Deep Acting at 35,000 Feet, and in the Grocery Store Line

That poor mannequin looks dead inside!

My friend Jan recently uninstalled the Disaster Alert app on her phone. Her hope was that the app would move her to pray and respond to natural and human-inflicted disasters as they happened. Instead, the app overwhelmed her and stressed her out.

Some years ago a Twitter acquaintance went through a terrible crisis. I followed the sad progression of events and grieved the person’s loss even though I had never met anyone involved. On one level, this is a beautiful thing: community that transcends the traditional boundaries. On another level, it left me depleted, and for no good purpose. There was nothing I could “do.” Compassion fatigue is very real, and in the digital age, its effects are compounded by being connected to more people than ever before.

Last week at CREDO we talked about emotional labor. Emotional labor is the work involved in responding appropriately to different emotionally fraught situations. Many professions involve heavy doses of emotional labor—ministry is one of them. We might go from leading a staff meeting, to celebrating a job promotion on the phone with a parishioner, to navigating a conflict with a co-worker, to visiting a dying person in the hospital, to teaching a group of 6th graders at the mid-week children’s program. And that’s before we get home and have another set of emotional issues to respond to among our families and friends. Lots of stops and starts. Lots of switching gears.

It can be tiring.

Emotional labor was fleshed out by Arlie Russell Hochschild in her book The Managed Heart, which looked at flight attendants and the ways they must put on a persona in order to respond to airplane passengers. During the presentation, we received an article by Barbara Brown Taylor for the Christian Century some 14 years ago. From BBT’s article:

Emotional labor must not show, however. If the flight attendant feels tired and irritable, this must be disguised. If a passenger turns hostile, the flight attendance is taught to reconceive that person as a fearful flyer or a little child—anything that will help the attendant overlook the rude behavior and relate sympathetically to the passenger. The point of all these “feeling rules” is to win the customer’s repeat business. …

Hochschild found that most flight attendants cope by learning a form of “deep acting” that helps them produce the desired feelings in themselves. They learn other strategies for repressing negative feelings so that they do no erupt on the job. After awhile, many say they have a hard time recovering their true feelings once their shifts are over. They begin to lose track of when they are acting and when they are not. Eventually they become aware that the hidden cost of managing their emotions is the impoverishment of their emotional lives. They have sold their hearts, and do not know how to buy them back.

What happens at CREDO stays at CREDO—-there’s a confidentiality I won’t breach. Suffice to say there were many lightbulbs during this presentation, and also many tears throughout the week as these good clergyfolk got in touch with some deep wells of emotion, wells they may have thought were capped and done with.

Since returning from CREDO I have been monitoring my own responses and reactions as I go throughout my day, and I had an epiphany in the grocery store. While waiting in a long line I did what many of us do, which is fiddle with my phone. I saw something on Facebook that took my breath away: a picture of a child I care about very much, who is going through leukemia treatment. I saw her hairless head and her bright smile as she beamed at the camera. I saw her beads of courage, ropes and ropes of them around her neck. I read the accompanying message. She is a warrior. But she is a small child. And no child should have to fight in any war, even (and perhaps especially) a war against cancer.

I wanted to cry for her, and I could have cried for her, even in the checkout line. But I did not. I checked myself… but this time, I was aware of checking myself.

Emotional labor.

Like many people, I have long wondered about (and written about) the impact technology has on our attention spans and our ability to be present in the moment. This is something I struggle with, and strive to put boundaries around (grocery store checkout lines notwithstanding). But I saw another way that our constant access to technology can harm us: sometimes we are not in a place to respond emotionally to the images we see, so those emotions get suppressed. That can hurt us in the long run.

It’s an irony—we praise technology (often rightly) for the ways it connects us, but we become disconnected from ourselves in the process. We have sold our hearts—how do we go about buying them back?

Friday Link Love

A bounty today:

High Speed Liquid Flowers — Colossal

“High speed photographs of colored water.” Amazing:

~

A Company’s Stand for Gay Marriage, And Its Cost — NYT

It’s a very interesting story because it blends the personal with the corporate and the political:

“I understand that your company donated $250,000 or so to the effort to ban the marriage amendment,” read one [critical e-mail]. “I am very concerned that with an increased visibility and acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, one of my children, who would have grown up and been happily married to a husband, could be tempted to the lesbian lifestyle.”

I support people putting their money where their mouth is. I’ve bought from Replacements Limited several times over the years. I wish I hadn’t already completed the set of china we got for our wedding.

~

13 Great Books on the Horizon — NPR

You can look forward to a host of new titles by writers who’ll keep you riveted without insulting your intelligence, whether you prefer thrillers, literary fiction, biographies or page turners in just about any genre. Books are among the joys that make summers memorable, and this year we’re spoiled for choice.

Every summer I make an informal pact with myself not to read any church administration, organizational leadership or theology books for the summer. Maybe I’ll check some of these out.

~

An Anne Geddes Baby Manifesto — McSweeneys

Occupy Flower Pot!

We reject the premise that all babies are cute and worthy of being surrounded by fluffy, pastel, scented debris. We reject the serving up of people in the early stages of cognitive development in giant teacups, unable to comprehend the tropes they are helping to propagate, specifically regarding colonialism and unsupervised use of diuretics. We reject the reverse anthropomorphism of humans into bumble bees, especially in so anatomically simplistic a manner, without so much as a solid thorax to recommend the likeness.

~

Fifteen Ways to Stay Married for Fifteen Years — Huffington Post

We’re going on 18 years and yes, I’d agree with every one of these on one level or another.

Marriage is not conditional. It is permanent. Your husband will be with you until you die. That is a given. It sounds obvious, but really making it a given is hard. You tend to think in “ifs” and “thens” even when you’ve publicly committed to forever. If he does this, I won’t tolerate it. If I do this, he’ll leave me. If I get fat. If I change jobs. If he says mean things. If he doesn’t pay more attention. It’s natural, especially in the beginning of your marriage, to keep those doubts in your head. But the sooner you can let go of the idea that marriage is temporary — and will end if certain awful conditions are met — the sooner you will let go of all kinds of conflict and stress. Yes, you may find yourself in a horrible situation where it’s absolutely necessary to get a divorce. But going into it with divorce in the back of your mind, even in the way way way back of your mind, is going to cause a lot of unnecessary angst. Accept that you’re going to stay with him. He’s going to stay with you. Inhabit that and figure out how to make THAT work, instead of living with the “what if”s and “in case of’s.”

~

Bone Flutes Found in German Caves Point to Roots of Creativity — LA Times

Researchers have discovered flutes dating back to as much as as much as 45,000 years ago using radiocarbon-dated bones found in the same layer of the archaeological dig.

Awesome.

~

John Waters Tries Some Desperate Living on a Cross-Country Hitchhiking Odyssey — NYT

Loved this article. The Freakonomics podcast had a feature several months ago exploring whether hitchhiking is as dangerous as we think. Conclusion: probably not. Stil, I will live vicariously through John Waters, methinks.

May the highways of your life be full of joy and surprise this weekend.

What is a Mentor?

Carrie Newcomer, a mentor from afar.

I made an offhand comment yesterday on FB about a “creative mentor” who had sent me an e-mail that made my week. Afterward a FB friend asked a simple but confounding question: What is a mentor? 

I await her response to the same question—it’s something she’s been wrestling with for some time, apparently—but I said something like this:

Mentor is a pretty broad term for me. There are people who mentor me who don’t know they’re doing it. Like the person I was talking about yesterday–she’s an artist whose work I’ve been enjoying for a long time. I met her several years ago, but we don’t talk regularly.

I guess my definition is someone whose life or work inspires you to be the best person you can be.

This is a timely question because Jan’s blog post for today talks about being a mentor. She, by the way, is one of my mentors. And friends.

Jo(e) is another one. I admire the way she lives, works, thinks, and walks around in the world. I’ve never met her, but I hope to someday.

I believe that technology allows us to be mentored by people in a way we could not be in previous generations. Sometimes social media creates a false sense of intimacy, though. When well-known people share their lives on Twitter or Facebook, we can get sucked into feeling like we know them. It’s a mistake to call them friends, though. But I think it’s OK to call them mentors.

I also think these virtual mentors are no match for someone who has agreed to take on the role of mentor—someone who interacts with a mentee with that intentional relationship in mind. I have had that kind of relationship too. Mainly professors.

What do you think? What is a mentor? And do you have one?

The Internet Kills Community! Except When It Doesn’t

First, a big welcome to those of you who’ve made your way here thanks to the Fellowship of Prayer! Come on in and stay awhile. This blog is named after the Blue Room in our house, which is the arts and crafts space we set up in what used to be our dining room. We are well stocked with everything you need for your stay: glitter glue, play-doh, googley-eyes and more.

~

Two articles crossed my screen recently about the Internet and its effect on community. First:

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered… Online — Sojourners

My editor passed along this link in response to some of stuff I wrote in Sabbath in the Suburbs about my experience taking a tech Sabbath each weekend. The article describes a very vibrant, supportive community that formed via Facebook in the wake of a friend’s death in Iraq.

I noted that there was a physical dimension to the community—it did not take place solely online; in fact the author actually moved so she could live closer to several community members. Certainly there are online communities that get along and get deep without ever meeting face to face… but most of the ones I’ve been a part of are either physical friendships that are kindled and stoked online, or online friendships that deepen to the point that people want to meet face to face. Examples of the former include my group of friends from Rice, who have had an e-mail list for going on 20 years now. Examples of the latter include the RevGalBlogPals and the Young Clergy Women, both of whom have annual conferences now.

~

Second is this article about digital Sabbath that my mother sent me:

We Don’t Need a Digital Sabbath; We Need More Time — Atlantic

The blurb summarizing the article says, What if our technology isn’t the problem? A look at “Digital Sabbaths” and the dangers of holding our gadgets responsible.

But the article isn’t really about that. I thought from that description that the article would pooh-pooh tech sabbaths, but in fact it’s a fairly good synopsis of the ins and outs of them. Here is the vital bit:

When we make a Sabbath and push back against the many claims on our time, we are, in some ways, rebelling against this speed-up and the intrusion of work and labor into our domestic sphere…

It’s for all these reasons that a Sabbath, digital or otherwise, can be reinvigorating. When we take a day away from our tools and create a day entirely under our own control, we create that “palace in time” where we can meet our friends and family and, finally, connect.

If one concedes the point that a Sabbath for restorative reasons need not proscribe technology, it may seem pointless to argue against the digital sabbath. What’s the harm?

The reason is that if we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us. We need to realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn’t a need to escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our relationships.

I think that’s a little facile, and this issue of “blaming the technology” is strange. Yes, putting away the phones and iPads isn’t enough to make a radical change in one’s life and world. But I’m almost willing to say that radical change is impossible without putting them away now and then.

I think about this from an incarnational point of view, which comes from my faith tradition: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Technology, by and large, connects us with people across the miles (which is valuable) but it distracts us from the physical world immediately around us. Setting aside these gadgets is the first step to reconnecting with the real fleshy people right there with us.

Design Your Own Preacher Camp: A Reprise

I’m off today to Preacher Camp in Montreat so I thought I’d re-run my post about how our group got started, hopefully to inspire others

A couple of things have changed since I wrote this, but the basic gist is the same.

Get yourself a Preacher Camp. You’ll be glad you did.

– – – – – – – – –

The Well. By the way, did you know that the Hebrew word for well is beer? Yes indeed.

I leave on Sunday for my yearly meeting with a group of clergy that calls itself “The Well.” (The story of how we ended up with that name is a post in itself.)

We patterned ourselves after a group of hoity-toity pastors that have been meeting together for something like 25 years. I think there are other groups like ours too. This is our fourth year to meet, and here’s how it works:

We are each assigned two Sundays in the upcoming lectionary year, and for each of those Sundays, we are responsible for writing and presenting an exegetical paper. These papers analyze the text and typically provide 2-3 sermon “trajectories.” There are currently 15 people in our group, which means we leave with a head start on 30 weeks of preaching. From time to time we think about adding members, but haven’t figured out how to do so without cutting into evening free time, something we are not willing to do.

People have said to me, “Aww, I wish I had a group like that.” I always tell them, “Just do it!” It’s really not that complicated to put a group together. I would love to see these groups propagate. So to encourage people to give this a try, I thought I would write down a few things we did to get started or keep going. I think most of this is taken from the hoity-toity group, so no claims at originality.

1. Start with a core and invite. Our group began with a few seminary friends kicking around the idea of a yearly lectionary study group. Once this core group was locked in, each of us invited another person. If you still need more, have the invitee invite someone else. That casts the net wider. Decide what kind of denominational/ regional/ theological/ seminary diversity you want, or don’t want.

2. Have a covenant. We were advised to set the expectation: if you don’t have your papers done, you don’t come. That sounds harsh, but the integrity of the group depends on everyone doing the work. We have granted exceptions for truly dire situations—in those cases, the folks brought one paper instead of two. Nobody has arrived empty handed.

3. Have a “dues guy.” We charge dues for basic operations of The Well—this is collected ahead of time by one of our members and kept in an account through the church he serves. Dues might pay for a few lunches, a dinner or two, evening snacks and drinks, etc. We use a sliding scale based on how big people’s continuing education budgets are, but it’s somewhere between $100-$200. Then each person is responsible for their travel expenses plus accommodations.

4. Divide the jobs and respect the royalty. We start with a short worship every morning, and someone new handles that each year. Another person draws names out of a hat to figure out who’s assigned to which date in the lectionary year. We make these determinations about 9 months ahead of time so people have time to write the papers (though I assure you, there is plenty of cramming going on as we speak). We also take turns “hosting” the event. That doesn’t mean it necessarily takes place in that person’s city, but one person is in charge of securing lodging (we like B&Bs), a place to meet (a local church, perhaps) and also moderates any discussion that needs to take place in between meetings (via e-mail). We’ve taken to calling that person the King or Queen, because they are “the decider” for that year. We have a lot of type A people in our group (if I ever write a book about our group it will be called “Too Many Alphas”) so it’s good to have someone in charge.

5. Use Dropbox. We’ve tried a number of things in terms of paper collection and distribution. We used to bring copies of our own papers for everyone, but lots of us preferred electronic copies for various technical and environmental reasons. This year we’re uploading our papers to Dropbox so people can download them onto their laptop and/or print them, if they’re a scribbling type. We make them due by Saturday morning before we leave, and if you miss the deadline, you are responsible for bringing copies of your own paper for everyone.

6. Schedule for the week: We do 40 minutes per paper. The person reads the text, reads the paper, and then the discussion begins. Someone watches the time so we stay on schedule. In the past, we’ve had a block of time with a scholar or pastor to talk shop, and this year we even have a free afternoon. Heaven.

7. Leave evenings free. I’ve heard that the hoity-toities do papers into the evening, and honestly, I don’t know how they do it—by the time we finish for the day, I’m fried. Guess that’s why they’re hoity-toity. Our group likes to have a leisurely dinner, then hang out late into the night. We also started a yearly competition, with a trophy awarded to the person with the most outrageous ministry story. And yes, there’s an actual trophy.

So, there it is. The Well is one of the best things I do as a clergy person and one of my happiest weeks of the year. And I say that despite the fact that I preach the lectionary less than half the time. The scripture study is awesome and stimulating, and of course, spending time with other people who “get it” and with whom you can be real is HUGE. I think I laugh more that week than I do the rest of the year.

Today’s Video: “Human”

I’ve been wanting to write this one down but just haven’t had the time… so here’s a video. Five minutes.

Background: We have Services for Wholeness each quarter. It’s a time for people to come and receive prayer for whatever they’re dealing with. In December the service is called Blue Christmas.

Further Background: I occasionally do dumb things.

Human from MaryAnn McKibben Dana on Vimeo.

Design Your Own Preacher Camp

I leave on Sunday for my yearly meeting with a group of clergy that calls itself “The Well.” (The story of how we ended up with that name is a post in itself.)

We patterned ourselves after a group of hoity-toity pastors that have been meeting together for something like 25 years. I think there are other groups like ours too. This is our fourth year to meet, and here’s how it works:

We are each assigned two Sundays in the upcoming lectionary year, and for each of those Sundays, we are responsible for writing and presenting an exegetical paper. These papers analyze the text and typically provide 2-3 sermon “trajectories.” There are currently 15 people in our group, which means we leave with a head start on 30 weeks of preaching. From time to time we think about adding members, but haven’t figured out how to do so without cutting into evening free time, something we are not willing to do.

People have said to me, “Aww, I wish I had a group like that.” I always tell them, “Just do it!” It’s really not that complicated to put a group together. I would love to see these groups propagate. So to encourage people to give this a try, I thought I would write down a few things we did to get started or keep going. I think most of this is taken from the hoity-toity group, so no claims at originality.

1. Start with a core and invite. Our group began with a few seminary friends kicking around the idea of a yearly lectionary study group. Once this core group was locked in, each of us invited another person. If you still need more, have the invitee invite someone else. That casts the net wider. Decide what kind of denominational/regional/theological/seminary diversity you want, or don’t want.

2. Have a covenant. We were advised to set the expectation: if you don’t have your papers done, you don’t come. That sounds harsh, but the integrity of the group depends on everyone doing the work. We have granted exceptions for truly dire situations—in those cases, the folks brought one paper instead of two. Nobody has arrived empty handed.

3. Have a “dues guy.” We charge dues for basic operations of The Well—this is collected ahead of time by one of our members and kept in an account through the church he serves. Dues might pay for a few lunches, a dinner or two, evening snacks and drinks, etc. We use a sliding scale based on how big people’s continuing education budgets are, but it’s somewhere between $100-$200. Then each person is responsible for their travel expenses plus accommodations.

4. Divide the jobs and respect the royalty. We start with a short worship every morning, and someone new handles that each year. Another person draws names out of a hat to figure out who’s assigned to which date in the lectionary year. We make these determinations about 9 months ahead of time so people have time to write the papers (though I assure you, there is plenty of cramming going on as we speak). We also take turns “hosting” the event. That doesn’t mean it necessarily takes place in that person’s city, but one person is in charge of securing lodging (we like B&Bs), a place to meet (a local church, perhaps) and also moderates any discussion that needs to take place in between meetings (via e-mail). We’ve taken to calling that person the King or Queen, because they are “the decider” for that year. We have a lot of type A people in our group (if I ever write a book about our group it will be called “Too Many Alphas”) so it’s good to have someone in charge.

5. Use Dropbox. We’ve tried a number of things in terms of paper collection and distribution. We used to bring copies of our own papers for everyone, but lots of us preferred electronic copies for various technical and environmental reasons. This year we’re uploading our papers to Dropbox so people can download them onto their laptop and/or print them, if they’re a scribbling type. We make them due by Saturday morning before we leave, and if you miss the deadline, you are responsible for bringing copies of your own paper for everyone.

6. Schedule for the week: We do 40 minutes per paper. The person reads the text, reads the paper, and then the discussion begins. Someone watches the time so we stay on schedule. In the past, we’ve had a block of time with a scholar or pastor to talk shop, and this year we even have a free afternoon. Heaven.

7. Leave evenings free. I’ve heard that the hoity-toities do papers into the evening, and honestly, I don’t know how they do it—by the time we finish for the day, I’m fried. Guess that’s why they’re hoity-toity. Our group likes to have a leisurely dinner, then hang out late into the night. We also started a yearly competition, with a trophy awarded to the person with the most outrageous ministry story. And yes, there’s an actual trophy.

So, there it is. The Well is one of the best things I do as a clergy person and one of my happiest weeks of the year. And I say that despite the fact that I preach the lectionary less than half the time. The scripture study is awesome and stimulating, and of course, spending time with other people who “get it” and with whom you can be real is HUGE. I think I laugh more that week than I do the rest of the year.