When Sabbath Just Isn’t Possible

urlHello friends.

It was a very good weekend with my extended family in Arizona. It was fun to get reacquainted with my uncles, aunts and a few cousins, and to have some good conversations with Grandpa. It was also hard. My uncles look (and in some cases act) so much like Dad that I was doing emotional double-takes all weekend. It is cruel, how quickly and mercilessly he left us 10 years ago.

Grandma’s funeral was lovely, and I was humbled to be able to preach. As we made our way to the columbarium, we were treated to a bright Arizona sun and snow flurries at the same time. Wonderful.

But now I am back, and desperately tired. And the busyness has only just begun—I won’t bore you with the litany of stuff on the Dana family/career to-do list, but our calendar doesn’t give us an exhale until March 6 or so. It will come, but it’s gonna be Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride until then.

And let’s be honest: some times are like that. I have many friends who are asking me with all kindness when we will have a Sabbath. And the answer is, over the next several weeks, we will be measuring Sabbath in hours, not in days. And that’s just the way it is.

And I feel OK with that, because I am keeping two things in mind:

1. Living Sabbathly. When I was writing the book I was frustrated that there was no adverbial form of Sabbath, so I invented one. Sabbathly means “to live in the manner of Sabbath.” One can live in the busy times with a spirit of attentiveness and freedom. One can hurry without haste. One can move in time and space with a sense of openness and flow. One can laugh at the sheer too-muchness of it all. And one can trust that the crazy time will end.

2. Doing nothing extra. I picked up that phrase in a book about labor and childbirth. I think it had something to do with not tiring oneself out during early labor by obsessively cleaning house, etc. Rest up for the marathon that is to come—not just the labor but the baby boot camp that will follow. So for the next few weeks, I will do nothing extra. The non-essential tasks can wait, or I can delegate them to the floor.

What gets you through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?

Goodbye to Grandma

Lake Palestine, East Texas

Lake Palestine, East Texas

My father’s mother, Grandma McKibben, is dying today. Her name is Mary Ellen, and the Mary in my name comes from her. (The Ann comes from my other grandmother, Betty Ann.)

Grandma is 88 years old and said two weeks ago that she’s ready. I’m thinking a lot about my grandfather today, who is saying goodbye to his love of 70 years. How do you do that?

We didn’t see each other much in recent years. The relationships in our family are complicated. But we talked by phone every few months. They were so over the moon about my book—and especially loved that I kept the McKibben in the byline. (Always.)

I wrote this a couple of years ago on St. Patrick’s Day. For some reason it is one of the most-read pieces on my blog.

My father’s family is big and Irish and Catholic. My dad was supposed to be the priest in the family. He even went to seminary for a time; it didn’t stick. Exhibits A, B, C, and D: my siblings and I.

He died a Presbyterian seeker, heavily influenced by the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The summer before Robert and I got married, we were at a McKibben family event and someone asked us whether our wedding was going to be in the church. I said yes, seeing as how it was a verbal question… I didn’t pick up on the capital letters. Yes, we’re getting married in the church as opposed to Hermann Park or VFW Hall. 

They were asking about The Church.

My grandparents are as staunch as you can get in their Catholicism. I’m sure it grieves them that few to none of their dozen-plus grandchildren are Catholic.

But I got a letter from them recently, and it was addressed to the Rev. MaryAnn Dana.

In it they shared a hope that they could someday come and hear “their number 1 granddaughter preach the Word of God.”

My grandparents had a lake house in East Texas. I have so many memories of that place, although many of them run together.

I remember a particular sunset over the trees across the lake one evening. It was like a very wide, flat rainbow, reds to oranges to greens to blues. (My cousins and I have been sharing MacShack stories on Facebook today, and we were laughing over the gravelly smokers’ voices of our uncles in the morning, murmuring over their morning coffee as they looked out the window: “Lake looks like glass.” I’m sure the lake was like glass that evening.)

When I got home to Houston, I tried to recreate it with pastels, but I just couldn’t do it. The bands of color didn’t blend right, and I kept adding more and more layers of color, hoping to capture what I’d seen. The paper got heavy with chalky dust and I never got it right. It was beyond me.

I don’t know what heaven is, or even if there is a heaven. But I like to think that for Grandma there will be a sunset just like that one. Or more appropriately, a sunrise.

I love you, Grandma.

Newtown, Noah Pozner, and a World Reborn

Tikku olam

Tikkun olam

Some of my Facebook friends have been posting beautiful, excruciating articles about the loss of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of Newtown. He was a twin. He was a darling child. And his family has been thoughtful, yet unflinching, in their mourning of him.

You can read the articles here and here—please be warned that they are wrenching. You may forget to breathe.

But as I read them I kept thinking about an interview I heard years ago on Speaking of Faith (before it became On Being) with Laurie Zoloth, a Jewish ethicist who studies the issues around human cloning. As you might imagine, she writes with a great deal of concern over the prospect of cloning a human being, and the tangled web of issues such a possibility would raise for society.

During the interview, Zoloth shared her experience of being part of a volunteer Jewish burial society. Jewish custom requires bodies to be buried before sundown if at all possible. Several years prior, on the day of Passover, she was called to take part in the burial preparation for a four-year-old girl. The girl had been running across the street to her father’s waiting arms when she was hit by a car. Zoloth arrived at the funeral home with the other women to prepare the body, which was horribly, heartbreakingly broken. The preparations for burial included washing the body with water, and dozens of other careful, ritualistic details. “This little girl was the tiniest person we had prepared,” Zoloth says. “I and all the other women there were frantic with grief.”

And then, this Jewish ethicist who has spoken out against human cloning went on to say, “I knew at that point that I would have cloned her. If I could have. If I’d had the technology… I didn’t care if it was risky, I wanted that baby girl back.”

And yet the mother of this little girl, a woman of deep Jewish faith, said, “If you want to bring my daughter back, I need you to go to work in the world, to do acts of loving kindness and mercy, of justice and love. That will bring her back.” This is the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam, or “healing of the world.” In Jewish theology, it is this healing, this repair of the world, that will bring the Messiah. This is what will bring the lost ones back. The mother believed that completely.

Only through a radically altered world, a world of justice, peace and mercy, would her daughter be restored.

And Zoloth realized, “It is not the body that this little girl needs, it is a world reborn that this little girl needs.”

It is a world reborn that Noah Pozner needs.

Eat, Drink and Do Sabbath, for Tomorrow We…

We’ve all been having fun with this Mayan prophecy about the end of the world, haven’t we?

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And yet.

For the last few days it has felt a bit like the world is falling apart. It’s times like this, thinking about the people of Newtown, that I remember the line from “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice”:

Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Only I walk around muttering it to myself in disbelief:

Christ was born for this?
For this?!??
Seriously, God:
THIS world?

*   *   *

Read the rest at the Sabbath in the Suburbs blog.

 

Friday Link Love

How much is too much?

Three Christmas Gifts — Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I’ve started thinking about the kids’ Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas — a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because “It was good enough for Jesus.” We’ve been doing that for some time, but I think we’ll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline’s heart’s desire is a guinea pig.

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An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education — Brain Pickings

Apparently we’re not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:

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Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother — Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.

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Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner — Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

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How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal — 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., “If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.”) The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in “If X, then Y” terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.

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Motoi Yamamoto’s Saltscapes — Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

Motoi Yamamoto – Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That’ll preach.

~

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

Anon!

Are There Babysitters in Heaven? — Meg Peery McLaughlin

Meg is a friend and a profoundly gifted pastor. Here she offers tips for people helping children process death and grief.

It’s best to be open with kids when the topic comes up and their questions arise. Be honest and as clear/concrete as possible. Kids don’t need to be shielded from the truth. If they are, their imaginations will fill in details where there are gaps. Avoid clichés: “God takes people” makes it seem like God is like the descending metal claw in a toy machine.

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Grin and Bear It! How to Tackle the Tougher Tasks — 99U

I especially like the “networking” section, particularly the tip about showing up early to an event. So much easier than showing up late and trying to insert oneself into groups that have already formed.

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Why a Bible Belt Conservative Spent a Year Pretending to Be Gay — Guardian

Tip o’ the hat to my friend Jay for sending this along:

Timothy Kurek grew up hating homosexuality. As a conservative Christian deep in America’s Bible belt, he had been taught that being gay was an abomination before God. He went to his right-wing church, saw himself as a soldier for Christ and attended Liberty University, the “evangelical West Point”.

But when a Christian friend in a karaoke bar told him how her family had kicked her out when she revealed she was a lesbian, Kurek began to question profoundly his beliefs and religious teaching. Amazingly, the 26-year-old decided to “walk in the shoes” of a gay man in America by pretending to be homosexual.

This is an interesting article, and I always like a good redemption story. But you don’t have to pretend for a year in order to understand the plight of another (though that’s a good way to get a book deal, eh?). Simply befriending someone usually does the trick. Which is why Mix It Up at Lunch Day is such a neat thing.

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The Waterfall Swing — Colossal

The water pours down from the beam on the top of the swing, but stops when the person passes underneath. How fun is that? Click on the link or the image below for video.

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My last few links are all from the same source, Brain Pickings:

Do Not Despise Your Inner Life 

Inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

James Harmon set out to create an antidote to the “toxic cloud of tepid-broth wisdom” found in books “with the shelf life of a banana” that the contemporary publishing world peddled and reached out to some of the most “outspoken provocateurs, funky philosophers, cunning cultural critics, social gadflies, cyberpunks, raconteurs, radical academics, literary outlaws, and obscure but wildly talented poets. The result, a decade in the making and the stubborn survivor of ample publishing pressure to grind it into precisely the kind of mush Harmon was determined to avoid, is Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two

The post contains an excerpt from philosopher Martha Nussbaum and includes the advice, “Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.”

I WANT THIS BOOK.

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75 Scientific Mysteries, Illustrated by Artists

One of the illustrations for How Does Gravity Work?

Art meets science. How could it not be awesome?

[The book’s editors] invite some of today’s most celebrated artists to create scientific illustrations and charts to accompany short essays about the most fascinating unanswered questions on the minds of contemporary scientists across biology, astrophysics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, anthropology, and more.

The images, which comes from a mix of well-known titans and promising up-and-comers, including favorites like Lisa CongdonGemma Correll, and Jon Klassen, borrow inspiration from antique medical illustrationsvintage science diagrams, and other historical ephemera from periods of explosive scientific curiosity.

Above all, the project is a testament to the idea that ignorance is what drives discovery and wonder is what propels science — a reminder to, as Rilke put it, live the questions and delight in reflecting on the mysteries themselves.

I WANT THIS BOOK TOO.

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Anais Nin Meets Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.

Nin has been a person of fascination to me, but the key quote was this one:

[Frank Lloyd Wright’s] struggle is against uniformity and wholesale design. He speaks out boldly, as Varèse did. If he sounds like a moralist, it is because beauty, quality, and ethics are inseparable.

What an intriguing thought. Do you agree?

Have a good weekend. And if you’re needing some Sabbath this weekend but aren’t sure where to start, check out my post at the Sabbath blog.