Make Up Your Mind: A newsletter for those who want to read, think, and listen better

On our last visit with my grandpa, we sat in the living room of his well-kept, single-wide trailer, and listened to his stories. This was not the same house I used to visit as a child, with its collection of trophies from his car racing days, and the cupboard with poker chips and playing cards next to the dining room table. But it was the same hulk of a man, shrunken slightly in body but still large in spirit. My grandpa was a logger, a log truck driver, a mechanic by necessity, and always ironically gentle for his large size. The only injury I ever sustained in his presence was whisker burn. 

He talked to us about his car, the cancer, and the likelihood that he would come up short of his 100 year goal. And then he recited poetry. It was a painting on his wall that spurred his memory of The Village Blacksmith, by Longfellow. I don’t know if he’d been assigned this poem eighty years ago as a little school boy, ragged and tall among a dozen siblings, or if he’d heard a rendition of it in a song some years later. But at ninety-one years old, it was still with him. 

I’d never heard grandpa say anything in rhyme, or talk about books or art or learning. He was a salt of the earth, blue-collar guy, who’d made a life the honest way and probably learned what he needed as he went along. At eighty he was still driving log truck. At ninety, we caught him up on a ladder trying to show my husband a spot on the roof that might be leaking. And anytime anyone in the family got a new car, he would light up like a kid at Christmas to talk about what was under the hood. All the things he’d ever done or learned or been interested in or concerned about were still with him, layered in his years like strata, telling a story.

I want to live life like a student, learning what I need as I go and being surprised at ninety by the beauty of a poem—or at least, the beauty of a memory that can hold so tight. If I can make it to ninety, what will still be layered in me? What will be worth reciting?

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“If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.” ~ Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man

I am still pursuing my education. If it were only information we needed to live life like a student, there would be no excuse for not having this breadth of view L’Amour is talking about, like a wide-angle lens on the world. The problem is rarely ever not enough information, though. It’s sorting that information into what I might need, could find useful, may be interested in, or should let go.

Sorting information is all of our jobs, everyday. Deciding what is important is part of exercising discernment, and “people without discernment are doomed,” according to Hosea 4:14. As student and Information Sorter I need the discernment of a Christ-centered mind, one trained in focus and observation. I need words to correspond to thoughts and thoughts to correspond to truth. And I need to see the beauty in the bombardment of information, because the world is full of beautiful things missed by busy people.

Being a lifelong learner is not about being busy, adding one more thing to my list. It’s maybe the opposite of that, because learning requires me to stop what I’m doing doing doing and observe. Be still. Listen to the stories. It’s a slow process, one without end but not without goals.

I am sending out a newsletter this Saturday with two goals: accountability and encouragement. I need the accountability of announcing this project and sending this monthly newsletter, as I seek to make up my mind with things that point me to Christ and a stewardship of the resources He’s given me.  If I make it to ninety, I want to have something of worth to surprise my grandkids with.

The second goal is to provide encouragement for you as you sort information and make up your mind with the true, the good, and the beautiful.  The newsletter will be full of links to resources; my thoughts on current reading, listening, and watching; and a look at my specific plans as I track my learning each month. In turn, I will be encouraged by your participation and suggestions.

Words are important, and the focus of my learning is on using words better—in thinking, reading, writing, and speaking. If you’ve read my other posts about what I call my "Homeschool MFA" program, this newsletter is inline with that. It’s just my way of organizing myself as a student of life, and has nothing to do with homeschooling, itself, except that homeschooling has kept me in the game as far as learning goes. It wasn’t until I started teaching my own kids that I really caught hold of the benefits of lifelong learning—pursuing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, even after my formal schooling was finished. That’s my Homeschool MFA.

This newsletter is for anyone who is still curious about life and the language we use to live it. Nothing is wasted when we live life like a student, with all our experiences and memories layered in us for all our years. Come learn with me! 

Conflict in Church and At Home

“Every story needs tension to be good.” – ND Wilson

Every family has conflict. It is an inevitable part of living life with other sinful beings. Our family has gone through big changes in the last few years as our kids have reached adulthood, one by one. Having children so close in age was exhausting when they were young, but it’s a different kind of exhausting as they mature. There are emotional taxes for everyone and a fair amount of conflict.

My husband and I have never disagreed very much, but we surely have differences of opinion and the occasional argument. However, we realized several years ago that our children never saw us argue. One day,  we realized we had failed to teach that disagreements are normal and ok by the looks of silent devastation on our children’s faces when we had an argument in the van. It was one of those inevitable moments of childhood when the pedestals of parents wobble just a little. It was a good, hard lesson for us all. 

We still do most of our arguing in private, because that’s just polite; but since that day in the van, we have made a conscious effort to model good arguments and grace in front of our kids. We know each other’s body language, we interpret the sideways glances and silent pauses, and we have gotten smarter about timing.

Continue reading this post at Morning by Morning.

Doing the work

I read this from Seth Godin last week and have been thinking about it since:

“I didn’t do the reading…”

This is a brave and generous thing to say.

If you’re not able (or committed enough) to do the reading before you give your opinion, please have the guts to point that out.

Doing the reading can be metaphor for doing the work, whatever work is required. When we give our input on something without having put in the background work—the reading, thinking, praying, etc.—we need to at least be honest about it. As Seth says, "… if you’re not going to do the reading, at least let us know so we can process your input in a useful way instead of assuming that you’re doing the analysis wrong.”

I have always had a mind for *trivia, though it has diminished with time. As a kid in the ‘80s I cleaned house at Trivial Pursuit and aced those name-and-date history tests in school. Thanks more to my smartphone than my age, I don’t hold information like I used to, but I still have some "useless facts” stored. I also have a lot of books on a lot of bookshelves. Combine these two things and I may seem like a smart person, well-informed and able to speak into many different subjects; but the truth is, I haven’t done all the reading.

I love learning, but I’m an amateur (from latin, amare—to love) in the best sense of the word: one who participates in something for the love of it, rather than as a profession.  I love learning and thinking and I believe it’s important for Christians to “do the reading", but I don’t know All The Things very deeply. I have the tendency to read headlines and feel as though I’m informed, and I also have a big creek to cross when it comes to articulating, verbally, what I do know. I have been guilty of showing up to a conversation, a meeting, a group, without having done the work.

My solution is to ask good questions. People who have done the work appreciate an opportunity to share what they know, and as long as I do the current work of being honest (“I didn’t do the reading…”) and aiming to participate and glean as much as I can during the conversations, I can ask good questions that will inform my future work. But if showing up without doing the reading becomes a pattern in my life, it’s usually a sign that I’ve overcommitted or under-prioritized. Showing up regularly unprepared diminishes the benefit of the group for all involved, not just myself.

Doing the work also applies in church. The weeks when I purposely read ahead in the text before going, I am much more in-tune with the teaching. I pay better attention during the sermon, take better notes, have better questions and find better answers. I’ve done the work. I don’t do this often enough, but one thing writing does for me is it holds my feet to the fire of my own convictions; I’ll be doing more reading ahead for Sundays.

The main point is that we need to be honest and curious about what we don’t know. The only place to learn from is a place of humility. I know only this much leaves room for growth, and sometimes even what we do know will be deconstructed as we willingly hear other informed opinions.

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I’m currently mapping out my reading for the new year, compiling lists and plans and work for my own personal education. I’ve called this my Homeschool MFA because all my reading, listening, writing, and thinking is aimed at being a better reader, listener, writer and thinker, the way I think a legit MFA program would be. Maybe you have no interest in being a better writer or reading more books, but couldn’t the world benefit from more Christians who were thoughtful, informed, compassionate, and able to speak truth articulately? If you think your corner of the world could use that, I’d be happy to have you join me in this (non-trivial) pursuit. 

I’m re-working my current, dormant newsletter, and tailoring it to fit these goals. It will probably continue to go through some changes—I generally learn best from hindsight, unfortunately—but to begin with I’ll be including links, lists, and thoughts from what I’m reading, watching, and listening to. I’ll post about it again before officially sending the first (new) newsletter in January, but if you’re interested you can sign up for the newsletter anytime.

If you’re already signed-up for the Simple List newsletter, that will morph into this one—no need to do anything.

*I’m a word-nerd and a latin tutor, so the etymology of words excites me. Trivia comes from the latin, meaning three roads or three ways. It’s also the root of trivium, the word we use for the first three of the seven liberal arts (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric). Check out etymonline.com for their explanation of how trivia came to mean “useless information”.