Posts Tagged ‘learning

08
May
20

The “Simple” Life

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

HandymanHGTV lies.

Home repair and remodeling never happens with that kind of speed or ease.

Where is that time-lapse photography effect when I really need it? Eh?

Case in point: our two wall sconces. (Actually, I am trying to impress you with the fact that I can use the word “sconce” in a sentence with reasonable accuracy). 

Once we got most of our boxes unpacked here in Fort Collins, we looked around to see what needed fixing or updating. High on the list was the replacement of the two Miami Vice-looking wall sconces, circa 1989.

Our domestic arrangement specifies that Joan is the BRAINS and I am the BRAWN of the operation. So naturally, she picked out just the right design for the new sconces and then turned it over to me to install them.

Piece of cake, right?

Nope. Not right. Not even a crumb of a morsel of a piece of cake.

I won’t bore you with the 101 details of how this simple, straightforward task spiraled out of control and turned into an electrical engineering graduate degree final exam question. I’ll just say that a professional has now been called to come and sort through the carnage left behind by yours truly.

In the dusty aftermath, what stands out in my mind is the phrase I muttered to myself in the course of my third (or was it the fourth?) trip to Home Depot: “Can’t anything be SIMPLE anymore?”

That question was meant to be a comment on a string of recent events in my life, all featuring surprise appearances of unexpected complexity.

In a way, though, it could be a question about our world today. Over the course of the last two months, I am sure we have all had reason to stop and ask, “Can’t any part of life be simple and straightforward anymore?”

The current COVID-19 pandemic has turned routine activities like going to the store, going to church, going to the doctor’s office, or taking a vacation into intricate logistical dances. Heck, even having a drink with friends requires high-speed internet service and a high-def webcam.

The yearning for simplicity in daily life is strong these days and it is understandable. But we have to watch out that the yearning for simpler daily lives doesn’t morph into a misguided kind of nostalgia for an imaginary “simpler time” that frankly never was.

No matter what anyone might tell you, life has never been simple. It has only been different.

Possessing a brain and a heart and a soul and a spirit automatically muddies the waters. Living among other similarly equipped sentient beings multiplies the complexity exponentially.

I might be missing something, but from where I sit there are really only two available responses to the reality of living in this three-dimensional, seven-billion-piece jigsaw puzzle we call THE WORLD: 1.) Try to hide from it, or 2.) Embrace it.

It won’t be easy, but I am going to try to go the “embrace it” route. What will that mean? You ask. Well, for starters it will mean…

  • … I will have to become committed to continuous learning.
  • … I will have to be prepared to be regularly humbled and/or confused.
  • … I will have to turn and ask for help – probably more often than I like to.
  • But most of all, it will mean I will have to be at peace with being the guy who doesn’t have all the answers.

For those of you who do not (yet) have the privilege of knowing me personally, you have no idea how tough that last bullet-point item will be for me. I’m the guy who likes to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.

But you know what? It’s really OK if I don’t.

Because I serve an awesome God who DOES!

Hallelujah!

14
Nov
17

Going Next Level…

guitar pictureIt’s time to move on… to the next level.

I feel like I’m ready. But sometimes I have to wonder if I am entirely willing.

In one sense, I am talking about my guitar playing. I have been taking guitar lessons for about two years now. I feel as if I have learned a few cool songs and am comfortable playing them.

Sit down sometime and I’ll get your foot tapping with a passable version of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Pride and Joy. Or maybe you’d rather hear Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton.

I would certainly not go so far as to call myself a guitarist… or really even a guitar player.

But I will readily own the description of being “a guy who enjoys the guitar.”

Recently though I have felt a little “plateaued” in my guitar playing and – as I mentioned – experienced the urge to “take it up a notch.”

But I hesitate… because in the back of my mind I know exactly what that means. For starters, it means MORE WORK. It means more time spent in practice… more drilling on the fundamentals… tackling songs that are more complex and require greater effort to master. And I’m sure that somewhere along the way, a greater understanding of music and music theory wouldn’t hurt either.

You know… learning things like the difference between the frigian. Locrian, and Mixolydian scales for starters.

But then the more I think about the price of moving to the next level, the more I begin to think, “Well, maybe floating along here at ‘Advanced Beginner’ status isn’t so bad after all. I mean, I entertain myself and audiences composed of generous, non-critical people. Why go to all that trouble to get a little bit better? I’m not going to try to earn a living with my guitar playing after all.”

And then it occurred to me: isn’t it great that “taking it up a notch” in our spiritual life turns out to be exactly the opposite kind of endeavor from “taking it up a notch” on the guitar?

While advancing in guitar mastery entails MORE (more time, more energy, more learning, more complexity, more patience), advancing in our spiritual lives puts the downbeat on LESS (less striving, less anxiety, less reliance on ME, less worry about outcomes, less fear, less drivenness, less pride, less stress).

On the surface, that sounds like great news. Great news, that is, until I realize just how deeply wired I am for the MORE approach to living; more work, more money, more “stuff”, more friends, more fun, more education… everything around us encourages us to grab for more of EVERYTHING.

The path of LESS often feels so strange and alien to me.

But then somehow I am encouraged to stop and listen to Jesus’ words on the topic:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know how good a guitar teacher Jesus would have been.

But I think this is the song I need to work on next.

 

Abundant blessings;

– Russell

13
Jun
17

Humble learning

Welcome-to-GI

“… but wisdom is with the humble.”
Proverbs 11:2, NRSV

I learned something this past week.

I learned that Grand Island, Nebraska is actually a pretty cool place.

I learned this as a result of spending three days in Grand Island at the Annual Conference of the Great Plains United Methodist Church.

It was a “command performance” kind of thing… meaning that attendance for me was not optional. Fortunately my wife agreed to go along at the last minute.

And since I am persuaded that this kind of thing is good for the soul, I have a public confession to make: when I first heard about the location of Annual Conference, I was not all that excited about spending three days in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska.

In fact it is possible I even poked a little fun at the notion that the word “island” is part of the name of a town in the state of Nebraska. I may also be guilty of encouraging my friends to wear Hawaiian shirts for each day of the conference… as a celebration of “island life.”

But then we arrived in town. And drove around. And met people and saw sights.

And as a result… I learned! I learned that Grand Island is a wonderful, clean, vigorous, engaging city of 48,000 souls on the plains of south central Nebraska.

(I’m still not entirely sure where the “island” part of the name comes in though.)

In the process of learning these things about Grand Island, I learned another important lesson. I learned something about learning.

Here is what I learned: sometimes learning happens when a vacuum gets filled. For me, there was an empty place in my mind called “the location of Grand Island, Nebraska.” I filled that empty space by looking on a map and finding it… right there off of Interstate 80, about 90 miles straight west of Lincoln, NE.

That’s one kind of learning.

But I learned that there is also another kind!

On some occasions, an unlearning has to happen before new learning is possible. That is because knowledge that is askew or off-base has to be corrected, re-shaped, or removed altogether before it can be replaced by something a little more reflective of reality.

In my case, for example, I first had to unlearn (or “dump,” to be a little more scientific about it) my earlier perceptions about the kind of town Grand Island was before I could replace them with the truer, better, more informed picture.

In thinking about these two kinds of learning, I also discovered that people LOVE the first type (the vacuum-filling type), but are not at all fans of the second type (the one that begins with unlearning).

It may be because the second type of learning requires HUMILITY… the willingness to begin by saying, “You know what… I was wrong about that.”

This is not a sentence that comes easily to my lips. I like to feel as if I have a few things figured out at this fine, ripe age I’ve attained. Retracing and retracting are not actions I rush to embrace.

And yet…

… my sense is that the learning that begins with a humble retraction seems to settle in at a deeper place inside me. It feels somehow “heftier”… a little more like WISDOM or INSIGHT than just information.

That may be what the writer of Proverbs meant by saying that “wisdom is with the humble.”

So then where does that leave us?

It would be hard to argue with the conclusion that the world has rarely had a greater need for wisdom and insight than it has today. At the same time, the world seems to be facing a desperate shortage of humility – the key ingredient of wisdom.

Because after all… when you already have all the answers, why look further or deeper?

Fortunately we have the prophet Micah to remind us what is good. And so, in case you have forgotten what he said, here is that reminder once again: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8, NRSV.

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world: Stay humble, my friend. Gain wisdom.

Abundant blessings;




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