Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Media Fast: Part II

So, here's the thing about this media fast: it's not so much that I cut out the distractors as it is what I do with all that extra time. While I'm using my time more intentionally, the idea of a fast is to gain perspective, to turn to more eternal things, to spend time with God. And to be honest, I can't say that I've spent that extra time pursuing the eternal.

I've gotten a lot more grading done, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things. I've cooked every night this week, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things. I've exercised every day, which makes me feel accomplished and on top of things.

But fasting is not about feeling accomplished and on top of things. It's been a nice perk & I've certainly reaped the restful benefits of a simpler schedule, but feeling like my ducks are in a row is not the point. Not at all, really.

So, my challenge to myself for the second half of our media-free week is to spend the excess time on more life-giving endeavors. Now, yes, I'll still have papers to grade, but I don't want extra free time to translate into me becoming a workaholic.

I want to see God, and to see Him I have to seek him, and to seek Him I have to make time for him, to create space, and to use that space for study, reflection, writing, being outdoors, reading, prayer, creating, being in community with others--anything that points me to Him and is life-giving rather than life-sucking. Rather than seeing my extra time as an opportunity to pare down my to-do list (oh, how I love my control!), I want to see it as time to slow down long enough to gaze at God--however that may look.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Media fast

Do you ever feel like life is whirring by you so fast that you can't really grasp onto anything, can't take in anything? It's been a little like that over here lately.

And in the middle of the whir, I find myself living for my down time, for 8:00 or whenever it is that I am home and finished with all my obligations and lists for the day. And I find myself spending that down time in the most brainless ways possible because, let's be honest: it's the end of the day and I'm tired and I need to be distracted from life for a little while. So, I watch an hour of TV or check websites. And it hits me: these are the things I'm living and longing for? These are what I live my hours looking forward to?

So, on the heels of a challenging conversation with our small group last night and some quality discussion together, Phil & I have decided to take a week-long media fast. For us, that means no TV, no Facebook, no reading blogs, no online TV watching, and minimizing how often we check our email. Basically, we're cutting out the "distracting" parts of media and trying to spend that time more intentionally.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with enjoying TV shows & using the Internet, but they've become what I live for & what I look forward to & they've been keeping me from more worthwhile ways of spending my time, so for me at this time, they're causing more harm than good.

We don't  watch that much TV anyway, but when we get to the end of the week and think, "I didn't have time to ________ (insert something that takes 30 minutes or less)" and then realize that we've spent at least that long watching a show or checking websites, we can see how the minutes of media here and there add up to hours and keep us from doing what is more important.

Like blogging.

I've put off so many blog posts because I don't want to do the work of writing. I don't want to be disciplined and creative and have to think at the end of the day; I'd much rather veg in front of the TV and let my mind wander. So, here I am on a Tuesday afternoon with TIME to write and I'm doing it because I've eliminated the distractions that normally keep me from it.

And it feels good--in an eat-more-vegetables kind of way. It feels healthy and new and difficult and refreshing all at the same time, and I have to say that I'm enjoying the simplicity of being unplugged. I'm looking forward to catching up on cleaning, reading, recipe-finding, relationships, letter-writing, and lots of little loose ends I've been avoiding because I "don't have time." I'm looking forward to slowing down and paring down and giving my mind and heart S P A C E to see--really see--life deeply.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Latest Reads

I'm always in the middle of multiple books at once to satisfy whatever mood I'm in, and in the last couple of months, I've finished two of them and recommend them with mixed reviews.

Upon the recommendation of several friends, I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which turned out to be unlike any other book I've read. It was a Biblical fiction piece, taking the story of Dinah, Jacob's only recorded daughter, and imagining what her life would have been like during Bible times. The novel focuses on women and the cycle of life and death both through the monthly cycle (hence, the title) and the life cycle itself.

I'll start with the positive: my favorite part of the book is the way the author made me think about the reality of the culture during that time. Diamant is either Jewish or has significant knowledge about Judaism because, for example, she would write about meals that were prepared and refer to foods and ways of cooking that we know nothing about today. It's easy to read the Bible and overlook the more minor characters like Dinah, so placing her in a culture and making her the hero brought to life a time in history that I wouldn't have understood as well otherwise. I also thought the theme of life--bringing life into the world, longing for it, and going through the cycle of it--and of female friendships were poignant and touching--especially to a female reader.

While I genuinely enjoyed the book, I also can't say that I'd read it again. For one, the idea of Biblical fiction is a hard one for me. The author makes it clear that she's not trying to rewrite history, but I had a hard time separating what I knew to be true from the Bible with the story she wove throughout the book. On that note, the book, while such a beautiful statement on women's relationships, had quite a feminist bent. Only a handful of men (if that) had any integrity, which rubbed me the wrong way since so many of those men (Dinah's father and brothers), while glaringly imperfect, were also cornerstones of the Christian faith. In an effort to highlight women, who are often overlooked in the Bible, Diamant swings to the other extreme and completely annihilates men's positive characteristics.

After reading that bit of fiction, I was ready for some nonfiction, so I picked up a book my mother-in-law recommended called The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. It tells the story of Moehringer, who grew up without a father and who was essentially raised by a group of men at the local bar. The book is well written (Moehringer has experience writing for the New York Times and has been a reporter for various newspapers) and uses intentional memoir tactics like showing instead of telling, ending chapters with punchy sentences, and inviting the reader into the story, making his writing lively and powerful. The bar becomes a family for him, a refuge, and yes, he would say, even a sanctuary--a holy place where he is accepted, celebrated, and understood.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the read (although beware of some language if you choose to pick it up). However, I did find the undercurrent of alcoholism sad. He never comes out and says "I was an alcoholic," but he doesn't have to; he lives at the bar night after night, describes the absent state of his mind, the hung-over-trying-to-work experiences the next day and we don't have to wonder. But I do feel sorry for him. Sorry that his life was so difficult. Sorry that he became so dependent on alcohol. Sorry that his father was absent. Sorry that he had to be raised in a bar. I imagine Moehringer wouldn't want me feeling sorry for him for all (or any) of those things. He would say his time in the bar was his growing up, his education on manhood. I just wish he could have gotten his education another way. That being said, I absolutely recommend this book if you like nonfiction. The story is easy to read, well written, and compelling.

On my bedside table:

  • The Help by Katheryn Stockett
  • Baby Wise by Ezzo & Bucknam
  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp