What the Hell is a “Readflow” Anyway?

One of the inherent perils of life as a graduate student (just mentioned) is that, if one is going to get anything done, ever, one must be self-motivated, self-starting, and self-disciplined enough to do so. One of the major speed-bumps to all that good self-direction (at least for me—maybe all the other grad students are different [hahahahaha!]) is the very “interwebs” upon which you read these words.

Given that I spend a significant amount of time reading items of interest that I stumble across, or that others flag for me, Alan Jacobs’ post on his “Readflow” got me thinking about ways in which I could focus, direct, and use my internet reading time a little bit better than I do. The neologism itself sounds a little bit too self-consciously “tech-saavy” for my taste and smacks a bit of corporate-speak, but the concept has stuck in my mind nevertheless. Maybe that says something about me.

I do already use Readability to filter out ads and to save longer pieces for subway travel (or other more convenient, less work-oriented time), but I think that I may start using it as something of a cache and clearinghouse. I like the idea of having periods of “more focused distraction” in which I read the bits that have come up and either share them or file them as appropriate. Pinboard looks useful for the tagging and retrieval features that are lacking in Readability, but the added step of tagging individual pieces in a separate window sounds like more hassle than I’m going to commit to reliably.

This blog, too, may be more deeply integrated my reading process—at least for pieces that are not only worth sharing, but also spark a few comments. I know—what the internet really needs is one more guy spouting his opinion—right? Well, no one is forcing you to listen.

And if others have habits or patterns of reading that have proven useful, I’d like to hear about them as well.

creation is bigger than nature

Reading Jurgen Moltmann’s, God in Creation I came across another way (probably a better way) of saying what I was trying to get at the other day. Once we have a sense of our independence from the world around us, we have a proclivity to wield that independence over our surroundings in relationships of control and domination.

Creation is bigger than nature.

By “nature” we can signify all that is subject to scientific study and, on some level, to human control. The concept of nature is strongly tied to “natural law” so that nature is everything that follows predictable patterns of behavior. Over the last few century’s “nature” has expanded to include not only physical laws like gravity, but (viaDarwin and friends) biological development and behavior. The development of psychology aims to incorporate the human mind into nature as well–the “experimental” and “philosophical” branches attempting to account for the neurological (objective) and existential (subjective) aspects of the mind, respectively. Continue reading “creation is bigger than nature”

nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions

Scraped together out of dirt, humanity is creation rearranged. Our atoms are interchangable with those of birds, bees, monkeys and mollusks. Theologically, no less than biologically or chemically, humanity is continuous with creation. Whatever is going on in the show here, humanity is a part of the scenery.

Some complexity is introduced when God leans down to breathe into the muddled mud-ling he’s put together. Dirt that shows something about God, “images” Him. Humanity has a unique role on the planet we are a part of.

Somewhere along the line, we became civilized. This is mostly measured by the fact that we are no longer dependent on nature in our day to day lives. Signs of civilization include the light bulbs that enable us to read late into the night (a much more convenient form of light than fire…), and the fact that we can live in rediculously uninhabitable places like Antarctica or Alberta. If you are a human being reading this, give your self a pat on the back–you are civilized!

As wealthy Westerners, it is tempting to interpret this functional impervious-ness from “nature” as independence, as a mark of real distinction between us and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. I will be the last one to deride technology and all the benefits of human creativity. That said, independence from nature is a destructive myth, dangerous both ecologically and theologically. Our “civilization” fuels this myth and enables a noxious self-misunderstanding. Continue reading “nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions”

moral (in)formation

The obsession with information in our culture has left us with a situation in which we each choose our own elders and role models.

Previously, your parents, your extended family, or your community would pass lessons on to you about the meaning of life and the proper way to exist in the world. One went through years of an “apprenticeship” watching one’s parents interact with all sorts of people, work in the field or the pasture, distinct from the vocational institution.

These days, we throw kids in front of a television, give them a library card, and put them on the Internet. The flow of information is relentless, and formative. We learn as we grow, but there are so many voices. Out of the cacophony one voice strikes a particular chord, or one piece of advice is particularly poignant. And for the moment, that voice, that advice is our pole star. We may be utterly disconnected from its author, but if it rubs us the right way we take the information to be revelation, and we are prepared to live for the idea.

This leads to the situation where our cultural “wisdom” consists of the patchwork quilts each of us assemble from the endless flow of “good ideas” we come across.

On the one hand it is a relief to think that we haven’t lost the practice of mentorship and eldership altogether. We still pass on wisdom. It’s still important to learn how to live. On the other hand it is disturbing that the whole process is so disconnected – and so individually selective. We listen to the voices that we want to hear and shape our behavior accordingly. Nothing compromises our personal sovereignty. Truth is what I want to hear – what sounds good to me.

words matter :: physicality and meaning

We think of words as non-physical things, unattached and uncommitted to location or time. Words are transient, the same word may pop up on a dozen different tongues and refer to a dozen different things.

Our common-sense way of thinking about words misses out on an important aspect of word-iness. There is no such thing as a pure word without physical mediation.

Think about it, we never meet words except where we meet them in the context of meeting something (or someone) physical. Whether that mediation comes in the form of a computer screen, a sheet of paper, a friend’s face, or a loudspeaker, words are always intrinsically rooted in tangible encounters. Spoken words rely on the vibration of molecules, written words rely on their arrangement in some opaque surface, and even the words in your mind are inseparable from the firing of little neurons in complex networks. Where there is no matter, there are no words. Continue reading “words matter :: physicality and meaning”

of hospitality and hope :: coherence in corrosive times

Carolyn and I recently had the opportunity to stay with some friendly folks in Durham, NC. I want to call attention to what they are doing because I think that it offers an strong alternative to the standard American dream that is pressed (or oppressed) onto most of us from the time we wake up till we lay our heads back down on our designer pillows.

When a culture grows paralyzingly disjointed, unable to provide a coherent vision of what a good life looks like, unreflective participation in the machinery leads one deeper into bankruptcy of the soul. The need for an alternative vision is heart-felt. Christians throughout history have lived in some fairly fragmented cultures and have recognized the need to resist the toxic influence of the “values” touted by the mainstream. Continue reading “of hospitality and hope :: coherence in corrosive times”