Resting with Books and the Gift of Teaching

Extended Breaks are Awesome

I’ve enjoyed the benefit of an extended break from work for the first time since I was a student. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them. Today marks three weeks since last semester ended and I have several weeks yet before the new school year begins in Korea. I’ve stayed busy enough getting ahead on learning basic Korean, reading, writing, some film projects, movies, tv and skyping as many family and friends as possible, almost one a day for an hour or so. But my favorite has been hanging out with my wife. Every night is date night….nay, everyday all day is just a big date. All of it has helped me pump the breaks on the constant flow and mental pinball that occurs in my head, and achieve and overall goal I have of slowing down in general. The job I had before moving to Korea to teach had the perk of unlimited vacation. At the time it felt great, but in reality it led to a lot of shorter breaks, never more than a week or so. While nice, it doesn’t provide the pressure free extended break that comes with the forced intermission between school years, which in Korea follows the calendar year. So while unlimited vacation in a corporate setting is nice, the breaks I took only led to getting “caught up” on sleep, reading, relationships, personal projects and other life giving things, whereas during this break I feel a sense of getting ahead on them, and beyond just liking it that way, I think it’s healthier.

Reading in a Sea of Leisure

I always read, but the way one reads makes all the difference. Again, when I was a student, even when I needed to read a lot and read quickly I had more time for reading than nearly anything else. I was always able to process what I read because it was my whole world at the time as a student. Once I began to work full time I hated giving that up. When I switched careers to work in technology I had to read a lot on account management, online marketing, web and instructional design to learn a new industry, and when I read theology, history and fiction it was always in addition, the extra reading time when available. Reading in my field and as a teacher has made for a less forced experience again, because for the most part I just read what I truly want to.

I’ve been rereading a book by Alan Hirsch called the Forgotten Ways, about organic missional churches. He uses a lot of language he has developed to talk about Christian movements and the types of leaders, networks and ministries he sees in the Bible and through the years of church history to modern times. Sometimes that language is kind of weird to me, but I understand where he is coming from. I remembered connecting with his personal narrative of a grassroots ministry in Australia with a ministry my friends and I fell into when we were in Seminary called Curry Night, which I’ve been thinking about a lot more recently. I wanted to go back to that source and process it fresh. I’m nearly done, and still thinking about it.

I’m about to start reading iWoz by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple among other things. I read Steve Jobs‘ biography recently, followed by Creativity Inc. and I wanted to follow it up with Woz’s book. I’m pretty curious to get to it. My time in tech leaves me as an informed curious observer of the various industries represented, so I like to read this stuff and nerd out a bit watching shows like Silicon Valley, which quite pleasantly feels like a series of deja vu at times. I’m taken aback by how Jobs unabashedly viewed his work as a spiritual expression, his version of Japanese Zen Buddhism. That reality of Zen which is incarnated in every Apple product, alongside his rather chaotic personal life has got me in a long pause for reflection. People use technology to express spirituality, whether they intend to or not. Most non-traditionally religious people avoid being seen that way, but something about Jobs’ openness about it gave the world permission to do so as well.

I’m in the middle of Story by Robert McKee, a book about screen writing. If you’ve read or are familiar with Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, you may know that name, as he refers to him because he studies under McKee to learn about story. He really is a master. I enjoy good stories and I find I can connect with students I feel incredibly culturally distant from through story quite easily. Furthermore I love film, and fully embrace the golden age of TV we’re in right now, though perhaps movies are in a sort of remake the classics phase. I have enjoyed and been quite surprised by how McKee breaks down good stories, using popular movies like Star Wars and Chinatown as illustrations many will be familiar with. I like how brash he is regarding the need for clarity in relation to characters and their values, and how to set up powerful moments. I have so much to learn about this, but it has been a fun read even when technical regarding the craft of story-writing. I’m only half way through, but….I’m taking my sweet time.

I’m working my way through Karl Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline. At one point I had planned to work through his entire Church Dogmatics with a friend, but that would take years in our worlds. So I settled on this shorter work for now and I enjoy it more than I thought I would. I’m just a quarter of the way through, but his synthesis of thought is transparent from the beginning, and his pervasive influence in theological studies is not hard to understand even after a cursory gander at his writing. Alongside this I’m slowly moving through an anthology of Kierkegaard’s writings. I’ve never read someone I felt was crazy and then brilliant so often. I need to dig more into his stuff, but it’s been back and forth thus far.

Lastly I’m reading through the New Testament using the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. They had a great deal on kindle recently and I didn’t pass it up. I enjoy the NIV2011, and the study notes are really superb. I was reading Philemon most recently and was really struck by verse 18 where Paul asks him to count any debt he incurred from Onisemus to himself. That level of involvement with pastoral care in the complexity of that situation are a great challenge. How many times am I willing to enter in to a conflict as a peacemaker and incur people’s debts to help deescalate and achieve peaceful and graceful resolutions? One of many ways the Bible lives and takes root in the souls of it’s readers.

Reflecting on the year of Mobile Ed

I truly had a gift to be able to work with a variety of scholars from across the US for a year while working in Mobile Ed, a department at Logos Bible Software. I picked up some followers to this blog while posting podcasts I created with some of the professors during this time. I love good scholarship, but Christian scholarship is really only valuable in service to good ministry in some way. I came in to Mobile Ed having left a messy church situation. I was a volunteer while working full time at a Web Design firm (again, not much free time in this season). Having Biblical scholars, counselors and theologians pouring in week after week was a real gift. I didn’t expect to be processing so much in this season of life, but I found myself needing some time and some help. Beyond the fact that I got to pursue my passion for helping to create great theological content, I got personally taught, pastored and counseled as well, and formed many friendships. I’ll be taking it all in for a while I’m sure, as it was like being in a seminary intensive class week after week. Even as a Bible College and Seminary graduate, that kind of variety and concentrated time, even though I was producing shoots and doing quality control on the content, was an unparalleled educational experience. There’s a lot I could say, and maybe I will later, but for now I’m reflecting on the gift of teaching and teachers. I told all the speakers I worked with they inspired me too much, I had to quit being an instructional designer and become an instructor. I hope I can model their example in my context.

The opportunity to inform and shepherd hearts and minds in Biblical spirituality is profound. The best teachers I’ve had pass on knowledge, to be sure, but what made them great is they passed on passion to me. Passion for Christ, for the Gospel, for the Bible and God’s people as well as for the world. If I can say anything else about having an extended break, more than a month, it’s that it has helped me slow down enough to feel that passion in full force. To remember these vital things, in moments from my past, as well as in what I read, and to marinate in it. I enjoy business. I was actually pretty successful with account management, and I was finding my stride with instructional design. But I became an uber pragmatic person as the business context demands, which isn’t natural to me. Pragmatic is, but not uberly so. Perhaps, one day I’ll do those things again. I’m not completley opposed. But something about teaching, and the breaks it affords, has helped capture a romance about life I had before, that I was told to cast off as a product of youth. I don’t think it’s to be cast off, but cultivated and matured. I don’t feel called to less passion, or less love, or less desire, but to more. And I would be concerned if I saw a drain on those things in my students, especially in relation to my classes. Work nor education should require becoming less human to be more efficient. I think good humans are efficient, they just leave a lot of room for love’s opportunities.

Life is definitely not, nor will it ever be, an endless bed of roses. But for now, very early on in this year, for the first time in a long time I’m feeling rested. I’m more ahead in life on the things that give me life. I have a busy year ahead, and SO much to learn. I’m like a child in Korea, sometimes totally dependent on others. But I think this rhythm in my heart will make me better at whatever is to come.

My Conversation with Dr. Bill Klein

To listen to my conversation on SoundCloud, click here

In my final podcast with Mobile Ed I sat down with Denver Seminary’s Bill Klein, professor of New Testament, to discuss his work and his thoughts on spiritual growth and ministry training.