Friday Link Love: Character, Luck and Love, and a Homemade Helicopter


Away we go:


Poetic Cosmos of the Breath — Colossal


The artist took huge sheets of colorful foil, taped the edges to the ground, then filled them with air. Transcendent:




Children Succeed with Character, Not Test Scores — NPR

An interview with the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. I’m seeing stuff about this book all over the place.

The author’s focus seems to be on how kids prevail in rough neighborhoods and despite socio-economic disadvantage. As a parent in a very different context, I’d like to know specific ways to encourage my own children. The schools are still focused on IQ and test scores as measures of success. How do we transition toward grit, curiosity and character?


What Can I Say That’s Actually Helpful in Times of Grief? — Lifehacker

A very good list:

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Yes, it’s completely unoriginal, but that doesn’t really matter here. If you knew the person who passed away, you could add in meaningful memories. When my previous boss died this year, I told his family, whom I was also close to, how he had been my mentor when I was just a kid out of college and one of my biggest supporters. I’m not sure if it helped them, but probably most families would appreciate your recognizing their loved one and their loss.


Tough Times, Luck and Love: One Family’s Story of Childhood Leukemia — Vimeo

I am acquainted with this family through friends. Sweet and (some) wrenching photos combined with an interview with the mother. Wise and heartfelt.

Tough Times, Luck and Love: One Family’s Story of Childhood Leukemia from Liisa Ogburn on Vimeo.


The Water-Park Scandal and Two Americas — Esquire

Waterparks are implementing “flash passes” so people can pay more to cut to the front of the line. The author sees this as a metaphor:

It sounds like an innovative answer to the problem that everybody faces at an amusement park, and one perfectly in keeping with the approaches currently in place at airports and even on some crowded American highways — perfectly in keeping with the two-tiering of America. You can pay for one level of access, or you can pay for another. If you have the means, you can even pay for freedom. There’s only one problem: Cutting the line is cheating, and everyone knows it. Children know it most acutely, know it in their bones, and so when they’ve been waiting on a line for a half-hour and a family sporting yellow plastic Flash Passes on their wrists walks up and steps in front of them, they can’t help asking why that family has been permitted the privilege of perpetrating what looks like an obvious injustice. And then you have to explain not just that they paid for it but that you haven’t paid enough — that the $100 or so that you’ve ponied up was just enough to teach your children that they are second- or third-class citizens.

It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two.

Praise and thanks for Disney, whose Fast Passes are free and available to anyone who wants to go to the trouble of retrieving them.


Less — theskyislaughing

My goal for the year is “less.”  I just want to keep all my vices but engage in them less often.

I’m not giving up Diet Coke, but I’ll drink it less (like once a day during work days)often.

I’m not giving up driving, but I’ll do it less often.

I’m not giving up computer time, but I’ll do it less often.

This is excellent. I think there are Sabbath implications here. We sometimes think that if we can’t do it perfectly then we won’t do it at all. If a weekly Sabbath seems impossible, how about every two weeks? Every month? How about a commitment simply to labor a little less?


The Two-Spirit People of Indigenous North Americans — Guardian

Interesting article about Native Americans’ reverential treatment of sexual minorities (including gay persons) in their communities:

Rather than emphasising the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person’s basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.

Therefore, many Native American religions, rather than stigmatising such persons, often looked to them as religious leaders and teachers.


Everything Is Incredible — Vimeo

A man in Honduras, crippled since birth, has been building his own helicopter for more than 50 years. This is funny, sad, and inspiring all at once.

Everything is Incredible from Tyler Bastian on Vimeo.


Have an incredible weekend, everyone.

Friday Link Love

Once again, for all your procrastination needs…


What’s Josh Holloway doing these days?

It’s been two years since the end of LOST, one of my favorite shows. My brother sent this along:

LOST Producer Damon Lindelof Has ‘No Regrets’ — Entertainment Weekly (Video)

It annoys me that the interviewer fundamentally misunderstood what happened at the end of LOST. But this is an interesting interview nonetheless.

And for the record, the ending did not disappoint me. I thought it was wonderful. And I still miss that show. Frequently.


6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe about the Founding of America —

Columbus didn’t discover America (the Vikings got here first), white settlers did not carve America out of the untamed wilderness, and more:

The puzzlingly obedient wilderness didn’t stop in New England. Frontiersmen who settled what is today Ohio were psyched to find that the forest there naturally grew in a way that “resembled English parks.” You could drive carriages through the untamed frontier without burning a single calorie clearing rocks, trees and shrubbery.

Whether they honestly believed they’d lucked into the 17th century equivalent of Candyland or were being willfully ignorant about how the land got so tamed, the truth about the presettled wilderness didn’t make it into the official account. It’s the same reason every extraordinarily lucky CEO of the past 100 years has written a book about leadership. It’s always a better idea to credit hard work and intelligence than to acknowledge that you just got luckier than any group of people has ever gotten in the history of the world.


Ken Burns on Storytelling — The Atlantic (Video and Interview)

There’s a new documentary about Ken Burns and his approach to Story.

[Sorry, can’t get the video to embed. But you can see it at the link.]

I would love to chat this up with some preachers. Specifically, I’m interested in his comments on manipulation. Isn’t manipulation an inevitable aspect of writing and delivering a sermon? Of course you want to do it faithfully and with integrity, but yeah, you are hoping for a response. How refreshing that he comes out and admits this. Once you’ve done that, then you can evaluate whether you’ve done it responsibly.


Ten Things I Want to Tell Parents — Bread Not Stones

This has been making the rounds among my friends but it bears repeating:

YOU, not the church, are the primary religious educator for your children.Yes, the church serves as a resource for teaching your child about the Bible, worship, theology, and even religious history. But even if a child never misses a week of Sunday school, there is never enough time in that once a week class to reinforce and build upon the lessons of scripture and faith that children have the potential to learn.

You are responsible for building an adult religious life outside of your children. Many parents choose to return to the church and to religious practices once they have children of their own. Most often, then, their faith life and practice revolves around the religious upbringing of their children. As an adult, though, there is a level of nurture and spiritual development that you yourself can benefit from. Without taking that next step in building their own faith, adults can very easily find their lives void of a mature faith life once their children are grown.

More at the link.


140 Characters Isn’t Enough — Katie Boone

The stories we tell on twitter and other social media:

Story is at the heart of the human experience. Our flight or fight response is the evidence of a collective story about survival. We lull our children to sleep with stories. We collect them, call it history and try to learn from it so we are not doomed to repeat it.

The danger occurs when our stories are rootless. All we need to do is look at the plethora of new social rituals to see the evidence: gender reveal parties, food journaling, push presents, work out diaries and birthday parties for grown-ups. We talk about “personal brand” as if that is a real thing of consequence. These new rituals tell a story, but that story is all about you and your life. All of it is an attempt to ritualize daily life and give it a depth that is not there.

We tell rootless stories when we forget our stories do not begin with us…


Why Great Ideas Come When You Aren’t Trying — Nature

History is rich with ‘eureka’ moments: scientists from Archimedes to Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are said to have had flashes of inspiration while thinking about other things. But the mechanisms behind this psychological phenomenon have remained unclear. A study now suggests that simply taking a break does not bring on inspiration — rather, creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.

May you find time to wander this weekend.

Speaking of which, it’s Memorial Day here in the U.S., so here’s one more link: my traditional posting of “Let Them In Peter,” a John Gorka song for fallen soldiers:

Friday Link Love

We’ve had a lot of new visitors to The Blue Room lately, so by way of orientation: every Friday I post a variety of links to items that interested me over the last week, most of which require little commentary. We cover everything from art to faith to brain chemistry. Some weeks it’s lighthearted stuff, some weeks not.

And now, for all your Friday procrastination needs… Link Love:


Creative Dad Takes Crazy Photos of Daughters — Jason Lee

Fun with Photoshop. Lots more at the above link.


Motherhood Mantras: It’s Good Enough — Theresa Cho

Theresa is a rockstar in Presbyterian world. (Yes, I realize the cognitive dissonance there. Work with me, people.) She’s also a righteous babe.

In my ninth week of pregnancy, I had the most vivid dream. My family and I were vacationing in a cabin. While my son and I were hanging out in the backyard, a black panther appeared and began to circle around us. I screamed for my husband to save us, but he couldn’t come. That dream haunted me for months after I found out I miscarried.

After several months had past and I had experienced another miscarriage, I decided to see a therapist for a completely different reason than the miscarriages. But somehow that dream entered into our conversation. After telling her about the dream, she asked me to close my eyes and have a conversation with the panther. Are you kidding me? Talk to the panther? I decided to humor her. The conversation went something like this…

Read the rest. It took my breath away.

This article is part of a series by Mihee Kim-Kort, who is also a righteous babe. I’ve been pondering my own motherhood mantra and hope to participate in this great project at some point.


Fifteen Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy — Purpose Fairy

Blame, complaining, the luxury of criticism… what do you think? What makes your list of impediments to happiness?


A Teacher, A Student and a 39-Year Lesson in Forgiveness — Oregon Live

When he was 12 years old, the boy did something he only later realized probably hurt his seventh-grade teacher. It was minor — he was, after all, a kid — but in time, when he was older and wiser, he wanted to find this teacher and apologize.

But the teacher seemed to have vanished. Over the decades, the man occasionally turned to the Internet, typing the teacher’s name into the search box. He never found anything. He never quit looking. A few months ago — by now nearly 39 years after this happened — he got a hit.

It’s not too late. Interesting to read this article in conversation with the one on forgiving and forgetting earlier this week.


A Thin Toy is a Happy Toy! — Jana Riess

You guys know I write about body image stuff. A lot. Check out this post about how kids’ toys (e.g. Strawberry Shortcake) have gotten thinner over the years. What the heck?

Oh and Jana Riess? Also a righteous babe.


Just for fun: Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ: The Greatest Craigslist Car Ad Ever — Jalopnik

The owner, Joe, who seems to either have some decent design skills or an easily conned friend with said skills, is offering a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am GT for the low price of $700, marked down from the expected price of $199,999. His hyperbolic rhetoric about the car has an intoxicating effect, and I’m actually feeling like I want– no, I need– this Clinton-era example of what Americans can build at their absolute unfettered best.

We tried calling Joe, but of course his line was busy. Duh. There’s probably a line around his block of people hoping to look at the car, or maybe just lick the oil pan to cure cancer or have their baby breathe some holy exhaust. We’ll update if he gets in touch with us before he’s raptured to Heaven.

He did get in touch with them, and there’s now an interview up at this site. Silly post, silly ad. A bit PG-13. Don’t send me letters.


And the obligatory posts from my favorite art site, Colossal:

A Wall of Shattered Glass Floods a Benedictine Monastery:

and Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds by Monstrum. I can’t possibly choose my favorite, but how awesome would it be for a church playground to feature one of these:

Jonah… go to Sunday School…

“No way, God! I’d rather be in the belly of the whale!”


Have a good weekend, wherever you may find yourself.

Update on the Memory Project

source:, a very intriguing blog

Several months ago I posted about a new practice I’ve undertaken: to record tidbits about the kids in individual journals, one sentence per day. You can read about the project and rationale here. Since there were quite a few people who were interested in the practice, I thought I’d provide an update and some thoughts.

The Blue Room is a place for inspiration, but also truth telling: I am still at the memory project, but if I manage one entry per week I’m doing well. This creates a mental struggle. I envisioned these journals as a place to record the everyday jewels of parenthood that are easily forgotten over the years. But if I let too much time elapse between entries, I end up wanting to make sure the Big Important Milestones are recorded. This requires more mental energy than I’d expected the practice to require. The whole point was to write the first thing that came to mind, no matter how ordinary, but if I’m having to sort through the past week to find the most journal-worthy thing… well, that’s too tough and becomes a barrier to doing it at all.

Also, the fact that there are three of them, and I feel the need for some parity, works against me. Part of what’s fun about the journals is that they’re not just baby books, which means the thirdborn’s should have just as much content as the girls’. (I love Erma Bombeck’s old bit about her kids’ baby books; by the time her last child came along, the sole contents of his baby book consisted of a pie crust recipe torn from the newspaper and tucked into the otherwise empty pages.) I feel like I should write in each journal each night, but sometimes there’s more going on with one kid than with the other two.

Like most spiritual disciplines and parenting practices, I see this practice evolving. My ultimate hope remains the same: to present each child with a handwritten book of quotidian wisdom and observations from their childhood. And if I end up handing them a book with 15 months of memories followed by a lot of blank pages, well, that communicates something worthwhile too: that life is about experimentation—starting more projects than one could possibly finish. Completion can be an elusive thing in life, but there’s something valuable in the undertaking.

Does Sunday School Work?

A few years back, I was talking to a parent whose children had been enrolled in her church’s Sunday School and evening children’s program. By all accounts, and from what I could tell as an uninvolved observer, this church has an absolutely exemplary children’s ministry. And yet this mother was looking for another church. “I recently asked my kids some basic questions about the Bible and some of the foundational stories of Christianity,” she told me. “They couldn’t answer the most basic questions. What are they learning in Sunday School? Is all this programming even doing what it’s supposed to do?”

I thought about that mother this week when I saw this article from Associated Baptist Press about a new documentary. It should go without saying that the theology that undergirds the study, and the video (excerpt) at the link are quite foreign to me. But here’s the gist:

In Divided, young filmmaker Philip Leclerc sets out to discover why so many people of his generation are leaving the church. …Leclerc acknowledges grouping kids and age and developmental stages makes sense on the surface. In the Bible, however, parents are given the responsibility for religious instruction of their children. 

The modern idea of age-graded Sunday school, youth ministry and children’s church came from somewhere else. When it started in the 1800s, Sunday school was intended for poor children without Christian parents. In most American churches today, Leclerc insists, Christian fathers [sic] relinquish their leadership to programs based on secular educational theories instead of the teaching of Scripture.

The video uses the word “carnal” about eleventy-five times, and I didn’t even watch the whole thing. I don’t resonate with many of the article’s comments either. But I suspect the basic thrust is right. Now I want to go back to that mother and say, “What about your responsibility as a parent? What could the church do to support you as your child’s primary Christian educator?”

Let’s take my church as an example. We are small, with a good number of kids for our size, but the “Sunday School” aged kids range from kindergarten through third grade, with a smattering of middle and high school students.

We have Sunday School twice a month, during the worship hour—it is not practical to have Sunday School at other times—and we have a team of teachers who take turns leading. We went to this model because, well, our old model of having one teacher lead every week until s/he gets burned to a crisp didn’t feel very biblical.

But even if we had a top-notch Sunday School every week, our most dedicated families are here maybe twice or three times a month, due to sports, out of town trips, and other weekend activities.

This is insane.

Churches are smaller, budgets are smaller. Tiny Church is not unusual. I look at this situation and think, This doesn’t make any sense. Why are we trying to have a traditional Sunday School? Why aren’t we offering truly intergenerational worship, and training parents to do religious education at home? 

I could easily dismiss this study as so much patriarchal BS. (Why is it only the father who bears primary responsibility for faith formation in the family? That’s rhetorical; don’t answer.) But I can’t dismiss it outright.

It reminds me of the REVEAL study that came out of Willow Creek church some years back. The study found that greater involvement in church activities did not foster deeper commitment to the way of Jesus. (My paraphrase.) Some mainline folks crowed about the study, feeling vindicated that seeker-sensitive megachurches were finally admitting that they were serving up the thin gruel we’d always suspected. But the REVEAL study is not cause for smug rejoicing, but serious self-reflection. We are often no different in our mainline churches.

So what is the answer? I wish I knew. But I’d like to get some people together to talk about this. Let’s start here. What do you say? Has your church figured this out?

The Upper Room at Tiny Church Takes Shape

Read here about the plans underway at Tiny Church for a kid-friendly space in our balcony during worship, which we are calling the Upper Room.

Yesterday we had the first of two scheduled work days to clean out the balcony. Here’s one before photo. You can view the others here; as you can see, there was a lot of stuff up there.

I had no idea what to expect in terms of turnout for the cleanup. I’ve been preaching and announcing about the Upper Room for weeks, and the feedback has been positive. But sometimes in the church (not just my congregation, but church in general), enthusiasm for a project does not always translate to people rolling up their sleeves. I’m happy to report that we had at least 20-25 people stay after worship to box books, move bookcases out, and so forth. They were efficient and good-humored. By the time we were done, the space was empty and vacuumed.

I’ll post pictures.

Of course we have to get rid of/find permanent storage. That will be a huge, not-fun job. (The green couch was taken by someone who bought a small historic building in West Virginia and need to furnish it. She will also take some of the chairs.) The main conundrum is books. There are a few historic books up there amid the boxes, I suspect. But for now anyway, they are out of our way and we can proceed with our plans.

As you can see in the photos, there are elevated platforms up there, which are useful when we need to use the space as overflow, but are a tripping hazard for what we’re envisioning. I thought they were attached to the floor, and that was going to be a pain to rip up carpet and tear those out. Thankfully, they move. We pushed them to the side and stacked them under one of the eaves.

I wrote in a recent post about the emotional energy that’s wrapped up in stuff, for good and for ill. I saw this in evidence yesterday. It overstates things to say that the balcony was dragging the church down energy-wise. But people got a great lift out of clearing it out to make space for something new. There was a lot of junk up there. The desire to be frugal and keep things that might potentially be useful is admirable. It’s good stewardship. But it can also feed into a sense that we don’t deserve new things, that we need to content ourselves with the same-old-same-old. (Another thing that’s going on at Tiny is that we’re cleaning out the kitchen—we recently had a major extermination treatment—and that process, too, will lead us to get rid of some things. Do we need 25 used aluminum baking pans?)

The experience got me thinking about how we do clean-up days at the church. It’s hard to get people out on a Saturday, but people want to help. I started to envision a monthly/bimonthly date on which we ask people to stay 20-25 minutes after worship, then write down small, well-defined tasks and put them in a basket for people to draw and complete.

It also reminds me that, as a leader, I need to expect great things of these folks, because they deliver. My hopes for yesterday were modest—say, to have the books boxed and put in a corner of the balcony—it’s large enough that we could proceed with a corner of the balcony used as storage. But they went way beyond that.

I’m also preaching a sermon series on change, in part to help prepare people for new things happening at Tiny. Yet people have embraced these changes with grace and enthusiasm. I could credit the series for that, but I don’t think that’s it. Churches have a reputation for being change-averse, but there are some places where things have stayed the same so long that people are really ready for new things. Tiny may be one of those places.


The Memory Project

I’ve written before about my one-sentence journal, in which I write a micro-entry for each kid. The idea is to do it each night, but it’s usually more like three times a week, and that’s fine. The point of the single sentence limitation is to make the practice manageable. It also calls forth a little discernment to identify the most important nugget that I want to remember each day. It’s got a little bit of the Ignatian examen in it, actually.

Right now I’ve been putting them all into a single Moleskine volant notebook. It was what I had available when I started, and I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it. That was in December, and I’m still going strong. I could keep buying new journals and continue as I have been, but I began to wonder about format and organization.

Does it make sense to have all three kids together in one journal? Or might each of them want an account of his/her life someday? I hope so, but I’m not sure. I would have loved to have something like this. As I think about my childhood, of course there are significant events I remember, but I wish I had more of a sense of the everyday flavor of our life.

Let’s face it: I don’t scrapbook, though I admire the art form. I’m pretty sad with photo albums in general. But writing… I can do that. I like the idea of giving a small stack of journals to my children as they become adults. Such journals would not represent “the facts” of their growing up so much as how their mother saw them day by day, year by year.

Another question: should I be typing them? I rejected this quickly. The one-sentence journal is the thing I do right before falling asleep, and I’m not thrilled with the thought of cuddling up with the laptop to do this. The lack of backup is a concern, but the aesthetic factor outweighs that. I have gone paperless in so much of my life that it’s a real counter-cultural thing for me to be writing by hand. But I do wonder how much longer we’ll be writing by hand.

I thought about buying three ten year journals, but ultimately decided to go with something more flexible. So I bought a few of these Eccolo journals. Caroline’s is a dragonfly, Margaret’s is a Celtic knot, and James’s is the tree pictured above. They’re small but packed full of nice quality paper.

So—this is my Memory Project. A one-sentence journal for each kid, completed a few times a week, more or less, for a period of years—more or less. Feel free to join me in this project, or share in the comments what kind of artifacts you hope to pass on to the next generation—your own children, or others.