My Work Setup

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Photo by Rafael Pol on Unsplash

Sitting at my desk I’m surrounded by gadgets and gizmos and a ridiculous assortment of notebooks, pens, cords, drawing instruments, post-its, tabs, binders, clips, a label maker, a couple of different cutting devices, pouches, backpacks, satchel bags, folders, plug adapters, storage containers, tablet stands, stamps, paperweights, erasers, letters, envelopes, dividers, portable keyboards, cameras, external USB drives, eReaders, iPods, markers, headphones, tape, and a few talismanic knick-knacks that have come to help me feel at home: a Chewbacca Pez dispenser, a rock I used as a visual in a youth ministry talk (it says “SERVE”), an Evangecube. Stuff.

I have tools that I love. I bought my iPad and iPad Mini refurbished and long after their initial release to save money and because I knew exactly how I’d use them: primarily as word processing machines, secondarily as web browsers, and thirdly as video and music players. I added a Bluetooth keyboard and an Anker tablet stand, and I was all set for work at home and on the road. A tablet weighs less than a laptop computer. I like being able to easily sync across Apple devices, and portability is a must.

The more I’ve used digital tools the more I’ve come to trust, love and adore pencil and paper. I don’t think I need to buy another notebook for several decades–I have that many in reserve. We have an overflow of pencils and pens, too. My Moleskine (large) serves as my journal, I have an 18 month Moleskine planner that is my primary calendar but also as a place to deposit to-dos, memories, and doodles, and I have an older Ecosystem notebook that I fully customized with tabs for goals, ideas, my reading record, quotes, lists, scraps, artwork, stuff my kids have made, fortune cookie sayings, cartoons, pictures, and movie ticket stubs. If you hung around with me at Institute or at FirstLight, there might be a picture of you in that notebook. Maybe.

I’m particular about pens and pencils. I switch often between a wooden #2 pencil and a Uni-ball Vision Elite ink pen; I also employ a black Sharpie for art work and letter writing. We have so many varieties of Post-It Notes, ranging in all sizes, cuts, and colors, that I keep one stack handy in my primary desk drawer and use them liberally until they are gone. Then I reload. I use Post-Its as bookmarks, reminders, additions to my day planner, and signs I can easily post around the house (or other random places).

I used to hate writing stuff out by hand. I thought my handwriting was difficult to read and unattractive. But now I see it for what it is: the unique scratch I can put on paper, irreplicable, and the most basic form of art I’ll leave behind. One of the things I’ve come to love about handwritten notes from friends and family is that even before I read the return address or the signature I know who it is from just by the marks they’ve made, the block letters or the looping cursive. If you want a letter from me just ask. I might even include a doodle.

I’ve also started to collect a lot of stuff for drawing and sketching, inking and painting. My new hobby has also given me reasons to use stuff I already had–mainly Sharpies. But surprisingly, I have a lot of other pens and markers I’ve accumulated through the years that I now make it a point to use.

My go-to applications are Google Drive and Evernote. I’m strongly considering a move away from Google Drive, and as many other Google hubs as possible, because I have privacy concerns. I keep track of my primary to-dos, especially tasks that I’ve routinized, using Wunderlist. I’ve thought about migrating to another to-do app, too, but for different reasons. Wunderlist operates slowly sometimes, and I’d like a smoother interface. I’ve yet to dedicate a few hours to making the switch. I have plenty of data to transfer. My to-do list keeps me on track daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.

Over the years I’ve cobbled together a really comfortable desktop computing setup. I have a Mac that I bought refurbished, I designated an older computer monitor as a secondary desktop, I bought a monitor stand to elevate that screen, I have a perfect charging station to keep my tablets upright that also preserves space to charge my phone, watch, and camera, and I have a nice little sound system for playing music at home. Everything hooks together easily, and stays compact in my work area. I still have room to lay out my books.

As for knick-knacks, I’ve named a few above. My desk area has small American flags, a Dallas Cowboys star logo patch, a small African sculpture of a thinking man that was given to me by the Conards, a #1 Dad Trophy my daughter gave me for Father’s Day, a pencil drawing of Jesus by Greg Cissell, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ornaments my mom had placed on a birthday cake for me a few years ago, a Bob Feller autographed baseball, art created by Susan DeLong that features Numbers 6:24-26, a couple of challenge coins I’ve been given in the past year, plenty of my kids’ artwork, and a ton of LEGO builds. My diplomas are on the wall, as is a piece of art depicting the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.

My desk has a WACO coaster that my mother-in-law gave to me, which is usually underneath a Klean Kanteen that Molly gave to me, and whatever coffee mug I happen to be drinking from that day (Einstein, Barclay College, Duke Divinity School, Philosophy News, UBC Students, one from our wedding set, a blue one from a set my mom gave me, Perkins School of Theology, a mug with D’s artwork on it, an  FUMC Waco mug, or one of two mugs Molly and I have exchanged on a holiday). My mouse pad says my name. My mom had it made for me a long time ago, and I still use it.

The other assortment surrounding me: books, books, books. There are standard reference works within reach, stuff I aspire to read soon a little further away, and an active stack I’m churning through on my windowsill. Also within reach: five Audobon Society Field Guides: Rocks and Minerals, Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, and Night Sky.

Lately, when I hit the road and go mobile, I throw a few books into my Heritage Leather Bonhoeffer briefcase (thanks to Molly, who gave it to me, and David A., who made it) along with a tablet, tablet stand, one mechanical pencil, one notebook, a keyboard, headphones, and a coffee mug and go to work. Starbucks is about four miles away. I buy a short coffee, drink it black, sometimes ask for water, and try to find a seat.

Right now I’m at my desk at home, which I scored at a rummage sale in Fort Worth. My friend Ryan Thornton helped me get it home, and a former employer allowed me to store it for about a year, since it was too big to fit in my house. There are books nearby that have been gifts and some I picked up from minister friends who were handing off books to another generation.

The things are nice. The memories and the people associated with most all of my things are much nicer.

James W. Arnold, Honored

austin-texas-state-capitolLast Thursday I had the privilege of visiting the Texas State Capitol to hear the Texas House formally accept House Resolution 626 as I stood next to my grandmother, Bess Arnold, on the dais. H. R. 626 formally honored my grandfather, James W. Arnold, who died January 19, 2019 at the age of 87.

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On my right is my cousin, Jimmy Landes. My brother, Walter Simpson, stands on Mrs. Arnold’s left, with John Landes on the far right. At the bottom of the frame is Representative Travis Clardy, who served as our host, and who introduced the resolution before the House. Mr. Clardy represents Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk counties. Mr. Clardy’s wife, Judy, grew up knowing my grandparents alongside their children (my mom, aunts and uncle) in the city of Tyler. The Clardy family and their staff were gracious and warmly welcomed us to the Capitol.

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My uncle Drew Landes recorded the proceedings as they were streamed live on the web.

Here is the video, which I wish I could center in the frame, but cannot:

 

Following the acceptance of the resolution several members of the House came and offered condolences to our family, including Charles “Doc” Anderson, who represents Waco. That was nice, considering I knew who he was.

Our visit to the Capitol was special. I won’t forget it. I am glad that Mr. Clardy, Matt Schaefer, and Cole Hefner introduced this resolution, and I am very thankful that my grandmother, Bess Arnold, had the privilege of hearing it read while on the dais. James W. Arnold was a valued member of the community of Tyler, a true friend, and a respectable man.

Equally if not more important, at least to me, he was my Daddy Jim.

Enter Sandman Made Even Better

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Photo by LINN on Unsplash

Metallica’s Black Album is an absolute classic, and I have fond memories of my little brother humorously whispering the bridge of “Enter Sandman.” Virginia Tech likes the tune and has for years. Metallica was a go-to source for pregame  tracks in the 90s, and I guess they still are considering how often their sound makes its way into hype videos.

There are many covers of “Enter Sandman,” but none as good as the one I heard this week from Iron Horse. Without further ado, let the pickin’ begin.

Football: Know Your Terms

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Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

I’ve made another appearance in the Waco Tribune-Herald’s Letters section, this time talking football terminology. Click and read my letter.

The Trib printed this article from the AP, which I read on Saturday. I wrote my letter that afternoon, and it appeared locally in print on Tuesday. Here’s the play, and the term, that came to mind:

I never knew this play inspired an ice sculpture.

A few years later similar action occured in a game I cared about.

Sports are great. People are, too, especially in their inventive use of words.

May Book Notes and Kindle Deals

Desk May 2019

That’s the view of my desk from today as I’m developing curriculum and studying the Gospel of John.

But, as you might guess, this isn’t all I’ve been reading. I continue to make my way through James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith at a pace of one sermon per day, and I’ve begun Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (one of the Kindle deals below). With Merton I’m not as measured in my pace–more starts and stops. Merton’s autobiography is beautifully written, and I wish more Christians would write with his level of insight and artistry. In the CSB, I am now two-thirds of the way through Psalms.

Yesterday I began Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation and I will soon begin a book by J. L. Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth. I’ve recently completed Jen Pollock Michel’s Surprised by Paradox, which you should pre-order, for as with all her work thus far, it is excellent. I also finished reading The Federalist Papers, which I am so glad that I read. Why? It boosted my confidence in the ideas undergirding the American experiment. This happens to be a wonderful place to live, which, if we uphold and build upon our founding principles, can be even more wonderful.

Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness was tedious for me, but I turned its final pages knowing I had encounter a tremendous woman of faith. After Day, I’m on to Merton. Another book I enjoyed: Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. A book that has value, but didn’t thrill me: Scott Rieckens’ Playing With Fire: How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?

As for May Kindle deals, I’ve noticed:

Lastly, here is a boxed set of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories in hardback that is marked down.

Reading anything good? Leave a comment.

Ciao!

Preach Better Sermons

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Christianity Today’s Christian History email newsletter dropped a nice gem in my inbox this morning. On this date in history:

May 3, 1675: A Massachusetts law goes into effect requiring church doors to be locked during services. Officials enacted the law because too many people were leaving before sermons were over.

Here’s an idea: Instead of passing a law, preach better sermons.

Don’t Miss It.

Seb Agresti

This is artwork by Seb Agresti, who has had work published in The New Yorker and elsewhere. I think I saw this image in the Dense Discovery newsletter.

The icon for this image has been sitting on my computer desktop for weeks. My six year old son, sitting in my lap and observing it asked, “What’s that?” I opened it and said, “What do you see?”

He said, “Those people are sitting on a phone!” I then asked him what he thought the artist was trying to convey, which led to a discussion of interactions with technology. Our exchange boiled down to this: “People spend so much time looking at their phone that they miss a lot of what is beautiful in life.”

So, as you likely are reading this from your phone, turn it off. Put it away. Look at the ocean, the mountains, the sunrise (all three appear in the image above). Hopefully in the company of a friend. Have a conversation. Climb. Go on an adventure. Or sit still.

Don’t miss it.