Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It’s going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering.

Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He’s not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

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Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir — Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I’m pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I’ve seen. OK, posts like this don’t solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

life-hacks-how-to-make-your-life-easier-29

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Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? — Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

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Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too — New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb’s description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds
Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet.
17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio
John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight.
18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA
Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m off to Windy City tomorrow, where I’ll be leading a pastors’ retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I’ll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!

Help Two Little Girls Help the Homeless

Margaret with one of her creations

The week before Thanksgiving, Caroline (age 9) came to me with an idea. “I want to do something to help the homeless at Christmas, but I don’t have a lot of money.”

We give each of the kids a small sum to donate at Christmastime, but this impulse felt like something to explore more deeply. So we began to think about the gifts she does have and how she might use them to help others.

It’s true—Caroline doesn’t have much money in her allowance jar. Instead she will give the gift of time and music. She plans to record a collection of holiday piano music as a way to encourage people to donate, and to say thank you to those who do.

Margaret (age 6) has decided to get involved too, through her interest in drawing.

Please help us prevent and end homelessness through a gift to Homestretch, a non-profit organization that helps people in our very own community.

See our GiveBack page for details, including a list of the thank-you gifts that the girls are creating to send to donors. We hope to raise $500. [Edit: We are almost there after only two days! We may need to increase our goal!]

Donations go directly to GiveBack, which funnels the money to Homestretch, and you receive a donor receipt for tax purposes.We’ve already seen some donations come in and Caroline is SO excited at each one. She said the first night, “I feel all fizzy inside.”

So… go to the link give. You’ll feel fizzy too.

Peace and Seasons Greetings…

Fine Print: If you want to claim your gift, you must send me an email with your donor receipt. I cannot tell who has given otherwise. Details on the GiveBack page.

Beyond Black Thursday–If Not Shopping, Then What?

We’ve been kvetching about this on Facebook all morning. Yes, it’s come to this:

Black Thursday? Stores to open even earlier on Thanksgiving.

Big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Sears are opening their doors at 8 p.m. Thursday — just as Thanksgiving dinner tables are being cleared in many homes. Target will follow suit at 9 p.m., enticing shoppers out of their homes during the final football game of the day.

Target employees have started a petition to “save Thanksgiving,” and Wal-Mart workers say they are gearing up for protests on Black Friday.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Anthony Hardwick, a former Target employee who led protest efforts last year. “We’re getting rid of Thanksgiving dinner, and for what? For a $300 flat-screen TV?”

[But] “Stores are tapping into something that is very real — there is demand for this,” said Adam ­Hanft, a brand strategist for ­Hanft Projects in New York. “The reality is, people start to get cabin fever after awhile. They’re fighting about politics. They want to get out and do something.”

Oh my heavens!

Apparently there are people who have no idea how to extricate themselves from an argument with Aunt Edna about the Kenyan usurper in the White House, or cut short Nephew Chip’s jeremiads against the drug war, other than to go shopping.

What a failure of imagination!

What an opportunity for Blue Room readers, who are so very creative!

What could a family do together on Thanksgiving weekend besides buy stuff?

Share in comments. Here are five humble suggestions to get you started:

  1. Go for a walk.
  2. Do the National Day of Listening. Do not ask about Obama or the drug war.
  3. Find a place that serves meals to the homeless. Go there. Do that.
  4. Bake cookies for a fire house or police precinct.
  5. Rake a neighbor’s leaves. Heck, rake your own leaves.

Take it away in comments, loveys!

Friday Link Love

Away we go:

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Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest — The Atlantic

My favorite:

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New Orleans Pastor Known as ‘Da Condom Father’ Couldn’t Just Watch People Die — Nola.com

According to the article, black people are 32 percent of the Louisiana population but, according to the state Department of Health and Human Hospitals, account for 73 percent of the newest HIV cases and 76 percent of the cases that progressed to AIDS. So this pastor hands out condoms to his parishioners and community. For him the ethics is clear:

Is such the Lord’s work? Davenport is convinced it is. What is he supposed to do? Stand back and see his people die ? Preach to them about sexual purity — then stand back and see his people die?

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Julia Child Visits Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood — The Fred Rogers Company

A video from the archives, in honor of that wonderful dame’s 100th birthday:


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The ‘Open’ Office is a Source of Stress — Time

The modern open office was designed for team building and camaraderie but is mostly distinguished by its high noise levels, lack of privacy and surfeit of both digital and human distractions. And indeed, several decades of research have confirmed that open-plan offices are generally associated with greater employee stress, poorer co-worker relations and reduced satisfaction with the physical environment.

Do you work in an open office environment? What do you think of it, dear readers?

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War Some of the Time — Writers Almanac

A great one from Bukowski:

when you write a poem it
needn’t be intense
it
can be nice and
easy
and you shouldn’t necessarily
be
concerned only with things like anger or
love or need;
at any moment the
greatest accomplishment might be to simply
get
up and tap the handle
on that leaking toilet;

More at the link.

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Why Be Grateful? — Jana Riess

There’s actual science between the practice of gratitude:

In one experiment, students were given different topics on which they had to write a paper. Some students were then given scathing criticism of their papers, while others were praised lavishly.

Then all the students were given the opportunity to go up against their teachers/ graders in a computer game. Not surprisingly, the students who had been sharply criticized retaliated in kind during the game, blasting the heck out of the perpetrators who had made their lives miserable. The ones who had been praised were not aggressive in the game.

And then things got really interesting. There was one exception to the rule about students who had been criticized turning around and retaliating.  This was a small group of the mocked students who had been assigned in their papers to enumerate the things they were grateful for in their lives.

Here’s the thing: those students who had written about gratitude didn’t react negatively to the criticism they received on their papers. They did not retaliate in the computer game.

Apparently, the simple act of counting their blessings had given them enough positive reinforcement about their lives that any criticism of their papers just rolled right off them.

I’ve been working on gratitude this week. It’s been hard. I am very concerned for a family in our church whose little boy is battling ALD and he continues to struggle. I feel very weighed down on their behalf. But I’m trying.

Videos like this help:

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My Own Rice — Church World Service

I love Church World Service. They are a modest organization but very effective, with low overhead. Remember that old Cadillac slogan, “quietly doing things very well”? That’s CWS.

Here’s a story of a young boy in Myanmar who was one of two survivors of a flood in his village. He received a micro-loan and is now growing his own rice.

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Peace be with you, friends.

Birthday Thanks

I’ll be honest. In terms of actual birthdays, it hasn’t been the greatest ever—we drove all day yesterday and for half of today, and it’s always a big fat bummer to come home to the Christmas stuff, and all the mess of unpacking the car, getting ready to go back to work tomorrow, making sure we have food in the house, etc.

We are all super tired too.

But that’s just the way it had to be, you know? I’m not super anal about celebrating on the actual day. Robert and I had a great dinner with my siblings last Thursday, and will celebrate more this weekend. There are other little dinners and things planned with friends, and I suspect there will be some revelry still to come once Caroline and Robert get home from the grocery store and vague “errands.” But still—kind of a blah day. A day in transit and transition.

So I appreciated today’s offering from the Writer’s Almanac. Inspired by that poem, as well as my life (which is pretty darn awesome when I take a step back)… I give you “Birthday Thanks.”

To the newly knitted mittens,
made with a little of this and that
over late-night vacation conversations.

Praise the cold that received us
as we drove north, and to
the bushel of red navel oranges in the trunk
to make that cold more bearable.

Praise the homecoming, like walking into a museum of our life,
everything untouched.

Praise the dot matrix paper, unfurled,
with H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y scrawled across it, praise the
barefoot six year old, now coloring between each letter.

Praise the cardboard box
which has become a ramp for the Matchbox cars.

Praise the tuning fork
which became the most beloved gift
for the eight year old who always whistles.

Praise the speakers in the kitchen
playing all the right music
while the boxes get flattened and the Monopoly put away.

Praise the counter, crammed with groceries:
bananas that will be perfectly yellow by morning,
and sliced bread in all its preparedness,
ready for tomorrow’s lunchbox assembly line
even if I am not.

What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?

I love that question.

  • My daily run, walk, or stint on the Wii Fit. (Does anyone else still do Wii Fit? I like the strength exercises.) I am up to about 10-15 miles a week of running. If you had told me a year ago that I would be running I’d never have believed it.
  • An amazing spouse who works hard, is a patient father, supports my many vocations and projects, and cooks. And who’s also on an exciting fitness kick. He’s also my alarm clock. Which is nice.
  • My Writing Revs. If the book doesn’t suck it will be largely due to their input.
  • The daily ritual of watching Daily Show/Colbert Report on my laptop during lunch. It’s either laugh or cry out there, folks.
  • The choral music that wafts through my house as the girls walk around singing the pieces they’re learning in Fairfax Choral Society.
  • A child who sits down voluntarily to practice the piano. (Hallelujah)
  • A nightly truffle, sometimes with port, from Artfully Chocolate.
  • The crispness of fall.
  • Being a part of exciting, generative ministry conversations, including several discussions dealing with affordable housing in Fairfax County and how our church’s manse could be a small part of that effort. And I took part in another conversation today, on the potential for starting new faith communities in Northern Virginia.
  • A sleepy little congregation that is waking up.

What is saving your life today?