What I Dream About When I Dream About Running

Friends… I’m low on hope today.

I’m still pretty sick about Newtown. And while I’m glad for developments like Sen. Bob Casey’s change of heart on increased gun regulation, and I wish Vice President Biden the best, I have little hope that meaningful change will happen. The NRA bills itself as an organization that’s all about the rights of individual gun owners, but it is increasingly funded by and cozy with the gazillion-dollar gun industry. I don’t care how many earnest Facebook updates we write. It’s about money and it’s about clout.

I sent some money to Gabby Giffords, but still… I’m low on hope.

~

I woke up on this mid-January morning to discover that after three days of unnerving fog, we will now have three days of rain and ominously mild temperatures.

We have not had meaningful snow in three winters. Our normal average is 15 inches.

This is not the climate I moved into almost ten years ago. Yes… things have noticeably changed in less than a decade. Meanwhile, 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded.

Again, I don’t have much hope that our leaders will do anything to combat climate change… despite this:

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It just feels stacked against us, you know? We face difficult problems, and big debates need to happen. I may be wrong about stuff. I need to be called on things. But I don’t like the feeling that might equals right and that the ones with the money call the shots. Yet that’s what we’re dealing with.

Is it a marketplace of ideas? OK fine, it’s a marketplace. And some ideas are crackpot, and some are well-intentioned but based on bad data, and some are good but need some work. The problem is, there is no correlation between the validity of an idea and the amount of money behind it.

~

What do you listen to during your morning run when you’re convinced the world is screwed? You listen to Krista Tippett. Krista will make it OK.

Boy howdy:

January 10, 2013

Compassion’s Edge States: Roshi Joan Halifax on Caring Better

 It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the bad news and horrific pictures in the world. This is a form of empathy, Joan Halifax says, that works against us. The Zen abbot and medical anthropologist has bracing, nourishing thoughts on finding buoyancy rather than burnout in how we work, live, and care.

Touché, Holy Spirit. Touché.

I will include the pertinent bit at the end of this post, because maybe you’re feeling low on hope too.

The other part is that I had a dream last night that I was running a half marathon. But it was a ridiculous one. We were running up and down the ramps of a parking garage, again and again, for 13.1 miles. There were no water stations. It was too crowded. Some of the inclines were so steep I had to use my hands to hoist myself along.

I woke up irritated and griped to Robert about this blatant anxiety dream. But then while I was running with Krista and Joan in my ears, I realized something.

I didn’t stop running.

No wait—I did stop. I had a hissy fit because this wasn’t what I expected and it shouldn’t be this way and who’s the idiot in charge and I didn’t even SIGN UP for this stupid race!!!

But then I started running again. And I didn’t reach the end before I woke up. But I knew I was capable of keeping going. And it was enough just to know that. That’s enough hope for today.

~

~

Here’s the bit from the On Being show:

Ms. Tippett: And, you know, what I was thinking as I was reading this is it touches on something that’s happening even also to us as citizens to a different degree. It’s come up here at Chautauqua this week. Compassionate people are overwhelmed now with the deluge of terrible news. The pictures are too present and too vivid, you know, the news cycle is too relentless. I see pictures of children in faraway places that wreck me for a day, right? So the question that’s in this room and I think is out there in the world and in this country right now is how do we find the courage? How do we heal enough? How do we be present to that and not be overwhelmed by it?

Ms. Halifax: Well, I think this is one of the reasons why I identified these edge states because, when you realize — and the issue that you were bringing up, for example, about violence toward children, whether subtle or direct, and also that we are subjected to these images through our media, bombarded, is, I think, a more accurate statement. So we enter into what we would call a state of moral distress and futility. And the moral distress is something that where we see that something else needs to happen.

Children need to be protected, we have to stop rape and violence toward women in the Congo, and we feel this profound moral conflict. And yet we can’t do anything about it and we enter into a state either of moral outrage or we go into states of avoidance through addictive behaviors where we just, you know, don’t want to deal with it or we just go into another state of withdrawal, a kind of numbness, or …

Ms. Tippett: Tune out, right?

Ms. Halifax: Into freeze. And I think a lot of this world that is hooked up in the media right now, that a good part of the globe is going numb. And I don’t really agree, Krista, with the term “compassion fatigue.” I think what we’re seeing actually is not compassion fatigue, but empathic distress where there’s a resonance, but we’re not able to stabilize ourselves when we’re exposed to this kind of suffering. When we are more stabilized then we can face the world with more buoyancy, we have more resilience. You know, we’ve got more capacity to actually address these very profound social and environmental issues. So that’s why I call these things edge states because they really call us to our edge.

Ms. Tippett: I remember talking once to Ingrid Jordt who’s been a student and a practitioner in the Burmese Buddhist tradition. She talked about a teacher of hers who had also been a teacher to Aung San Suu Kyi who talked about how the great virtues have near enemies. Do you know this teaching?

Ms. Halifax: Oh, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And that a near enemy to compassion is sorrow and that’s that sorrow, that’s me getting wrecked by the picture of the child in the newspaper so that I can’t actually help them.

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Loving the Stranger in an Election Season

This morning during my run I listened to Krista Tippett’s 2010 interview with Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.

Can I say once again that I could totally see myself as Jewish… except I just can’t quit Jesus.

Anyway.

We keep hearing about how polarized we are as a society. Are things really more rancorous than they used to be? (The Civil War was pretty polarizing, folks.)

Or have we just gotten meaner?

Have the stresses of modern life given us short fuses? (I’m thinking the Black Plague was a bit stressful, amirite?)

Does the relative anonymity of the Internet give us license to say things we wouldn’t normally say face to face?

Sacks offers one perspective as we ponder these questions:

It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today, certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America, walk down the average Main Street and you will encounter in 10 minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime. 

Maybe things seem more rancorous simply because we’re bumping against more people who don’t look or think or talk or act or believe like we do.

I don’t know what we do with this, other than give ourselves a little bit of a break for having some growing pains. Maybe we’re not going to hell in a handbasket. Maybe we just are learning how to deal with more diversity in that handbasket, wherever it might be going.

Sacks goes on to say that, while “love God and love your neighbor” are the twin commands of love, “the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times, said the rabbis — is love the stranger.”

I’m preaching on James this Sunday: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” I think we could use some of that.

When Everything’s Up for Grabs

Not quite real, but a good reality check nonetheless.

I got sucked in by a photo yesterday (pictured) that turned out not to be exactly accurate. But the karmic universe balanced out when I was able to correct another friend a few hours later, showing that Mitt Romney did NOT say he was too important to go to Vietnam.

Meanwhile there’s a photo that some say provides definitive proof that President Obama, a constitutional law scholar and former editor of the Harvard Law Review, may or may not know how to spell Ohio using his hands.

My kids don’t watch a ton of commercial television—we’re PBS partisans, for the most part—but stuff leaks through. No big deal, except that they’ve started to needle me for all these amazing products they’re seeing on TV. Like Packit, the freezable lunch bag. The product is so ingenious, you see. And the spokesperson is very chipper. Surely we need one! Or many!

It’s a testament to my kids’ sincerity and powers of persuasion that I want to buy one of these even though

a) I work from home (and thus eat lunch at home) multiple days a week

b) Robert and I both have fridges at our workplaces

c) the girls eat sandwiches for lunch, and a few hours in a backpack isn’t going to ruin honey ham.

They were puzzled by my gentle pushback. But the TV people said it was awesome! And they were so certain about it! It was a good teachable moment. It also broke my heart a little, because they also have to deal with doctored Mars photos and partisan Internet hoaxes. Outrageous marketing claims on the the teevee feel so quaint and old fashioned in comparison.

When the origins of the Mars picture were pointed out to me I lamented, “Good Lord, do I have to factcheck EVERYTHING?!?” It gets tiring to be skeptical all the time, though I’ve resigned myself to it.

But my three amigos haven’t.

At the risk of getting all won’t-someone-please-think-of-the-children here… how do we prepare young minds to live in a world that can so easily deceive them?

You might say that relationships trump everything. You can count on love, because while the Internet can lie, love cannot be faked. But anyone with a broken heart knows better.

Besides, after I took Caroline to see Bolt (about a dog who discovers that his whole life is an adventure show) she had nightmares for weeks, and once tearfully asked me, “How do I even know you’re really my mom?!?”

Oh honey.

And there are faith implications to this. If my kids grow into adults with a strong belief in God/the Holy/the Really Real/the Great Whatever/the Life-giving Story/what have you, well, of course that’s fine. Good. Beautiful. Potentially life-giving.

But ignorance of inconvenient scientific facts in supposed service to that belief = not OK with me.

What say you, Gentle Reader?

On Aurora, Sabbath, and Technology

The terrible events in Aurora, Colorado have felt a little remote. The news broke while I was in the bubble of the PW Gathering, and it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t.

I’m not sure what I might contribute to the discussion about the murders. (I agree with Adam Gopnik: calling it a “tragedy” dignifies the act.) Here are two links that spoke to me: An Open Letter to All Who Suffer, and The Grief We Carry in Our Bodies. (The photo is from Dark Elegy, which is featured in the latter post.)

But I have been thinking about how we receive and process news about tragedies like this. I keep remembering a passage from my book. The shooting at Gabby Giffords’ town hall event in Tucson happened on a sabbath day during our year-long sabbath experiment; I remember it vividly. Here’s what I wrote then. Here’s what I have to say today:

It’s early evening on a Sabbath when I learn about Tucson. A congresswoman and several people have been shot, some fatally. I get the news through Facebook, which I’ve logged into at an idle moment. Through the tributes, links, laments, and predictable anti- and progun sentiments that get voiced during events like this, I piece together what has happened. As I click from article to article, I feel strange that while I was in my own little world, terrible events were transpiring.

I think back to the 9/11 attacks, which happened while I was in seminary in Atlanta. We were told about the planes hitting the Twin Towers in the middle of Hebrew class. Afterward, someone had wheeled a television into the hallway, and many of us saw the towers fall. These days, during the course of my life, I’m rarely very far from e-mail, the radio, or an Internet newsfeed. So to have a tragedy like Tucson unfold over several hours while I was blithely knitting a Harry Potter scarf for Caroline is bizarre.

It’s bizarre but also liberating. I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families, but after a while, I decide to turn off the computer. All year, Sabbath has been reminding me that I am not indispensable. I can do nothing to change what has happened. I cannot alter the trajectory of this story as it moves forward either, and sitting at my computer, combing news sites for additional bits of information about the shooter, does nobody any good.

The world has gotten a lot smaller, thanks in part to the 24-7 news cycle. I am grateful for many aspects of our hyperconnected world. But I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges from all this togetherness. Within hours, we know all kinds of details about the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and the theories spread like wildfire as to his motives and alleged political leanings. Many of these theories will turn out to be false, but by then it will be too late. These snatches of information, fed to a hungry public, will only confirm what people are already inclined to believe. We hear what we want to hear. We become more entrenched, stony, and immobile in our views. We become more polarized.

Time will tell us what we need to know. I believe this. Sabbath is so much deeper than a weekly rest and renewal. Sabbath fosters perspective and clarity. Through Sabbath, perhaps, we can learn the difference between urgent and important. We can learn that reading or commenting on news articles is not the same thing as working for the healing of the world—it only gives us the illusion of doing something useful.

As I watch my laptop screen flash into darkness, I feel a sense of relief. Yes, the world falls apart, even on the Sabbath. Tomorrow I will do my small part to put it back together again, whatever that might be. But today, taking this time to cherish family, self, and God is the most faithful way I can think of to begin.

~

To pre-order Sabbath in the Suburbs, click here or here.

I Am Iron Man

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
July 8, 2012
Parables and Pop Culture: Comic Book Superheroes
Mark 6:1-13

I Am Iron Man

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

*          *          *

Can anyone name the source of the quote on the cover of the bulletin?

Live as one of them… to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.

Yes, that’s from the 1977 movie, Superman, with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. But if it reminded you of another unique son with awesome powers, who was sent from the heavens to be a light to the people, well, that’s no accident.

When I first got the idea for this sermon series, I knew I wanted to talk about the allure of the superhero, but that’s not my area of expertise. But I have a lot of friends who read comic books, so I asked them what they thought these about the faith/spiritual lessons that come out of comic books, especially superheroes.

I received reams of information and articles, more than could be discussed today. Several friends excitedly pointed out the similarities between Superman and Jesus, as we’ve seen… but also with Moses. Moses, you recall, is put into a basket as a baby to escape destruction, only to be found by someone who raises him as her own. He grows up to be a great and mighty leader. Replace “basket” with “spaceship” and “Pharaoh’s daughter” with “Jonathan and Martha Kent” and you can see the connection.

We could have a whole series on these matters, but it’s beyond my ability and probably beyond your interest, though I understand that there are some superhero superfans in our midst.

Superheroes are a cultural mainstay, and not just among the comic book geeks I have as friends. This summer we have the usual bumper crop of comic book blockbuster movies, including The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man. Even superheroes who’ve already made it to the big screen come back for more. Michael Keaton’s Batman of the late ’80s was good enough for me, but now we have a reboot of Batman with the Dark Knight series, which wraps up in just a few days with the final movie in the trilogy.

Often these new movies have a focus on the superhero’s origin story. How did the superhero become the superhero? Who were they before luck or providence intervened, before a radioactive spider plucked them from mediocrity and made them who they are? I remember the first time I saw one of these reboots, thinking that an origin story is redundant. We know the story of Superman, or Spider Man. Does it really need a new spin? Why rehash it?

And yet… that’s a compelling part of the story, isn’t it—this matter of identity. Who is this guy? (or gal) we want to know. It’s fun to watch the hero become the hunted as people search for clues, try to figure out, who is Superman? Even if the superhero doesn’t have a secret identity, we are still fascinated by the inner struggle, this intersection between extraordinary power and flawed humanity. Spider-Man slings webs, but is also a typical teenager; Batman is a vigilante with a cool car, but is also the devasted little boy whose parents were killed right in front of him. We like to see the struggle: How did they get to be who they are? Are they going to put on the power that they have been given? Are they going to fulfill their destiny, be who they were created to be?

One of the iconic “identity” scenes in recent comic-book film lore is in the story of Iron Man. Tony Stark has just wreaked havoc and saved the day in his specially made suit, and as we will see, the press is trying to get to the bottom of what has happened. The press has dubbed the armored hero “Iron Man”. Tony Stark has a cover story he is supposed to use… let’s take a look:

You see the conflict, the attempt to be coy. I’m a flawed person, I can’t possibly be a superhero… and then he gives up the pretense, and says, this is who I am.

In the gospel of Mark we have the origin story for Jesus. Over and over again people see Jesus as he is and call him various names: the Son of the Most High God. A prophet. A healer. In two chapters he will ask his followers: Who do people say that I am? Who do YOU say that I am? Peter says, you are the Messiah, and Jesus warns them as he does repeatedly in Mark: “Don’t tell anyone. Nobody is to know who I am. The time is not yet right.” It’s not altogether clear what Jesus is up to in Mark, but one thing is clear: there are issues with secrecy and identity, all throughout the gospel.

In today’s story, he’s just a hometown boy, and the kinfolk don’t know what to do with him. It’s easy to see why: he’s not exactly acting like your typical carpenter from Nazareth. He’s already blown off his family: his family comes calling for him earlier in Mark, and he says,  ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?… Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Given that comment, it’s not surprising that Jesus would be the least popular guy at the high school reunion. He seems to expect the rejection—and the rejection is great; Luke’s version of this story has the hometown folk trying to throw him off a cliff. Jesus is able to heal a few people, but his powers seem lessened in his hometown. Maybe it’s like the way many of us feel: capable adults until we go home to be with parents and aunts and uncles and people who changed our diapers, and we feel 8 years old again. I don’t know what’s going on there, but for whatever reason, Jesus is vulnerable around the people who know him best. He has found his Kryptonite.

*          *          *

Professor Andy Root at Luther Seminary in Minnesota has suggested that the driving question for young adults today is who am I? It’s the question of identity.

These young adults are the very people the church is losing, incidentally. Which is also the same demographic that reads comic books and goes to see the Dark Knight movies. If we cannot give them the language and tools to help them grapple with the identity question, they will find other myths and means to do so.

Sometimes that works out well. Meet 4 year old Anthony Smith, a huge comic book fan and a boy with a hearing impairment:

He has a hearing aid but woke up one morning and told his mother that he would not wear it because there were no superheroes with hearing aids. In desperation, his mother wrote to the Marvel folks asking whether there was ever a superhero with a hearing aid.

In a stroke of genius, the illustrators at Marvel invented a brand-new hero inspired by Anthony:

This is Blue Ear, who can hear people in trouble with his listening device. They sent the illustration to little Anthony, and he has worn his hearing aid ever since.

The Spirit moves in mysterious ways. [source]

*          *          *

Who are we? The good news for us as followers of Jesus is that our sacred story, the scriptural story, is all about matters of identity: who God is, who we are, who we’ve been and who we’re called to be in the future. What do we live for? What do we fight for? What is our moral code?

These are all identity questions.

And as followers of Jesus, we do not understand ourselves—our identity—apart from God. No less than John Calvin, one of the fathers of the Reformation, said as much: without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Those are not the same, but there are many ties between them. Knowledge of self inevitably leads us into a deeper knowledge of the One who made us.

Jesus assures his followers of who they are and what they are to be about. You will have authority to heal and teach! You will do mighty deeds! You will be about the things that I am about!

But for followers of Jesus, there are no capes—one tunic, not two. No utility belts—not even bread for the journey. No invisible plane like Wonder Woman, just a pair of sandals.

You will travel light, Jesus says.
You will not stay anyplace too long.
It can be a lonely life.
You will be misunderstood.
You live by different rules than the rest of the world.
Doing the right thing will cost you something… but it won’t cost you your soul. Your integrity. Your identity.
Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus also maks clear, we go about this work two by two – our story is a buddy movie. We are not Batman, working alone. We are the Legion of Justice.

Speaking of Batman, you may be familiar with this guy:

This is the “Route 29 Batman.” This Montgomery County Batman gained some notoriety some months ago when he was pulled over by the police for no license plate. (The plates were in the car.) Turns out Batman’s alter ego is a businessman named Lenny Robinson. Like many superheroes, his origin story is complicated—he has had his own troubles in the past—but now he visits hospitals as Batman and provides encouragement to children who are battling life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. [source]

This may seem very grand. Who wouldn’t love to be a superhero, right? Drive a Lamborghini. Make kids happy. But it’s actually pretty hard work—he loses 5-6 pounds of water weight every time he dons the 35 pound costume. He signs every autograph, takes every picture that is requested, spends his own many on Batman bracelets and gifts to handout.

It’s also modest work. It takes an emotional toll to see so many sick kids. He has to leave the hospital each day knowing that not even Batman can fix what is wrong.

One day as Batman drove away, a little boy cried. “I want to go help him fight the bad guys,” he said. His mom said, “You need to go help your sister fight cancer.”

We’re not going to save Gotham City. Jesus promises us deeds of power, sure, but our call is rather modest: to love one another as best we can. To see the face of Christ in one another. To fight back against the darkness with every ounce of strength we have.

No superpowers. Just our own flawed humanity.

Because that’s our identity. That’s who we are.

My Kid Won’t Swim the Olympics

Camille Adams, who will swim in the Olympics in London.

Caroline competes each summer with our pool’s swim team, and last week their coaches had given them an assignment to watch some of the Olympic time trials held in Omaha. It was fun to watch elite athletes swimming at the top of their game and to listen to Caroline’s observations about the different strokes.

I took particular note of Davis Tarwater, who was once described as one of the best swimmers never to make an Olympic squad. The announcers last week noted that he has a 30 hour a week job designing banking software for third-world countries. I wondered how having a job like that impacted his ability to train at the highest level. As it happened, he failed to make the team in all three events he attempted, only getting a slot in 200 m freestyle after Michael Phelps opted not to swim that event in London.

Don’t get me wrong–Tarwater is an elite athlete, holding a national record. And it sounds like he feels a sense of mission around his “day job”–I don’t think he’s doing it for the money. But it was a reminder for me of the roles that circumstance and privilege play in achievement.

The other day our swim coaches posted the ladder with the kids’ times thus far. In the 9-10 age group, Caroline is currently 6th in freestyle and backstroke and 4th in breaststroke and butterfly. Caroline is a good swimmer technically, and she loves the sport. She’s had some fun victories and finishes this season, but she is not in the top tier of her teammates. Then again, she’s competing against kids who play various sports year-round, including kids who swim competitively for a program that is supposed to be amazing but costs almost $2,000 a year.

The pressure to achieve, to give one’s kids the best of everything, is huge around here. As a mother, I am in it, even as I disdain it. I felt a little torn when I read the ladder this weekend. If we had the time, energy and money to invest in her swimming, maybe she would move up from the middle of the pack. But we just don’t have the extra bandwidth to make that happen. I already push my job to the limits of its flexibility; I wrote last week’s sermon on deck at the pool, for heaven’s sake. One of those elite swim programs meets at 4:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right.

Caroline doesn’t seem all that interested in upping the intensity of her swimming, so I’m certainly not going to push it. This post isn’t really about swimming. Rather I’m struggling with how we talk to our kids about privilege. How do we understand our own privilege? How do we frame competitive events like a swim team in a way that encourages kids to do their best, while acknowledging that some kids have an advantage by virtue of circumstance?

And can we explain all of this to our kids in a way that doesn’t foster bitterness, but rather a hunger for justice? I don’t want my kids to resent the only child with the mom who can devote time and energy to driving them to extra practices. But I do want them to wonder about kids who don’t even have the advantages we do. Our upper middle class swim problems are small potatoes; read this article that profiles six people who live at the different levels of income disparity in the U.S. and extrapolate it out. You think competitive swim team is expensive? Have you checked out four year colleges lately? What does all of this look like for the Pallwitz kids (page 3 in the article), whose parents are barely making ends meet? What will achievement look like for them?

When the playing field is uneven at many levels, what does it mean to “do well”?

Life without the Internet: for a Weekend, for a Year

Paul Miller

This guy is taking a year off from the Internet:

“Internet use” includes web browsing from any device, asking anyone to web browse for me, surfing the internet over someone’s shoulder, and enjoying entertainment streams like Netflix, even if started by someone else. I won’t sync my devices over the internet, download software (even operating systems), use internet-verified DRM, or anything like that. I won’t manage my bank accounts over the internet, and will attempt to pay my bills manually or over the phone. Unless I’m doing it unknowingly, I won’t use VoIP. I’ll avoid even having my Wi-Fi on in order to avoid accidental internet use.

Additionally, I’m going to attempt to eliminate my text messaging, at least as far as that’s in my power. I know it’s not over the internet, but I’m trying to eliminate ambient distractions, and I think SMS tends to be one. To help lower my temptations, I’ve switched to a dumbphone.

My reaction wavers between “more power to ya!” and “meh.”

More power to ya: If your life’s set up to allow it, why not? I’m a fan of the big gesture. Granted, a year seems like a long time to me. I suspect any growth or learning could happen in less time, and if you like it, continue. If you don’t, you’ve learned something and can get back to your life. After all, the Internet, in addition to being a time-suck and a big confluence of shiny objects, is also a major convenience in countless ways.

Incidentally, who doesn’t think that this will become a book someday? Yes, I realize I wrote my own work of guinea pig non-fiction… which I hope is more of an extended meditation than a stunt. Who knows, maybe his will be too.

Meh: I don’t know. If you really want to get off the grid, go off the grid. Don’t post updates to the Internet, which is a little like Thoreau living in Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry.

I agree with this commentator:

Of course, there are bigger questions here, like the assumption that the Internet doesn’t belong in certain places. Perhaps skyscrapers don’t belong in certain places, but if you work for a company or have friends or family who live in a skyscraper, you need to visit them occasionally. You could apply this to anything created by humans—yes, humans did create this techno-beast, we made it for ourselves—that then, maybe, sort of starts to freak us out, so dependent upon it we have become, and so we shun it. But we’re in a post-Internet time here. Backtracking into a moment when we didn’t have it isn’t exactly going to help us learn to use it better.

Yes.

I take a tech Sabbath every weekend. It lasts from Friday evening-ish to Monday evening-ish. (Monday is my day off.) I love it. Weekends are family time, chore time, and of course, Sabbath. I have my own technological rituals, which accomplish two things: they set the time apart, and they make it harder to log on as a reflex:

  • Friday afternoon I sign off of Facebook and fire up Self Control, which blocks sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and a few others. I set it for 24 hours of blocking. By the time the 24 hours elapses, I’m well into the weekend and not interested in logging in again.
  • Friday in the early evening I will sometimes check social media one more time on my phone, just to catch any conversation stragglers. It seems rude to be in the middle of an exchange and then abruptly leave the room, so I like a more fluid boundary.
  • After this final checkin, I delete the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It’s kind of a pain to have to reinstall them again when tech Sabbath is over, but seeing them disappear from my screen is a major, visceral part of the experience. Something shifts when the icon disappears. Dust in the wind or something.
  • I don’t really think about what tidbits or info I’m missing. I have compared social media newsfeeds to the Lazy River at a waterpark: get in for a while, enjoy the ride, get out when you’re ready to move on. Others will stay in, bouncing along in their tubes, around and around. Meanwhile you’re at the snack bar or going down the Power Wedgie. Be there.

Two postscripts: One, I do check e-mail sometimes, but I don’t respond to e-mail unless it is truly urgent and work-related. The rest can wait until Monday night or Tuesday. And two, I freely use the computer on the weekend for convenience functions such as buying movie tickets and such.

Everyone has a different way of doing things. This works for me.

Do you put boundaries around your Internet use?