Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Concentration

I just silenced my cell phone and closed out of my browser's tabs.  I'm trying to concentrate all my focus on writing this sentence that you are reading.  And this one.  As I do so, I realize that my brain is not used to doing this.

Is this just part of growing older?  As a child I used to read or play for hours at a time with no difficulty. Even in college, I would practice piano in 50 minute chunks with short breaks in between.  

Or is my lack of focus a prevalent problem that is due, in part, to our use of technology?  James Hamblin made a video on this topic, in which he suggested disciplining himself to what he dubbed "tab-less Thursdays"; days on which to practice focus by only ever having one tab open at a time.

Some would argue that the deterioration in concentration due to technology has been going on longer that the advent of tabbed browsing or smart phones.  Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline written in 1978 (rev. 1998), claims:
We live in a culture that does not value concentration.  Distraction is the order of the day.  Many will, for example, go through all the activities of the day and evening with the radio on.  Some will read a book and watch TV at the same time. [...] We are lesser for this dissipation of our energies.
Now, 36 years later, I would turn his argument a little to say this: our culture does value concentration, precisely because it is so hard to come by.  At the very least, we value the results of concentration. Pause to think of people that you respect and admire.  How much of what they have done, of who they are, is the result of their ability to concentrate?

Focus is something we need to cultivate.  I'm glad multi-tasking seems to be going out of vogue.  Let's do more than lament our lack of concentration.  Today I challenge you to try retraining your brain's ability to focus.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Close your tabs.
  • Silence your phone when you're working, or face to face with other people.
  • Don't click on the articles with the loud titles that you don't really need to read.  Instead read something worthwhile, something that might take time to understand.
  • Close this article, and decide on what you want to do for the next two hours.
Does this resonate with you? What do you do when you want to concentrate, and is it easy or hard for you?  Share in the comments!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Scarborough Fair

Remember me to one who lives there.  The line from Scarborough Fair spins in my head these days, as I practice an arrangement of it in preparation for an upcoming concert.

Things have changed, haven't they?  "Say hello to so-and-so" is more of a formality than a necessity in these days of email and social media.  We might as well just say hello to them ourselves.  What does this mean for our relationships?  It is worth considering.

For once she was a true love of mine.  He sings in the past tense, speaking of a relationship that ended because of separation (probably distance), and which he proposes could continue (if she can perform some impossible task).  The strange story aside, there is a natural and logical thread here concerning relationships: they ebb and flow with distance.

While this is still partly true of our world today, I find myself feeling a bit guilty when I pass along greetings to someone I have lost touch with.  Why?  Because with technology at my fingertips, I feel that I could have done better.  It's true - partly.  Yet the other part is true as well: that we each have a certain relational capacity, that friendship and romance change with time and place, and that there is value to knowing the people you share a space with that goes beyond convenience.

How are we to navigate this?  What are our expectations when we meet someone, when we say goodbye?  Do I write an email to a friend today or do I sit down and have dinner with a neighbor?

I do value certain relationships enough to write those emails and letters.  Yet there are many wonderful relationships that stretch thin with distance, and I must let go in favor of being present where I am.

What are your thoughts?  How do you connect with exploding social networks on a finite-time basis?  Do you make decisions about which relationships to cultivate, or does it more often "just happen"?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

upward and downward glory; a lenten prayer

Lent this year has once again been enriched by reading Henri Nouwen's writings.  Here is an excerpt from the compilation Show me the Way.  It dovetails nicely with a study I have been doing with others on John's Gospel, and thus was particularly meaningful to me.  I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on it.  I hope it will be helpful to you as you prepare for Easter:

I have gradually become aware how central this word "glory" is in John's Gospel.  There is God's glory, the right glory that leads to life.  And there is human glory, the vain glory that leads to death.  All through his Gospel John shows how we are tempted to prefer vain glory over the glory that comes from God. [...]

Human glory, based on competition, leads to rivalry; rivalry carries within it the beginnings of violence; and violence is the way to death.[...]

John shows that God chose to reveal his glory to us in humiliation. [...]  Every time Jesus speaks about being glorified and giving glory, he always refers to his humiliation and death.  It is through the way of the cross that Jesus gives glory to God, receives glory from God, and makes God's glory known to us.  The glory of the resurrection can never be separated from the glory of the cross.  The risen Lord always shows us his wounds.

People seek glory by moving upward.  God reveals his glory by moving downward.

Prayer:
... How can I ever really celebrate Easter 
without observing Lent?
How can I rejoice fully in your resurrection 
when I have avoided participating in your death?
Yes, Lord, I have to die -
with you, through you, and in you -
and thus become ready to recognize you
when you appear to me in your resurrection.
There is so much in me that needs to die:
false attachments, greed and anger,
impatience and stinginess.
O Lord, I am self-centered,
concerned about myself, my career, my future,
my name and future, my name and fame. 
I see clearly how little I have died with you,
really gone your way and been faithful to it.
O Lord, make this Lenten season
different from the other ones.
Let me find you again.
Amen.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 in Books

Happy New Year! It's time for my annual post on books I read this past year. Thoughts, recommendations, cups of tea, etc welcome!
this is what moving looked like this summer

  • Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray.  This book was a close companion and teacher for me during most of my time at Trinity Forum Academy (TFA).  Highly recommended.