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”.





Housekeeping

We all like things that resolve. This is what Netflix binges are founded on—we feel the need to keep watching, keep watching, until the particular issue is satisfactorily resolved. The trouble is, they always bring in some new issue and turn in to a great overlapping of storylines and cliffhangers, unlike the Little House on the Prairie TV series, where every episode was a full story in itself and all the problems were solved in one short, 20 minute span.

I rarely binge-watch anything but I know the feeling of un-resolve. I feel it daily in the projects, the piles, the priorities that stack up on each other. Housework itself is a continual coming-to-terms with un-resolve: clean it, dirty it, repeat.

I used to bleach my floors (we had white linoleum and babies and I didn’t know any better) and obsess over nooks and crannies, but not so much anymore. On the one hand I’ve come a long way in my housekeeping skills; on the other, I simply don’t care as much about dirt I can’t see. And my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

I have lowered my standards, I suppose, but I still like a tidy house. I just value my time and sanity more than I used to.

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I’m currently reading Hannah Anderson’s All That’s Good and dutifully going through the questions and reflections at the end of each chapter. Chapter 3, Worldly Wise, is about discerning “the difference between lasting goodness and temporary pleasure”. One of the reflections was to “Share something mundane that you do everyday that has eternal value,” and the first thing that came to mind was the daily, unending work of bringing chaos back into order in our home. I feel like there is a more spiritual answer that would be “right”, something like reading the Word or praying for others, but mundane is the key word in the question.

Daily ordering is a creative act and we are acting in His image when we create, looking forward to the resolving of all this disorder. One fine day God will deliver creation from the bondage of corruption (Ro. 8: 21), and until then, we’ll keep ordering creation, ordering our homes, best we can.

Speaking of mundane, here is how this practically works out in our home *right now:

Mondays everyone is gone all day so my only homemaking goal is to have a dinner plan and clean the kitchen before bed. Most of the time the sink will be empty at bedtime. Sometimes the dishwasher is full and no one cares to unload it, so the dirty dishes sleep in the sink. No one dies from this scenario.

Tuesdays I catch up on any laundry, plan our school schedules, and do the inevitable paperwork necessary for life. Lately, I’ve been washing several loads of laundry and piling them up so I can have a marathon fold-and-put-away session while I listen to podcasts.

Wednesdays I start early on housekeeping projects and do any school with my youngest that he will need me for (which is minimal), so that I can sequester myself in the guest room for a writing day by 10 a.m. By 3 or 4, I emerge, go for a walk, and come home ready to work like a whirlwind for the evening. This is the day for cleaning bathrooms, dusting, and watering plants.

Thursdays are for vacuuming and mopping. This doubles as a work-out, unless I have one of the kids do the vacuuming. It’s also dump day — the one day a week our local transfer station is open.

Fridays are heavy school days, so minimal housekeeping.

Saturdays and Sundays we might do a bigger house project or work outside if the weather allows, but I generally let the house go. Honestly, it never gets too bad because we have a daily routine that keeps a semblance of order. On Sundays I plan the week ahead: meals, appointments, and activities go in my bullet journal.

Daily, we are doing things like emptying the dishwasher, wiping down counters and stainless steel appliances, swiping dirty toilets, running a load of laundry to completion, and constantly putting stuff back in its proper place. The kids are a big help and also a big producer of stuff and dirt, so it balances out. They all do their own laundry hallelujah; I’m sure someone’s dresser or closet needs an overhaul but I don’t check often. I make our bed daily; the kids’ are all upstairs and, again, I don’t check often. These things aren’t worth battling over right now—when they were younger we lived in a house with downstairs children’s rooms and they made their beds everyday. At this point, some do, some don’t; mom doesn’t care as much. About once a month I inspect upstairs and “request” things be put back in order.

Housework will always be part of our quotidian routine on earth, and one more reason to look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The best scenario is to be thankful for a house to clean and set a timer, remind yourself how little time it actually takes to tidy up if you do it daily, and intersperse the daily with times of whirlwind house cleaning that doubles as exercise.

*As with all things in life that you try to make routine, this changes with the seasons. I used to really struggle with not being able to make a plan and stick to it, forever. But life is just not that way. I plan more specifically week by week, and I offer a lot of grace for changes.