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

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

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

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

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

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

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

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

Avi Steinberg:

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

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

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

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

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

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

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

More at the link.

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

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

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

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

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

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

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

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

Much, much more at the link.

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

Friday Link Love: Tech Overload, Life of Pi, and the Death of Homework?

Away we go!

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dove-hands12NEXT Church 

I am on the strategy team for the NEXT Church, an initiative that is trying to encourage dynamic and vibrant ministry, particularly in the Presbyterian Church (USA). If that’s something you care about too, you want to be reading our blog, perusing (and contributing to) our archive of ministry resources, and registering for our 2013 gathering, March 4-5 in Charlotte.

Bookmark it! Share it! Love it!

Update: The latest post on the NEXT blog is by yours truly. Yes, I’m getting cranky about not singing Christmas carols during Advent again.

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Time to Tune Out — Roger Cohen, New York Times

Posted this on FB/Twitter yesterday with the question, “Is disconnecting from technology going to be the new trend?” Here’s the article again:

[The author quotes a reader who unplugged from Facebook] “Now, I am back to reading books when I would have been Facebooking. I talk to folks at the café I frequent. People have started calling me on the phone again to catch up because they don’t know what is going on with me otherwise. I have a hunch that being DISconnected is on its way to being the new trend.”

So here’s to doses of disconnection in 2013. Get out of the cross hairs of your devices from time to time. Drink experience unfiltered by hyperconnection. Gaze with patience. Listen through silences. Let your longings breathe.

Take a tech sabbath!

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Can Faith in the Better Story Sustain Us? Survival and Significance in “Life of Pi” — Nick Olson, Patheos

Life-of-Pi

Life of Pi is a story about Story, which means I love it:

Taken together, Life of Pi‘s various themes seem to suggest a longing for human significance couched in vaguely religious language. It’s a contemplative tale rooted in questions with room for open-ended interpretation. More specifically, Lee’s film — as an extension of Martel’s novel — suggests that our difficult, often tragic lives matter in a way that cold “facts” can’t totally explain. You might characterize the story as a “desperate” (survivalist) attempt to re-enchant a supposedly disenchanted modern world. Interestingly, in an interview with PBS, Martel says that he wrote his novel during a time when he felt lost: “I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small ‘s’ but sort of with a capital ‘S’ — something that would direct my life.” Martel’s existential plight seems to have been Pi’s shipwrecked plight: lonely and directionless. Having “faith” in this particular context has a less specific range; its content is the simple belief that our lives — suffering included — are filled with meaning, purpose, and wonder. Which is to say, in Life of Pi, the religious and literary imaginations merely function as signals of the truth of significance itself, a “better Story” compared to a disenchanted, cold rationalism because there is more to humanity and existence than meets the eye.

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Isaac Newton v. Rube Goldberg — 2D House (Video, 1:07)

Who will win the battle? Why, you will, because you’ll be wonderfully entertained. Here it is. (Can’t embed for some reason)

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Today’s Assignment — Louis Menand, The New Yorker

Is homework useful? The article looks at attitudes about homework in two very different countries, Finland and South Korea.

Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead. When President Hollande promises to end homework, make the school day shorter, and devote more teachers to disadvantaged areas, he is saying that he wants France to be more like Finland. His reforms will work only if that is, in fact, what the French want.

What do Americans want? Not to be like Finland is a safe guess. Americans have an egalitarian approach to inequality: they want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else.

That’s one of the truer sentences about the American Dream I’ve ever read. He goes on:

The dirty little secret of education reform is that one of the greatest predictors of academic success is household income. Even the standardized tests used for college admissions, like the S.A.T.s, are essentially proxies for income: students from better-off backgrounds get higher scores. The educational system is supposed to be an engine of opportunity and social readjustment, but in some ways it operates as a perpetuator of the status quo.

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An Age-Old Question: Readers Debate Science and Theology — New York Times

The author, Nicholas Wade, wrote a reflection on Marco Rubio’s recent comments about the age of the earth. These are some of the responses to that article, which I found interesting. Here’s one:

In calling Senator Marco Rubio’s answer to a question about the age of the earth “15 back flips and a hissy fit,” Nicholas Wade grossly misdescribed the answer quoted earlier in his article. Mr. Rubio’s answer was a simple and ordinary evasion. It left room for Mr. Rubio’s religious right supporters to hope that he will support teaching the Bible in science class, while leaving himself room not to appear to be an outright science denier, to appease his more scientific supporters.

Possibly, the article should have been put in the political news section rather than the science section; the scientific truth of the theory of evolution has not been news since about 1859.

I’m not sure whether it was a simple evasion or not, but it seems plausible.

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“Couponing” for Authors — J.L. Greger, Mystery Writing is Murder

This link is going to be most of interest for writers; if that’s you, check it out. The author describes a process by which she collects stories, data and tidbits that might be inspiration for a bit of writing.

Good principles here. But the main reason I’m linking to the article: it gives me yet another chance to profess my love for Evernote. I have several notebooks set up at the moment, in which I’m couponing ideas for new book projects.

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A 120-Year-Old Mechanical Device that Perfectly Mimics the Sound of a Bird — Colossal

Get out the headphones or turn up your speakers and prepare to be impressed by archaic 19th century engineering.

Delightful:

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Have a wonderful weekend.

Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land

My friend Ruth Everhart has written a book.

Actually, let me be more accurate: she’s written hundreds of thousands of lovely, honest and true words over her years as a pastor and writer. But this week, we celebrate a particular achievement, the publication of Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. Ruth’s work is part travel writing, part memoir and part spiritual reflection.

Her book confronts the questions that confront us as we engage in pilgrimage—whether through travel or during our everyday journeys as people of faith–and the unexpected places we land in those journeys. Given recent current events, the book could not be more timely. That said, it is not a political book. It is a personal book, but in that wonderful way that the particular becomes universal.

Ruth is one of my Writing Revs—in fact, she and I are the only two charter members still in the group. (You can read about our group here.) My copy of Chasing is on its way to me, but I’ve had to joy of reading and digesting the book many times over the months and years. It’s gotten better and better through Ruth’s hard work and fine craftswomanship (I just made that word up). But what has been there from the beginning is a dogged willingness to ask hard questions of her faith and this land we dare to call Holy—steeped as it is in tradition, religion, conflict and grace.

Author Clyde Edgerton puts it well in his endorsement of Chasing the Divine:

I can think of only two reasons to buy this book:
1. You are not going to the Holy Land.
2. You are going to the Holy Land.
In these pages Ruth Everhart writes eloquently about her trip into the dust and beauty of Christianity’s cradle — about her wrestling with her beliefs, her faith, and her past. If all pilgrims were as curious, insightful, introspective, firm, and openhearted as Ruth Everhart, our old world would roll more happily and safely through the universe. In her story you’ll find bloodshed, humor, and — most importantly — love.

BUY IT!

Ruth and I will be at First Presbyterian Church, Arlington, VA this Sunday evening, December 2, at 7 p.m. to read and sign books. Stop by for some nourishment through food and words.

Friday Link Love: Tickling, Ambition, Funky Geometry, and More

Away we go!

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Mrs. Melissa Christ — New Yorker

I tweeted and FBed this but if you missed it:

Then Jesus came over and introduced himself and we chitchatted about everything, from keeping the Sabbath to how we both felt really sorry for the lame. Then I asked Jesus about his family, and he said, “My father is a carpenter,” and I could feel myself getting all flushed as I immediately thought, Hello, new coffee table.

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I Giggle, Therefore I Am — Slate

How tickling helps us know we exist:

“When you look at the evolution of the development of tickle, you’re also looking at the evolution of the development of self,” he says.  What’s at work in tickling, he argues, is the neurological basis for the separation of self from other. After all, as Provine noted so indelicately, you can’t tickle yourself. Your body knows that you are you; you can’t fool it. “Otherwise you’d go through life in a giant chain reaction of goosiness,” Provine says. “You’d be afraid of your own clothing if you could never distinguish between touching and being touched.”

When a baby senses a foreign hand lightly brushing his bare feet, he’s experiencing something that is recognizably other—which means that there’s something that isn’t other, too: There’s himself.

So if you don’t like being tickled, does that mean you aren’t self-differentiated or something?

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What God Can Do — Rachel Hackenburg

A friend and I talk a lot about ambition—how does this work in a Christian context which emphasizes virtues of cooperation and humility? Pride is one of the deadlies, eh? Rachel provides some good fodder as well as some blunt honesty:

I want to be great. I want to be great at everything I do, and I give myself a hard time for not being brilliantly excellent 100% of the time — as a pastor, a preacher, a mother, a writer. I long to be stellar … and not just to be stellar, but to be known for being stellar. It’s entirely vain of me, and I want to repent of it as soon as I see it glaring in front of me. But the desire always returns. I’ll see news on Facebook about a clergy colleague’s invitation to the White House, or about another mother who is teaching her children how to cook five-star meals after they finish their homework each day, or about a writer friend who’s on his fifth book … and the demon wells up again: “I want to be great too! I want people to see that I’m great.”

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Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing — 99U

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

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Meet the Hexaflexagon — io9

And it will indeed blow your mind:

First discovered in the 1930s by a daydreaming student named Arthur H. Stone, flexagons have attracted the curiosity of great scientists for decades, including Stone’s friend and colleague Richard Feynman. Here, the ever-capable Hart introduces the folding, pinching, rotating, multifaceted geometric oddity with her signature brand of rapid-fire wit and exposition. She even shows you how to make your own.

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Eternal Clock Could Keep Time after Universe Dies — Scientific American

I can’t speak to the science of this, but the idea of such a clock makes me feel all fizzy inside.

The idea for an eternal clock that would continue to keep time even after the universe ceased to exist has intrigued physicists. However, no one has figured out how one might be built, until now.

Researchers have now proposed an experimental design for a “space-time crystal” that would be able to keep time forever. This four-dimensional crystal would be similar to conventional 3D crystals, which are structures, like snowflakes and diamonds, whose atoms are arranged in repeating patterns. Whereas a diamond has a periodic structure in three dimensions, the space-time crystal would be periodic in time as well as space.

Too bad Madeleine L’Engle is no longer with us.

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Hacking Habits: How to Make New Behaviors Last for Good — 99U

Seems very sound to me:

Habits consist of a simple, but extremely powerful, three-step loop. Here’s Duhigg:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is areward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop… becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

The first rule of habit-changing is that you have to play by the rules. That is, there’s no escaping the three-step loop (e.g. cue, routine, reward) because it’s hard-wired into our brains.

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I will be off the next week. (Gasp!) I’m spending the weekend with friends, then attending the Presbyterian CREDO Conference at Mo-Ranch. I am very psyched to be there, having heard universally positive things about this gathering. I also have many dear friends who will be there too.

If I blog, they will be photo-blogs, which I sometimes do as a spiritual discipline when I’m away on retreat, to get myself beyond the words that so often fill my days.

Or I may not feel guided towards that at all. We will see.

Thought for the Day, on Writing and Life

Novelist Luis Alberto Urrea was one of my favorite speakers at FFW. I went to his session with Debra Dean and they were a hoot together.

Here’s a paraphrase of something he said:

If you’re writing about matters of faith, you have to be vigilant against cliche and grandiosity. 

So go through your work and look for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—those moments with the angelic choir, bathed in light and going “ahhhhhhhhh.” Take those out. Faith is too messy and gritty for them. Instead, replace them with James Brown.

May your day be funky, friends.

 

On the Eve of FFW

I leave this evening for the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, a gathering I’ve been hearing about for years but never been able to attend. I’m eager to soak it all in, hear some inspiring speakers, deepen friendships, and network. If I’m feeling extroverted enough, my little box of Sabbath in the Suburbs postcards will be empty when I come home.

I’ve been to tons of writing things over the years: workshops, conferences and such. They provide a huge boost of energy and mojo. And if there is a lot of posturing and jockeying for attention, they can also bring out demons of competitiveness. I can’t account for why these group dynamics occur in some gatherings and not in others. Probably a chemistry thing—one or two people can really shift things into an unhealthy place. With any luck and grace, I am not one of those people.

However, there’s no denying that I am a person of ambition. I thrive on competition, particularly in academic pursuits. When this is channeled inwardly—when the competition is with myself—it’s a great source of motivation. When it’s not, well, let’s just say that Robert and I still do not speak of The Canasta Incident.

This has been a topic of discussion and reflection for me recently. You know how themes and ideas will keep coming to you when you’re working something out? That has happened to me. I appreciated this article by my friend Becky, who wrote about healthy ways to be driven to develop one’s skills.

And a friend shared this article about two best friends who are highly competitive in the area of Olympic-level kayaking. The relationship spurs them on to be better and better. I find this thrilling and hopeful:

Both Ashley and Caroline are training hard – the former near her home in Maryland, and the latter down in North Carolina. Caroline says it’ll be tough to face each other at the upcoming Olympic trials, since “we both want to be number one.”

But if nothing else, she says, it’ll strengthen their friendship… and their skills.

“It’s a very positive thing,” she says. “We push each other.”

Ashley agrees: “Ideally this year we’re pushing each other to get to that next level, to be able to compete with this international crew. Ideally, we’re training each other for the Games.”

I have been blessed to have mentors and spiritual directors who have said to me, “Stop trying not to be competitive or ambitious. Instead, keep pondering how to use that gift in a life-giving way.” Unhealthy competition means comparing oneself to others, making one’s self-worth about achievement, and being selfish and unsupportive. Healthy competition believes in abundance: one person’s achievement does not diminish another person’s; there is room for many offerings of gifts. It also means striving for personal excellence in one’s life, art, or whatever.

After all, competition is scriptural! Paul writes that we are to outdo one another…
in showing honor.

So be it.

Update on the Memory Project

source: CaityQuilter.com, a very intriguing blog

Several months ago I posted about a new practice I’ve undertaken: to record tidbits about the kids in individual journals, one sentence per day. You can read about the project and rationale here. Since there were quite a few people who were interested in the practice, I thought I’d provide an update and some thoughts.

The Blue Room is a place for inspiration, but also truth telling: I am still at the memory project, but if I manage one entry per week I’m doing well. This creates a mental struggle. I envisioned these journals as a place to record the everyday jewels of parenthood that are easily forgotten over the years. But if I let too much time elapse between entries, I end up wanting to make sure the Big Important Milestones are recorded. This requires more mental energy than I’d expected the practice to require. The whole point was to write the first thing that came to mind, no matter how ordinary, but if I’m having to sort through the past week to find the most journal-worthy thing… well, that’s too tough and becomes a barrier to doing it at all.

Also, the fact that there are three of them, and I feel the need for some parity, works against me. Part of what’s fun about the journals is that they’re not just baby books, which means the thirdborn’s should have just as much content as the girls’. (I love Erma Bombeck’s old bit about her kids’ baby books; by the time her last child came along, the sole contents of his baby book consisted of a pie crust recipe torn from the newspaper and tucked into the otherwise empty pages.) I feel like I should write in each journal each night, but sometimes there’s more going on with one kid than with the other two.

Like most spiritual disciplines and parenting practices, I see this practice evolving. My ultimate hope remains the same: to present each child with a handwritten book of quotidian wisdom and observations from their childhood. And if I end up handing them a book with 15 months of memories followed by a lot of blank pages, well, that communicates something worthwhile too: that life is about experimentation—starting more projects than one could possibly finish. Completion can be an elusive thing in life, but there’s something valuable in the undertaking.