Deep Practice

From Debra Rienstra

Through random book serendipity, I came across the 2009 book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, and I’ve been reading about “talent hotbeds.” Coyle wanted to know why a certain Russian tennis academy produces a slew of champions, or the Dominican Republic a steady stream of baseball pros, or 1590s Elizabethan England an outpouring of great poets. He discovered that the answer is neither genetic mutations, nor climate, nor—I know this will come as a disappointment—aliens. The answer is practice.

Naturally, we are talking about a certain kind of practice in certain kinds of circumstances. The book is a pleasantly breathless study of what creates motivation, what constitutes great coaching or teaching, and how we learn complex skills most efficiently. If you can put together the right elements, you might just set off a bloom of talent. I found this book intriguing as a teacher, a musician, and an occasionally nagging parent (“Practice your horn!”)—and I’m sure that athletes, too, would find it useful and even inspiring.

What interested me most, though, was the idea of “deep practice” at the heart of the book. Efficient learning, the kind that results in exceptional talent, requires not just any practice, but deep practice. This is a focused, exacting form of skill-building, a kind of fierce meditation in action. Anyone can do it; you just have to learn how and then keep it up.

The reason deep practice is so effective, Coyle explains, is myelin. Myelin is a sheathing that your brain uses to coat and secure a neural pathway when you repeat a skill. The more you repeat something, the more myelin your brain creates and the greater “bandwidth” you develop for that skill. When you practice well, you build myelin quickly, and you retain and improve the skill you’re working on. So don’t practice something wrong! Then you’re just building myelin for the wrong pathway!


Black Soil--lovely dirt

From James C. Schaap


Yesterday, my neighbor came by and dumped a scoop full of black dirt on what, someday, will be--we hope--our front lawn. What some people tell me, people I trust, is that you can never have enough black dirt. 

I'm no farmer, never have been, never will be; nor am I much of a gardener, to be truthful. But there's something about that line I love:  "You can never have enough black dirt." If it was funny, it could be a Rodney Dangerfield one-liner; but it's not--it's true. "You can never have enough black dirt."

Anyway, we got it. A few days ago, we took a dying plant into a local greenhouse to get a new arrangement. The guy said he'd dig the old one out and put together some new combo for us--late season, 50% off too. He did.

But he said he put the old sad one into a spare pot he had sitting around because the old guy still had good roots. Just couldn't toss it. I like that.

Anyway, he looked up at us as if what he'd pulled out of that old pot was straight dope (this is Iowa, remember, not  Colorado).  He looked straight at me, brows furrowed. "Where'd you get that dirt anyway?" he said. 


Raspberries and Sowing

From Thomas C. Goodhart

This has been a bumper harvest year for my black raspberries! They have done well in our little churchyard space each of the last six years since I planted them but are now finally established in just the right patch. Rooted in well, aided by supportive fencing for their brambles, provided a good amount of sun but not too much they have rewarded me with plump berries for breakfast for weeks now.

It is in the light of a prodigious supply of black raspberries that I ponder and prepare for this coming Sunday’s gospel text in the Revised Common Lectionary which includes the parable of the sower from Matthew 13:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)


Spiritual Vibrations

From Jes Kast-Keat

Inside the Grand Mosque in Muscat, OmanThe spiritual energy of a specific location I can sense pretty quickly.  Do you ever sit in a park in your town and wonder about the spiritual health of your neighborhood? I do, often. For me, New York City consistently spiritually vibrates. As a Quaker friend once said to me, there is a spiritual flow in NYC that many traditions plug into.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and people of various religious identities, and people of no religious identities, live and work together. On a day-to-day basis we, overall, coexist. Kippahs, hijabs, ashes and the like display our faith for the outside world to perhaps peak the curiosity of others.

I was in Brooklyn the other day and the mosque by my friend’s house was bustling with people. It is Ramadan after all. I was waiting in line at the bus stop when the evening call to prayer was being sung. I love reverently listening. The first time I heard the call to prayer was in Oman with RCA pastors. The call to prayer reminds me, a Christian, to pray. I will usually pray a simple and quiet prayer “God, thank you for making so many different kinds of people. Teach us how to live together in peace. Amen.”



From Scott Hoezee

Much has been written and said about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision last week.   And here's some more!   I doubt I will share anything particularly unique or novel but I write this out of a sense of some internal theological conflict.

After all and on the one hand, we Christians are called to witness to our identity in Christ and one way we do this is by not going along with every trend or whim of the wider society in which we find ourselves.   Christians are supposed to be different.  We are resident aliens, strangers in a world often hostile to our faith and even to our very Lord.  Just because the law of the land might call on you to renounce your faith, you would not do so even upon the possible pain of death.   If the laws of the land discriminate against a group of people (as happened in the era of Jim Crow in especially the American South), then religious people (on religious grounds) protest and resist.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and company may have done so non-violently but the resistance--rooted in biblical and theological beliefs--was real and warranted nonetheless.   It also involved the violation of the law.    The law might be unjust and dumb (people of color could not sit at a Walgreen's lunch counter, for instance) but it was nonetheless the law such that sitting at the counter anyway was an arrestable offense.  Yet those people were right to do so.