is this a bullet journal?

I mean, yes, I guess so.

So a few years ago, there was this great big hullabaloo about bullet journaling. Mindfulness! Productivity! Organization! Analog thinking in a digital age! Here’s a link to the website.

I loved the idea. I love a lot of ideas–it’s honestly a problem for me, if I’m not careful. But I liked the foundational principle, because I like making lists, and I like checking things off lists. I’d tried methods before, and I had these grand designs for hand-written journals, and deep, perfectly symmetrical notebooks–are you a notebook person? Someone who can’t help but buy those little books at the front of bookstores, and fill them with (ultimately) your best intentions? I’ve gotten better with that; I don’t buy any except the annual bullet journal anymore.

I don’t want you to hear “bullet journal” and think of this:

There’s nothing wrong with the above, if that’s your thing. I have noticed, digging through pages upon pages of “interesting page ideas,” that there’s got to be a lot of pre-formatting that happens with these posts, right? I make mistakes all the time, and it took a long time to just cross out the mistake and keep going; to miss a day or week and pick it back up. I can appreciate the stuff above, but it’s very… manufactured.

I don’t do it in color. I don’t draw. I have pretty straight forward pages. I’m happy with it.

I have monthly pages. This is my monthly tracker–and yeah, I know, I didn’t exercise a lot in the top of the year.

This is what my weekly tracker looks like–I have some tasks every day, I try to mindfully reflect at the end of the day on what was accomplished (left hand margin); I keep notes and little bits of information on the right hand margin, and goals at the bottom right. The goals line up to the Seven Points.

I recommend bullet journaling–it’s simple, it has helped me keep things in line, and I suppose I’m more mindful. I recommend you practice grace with yourself. If you want to do the ornate, full-color, taped up pages, go for it–but I’ve found more success with a pen, going one day at a time.

…upon further reflection–I am really not trashing people who do the very planned, meticulous pages. I do not personally find value in it. But if that is the means and modes of self-expression for you, go for it. I don’t care, so long as it does cause or perpetuate harm, really.

the spiritual practice of study

On my best days, I get up just before five in the morning. I say morning prayers. I pour a cup of coffee. And I spend about thirty minutes studying scripture. In 2020, it was First Corinthians. This year, it’s Second Corinthians.

Believe it or not, I’m not sharing this information so I can seem like Such A Better Person Than You.

A few years ago, my friend Casey asked what part of the Bible I was studying. “Oh,” I said. “I’m doing this series on Galatians in the spring, I think, so I’ve been really getting through commentaries,” and she cut me off. “For yourself,” she said. “What are you studying for your own spirit, for your own development?”

So yes, this is kind of a pastor-specific post, but bear with me here–in all the hubbub of planning studies and prepping sermons, I’d lost track of the spiritual practice I enjoy the most–Bible study.

I formalized it in 2020–I want to be clear: I did personal Bible study prior to last year. Last year, however, I made a ridiculous goal and actually succeeded: Go through First Corinthians with three commentaries. The ones I chose were J. Paul Sempley’s from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Richard Hays’ from the Interpretation Commentary series, and Gordon Fee’s massive tome from the New International Commentary on the New Testament. I went pericope (chunk of text) by pericope (chunk of text), usually early in the morning, with a few Saturday marathons.

That’s the First Corinthians binder.

I like yellow notepads so I took notes on those. I could have done front and back, but I didn’t–so please, hold off on telling me how impressed you are at my copious note-taking. (Though, I did average about ten pages of handwritten notes per pericope–I wanted to be thorough. Did you know there are studies that show taking notes by hand helps memory retention?)

It’s more about this: I set a goal and stuck to it. I’m a big thinker; I live in my head and the future, and I sometimes struggle with the idea of completing something and the work it takes to do so. (The idea is just as good, I believe at the onset, as actually completing it.) It’s nice to have thoroughly studied a foundational text of Christianity. I bought two more commentaries to work through as I type up my notes, after I finish 2 Corinthians. In the picture below, you can see the few notes I have–the yellow pages on top of the shelf.

Yes, there are DND supplies on the bottom shelf. No, you can’t borrow them.

If you are looking for a spiritual practice and you’re not so big on silence or stillness, I recommend the deep study of scripture. Grab a couple commentaries–they’re surprisingly cheap at used bookstores, go figure; bookshop.org has a few new ones, surely. Find some time, open some scripture, say a prayer, and start taking notes. I’ll even write out some steps, right here:

  1. Pick a book that’s not super long, and not remarkably complex. Don’t start with Jeremiah or Ezekiel, is what I’m saying. If your goal is to get through an entire book, choose something doable–a minor prophet, an epistle. Do you prefer narrative, or are you all right with theology?
  2. Get a couple of commentaries–at least one academic. Historical, literary, ideological, and all those other contexts matter, as do the original languages. It’s fine if you want to use “Laity Dave’s Quick Jaunt through Philippians,” it really is–but learn something. Also feel free to skip the paragraphs in which syntax is parsed and parsed and parsed.
  3. Print out the scripture double-spaced. You’ll want to take notes on some word choices and orders–translations into English are, by definition, imprecise because they’re not in Greek. What does it mean for “power” to be exousia rather than dynamis? You may think nothing right now–but you’re mistaken! Make notes on the printed out scripture, keep it with your notes.
  4. Set aside actual time to do it. Twenty minutes, once you get into the groove and become familiar with the commentators, is a productive amount of time. I can never do more than forty in a sitting. My brain has enough, and that’s okay.
  5. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Because this is feeding your Spirit and deepening your faith. Why wouldn’t you want the presence of the Divine invoked and blessed for it?
  6. Make good mistakes, don’t get caught up in form. In the picture below, you’ll see I have a picture of my notes from Hays Chapter 11:17-34, which was broken up in the commentaries as vv. 17-22, 23-26 and 29-34. Because of how I formatted the printouts, I put the third page of the notes, and only the third page of the notes, in the new section with the printed out scripture. If you’re thinking, “This has no bearing on anything I care about, Arthur,” you’re absolutely right! That right there is the point: these are your notes. Throw them away when you’re done, if you want. But again, why would you do that?

And, as with exercising, as with journaling, as with anything that matters in the work of transformation–if you miss a day, or a couple days, or a week, or two weeks: just come back to it. Turn the page and start up again. Because if it–whatever it is–is about doing something flawlessly and effortlessly the first time, you probably should not be reading this blog nor doing anything suggested herein.

Are you going to study scripture this year? What are you thinking about? Need recommendations? Want to tell me why I’m wrong about everything? Leave me a comment, drop me a line!

the first dozen books of 2021

Yes, I started the 2021 list on December 12, 2020. I’m okay with that.

I should note that four of these first dozen titles are required reading for a Doctor of Ministry class I begin in a few days; there will be one more particular to this category added to the list shortly. I have waffled between including these books and omitting them–but why not include them, particularly when they’re interesting and challenging.

I try to find balance in what I read, and doctoral work will throw this out of balance now and in June, one assumes. However–four works of fiction (The Idiot, The Awakening, Great Expectations and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and four works for ministry (Sustainable Youth Ministry, Sustainable Children’s Ministry, Just Faith and Nonviolent Communication) balance each other out. I’ll refrain from brief reviews of Reality, Grief, Hope; You Are My People; Challenging Prophetic Metaphor and The Prophets at this time.

  1. The Idiot: I started this book way back in October, and stalled on it hard, relegating it to the nightstand where I’d hit a few pages before joyfully going to sleep. It got much, much better once the characters were firmly established, and once the nicknames became more obvious.
  2. Sustainable Youth Ministry: I bought this book when it came out in 2008. I am not sure I’ve ever read it entirely. I recommended it, and continue to do so, wholeheartedly. I wonder what the state of youth ministry is now, twelve years later, and almost a year after COVID-19.
  3. Sustainable Children’s Ministry: This is the book with actual steps and appendices full of checklists and calendars, which makes sense in the big difference between youth and children’s ministry. The former is more philosophical, the latter is more provocative. I read this book in crisis a few years ago; a more intentional reading was enjoyable.
  4. The Awakening: I read this as a way to get red ink off my intellectual ledger; I remember clearly hating this book in my senior English class in high school. I did not trust this era’s fiction after The Yellow Wallpaper and I remembered nothing from this book, which explains why I got a C on a paper I turned in after mining the book for quotes the day it was due. A longer review may be forthcoming, because the controversy of the story–a young mother and wife realizes she is living a life she does not want, so she exits–is enticing, and it really draws one in with elegant prose and evocative characters. So I’m sorry, Mr. Hopkins, it turns out it is a good book.
  5. Great Expectations: It’s been a long while since I’ve read any Dickens. I still like him, but I like him less. I can’t shake the trivia that he was sometimes paid by the word. Pip continues to live into the better life without great expectations. And I will admit, I did laugh out loud at parts.
  6. Just Faith: Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons has put together a perfect primer for the progressive wing of the Church, and makes bold claims that I cannot argue with–the progressive church should not define itself on evangelicals’ terms (with evangelical terms); there is no such thing as a movement that includes everyone. My friend Spiff and I got to talk to Guthrie on our talk show and podcast, Two on One–if you don’t mind major The Mandalorian spoilers, check it out!
  7. Non-Violent Communication: everyone should read this book. I’m talking to the Elders board at the church about this at our next meeting; it is amazing and game-changing.
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: This is good. This deserves every bit of reputation it has. It is manic and meticulous, rhythmic and metered. What do we owe our people–ancestors, legacy, family, progeny–and how do we move through this world? I probably annoyed B. by reading out-of-context, beautiful lines of prose from this novel. I was sad to finish it!

Next up on the docket, at least, what I got from the library and what’s in my queue: Les Miserables, The Lesser Bohemians, The Corrections, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief; and El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America. To begin with, of course. Here’s hoping the next dozen aren’t posted in ten months!

workout wednesday: the thousand reps

While establishing the baseline yesterday for Transformation Tuesday, I said I’d post about my go-to workout in 2020 (and probably for at least the start of 2021): The Thousand Reps. So I found this in early 2020, from darebee.com (which, if you’ve never been, is a marvelous free resource that you should use, and donate to–they are not a sponsor of this blog. Yet?) It’s a challenge to do 1,000 reps of exercises in a day, stacking six exercises however one wishes to do so.

I made two changes over the seven months I’ve been doing this–instead of jump-in planks, I do knee-to-elbows; instead of hop-heel clicks, I do high knees. These changes came over time–I work out on a concrete porch, my knees couldn’t take the hop-heel jumping (and yes, I could have just changed my form!)–but here’s a sample of numbers from workouts.

Please note I’ve kept track of these only since June, when I began this kind of exercise in earnest. (In 2020, I worked toward The Thousand Reps 74 times, reaching the goal three times.)

June 16Sept. 17Dec. 16
push-ups4880125
sit-ups4880125
jumping jacks96200250
squats48120250
high knees (hop heels)(48)80125
elbows-to-knees (plank jump ins)(48)80125
TOTAL3366401,000
four sets, four sets and five sets, respectively

The intention behind the design of The Thousand Reps may have been to do numerous workouts in a day, but I don’t have the time for that. I do 1,000 in less than thirty minutes, with adequate rest between sets. It only took me six months to figure it out–and I more or less took October off.

For the mathematically uninclined, The Thousand Reps is done in five sets of 25 push-ups, sit-ups, high knees and elbow-to-knees, and then fifty squats and fifty jumping jacks. When this becomes easy, I will add a sixth set, or increase the number of reps per set. But right now, in January 2021, I’m happy to aim for 16 bodyweight exercise sessions, and eight The Thousand Reps workouts.

I joked with B. the day I hit one thousand, “Now I don’t have to work out anymore.” It’s sometimes hard to stay motivated, after six months of working toward it. And there were so many plans–I’ll get to 750 by September, and 850 by October–and it took one day to just snap and insist on doing one more set. And here we are.

You can do this too. Start with what you can do, and then do a little more every day. It is possible–I’m living, walking, talking proof–and then you get to say things like, “Oh, I do 125 sit-ups each workout,” and feel smug as you grate cheese on your abs.*

What’s your go-to workout? Do you use equipment at home? What’s that like?

*actual results will vary; I probably have abs, but I also love cheese.

new year’s dinner

I like black eyed peas, and we eat them year round at Brightsong. (Brightsong is the name of our house. I guess I should explain that somewhere.) We did our part last year for good luck as we had black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and we did our part again yesterday. There were complications.

I’ll be detailing three recipes in this blog post, with any alterations, substitutions or omissions noted: Hoppin’ John, from Mike Holtquist; Southern Collard Greens from Jocelyn at GrandBaby Cakes; and because I’m always looking for that cornbread recipe, this time I tried Alex Guarnaschelli’s. I did not take pictures of the cornbread process, as there were complications.

…before the cook…

The morning of, after watching it snow for a bit, I soaked one pound (a bag!) of dry black eyed peas in six cups of water. (I didn’t measure the water. I just put a couple inches above the peas, and set it aside.) B. was kind enough to chop up a bunch of leftover ham from Christmas, and to slice off and set aside a lot of ham fat, which I used twice in this preparation.

the greens.

I know, weird to start with pictures of everything but.

The first thing to develop is the potlikker–the broth or brine or jus or whatever you wish to call it that the greens are going to steep in as they braise. I took some of the ham, threw it in a pot, covered it with water, and got it boiling. I’m going to attempt a before-and-after sliding image thing, below? I hope it works:

So I didn’t line these shots up, but I think you can see what’s happened.

Now: I started in my smaller stock pot. That was a mistake. I had to transfer stuff into the big one, and I scraped the smaller pot because I wanted everything in the new batch. I also over-reduced in the beginning. This would not continue to be a problem.

While the ham was doing its thing, I destemmed, chopped and washed all the greens. Four bunches, which yielded this much:

Greens! Greens! Nothing but greens!

I threw the greens in with the ham stock, the dry spices, the Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar, and I topped it off with water. I thought as I kept filling, “Goodness, this is more than what the recipe calls for.”

Tamp down your greens, everyone. Shove those suckers down in there, or they’ll never reduce. Lesson learned! Also, the recipe and technique Jocelyn provides is amazing, and I’m always one for spicy food, but a teaspoon of crushed red pepper is a lot. I reduced the amount, and it’s still a lot. I have a theory as to why it was so overpowering in this batch.

As I brought that up to a boil, I cooked down the onions. That wasn’t in the recipe, but I prefer not to put raw white onion into stocks, stews and braises. So I rendered out some ham fat, and got those onions going for a few minutes.

So gross looking. So delicious.

I finally tipped it all into the bigger pot, brought it to what I thought was a good temperature, and left it to do its thing. Then!

the hoppin’ john!

So I want to say from the get-go, the Hoppin’ John was very good. I also want to say that I didn’t think when I pulled a recipe from a website called Chili Pepper Madness about the heat levels, and I didn’t even blink when making a version of his Cajun spice blend, where he talks about how his personal secret ingredient is ghost chili peppers that he grows himself. Mike Holtquist, I want to be your friend. If that’s not possible, I certainly don’t want to be your enemy.

Here’s all the ducks in a row:

Please ignore the onion hiding behind the jarred garlic.

An aside: I learned to cook, in part, from a friend of mine who was severely Cajun. He once told me “if it don’t start with onions in fat, it’s not worth your time, honey.” I hadn’t realized how much he’d influenced my love and knowledge of cooking until I discovered mirepoix–the French base of onions, celery and carrots–and I was so offended. The Holy Trinity is better–and not just because I was raised Presbyterian-adjacent. Please also notice the fourth person of the Trinity: jalapeƱo peppers.

Oh, also notice the spice rub, because that’s going to come back in a big way later!

Re-rendered ham fat with onion remnants

So I re-rendered the ham fat in the onion remnants, the fond? if that word’s appropriate here, and then browned the sausage and more ham.

I followed instructions after that–sauteed the Four-Ingredient Trinity, added the garlic and meat, then broth and black-eyed peas and the spice rub.

So I never remember if it’s three or four teaspoons make a tablespoon. It’s three. I reduced Mike Holtquist’s Cajun Spice Blend recipe to eight teaspoons, thinking it was two tablespoons. It was two and two thirds. I threw it all in the pot, brought it to a boil, and put it on a simmer.

Bringing it to a boil.

And then I waited. I found my copy of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, which is a great read in my favorite genre–food history. I’ll write a review of it soon. You can order it here. And then I checked on things.

Y’all. It was so hot. Overwhelmingly spicy. All of it but the cornbread.

lessons learned and meals served.

B. is my shining knight when my cooking collapses under the weight of my hubris. “Throw it out! We’ll have pizza! I’m never doing this again!,” I cried, running to the fainting couch I insisted we install in the kitchen. (I am exaggerating, but not as much as I wish I was.)

  • We added butter to the Hoppin’ John, and that mellowed it out; serving it over rice, the heat was still more than what I wanted, but I found it tolerable. And the overall stew was delicious.
  • The greens didn’t reduce because I did not put them at a rolling boil. So there was so much potlikker, with these really tender greens drowned in it. So we threw it on the biggest burner, cranked it to high, and got it reducing quickly; B. mellowed out the over-hot potlikker by adding soy sauce and the smallest amount of sugar. It was saved!

I know the greens were a hit because The Kid, who has told me every time I make any dish from the dark, leafy green family that she hates collard greens, ate the entire bowl. I forgot to take more pictures towards the end of the process–but here’s a couple from the meal.

They bite back! (I will take better plating pictures moving forward.)
I couldn’t wait on the cornbread, which was lovely–thank you, ICAG.

So do you do black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day? Do you eat as many as your years? Do you despise the tradition? What’s your go-to to kick off a new period of time? Leave me a comment, let me know!

next beginnings

My alarm went off at four forty-five today–I did not kick it from a regular weekday schedule, and I think my phone believes I’ve given up on holidays. (It no longer asks, “Tomorrow is Flag Day (Observed); would you like to forgo your alarm?) I gave my orange cat Copperfield his dose of pain meds, and saw that it was snowing out.

Y’all. I love snow. I wrote about it some yesterday, before the next beginnings of today, because I really love snow. It’s a blank slate. It’s a callback to good days of childhood. It makes the world–at least the world under inches, the world of a few miles–be so intentional and examine their priorities.

As I went back to bed at five a.m., having drugged the cat and thought about doing Vigils (I went to sleep hours past my bedtime, I was groggy), I thought, “Well there goes the Best Morning on the first day of the year.” I promptly let go of that self-criticism, and went back to sleep.

Do you have a morning routine? I’ve developed one in the last six months. Here’s a picture of it, rather than a list:

A picture of a lit candle, full coffee cup, assorted chargers, a smart watch, and four books: A Holy Bible, A Year with Hafiz, The Divine Hours, and a blue journal with a beetle sticker on nit.
Completely staged, but a good representation of what “the opening” entails: coffee, exercise, Hafiz, prayer, scripture and the omnipresent Blue Book. The candle and the sparkling water are bonus.

On what I call best mornings, I rise early. I say prayers, I have coffee, I meditate on Hafiz a little, and I study scripture. I convince myself I should work out, and then do so, trying to negotiate away sets with myself the whole time. I sometimes succeed at stopping early.

This morning, I woke up and stayed in bed a bit. I watched the snow come down with B in a quiet house. I had a bagel and cream cheese a friend of ours shipped from New York. And I still found the time to pray, and do the daily Psalms, and sit with Hafiz, and look out on the next beginning of the next year.

I know a few years ago, I would have considered the year blown by sleeping, or not following a regular order, or not hitting every barely-considered self-made barrier checkpoint from the beginning. Resolutions that don’t have room for failure–repeated failure, complete failure, overt failure, unintentional failure–aren’t resolutions but self-loathing written down in a numbered list.

This is what I know: Today is a new day, just like yesterday was, and just as tomorrow will be. Therefore today I can strive to become more, and maybe through God’s grace and increased discipline, I will. And maybe I won’t–and tomorrow’s a new day.

I needed the snow this morning. It’s really coming down, and though it is supposed to stop at noon, I kind of hope it goes and swirls and falls all day and night. A good reminder for one like me who needs to live in next beginnings.

it is going to snow

credit: Alain Audet, from here.

I grew up outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, and we had snow in the winter. Maybe not a lot, but some, and I cannot remember a winter without it.

I moved to Texas in 2007, and there were maybe three instances of meaningful snow. (There was also the time TCU cancelled classes for two days because of an eighth of an inch of snow, but that’s not to be discussed on this blog, surely.)

I am now in Kansas. We are expecting five to eight inches. I am very excited because I love snow. I am very excited, too, because it is to happen tonight, the last night of 2020, and into the morning of the first night of 2021.

This is not a blog about New Year’s Resolutions. This is a blog that begins, formally, on the first of January because I have benchmarks and goalposts in this continual work of transformation–I want to work toward something–and I am so very excited to start the new year.

I have recently talked resolutions with a few friends, and none of them do New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I don’t officially, either–I take inventory, alter course, and keep aiming for the next right thing. I love calendars and goal tracking–tonight’s my jam, y’all! It’s okay to start over again and again and again, so long as there’s progress. I realize it means it’s not a clean restart–there’s always nuance.

Today is a simple day. I will be taking care of some work matters that must be addressed. I’ll be reading for class in a few weeks, and then making dinner. Tonight, I have no idea what we’re going to do until midnight, because The Kid has decided she’s going to try to stay up. At some point, I will be archiving my orange book and blessing the 2021’s Blue Book. And I am going to watch the snow fall. I am so ready, I hope it does not get blown off course.

Welcome to arthur the lesser, though we begin in earnest tomorrow. Bundle up!