Friday Link Love

Still at FFW. (Ah, the joy of pre-scheduled posts…)

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Gymnast Johanna Quaas — YouTube

She’s 86.

That’s Eighty-Six:

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95 Tweets against Hell — Two Friars and a Fool

I love the friars, and this is a tweeting tour de force:

#95Tweets #E1: Eternal Hell is not in any way restorative – it eternally severs relationship and eternally prevents redemption

#95Tweets #E2: In fact, eternal Hell is the teaching that there are people and things that can never be redeemed, even by God

#95Tweets #E3: Eternal Hell is vengeance made infinite, and is therefore even less noble than vengeance

#95Tweets #E4: Eternal Hell lacks the sole moral underpinning of punishment, which is correction

 And yes, there are 95 of them.

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How to Store Fruits, Vegetables and Eggs without a Fridge — Improvised Life

Such ingenuity and simple beauty in this approach.

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Walking the Tightrope: Thoughts on Vulnerability and Hurt — Brene Brown

Brene is one of my heroes. With this post, she takes a stand: she will no longer write articles for venues that don’t moderate their comments or have some basic controls in place to keep the discussion civil.

Brava.

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Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy — YouTube

My friend Todd passed this along: why the first follower is just as (more?) important than the leader. Good stuff and a joy to watch:

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A Congregation of Theological Coherence — Alban Institute

I really like the idea of a congregation having a common theological vocabulary:

This pastor leads a congregation that is sturdy. It isn’t likely to be the focus of a church growth study, or make the cover of Time during Holy Week. However, it is a congregation that makes a difference in people’s lives. The parking lot is full during the week. The lights are on in the evening. Membership numbers are steady. 

Several conditions enhance a congregation’s ability to address the challenges and opportunities it faces. They include simple yet important realities: use of outside resources to learn new capacities, clergy and laity learning together, and congregations assuming the initiative over their futures. 

Another emerging condition we’re observing is theological coherence; the ability to think clearly about God and then act accordingly. A congregation that is clear and consistent about how it understands God, and applies this understanding to its daily life, is more able to deal effectively with challenges and opportunities. 

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Why Storytellers Lie — Atlantic Monthly

I’ve just put Gotschall’s book,  The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, on my Goodreads:

When we tell stories about ourselves, they also serve another important (arguably higher) function: They help us to believe our lives are meaningful. “The storytelling mind”—the human mind, in other words—”is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence,” Gottschall writes. It doesn’t like to believe life is accidental; it wants to believe everything happens for a reason. Stories allow us to impose order on the chaos.

And we all concoct stories, Gotschall notes—even those of us who have never commanded the attention of a room full of people while telling a wild tale. “[S]ocial psychologists point out that when we meet a friend, our conversation mostly consists of an exchange of gossipy stories,” he writes. “And every night, we reconvene with our loved ones … to share the small comedies and tragedies of our day.”

…Every day of our lives—sometimes with help working things out via tweets or Facebook status updates—we fine-tune the grand narratives of our lives; the stories of who we are, and how we came to be…

…We like stories because, as Gotschall puts it, we are “addicted to meaning”—and meaning is not always the same as the truth.

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Have a good weekend, dear readers.

Friday Link Love and a Book

Just a few today—I’m not exactly doing a lot of outside reading this week…

We Are Just Not Digging the Whole Anymore

We just don’t do whole things anymore. We don’t read complete books — just excerpts. We don’t listen to whole CDs — just samplings. We don’t sit through whole baseball games — just a few innings. Don’t even write whole sentences. Or read whole stories like this one.

We care more about the parts and less about the entire. We are into snippets and smidgens and clips and tweets. We are not only a fragmented society, but a fragment society.

Do you agree?

I quibble with a thing or two. For example, the author cites the example of BusinessSummaries.com, which gives quick and precise summaries of business books. I don’t know. I’ve read a lot of books about business, leadership and administration, and many of them contain a few good ideas with 300 pages of padding. I just can’t see summaries of those books as a bad thing.

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The Medium Chill

This really resonates with me… and has been good discussion fodder for Robert and me this week:

“Medium chill” has become something of a slogan for my wife and me…

We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the “next thing” on our respective career paths. She could move to a bigger company. I could freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book, hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the kids in private schools. All that stuff people with more money than us do.

But … meh. It’s not that we don’t think about those things. The water pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.

So why do it? There will always be a More and Better just beyond our reach, no matter how high we climb. We could always have a little more money and a few more choices. But as we see it, we don’t need to work harder to get more money to have more choices because we already made our choice. We chose our family and our friends and our place. Like any life ours comes with trade-offs, but on balance it’s a good life, we’ve already got it, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it.

That’s the best thing about the medium chill: unlike the big chill, you already have it. It’s available today, at affordable prices!

Related to this: I started reading a book called The Great Disruption about our current economic and environmental crisis. The author argues that both are related and stem from a myth of infinite growth, more, better, faster. That’s going to collapse soon, and we will be moved to adjust our ways in a manner that fosters simplicity and community. I hope he’s right—and it’s the first book I’ve read that’s fundamentally hopeful about our ability to respond to climate change and the disruption that will come with it.

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And a video that’s related to the ‘medium chill’ article…

Dan Gilbert asks, “Why Are We Happy?” (TED)

Shorter Dan Gilbert: we suck at being able to assess what makes us happy.

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L. Gregory Jones: Executing with Urgency (Faith and Leadership)

“We are looking for Christians who understand and practice leadership as an entrepreneur would,” the philanthropist told me. We had already talked about some key aspects of such leadership, such as developing vision, taking risks, being willing to fail and learn from failure, and tolerating ambiguity. But then he said that the heart of the issue was what another friend described as lacking among Christian leaders: people who could “execute with urgency.”

I heard those three simple words as a judgment, recalling too many Christian meetings I had sat through, and even convened, where we had confused having a meeting with taking action. We had acted as if we had all the time in the world, as if nothing really was very urgent. Indeed, we had often met as if we were a group gathered primarily for social purposes.

SO spot on about the way church committees often work. My current ministry obsession is thinking about agile software development as it relates to church work. One of the many great things about small churches is the ability to get to execution relatively quickly.

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And finally, a book:

I’ve had Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography on my shelves for many years but had never finished it. Norris is one of those folks I’m proud to claim as Presbyterian, along with Anne Lamott and the Rev. Mister Rogers. Her meditation on life in the Dakotas is gorgeous, funny and wise. She really captures the feel of the place and its people.

The book got me thinking, too, about the terrain in which I’ve been placed—what I ruefully call “suburban sheol.” Yet every place has its beauty. And every place is its own wilderness. One of the women who’s here this week wrote a book about life in the South Bronx as a bit of a response to Norris’s book and others like it, that lift up rural locations as particularly spiritually rich. What an interesting challenge it would be to think about the suburbs of the nation’s capital in a similar way.

Women, Go Take Over the World! Or Don’t.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” –E.B. White

Two items came to me this week:

1. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, was the commencement speaker at Barnard College. An excerpt:

“As we sit here looking at this magnificent blue-robed class, we have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world. Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.”

And later:

“Men make far fewer compromises than women to balance professional success and personal fulfillment. That’s because the majority of housework and childcare still falls to women. If a heterosexual couple work full time… the woman will do two times the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare that her husband will do. So it’s a bit counterintuitive, but the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further. A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world.”

2. A book called Radical Homemakers, recently excerpted and reviewed by the Englewood Review of BooksI haven’t read the book, but here is the germ of an idea that started the author, Shannon Hayes, down this path:

“If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, or two people sharing the role, with or without children, full or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story.”

And a summary of the book, from the review:

“Hayes spends the first half of the book persuading the reader as to why “reclaiming domesticity” is an honorable and necessary pursuit in modern America. She convincingly argues against the consumeristic, extractive culture of today. Hayes paints a picture for the reader of a third way – one in which the responsibilities associated with building and maintaining a loving and safe home are valued over an increased salary, more stuff and a better title.”

So. In #1 we have a compelling vision of the need for women to be out in the workforce, leveling the field, and serving as leaders in industry and government. In #2 we have a vision of a world in which healthy families and communities take precedence over the big job and our traditional ideas about Making a Difference.

Am I right to see these two visions as perpendicular to one another? Or at least, in creative tension (or just tension) with one another?

And what does a woman do who finds both visions equally compelling?

That would be me, by the way.

I’ll say more about this at some point, but I wonder what you hear in those two visions.

Friday Link Love

Happy Tax Day But Not Really!

Just a couple of links today…

Why Parents Should Just Relax and Bond with Their Kids

[The researcher] cites adoption and twin research done over the last forty years that shows that of the major outcomes that parents try to influence — health, intelligence, happiness, success, character, values, appreciation — just about all of them in the long run have more to do with nature than nurture. In other words, it’s really hard to change your kids, especially what kinds of adults they’ll be.

What does last, however, is “appreciation” — the way kids see and remember their parents (or, perhaps… how accurately they remember you).

May I suggest that taking intentional Sabbath time together as an excellent mechanism for this?

How Genius Works

True confession time, Atlantic articles are humongous so I haven’t read this piece yet. But I’m intrigued by the people they talked to, everyone from Chuck Close to the director of Kung Fu Panda II.

What Lucky People Do Differently Than Unlucky People

What makes a person lucky? Often it’s less about actual luck than it is about a person’s general outlook.

[snip]

People who we often consider lucky are more relaxed and open to what’s going on around them. They’re not focused on a single task, blocking out everything else so much that they miss something important and unexpected. What this experiment demonstrates is that luck may not so much be luck, but whether or not our mindset leaves us open to opportunities we would otherwise miss because we’re so absolutely sure of what we want.

I wonder if they’ve correlated this sense of “luck” with Myers-Briggs types. It seems like folks who are strong P’s would have more of a lucky temperament by this definition, as opposed to J’s who are more goal-oriented. (Bummer for me.)

The ’10 Writing Mistakes’ List

Pretty decent list, with a bit of snark to boot.

Survival Skills from the World’s Oldest Man

The world’s oldest man (according to Guinness) just died, but here are some of his words of wisdom. Good stuff:

A lot of people think they’re born for themselves; I don’t think that. I believe that we’re here to help other people all the way through.

And a final link, just for fun:

Business Card Stamp

Dave Hakkins made a stamp the same size as a normal business card so that he could stamp it on ANYTHING. He cuts out card size rectangles of paper, cloth, cereal boxes and then just stamps them: each one is a surprise. By this method, he’s managed to address what he likes and doesn’t about the classic business card.

I love this idea. I have a need for business cards maybe twice a year, and it’s fun to think about repurposing stuff from around here: old permission slips, kids’ artwork…

Friday Link Love

Just a few links this week.

How to Steal Like An Artist

This is by Austin Kleon who does poetry called newspaper blackout. So delightfully lo-fi.

There was a video going around the internet last year of Rainn Wilson, the guy who plays Dwight on The Office. He was talking about creative block, and he said this thing that drove me nuts, because I feel like it’s a license for so many people to put off making things: “If you don’t know who you are or what you’re about or what you believe in it’s really pretty impossible to be creative.”

If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.

Lots more stuff like that. Thoughts+drawings. I find the whole thing charming and inspiring.

Digital Memory Archive

Although we’ve always thought of ourselves as rather minimalist, we’ve been realizing that we have attachments to things that we don’t really want or need anymore, and have a hard time letting them go. What we are really attached to are the memories and associations the object spurs, afraid we’d lose the memory if we could never see the object again. As a solution, we started photographing things we wanted to let go of to create a digital archive of “Memory Stuff”. It freed us up to give stuff away.

I like.

Pay Attention to What You Envy to Discover Work That You Love

Jealousy and envy are not necessarily the most attractive traits of humanity, but at least they’re honest. If you’re having trouble figuring out what kind of work you love, try paying closer attention to the things you envy.

I love the thought of mining one’s shadow side for the sake of personal growth and discernment. And that’s all I’m going to say about that at the moment…

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Reverb #6: Make

Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

We’re making a lot of our Christmas gifts this year, and buying less stuff. So I have made a lot of different things in the past week or so, but I can’t say what any of them are because gift recipients read this blog. But here are a few materials we have used:

  • butter
  • acrylic paint
  • sharpie
  • wrapping paper
  • nutmeg
  • laptop

Slight digression: We’ve been studying the Advent Conspiracy at church, and yesterday the topic was “give more,” which emphasizes “relational gifts” rather than the easy and impersonal sweater or gift card. Back when Robert and I were newly married, we did the Hundred-Dollar Holiday for several years. I’ve loved Bill McKibben’s stuff for years and wish we were related; I suppose we are if you go back far enough.

We didn’t stick to $100 strictly, but we bought very little other than supplies for whatever we were making. We did it because we resonated with the concept of simplicity and spending less, particularly at Christmas. We also did it because we had more time than money back then. Now the exact opposite is true—it’s time that’s scarce, and the time we have is measured in little fragments between piano lessons and dinner, or kid bedtime and adult bedtime. So it feels more sacrificial, in a way, to make things. The Advent Conspiracy folks are really big on making gifts ultra-personal: thinking about each specific person, what he or she means to you, and what would make the person feel loved. We’re not really doing that, but I like the place we’re standing nonetheless.

Back to reverb: one thing I want to finish is a shawl/poncho that I started a year ago and have worked on in fits and starts. It’s been a bit of a disaster, as much of my knitting turns out to be. It’s a little short in the torso—the pattern in the book had a mistake in it, and the correction makes everything a bit more compressed (it’s a lace pattern). I have no idea what I’m going to do about that so I’ve been in this sort of perfectionistic denial about the whole thing. I really need to just finish it already and figure out what to do.

I’m thinking fringe. Fringe makes everything better.

Christmas and Simplicity

Robert and I had our monthly calendar/planning conversation on Tuesday… ok, we only manage to do it every three months or so, but hey, gotta start somewhere! During these conversations we sit with a couple of glasses of wine, reflect on the previous month (or three), and decide what our priorities will be for the next month (or three). We dipped briefly into Advent and Christmas, and I realized that it’s not too soon to set some intentions for that busy time. Especially with kids, and especially as a pastor, you blink and it’s over.

We’re planning to do the Advent Conspiracy as a study at church, and in its wisdom, the session decided to start the study a week before Advent actually begins. ‘Cause if you’re going to talk about spending less and giving more gifts of service and time, it’s too late to start that discussion on November 28. The wheels are in motion by then.

I struggle with Christmas every year, and have written a lot about that in various places. Our house is not overloaded with toys, and we don’t buy them at random times during the year. So Christmas is a time when we replenish our supplies, along with birthdays, which are all within a couple months of Christmas.

But I’m not completely comfortable with that.

According to the Advent Conspiracy folks, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas each year. By contrast, it would take $10 billion to ensure that everyone in the world has access to clean drinking water (which is the AC movement’s mission of choice). Those figures could be wildly exaggerated on either end and it would still be a sobering statistic.

We did The Hundred Dollar Holiday for several years, until time became more scarce than money. But we still try to be intentional and thoughtful about the gifts we give, and we do alternative gifts, donations to charity, etc. We don’t give just for the sake of giving, though we have some family members who are notoriously hard to buy for. My personal theology is that it all works out. Some years, we might find the perfect object that would bring joy, other years not; and in those cases, an alternative gift would be given.

That’s what I believe… but I’m not there in practice.

I’ve been enjoying Rowdy Kittens, a blog about about “social change through simple living.” A recent post talked about how the author keeps Christmas. She is not religious, but she does observe the holiday as a sort of feast day/celebration with family.

A couple of things struck me. The first is a discussion in the comments about how to handle loved ones who do give a lot of gifts, when you don’t. One person said he gave away the gifts he received and eventually people got the message that he didn’t want to receive gifts. This got me thinking about the spirit in which we receive gifts. What does it mean to receive something graciously, even if it’s something you don’t want or need? I have no doubt that our loved ones will get a message if we consistently give their gifts away, but what message is it? That we didn’t want gifts, or that tangible expressions of the giver’s love and affection were not welcome? (Standard disclaimer that I do not know the people involved. I am only musing here.)

The other thing that struck me is the author’s recommendation to contribute to a child’s college fund or charity in lieu of gifts because “with children, they likely won’t remember a single toy you give them.” I have to say, that is just not true in my experience. Kids remember gifts. Maybe not every single one, but sure, big or unusual ones, definitely.

Here is one of the inconvenient truths of the simplicity movement.

There is magic in the new bike under the tree with the pink streamers and strawberry pattern on the seat. There is magic in that first brand-new stereo. There is even magic in the first 15 Sweet Valley High books! These are all things that I received as a kid, remember vividly, and was wildly happy with. And I don’t consider myself particularly materialistic. Receiving gifts is not one of my primary love languages (though I do enjoy them).

I’m not saying you can’t experience the spirit of Christmas in other ways—sure you can, and that can be a fun challenge—but people often remember what they’re given. I even write down the gifts we receive each year, along with things we did, what we had for Christmas dinner, etc.—and those lists are capable of transporting me to a particular time and place.

That’s because we are embodied beings, beings who collect stuff. Yes, most of us have too much stuff. Yes, our acquisitiveness is destroying the planet and can destroy us spiritually. Yes, I’m tired of plasticrap toys from China. But I’m with Michael Lindvall, who wrote recently in the Christian Century that the problem isn’t that we’re too materialistic, but that we’re not materialistic enough. Our stuff is cheap and disposable, when it should be precious and infused with meaning. “God,” Robert Farrar Capon once quipped, “is the biggest materialist there is. He invented stuff. . . . He likes it even better than we do.”

Lindvall:

We acquire things, but then quickly tire of the things that seemed so important when first obtained. We replace rather than repair because we have such fickle and passing romances with our things. The real soul danger is not exactly in liking things too much, nor in owning them, nor in caring for them well. In fact, there can be great virtue in such a caring relationship with physical things.

The soul danger lies in the insatiable longing to acquire new things one after another, more and more things, as if the getting of them somehow proves our worth in comparison with others, as if the having of them can fill the emptiness. It’s this insatiable drive to acquire stuff rather than the stuff itself that’s the problem.

Amen.

So what do we do about Christmas?