Back to the Table

The ordeals that have kept me from writing regularly and resuming an academic career for the past three years are…not over. Thankfully. But this past Lent and Holy Week have been an inflection point in my life, I hope and believe.

Completing my first dozen years brought me to faith and literacy; my second dozen to teaching and service; my third to family and study. I don’t have a crystal clear idea where this fourth dozen leads me. But I do have these fuzzy notions: The times mean I’m fighting against revertin’ back to our daily programs. I need to write like I’m running out of time. And if I only live another dozen years, I want to have known that I spent these raising my daughter to be strong and humble, proud and loving, in this world.

So I’m trying to crawl back to the table.

Mixed Methods Living

In theory, I believe in mixed methods research. I say “in theory” only because there is a set of skills and knowledge you need to include quantitative, numerical analysis that usually you mean when you say “mixed methods,” and that is a set of skills and knowledge that I sorely lack. As a researcher, that’s okay, because I know enough to read, evaluate, and make use of others’ quantitative analyses, and then my part of the work is to offer the complementary qualitative analyses that speak to what those numbers say.
 
But in daily life, being a “mixed methods” person means that I am learning when to attend to the “qualitative” aspects and when to attend to the “quantitative” aspects. They’re analytically distinct, meaning they’re two different ways of looking at things that can often seem to contradict each other. But in reality, in God’s eyes, so to speak, the separation is not so stark. What things look like from the scales of measurement with sufficient quantities of data might provide a different picture from what they look like from the description and interpretation of details and up-close units of analysis. But both become necessary in ways of living. 
 
I was listening to a basketball podcast interview with Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean talk about how he and his coaches work with players. The players he recruits and prepares for the League, he says, are not just the ones who are willing to spend time in the gym or to put in the work— in my words, not just the quantity of will. He also looks for those willing to get into the details, to pay attention to doing the little things right, to get better at the fundamentals that ultimately have a greater impact multiplied over practice time— in my words, the quality of skill. (I’m paraphrasing and adding in a lot— this is my version of what he said in my head, which is definitely riddled with inaccuracies!)
 
But of course, everyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell knows it takes 10,000 hours to become awesome at something, like the Beatles, right? That’s scientifically proven! Malcolm Gladwell said it!
 
Truth is, though I’m a qualitative researcher, I tend to act most of the time as if volume is what matters. Say more words and you’ll cover all your bases. Show your devotion by promising and racking up more hours. Cherish the experience of the buffet, and eat more, regardless of the subtleties of flavor, because the feeling of inundating yourself with food all at once will secure you from all future hunger.
 
Mixed methods research is really rich research, but it requires attending to a lot of particulars and articulating a lot of relationships that can’t be taken for granted. How will one kind of analysis speak to another kind of analysis, what propositions or narratives will the data test or examine and how will they go together. At its best, it’s a John Williams score over a good Spielberg movie. Poorly planned, it’s trying to listen to Macklemore while watching Survivor at the same time.
 
Mixed methods living: a similar challenge. Can I pay more attention to the quality of my time spent with my daughter than sheer quantity? And yet not take myself off the hook for just plain ol’ carrying my share of the load of responsibility, the gigantic mountain of attention she needs and deserves? Can I do the same with my writing, research, or teaching, all of which are vocations that show pretty clearly when someone is taking shortcuts, which require lots of time in the gym, but also thoughtfulness and selectivity? 
 
I have to. There’s no other way to responsibly face the variety of callings in my life than to be responsible for how I live as well as how much I live into it. 
 

Between Chinese New Year and Ash Wednesday

Years ago, one of my best friends and my pastor, Brian Hui, invited our church to consider an alternative to the Lenten habit of fasting: instead of dropping something for Lent, what if we took up something for Lent?  Christian tradition is filled with disciplines of abstinence as well as disciplines of engagement, as Richard Foster has pointed out.  These disciplines of engagement might include celebration, prayer, or communion with others.  Never being one to be smart enough to choose one simple change, I decided to do both this Lent: give up coffee, take up blogging.

Today, the Gregorian and Lunar calendars conspired to put Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Years Eve on the same night, so I wasn’t able to go to our church’s Ash Wednesday service tonight, prioritizing dinner with my folks.  Red envelopes instead of back ashes, symbolic dishes instead of bread and wine.  Living as a Chinese Christian in the West means that, for the most part, what is beautiful culturally coalesces powerfully with what is significant spiritually.  But at other times, the way we try to embody both culture and faith are either/or propositions, not both/and.  And time and calendars are often a domain where the cultures of ethnic heritage and the cultures of life in Christ can have struggles of mutual exclusivity.

Chinese New Year suits my style.  Looking forward with optimism, embracing good fortune with cautious expectation, seizing the chance to start anew.

But right now, Ash Wednesday is what I need.  Humility to grieve what’s been lost in us.  The preparation for a long season of reflection, readiness for a desert time, and repentance as a mode of living.

My life is so overrun with excesses of material stuff, of unfulfilled opportunities, of unmet promises, of troubling consumption, that I feel like I’m hurtling recklessly on the momentum of a lifestyle that’s self- and world-destructive.  I’m hungering for a season of simplicity and repose, not of prosperity and luck.  Luck, I’ve had.  But when we’re called into account for what’s been lavished on us?  That’s where I’m at the end of my rope, seeking salvation, not longevity.