Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

07 April 2009

Another Compelling Case for Reading a Book!

A while ago I stumbled upon the article Is Google Making us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr. It starts like this:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets’reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link.

The bottom line? The internet is a wonderful tool however we move around it quickly. We can find what we need with great speed. And if we start reading something and it doesn't meet our need or hold our interest then there is always another website to visit - and off we go! Cage looks at the long term effect of this style of reading/operating and while it is anecdotal at present (there is no hard research on the effect of the constant use of the internet on brain function but wow! - there are a few PhDs there!!) he suggests that at best it is changing the way we think and at worst it is flattening our capacity to think and certainly to concentrate.

Now I know my capacity to concentrate has been seriously deteriorating over the last few years. First there were the pregnancy hormones (although I am not entirely convinced of this as an excuse at least for myself) and then there was the baby fog (that was real!). But in truth a good part of my loss of brain function is simply because I haven't exercised it and it has just become very unfit.

This is one of many reasons why I started this blog - to do something new, to stretch myself, to connect a few new synapses in my brain and reconnect a few that became disconnected along the way.

So now I am going to start reading again. I will start small with a modest reading list both in quantity and content because I know that if I am over ambitious (when it comes to matters of fitness, be that of brain or body) then failure will surely follow. And I will build up slowly. The trick as always will be to approach this in a godly fashion, to set suitable boundaries and to work on not adding more to the agenda to the detriment of the core stuff that needs to be maintained and done well. I will keep you posted!

And the great irony of the "Is Google Making us Stupid?" article? For an article on the internet it was extremely long and took considerable concentration to read. I'd be certain the irony was not lost on Nicholas Carr.

05 April 2009

Head and Heart

Earlier this year Jean (her blog "in all honesty" is always worth reading) inspired me to start reading again - something more substantial than parenting and recipe books. I got off to a great start but my good resolve fizzled out.

There are lots of reasons why it all fizzled out:

* not wishing to encroach upon my precious time for reading the Bible,
* a reading list that was too ambitious in length which then overwhelmed me,
* reading choices that were too ambitious in content that overwhelmed my unfit brain,
* being too busy (or is that not enough discipline to make the time to do it??) to fit it in,
* not doing it for 21 days in a row (because apparently it takes 21 uninterrupted days to form a habit).

The centrepiece of my list of excuses includes the admission of an unfit brain. (I have carefully kept it that way to match my unfit body!!) And I am going to think about brain fitness next time (if I can concentrate for long enough!!!)

But on the 23rd March Dr John Piper had this to say on his Desiring God blog:

This is a plea that all of you would build into your lives both personal devotions and purposeful study of God’s word.

Both: Daily prayerful meditation seeking personal application of God’s word to your own heart and life.

And: Regular study in a class or with a book where the (living or dead) teacher has seen more than you have and can give you insight in 30 minutes that might otherwise take you ten years to see.
The reason I plead for both is that without a book or a class about what some part of the Bible means and a teacher who is ahead of you, your devotions will probably flatten out at a low level of insight.

Year after year you will go over the same biblical ground and find it as perplexing as before. There will be little advance in understanding. This will tend to take the heart out of devotional reading, because the lack of growth cannot sustain the joy.

Seek out preaching, books, and classes which take you further in grasping what various books and texts in the Bible mean.

Well, I am encouraged to have another go at doing both - devotional Bible reading and also serious reading about the Bible - which means making a plan to do the purposeful study. Most of the books that were on the previous over ambitious list were about the purposeful study of the Bible. So I think I just need to choose more carefully and keep the list short to begin with.

And there is more encouragement to be had for those who need an extra push. Here are some encouraging ways to get into devotional reading and here is another piece of inspiration to pursue serious reading in a SMALL way - which I was VERY pleased to read - which will ease an unfit brain into tackling print matter again. Because reading IS a joy and I am not actually doing this to punish myself.

02 April 2009

Truly Remarkable

How would you spend this evening if you knew it was going to be your last?

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching 60 children in my scripture classes about the beautiful episode of Jesus washing his disciples' feet on the Thursday night before the events of the Easter weekend started to unfold. To commence the lesson I asked the children this very question of how they would spend the evening if they knew it was their last. Some of the responses included

* Order pizza and play Nintendo DS all night.
* Jump off my roof and see if I actually can fly after all
* Go to McDonalds for one last happy meal
* Finish my homework (oh yeah!!) and spend time with my family
* Get all my friends over for a party

On Jesus' last night before he faced crucifixion he had dinner with his twelve best friends but he didn't spend the evening pleasing himself, seeking out love and comfort or doing that last crazy thing.

Jesus did something remarkable. He washed their feet. This was an enormous gift of love and sacrifice.
Why remarkable?
Because the feet of the disciples would not have looked nice and clean like the ones in this photo. The 24 feet in question would have sweated through the heat of the day, walked along the dusty roads and would not have been "refreshed" before coming to dinner. (It was quite good fun to go into a bit of detail at this point!!!)

Because in those days the task of foot washing would have been relegated to the lowest slave of the household and so for Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, to do this would have been culturally surprising to say the least.

Because this was his last night before he faced crucifixion and instead of focussing on what he was about to face, he looked outward and gave his friends a simple but powerful act of love in the gift of cleansing of their feet. (Now there is more going on here than simple foot washing – but the children are young and I only had 25 minutes!)

Because he then used it, selflessly, to teach his friends one final lesson while they were together.

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."John 13:14,15

He was not suggesting that they literally wash every foot with which they came into contact there after. He was suggesting that they love one another sacrificially, selflessly, taking on acts of service that lack glamour but demonstrate extravagant love - that they show love in a remarkable way.

Maybe remarkable is not the best word to describe what Jesus did because it is entirely in character that Jesus – who came not to be served but to serve – spent his last night with his friends in this way.

But it does paint a remarkable example to us to love one another abundantly, quietly, humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, beautifully.

And the best bit for me yesterday? I think all 60 kids got it. Not necessarily that they need to love one another sacrificially - wouldn't that be nice?? But they did get that Jesus did something truly remarkable the night before He died on the cross. And I praise God for that.