Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4,660,677 and counting: what statistics can teach us about Christmas

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

NUMBERS! It's an interesting phenomenon for a confirmed "liberal-arts" guy, but I've always been interested in statistics; not so much the mechanics of them as the insight they offer vis-a-vis social commentary.

(Disclaimer, on the off-chance that my college statistics professor is reading. I logged some really good grades in psychology, then graduated summa-cum-laude for my teaching degree; but the best I could manage from my statistics class was a weak "C".)

RAW DATA: Personally, I've found statistics to be most useful when it comes to measuring progress. For example, I started this year with the goal of walking twenty-five hundred miles (that works out to roughly five million steps), and I realized that a weekly count would help to keep me on track.

I knew that I already walked Scout Labradoodle maybe five miles a day, and that I probably logged a couple more just moving around. But, recording a specific daily count would tell me exactly where I was in the process, and therefore help to facilitate a change in both behavior and outcome. Would I walk 2,500 miles in a year? Could I walk 2,500 miles in a year? Keeping track essentially removes the element of chance.

The math was simple. Five-million steps divided by 50 weeks equals 100,000 steps per week. Those numbers came with a built-in two-week buffer to allow for travel, sickness, summer rains and other interruptions to the regular schedule. In other words, break a HUGE GOAL into manageable, bite-sized, pieces, and then program in for reality; it makes pretty-much anything doable over the long haul.

SO WHERE AM I? So this morning I've gone back through my journal with a calculator. And the result, with just one month remaining in 2011? Drum roll, please... Four million, six-hundred sixty thousand, six hundred and seventy-seven steps. That's 4,660,667 steps, or around 2,330 miles. I have 339,323 steps to go and one month to do it.
  • Me: "A question? Yes, the New York Times reporter in the second row, go ahead..."
  • Reporter: "Isn't it a little presumptuous to give yourself a one-mile credit for every 2,000 steps?'
  • Me: "Good thinking! But that variable is built-in to the equation. You see, my step-counter is not overly sensitive. In a calibration test that I've repeated countless times, the counter only clicks 88-92 times per 100 steps. That means a consistent 10% undercount. The error more than covers any discrepancies in distance."

Advent is a series of steps on a deliberate journey to Christmas...
BOTTOM LINE: Today is the third day in the season of Advent. I believe it's true to say that we all want to have a certain quality of Christmas experience, but it's also true that most of us tend to leave it to chance.

The lesson of statistics is this. If we make the deliberate choice to spend just a few minutes, each day between now and December 25, thinking and praying about the real meaning of this season, then we can reasonably predict that we will be ready for the coming of the Christ Child.

Just a certain number of steps each day. One foot in front of the other. Considering the meaning of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. Reading scripture. Spending concious time in the presence of God.

If you're interested in a more meaningful Christmas experience, then I recommend the following options (or all of them)

  • Order from Upper Room Books or
    Visit this blog every day

  • Read my book, "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent"

  • Read the daily Upper Room devotional

  • Sing or read a different Christmas hymn/carol every day

  • Talk with God for a minimum of five minutes every morning

  • Read and digest a short scripture passage very day..

If you do, then this Christmas will be one of the best ever. I guarantee it.

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