: it’s a good practice in computer programming for example and can make for modular, flexible and reliable design.

Following this idea is helping me spend time with my languages more often, and I’ve discovered I do have time for a short study session every day after all. With yoga, I can fit in a few stretches before breakfast or after cycling to work (and I’ve already noticed an improvement in my posture on the bike).

marker activities (prayertime)

Rubin gave the example of brushing her teeth in the evening. She wanted to stop snacking in the evening so, instead of brushing her teeth at bedtime, she would brush her teeth soon after dinner. Because of the strong associations already set up, brushing her teeth meant “no more eating”.

I thought I would make Scripture my bedtime reading, or at least the last thing I read (I have a small pile of books by my side of the bed, and most nights I will dip into a couple). The Gospels especially I find very relaxing. That will be a very easy habit to pick up, it will put me in the right state of mind, and in turn it will (hopefully) remind me of my desire to pray.

Accountability

A brief note on the Accountability chapter.

I think of accountability as making sure I am following the rules I have set myself. It might also include things like: whether I am cheating, or exploiting loopholes; whether targets are too hard/easy. So, like a coach or a trainer.

Rubin discusses four types of accountability:

  • self
  • public (e.g. I announce at work that I don’t drink)
  • group (e.g. Weight Watchers)
  • partner (e.g. a coach or a trainer)

Really I think self-accountability is not like the other three. (i) it is not an external source of accountability like the others are, so in a way it’s weaker and less reliable; (ii) even with the other three, self-accountability must still be there as a kind of bedrock — otherwise you will find a way to play the system.

An external source of accountability is obviously a Good Thing, as long as the type of source fits the type of person (Rubin has Four Basic Personality Types) and the type of project.

I am not going to announce at work that I don’t want to wear frilly knickers and bras any more. I am not going to tell my wife that I want to stop watching porn.

An accountability partner must be the “gold standard” but that would mean a professional service or some kind of reciprocal relationship (you check I’m doing my French homework; I check you’re doing the knowledge).

A group, an online forum could be ideal. I have looked in the past and not found anything. In a recent comment, Beth provided the phrase “bouncing your eyes”. I did a web search and that came up with a lot of promising links I hadn’t seen before.

A forum or group might be more trouble than it’s worth — and I think I do have quite strong self-accountability. OTOH it might give me a space to delve into the gruesome details, leaving this blog for my more general Christian exploring. (unless separating like that would be unhealthy?)(in any case, I’ll see what there is.)

Scheduling

Scheduling is a way of manipulating your environment so that your environment will then act on you in certain ways: you do something “because it is on the schedule”. I think this is a theme Rubin returns to later in the book.

There are quite a lot of good ideas in this chapter. Here are some of them:

ideas that I’ve started using

When scheduling a new habit, it helps to tie it to an existing habit … or an external cue … [rather] … than using a particular start time. (p. 76-7)

At work I have had a rule that I would do all admin — paying bills, logging bank statements, etc. — on a Friday afternoon. On a Friday afternoon I am a bit tired, I don’t want to be starting anything new, perfect for small relatively mindless tasks. However, come Friday afternoon, I am rarely in the mood for ploughing through a pile of receipts and statements — so the stuff doesn’t get done — until the molehills turn into mountains and bills are paid “just in time”.

My new idea is to deal with admin as soon as it arrives. I was thinking, “this is a case for *not* scheduling” but Rubin is cleverer: instead of scheduling to a time (Friday afternoon), it is sometimes better to schedule to an event (the post arriving).

Now, not only does the stuff get done but, as with the monitoring, the activity is qualitatively improved: my feeling for the company’s finances are much more immediate and intimate; and seeing to the task actually energises me (as it’s usually just one or two items at a time) rather than dragging me down.

“Quitting Time”: after Quitting Time I don’t check my email or social media, or do original writing. (p. 83)

This I honour “more in the breach than the observance” but it’s definitely an aim. I am quite good at not working late in the evening, but it is too easy to drift along on social media — and it is not at all relaxing.

ideas that I want to use

I schedule some slightly ridiculous habits, such as “Kiss Jamie every morning and every night.” (p. 74)

The more I think about this the less ridiculous it appears, and the more I want to emulate it. I kiss my wife a lot as it is (I am a very kissy person), so I’ll have to think of a way to “escalate” it without seeming weird. Another good target would be to touch my son every day.

I often find it harder to make myself do something that I enjoy than something that I don’t enjoy. (p. 82)

People who schedule playtime are more likely to tackle unappealing projects than people who never let themselves enjoy guilt-free fun until after their work is finished. (p. 83)

I tell myself that I don’t deserve nice things — there is no time, there is too much work to do, how can I enjoy myself when my wife is ironing/cooking/working? So enjoying myself is already encumbered with shame and secrecy … but there are things I enjoy doing that are not shameful and that don’t have to be secret. Some of these could even not inappropriately be scheduled into my work day.

to be continued …

Scheduling can also be used to restrict the time spent on an activity. (p. 85)

I’ll cover this in a separate post.

Quotes from the book

In the meantime, here is another half-dozen quotes from the book (I am trying to train myself to touchtype;):

Scheduling forces us to confront the natural limits of the day. (p. 75)

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now. (p. 77)

In many situations, we do benefit from scheduling a habit every day … I’ve found that it’s actually easier to do something every day than some days. (p. 79-80)

While we often overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, we often underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term if we work consistently. (p. 84)

Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. (p. 85)

The goal is to develop habits that allow us to have time for everything we value, in a way that is sustainable forever. (p. 89)

Sleep, Exercise, Eat, Tidy: tweaks

The “Foundations” chapter in “Better than Before” is about establishing good habits in these four areas. My behaviour is ok I think but could probably do with some tweaks.

This post is a record of ideas for me to refer back to. More ideas welcome!

Sleep

I am a “Lark”. On work days I get up at six, or even 5:30 if I’m cycling into work. On home days I love a lie-in but it ruins my day.

Ideas:

  • On my days at home (one or both days of the weekend, often a day during the week), don’t overdo the lie-in (9am is too late).
  • We are invariably in bed well before 11pm, invariably reading. I should (a) read an actual book rather than the web; (b) close the book and lie down no later than 11 (my wife M is in charge of the bedside light).
  • I don’t always remember to pray but I do think praying helps me get to sleep. I need some kind of trick to help me remember to pray after lights out. I have a book of Christian Verse by the bed. If I made sure the last thing I read was out of that (or similar) that would put my mind in the right space.

Exercise

I cycle to work most days. It’s only a couple of miles but our house is at the top of one hill and my office is at the top of the next hill, so it’s a reasonable workout. I am quite good at getting up from my desk every hour, but I could get a bit more fresh air.

Ideas:

  • The office is in a park so, as winter turns into spring, there’ll be opportunities to go for walks. I could take the “scenic route” to the cafe where I buy my (usually late) lunch.
  • Cycling is good aerobic exercise, but not so good for flexibility. I need to find somewhere to fit in a bit of yoga or other stretching.I could probably swap twenty minutes on twitter for twenty minutes on a yoga mat most days.

Eat

My eating is fine, except I drink too much coffee at the office. I don’t especially like coffee — for example, my morning drink is a pot of tea — but it seems to go with “work”.

Ideas:

  • monitor coffee drinking in my work diary — jot down a little “c” in the margin.
  • decide which coffees are “allowed” (e.g. when I arrive, with food)
  • make pots of tea — I have a pot and some nice tea at the office

So here, as well as — or instead of? — a negative goal of “drink less coffee”, I have a positive goal of “drink more (nice) tea (instead of coffee)”. The monitoring can attach to (and reinforce) the positive goal.

Thinking back to other habits I want to cut down on, I could rephrase an avoidance tactic as a positive goal: pray more during the day; reach out for God more; don’t wait until a designated “prayer time” — call on Him “in the moment”. As “monitoring” I could tweet “I just prayed”, and after a while, the monitoring tweet could become the prayer itself.

Tweets are timestamped and archived so I can do whatever kind of auditing I decide to, just as it I’d been monitoring on paper.

Tidy

There are some things I am dogmatic about — kitchen must be immaculate before end of evening (dishes washed or in dishwasher); all office crockery must be cleaned before hometime — but everything else basically piles up until it is too annoying. At home that’s things like ironing dusting, vacuuming (everything apart from the dishes :D; At work it also includes things like admin & accounts that I think of as the same kind of tidying.

Ideas:

  • Perhaps I could give myself set times for this kind of work, and noting those times on the household “agenda familiale” and in my work desk diary. e.g. at work, last half hour of every day, and all Friday afternoon, is for admin & accounts.

Monitoring

I am reading “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ll review elsewhere, once I’ve finished (I like a lot, and I dislike a lot). For now, I’ve just read the chapter on monitoring. I found it inconclusive, so I thought I’d write up some of the ways I am using monitoring and where it seems to be effective.

Turns out I monitor quite a lot.

Some things I monitor

(more…)

“Wearing God” by Lauren F. Winner

Book details

Wearing God
Lauren F. Winner
2015
Harper Collins

Overview

I liked this book a lot. It was just right for me in two ways:

  1. I had spent 2015 reading the Psalms (two complete reads through, some learnings, some favouritings). I was (and still am) interested in learning more about the Psalms and all the different ways of talking about God. I looked around for books but many seemed far too academic. I came across Wearing God by chance on (or via) Lisa Notes. It’s about metaphors for God in the Old and New Testaments, and about how they can help us think about God and enrich our relationship with God.
  2. I had just come out of a bleak couple of months (see Two Pivots: Pivot 1 & Pivot 2). I found this book soothing and cheering — occasionally in that weird Christian way that mixes comfort with challenge.

Wearing God was a nice mix of “learnedness” and practicality. There’s a Further Reading section which has a few books I’ll look up:

Wearing God was my bedtime reading and I remember at least two occasions when it seemed to speak directly to the problems of my day:

  • Our son has had glandular fever and/or anxiety syndrome and we have taken him out of school. It is very difficult trying to coax him to study without tripping him into panic, biting my tongue when he’s surly and always being positive and loving. After one especially bad evening of this I found myself starting in on the chapter on God as labouring woman: the unavoidable suffering and pangs God goes through to bring humanity to the light. I could see myself suffering like God there, and God suffering like me.
  • The chapter on God’s laughter (which I didn’t much like, as God’s laughter seemed often to be about putting women in their place) spoke to my weaknesses. I forget the details now, but I’d spent some time in the evening browsing either lingerie or porn on my phone and ended up annoyed at myself, and slightly exasperated. Lieing in bed next to my wife the reading I remember that night was of Sara’s later laughter, laughing at herself and her situation. So I was able to laugh at myself, which seems better than being angry or exasperated, as laughter seemed to open a way to the “long view”, to hope.

God as clothing

After noticing that Wearing God had spoken to me so often — which was a surprise: I was expecting an interesting book on metaphor — I then became sursprised that the first chapter, on God as clothing, hadn’t spoken to me. So I read the chapter again, this time listening out carefully.

LW mentions God making clothes for Adam and Eve when they leave the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21) but the main metaphor is of people being clothed in God, or clothed in Christ (e.g., Galatians 3:27).

LW mentions the normal attraction of dressing up (p. 38 “… every time we change into a different kind of clothing, we can play at being a different kind of self”), she says she finds “the notion of God as clothing endlessly suggestive” (p. 37), she even says “To understand Christ as clothing is to understand a certain holy gender-bending” (p. 49). But, all her clothing examples are decidedly “appropriate”. The “gender-bending” is really about /women/ wearing androgynous utilitarian clothing.

LW asks what would it mean to imaging God as a warm winter coat, as a cardigan sweater: “What does it mean to imagine God as a warm winter coat? As a handmade bespoke suit? As a beloved cardigan sweater, purchased in Galway on your honeymoon …?” (p. 37).

I ask, what would it mean to imagine wearing God as a strappy satin nightie?

What would it mean for LW — a woman — to imagine God as a strappy satin nightie?

What would it mean for me — a man — to imagine God as a strappy satin nightie?

As an elegant blouse and long swishy skirt with white stockings and frilly French knickers underneath?

As a dainty bra that fits me — a man — just right?

Perhaps these imaginings seem repulsive or sacreligeous. Why?

Perhaps “God as clothing” shouldn’t be “sexy” clothing. I think there’s room for investigation there generally — but I do sometimes use dressing up as a kind of sex toy and I can see anything in that direction is not appropriate.

But I don’t always use dressing up like that. Sometimes (more often I think, after all there are more convenient sex toys) I dress up because … well,

Why /do/ I dress up?

Why /would/ I want to imagine God in these ways?

When we “imagine God as a cardigan sweater”, what are we doing? We are thinking about how the features a cardigan sweater is /supposed/ to have, what wearing a cardigan sweater is /supposed/ to be like, might apply to God. So, comfort, warmth, organic, traditional, familiar in some way, and so on.

God as a strappy satin nightie

I wear my nightie when I’m staying away on business. After the day’s work I get back to the hotel, I tie up loose ends, I respond to outstanding emails, I have dinner. When I get back to my room after dinner I immediately undress and change into my nightie, and then I relax. I tidy things away and set things out for the morning, I read or listen to music (often wearing a sweater on top of the nightie, so the nightie is like loungewear or even a dress). Hotel rooms are always too hot for boy pyjamas or a t-shirt, so I sleep in the nightie. I enjoy feeling the straps over my shoulders, and the soft cool material by my skin.

The fact that I like to dress up is the most secret thing in my whole life — ever since I started when I was a small boy. I can only wear something like this behind a locked door and closed curtains. So, wearing something like this /means/: I am in a private space, I am safe, no-one will come and get me, no-one will tell me to explain myself. Free from danger, I am free — in such a tiny way — (I won’t say “to be myself” that is nonsense). Sometimes I do bad things, sometimes I don’t. It’s a silly childish spell.

God — or at least Jesus — shelters me. To feel him near me is a beautiful luxurious feeling. I don’t need to explain myself to him — and if I don’t need to explain myself to him, why would I need to explain myself to anyone else? Jesus near me means I am safe: I even used to say to myself sometimes “You are safe: Jesus loves you.”

God as a dainty bra

For present purposes there are two types of bra: padded and un-padded. I have one of each, with matching knickers. I wear them in different circumstances.

The padded bra I always wear with the matching knickers. They are a glamorous, silky set. Because the padded bra affects my silhouette so much I can only wear them in private, as with the nightie. If my wife and son are away together for a few days I’ll spend all my time at home dressed just in these bra & panties, maybe with tights, and just a shirt or a dressing gown. I’ll work, I’ll iron and cook and clean, and I’ll feel light and free.

The unpadded bra I wear, mostly with the matching knickers, when I am out and about in some town away on business: shopping, eating at a restaurant in the evening.

It’s especially nice if they can be first things on in the morning (like this morning! ^^). In the morning after my shower I feel all clean and fresh and somehow climbing into special nice bra & panties enhances, encapsulates and preserves that feeling.

I have only started wearing bras very recently (March 2013 I bought my first bra). It feels like being gently hugged, embraced. I’d like to find a bra that would really fit my tiny breasts. It feels very intimate and tender, especially if I know I am wearing matching bra and panties. And if I am wearing out and about, it is a special secret that sometimes makes me blush.

Because these clothes are a treat for me, the bras I wear are dainty and pretty. Wearing something special and nice that close to me makes me feel that I am special and nice — like the nice ladies who wear these clothes in the catalogues. (I don’t mean special as in “better” than anybody else, I mean something more like “treasured”). I am always conscious that I am wearing a bra, so it is always reminding me of all this.

God holds and supports me. I am always aware of Him and I can always feel his presence. Knowing Jesus loves me makes me feel special and treasured (I don’t need to feel “strong”: I feel “strong” all the time. It’s easy to pull myself together, to fight, to get to bed early, to exercise, to eat properly).

The “secret” side feels relevant too. I love Jesus, I love reading the Bible and these Christian books. Because of today’s cultural environment, I feel I have to keep all that secret too (although my wife has started saying it is a “matter of time” before I “turn into a Christian”).

Faitheist

Book details

Faitheist
Chris Stedman
2013
Beacon Press
http://faitheistbook.com/

Comments

I saw this book recommended on Lisa Notes and it sounded interesting. I was more-or-less brought up atheist, and I’m now gradually thinking of myself as Christian. For the last few years I have become increasingly unhappy with the “New Atheists” and the general tone of discussion across the secular/religious divide.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed with this book, for two main reasons:

As an autobiography I thought it was weak. A good example of this weakness is the dog that didn’t bark: the author’s father. I also think using the autobiographical form in this way — to examine the issues around a particular debate — is a kind of reverse ad hominem argument.

However, the book’s fundamental weakness was the author’s failure to differentiate between “atheism” and “humanism”. He used these terms interchangeably, but they mean quite different things. Most importantly, an “atheist” is not necessarily a “humanist”, and a “humanist” is not necessarily an “atheist”. I think of Christianity as a very strong and confident humanism: the Good is human; the central figure is (among other things) a human; our path to salvation lies not in denying our human nature but in understanding and embracing it. At the same time certain varieties of atheism are strongly nihilistic and even “anti-humanist”.

Conflating the two is not just a big mistake conceptually, it hollows out any insight that can be made. For example, the author doesn’t explain why “inter-faith” groups should include atheists in the first place, or even how an “inter-faith” group can make sense. Basing “inter-faith” on a shared humanism between faiths gives a raison d’etre to these groups, points to the possibility of including secular humanists (with humanism transcending the religious-secular divide), and hints at why some atheists might reject inclusion (e.g. if their atheism is stronger then their humanism).

I think a kind of “secular anti-humanism” is a very strong force in contemporary culture, and the humanist/anti-humanist divide is much more important than the secular/religious divide.

Reading ideas for 2015

The to-be-read pile challenge

Thinking about this reading challenge tweeted by LisaNotesRead 12 books from your “to be read” pile — I decided to do a quick tour of the house with a notepad, looking for and listing books I “hadn’t got round” to reading, but still want to read “one day”. Well the list ended up at around 80 books — enough to keep me going for at least four years.

So, my version of challenge is going to be “Don’t buy any new books in 2015”

Exceptions

  • Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: I *really* want to read, and was planning to read it early last year, before the physics detour. Terry Pinkard has done a new translation, which Cambridge University Press are supposed to be publishing. If that does come out, I’ll buy it. I have a draft of Pinkard’s translation on my iPad, so if CUP don’t publish before July, I’ll start reading the draft.
  • Jorie Graham’s selected works “From the New World” is supposed to be coming out in March. Jorie Graham is my current Favourite Poet In The Whole World Ever. One of her books (“Never”) is one of those 80. I prefer having the individual books to someone else’s selection. I’ll only buy this if it has something special.
  • “The three body problem” by Liu Cixin. A Chinese science fiction novel that got a lot of hype last year. A Chinese detective novel that got a lot of hype was the dreariest novel I read last year so I’ll only buy this if I can scan it in the shop (best will be if a local library has it).
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