Time is not on my side

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Last Sunday’s sermon was a concluding sermon to a long series on the Christian life, and as such, it was kind of a laundry list of topics. We could probably write posts every day for three weeks on some of the questions raised, but for today I’ll be focusing on one, how am I claiming my time?

The principle here is very simple: If we don’t make a point of setting aside time for something, something else will fill that time.

Ben TrubeFor me the things that fill random available moments are watching TV, and organizing files on my computer. I keep active libraries of DRM free eBooks, comic books, music and video games I’ve purchased stored on a number of different computers and hard drives. Everything is backed up in multiple places, and needs to burned to disk so it can really be permanent. Occasionally my organization results in a well kept library that actually serves my needs (be it writing, listening to music, reading or playing games), but most of the time everything is a befuddled mess. If my digital files had a physical manifestation I would have desk drawers that would not open because they were stuffed with paper, next to a floor that I could no longer see because it is piled to the ceiling with books.

I’m not saying organization is a waste of time, but after a while it gets to be kind of ridiculous how much of my life is spent attempting it. And the reason is my materialistic need to acquire. I like having new books to read, new games to play, and new music to listen to, without the time for any of it. Even if it’s free, it’s still taking a toll on life.

I want to be devoting more time to studying of the Bible and more time to writing, while still managing to spend quality time with my wife and my new dog. So far, I’ve gotten pretty good about figuring how to write, even if it means perfecting my writing down to a fever-pitch stream of consciousness leaping from my fingertips. But I’m frankly lousy at devotion, even when I do make time for it.

I’m good at trying new plans, coming up with creative ways to get God to fit into time I’m already spending, but it’s not particularly setting aside special time for him. The only times I set aside time to be specifically focusing on God are when I write these posts, go to church on Sunday, or go to life group on Wednesday (assuming I’m awake for any of it, including the writing).

This is probably one where I can’t just pray things will get better and do nothing. I have to actually make some choices in life, shift my priorities. Yes, there are only so many hours in the day, but there are way more of them than you think.

What occupies your time when you’re not thinking about it?

All By Myself

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Rich’s topic in his continuing series on the Christian life was the Christian … Alone. In this case Rich defined “alone” as no other person being around, and no external stimuli or distraction (i.e. TV, computer, Facebook, etc.). In other words, time where we are alone with our thoughts, with nothing to distract us (and not the state of loneliness which is a separate discussion).

Ben TrubeBeing alone in this way is something we may uncomfortable with, and even if we’re not, it’s not something we make a lot of time for.

I tend to think I’m alone with my own thoughts probably a lot more than I actually am. The two areas in which I am freeist from distraction are my commute, and writing blog posts. The commute does require a surface level of awareness of my surroundings, and does offer distractions like the radio or other crazy drivers. And writing on a computer offers a whole host of obvious distractions, even when I’m in an area with no Wifi.

When I am thinking it is largely about one of a few things, either the book I am currently working on, the myriad of potential future books and stories, my latest media interest, or any recent argument or incident requiring review. Except in moments of acute crisis (i.e. Family medical problems, or financial stresses, etc.), my thoughts don’t tend to stray toward the lord, unless you count thinking about what I’m going to write to all of you in the Going Deeper blog.

I think it’s pretty obvious why this is the case. The mind tends to think about what it’s saturated with, and my life is saturated with writing, media, my wife and my family, and my job. God is there, and there are times when I can sense his supportive presence through tough times, but it’s not where my mind tends to go when it’s in neutral.

If I’m not on my commute or writing, then my default is to distract myself with a combination of a menial tasks (i.e. DVD backup burns and file manipulation) and media (i.e. my favorite TV series which at the moment is Torchwood). Insert reading comic books or playing video games for variety.

I’m an only child, and so I did spend a lot of time having to figure out what to do with myself. I had my friends around the block for sure, but that’s not the same as having live-in siblings, so there was time when I needed to read, to play games, and to otherwise occupy my time. And even though I like to think of myself as a reflective and thoughtful kind of guy, that time was not spent on reflection. It was spent playing with Legos.

I’m not worried that it’s dark inside my head. I could be entertained all day by what’s going on in there. It’s just I have a pretty vibrant fascination with the world around me (which I admittedly often define as news and pop culture).

I’m not sure if Rich’s suggestion of not reading in the bathroom will work for me (that’s where I get some of my best reading done), but I should find some way to quiet other stimulations around me, and just find some time to be alone. I’ve come to understand my introverted tendencies over the years, and my need for time away from people. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to think about time away from everything (and not in one of these trendy “unplugged” kind of ways).

When’s the last time you were alone with your thoughts?

A change is as good as a rest

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I think that expression is British or at least I’ve heard it on British TV. It basically means that doing something else for a while is just as good as taking an actual rest. This sums me up and my interaction with rest in a nutshell.

Ben TrubeHere’s my typical week. Monday or Tuesday (or both) I burn the candle at both ends by waking up early to work on writing and I stay up late to do the same thing. Wednesday and Thursday I may sleep a little later, but I’m still up later hanging out with the wife or puttzing around on the computer (or reading till all hours of the night). Friday has me up til 12am or 1am in the morning a lot of the time, then I make up the sleep on the weekend. Any given night I get between 6-7 hours of sleep a night, but I know I’m not really sharp unless I get eight.

Part of the reason for this schedule is my priorities in life, and my desire to be productive in all of them. There’s work of course, which thankfully is a little more constrained then some of my fellow engineers, but still keeps me away from home about 50 hours (including lunch hours and commutes). There’s writing: four blog posts a week, one short story for Bradbury’s 52, and current novel work, about 10-15 hours all told. Then of course there’s time spent with the wife,and if there’s some leftover energy it’s spend on God, games, and exercise.

I say that reading is restful, and it is one of the ways I wind down after a long day. But I also have reading “homework”, stuff I’m reading related to my various projects. Even a lot of my pleasurable reading, like comic books for NetGalley, has some connection to work since I write a review for a lot of them. Watching TV can take me out of my own head, but it doesn’t particularly put me in a place to receive God, and good TV can keep me up later than I’ve been intending (as can the Internet or a good game). And I usually don’t watch TV, I’m doing something else on my computer writing related, or browsing for things to read or buy. In other words, except maybe for the writing, I’m a pretty typical American.

Rich was hesitant to offer a lot of specific ways to rest other than sleep, and I have to admit, counter-intuitive as it seems, I do find myself getting more done in a week when I keep a more regular schedule. Sometimes I romanticize getting up early or staying up late. It’s kind of cool to be up when a lot of people aren’t. But there are also some good reasons why people aren’t up at those times, or at least not both of them. Sleep is good for me and truthfully I like sleep. I sleep about as late as I possibly can some days, hitting the floor, falling into clothes, and driving to work.

I’m sure I could be in a little danger of going too far the other way into sloth, though truthfully I have too much I want to do to waste too much of my time. I do like using rest, or playful activities as an incentive after getting certain things done. That way I get my sense of accomplishment but I also get a recharge.

Here’s a weird idea for the computer oriented among you. Use your computer on battery until it runs out or shuts down. Then don’t boot it up again until you see the charging light go back to green (or whatever indicates a mostly full charge). In the meantime take a nap, read a book for pleasure, or spend some time in silent reflection. It’s better for your laptop battery, and it’s better for you.

Be Strong

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1 Cor 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

Pastor Rich, in discussing the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, talked about Paul’s affirmation to be strong. In this case we’re not talking about physical strength, or personal strength, but strength that comes from the Lord.

He challenged us to think about the ways in which we need to rely on the Lord’s strength, and the ways in which we instead rely on our own.

Ben TrubeIn most situations I do not feel the immediate need for the lord’s support. I am capable and disciplined in my job, and in my life passions. The most distinct times I have felt the need for God were during times of personal illness, or illness or tragedy within the family. There have been a few other crisis related situations, but it does not feel like something that is part of my every day experience.

If I was really a Northeastern protestant, I could say that I was doing this because I don’t want to be a bother to God. All of my little problems are something that he doesn’t need to worry himself with. But if I’m being more honest, it comes much more out of arrogance or at least confidence in my own abilities. Both programming and writing require a certain amount of personal ego to function well in the job (it takes a certain amount of ego to assume other’s should read you, and programmers by their very nature speak confidently about their field).

I guess one area in my daily life I need God’s strength, support and insight is writing about God. I’m much more confident in my ability to analyze the day’s publishing events, or to break down how to create a certain type or fractal, or even to craft a mystery or story, than I am to speak about what God has to say. Writers speak with a certain voice, and I still feel that when I write about faith I haven’t quite found the voice that God wants me to speak with.

There are others. In truth I wonder how much more disciplined, how much more could be accomplished if I relied less on my own moods and inspirations, and more on God’s inspiration. I’m pretty happy I’ve been able to revise 72% of an 80K word draft in about five months, but that was with long swaths of time off in between, and varying degrees of confidence.

And life is not all about writing. I need God’s strength in other areas of my life that need discipline. In my health, my reach of the gospel to others, in my relationships.

Okay, so I know I need God’s strength. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to give up being stubborn, self-centered, and self-reliant, an easy thing for an only child writer to do.

Yeah. Well, we’ll see.

Master of Analogy and Metaphor

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This week we heard from Pastor Rudy on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Here Paul talks more about our imperishable body, and works to discount the notion of a disembodied spirit present in a lot of Greco-Roman philosophy. He compares our body to seeds that we plant, and our resurrected body to the flower that springs forth, so completely different in nature and character than that from which it sprung. He then goes on to describe all sorts of heavenly bodies and their splendor, and how each is different and also wonderful.

Ben TrubeOur resurrected body, an imperishable body that lives without sin in a world without sin, hardship or disease, all working toward God’s glory. This can be a little hard to understand when we’re still living inside the seed of that world.

One of the questions I wrestle with regard to eternal life and our life in heaven and the new earth is whether I’ll still be a writer. It’s common wisdom that at the core of good writing is conflict. A problem is there to be solved, and over the course of the narrative equilibrium is reestablished. Sometimes these problems are solved with violence or other morally ambiguous means, but at the very least the problems are typically morally wrong. Most good mysteries start with a murder or another sort of crime.

So, in a world without sin and without crime, what do I write about? Historical novels? Or would the narrative even serve the same function for our resurrected selves as it does for us now? Writing can be seen as a morality play, taking a question or aspect of society and examining it through a story. Is this something we’ll still need to do in the redeemed world?

Here’s why it’s hard for me. I feel like writing is a gift that God gave me, both to give me personal satisfaction, but also as a means to communicate with others. I am passionate about writing. It is as near to my thinking as God, if I’m honest sometimes it’s louder. And I don’t particularly like the idea of an eternity spent not doing the thing I love doing now. I worry sometimes about not being able to get all the books I have in my head out before I die. Do I take comfort that I will have the chance in a risen body? Writing is not sinful, but so much narrative relies on a world where sin is present.

I don’t have the answer for this other than to say I don’t think God would put me in a state so outside who I am as a person, who he made me to be. Our resurrected life will be as different as the seed is to the flower, the essence is present in our lives now, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Resurrected life will be in some ways practical and recognizable, and in others completely outside our current way of thinking.

That said, I’m a pretty stubborn guy. I’ll probably be writing either way 🙂

Author Feature: Matt Black

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Hello all,

My name is Matt Black.  I have been a part of the leadership of Smoky Row Brethren Church since 2008, but my involvement with the denomination goes much further back.  In fact, I was born into it.  My grandfather, Jim R Black was a pastor in the denomination for many years.  And my dad, Jim F. Black is still currently preaching in the denomination at Milledgeville Brethren Church in the state of Illinois.  So this denomination has been my life.

mattBeing raised as a pastor’s kid sent me on a journey that may seem somewhat familiar to many of the same cloth.  I was seen as the “perfect kid” by many adults.  I had my rebellious moments and struggles, but for the most part I did the right thing.  Then I went to college at Ashland University and had to find my own path.  I loved sports and always have.  In fact I have my own baseball blog here: http://giftofgod80.mlblogs.com  I didn’t want to really be a pastor so I went into a communication and sports broadcasting degree.

Yet, God has some funny plans sometimes.  Through a great friend and roommate in college, Jason Barnhart, I was drawn back into ministry.  I went to Ashland Theological Seminary, got my M-Div degree, and thought this is what God wants me to do.

Over the years since coming here to Smoky Row I have learned that ministry is so much more than just being a pastor.  It took me awhile to see that, but I am thrilled with where God has placed me.  I am involved in so many different roles at Smoky Row and I love it.

I currently work at United Collection Bureau in Upper Arlington.  I have met so many people in all walks of life and it has been such a blessing!  I love people.  That is it.  That is the basics of who God has made me to be.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Outside of my love for being around people, I love coffee, a good book, and sports.

Author Feature: Bob Trube

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I came to Columbus 24 years ago as statewide director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Almost immediately, our family joined Smoky Row. Ben has shared that story so I won’t. Over the years, I’ve taught Adult Ed, served on the Board of Directors (now the Governance Team) and had a stint as moderator, as well as occasionally shared in our preaching.

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My day job is serving as the Senior Area Director for InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry in the Ohio Valley. I lead a team of six staff covering an area stretching from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and from Morgantown, WV to Cleveland. I also serve as the staff member for the graduate fellowship of InterVarsity at Ohio State, the Christian Graduate Student Alliance. I would describe my passion as helping bring the love of God and the love of learning together in the lives of graduate students and faculty.  I love a line from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that says, “For Christ plays in ten thousand places.” One of the things I love is to see all the different places Christ is at play across campus in different areas of research and the quiet faithfulness of so many of his people from janitorial staff to college presidents.

Through the influence of my blogging son and the encouragement of some colleagues, I launched a blog in this past year, “Bob on Books” that now has been viewed more than 5,000 times. I post on a nearly daily basis reviews of books, thoughts about reading, and wider reflections on life that come out of both what I read and observe. I’ve always thought I communicated better in writing and I think maybe I’ve discovered where my son got the writing bug from!

My artist wife Marilyn helps me slow down and see what is in front of me, whether it is a still life that I am helping her set up and photograph or a plein air outing with the Worthington Area Arts League. I take a sketch pad along and “doodle” while my wife creates real art. I also sing with Capriccio Columbus and Marilyn graciously endures listening to me practice music. We both enjoy gardening, indoors and out, and going for walks in local Metroparks as well as through used bookstores and art supply stores.

Author Feature: Ben Trube

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Ben Trube is a writer and blogger who blogs three times a week on [BTW] Ben Trube, Writer on writing, technology, or whatever strikes him at the moment. He’s been a member Ben Trubeof Smoky Row Brethren Church on and off since he was five. His first memory of the church is a group of church people taking his parents and him bowling right after they moved to Columbus. He stepped over the line, did the splits which he was not designed for, and broke his thigh and was in a cast for 10 weeks during which he got to experience the warmth and generosity of the congregation first hand. He didn’t bowl for 11 years, but has since come to love the sport, and his company bowling tournament is a yearly treat.

Ben has been married for five years to his wife Hannah who he affectionately refers to as “The Little Red Haired Girl”. Ben and Hannah were the first couple Rich married, a wedding our pastor is unlikely to forget. They live in Columbus with their dog Simon and cat Dax.

Ben attended The Ohio State University, earning a degree in Computer Science and works as a programmer professionally. At OSU Ben sang in the Ohio State Men’s Glee club as a Baritone and has from time to time participated in the community choir led by his high-school director, Cappriccio.

Ben has self-published one book, with another due in summer 2014. The first is a book on fractal art and programming, Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, and the second is a noir/technological mystery set in Columbus.

Ben is really excited about where this blog can go. We’ve got a lot of great writers here, and have already received some great feedback. Ben would like to thank everyone who’s signed up so far and encourages anyone to like, comment or share any of these posts!