That’s So Routine

Benjamin Kane —  July 3, 2014

Photo Sep 27, 11 19 23 AMI’m always open to a new idea about routines.  Partly because I like some variety in my life coupled with my fear of becoming a rote machine who does the same thing every-single-day.  At this point in time, my routine has been to search for a new routine..

This past week I happened upon a blog post from Harvard Business School detailing the routine of the world-class chef, Anthony Bourdain.  The basic premise of the post is that Bourdain spends the first ten minutes of his day focused on the mise-en-place, which is more than just assembling all the ingredients and supplies he’ll need for the day—it is a state of mind.  Not only does the miss-en-place keep him from wasting precious time searching for an ingredient or pan during the rush of dinner time, it gives his day a focus (which for him is visualize a meal (or meals) from ingredients to final product).   The blog post does point out that most of us don’t work as cooks so it is hard to translate this method exactly—but he does encourage folks to start her/his day by thinking through what you’ll need that day in lieu of immediately jumping into your email inbox and voicemail.  Always up for a new routine, I thought I’d give it a try.  And here’s how it went:

My mind cataloged all I wished to accomplish as I opened my office door.  I left my computer in my bag so I wouldn’t be distracted and took out a post-it note to write down what I needed for the day.  Wanting to write my sermon, prepare a devotion and update my calendar I began searching my office for applicable materials.  I piled the Feasting on the Word, Flannary O’Connor’s Collection of Short Stories, a Christian Century article and my calendars (yes, I keep a paper one and my ical—I live in both worlds!) on my desk and told myself this is all I needed to accomplish today’s goals.

I quickly realized my sermon was taking a new course as I reread the text.  This caused me to scan my shelves, looking for a new book.  Immediately I realized I wasn’t too good at this mis-en-place stuff as I was wasting precious time searching for a book when I should be exegeting this passage.  Oh well, I thought, I won’t go get another cup of coffee so that time isn’t lost.

This became a running theme throughout my day—I kept realizing the need for another book or another internet search all the while another idea or potential idea popped into my head and I needed to write that down, which prompted the desire for another search and then the whole miss-en-place thing just blew up in a cloud of idea smoke!  My day became a shining example of “What miss-en-place shouldn’t look like.”  Maybe Harvard Business School has a blog about “What not to do,” I thought.   Well, there went a few more precious minutes because then I searched the internet for such a blog.

Eventually, I did accomplish my intended tasks for that day.  Unlike Bourdain, I did waste precious seconds searching for a book, getting an extra cup of coffee, playing on the internet and taking time to chat with folks who’d stopped by the church.  When I was riding home I thought about whether or not that was a good day—a daily occurrence.  Based upon the HBS’s post, I’d say no; but I didn’t feel like it was a bad day.  Yes, my day didn’t unfold as I’d intended, but then I realized, “When has a day in ministry ever gone completely to plan?”

All of us who minister—both lay and ordained—grapple with the desire to find a routine.  Life simply won’t allow that to happen.  Life, like ministry, is messy and despite our best intentions we simply can’t live and abide by a particular routine to navigate every day.  So, I’ve decided to keep trying new routines with the underlying hope that maybe one will work and I’ll stick with it.  But I’m also harboring another hope that proclaims that the Holy Spirit breathes upon us each day and that breath takes us down new paths that make old routines obsolete—so we start searching our shelves because a new thought has entered our minds.  I welcome that Spirit and am eager to see where it blows next.


What routines have worked for you?  Which ones failed miserably?

Benjamin Kane

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Ben is a husband, father, son, brother, and a PC(USA) minister. These identities provide him myriad glimpses of God's unconditional love and grace. He is a Duke basketball fan, NPR listener, reader of almost anything, occasional writer & runner, hopeful New Yorker cartoon creator, and discerner as to who God is. He is the Pastor at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, NC--"the crossroads of western civilization."