Daily Gleanings: Ros Barber (13 August 2019)

Freedom interviews Ros Barber about her advice for focused progress as both an academic and a creative writer. In the interview, two features stand out as perhaps particularly helpful for emerging scholars in biblical studies.

First, Barber is pretty open about her own less-than-immediate path to a permanent academic post. She says,

I had to get a PhD to get tenure. I did my PhD from 2006-2011 and finally got a permanent academic post in 2014.

Barber’s “dogged determination” between 2011 and 2014 substantially resonates with my own experience and what Craig Keener has recently mentioned as well.

Assessments about difficult academic job markets notwithstanding, “never giv[ing] up” has a lot to be said for it, especially if you’re doing (or have done) a PhD in biblical studies because you feel called to the kind of academic vocation it trains you for. And if you’re coming at that vocation from the perspective of a faith community, then both in the PhD and thereafter, it’s worth remembering that laborare est orare. And he who hears prayer, is quite capable of moving and making space in markets. So whether the journey between completing a PhD and finding an academic post is longer or shorter, that journey is basically an exercise in the faithfulness of continually doing the next right small thing that’s in your hand to do.

Second, in keeping with the consistent theme for Freedom’s profiles in this series, Barber offers some helpful perspectives on what she does to help herself write productively. She comments reflects honestly about “losing a lot of time to email, apps, and the internet more generally.” And “even when [she] wasn’t actively procrastinating, [she] would feel distracted and twitchy and find it difficult to get focused.”

Barber has now found it best to “have a complete Facebook and Twitter ban from 9am to 6pm,” and she “feel[s] a lot more focused as a result.” In systematizing her discipline, Barber has found Freedom particularly valuable so that she doesn’t simply have to rely on willpower to she feels tempted to procrastinate or distract herself.

There’s a good deal else in the interview that makes it worth the read. Some of this addresses how Barber schedules her writing and techniques she uses to overcome fear that what she writes won’t be any good. For these and the balance of the interview, see Freedom’s original post.

What Is Essential?

There’s never a bad time to try to take stock of what lies ahead. But it can be particularly helpful as demands mount, as free time in your schedule wanes, or as it looks like either of these might be on the horizon..

How can you stay afloat? How can you avoid dropping balls as challenges ramp up?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. But, a helpful question to begin asking regularly is “What is essential?”

AltArrow on factory wall by Hello I’m Nik

The question “What is essential?” pushes in the direction of minimizing the excess in life. But it does so in a way that also asks us to keep hold of what has higher priority.

Rather than trying to fit more and more into a life with less and less margin, the question “What is essential?” asks us to reckon with the reality of limits—both as humans in general and as particular humans who each hold particular things to be important.

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown reflects,

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people … will choose for us, and before long, we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important. We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives. (16)

Of course, some of what we should choose deliberately is connecting with, enjoying relationships with, and serving our families, close friends, and others.

The point isn’t that we shouldn’t do this. But for instance, the quite definite forces in the modern “attention economy” have very certain “agendas” that we can unwittingly “allow … to control our lives” in ways we wouldn’t choose if we were being deliberate.

And just by virtue of faithfulness to whatever calling we find on our lives or in a particular season, it behooves us to be mindful about the choices that we make and what we allow to become a priority such that it excludes or squeezes other important relationships, activities, and practices.

Whatever we’re called to do in any circumstance, it pretty safely isn’t, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, to be “always forced to decide between alternatives [we] have not chosen” because we’ve not exercised our responsibility to live intentionally (Prisoner for God, 175).

What questions or criteria do you find helpful in minimizing the non-essential?