In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, he says that many writers suffer from “the tyranny of the final product.” They are so concerned with selling their article or book, they neglect learning the process of how to think, plan, and organize. A jumbled manuscript, Zinsser believes, is produced when “the writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race.”
To stake or not to stake? That’s the question Marilyn faced when she planted a tree sapling last summer. The salesman said, “Stake it for one year so it will be supported in strong winds. Then remove them so it can grow deep roots on its own.” But a neighbor told her, “Staking may cause more harm than good. The tree needs to start building strong roots right away, or it may never. Not staking is best for long-term health.”
How is behavior altered? In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks notes that some experts have said people just need to be taught the long-term risks of bad behavior. For example, he writes: “Smoking can lead to cancer. Adultery destroys families, and lying destroys trust. The assumption was that once you reminded people of the foolishness of their behavior, they would be motivated to stop. Both reason and will are obviously important in making moral decisions and exercising self-control. But neither of these character models has proven very effective.” In other words, information alone is not powerful enough to transform behavior.
A college student I met had recently placed her faith in Christ. She described her initial life-change this way: “When I trusted Christ for salvation, it felt like God reached down from heaven and placed a new set of eyes in my eye sockets. I could understand spiritual truth!”
Pastor Audley Black’s church near the south coast of Jamaica has been in a building program since at least 2005. That was the first time I visited his church and saw that they were expanding. The last time I was there—in the spring of 2011—some of the walls were up. By that summer, they had started on the roof. When I suggested to Pastor Black that perhaps the church would be done by 2013 when I thought I might return, he said it was a possibility.
I recently saw an ad for a brand of clothing geared toward youth. It consists of blue jeans and all the accessories designed to go with them. There is nothing novel about that. What got my attention, however, was the name of this clothing line. It is called “True Religion.” That caused me to stop and think. Why was that name chosen? Am I missing some deeper significance? What is the connection between a brand of jeans and true religion? What do they mean by it? My musings left me with questions for which I had no answers.
The New Year is often the time when we resolve to take better care of ourselves—to exercise, eat right, and perhaps shed some of the pounds we gained over the holidays. Paul says, “Exercise profits a little” (1 Tim. 4:8), so I struggle to be as fit as I can be. I try to eat right, more or less, though I do love fried chicken. I lift weights and walk, but I know that my body is not long for this world. Its strength is fading.
Irecently saw a documentary about the making of a Steinway piano. It traced the meticulous care that goes into crafting this fine instrument. From the cutting of trees until the piano appears on a showroom floor, it goes through countless delicate adjustments by skilled craftsmen. When the year-long process is complete, accomplished musicians play the piano and often comment on how the same rich sounds could never be produced by a computerized assembly line. The secret to the final product is the craftsman’s touch.
I always look forward to summer. The warm sunshine, baseball, beaches, and barbecues are pleasures that bring joy after a long, cold winter. But pleasure-seeking isn’t just seasonal. Don’t we all enjoy good food, engaging conversation, and a crackling fire?
Early in the spring, my wife and I watched a fascinating bird show outside our kitchen window. A couple of blackbirds with straw in their beaks entered a small vent in the house next door. A couple of weeks later, to our delight, we saw four baby birds stick their heads out of the vent. Mom and Dad took turns feeding their hungry babies.
Weddings have long been an occasion for extravagance. Modern weddings have become a chance for young women to live out the fantasy of being “a princess for a day.” An elegant gown, an elaborate hairstyle, attendants in color-coordinated dresses, bouquets of flowers, an abundance of food, and lots of celebrating with friends and family contribute to the fairytale atmosphere. Many parents start saving early so they can afford the high cost of making their daughter’s dream come true. And royal weddings take extravagance to a level that we “commoners” seldom see. In 1981, however, many of us got a peek at one when the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was broadcast worldwide.
On a recent trip, my wife was seated near a mother with a young boy on his first flight. As the plane took off, he exclaimed, “Mom, look how high we are! And everything’s getting smaller!” A few minutes later he shouted, “Are those clouds down there? What are they doing under us?” As time passed, other passengers read, dozed, and lowered their window shades to watch the in-flight video. This boy, however, remained glued to the window, absorbed in the wonder of all he was seeing.
Children want things now: “But I want dessert now!” “Are we there yet?” “Now can we open our presents?” In contrast, as we get older we learn to wait. Medical students wait through training. Parents wait in hopes that the prodigal will return. We wait for what is worth waiting for, and in the process we learn patience.
Of all my childhood memories, one stands out above the others. While I have no idea what my teacher said, I clearly remember telling her to “shut up.” She sent me home, so I got up and left my kindergarten class to walk the half-block home. Walking down the sidewalk, I saw my mother weeding in the garden behind our house. I was now faced with a strategic decision—continue on my way and tell my mother why I was home early from school, or turn around and go back to face my teacher.
The eaglets were hungry, and Mom and Dad seemed to be ignoring them. The oldest of the three decided to solve his hunger problem by gnawing on a twig. Apparently it wasn’t too tasty, because he soon abandoned it.
According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.