Principles: 10 Imperatives for the Good Life

Why write out a list of principles?

For one thing, it’s my birthday. And, although I’m only in my twenties, I’m feeling a bit reflective.

For another, I’ve just been given a copy of Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio (affiliate link).

According to Dalio (ix),

Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life. They can be aplied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals.

With that in mind, here are 10 principles I’ve developed so far. I’ve followed Dalio’s lead in casting my principles as imperatives. No, I don’t always do an excellent job at these. But they’re worth striving for.

No, this is not an exhaustive list. And no, I don’t always do an excellent job at these. But they’re worth striving for.


1. Go to Church: Word & Sacraments

This principle, and the following one, are purposefully at the top of the list. Why? Because they will place you in a context where your desires, your view of reality, and therefore your principles will be formed in the right direction.

So, go to a church where you can hear the Word of God preached and where you can partake of the Sacraments.

Further Reading:

2. Do the Daily Office: Morning and Evening Prayer

NOTE: I realize that a WHOLE LOT MORE could be said with/underneath these first two “principles.” As an overarching principle, “Become More Like Jesus Christ in All I Think, Feel, Say, and Do,” is quite good. In fact, I’d consider most of the rest of this blog to be relevant in that respect.

However, I’m going to devote the next eight principles to various pragmatic concerns, such as productivity, physical fitness, and financial well-being.

3. Think on Paper: Keep a Journal and To-Do Lists

4. Read More & Take Notes

5. Ask More/Better Questions

6. Sit Less & Move Heavier Objects

7. Eat Less Sugar & More Vegetables

8. Turn off the TV and the Notifications on Your Phone

9. Get/Stay out of Debt

10. Invest a 401K and IRA in Index Funds or Lifecycle Funds


What principles would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Podcasts You Should Listen To

Podcasts: An Introduction

Although podcasts (think “iPod” + “broadcast”) have been around for over a decade, we’re living in a bit of a golden age – or a least a Rennaissance – of the medium. For the uninitiated, here’s a nice video about what podcasts are:

Currently, podcasts are one of my very favorite ways to consume information about a wide variety of topics. Sure, gun to my head, I’ll choose books over podcasts as a way to learn. However, unlike books (or videos), you can easily listen to podcasts while doing other things – whether folding laundry, washing dishes, or going for a run/walk.

(Note: as I mentioned in my list of favorite tools and apps, Overcast is my current favorite podcast player. Although, there are plenty of other worthy podcast players/managers to check out!)

There are no shortage of podcasts, or lists of best podcasts, for that matter. However, here are my current favorites.

My Favorite Podcasts:

Up First (NPR)

This is the first podcast I listen to every weekday while making coffee. I love that it’s short (˜10 minutes) and that it provides some snapshots of important news stories that day. In addition to Up First, I frequently listen to NPR newscasts via their NPR One app, which is worth checking out!

The Art of Manliness

Sure, the egalitarian in me wishes there were a show out there called “The Art of Humanity” – about how to be a Mensch. However, in the meantime, Brett McKay has a solid podcast going about “reviving the lost art of manliness.” I enjoy the podcast (and the Art of Manliness website) because it includes so many helpful how-to guides – for everything from weightlifting to men’s fashion.

Word & Table

I created Rookie Anglican as a way of making Anglicanism more accessible. This podcast, Word & Table, has much the same mission, although it’s focus is not just on Anglicanism, but rather on the rich Christian tradition of liturgical worship. As I wrote about the podcast over at Rookie Anglican:

According to their website, Word & Table “is a weekly podcast about liturgy, sacrament, and the great tradition of Christian worship and why it is vital in our world today.”

The podcast was started back in October 2016, and it’s hosted by Alex Wilgus and Fr. Stephen Gauthier, the Canon Theologian for the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of the Upper Midwest.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to episodes via the Word & Table website, or simply search for “Word and Table” in your podcast player/manager of choice.

If you’ve got questions about anything related to the Christian tradition, check out the Word & Table podcast to see if they have an episode on the topic!

The Tim Ferriss Show

I’ve become somewhat of a Tim Ferriss junkie in the past two years. In addition to this podcast – which features long-form interviews with “top performers,” in which Tim distils tips, tricks, habits, and practices for the common person – Ferriss’ books are well worth checking out (Affiliate LInks: The 4-Hour Workweek; The 4-Hour Body; The 4-Hour Chef; Tools of Titans) . He’s great at teaching metalearning – how to learn how to learn!

(Note: Tim Ferriss is how I found out about kettlebells – one of my favorite tools for personal fitness.)

Coffee Break German

Sure, Coffee Break German hasn’t taught me the kind of German that I’ll need for my Ph.D. German translation exam. However, it is a very informative introduction to basic/conversational German. It makes a wonderful companion to Duolingo for language learning! Radio Lingua Network offers a whole suite of “Coffee Break” languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Chinese!

This American Life

In my opinion, no podcast beats This American Life in terms of the quality and variety of storytelling. It’s well worth your time, in addition to the “spinoff” shows Serial and S-Town.

Honorable Mentions:

So tell me, what are your favorite podcasts?

Tools You Should Use

Who doesn’t love great tools?

These are my current (2017) favorite tools, some electronic, some digital. Please note that all Amazon links are affiliate links. Also, please note that these are not ranked in order of importance!

BEST PEN: Zebra F-701 Stainless Steel Ballpoint Retractable Pen

Zebra stainless steel pen photo

This is my “desert island” pen. It may not be the very best pen in the whole wide world, but I’m quite sure it’s the pen at the intersection of durability, versatility, and affordability. If you really want to, you can “hack” the F701 by putting in a better ink cartridge. But I’ve been perfectly happy with the standard Zebra refills.

BEST NOTEBOOK: Leuchtturm1917 Medium Size Hardcover A5 Notebook – Dotted Pages

Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook photoI use this notebook for a personal combination of the Bullet Journal method, Morning Pages journaling, and the 5-Minute Journal. It’s a step up, paper-wise from a Moleskine, yet still affordable – and I love the Medium/A5 size. Currently, I’m on my third one, which is “anthracite gray.” The first two were black, then navy blue. I prefer dotted pages, but they also have ruled and blank page options.

BEST PASSWORD MANAGER: LastPass

Lastpass logo

In case you don’t already have and use a password manager, you should really really get one. But don’t just take my word for it, here’s an informative piece from Wired about why you need a password manager.

I started using LastPass a couple years back, and I haven’t looked back. My wife and I both share a premium account – installed on our internet browsers and phones.

BEST SECOND BRAIN: Evernote

Evernote logo

I use Evernote primarily as my all-in-one digital file-cabinet – my “second brain,” as the company itself calls it. I’ve been paying for a premium subscription for awhile now, but the free version is quite robust and worth checking out. As far as organizing my Evernotes goes, I’m currently using Michael Hyatt’s tag-based system, although I started off just using notebooks and stacks of notebooks.

FAVORITE FITNESS TOOL: CAP Barbell Cast Iron Competition Weight Kettlebell – 35 Lbs.

CAP kettlebell picture

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, one of the best exercises in the entire world is the two-handed kettlebell swing. If you’re short on time, but would still like to improve your strength and overall fitness, I highly recommend starting up a basic kettlebell workout routine. Check out this Art of Manliness article about the kettlebell swing to get started.

BEST TOOL FOR TASK MANAGEMENT: Todoist


Todoist logoAs productivity guru David Allen says, your brain is for having ideas, not storing them! Therefore, in order to keep track of everything I have to get done, I have found an external task management system absolutely indispensable. I’ve tried a TON of different task managers, but Todoist has been my favorite for awhile now.

BEST WATCH: Casio Men’s G-Shock Classic Digital Watch

Casio G-Shock Watch
I prefer having an actual watch on my wrist (and, according to Business Insider, I’m not alone), so that I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket to check the time. Granted, I don’t have a favorite watch for females. And, granted, there are much nicer, more elaborate, more expensive watches available out there. However, much like my pen choice above, this watch stands at the intersection of functionality, durability, and affordability. If you’re looking for an even cheaper analog option, check out the Casio Men’s MQ24-7B2 (recommended by Kevin Kelly via Cool Tools). 

BEST TOOL FOR PODCASTS: Overcast

Overcast logoI think that – after books – podcasts are one of the best ways out there to learn and stay interesting. Plus, unlike books (and Youtube videos), you can easily listen to a podcast while doing something else, such as washing the dishes or folding laundry. Apple’s native Podcasts app has come a very long way, and is worth checking out. However, my favorite podcast app is currently (the free version of) Overcast. To get all “meta” on you, here’s an excellent podcast episode about podcasting. Check it out if you’re even somewhat confused about what podcasts are.

(If you’re curious, here’s a list of my favorite podcasts.)

BEST POCKET KNIFE: Gordon Drop Point EDC Pocket Knife (Harbor Freight)Harbor Freight pocket knife

Just like the pen and the watch recommended above, this is NOT the nicest knife in the world. However, it is functional, durable, and VERY affordable. Pick one up at/via Harbor Freight Tools.

BEST TOOL FOR LEARNING/MEMORY: Anki (Flashcard Software)

Anki logo

This is the tool I wish I knew about back in high school. Spaced repetition is a key to successful and time-efficient learning. And Anki bakes spaced repetition into flashcard reviews. I started using Anki, on the recommendation of Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever, to learn German for my PhPh.D.rogram. However, the uses of Anki are virtually endless when it comes to learning. Granted, the learning curve is a bit steep, but check out Wyner’s guide to using Anki as a way of getting started.

(Note: as I mention in my list of favorite podcasts, Coffee Break German (and Radio Lingua’s other Coffee Break language courses) are also great language-learning tools!)

Honorable Mentions: Other Tools Worth Trying

I’lll do my best to periodically update this list of recommendations.

Finally, this isn’t a tool, per se, but it IS one of the coolest collections of tool recommendations I know of: Cool Tools. Check the website out, and let me know what you find!

Is The Well-Equipped Christian Worth It?

Have you ever had a problem finding a reliable resource for recommendations?

I have.

Certain Google searches are a piece of cake, but the “best resources for ______” ones can be hit-or-miss.

And don’t even get me started on the decision fatigue.  As a serial over-thinker, I start to hate myself a little bit after reading through the upteenth list of “5 Best ____s.” It makes it so hard to make a decision! Then, when you pick something, you end up doubting your decision. Not fun.

I’m sure these dynamics apply to a bunch of different things in life. However, while serving as a Youth Minister in seminary, I realized that finding reliable Christian recommendations and resources can be very difficult.

Sure, it’s not for lack of content out there! When it comes to Christianity, everyone has an opinion – and usually an associated reading list!

But how do you know that the book or blog-post that you find isn’t from some crazy yahoo with nothing more than a computer and a Bible?

Furthermore, if you’re a Christian and your looking for recommendations and resources in some other area, how do you know that what you find is worthwhile?

I mean, sure, everything should be read with a critical eye. But is that latest book or blog-post about mindfulness, parenting, self-help, or productivity helpful and useful for Christians? Or will it require quite a bit of theological critique and analysis before it’s helpful without being potentially harmful?

Google is great, and getting better at many things. But – at least for right now – it’s a pretty crappy theologian!

Idea: The Well-Equipped Christian

With all this in mind, I have an idea: The Well-Equipped Christian (or a similar title) – a website that’s a one-stop shop for Christians looking for reliable recommendations and resources.

Now, to be clear, I’m not claiming to BE the well-equipped Christian! I am not the be-all-end-all source of reliable Christian information.

However, I am a Christian with a seminary education. I’m pursuing a PhD in theology, and I have a heart for the Church.

I want to devote my life and ministry to helping to produce as many “well-equipped Christians” as possible. And I absolutely love giving practical recommendations – specifically in the areas of Bible study, theology, productivity, and meta-learning.

There are a lot of great resources out there. Resources that Christians can benefit from to have healthy minds, bodies, and souls as they advance God’s Kingdom in their daily lives.

I want to connect you to those resources.

I Need Your Help

Are you wiling to help me figure out whether or not this is a good idea? If so, great! I’d love to hear your answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the biggest problem that you’ve faced in finding reliable recommendations and resources? Not just for specifically Christian resources (although that’s great if you want to focus on that), but also for resources in general.
  2. When you talk to your friends about finding reliable recommendations and resources, what kinds of things do you say? Any specific feelings or complaints?

Finally, please share this post with anyone you think would be willing to give me their input! Thank you so much!

~Josh

A Ridiculously Helpful Markdown Tutorial

I’ve been dragging my heels on learning Markdown for awhile now.

If you don’t know, Markdown is:

lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax designed so that it can be converted to HTML and many other formats using a tool by the same name.[8] Markdown is often used to format readme files, for writing messages in online discussion forums, and to create rich text using a plain text editor. [Source: Wikipedia]

That is, get the benefits of HTML and/or rich text, without [as steep of] a learning curve!

To make things even easier, I suggest starting with this Markdown Tutorial. Should this tutorial prove too basic, it even links to other, more in-depth guides at the end!

I plan to start implementing Markdown in my workflow for this blog, and also for Rookie Anglican.

Cheers!

Let’s Take Seth Godin to Church

 

I’m not going to lie. My first reaction when I saw the cover of this book? 

No! Of course you’re not indispensable. What use could this crap possibly be to the Church, or to me – simultaneously a pastor and a pastor-in-training.

Then, however, I read the book. And I suggest you do, too!

(Note: affiliate link. I get paid if you make a purchase.)

Seth Godin, bald marketing extraordinaire, is convinced that a paradigm shift has taken place. I’ll quote from his annotated table of contents (which, by the way, I wish all books had):

We have gone from two teams (management and labor) to a third team, the linchpins. These are people who own their own means of production, who can make a difference, lead us, and connect us. The death of the factory means that the entire system we have built our lives around is now upside down. This is either a huge opportunity or a giant threat. Revolutions are frightening because the new benefits sometimes lag behind the old pain. This time, the opportunity is to bring your best self to the marketplace and be rewarded for it (vii).

For the past few generations, we’ve grown used to the implicit deal: If you go to school, learn how to follow instructions, work hard, and show up on time, we’ll take care of you.

But, at least in many sectors, the bargain has fallen apart.

So, Godin advises us to become linchpins in whatever industry we find ourselves. We must treat our work as art, and combine a variety of skills to address complex situations.

We must be able to figure out what to do next, without it being spelled out for us in an instruction manual.

OK, great. But what does this have to do with CHURCH?

I believe pastors are uniquely situated to be linchpins.

They are the leaders of a largely volunteer organization. And, Pastoral Epistles notwithstanding, there is no instruction manual (God forbid we treat the Bible like an instruction manual!).

So they must treat their work as art. If they just phone it in and serve their time, they’ll be left with only the people who phone it in and serve their time as church members!

I believe Christians are uniquely situated to be linchpins in their workplaces.

I plan to write more about this in future posts, but it’s ridiculous how much of the self-help advice out there these days aligns with the things Christians should be the very best at!

A bunch of Godin’s advice centers around treating other people as full human beings, and on giving freely without the expectation of debt or compensation (See chapters “The Powerful Culture of Gifts” and “The Culture of Connection”).

I don’t know about you, but that sounds familiar.

As pastors focus on leading by example – by being linchpins themselves – they could start explicit conversations about the connections between worship on Sunday and work (which should also be worship) on the other six days.

Finally, I believe that each church is uniquely situated to be a linchpin in its community.

What if churches were known for showing artful, personal, and prodigal love to their communities, without expectation of increased attendance on a Sunday morning?

What if we were seeker-sensitive, without selling out to the “latest” corporate and marketing strategies (which, often enough, rely upon the old paradigm)?

What if, especially in North America, we stopped complaining about “persecution,” and started creatively taking advantage of the situations in which we find ourselves?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I’m convinced they’re worth asking!

Godin is convinced that people are starving for personal connection in a world filled with faceless factories and multinational corporations.
I’m convinced that the Church – the Body of Christ – has just the food to feed those starving.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)


(Note: affiliate link. I get paid if you make a purchase.)

What are you afraid of?

I’m scared. Are you?

Specifically, as I wrote in my journal this very morning:

I’m scared – I’m scared of wasting my life, I’m scared of not being worth anything outside of the classroom.

Fear drives so many aspects of our lives – from how we dress, to how we raise our children, to how we elect our leaders. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, fear can play a large role in what/whom we worship.

For example, perhaps we worship God out of a fear of going to hell, or a fear of our inherited religion being wrong. We secretly worry that, like Donald Miller’s father accuses him in the movie Blue Like Jazz, we “only believe that stuff ‘cuz [we]’re afraid to hang out with people that don’t.”

Or perhaps we don’t worship God – and instead worship a god of our choice/invention – because we’re afraid of the implications of God’s existence.

Now, there is, I’m persuaded, a holy fear. A salutary reverence and awe in the face of the divine.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here, I’m talking about the paralyzing fear – the cold sweat, the white knuckles, the tension headaches.

I’m talking about the same kind of fear as Seth Godin:

The power of fear

Fear will push you to avert your eyes.

Fear will make you think you have nothing to say.

It will create a buzz that makes it impossible to meditate…

or it will create a fog that makes it so you can do nothing but meditate.

Fear seduces us into losing our temper.

and fear belittles us into accepting unfairness.

Fear doesn’t like strangers, people who don’t look or act like us, and most of all, the unknown.

It causes us to carelessly make typos, or obsessively look for them.

Fear pushes us to fit in, so we won’t be noticed, but it also pushes us to rebel and to not be trustworthy, so we won’t be on the hook to produce.

It is subtle enough to trick us into thinking it isn’t pulling the strings, that it doesn’t exist, that it’s not the cause of, “I don’t feel like it.”

When in doubt, look for the fear.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s knowing how to deal with fear. And, for me, the first step toward dealing with my fears is frankly admitting them. 

  • I’m scared, because I don’t know what’s next after I graduate from Beeson in December.
  • I’m scared, because the thing I’ve felt called to for the longest time – getting a PhD in systematic theology – seems like an impractical pipe dream.
  • I’m scared, because I don’t know if I’ll get into a PhD program. And, if I don’t, I don’t know how I’ll react to not being able to rely upon good grades for self-worth.

Thankfully, none of these fears prevent me from being faithful with the day I’ve been given – today. The greatest failure would be to use fears of the future as an excuse for present faithlessness.

So, what are you afraid of? How are you dealing with those fears?

Have you admitted them to anyone? If not, I challenge you to do so today.

If you’ve got no one, not even a journal, to listen to your admission, I’m all ears, for what it’s worth.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

Kettlebell Swings: Back Balm for the Sedentary [Seminarian]

I love books. Books, however, do not like my back.

Can you relate?

Maybe it’s not sitting around reading books all day, but I imagine plenty of you out there suffer from back pain/fatigue.

Let me share a time-saving solution I’ve recently found: two-handed kettlebell swings.

Our small kettlebell family
Our small kettlebell family

How can these cannonballs with handles help your back?

Well, the kettlebell swing is one of the many exercises out there that activates your posterior chain – the muscles along the back of your body.

However, as BreakingMuscle.com clarifies:

for those with lower back issues traditional posterior chain exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, etc. may exacerbate the condition, while swings may not. For those looking to strengthen the lower back and unable to use these traditional exercises the swing may be just the thing they’re looking for

Thanks to the full-body movement of the swing, you really don’t need to use a lot of weight to feel a difference. For example, I’ve been squatting 225 lbs. in maintenance mode recently, and after the first day of kettlebell swings with a 35 lb. kettlebell, my glutes and hamstrings were more sore than they’d been in months!

I’ve been very impressed with the results of a basic kettlebell workout, and it will enable me to get exercise at home during the semester, when going to the gym is more of a stretch.

Would you like to give kettlebell swings a try?

First, learn the proper form and then look for a kettlebell to give it a try.

For the CliffsNotes version, here’s the Tim Ferriss blogpost on the matter. For a more in-depth approach, BreakingMuscle.com, in addition to their article on why the kettlebell swing is such a great exercise, has this piece on how to do the perfect kettlebell swing.

If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a helpful instructional video from Eric Moss:

What weight should you start with? I began with a 35 lb. (16 kg.). Kettlebells USA has one of the best guides on choosing a starting weight, based upon your gender and current fitness level.

What brand of kettlebell should you purchase? I went with Sweethome’s budget pick: the CAP Cast Iron Competition Weight Kettlebell. But, the in-depth review of different brands by Mark Bixby at Sweethome can’t be beat. I like the CAP, but I now agree with his assessment that the grip tears up your hands a bit on one-handed excercises.

Give two-handed kettlebell swings a try! Your back and body will thank you (although, full disclosure, you’ll be sore after the first time).

If you have any comments or questions about kettlebell swings or other methods of easing back pain in the midst of a sedentary lifestyle, please leave them below!

~Josh

Black Friday Book Recommendation: The Economy of Desire

Black Friday proves that the progress of (post)modernity has failed to eradicate the ills of idolatry. Lest we denizens of the “highly-developed” world think that we have left the primitive vestiges of wood, rock, and gold idolatry behind, our shopping patterns (and indeed our shopping identities as consumers) should remind us of our consumerism’s dark side — a lethal one

As I’ve put in “Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof”: 

“Although physical idols may not be as universally common today as they once were, invisible idols are as prevalent as ever, especially within the context of Western materialism, where money, possessions, influence, and power are the modern-day Baal.”

If you DO happen to find yourself shopping on Black Friday, or really at any point during the upcoming shopping/holiday (an increasingly blurred line) season — allow me to recommend heartily the following book: The Economy of Desire by Daniel M. Bell, Jr. Here’s a poignant quote: 

“Capitalism distorts the creative power that is human desire by constantly creating new objects/idols for its fascination. It entices desire with an endless array of distractions. The enchantments of capitalist production are distractions precisely because they cannot satisfy our desire. And as far as capitalism is concerned, this is a good thing, for satisfied desire would spell an end to capitalism, which depends on the frenetic power of unquenched desire to drive its productive engines. 

“In contrast, Christianity proclaims the good news that we can indeed find rest from the rat race that is the conflict of the capitalist market. Our desire finds its true home, its rest, its delight in communion with God. Desire’s true fascination is the radiance of love that is the glorious life of the blessed Trinity. For this reason, humanity might rightly be called homo adorans — worshiping beings. We are not beings caught in an endless cycle of trucking and bartering (homo economicus) but beings inclined to worship and enjoy the divine love that provides all we need. In other words, because the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want (Ps. 23:1). We need not strive endlessly but can be content.” (168)

If you don’t feel like braving the crowds, Bell’s book is available on Amazon.