May 2019 | Make Up Your Mind: A newsletter for those who want to read, think, and listen better
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“Imagination demands an image.”
Why pursue better reading, thinking, and listening?
The links below are part of what I call my Homeschool MFA—my pursuit of lifelong learning and my plan to be a better reader, thinker, and listener. This is my homemade college degree. It’s mostly free, I’ll never actually graduate, and no one will hand me a diploma for it, but in spite of the fact that I am making this all up as I go, I am still learning.
I am a student because I’m learning.
I want to learn how to do things, like make beautiful cakes and keep my garden alive; I also want to learn to be me, the person God is forming me into with His constant care and work in my life. Time after time He confirms that this person is a writer, among other things. Not a published writer, not a famous author, not prolific in my work—but growing.
I am a writer because I’m writing.
Learning and writing require us to read, think, and listen better. Being a human on this planet with other humans requires us to read, think, and listen better, because people are using words to communicate and we owe it to them to pay attention. God is speaking, and we owe it to Him to notice.
“Imagination demands an image.” Where do our imaginations focus? What will we imagine about God and His work in His world? I pursue the better use of words and better understanding of people in order have a better imagination of God—not made up fairly tales about what He is like; a better imagination of God is a more accurate image, more true, more faithful to Him. The object of my imagination is God, Himself…except when it’s not. This re-focus of my imagination is the work of my education these days.
What about you? What do you want to learn, and what is God calling you to be, as part of His intricate work in your life? “Engage in business until I come back,” Jesus said in the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:13 CSB). There is work for you and I.
I hope you find something here to spark your imagination and to equip you for the work. “Is our self-image affected by our Christianity? What vision of our own story silently shapes our reactions and decisions? Are we patiently fleshing out the face Christ is showing to the world through us? Do we recognize that preparing the public imagination for Christ’s return is our personal responsibility, not the Church’s problem, for we are the Church?”
Janine Langan, The Christian Imagination
(Here is the updated link to my Evernote file, where all my Homeschool MFA plans are kept.)
A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence @ Brain Pickings
The Ultimate Productivity Hack is Saying No by James Clear
Digital Decluttering: A Diary by Melissa Wiley
I’ve grouped these three articles together because they each deal with productivity, in one way or another. I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest was an uber-business-y, type A, highly energetic over-achiever. I’m so not like that I thought to myself; yet I kept listening. His ideas and methods were, for the most part, nothing I would ever implement, but I enjoyed listening because the way he did things gave me ideas for the way I do things, and I’m always looking for ways to do things better.
Peace over productivity. I want to get things done but still maintain my composure, and trying to copy some productivity-guru’s methods will not always work for me. Thankfully, I can pick and choose and keep learning what works. (And what “works” changes with every season.)
I had two revelations last month in regards to peace and productivity. They are simple ideas, but I’m kinda excited about them so I’ll share them with you:
Turn your phone notifications “on” for certain apps. This is the opposite advice given by most people, but here’s my personal reason—I will check an app multiple times in hopes of getting a message I’m waiting for, an email, or a comment on a post. If I have my notifications “on”, I will know when a message comes in—no more mindless "I’m just going to hop on my email real quick and see if he responded." The three apps I have notifications turned on for are Instagram, Gmail, and Voxer. I’m not a celebrity juggling thousands of followers, so these rare notifications are not intrusive.
Print online articles to read. This genius-ly simple idea came from my friend Beth. She said she prints blog posts and articles to read so her children don’t see her staring at a screen so often. I remember, back in the days of sketchy dial-up internet and that giant iMac computer, when I used to print things off the internet because it was the only way I could get them read, with young kids. These days I could read for hours on the screen-that’s-always-with-me, but I am modeling habits to young adult children who still need to know that convenience always has its trade-offs. Another benefit: I’m printing good stuff off the internet, because the fluff isn’t worth reading, anyway. Printing helps me curate what I’m reading.
Herself by Madeleine L’Engle
This is one of a handful of books I call my perpetual reads. It’s a collection of excerpts from L’Engle’s works and is a great little dose of encouragement for writers, each one short enough to read in 2 minutes and rich enough to think about all day. I think of it as “if Madeleine had Instagram…”, except there are no pictures.
Placemaker by Christie Purifoy
“We do the work of heaven when we bring order to the world around us. We are all gardeners of a sort, and most of our lives are dedicated to tending, keeping, and making. We are what author Andy Crouch describes as ‘creative cultivators’, invited to participate in the victory over chaos celebrated in the first chapters of Genesis.”
One thing I hope to produce with my own writing is peace in the reader, and Christie does that well. I hope you’ll read this book.
What Has Irony Done for Us Lately by Pam Houston
This is a long and beautiful essay with several parts—more like a short story—but it’s about the love of a dog, of nature, and of writing. I’ve read it several times and it affects me with each reading. (This is the type of thing worth printing off the internet!)
There’s a New Door to Narnia, and the Children Want In by Geoffrey Sheehy at Curator Magazine
Someone has written a new Narnia book and it’s supposed to be amazing, but due to copyright issues, we may never get to read it.
Jonathon Rogers has a weekly email for writers: The Habit. He packs this letter full of encouragement, grammar lessons, and insights to the writing life that will make you think and cause you to want to continue…because sometimes you want to throw in the towel.
"Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries. Their excellence can inspire you, it can teach you, it can give you good ideas. But there is no reason it should discourage you.”
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
The subtitle for this one says it all: “A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions”. Who doesn’t need that? I listened to this in one roundtrip drive to Salem a few weeks ago and plan to go through my Kindle version of it again, in addition to working through Emily’s Discern and Decide course she made as a freebie for pre-orders of the book. Everything about it is lovely and helpful.
Podcast: The Artist’s Creed, Episode 3: Creator of Heaven and Earth
This is a podcast interview with Helena Sorensen, whom I had the joy to meet at a retreat in March. She is deep, thoughtful, funny, and genuine, and in this episode she’s talking about the role of fantasy and the importance of the unseen in the Christian life. Even if, like me, fantasy is not a genre you read much, Helena has wisdom to enrich your life.
Podcast: Wrestling with God Through Art by Joy Clarkson
Joy always examines a theme through three different works of art—literary, visual, and musical. This episode examines the ways we approach God in our suffering.
Podcast: Your Work is Not For Everyone by Jeff Goins
“The kind of work that doesn’t deserve criticism, doesn’t deserve praise.”
We watched Case for Christ earlier last month and it was actually well-done, I thought. I’m no movie critic, but the story of Lee Strobel’s trip from skeptical atheism to believer (the set reminded me of the tv series This is Us—totally ‘80s!) didn’t seem cheesy or low-budget. If you’ve read any books on Christian apologetics (including Strobel’s book by the same name) you already know the evidence he uncovers, but the film added the emotional element sometimes missing from a book on apologetics.
We also went to the theaters after a long absence and watched Avengers: Endgame with the kids. I won’t give any spoilers and I am mostly clueless about the plot, not having watched the 400 other super hero movies necessary to understand everything going on, but it was entertaining. ; ) I’m sure there will be lots of great analysis of the Christ-figure as portrayed in every superhero movie.
YouTube! I’m late to the game but I’ve been enjoying YouTube lately as part of my Homeschool MFA, watching videos from conferences I can’t attend in person and from people who are giving away their expertise for free. People want to teach what they know, and YouTube is a great place to learn. I’m currently enjoying videos from past Anselm Society conferences.
MEMORIZING:: I finished memorizing Auden’s Unknown Citizen last month and recited it for my class of juniors and seniors, who themselves have been memorizing lines from each Shakespeare play we’ve read this year. Here’s something I learned (again) about memorization: writing out the poem helps, but taping it to the bathroom mirror is the way to go! I’d carried the poem around for months and worked on it when I thought about it, but having it in my face everyday while I brush my teeth is, hands-down, the way to go.
Now...to keep practicing it occasionally so I don’t lose all that work.
WRITING:: God in the Details @ Morning by Morning
I am choosing to see God in everything that is small and insignificant these days.
Resurrection @ The Joyful Life
We want to be extraordinary, to live outside of the trap of time and space, but ordinary life requires so much from us and we forget.
Maybe what resurrection really calls for is that every day be a remembrance. Every crawl out of bed is the resurrection to a new day. Every task repeated from the monotony of quotidian life is the bearing-again of everything that gives life or is the result of living.
Each week on IG I post "5 things I learned this week". It's a little bit serious and a little bit silly every time, and I'm loving keeping track of the things I'm learning this way.
I listened to Laura Vanderkam’s podcast Best of Both Worlds at the beginning of April and was struck by something her sister and co-host, Sarah, said about goals. For awhile now I’ve been thinking that I need to re-evaluate “things” every quarter—look at our schedule, our budget, my personal goals, and projects that need done. Sarah said that she does her quarters differently. Rather than every 3 months of the year, she makes her “quarters” fit the specifics of their family at this season. For example, because there is so much going on at that time, the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are like their own quarter, and the kids’ summer break from school is its own quarter.
This made much more sense to me, though it bugs me to call a two month period a “quarter”. I’ve broken our year up into January-April/May-July/August-October/November-December. We’re now in our “summer quarter” of the year, and I’m adjusting schedules and goals accordingly.
Here are a few of my personal goals for May:
10k steps a day
writing for 15 minutes a day (this usually leads to more)
reading daily (no specifics, but I am working on reading my youngest’s literature books for the next school year with him over the summer)
500 words a week on a specific project (again, a small goal that makes success easier)
I’m also intentionally looking back at the last season and asking two questions Emily Freeman teaches us in The Next Right Thing. For each category of your life in the last season, ask: What was life-giving? What was life-draining? I’m not great at this type of reflection. I’m better at regret and lofty wishes. But I’m setting aside time to ask these questions and praying for insight for future decisions, based on these reflections.
That’s it for this month, friends. Reply to this email to let me know what you’re learning, what you want to learn, or what you have questions about. I’m listening ; )
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