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9 lessons from 3-foot grass


I dislike gardening. I don’t even really enjoy having a garden. Somehow, we left our garden fairly (read: completely) unattended. The grass was about hip high a few weeks ago; when we finally got around to doing something about it. But the grass was too tall to use a mower on, and too wet to use a strimmer on (not that we have one anyway). So I went at it with shears and a rake. It was slow, not very pleasant, but little by little, the garden looked nicer. Yesterday, after a dry spell (finally!), the landlords came with strimmers and finished the job. Here’s what I got from the whole experience:

Picture of tall grass

1. You can’t do anything without tools. If you don’t have anything sharp (ish), there is no way you can do anything. Equip yourself: read, listen, seek wisdom. But don’t do it on your own, because you won’t be able to be discerning enough. Without tools, all you’ll do is uproot handfuls of grass and end up with a patchy garden. Without spiritual tools, you’ll end up with disconnected islets of knowledge which won’t help you and quite frankly don’t look good at all.

2. There is no magic tool. I had never used a strimmer myself, but somehow, I imagined that it was just a matter of quickly moving the tool over the grass, and that it would be done in next to no time with strimmers. The landlords took over a full day to do it. Surrounding yourself with books that just sit on the shelves is useless. Reading a ton of blogs (this one included) without allowing them to affect you is useless. Butterflying between leaders is useless. Going to three different churches (something I used to do) is not helpful if you’re just listening. When you decide to use a tool, you need to know that you’re going to commit to it, and allow it to affect you.

3. “Not having the right tool” can be an excuse; as can the specific circumstances. Oh yes, it was too wet, and we did not have a strimmer. But that never meant we couldn’t use shears. I may not find myself in a place with the most helpful structures around me… but it does not mean that it allows me to just sit on my arse and do nothing. Wherever you are, make sure you’re not using lack of ressources as an excuse. Don’t even do it to talk about your past, lest you give people the impression that your excuses are valid excuses and use them themselves.

4. Tasks generally look daunting until you put yourself to them. This has been repeatedly true: when I started cutting the grass with the shears, it looked better, and a lot of groundwork could be achieved quickly. It was slow, yes, but I could see the progress, square foot by square foot. When I had to write a disseration, I did not know where to start and had empty page syndrome for a long time… until I just decided to give a go at writing. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but little by little, the word count was reached, and then improvements were made upon what was there. So when you have a vision but do not feel it’s possible – still, give it a try. Little by little, you will get there.

5. If your work is not perfect, it can still be useful. Using shears to cut grass will never get it to a perfect green, but it did allow the landlords to use the mower directly onto this patch rather than using the strimmer. We live in communities. What you do will generally benefit someone – but you have to let other people pick it up. When you’re growing spiritually, you’re also helping others bounce off your growth. So keep on growing!

6. It wouldn’t have got to that stage if I had taken more care of it throughout the “summer” months (inverted commas necessary: this is, after all, England). Discipline is important as a frequent practice. Depending on the activity, different frequences are appropriate: I wouldn’t expect to mow the lawn daily; but finding the appropriate rhythm is key. For this blog, I’ve settled on weekly updates – and it does make writing easier to tackle. Reading the Bible can be a daily or a weekly activity – but once you found your rhythm, don’t slack, or you will find it harder to get back to it.

7. Cutting clutter allows more light to come through. Or maybe that’s just the sun that’s finally come out. But our living room is brighter. Similarly, with spiritual growth: you can’t just keep everything you believe.

8. Sometimes, the inspiration comes where you least expect it. I had the idea to use the shears whilst biking past people who were doing that to their own front lawn. Blog ideas can come from snippets of everyday life, as can spiritual growth. The important part is not to let that inspiration go unattended.

9. Boy, grass does grow quickly when there’s lots of rain and lots of sun! I could probably wrangle a way to tie that in with spiritual growth, but I’ll leave that to you: comment away!

Green hair and the illusion of awesomeness

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This week, I thought I got it sorted. I had two blog ideas that would lead to legendary posts.

I was going to talk about how I dyed my hair green (to go to a charity ball dressed as a Lemming, as in the classic computer game); and therefore had green hair for a day. The grand idea was to share how few people dared to comment about it, even though some clearly were surprised: someone later said, when overhearing the story behind the green hair: “Yeah, I did think it was a bit odd, but didn’t want to say anything.” The whole point of the post was to expose how we do the same with odd behaviours around us, and refuse to actually say anything about it.

But as I tried to write it down, I realised that what I thought was a great illustration actually wasn’t great. It wasn’t quite as easy to articulate what I wanted to say as I thought: there were too many caveats, too many pitfalls where I realised whatever I would say could be mistaken for something completely different. I was expecting people to quote Luke 6:42 back to me; and was entering argument mode – which is something I’ve tried to avoid.

My second blog idea was even less formed – it was going to be roughly around the end of term for undergrads here at Warwick, differences of perceptions in time scales, etc. It still looks like a fruitful source, but is too big and, from many angles, too abstract.

And now, there’s two hours to the end of the weekend and nothing I had half-arsedly “planned” is looking like it’s going to lead to a blog post. These two ideas, I have to let go of. Pruning my work is something I’ve always found difficult. The thing is – if they have made it so far, it is because I believed in their potential: I was tricked by the illusion of awesomeness, and slacked by resting on it.

Two illusions

These illusions are dangerous, and hard to avoid. Similarly, though, there are illusions of difficulty. When I started this blog, I thought I’d never manage to blog weekly; and yet, six months on, I still am here. When I started writing a paper on my research, I started off thinking it would be easy and that what I had found was awesome enough to speak for itself. Then I hit a brick wall, and I thought I’d never manage to finish writing that paper. After cutting a whole chunk off it, though, it flowed more naturally; and it is now submitted.

Everything can seem easier than it is; and everything can look unsurmountable. But what is common to these illusions, is that they will remain until the task is tackled.

How do you make sure you recognise these illusions?

I recommend reading page 88 of Silence and Honey Cakes (and actually, the whole chapter) on this particular point.

Christianity in the online world

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I was offered to give a talk last Thursday at Christian Focus, at Warwick Uni. As blogging is something I started to take more seriously over the past few months, and because it has become more important in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to personally reflect on how this online-ness fitted in my life. I also thought that, as several initiatives such as try to work out ways to use the internet to evangelise, and as viral videos such as this one recently took my facebook wall by storm, it would be good to share these insights with my student friends.

I recorded the talk, most of which you can listen to here, but will outline some of the points below:

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In short, I think that being online changes our life, and in particular our Christian life, in three main ways:

1. Anonymity

The Internet brings the possibility of anonymity. This has its blessings, as it is a safe environment to go to, without the constant fear of losing face or standing: on the Internet, through anonymity, you can ask questions you wouldn’t necessarily dare to ask. Our prayer requests online can become more sincere and personal as the risk of losing face disappears, and as the need to look holy subsides.
It is also a safety net for experiments, such as, for me, this blog when I started it: I did not know where it would lead, but if I failed, I could always start something else and just forget about this blog. This is a luxury in many real-life cases.
Of course, it also is an open door for trolling and abuse, and ill-thought harsh words. And as there is no relationship involved, the receiving of the message is completely dissociated from its broadcasting.

2. Increased choice

This dissociation also happens in real life, when people choose books, or churches: choice happens in real life as well as online. But, online, the pool from which we choose is much wider. A better fit to what we resonate to, is available. The people whose blogs I chose to follow and regularly read tend to post content to which I would say “yes! that makes sense!” than those that would make me go away troubled. Maurillio Amorim recently posted about the illusion of knowing what we want and how, effectively, through giving us more choice, we are denied real influence.
I don’t only choose what I read. I also choose what I write. The capacity to edit is part of that choice.
What this means at the end of the day is that my Internet experience of Christianity is very much me-shaped. I take on what mirror images of me say and believe it to be influence, while I dismiss more easily the bits that I disagree with.

3. Constant fragmentation

This ability to switch off is present everywhere. We have browsers with many tabs (as I’m writing this, I have seven tabs open, and I got distracted by something and now have twelve) and compartmentalise the discrete bits of information into those very short-term placeholders. As such, this information is only affecting us at the surface level, for a very limited part of our identity. Moreover, online, we share information – and the exchange has a tendency to remain at the cognitive level.
Online, we get the illusion of being completely engaged, because we are reachable 24/7, and because we have access to stuff at our own convenience; and, worse, we get interrupted from real life experience by texts/emails/other online elements. That fragmentation is threatening to be pervasive into our own lives.

How have you seen your identity change when online?