Friday Link Love: Death with Dignity, a Real-Live Forrest Gump… and a Cross-Dressing Mayor

(Koshyk/flickr/CC-BY-2.0) — from the Radiolab page for the “New Normal” episode mentioned below

And they’re off! Lots of video today:

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Cross-Dressing for the Gospel — David Lose

I’m on a big David Lose kick right now. I posted this one last week to Twitter but saw it too late for last week’s Link Love. Stu Rasmussen is a man in Silverton, Oregon who is a cross-dresser. He was also elected mayor of the town:

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone was wild about this development. The election was very close and his doubters didn’t stop doubting. Some because of their religious convictions, some simply because cross-dressing just goes against their sensibilities.

But then something else amazing happened. After his election, and before his inauguration, a group from the Westbro Baptist Church came to town. (A quick side-note: this isn’t your typical Baptist church. In fact, this is an extremist group not affiliated with any major Christian tradition.) They came with signs – “God hates Silverton,” “God hates your mayor” (and these were the more polite signs!) – and with their slurs, determined to protest Stu as an abomination.

And although Stu encouraged people not to give them the time of day, folks in the town staged a counter-protest…where lots and lots of ordinary, everyday folks cross-dressed. Men dressed as women, grandmas dressed as men. Kids joined in. Liberals, conservatives, young, old, on this day in Silverton it just didn’t matter. They were determined to stand with Stu, to identify with him, to stand up for him.

That’ll preach.

BTW, the story originally aired on Radiolab, which is my favorite podcast bar none.

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I also got this video from David:

Bus Station Sonata — Arts Council of England (video)

From the site: “The work was created with commuters and passers-by from the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle UK. Most of the participants are non players, many had never touched a piano before, we just convinced them to donate a note or two.”

The delight on some of the faces is palpable… and I love the end.

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How Not to Spend Your Whole Day on Facebook — BigThink (video)

An important tip for procrastination:

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12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit — Harvard Business Review

When to hold ’em, when to fold ’em:

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this [is] a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?

Etc.

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Massachusetts Vote May Change How the Nation Dies — Slate

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act has been in effect for the past 14 years, and the state of Washington followed suit with a similar law in 2008. Despite concerns of skeptics, the sky has not fallen; civilization in the Northwest remains intact; the poor, disenfranchised, elderly, and vulnerable have not been victimized; and Oregon has become a leader in the provision of excellent palliative medicine services.

But the Massachusetts ballot question has the potential to turn death with dignity from a legislative experiment into the new national norm.

I support so-called Death with Dignity statutes. When properly defined and carried out, they are sane and compassionate.

This article profiles some of the physicians involved in this movement:

Perhaps it takes the dramatic actions of a flawed advocate like Dr. Jack Kevorkian to catalyze change that leads to the appearance of more reasonable and likable physician reformers. Physicians of this new generation do not seek out or necessarily welcome the role, but, having accepted it, they are irreversibly changed. Most are modest, highly intellectual, and intensely private professionals who are drawn to medicine because it offers a challenge and an opportunity to help relieve distress.

…After her patient’s death, Dr. Kate concluded, “I think Cody taught me that ‘first, do no harm,’ is different for every patient. Harm for her would have meant taking away the control and saying, ‘No, no, no! You have got to do this the way your body decides, as opposed to the way you as the person decides.’”

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Real-Life Forrest Gump Walks Across America in 178 Days — Oddity Central

A friend sent this to me and wondered: “Sabbathy? He talks about taking the trip because he had stopped appreciating things and wanted to slow down his life.” Could be…

He left only with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, his backpack and a few thing in it, determined to survive only on the goodness of the people he met on the road. He depended on them for the most basic needs, like food, water and a place to sleep, and whenever he got money and gift cards he didn’t actually need to survive, he just gave them away to the homeless. He said the point was always to give away more than he took, and added that the biggest takeaway from this epic experience is to have realized that “mankind is better than I ever dreamed.”

This is one of those “it takes all kinds” stories. And I don’t mean that disparagingly—it really does take all kinds.

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Does Brainstorming Work? — RSA (video)

No, but you should watch this anyway because it’s entertaining:

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Peace be with you…

Friday Link Love: Mrs. Jesus, Mandatory Sandwiches, and a Wee Bit of Death

Let me first dispense with the Links of Self Promo:

New Website // Order the Book // Sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway

OK. Now that that’s done…

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Interactive Cloud of 6,000 Light Bulbs — O.C.L.

That’s Obligatory Colossal Link:

Gorgeous!

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Small Good Things — Paris Review

A lovely little essay about how writers illuminate the sacramental nature of ordinary things, particularly food.

The author talks about Raymond Carver’s story “A Small Good Thing,” which you may recall is about a couple who lose their 8 year old son, and they are tormented by the phone calls from a hapless baker who is demanding payment for the birthday cake he made for the boy.

I performed that piece for Prose Interp competitions in high school. I read it now and cringe to think of my performance. What did I know at 18 about the heartbreak within that story? Nothing. I knew nothing.

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Famous Writers on Death and Mortality — Flavorwire

I’ll say it—Christopher Hitchens was a pretentious old crank—but I cannot wait to read his book Mortality. In honor of its publication, here are 20 writers on the last great mystery:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.

I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography — to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

By the way, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Sum: 40 Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman. So, so imaginative and poignant.

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How the President Gets Things Done — 99U

I really like 99U. Lots of cool ideas there. Here are some things that Barack Obama does to make his life easier and more efficient, including offloading trivial decisions like what to eat and wear.

#5 warmed my Sabbath-loving heart:

5. Your personal time is sacred.

The president has three moments in his schedule that are unquestionably his: the morning workout, his dinner with his daughters, and the nighttime after his family falls asleep. Each block of time serves a different role for Obama: the gym keeps his body in good health, the late night helps him catch up on work, and the dinner is especially sacred time, with the added benefit of giving the president a bit of perspective outside his hectic workday.

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Historian Says Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife — NYT

This has been making the rounds. This scrap of papyrus suggests that Jesus might have had a wife—it would not have been unusual at the time, folks—and  that there were female disciples (not earth-shattering to anyone who’s actually read the gospels—sisters are all over that good news!). Here’s the pertinent bit:

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Dr. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

People have been wondering and arguing about this guy for a very, very long time. Disagreement over contested truths are nothing new. Giddy-up and praise be.

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Should Lunch Breaks Be Mandatory? — BBC

I’m not sure how I feel about mandating lunch breaks. Especially for people with a long commute and/or kids at home, there’s something to be said for compressing the workday so they can get home at a decent hour. Still:

One obvious reason to do lunch is to slow down and gain some perspective. If we burrow into work, and don’t come up for air during the day, we will have a hard time thinking strategically or putting our daily tasks into broader context.

By taking a lunch break, we can think outside the box. In the interviews I conducted for my book, I was struck by how many senior leaders stressed the importance of strategic “downtime” – lunch or some other block of an hour or more per day – to break up their thinking and spur them to be more strategic.

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What Americans Actually Do All Weekend, in 2 Graphs — NPR

What do you see in this graph? I see:

  1. A lot of sleep.
  2. Religious activities are only 37 minutes… and yet many worship services last an hour. So what’s up with the other 23 minutes? Oh right: sleeping.

Well, whatever the weekend holds for you, I hope that the leisure bit is a nice big piece of the graph.

Treehouses, Letting Go, and the Definition of Food: Friday Link Love

Let’s start with a feel-good:

97 Year Old Woman Gets a Diploma — Washington Post

She had to drop out during the Depression:

“When I told her she was getting a diploma, she sobbed as if a pain had been relieved from her heart,” [her daughter] said. “I never knew what it meant to her. She wanted this.”

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The Minister’s Treehouse — Colossal

A self house! Built over 11 years and without blueprints:

More at the link.

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What is Food? — New York Times

Mark Bittman doesn’t mince words in his support of Mayor Bloomberg’s limiting the size of sugary drinks that are sold in New York:

If the mayor were to ban 32-ounce mugs of beer at Yankee Stadium after a number of D.U.I. arrests — and, indeed, there are limits to drinking at ballparks — we would not be hearing his nanny tendencies. (And certainly most non-smokers, at least, are ecstatic that smoking in public places — including Central Park — is increasingly forbidden.) No one questions the prohibition on the use of SNAP for tobacco and alcohol. And that’s because we accept that these things are not food.

Sugar-sweetened beverages don’t meet [the standard of ‘food’] any more than do beer and tobacco and, for that matter, heroin, and they have more in common with these things than they do with carrots.

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You’re Not Special — Boston Herald

A high school commencement speech from David McCullough, Jr.

…do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.

It’s downright theological, the way it critiques an overly indulgent, everyone-gets-a-trophy culture… but then flips “you’re not special” at the end:

Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.

Watch the video interview too, as he talks about privilege.

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A New Ministry Scorecard — Progressive Renewal

How’s your church doing?

% of people who can articulate a clear sense of vision and purpose for the church

% of active participants in all areas of the life of the church

% of first and second time guests

h/t: Jan Edmiston

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The Art of Letting Go — Harvard Business Review

“You know what,” I heard myself saying, “I don’t think our work is right for you at this point.” He looked slightly stunned. In all honesty, so was I.

I couldn’t quite believe I’d let go of a potential client who had explicitly expressed interest in our work. But by the end of the evening, I felt lighter, as if I’d done the right thing for both of us.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. After reading this, I said no to an opportunity that had been shoulding on me for weeks. Wonderfully freeing.

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Speaking of letting go…

The Good Short Life — New York Times

After posting this sad story written about a mother’s slow, sad and (yes) expensive decline unto death, “The Good Short Life” is a wise and pithy “yes-and”:

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou [Gehrig’s Disease].

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

It’s an uplifting article, really. I discovered it while reading this post, about seeing life’s most profound challenges as not debilitating, but “interesting.” Easier said than done, but…

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I’m on vacation next week, and The Blue Room will be closing up shop while I’m gone. Be good, and savor your life.

Forgiving, Forgetting and Remembering

If you’re trying to run for speed, Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast is not for you. (See also: The Diane Rehm Show.)

But if you’re doing a nice slow run as a spiritual and physical discipline, On Being is just the right show.

Today’s run featured Contemplating Mortality, with Dr. Ira Byock talking about “dying well.” I am fascinated by this topic, and it’s come to me several times recently in different forms, so perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.

This topic is also hard for me to listen to, because the most profound death I’ve experienced in my life was a sudden death, not a slow, impending one.

A death that comes with a collapse to the floor, an ambulance screaming down the street, a tearful phone call late at night… I don’t know. There’s no doing that well or badly. I’m not even sure the person is the subject of the sentence; more like the object. Death happens to them.

So I get a little angry when I listen to shows like this. A prolonged death is no picnic, and I’m glad that Dad did not suffer. Still… there was no deathbed for my siblings and me to flock to, no heartwarming StoryCorps Legacy interview.

Then after getting angry, I decide that the only thing to do, if dying well isn’t always an option, is to live well.

Part of living well and dying well is about forgiveness. There are so many cliches around forgiveness, the most famous being to “forgive and forget.” You know I hate that, right? So pat. So simplistic. So inadequate.

I told you the phrase that came to me after Festival of Faith and Writing, yes? “Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world.”

The simpler something is, the less I trust it.

Anyway, they talked on the show about what forgiveness is all about, and Krista quoted Paul Tillich:

Forgiving presupposes remembering, and it creates a forgetting, not in the natural way we forget yesterday’s weather, but in the way of the great ‘in spite of’ that says: I forget although I remember. 

The whole show was great, despite my own residual anger and grief over Dad’s death. But it’s “the great ‘in spite of'” that will stay with me.

Fighting back with nuance.

Friday Link Love

If you haven’t already, check out my previous posts from this week (spiritual genius and mentoring) for additional links.

Onward…

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My friend Susan shared this on Facebook yesterday:

Excellent reminder.

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Showing Death with Humanity and Dignity — New York Times

A photographer in Mexico City documents the effects of Mexican and North American policies on the border region where he was raised. I appreciated this interview about one of his heartbreaking images:

I shot the scene a bunch of different ways, but the way that worked best was just showing it from the front. These people were killed by one single bullet. The woman is far into her pregnancy. The hit man came in from the left-hand side of the car and fired a bullet into the man’s head when they were embracing and killed both of them.

I don’t know. It seemed appropriate as we move into Holy Week.

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Religion for Atheists — Alain de Botton

I know I’ve linked to his work before, but I find it fascinating as an agnostic theist (I don’t know but I believe):

The French atheist and proto-fascist Charles Maurras, an admirer of both Comte and Nietzsche, was an impassioned defender of the Catholic Church. John Stuart Mill – not exactly an atheist but not far off – tried to fuse Comte’s new religion with liberalism. In marrying atheism with very different ethical and political positions, none of these thinkers was confused or inconsistent. Atheism can go with practically anything, since in itself it amounts to very little.

Most people think that atheists are bound to reject religion because religion and atheism consist of incompatible beliefs. De Botton accepts this assumption throughout his argument, which amounts to the claim that religion is humanly valuable even if religious beliefs are untrue. He shows how much in our way of life comes from and still depends on religion – communities, education, art and architecture and certain kinds of kindness, among other things. I would add the practice of toleration, the origins of which lie in dissenting religion, and sceptical doubt, which very often coexists with faith.

Today’s atheists will insist that these goods can be achieved without religion. In many instances this may be so but it is a question that cannot be answered by fulminating about religion as if it were intrinsically evil. Religion has caused a lot of harm but so has science. Practically everything of value in human life can be harmful. To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity.

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Language Cop: Christian — The New Republic

In November I introduced a periodic blog feature called “Language Cop” to “keep track of unacceptable words and catchphrases that enter the political dialogue.” In that column I exiled the terms “optics” and “inflection point.” Earlier this month I inveighed against “pivot,” and last week I suggested this euphemism be replaced with a new term, “shake,” in deference to America’s first multiplatform gaffe. Today I banish “Christian ”—not the word itself, but a specific, erroneous usage.

In other words, a usage that implies that Christians are all conservative/fundamentalist. A- to the -men.

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And on a whimsical note:

Frame of Mind — Vimeo

Incredible:

Frame of Mind from Steven Alan on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend. I’ve got a session retreat on tap as well as a visit with my cousin B.

Friday Link Love

Here we go:

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See-Through Church – Belgium

I ran across this on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, who said, “that’s one way to get more transparency in the church.” Visually arresting; see the link for more photos:

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Applying Sentiment Analysis to the Bible – OpenBible

An interesting image and idea, and something one could sit and study for quite some time… although I notice that the resurrection is listed as a negative event. Yeah, I guess Mark could be read that way…


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The Roots of Religion – Big Questions Online

Myth, story, practice…

 I have found that the very mention of the words “religion” and “evolution” sets off a kind of reflex reaction among some, but fortunately not all, contemporary Americans. Among both religious fundamentalists and what might be called atheistic fundamentalists these terms set off a war to the death, with abusive language directed toward the supposed opposition. In that kind of atmosphere any rational discussion becomes impossible. What unites these two groups is the idea that religion and science are essentially the same thing:  sets of propositional truths that can be judged in terms of argument and evidence.

What surprised me when I began to read the work of leading scientists in the fields of cosmology and evolution is how many of them rejected this idea and argued instead that science and religion are really two different spheres that may at points overlap but that operate in accordance with different logics. Science operates with scientific method in terms of which different theories can be tested and proved or disproved, though if Karl Popper is right, proof is always problematic and we are safer to stick to disproof. Religion on the other hand is a way of life more than a theory. It is based on beliefs that science can neither prove nor disprove. Its “proof” is the kind of person the religious way of life produces.

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Dying and Dinner Parties – Vimeo

Linked from the Improvised Life blog, this is a delightfully matter-of-fact take on the last adventure of life.

Dying and Dinner Parties from ThinPlace Pictures on Vimeo.

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An Interview with David Eagleman – BoingBoing

David and I were at Rice University at the same time, though I did not know him there. He’s made the rounds on some of my favorite podcasts, including Radiolab, and his book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is really interesting. In this interview he tackles near-death experiences, déjà vu and more. When asked what advice he’d have for young aspiring scientists and thinkers, he says:

Watch TED talks: smart people will distill their life’s work down to 20 minutes for you. Follow links through infinite trajectories of Wikipedia. Watch educational videos on topics that resonate with you.

There are a million ways to waste time on the net; reject those in favor of ways that teach you exactly what you want to know. Never before have we enjoyed such an opportunity for tailored, individualized education.

And be sure to get off-line often, to take digital sabbaths. As much as the net provides a platter of mankind’s learning, there is a different kind of learning to be had from a hike in the woods, the climbing of a tree, an afternoon building a dam in a stream.

Amen!