I’m trying to get my footing. I’m not exactly sure how I need go forward at this point. Some days it feels like I’m trying to walk across a frozen lake. If you have been reading any of my blogs so far you know that I have started a project. I am attempting to fulfill a commission from the Lord to write a book. If you are like me the first question on your mind is “What is the book about?” Good question. I’d like an answer to that question too. I have the beginnings of something that seems to appear as one thing and as I progress it morphs into something else. Having said that, the answer to the question is, I don’t know. Or rather, I don’t fully know. How’s that for grabbing your attention. So this post is about what I don’t know rather than what I do know. I know there’s a road here somewhere but it isn’t clearly defined yet.
When I was a young Christian and new to the church world I had a great pastor. In his previous profession as a teacher he taught second graders. He used his a similar approach with his congregation. We were all over the place spiritually speaking. Some of us had spiritual gifts but didn’t really know how to use them. Some were new believers who didn’t have much grounding in the Word. Others had been walking with God for a long time, knew the word. And still others more concerned with the goings on of the church than their relationship with God. And a multitude of others each with their own particular bent and interest. I tend to see pastoring right up there with herding cats. The church system demands things from pastors that prevents them from pastoring. But that’s a message for another day. Today I’m thinking about my old pastor and his approach to his second graders.
He shared with us one Sunday morning that he used to get a lot of flack over how he approached his classroom. It was unconventional and all the other teachers didn’t see how he would ever get through the curriculum. He spent the first few months of school working out the kinks and not on the curriculum. He focused on working out issues with behavior and cooperation and how everyone got along. During that time he discovered which students had special needs and was able to get them whatever additional help they needed. This approached actually got obstacles to learning out of the way. He did this until the classroom was functioning with fairly little disruption from within the ranks. He addressed issues by finding out why someone was having a hard time sitting still, or unable to follow directions. That might seem silly and irrelevant thirty some years later but this last week I was reminded of his message and the impact it had on my life.
After getting all the disruptive and unproductive behavior out of the way they could focus on the actual work. Once they made the shift they were able to progress with relatively few problems. He found that seven to eight year old children could sit still, pay attention and actually enjoy being engaged with the work. He found that the children actually thrived and performed better. These children also discovered that they had a teacher that invested in their success. Pastor Dennis was all about building relationship. And that’s what he did with his second graders. He spent the first part of the year getting to know them. And they had a chance to get to know him. Once everybody got to know each other they were better equipped for going forward together. So it wasn’t as much about behavior as it was about relationship.
So what does a thirty-five year old sermon have to do my project? Nothing and everything. Dennis was probably the first religious leader in my life who stepped away from the pulpit and mingle with the underlings. At the time I read the word voraciously. But I didn’t know how to study the word. I prayed and asked God for help. Dennis’ Sunday morning lesson was the answer to my prayers. He gave a how to study bible course before service which lasted only a couple of weeks as I recall. I went. And I took notes. I went home and did what Dennis taught in that class. Over the years I saved my pennies so I could invest in a concordance and other resource material. He gave practical advice upon which my entire study life has been based. He taught us to have a good solid translation of the scriptures, a concordance, a bible dictionary and reputable commentaries. Above all, he advocated for always beginning study time with prayer. He said we should never approach the scriptures without first praying that God will meet with us through His word. I have lived with that in mind ever since. Study of God’s word should always come out of relationship with God, not merely academic endeavor.
Dennis’ words about his second grade class haven’t left my mind. I have taken on a massive project that in many ways is beyond my ability. My wall is filled with sticky notes and desk is covered with an assortment of bibles, reference material, library books, not to mention the audio books and ebooks. These inanimate objects have taken on a life of their own and have taken to yelling and scream out their demands; none of which I can possibly address. How am I going to get this book written if I can’t answer the questions these resources are demanding from me? That’s where Dennis’ second grade class comes in. I stopped to reassess. I’ve made some quality decisions. Some things had to go because they were just clogging up the process. Other things had to get in step with the project. So, while I haven’t gotten a ton of work done on the book itself I have gotten my work space and my approach more organized. Rather than a bunch of wildly demanding imperatives I have resources working in harmony. Phew!
I am relational. Everything I do comes out of relationship. I have a relationship with Christ. Everything, including this project comes out of that relationship. So I decided I had to look at each screaming child jumping up and down on my desk and find out what was needed to get that child in order. I stacked everything up on my desk and sorted through the plethora of material. I narrowed things down. Before I can even begin to look at my subject, content and how I am going to achieve the end from the beginning I had to find a starting point. And the starting point is the framework. The whiteboard above is indispensable. I am determined to NOT MULTITASK.
Instead of ten books on my desk there are two. And I’m really only focusing on one right now. The manual for writers is the basis for how to write a dissertation. Since that is the framework and I don’t know how to implement the framework I have to start with learning the framework.
So just like Dennis’ second grade class I have to train myself. I have to take myself in hand and learn what my obstacles are to learning. What emotional needs do I have and how do I address them? What are my physical needs? What is a reasonable expectation? What can I actually accomplish without hurling my mind off a cliff? What do I need to do in order to stay focused? Getting my environment in order has been a bigger task than I first imagined. Now that it is orderly I have a better chance at getting this project accomplished.
I have created a schedule for myself. It’s not the kind of schedule you might see on a professional’s desk. Mine is suited for me. I start my day with time spent with God. I don’t deviate from that. I won’t compromise on my personal time with God. After all that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? So, intimacy is a number one priority. Writing is also a priority. I took on this blog for the purpose of practice. I had to learn how to set up a blog. That took me a couple of weeks. It’s simple but it works for my purpose for now. I’m not going to grow it. I’m not going to promote it. I’m just going to write. As I write I am developing the habit of writing. And probably more importantly I am writing with an audience in mind. I’ve been journaling for as long as I can remember but that isn’t for public consumption. Writing this blog forces me to think. It forces me to communicate in a way that makes sense outside of my own head. It also forces me to review my progress. I think I’m doing okay. I am getting organized. I have come up with a lot of questions. I am seeking to discover the answer to those questions. I have made it through the first couple of chapters of Turabian’s Manual. So far, so good. It turns out I’m supposed to have questions. Having questions is a good thing. Actually the question is the thing. According to Turabian in order to define your project you have to find a question in your topic.
I have a number of questions. I have to go over the questions and see which question answers the other questions such as, why is this important? What is so special about this subject? Why does this matter? How will knowing the answer impact how the subject is taught? How will answering the question impact others? What is missing from all the other references on the subject? But basically the big question is WHO CARES?
It’s quite gratifying to just be able to ask the questions. I don’t care if I get answers to all my questions. But I am moving forward just by asking questions. So while it may feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace at least I’m moving. I am encouraged that while I might not be as Smart as a Fifth Grader, I can at least be as organized as a Second Grader. Once the structure and order get in place the process will streamline and my path will be straight ahead.
When the debris is removed from the path it will be clear sailing. For now, it’s all about the structure. And today, that’s okay. Have a good one, and I’ll try to touch base again later in the week.