“Back to School, back to school…”

“…so my blog readers won’t think I’m a fool…”

Just a quick heads-up post:

As you may remember, I’m an online student at Southern Seminary, and have been S-L-O-W-L-Y working through a Masters degree. (1/4 of the way there in 4 years! Yaaaay…) I took about a year off from school for various reasons, but now I’m back in the saddle.

This weekend is the beginning of an 8-week summer-term course in Biblical Hermeneutics. I’m really excited to get back to work, and to study this topic in particular. However, because it’s an 8-week mini-mester, the workload is pretty intense given the compressed timeframe.

This means that something has to get put on the back-burner, and that something is regular blog posting. (Well, “semi”-regular blog posting. …I can hear you snickering. Please stop.)

So I will post infrequently for the next two months. My hope is that by late July, I’ll be back to posting semi-regularly (with occasional gusts of consistent M-W-F posts).

If you check back here between now and then, you may find a few posts about my school work and a few book reviews (including reviews of Kill Devil and Unparalleled–still psyched about those!), but not much else, unless something major happens in the world that shakes me out of my bookish hiatus.

One GREAT way to keep up with this blog is to follow/subscribe below. The buttons for that are at the bottom of the page. That way, whenever I post, it is delivered directly to you! How easy is that?!?

Plus, I would really appreciate your “follow” or sign-up, because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to interact with you fine folks.

Okay, I’m out. If you’re the praying kind (and I hope you are), I would appreciate prayers for a good school term. And I’ll have a full report on the other side.

See you on the flip-flop,
–Dave

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The4thDave Reviews: “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg

The key to productivity and success in life isn’t simply “working more and sweating harder,” writes Charles Duhigg, in the introduction to his newest book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets to Being Productive in Life and Business. It’s about “making certain choices in certain ways”–which requires changing how we see ourselves and the world around us, how we approach the choices we make each day, how we function and interact with others as leaders and teammates.

In Smarter, Faster, Better, Duhigg looks at 8 key concepts that highly successful and productive people grasp–sometimes intuitively. These ideas touch on the areas of motivation (including “locus of control,” something we’ve already talked about), goal-setting, focus, predicting future outcomes, and creating cultures inside teams and workplaces. He deals with the question of how we collect and interpret information in a way that is most useful, and how creativity often requires shaking things up in unexpected ways.

Duhigg’s latest offering takes a similar approach to writers like Malcolm Gladwell: he has obviously done a great deal of research (the end-notes section is extensive), but rather than flood the reader with pages of statistics and studies, he uses specific stories and anecdotes to encapsulate these ideas. This approach makes what could be an otherwise dry and dull presentation come to life and stick in the memory. Each chapter presents a new concept or group of concepts through the use of 2-3 “nested” stories. Duhigg brings each story to a point of conflict or transition, before shifting to a different but related narrative. This is both exciting and a little frustrating (in a good way). In any case, I found it to be a compelling approach.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on innovation and creativity. Here, Duhigg talks about the rocky creative process for the Disney blockbuster Frozen, as well as the development of the Broadway classic West Side Story. Through these narratives, Duhigg reveals how creative breakthroughs can require us to mash together disparate but familiar story elements in order to create something fresh and interesting; and sometimes, that creative process forces us to draw upon our own experiences and emotions to make our art more honest and compelling. And throwing in a little creative desperation due to time-crunch doesn’t hurt, either. Duhigg also suggests, via the Frozen story, that shaking things up, changing the dynamics of a situation, creates space for creativity to flourish, even if that means “killing your darlings” and letting go of some ideas that force us into a rut.

An unexpected treat is the appendix, in which Duhigg reveals how he incorporated some of these lessons himself during and after the writing of this book. He describes how his own use of mental modeling and shifting the locus of control helped him improve as a professional. It was helpful to see a first-hand example of these principles in action.

“In the end,” Duhigg writes in his conclusion, “if you learn how to recognize certain choices that, to many, might not be obvious, then you can become smarter, faster, and better over time.” This book provides many good ideas for how we can make small changes to improve our daily decision-making and live more intentionally and effectively.

Final Verdict: Smarter, Faster, Better won’t change your life or transform your mindset. It’s not a magic bullet (no productivity book is!). But it is an interesting and thought-provoking read, and the stories Duhigg incorporates will stick with you and give you some great ideas for ways to tweak your methods and improve your productivity.

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Please Note: I was sent an electronic copy of this book by the publisher for the purposes of review. The preceding is my honest, unbiased opinion.

Analogies are tricksy hobbitses.

Just finished working on a post, which may or may not see the light of day.  I think the concept is good, but it relies on an imperfect analogy. I hope I can salvage the post, because it’s not too shabby. At least by my standards. YMMV.

All this to say, sorry for the lack of postage. Word-making is tricksy, with the meanings and ideas and whatnot. Also, work and home-life demands have been a little higher lately, so the most important things get my best efforts.

I’d like to put up another book review on Friday (covering Charles Duhigg’s latest work). Between now and then, you may see something new, but otherwise, check back Friday for that. If you want. If not, that’s cool, I guess. You do you, boo. You do you.

It’s late. I’m tired. I may be on the verge of getting sick. So.

so sorry

Vanity, 140 characters at a time.

Two (possibly contradictory) thoughts regarding social media (and Twitter in particular):

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I was all set to blast him.

I spent a few minutes crafting what I knew was the perfect, 140-character jeremiad against a political party leader. It was rueful. It was accusatory. It would surely be seen and echoed by others, gaining “likes” and “retweets.”

As my thumb hovered over the “send” button, I imagined this person somehow picking this tweet out amidst the thousands of social media comments he was surely receiving, reading it, and being struck by its truth and resonance.

And then I thought, “Wait–what if he does read this? What if this is the only interaction I’ll ever have with the man? Is this the impression I want to leave?”

I wrestled for a second…then deleted my perfectly-sharpened rhetorical barb.

Go ahead and laugh. I agree, it’s a patently ridiculous thought that my comment would be the one needle in the digital haystack that would actually scratch its intended target. But let’s bring it back down to earth a bit.

Rather than a major political figure, how about the random person on Twitter whom I have the chance to interact with sometime? In that one interaction, how would I want to be perceived? And would they be able to tell what I value?

If you knew that your only interaction with a person would be via 140-character messages, what would you say? More importantly, what wouldn’t you say?

The person you’re @-tweeting to, even if they’re a celebrity or political power player, is a real person with a living soul. Not just a face or a name or a persona.  A real person. (I know, I know, I’ve talked about this before.)

I guess I’m bringing up all this to say, sometimes I can be too much of a keyboard-cowboy. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m nobody from nowhere, and that Jesus is the only person who matters. Sometimes I need to be thumped in the head by the fact that every careless word I speak (or type) matters to God (Matt. 12:33-37). If I remembered that every time I pulled up Twitter, it would motivate me to represent Him better in that medium.

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On the other hand: If I’m not using social media for specifically spiritual purposes, am I guilty of sin?

A Twitter-buddy of mine posted a brave question the other day: “Based on the majority of my social media content, what do you think I value most?” From what I could tell, some of the answers he received disappointed him a little. I have to give him props for even asking the question. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answers I’d get, especially lately.

That question may be useful as a litmus test for checking for secret idolatries–the tendency we sinful creatures have to value things far more than they are due and make them more important in our lives than they should be (what the sages call “disordered passions”).

But I think the answers we get to that question may be a little misleading, as well, due to the nature of social media itself, and how we use it.  Often, I use social media to connect to people who enjoy the things I enjoy, and get excited about the same aspects of art and culture that I do. So it wouldn’t be outlandish to notice a large part of my interactions on social media are about just that: movies, music, TV, sports, politics, books.

However, what you see on Twitter or even on this blog isn’t the totality of my energies and thoughts. It may give indications, sure, and I should take those clues  seriously. But there’s more going on than what we see on-screen, even when it comes to ourselves.

All this to say: If your whole life (both online and offline) is consumed with temporary things, then pay attention. Re-adjust. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and get your head on straight.

But if you tweet or post about Steve Rogers, Barry Allen, and Jake Arietta because the only people you know who would be interested in discussing these heroic figures are friends on the internet? Well, I don’t think that’s an indication that your heart’s grown cold to the things of Christ.

But what do I know. Maybe I’m another frog in the pot with you.

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Like I said–possibly contradictory. This is the push-pull that I feel when it comes to this issue. I want to represent Jesus well with my words and actions. But I enjoy this life He’s given me, with all its temporary pleasures and unimportant joys. Baseball and comic books and board games and karaoke with friends–these are all gifts from God. I am thankful to Him for them. And on social media, I geek out about all these silly things. I don’t think that’s wrong, as long as these unimportant things don’t crowd out the Main Thing in my life.

Ironically, last night, after I finished the first draft of this post, my wife suggested that we both take a step back from media involvement for a bit, to focus some extra energy on spiritual things. For her, that’s mainly TV. For me, it’s social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter).  She’s right. It would be good to take a break. Regroup. Focus on weighty things.

 

I will try to get back to regular Monday – Wednesday – Friday blog posting, next week. I just won’t be as visible on other platforms for a little while.

Have a good weekend, friends. Jesus is Lord. Give Him the glory due His name.

2016 Reading Challenge: April Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

In keeping with T.S. Eliot’s old adage, April was the cruelest month–lots of challenges and frustrations (and rain–so much rain!).  But that said, I was able to get some reading done, amid all the craziness.

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in April:

A Book with a One-Word Title or Subtitle: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. I had heard such good things about this one that I had to see for myself. McKeown espouses a philosophy/approach to productivity and life in general in which one must consistently choose what is most important, and focus all their efforts on that goal. This is accomplished often through “editing,” or adding-by-subtracting–removing things from our life that may be good but not best, or saying no to opportunities or options that would divert us from focusing on what matters most.  This all sounds very basic and obvious as I’m typing it–and it is, to some extent. But McKeown’s clarity of thought and description of process keep it fresh and engaging. The Christian reader should be aware that, at the end of the book, McKeown begins to espouse mindfulness as a tenet of this “essentialist” approach, which isn’t a Christian practice and is closely linked to Buddhist and Hindu belief. That said, there is a lot in this book that is practical and beneficial, so with those caveats, I would recommend it.

A Humorous Book: Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. I tried something different for this one: I listened to the audio book instead of reading the printed version. If you are familiar with Jim Gaffigan’s material (“Hot Pocket…”), you would expect that a book written and read by Gaffigan would be hilarious. And it was funny, but the style was more of a humorist than a stand-up act–think Garrison Keillor. (That is, if you like Keillor; if you don’t, that’s a terrible analogy. Forget I mentioned it.) Which is to say, fewer gut-busting guffaws from me, and more wry smiles and chuckles. Also, the book falls into the same problem areas that Gaffigan’s stand-up does: there is the rare crude joke/innuendo, and he treats spiritual things with irreverence, trying to mine them for humor (while besmirching God in the process). All in all, if you like Gaffigan’s material, you’d like this book. I find myself becoming less and less of a fan, though there are still certain bits from his routine that kill me.

A Biography: Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, by Larry Alexander. As the title no doubt indicates, this biography tells the life story of Dick Winters, the leader of Easy Company, the paratroopers made famous in the best-selling book by Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers, and the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries of the same name. While Ambrose tried to tell the stories of all the men involved, in brief vignettes, Alexander focuses specifically on Winters, telling the tale of his life before and after the war, in addition to a detailed look at his wartime experiences. I loved the Ambrose book and the HBO series, so this was a great opportunity to find out more about one of the key figures in this amazing true story. Winters, who passed away about 5 years ago, was a noble and honorable man, a man whose commitment and courage are worthy of consideration and emulation. I’m definitely glad to have read his story.

A Book Geared toward the Opposite Gender: Inheritance of Tears, by Jessalyn Hutto. It’s amazing to me how common miscarriage is and yet how little I’ve heard people talk about it. This short book from Cruciform Press is just over 100 pages long but is packed from cover to cover with comforting theological truth about the issues related to coping with miscarriage from a specifically Christian and Scripture-focused perspective. Hutto demonstrates through this short volume that good theology can be a source of great comfort and healing. While this book is specifically geared toward women who have suffered a miscarriage, I think their husbands, friends, and ministers can definitely benefit from the wisdom contained in its pages. If you or someone you know has experienced the grief of miscarriage, I commend this book to you as an encouragement and comfort. And I would strongly recommend that anyone in pastoral and women’s ministry should pick up at least a few copies of this book to give away to couples in need. It will be a benefit to any couple in your care who has to walk through the dark valley of miscarriage.

A Book with A Great Cover: Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. Postman’s famous jeremiad about the destruction of the American intellect, the death of print culture, and ascendancy of the screen culture was written thirty-one years ago, and like any book of the cultural moment, it is certainly dated in places. But Postman makes some incisive observations about the nature of television as a medium of communication, and draws some interesting conclusions from his observations. The tone of the book is eloquently misanthropic, as if Postman knew that his critique would fall upon deaf ears. Truth be told, the book is long on diagnosis and short on cure, but it raises some interesting questions that are worth your time to consider. Though he demonstrates fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the Christian faith, his critique of televised religion could be easily applied to the approach of seeker-sensitive megachurches trying to draw in an “audience.” Though Postman’s politics are clearly left-leaning, his critique of the televised political process is scathing enough to burn both ends of the bread, as it were (and happens to apply to several key elements of the 2016 election season). All in all, this was an interesting and frustrating book, but I’m glad I finally read it. And check out that creeptastic cover!

amusing-ourselves-to-death


So where does that put me in the overall reading tally?

I have completed 15 of the books on the list, in 17 weeks. So, I’m a little behind schedule at the moment.

The good news is that I’m about 20 pages away from finishing another book on the list, and I have made progress in about 3 others.

The bad news is that I start my next seminary class in 3 weeks. It lasts from late May to mid-July, and needless to say, my extra-curricular reading time will be drastically reduced during that stretch.

Do I think I’ll hit my goal of at least  50 out of the 52 books on the reading list? Probably not. However, I’ve also read a few graphic novels and a few other novels along the way, so I still might hit the 50-book mark overall.

Only one way to find out, gang–keep checking in each month here at the 4thDaveBlog!

 

Your Turn: Did you read anything cool in April? Are you working on any good books at the moment? Let us know in the comments below!