Monday, September 14, 2009

Valuing the Basics

The two images inn the previous post aren't easy to understand. But when I understood what Lightning Tiger (the one in the black) was saying, I was deeply appreciative.

It seems so common, so basic that one might ask "How could anyone not know this?" But yet, all the time, people just don't follow it. Oftentimes, people will ask me what protein shake is best, how to swim, if they should be doing this exercise or that one. Others will ask me about particular points of theology and details of Scripture. Or sometimes the same people will ask about both.

Now, I have no formal training in sports and I don't have a seminary degree, but even I realize that their questions are so badly placed. Skinny guys who worry about adding a muscle will not receive much, if any, benefit from a protein shake if they're not eating enough throughout the day. Likewise, fat people have no business taking weight-loss supplements if they're washing it down with a Dr. Pepper and takeout. If you're afraid of drowning, you have no business worrying about which wetsuit will make you fastest in the water.

That above paragraph is inspired by a recent article I read from Dan John and Chris Shugart. What comes next is the question "Well, what comes next?"

The same thing. There was this old Gatorade commercial that said "Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."

If you want to improve, the most important thing is endless repetition of the basics. Sometimes it's by a shocking, revolutionary change in philosophy or methodology but more often than not, it's the basic elements once again.

Let me provide two instances where I've found this to be true. The first is swimming. I am currently bad swimmer. There is no hiding it. This past Saturday, I was in a swim race where the slower swimmers went first according to their assigned number; the lower, the slower. In a field of 402 , I was #15. It would not have been a stretch to have been dead last in the water. Even a 59-year old swimmer who died of a heart attack during the race was ranked higher than I.

And I'm always looking to improve. A regular week for me has 7 to 8 hours divided over 5 or 6 days dedicated to improving my abilities. What am I doing during this time? Am I endlessly churning laps hoping to improve my stamina and power? No, during this time, I'm watching how many bubbles my hands make and how many I exhale under water. For me, at this stage, the best way to improve is not through improving my muscles or VO2 levels, but rather to refine the basics of creating less drag, of using my hips for power and not my arms.

But I've come a long way. In the beginning, I couldn't swim freestyle at all. Now I have swam 1.5 km in open waters a number of times. I owe it to the basics.

That may be esoteric.

Let me talk now about my spiritual struggles. Maybe that would be easier to grasp. The struggles, if I were to share them with someone I don't know that well, might be said as simply "pride and not trusting in God." Which is true, don't get me wrong. That does a fair job of describing the problem.

But I never think of it that way to myself. To me, the problem is one of human dignity. Is a human not abased through humility? I have heard numbers of arguments otherwise but they ring hollow in my ears. Even if we were "made to worship" and we're "fulfilling our purpose" by humbling ourselves in worship and adoration, I cannot see the uplift of God at the cost of demeaning the self as a wholly good act.

Is this pride? Yes. Is it an old issue? Yes. In High School, I wrestled with the question of "If I really want to do something but God tells me not to, why should I do it?" At the time, the activities in question were sex and partying when I go to college. Today, those haven't gone away entirely, but the true center revolves around my understanding of the Bible's view on humans, God and just what I am going to do if I disagree with it.

The parameters of the answer have changed as well. I used to accept "You should do it, because you go to hell if you don't." I cannot accept that answer anymore. A mind cannot, should not ever, in any circumstance, be moved by force. That is more immoral than the threat itself. That's why it's not shameful in any way to struggle with the same issue.

Baseball players will often go through slumps where they couldn't buy a hit with all the money they make. They'll flail helplessly at breaking balls in the dirt, fastballs by their eyes and everything else from nose to toes. Is it a lack of knowledge on their part? No, they learned when they were 8 years old to only swing at pitches that they can hit. How can these players be so incompetent that they still struggle with this?

Well, because the specific timbre of the problem has changed. A commentator or casual fan may just say that he's "not getting good wood on the ball" but an experienced player with an experienced hitting coach may find that the problem was the angle of his head in the ready position or standing an inch or two closer or further away, perhaps a hitch in the player's timing mechanism. Who's right? Both the inexperienced and experienced person may be correct, but only the person battling through a problem can see the particulars.

And the solution? More repetition of the basics.

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