Lightning-Fast Friday Link Love

We’re officially in a season in the Dana household when there is so much going on it’s actually comical. My Lenten discipline of “doing nothing extra” could not come at a better time… though it’s often hard to figure out what’s “extra,” and even when one separates the wheat from the chaff, there is still more to do than time to do it.

So here’s a quick Friday Link Love. Maybe like me you need a little palate cleanser between must-do tasks. Hope these bring a little joy and inspiration.

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First, the obligatory links of self-promotion:

Sabbath in the Suburbs was reviewed in the Christian Century. Who wins the cage match between MaryAnn McKibben Dana and Rachel Held Evans? OK, I’m kidding, but how wonderful is this:

MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time will probably make a much smaller splash than Evans’s book even though it is one of the most helpful and well-conceived books on spirituality I’ve ever read.

Many thanks to Bromleigh McCleneghan, who wrote a pretty awesome book herself.

Seond link: here I am on God Complex Radio.

And finally, we’re having a giveaway on GoodReads—three signed copies of the book. I’d love to give one to a Blue Room reader!

Now on to the show:

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National Day of Unplugging — Sabbath Manifesto

March 1-2 is the annual day to put away the cell phones. iPads and laptops, and savor the world of relationships right around you. Here are some ideas to get you primed for the big day.

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17 Mesmerizing Before and After Photoshop GIFs — Buzzfeed

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Love your self. Love your body.

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Using the Crowd to Save People after Disasters — Fast Company

Social media serves a powerful purpose:

In the aftermath of a major disaster, it’s hard for aid workers to know what’s happening on the ground, and to direct resources where they are needed most. That’s when text messaging and social media can help. By analyzing tweets and other snippets, it’s possible to see trends–say, where people are trapped, or where there are water shortages–and do something about them.

The issue is the analysis part, says Lukas Biewald, CEO of CrowdFlower, a San Francisco company that finds people online willing to do “micro tasks” (normally for commercial purposes). One, you’ve got a huge amount of data to sift through, and not a lot of time. And two, all the text might be in a language–or filled with local references–that you don’t understand. You need some way of crunching it quickly, using people who aren’t put off by colloquial or foreign terms.

Patrick Meier, director of social innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute, and a member of a group called the Digital Humanitarian Network, says crowdsourcing can help. Following last December’s Typhoon Pablo, in the Philippines, DHN identified 20,000 relevant tweets, and then called on CrowdFlower to find volunteers to make the first assessment. The groups identified, one, messages with links to photos and video, and, two, messages that referred to damage that could be geo-tagged. From about 100 tweets, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) could then build a map plotting damaged houses and bridges, flooding, and so on.

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An Artist, 25 Years in the Making — Imgur

An artist posted photos of his artwork, starting when he was 2 years old. Lovely to see the artist emerge.

QwxbAVX

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William Lowrey: Don’t Lose the Larger Vision — Faith and Leadership

A Presbyterian minister who helped resolve bloody conflicts in Sudan reflects on his long career of peacemaking in America and Africa.

Bill Lowrey is a friend and colleague here in the greater DC area an amazing inspiration. I love that Faith and Leadership saw fit to feature him on their site. People who think that Christianity is nothing but hate and intolerance need to read about this fine man who has quietly and humbly devoted his life to peace and justice.

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Peace be with you all.

Friday Link Love: Darwin’s Religion, and Saving the Planet through Slacking

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Away we go…

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HD Photos of the Sun — Obligatory Colossal Link

Alan Friedman photographs the sun from his own backyard. Amazing what the world offers us if we look:

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Work Less, Save the Planet — Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones

 

I already shared this on FB/twitter but it bears repeating:

 

new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research concludes that if we all worked fewer hours, we could cut future global warming by as much as 22 percent by 2100.

 

Sabbath has environmental benefits! Yee-haw!

 

I was on God Complex Radio recently, and the discussion between Derrick and Carol following my interview touched on this exact thing. Good on them for being all cutting edge!

 

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Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday — Presbyterian Church (USA), Shannon Kershner

It’s humbling to be mentioned in the same article as the totally awesome Theresa Cho. Thank you Shannon.

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The Evolution of Religion, According to Darwin — Elizabeth Drescher, Religion Dispatches

Was the great scientist a “proto-None”?

Pleins argues that reading Darwin and the theories he developed through the lens of an uncompromising rejection of religion has prevented us from seeing the full scope of Darwin’s genius, which reckoned with religion in evolutionary terms every bit as much as it did with natural selection or adaptation.

…”I’d say that Darwin teaches us that it is quite natural for humans to be religious and that it is appropriate for Darwinians to be curious about why humans seek a religious purpose to their lives. That doesn’t require that we think that religion is entirely artificial. That it’s merely a coping mechanism. One can be a Darwinian without having to condemn religion or the sense—a sense that Darwin often explored—that there is something more.”

The book is called Evolving God and it’s going on my Goodreads.

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Spirituality in the (Snow) Storm — Brad Hirschfield, Washington Post 

The spirituality of snow is a spirituality of repose. It offers the opportunity to celebrate simply being, not the doing which fills most of our lives most of the time. It literally creates a blanket which absorbs the noise that fills our ears during less snowy times.

I write in the book about Sabbath as a spiritual snow day. That said, an actual snow day would be nice, O DC area weather gods.

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Labor of Love: The Enforced Happiness of Pret a Manger — Timothy Noah, The New Republic

I’ve written about emotional labor before; here’s another article about emotional labor in the restaurant business:

For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pret A Manger was in love with me. How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.

In the three decades since Hochschild published The Managed Heart, the emotional economy has spread like a noxious weed to dry cleaners, nail salons, even computer-repair shops. (Think of Apple’s Genius Bars—parodied by The Onion as “Friend Bars”—where employees are taught to be empathetic and use words like “feel” as much as possible.) Back when she wrote her book, Hochschild estimated that about one-third of all jobs entailed “substantial demands for emotional labor.” Today, she figures it’s more like half. This is, among other things, terrible news for men, who (unlike women) are not taught from birth how to make other people happy. Perhaps that explains why men are losing ground in the service economy.

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How Parenting Became a DIY Project — Emily Matchar, Atlantic

From home birth to homemade baby food to homeschooling, raising kids is a way for parents to express their individuality.

We see [the] principle of individualism writ large when it comes to parenthood. Parents often value individuality—both their own and their children’s—above other concerns.

These main factors have led to the growth of what historian Stephanie Coontz calls “the myth of parental omnipotence”—the idea that parents can and should personally ensure their children’s success through their own hard work and hyper-attentiveness.

I’ve been casting about for a Lent discipline. I finally settled on it: to do nothing extra. I will be content with good enough. That sounds a bit lame on the surface—I’m going to half-a** my way through Lent—but I think I’m on to something. That omnipotence stuff is very powerful in our culture, and not just with parenting. The myth of omnipotence seduces us into thinking we’re in charge of our lives. We are not—and what could be more Lenten than that?

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50 Sure Signs that Texas is Actually Utopia — BuzzFeed

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Texas politics are seven kinds of crazy, but I love this list. And the counter-list.

I’d remove the Bush twins though, and add this lady, of blessed memory:

We miss you, Molly.

We miss you, Molly.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. Even if you’re not from Texas.

Can Sabbath Be Productive?

woman-running221Play is a key component of Sabbath, it seems to me. Especially play for its own sake—“play without purpose.” But what does it mean for something to be purposeless?

People sometimes ask me whether certain activities are acceptable for Sabbath because they accomplish something useful. Weeding the garden, for example, changes one’s environment. It’s work. It’s something a gardener has to do even if she isn’t seeking Sabbath.

I always start by saying, What am I, the Sabbath police?

But it’s a good question, and one I think about too.

I waffle on whether running is a Sabbath activity. It’s fun (sometimes); it’s playful (in its own way). It’s spiritual time for me, to be sure. And it’s a wholesome activity. But it’s a tremendous expenditure of energy. Right now I’m training for a half marathon, and I have to run if I’m going to pull that off. Exercise in general is non-negotiable at this stage of my life, like eating and sleeping and brushing one’s teeth.

Have to doesn’t seem very Sabbathy to me.

This article by Mark Rowland helps tease this stuff out. The idea of a “second childhood” doesn’t resonate with me, but I appreciate the way he approaches categories of work and play.

Today’s world is a deeply utilitarian one, where everything must have a use or be ‘good for something’. Our lives are dominated by work and, unless we have been extraordinarily lucky, we work not because we particularly enjoy it but to get paid — payment that keeps us and our loved ones alive for a while and, if there is anything left over, allows us to do something more interesting than the work. Our lives are spent, largely, doing one thing for the sake of something else, which is in turn done for something else.

This is a kind of instrumental thinking. Something has instrumental value if its worth lies not in itself but in something else that it can get you.

He contrasts these instrumental activities of our lives (in which A produces B) with intrinsic ones, in which A may produce B, yet we do it for the sheer pleasure of it. Maybe that’s the key to what makes something a Sabbath experience. It’s pretty simple: does it feel like Sabbath to you? Does it somehow honor God, however you understand God? Does it simultaneously take you out of yourself and connect you to your truest self?

Mark Rowland describes it thus:

There comes a point during a long run, perhaps at the limits of my endurance, when I am no longer running for any reason other than to run. There comes a point in karate — perhaps when I am in the middle of a kata, and each movement flows thoughtlessly and seamlessly into the next — when I am no longer acting for reasons, but acting without them. There is a point in tennis, when I thrust aside as irrelevant all thoughts of point and games and sets, and am absorbed instead in the sheer and savage delight of swinging at a moving target. These are all moments when the endless round of doing one thing for the sake of another comes to an end — however briefly. In these moments, I am acquainted with what is worth doing for its own sake. In these moments, I experience intrinsic value in my life.

What do you think?

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?

My Interview with PBS

photoI’m back from Chicago, where I led a group of lovely Presbyterian pastors in a Sabbath retreat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I learned while I was there that next year’s speaker will be Phyllis Tickle. Boy howdy! As I told the participants, I do not have anything close to Phyllis’s depth of historical knowledge and insight. Rather, I am a generalist. With me you get a weird synthesis of Bible, art, theology, folk music, brain chemistry research, low-impact crafts, and clips from The Office.

We had a good time.

The retreat had a strange dimension to it. A couple of our sessions were filmed by a camera crew for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a public television show. (Check local listings.) I’m very grateful to Judith Valente, a correspondent for the show, whom I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing and who saw the potential for a story about Sabbath-keeping in our 24-7 world. I’ll let you know when the segment airs—it’ll be a while, since they also plan to come to our house and film our family on one of our Sabbaths. I find this ridiculously fun, although I’m worried about Caroline—apparently it is one of her life’s goals to appear on television, and I don’t know what it does to a kid to achieve a life goal at the age of 10. Anyway.

In addition to filming parts of the retreat, I was also interviewed about Sabbath: how our family does it and how others might take it on. It was, frankly, harrowing. The inner critic was on the prowl, taunting me with a voice that sounded suspiciously like the mean girls in my fourth grade class. Oh my God… who cares what YOU have to say?

Ah well. I did it, and during my run 30 minutes later I was SO much more brilliant, but at least I didn’t die, so there’s that.

After we finished the interview the audio guy said, “Time for room tone. Everyone be still for 30 seconds.” They explained later that room tone is a recording of the room, which they use when they need to edit dialogue together.  They record the quiet room using the same mic configuration so that the sound has the same quality to it.

After talking for almost 40 minutes non-stop, it felt downright contemplative to sit, and be quiet, and listen to the silence that was not really silent. I began to wonder about room tone as a spiritual practice.

In fact, I looked up room tone later that day and learned that it goes by another name:

Presence.

Friday Link Love: Kids Today, An Elusive Dog, and A Good Gun Control Debate

It’s Friday!

What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m pinching myself because Robert and I came into some tickets to the biggest party in town. You know those people who respond to “how are you” with “better than I deserve”?

Yeah. That.

I have a great life. It would be poor stewardship not to enjoy the heck out of it.

Anyway… here we go:

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When I Was Your Age… Or ‘What Is It with Kids These Days?’ — Scientific American

Same as it ever was:

In her most recent book, Twentysomething: Why do Young Adults Seem Stuck, co-authored with her twenty-something daughter Samantha, Robin Marantz Henig delves into the hard data… what—if anything—is it about kids these days? the mother-daughter team asks. And why is it that every generation seems to think that there’s something different going on with kids these days, as compared to any other?

In 2000, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett proposed the existence of a new stage of development: emerging adulthood. Whereas before, we’d go straight from adolescence to full-blown young adultdom, now, there was a step in between, an area where our adult selves were emerging but not-quite-emerged…

As Marantz Henig is quick to point out, Arnett isn’t the first to discuss this possibility. In a 1970 article in The American Scholar, the psychologist Kenneth Keniston also thought he discerned a new trend of unsettled wandering. He termed in simply, “youth.” And that youth “sounds a lot like Arnett’s description of emerging adulthood a generation later,” Marantz Henig writes, going on to say that, “despite Arnett’s claims to the contrary, we weren’t really all that different then from the way our own children are now. Keniston’s article seems a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the generations, the gradual resolution of those conflicts. It’s reassuring….”

As a member of Generation X, who heard a lot of the same criticisms leveled at me and my generation that I am now hearing about the Millenials, it is reassuring indeed.

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Can You Find the Dog in Each of These Photos? — Colossal

Meet Momo, the most elusive puppy on Instagram. He’s a border collie if that helps:

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Ontario-based graphic designer Andrew Knapp noticed that his 4.5 year old border collie, Momo, would always hide when fetching sticks instead of dutifully returning them.

Andrew’s site is GoFindMomo.com.

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13 Must-See Stargazing Events in 2013 — Mother Nature Network

First up: the moon and Jupiter conjunction in just a few days:

Jan. 21: Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction
For North Americans, this is a real head-turner, one easily visible even from brightly lit cities. A waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated, will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (For reference, your closed fist held out at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the sky.)
These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. What’s even more interesting is that this will be the closest moon-Jupiter conjunction until the year 2026! [Amazing Photos: Jupiter and the Moon]

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My Faith: A Confession — Justin Erik Halldór Smith

My kind of confession. Long and equivocally unequivocal:

For some centuries now, no small confusion has arisen from the fact that we talk about belief in God, rather than love of God. The two amount to the same thing, but the first of these expressions, at least since the beginning of the modern period, pushes us willy-nilly into the field of evidence and argumentation, a field where the standards of commitment have nothing to do with the issue at hand, and so not surprisingly, though for poorly understood reasons, belief in God cannot but be a failing proposition.

As they told us at CREDO, “credo” means “believe,” but really it means “I give my heart.”

But start from love, start from joy, and the demand for further evidence vanishes. To continue to make it would be like demanding to see the hormones that cause an erection before accepting that there is such a thing as eros. It would be vulgar. It is vulgar, every time we hear it from the puffed-up fools who believe they are defending the honour and integrity of something, which they also do not understand, but which they call ‘science’. Science has more often than not been driven by what its practitioners have experienced as joy and wonder before God’s creation. This is a historical fact, and even if you are one of the puffed-up fools who thinks belief in God deserves nothing but mockery, you cannot change this fact.

…Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16’ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

Along similar lines: God is Unknowable; Stop Looking for Him and You Will Find Faith — David Bryant (Guardian)

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Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation — Harvard Business Review

Four years ago, I made a simple change when I switched one meeting from a coffee meeting to a walking-meeting. I liked it so much it became a regular addition to my calendar; I now average four such meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week. Today it’s life-changing, but it happened almost by accident.

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10 Habits to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Child — Aha! Parenting

Some of these I’m OK at:

12 hugs a day. Hug your child first thing in the morning, when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, at bedtime, and often in between.  If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection.  Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond?  It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today, which should be high on your priority list.)

Some of them I need to work on:

Welcome emotion. Sure, it’s inconvenient.  But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior.  So accept the meltdowns, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it.  Afterwards, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you.

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The Importance of a ‘Stop Day’ — Matthew Sleeth

Sabbath is a health issue too. Dr. Sleeth (a former ER physician) puts it well:

It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.

I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.

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A Gun Control Debate — Matt Springer and Mark Hoofnagle

The other day I heard radio show on gun control. It was frustrating because the so-called gun rights advocate had good points to make that the gun control advocate could not, or did not, hear. At the same time, I found myself wishing that the gun rights advocate had offered more constructive proposals rather than shrugging and saying “It’s all a matter of semantics.”

This debate, hosted at scienceblogs.com, is a good model. It’s not pithy. It’s long and wonky. So be it. Serious times demand no less. Mark starts off:

Mass violence is not just a problem in the United States. Similar incidents have occurred in other countries, even mass shootings in countries with significant restrictions similar to what I would advocate. However, the experience of other countries is less in frequency and severity. Yes, other countries have mass violence despite strict gun control, even countries like Norway. However, no other comparable industrialized country has gun violence similar to ours. No you can not compare the United States to Mexico. No, gun control is never perfect. No, we can not prevent all murder, all mass murder, or all violent crime, but we can decrease the death toll.

and Matt follows up:

Now any preventable cause of even a single death should be prevented, and while mass murder shocks the conscience in a way that the anonymous and impersonal forces of nature cannot, this ought to cause us to pause and consider whether what is being proposed will actually do any good. The choices we make in response to these tragedies will have consequences that we foresee and consequences we don’t. These consequences may well include the failure of new laws to save anyone in the future. This concern is not hypothetical – we’re well over a decade into our government’s frantic response to 9/11, and we may well be less safe than we were on 9/10.

Both men own and operate firearms. Both are reasonable, non-knee-jerk types. More of these, please. (I hope they will keep going.)

The Trouble with the Trenches

A chair just for you! (You can move it indoors. Chicago is cold in January.)

A chair just for you! (You can move it indoors. Chicago is cold in January.)

Some words for everyone, but written especially for the Presbyterian teaching elders, pastors and church professionals in the Chicago area…  

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It was the week before Christmas. There were details to attend to: Who will read scripture on Christmas Eve? Do we have enough little paper tutus for the candles? There were additional pastoral duties: the visit to the woman in the Alzheimers care facility to bring her communion. The check-in with the folks whose son died just a few months ago, to see how they were doing amid all the holly-jolliness.

And then of course, there was Newtown. I suspect untold numbers of pastors scrapped their sermons that week in favor of Saturday Night Specials, fumbling in the midnight hour for the right words of lament and hope to offer in worship the next day, illumined by the candle of joy. Joy, of all things.

In the midst of all that, I was grateful to have several kind friends check in with me: “How ya holding up?” they asked. “I’ve been thinking about you. What are you doing to take care of yourself? This has got to be a heavy, busy time of year.”

It was.

Heavy.

Busy.

(Luminous too. But still.)

I feel fortunate and humbled to have friends such as these. What’s significant about these particular friends is that every single one of them is someone outside of pastoral ministry, outside of the church, outside of religion altogether.

You’ve probably read articles about the rise of the “nones,” people who claim no religious tradition. It was my friends the “nones” who asked about my well-being, who doggedly inquired about my mental health, who provided pastoral care for the pastor.

We forget sometimes, down there in the trenches of ministry, how tough it can be. We’re capable church professionals, after all. We love what we do. It’s a joy and a privilege, this calling. But sometimes we need people to help us take a step back and breathe. We need that perspective.

I hope that you have some “nones” in your life… or maybe just friends who can help you take a step back and say, “Whoa. You’re dealing with a lot. Go gently, now.” We will do that for each other in just a few weeks at the Presbytery of Chicago clergy retreat. The topic is Sabbath; the agenda is Sabbath.

At this retreat, we will explore the rich and complex biblical, historical and theological underpinnings of the practice of Sabbath. We will reflect on the incredible challenge of keeping Sabbath in our modern world. And we will explore strategies and tools for introducing and supporting regular Sabbath-keeping, not only in our own lives but in the congregations and institutions we serve.

Are you a teaching elder? I look forward to meeting you on January 27. Are you a clerk of session, ruling elder or other church leader reading this? Forward this post to your pastor and encourage him or her to come.