Friday Link Love: Flying Houses, Being a Mystic, and Mighty Girls… One of Whom with Toilet Covers on Her Head

First, if you haven’t already heard me shouting from the rooftops about it, here is my interview about Sabbath in the Suburbs on Huffington Post Books.

Another note. I share links to interesting, inspiring, curious content all week long at my Facebook page. Feel free to subscribe to the public updates, even if we’re not FB friends!

Lots of images in Link Love this week, and a few meaty quotes. Onward…

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Flying Houses by Laurent Cherere — Colossal

Wonderful. Like something out of Roald Dahl:

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Top Read-Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls — A Mighty Girl

This is one I shared on Facebook. Great list! I want to read them all.

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Christian Wiman on Faith and Language — Andrew Sullivan

Another one I shared earlier this week, but dang, I like it:

To have faith in a religion, any religion, is to accept at some primary level that its particular language of words and symbols says something true about reality. This doesn’t mean that the words and symbols are reality (that’s fundamentalism), nor that you will ever master those words and symbols well enough to regard reality as some fixed thing. What it does mean, though, is that you can ‘no more be religious in general than [you] can speak language in general’ (George Lindbeck), and that the only way to deepen your knowledge and experience of ultimate divinity is to deepen your knowledge and experience of the all-too-temporal symbols and language of a particular religion. Lindbeck would go so far as to say that your religion of origin has such a bone-deep hold on you that, as with a native language, it’s your only hope for true religious fluency. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say that one has to submit to symbols and language that may be inadequate in order to have those inadequacies transcended.

This is true of poetry, too: I don’t think you can spend your whole life questioning whether language can represent reality. At some point, you have to believe that the inadequacies of words you use will be transcended by the faith with which you use them. You have to believe that poetry has some reach into reality itself, or you have to go silent. – Christian Wiman, “Notes on Poetry and Religion,” from Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.

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Stoic, Addict, Mystic — Andrew Sullivan

Another one posted on The Dish this week:

We are rarely presented with an authentically fulfilling trajectory for our desires… If we are created for infinite satisfaction, we really only have three choices about what to do with our desire in this life: We will become either a stoic, an addict, or a mystic. The stoic squelches desire out of fear, while the addict attempts to satisfy his desire for infinity with finite things, which, of course, can’t satisfy. That’s why the addict wants more and more and more. The mystic, on the other hand — in the Christian sense of the term — is the one who is learning how to direct his desire for infinity toward infinity,” – Christopher West, whose new book is Fill These Hearts.

For infinity, toward infinity. Nice.

Winners of the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest — National Geographic

A cat picture won! Sort of. Go to the link to see the grand prize winner, as well as all the other top picks. My favorite in the “people” category:

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Unleash Your Unconscious: How Switching Tasks Maximizes Creative Thinking — 99U

Incubation breaks boosted creative performance, but only when the time was spent engaged in a different kind of mental activity. Participants who in the break switched from verbal to spatial, or from spatial to verbal, excelled when they returned to their main task – in terms of the number and quality of their solutions. The change in focus freed up their unconscious to spend the incubation period tackling the main challenge.

Highly recommend running, for people with the knees for it.

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Embracing Mystery in the New Year: Ten Essential Practices — Christian Valters Paintner

Follow the thread. Each of us has a unique unfolding story and call in this world. We don’t “figure this out” but rather we allow the story to emerge in its own time, tending the symbols and synchronicities that guide us along.
Trust in what you love. Following the thread is essentially about cultivating a deep trust in what you love. What are the things that make your heart beat loudly, no matter how at odds they feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so)? Make some room this year to honor what brings you alive.

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Airplane Lavatory Self-Portraits — Sad and Useless

h/t Keith Snyder.

Nina Katchadourian whiles away long plane journeys by locking herself in the lavatory and pretending to be a 15th century Dutch painting. The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing…

I do think about the line forming outside the door while she’s doing this, but:

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Have a wonderful weekend!

On (Not) Being a Runner

This is a re-post from several months ago on the RunRevRun website. It’s been on my mind lately, because my thinking is shifting on this topic. Being and doing, doing and being…

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I began the Couch to 5K program a few months ago. I wasn’t exactly starting from “couch”—I’ve been doing brisk walking several times a week for more than a year—and my fitness goal is not really to run a 5K, but to hike Mount Washington in New Hampshire this summer. I’ve hiked big mountains before, in various states of fitness, but it’s so much more enjoyable when you’re not wheezing your way up and stopping every ten yards to massage your charley horses. And since there’s no “couch to Mt. Washington” program, Couch to 5K is getting the job done.

Although I started this program to get myself up the mountain, I can see myself continuing it indefinitely, maybe even graduating to the 10k version. I’ve been an evangelist for this program on Twitter, Facebook and in real life. I’m grateful for the impact it’s had on my health and want to share it, but there’s also a selfish motive: I’m telling people far and wide to keep me accountable to continue. Along the way I have been very insistent with folks: “I run, but I’m not a runner.” This has been an oft-repeated refrain:

Oh, MaryAnn’s a runner now.
Actually, no I’m not.
But aren’t you in this running program?
Yes. But I’m not a runner.

What’s that about?

Why am I so reluctant to call myself a runner?

First off, I wonder what it means to be a runner. What exactly is a runner? Isn’t it simply “one who runs”? I think I have an image in my mind of a perfectly toned body, or a person obsessed with getting the right shoes, entering races, and reading Runner’s World, a magazine I wouldn’t even know existed were it not for the cover photo of Sarah Palin that emerged during the 2008 presidential election. I’m not really interested in running as a hobby. But is that really what it means to be a runner? Or is that just stereotypical stuff that’s not real?

Maybe I feel like I haven’t been doing it long enough to claim the identity of runner. I’m OK with the verb form—I run—but not with the noun—runner.

Am I giving myself an easy out by being Not a Runner? We are stuck with so many identities that we can’t shed in this life. I will be the daughter of my parents and the mother of my children forever. Maybe I resist calling myself a runner because I need to be free to have something in my life that I can quit without angst. Or that I can do badly. Intermittently.

Maybe I’m reluctant to call myself a runner because I’m playing old tapes about myself that aren’t helpful anymore. I was the slow kid on the softball team, the one the coach (my dad) would position at second base. It was a good fit for me because I had decent eye-hand coordination but couldn’t run very long without tiring. The best hit of my life would’ve been a home run with anyone else rounding the bases, but instead I was tagged out at home. By my best friend.

So, no. Not a runner.

My teams in school were theater/speech and Academic Decathlon.

But maybe that kind of baggage isn’t healthy. Over the last nine weeks I’ve been getting faster (slightly) and stronger (definitely). My endurance is increasing. Our bodies are for much more than brain housing and transport. Our bodies are built to dance, kneel, eat, love. Some of our bodies are built to grow other bodies and to push them out into the world. I get that in ways I didn’t understand when I was a kid.

As a pastor, I wonder about all this. I sometimes meet people who want to find a new term for “Christian.” They feel that the “brand” is fundamentally corrupted by people they see as judgmental, rancorous, loudmouthed. I’m not sure I agree that the word is irredeemable, but I sympathize with their struggle to find a label that fits.

I also know plenty of people who don’t identify themselves as Christian but whose behavior sure looks Christ-like to me. And I know Christians who are Christians in name only. I like it when people say they are seeking to follow in the way of Jesus. I can relate; it sounds like “I run but I’m not a runner.” And yet, belonging to Christ isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are; it is an identity.

I don’t know where all of these questions will lead me. Maybe someday I will consider myself a runner. Maybe I will continue to run and never take on that label. Maybe I will stop running and move on to some other physical activity. I expect that whatever I do, it will be in that strange space where action and identity intersect, where doing and being reside together.

Meanwhile, I pound the pavement.

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Image: Map of the 10K I ran last weekend. Funny, it looks a lot flatter on paper.

The Pre-Lenten Roundup

Margaret got the baby in the king cake at church on Sunday. By Sunday evening he was living the suburban dream.

The other day I surveyed my Facebook friends to find out what people are doing to observe the season.

Besides reading this OF COURSE.

I have done a variety of things for Lent, ranging from nothing special to taking on an additional discipline, such as morning prayer or devotional reading. If you are inclined to add a spiritual discipline, may I recommend my friend Mary Allison’s practice of writing a letter each day? If you’re in Memphis you can even take a workshop on the topic!

I was recently drawn to this blog that describes “speed creating,” in which this inventive fellow spent 30 days making an amazing new thing each day. What would it be like to have Lent be a season for tinkering? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, like the thread light:

I like the idea of creating something for Lent. It speaks to me of the tradition of repentance, but in a novel way. One definition of repentance is to “go beyond the mind that you have.” What could be more in keeping with that than to repurpose the things of our lives? After all, we are moving toward Easter, the ultimate story of transformation and repurposing. Death gives way to new life. An instrument of violence becomes the place where God’s forgiveness is proclaimed.

But as captivated as I am by these practices, I will be giving something up instead. I am in a Meister Eckhart-ish place, who said that the spiritual life is a process of subtraction.

The truth is, I am feeling like Bilbo these days: “thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread.” I am feeling the need for some space, friends. So something is going to go.

I’m a little wary of Lenten fasts as nothing more than self-help couched in spiritual terms: I’m going to give up sweets so I can lose some weight! Self-improvement is a good thing, but is a new exercise regimen during Lent really devotional at heart, or is it a second chance at the New Year’s resolution? (That said, I think some people take the hand-wringing a bit far.)

When I give something up, it is a reminder to breathe and pray, to experience radical contentment, and to remember that the object of my fast is not the “one thing needful,” as much as I may crave it in that moment.

An example: a friend of mine is going to give up bread, so that the only bread she consumes during Lent is communion bread, what we call the bread of heaven. I’ll bet you good money that she will lose weight during this time. But do you see how weight loss is not at all the focus?

I still haven’t decided what I will be giving up, but it’s been a topic of conversation in our house. The girls have suggested we all give up desserts. I think we’re going to do this. Dessert has become a point of contention in our home—I am soooo tired of the constant needling, the negotiating, the comparing of cookie sizes. Having that whole issue off the table (pun intended) feels very spacious to me. But I’m still pondering how it connects us to Spirit.

What do you think? Those who observe Lent, what will your practice be?

One final thing. To those folks, mostly non-religious or de-churched, going around saying “I’m giving up Lent for Lent”…

Yes, I’ve heard that one.

Friday Link Love

Some random stuff that caught my attention this week:

I Believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture

Peter Rollins is an amazingly complex thinker and communicator. But in this post he doesn’t do nuance—for which he has been criticized. Still, for many Christians who have divorced belief from practice for way too long, and in some pretty tragic ways, these are prophetic words.

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“In My Opinion”: Practices of Discernment for Leaders When Making Decisions

Here’s your nuance:

On one of my work-related trips, I struck up a conversation with a young man who was a professional pilot. He was a serious-minded guy, and before long we were discussing the big issues of life. After a while, he said he noticed that whenever I said something substantive, I always added the qualifier “in my opinion.” In his opinion, he said, someone with my academic background should not qualify his remarks but should speak “with certainty.”

I explained that my degrees have provided me with more questions than answers. He said, “I’ll have to think about that.”

I thought about it, too. And I stick by my qualifier.

The article offers some antidotes to what the author calls “arrogant absolutism.”

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The Men in Mentors

The author went looking for female mentors… and couldn’t find any.

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And a bit more whimsy:

Solutions for the ‘Everyday’

Two-way toothpaste? Coffins that screw into the ground? I love it!

Taming the Tech

Recently I heard a public service announcement in which people were urged to turn off their faucets while brushing their teeth. I thought, Really? People still do this, and need to be told not to? But maybe when it comes to conservation, there is still some low-hanging fruit we need to be going for.

This week I listened to Krista Tippett’s outstanding interview with Sherry Turkle, who wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (haven’t read it but it’s on my list).  Turkle writes about technology and its impact on our mental and interpersonal (and I would say spiritual) health. I got a lot out of this program—learned a few things, came to understand other things in a new way.

That said, I am pretty plugged in to tech and social networks, and I examine my habits constantly. Constantly. And I have a number of practices that work well for me in terms of taming the tech. I offer them, though they feel a little like the “no water while toothbrushing” thing in that they aren’t particularly new or novel. But maybe they will help someone who feels like their life is being taken over by The Machines.

1. Silence the ding. That is, turn off the notification that sounds whenever you receive an e-mail. I’m as trigger-happy as the next person when it comes to checking e-mail, but I made this change several years ago and have never looked back. Do you really need to read an e-mail the moment it arrives?

By the way, there are people who will say “Yes, actually I do need to read e-mail the moment it arrives.” Congratulations. You’re one of the unlucky indispensable ones.

2. Answer yesterday’s e-mail today. E-mail can take all your time if you let it. I batch all my e-mail from the previous day and answer it in one fell swoop. It gets me into a groove and allows me to dispatch with stuff very easily. Urgent stuff gets answered immediately, of course… but most things aren’t urgent and can wait. Not only that, but sometimes e-mails sent to a group will get resolved without your intervention at all. Win!

One note about this: for this to work without getting unwieldy, you really do need to make a deal with yourself that you will handle all of the yesterday mail, even if that means adding something to your to-do list.

3. Set up a Facebook list for your closest friends. We probably all have friends on Facebook that we’re happy to be connected with, but we don’t want to monitor every last one of them each day. I set up a list that’s a subset of people whose statuses I want to see in my feed. I almost never scroll through the full list of FB friends anymore. It cuts down on my FB time, and I think it’s a nice antidote to the dynamic of having many many weak ties rather than a smaller number of true-blue friends.

As a failsafe, however, I do check Top News from time to time, which often flags the big stuff that I might have missed. A status update that generated 30 comments, for example, is something I want to know about, whether it’s a new baby, the loss of a pet, or just something to tickle the funny bone.

4. One sentence journal. I’ve been blogging in different venues for going on 8 years now, so I’m a big fan of that longer-form communication. But it is fun to find ways to share one’s thoughts in 140 characters (or 420 in the case of FB). It’s like haiku for the 21st century.

But not every passing thought needs to be shared with the world. If you find yourself with stuff to say that isn’t Facebook-worthy, keep a one-sentence journal. I started this at the beginning of the year and it’s really fun. And easy. And unlike Facebook, which effectively disappears after a time, the journals can last forever.

5. Filter the e-mail. Both my work e-mail and home e-mail come into the same program, just in different boxes. So I’ve set up a “day off” filter for my work e-mail that sorts them into an obscure folder that I have to scroll waaaaay down to get to. Not that I don’t do that sometimes, even on my day off. But it reduces the tendency to check it unconsciously (or consciously), because you can’t even see it without going to look for it.

6. Digital Sabbath. I think one of the best things you can do is walk away for a while. I take the weekend off from Facebook and Twitter and tend to my relationships with the people right in front of me. This means I still monitor e-mail (but usually don’t respond), and I will see what’s interesting in my Google Reader, but I don’t do much else.

How do I do this practically? I actually remove the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone so they aren’t even there to tempt me, and reinstall them on Monday morning. And, big duh, I turn off the computer, or if the computer needs to be on, I’ll set up Self Control to block troublesome sites so it’s not even an issue.

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What do you do to tame the tech?

Lent: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

I’ve been reading some discussion regarding this article by G. Jeffrey McDonald. McDonald laments the way that Lent is frequently observed within American Christianity and says:

We’re remaking [Lent] as a type of spiritual self-help whose effectiveness is measured by how well it entertains us and affirms what we already believe. Since Americans love parties and hate to do without, Christianity is evolving to deliver. The diminution of Lenten practices illustrates the trend and highlights what’s lost when religion becomes a consumer commodity.

I don’t deny elements of truth in what McDonald is saying. In fact the article strikes me as a very satisfying read for us church leaders, what with its hand-wringing, self-righteous tut-tuts and in-crowd high-fives.

It bugs me to tears, actually.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Consumerist Christianity is a big issue. And certainly the church has a prophetic duty to call people to deeper authenticity and radical discipleship. But this article smacks of caricature. McDonald characterizes Lent as a “joke” based on one comment from a friend. And “sumptuous” fish dinners on Fridays? This is the normative American Christian experience?

This kind of “you’re doing it wrong” carping is not productive. All of this reminds me of the discussion we had on this blog back in December about singing Christmas carols in the church during (gasp!) the season of Advent. I argued back then that maybe, just maybe, some people feel drawn to the music of Christmas during December not because they are worshiping the gods of Best Buy and Wal*Mart, but because they desperately need to immerse themselves in a message of Joy Right Now, to soak it up, because the world is a pretty dark place. Can we treat people like grownups and say that perhaps they have a good sense of what their hearts and spirits need without us telling them?

Why don’t we spend our time helping people connect their Lenten practices, whatever they might be, to the presence of the living God, rather than diagnosing those practices as inadequate? I know a woman who committed to run each day during Lent. I guess I can chide her for disrespecting Lent as a season for “spiritual self-help”… or I can help her make the connection between that practice and stewardship of the body, which Paul calls the temple of God. Heck, daily physical exercise sounds like a struggle to beat the sin of sloth, which last I checked was one of the seven deadlies! What could be more Lenten than that?

(BTW, this is part of the tension within the Sabbath stuff. Lots of people take time off for R&R and don’t call it Sabbath. Good for them. So my job isn’t to say “Well unless it’s got the Sabbath imprimatur, it’s only second best.” Instead, maybe I help them see ways that their practice of rest and play doesn’t just recharge the batteries, but connects them to a deep wellspring of joy and grace that [I believe] is a gift of the Holy.)

I appreciate these two posts on the Christian Century blog, both of which bring some much-needed nuance to the topic. I found the latter especially on point:

Is “true deprivation” really the point of fasting, or is true fasting measured by the extent to which it turns us toward God? Deprivation for deprivation’s sake could easily become competitive or self-aggrandizing. Biblical writers frequently make the point that God isn’t interested in displays of piety but in justice and love.

Amen.

Family Rituals

I read many years ago about a pastor who gathered his family each and every morning, before school and work, for scripture reading, morning devotions and prayer.

Let’s just say that the Dana family does not follow that minister’s example. Partly because that’s not my style, and partly because it’s all I can do to get the kids and me out of the house wearing clothes that are weather-appropriate, if not actually matching one another.

But at dinnertime, we do the ancient practice of examen with one another, although none of the kids know that that’s what it’s called. The examen is a spiritual practice inspired by Ignatius. It’s simple, really, and goes by many different names: highs and lows, roses and thorns, etc.

Our lingo is to describe our favorite and least favorite moments of the day. As the kids get older we will shift the language to “what are you most/least grateful for?” and “where did you feel [God’s] love today/where did you feel disconnected from [God’s] love?” You can read more about the examen for children here. I think it’s one of the most beneficial spiritual practices out there.

It’s a very sweet, even holy, time of day. It gives us a little glimpse into our children’s lives, which is precious since they spend much of the day away from us, at school and daycare. James participates too—we’ve been giving him a turn for several months, and his answers have provided some amusing non-sequiturs. But now he is starting to get it. And it seems important for the kids to hear about the moments of grace and challenge in their parents’ lives too, though we sometimes spare them the truly gory details…

I must be honest—sometimes their energy is all over the place. Sometimes one of them has left the table before we even make it through the five of us. We get sidetracked by conversations. And there are nights when it doesn’t happen at all. But when we’re all in good space for it, it’s great.

I especially love seeing how the kids receive one another’s answers. It’s not unusual for the kids to mention one another, especially in their least favorite moment. Caroline might say, “My least favorite moment was when Margaret wouldn’t stop bugging me.”

The first time this happened, I expected protestations and pouts from the offending sibling. But there was none of that. Instead, we just hear the negative stuff and receive it, and move on. Which is really the spirit of the examen: to look lovingly at the day and to appreciate the good and to acknowledge and let go of the bad.