Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Goals! Devotional and Educational Reading for 2014, etc.

Last year, I read an article that mentioned a book by self-help guru Brian Tracy called Goals(also available in Kindle format).  I was intrigued enough to buy the e-copy and give it a read.

We Lutherans tend to be smugly skeptical of self-help books, programs, and speakers, because there is so much of this kind of stuff "playing church" out there - supposedly Christian books teaching you how Jesus can help you to have a whiter smile, better breath, bigger hair, a faster private jet, health, wealth, and fame in just seven easy steps - that I think we have a healthy (or sometimes not so healthy) cynicism toward any hint that we can improve ourselves.  We certainly don't want to be accused of denying original sin or not placing the Doctrine of Justification at the front and center, so we typically don't even try to improve ourselves (an endeavor with which the sinful flesh is ever eager to assist).

In fact, the Rev. William Weedon may be on the trajectory to canonization for taking slings and arrows from many of his Lutheran brethren who see his enthusiasm for being healthy and fit to be scandalously un-Lutheran, bordering on the worship of Baal or siding with the French in the Franco-Prussian war.

Well, that's the caricature, anyway.

In spite of my Lutheran scruples, I found the Tracy book (as well as another book of his called No Excuses!) to be intriguing.  The gist of the Goals! book can be found here.

Our own auto-educational program here at Chez Hollywood has included the One Year Bible for several years now, and it is the foundation of our home study and family devotions (along with the LSB family prayer cards from CPH).  We typically add another reading of some sort, before or after COSEMP (the Caffeinated Order of Scrambled Eggs and Morning Prayer) - and the nature of the lection has been wide and varied over the years, e.g. spiritual authors such as Augustine, Chesterton, Pascal, and Lewis, etc. along with the pursuit of academic interests, such as the Free Market newsletter and political, philosophical, and economic thinkers by way of articles, essays, and various other books and podcasts.

For this year's devotional readings, we decided to take up the bibliography given by the Rev. Dr. Joel D. Biermann of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis as part of his course called "Woman and Man According to God's Plan" (we attended an abbreviated version of the lecture series last year in Pensacola).  We also listened to the entire lecture series on a subsequent road trip (available free of charge at iTunes University as video and audio).

Disclaimer: I heartily endorse Dr. Biermann's treatment of the vocation of male and female according to the order of creation, but I completely disagree with his views of government.

Anyway, given that the issue of the roles of the sexes is "the" issue in society, in the Church at large, and even the source of great disagreement within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (which I would refer to as the GMWO issue: gay 'marriage' - women's 'ordination'), we have decided to systematically read through all of the texts referenced in Dr. Biermann's lectures - some of which are theological, some secular.

Here is the list (dates refer to publication):

Since it was available electronically, we started with Eggerichs's Love and Respect right off the bat.  The author is a Ph.D. and an ordained Protestant minister who spent many years serving as a pastor.  We both found his book remarkably illuminating - even as we celebrate our 20th anniversary next month.  We would love to have had this book when we were first married.  Today's feminist culture virtually assures that men and women go into marriage brainwashed that there are no fundamental differences between the sexes other than the obvious plumbing, and to the really radical, perhaps admitting some very slight difference in upper body strength (although TV shows and movies have largely taught us that women and men are even identical in regards to physical strength, Girl Power and all that).

We highly recommend Dr. Eggerich's book for married people, engaged couples, and anyone who might want to be married.  I recommend the book also to pastors.  It is a scriptural treatment of how husbands and wives can better communicate with one another, and avoid the communication breakdown the author calls "the crazy cycle."  It is a very practical work, fun to read, based on both scripture and years of seminars given by the author and his wife.

We have bought Grudem, Rhodes, and Sax in non-digital form, and they are patiently waiting their turns.  We will buy the others as the time gets closer, though the Fritz book is out of print and may prove more of a challenge.  We are working through Dr. Sax's book (Why Gender Matters) now.  The author is both an M.D. and a Ph.D.  His book is culturally iconoclastic, arguing from a purely clinical and biological secular perspective that the sexes are wired differently.  He cites a lot of research and presents it in an engaging way.  It is funny, though, how often he tries to weasel out of the obvious conclusions to be drawn.  We're just shy of being a quarter of the way through the book, and find it fascinating.  The egalitarian and feminist foundations of our entire culture - which is driving the current debate about marriage, sex vs. "gender," the role of women in the church, women in combat, etc. - are really laid bare for the fraud that they are.

Another project - which actually takes about five minutes a day - which Grace and I are pursuing separately, is the reading of St. Augustine's epic The City of God over the course of this year.  We joined a facebook group dedicated to that goal and have joined up with more than a thousand people on the moderator's reading schedule.  I am also taking a more disciplined approach to reading literature that I should have read in school, but didn't.  I began reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment while in Russia two years ago, but got busy and stopped reading.  I restarted, made an overall goal and reading plan, and am now more than halfway done with the book.  This is especially good reading at bedtime (I'm reading this one without the electronic screen, as it seems that e-reading interferes with the production of melatonin which helps the body sleep).  The chapters are not long, and as long as I don't "stall" again, I should be able to complete it within a few weeks with just a short bit of reading each day.  We're also finishing up a delightful book about books, given to us as a Christmas gift by a friend: Howard's End is On the Landing by Susan Hill.  It makes for good reading in the car while running errands.  We'll have that one done in a few days.

Along the suggestions of Brian Tracy's Goals! book, I am tracking our reading and various projects using a planning Moleskine.  So far, I like the way this keeps us focused.  I'm using this same Moley to work on other projects that I have let slip because of not writing things down.

For example, I am working on the Pimsleur Russian course, which is an outstanding audio based series.  I own all 90 half-hour lessons broken down into three courses.  I have never gotten past about lesson 17 or so.  I am going to see if Tracy's premise that writing things down is the key to getting things done really works.  So far, it is helping!  I started back at the beginning with Unit 1 and and trying to get through 5 units or so a week (more if I am able).  I'm currently on Unit 10.  And since this course is audio, I listen while walking (which I am doing now), jogging (which will be a transition), and running (which I'm looking forward to doing regularly again, once more using the journal to keep myself in line).  I am also figuring out how to work in some more ambitious fitness goals, but at age 49, running a marathon by just showing up the morning of the race isn't an option the way it was when I was in my 20s (though even then that wasn't my brightest, shining moment, not that I regret doing it, for like most crazy things we do in life, I got a story out of the deal).  So I'm taking it a little slower these days.  We also eat paleo, though we need to tighten up after loosening the reins a bit during the holidays.

Another goal I've set for myself this year is to work on my Latin in a more disciplined way.  I have never completed the entire book Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Pars I Familia Romana by Hans Oerberg (which is the natural method Latin course I taught to Junior High students for many years).  I want to not only complete all 35 chapters (I restarted with Chapter 1, and am currently on Chapter 9), but also want to read the sequel, Roma Aeterna.  Once those are done, I might like to tackle the two volumes of ecclesiastical Latin in Latin Grammar and Second Latin by Cora and Charles Scanlon.  Of course, elephants are eaten one bite at a time.

FH readers will note that I have not been keeping up with posting my sermons nor have I done much blogging.  I hope to be more diligent on both counts.

I also have other projects that need to be done bit by bit, and I am journalling those as well.  I adopted this Circle System for project management, and here is how it works, as explained below by Sara Caputo at Radiant Organizing (note: some of the links are dead):

The Circle System is another that was developed out of pure need and logic by another gentleman from Amsterdam.  Simply put, it’s a blending of his own to-do list with a series of circles that he devised and gave meaning to — here’s a picture of what it looks like:
Cool, huh?
Here’s the jist from his site:
Ok, this was about the bones and now it’s the meat. The Cir­cle.
We now have projects with its actions, all with cir­cles in front. And we surely have indi­vid­ual actions that are not part of any project, like Pay this bill and so on. Put every­thing in, every action you need to exe­cute at home or work. Don’t try to remem­ber every­thing — except one thing: The note­book remem­bers.
As things progress I add few things to the cir­cles. Here a list that explains in words and the pic­tures should be help­ful guides too.
  • Cir­cle : Project or an action
  • Stroke, a diag­o­nal line across the cir­cle : Work has started
  • Filled lower part of the cir­cle : Work is half done (or wait­ing for some other step)
  • Filled cir­cle : Work on the project or action is fin­ished or off my hand (delegated)
  • Cross over the cir­cle, sec­ond stroke : Can­celled
This makes up the basic Cir­cle sys­tem and is a great starter. I also use a few extras for empha­sis In addi­tion to this you could also use:
  • Num­bers to note in which order I need to execute
  • Excla­ma­tion mark in front of the cir­cle for an impor­tant action
  • Arrow or > after any cir­cle tells that a project or an action has been del­e­gated or moved to my GTD appli­ca­tion. Don’t for­get to fill the cir­cle at the same time. And also write down who is con­tin­u­ing the work if that is impor­tant. It usu­ally is.
  • Dot in the mid­dle of the cir­cle is a sub­tle atten­tion mark.
I like them both because they were created around NEED and the system was devised around the individual’s workflow. Very often, task management systems that we try to plug into that others have created don’t work well because it is not a system that follows our individual needs.  When we devise our own system, as the gentlemen above have done, we are better able to follow it and have it be sustainable.  Just my own 2 cents.  More to come next Tuesday as we review 2 more systems…. have a great week of getting stuff done!

I don't carry my planning book around with me, but I do keep a personal notebook on me at all times.  In it, I have made my own calendars for several months, a to-do list for day-to-day tasks using the Circle System, a section for quick incidental notes, and I use the rest of the notebook for taking notes for all other meetings or other situations requiring note-taking.  At the first of the year, I completed my pocket Moleskine that I used for July through December 2013, and am now trying a notebook that I hope will be more robust: a German-made Leuchtturm 1917 pocket ruled notebook.  So far, I'm quite impressed with it.  I used my Leuchty to take notes at the 2014 Mises Circle in Houston, where we heard lectures by Jeff Deist, Tom Woods, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul (note: Dr. Woods's lecture is linked, the rest are on the way!).  The Leuchtturm is slightly larger than the Moleskine, and has very nice cream-colored high quality pages that are pre-numbered!  I'm hoping that it is more robust than its Chinese-made Italian cousin.

In terms of economics self-education and personal development, we attend the unique and delightful  Dr. Walter Block's Human Action seminars held at Loyola University twice per month (which restared this month after a long Christmas break).  In that ongoing seminar, we are reading, discussing, and debating Murray N. Rothbard's Economic Controversies (available as a free download here).  These seminars and the discussions that come afterwards really keep the brain running in overdrive!  

While at the Mises Circle, we picked up the following which we also look forward to working into the reading program:
Since we were on a road trip, we started reading together aloud Dr. Paul's The School Revolution.  We're more than halfway through, and it is an insightful read!  

I know someone is going to respond: "You have too much time on your hands."  (I used to get that a lot when I was more prolific at writing and when I used to post funny broadsides at seminary). Actually, we all have the same amount of time. Well, here is what Grace and I have found helps us to get things accomplished.  These work for us, and I'm sure other people have great techniques as well for reclaiming time:
  1. Get up early (last year, we set the alarm for 4:45 but got out of the habit later in the year when we were swamped with work that caused us to stay up too late - but are working our way back). 
  2. Don't watch TV.  Aside from an occasional Netflix movie, we don't watch anything on the television: we don't have cable, we don't watch network broadcasting, no football, no news - no nothing. 
  3. Eat at home.  We used to go to restaurants a lot, but now eat almost exclusively at home.  Not only does this save a ton of money, it buys us loads of time not spent getting ready, waiting for a table, dining, waiting for the check, and driving back.  During food preparation at home, we have additional time to read aloud to one another.
  4. Turn the car into a 4-wheeled university.  Road trips are perfect for podcasts or long stretches of reading.  Running local errands is great for reading a chapter here and there aloud to one another.
  5. Take Advantage of supermarket lines with a book, e-reader, or books on the iPhone.  Instead of complaining about the long line, turn it into a class, an opportunity to learn!
There is actually a lot of time for reading, studying, thinking, and writing - if it is a priority.   In spite of the time it takes to be a parish pastor and high school teacher; in spite of the time it takes to homeschool a third-grader, run a home, and serve the church as a volunteer - there is time to continue to learn and grow if we make the time and have the self-discipline to stick with it.

I hope Brian Tracy is right.


Paul said...

Pastor, which views of Biermann on government are you not endorsing; those interjected in these videos, his view on individualism and community developed more elsewhere, or both?

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Paul,

specifically I'm referring to his views on government articulated in his presentation "Woman and Man" on iTunes.

He sees government's role as "legislating morality" not merely to protect against aggression and defend our liberties, but in every matter of morality. He says that he has no problem, for example, with the state enforcing laws concerning church attendance. I believe this is a gross confusion of the two kingdoms doctrine, as it accepts the notion that belief can be compelled at the point of a gun. It is the philosophy of the stake, a means that Luther and the early Lutherans rejected as an evangelism methodology.

Government is force, and if every matter of morality is to be enforced by the state, what do we Christians (assuming we are in control of the state) do with Jews who refuse to worship Jesus? Should we put them in camps with barbed wire until they repent? And if they continue to resist? Should we execute them? Should we bulldoze non-Lutheran churches in the name of the state? Should we have a special fine and imprisonment schedule for Baptists, Roman Catholics, Wiccans, Jehovah's Witnesses, and members of the ELCA? And again, if they refuse to comply, do we rip apart families and fill the jails with people for the sake of their "own good"?

Biermann's views on government, or at least taken to its logical conclusion, are known by the names "statism" and "fascism" - and such a view actually violates the first commandment by setting up a rival god, a totalitarian omnipotent force that even compels opinions.

By contrast, the founders of the United States established a minarchist republic that acted only to defend the liberties of the people - hence the first amendment and the eventual demise of state churches within the US (they did persist within various states for a few decades after the constitution was adopted).

I hold the opposite view of Biermann on government, that of the non-aggression principle. Getting people to attend Divine Service in an orthodox church is not the state's role. It is the church's job to persuade people into faith by means of the Word, not to compel them into a false confession by means of the sword.

That kind of church-state syncretism is more along the lines of radical Islam and the inquisition. We should leave "theocracy" to the practitioners of Sharia and instead draw people into the faith by means of the preached Word and voluntary submission to it.

Paul said...

Thank you for the reply Pastor. I agree that his claims about government coercion were troubling. He didn't seem to have a great response either when the questions were raised.

Paul said...

Thanks for the reply Pastor. His comments on government coercion tainted the rest of the videos for me. I'm going to watch a couple again and try to glean the good stuff.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Honestly, aside from those unrelated comments about our lord and master the state, Dr. Biermann's presentation on the sexes was stellar. Give it a shot!