Monthly Archives: September 2011

Should I Send My Wedding Dress to Kenya?

Nicholas Kristof recently made this plea for wedding and bridesmaid dresses, which are used by a woman in Nairobi to make new children’s clothing. If you can get them to New York, there’s an organization there that will pay for the shipping to Kenya. (Something tells me this woman is going to be inundated with more satin and tulle than she’ll be able to use in a lifetime.)

The minute I read Kristof’s piece I knew that I wanted to send my wedding dress there. When I got married seventeen years ago, a lot of people were heirlooming their dresses. I didn’t have strong opinions about keeping my dress but ultimately went that route. I took it to the cleaners, where they did whatever voodoo they do, and now it’s sitting in a nice box up in James’s closet. It’s a pretty dress, in a “22 year old bride in the mid-’90s” kind of way.


That is, there’s a lot of fabric to work with, and some nice details.

Robert asked, “Are you sure you want to part with it? Is there a possibility that one of our daughters will want to wear it?” Leaning that way, and I doubt it—although he reminds me that Caroline is very tuned in to tradition and family artifacts and hates to part with stuff. So who knows?

Many folks place great value on things simply because they have sentimental value. My threshold is different. I like having a keepsake for major events and people in my life, but I don’t necessarily need every keepsake. If the dress were the only tangible connection to our wedding day I would want to keep it. But we have wedding gifts and photographs and gold bands on our left ring fingers and flower shops where we can get lilies whenever we want, and that’s a gracious plenty for me.

Still, the discussion we’re having about the fate of the dress has me thinking about the value of stuff. I follow a few simplicity and anti-clutter blogs that provide tips for paring down stuff. I think many of these blogs go too far—for example, this article, by a man whose mother died. He was getting ready to move her stuff to a storage facility when he found several boxes of his elementary school work under her bed. The fact that theses boxes were sealed, unexamined by his mother all these years, led to an epiphany:

I could hold on to her memories without her stuff, just as she had always remembered me and my childhood and all of our memories without ever accesses [sic] those sealed boxes under her bed. She didn’t need papers from twenty-five years ago to remember me, just as I didn’t need a storage locker filled with her stuff to remember her.

…Memories are within us, not within our things.

And this is where he loses me.

Memories are within us… AND within our things. It’s why I keep artifacts on my desk when I write: I treasure those reminders of juicy times in my life. And it’s why some of the kid artwork is going into a Rubbermaid tub rather than being scanned into Evernote: it is a precious thing to feel the paper that my kids held on their laps, to trace the brushstrokes.

It goes the other way too. We are fumigating our church right now, and folks are taking home all the dishes, pots and pans to be washed thoroughly since the church doesn’t have a dishwasher. Some of these kitchen items have psychic energy that is, in my opinion, not all that positive. (Old stained trays? 200 coffee cups in a church that now worships 50?)

Our stuff isn’t neutral.

I said recently that I’m done with the word “spiritual.” My main objection is that it implies a separation from the physical world. (Thank you Platonic dualism.) The realm of the spiritual is what’s in our brains and in our (figurative) hearts, and it is given higher status. The body is just the Rubbermaid tub.

Of course we can become obsessed with stuff, hoarding and clutching, or constantly upgrading and discarding. But I agree with Michael Lindvall (subscription required, sorry) when he wrote that the problem isn’t that we value our stuff too much. Our problem is that we don’t value it enough. It’s all disposable anymore, cheap and devoid of meaning. After all, memories are in our minds, right?

But my goodness, God loved stuff. God made stuff, and called it good and very good. And Christians go so far as to make the outrageous claim that God became flesh and lived among our stuff. He ate stuff and drank stuff and blessed stuff and told stories about stuff and even mixed stuff with his own spit and made mud on one bizarre occasion.

So if I value stuff so much, why am I thinking about sending my wedding dress to Kenya rather than keeping it? Not because the dress isn’t meaningful to me, but because it is meaningful. The day I wore it was a day of great beauty and hope and joy. It has the potential to bring beauty and hope and joy to people I don’t even know. Doesn’t that seem like a good way of honoring the love that was expressed on October 22, 1994? To let it have a new life, rather than sitting in my closet for another couple of decades on the off chance that my daughters will want to wear it?

One of the things I think about when making a decision is, where is the good story? And yes, Caroline or Margaret walking down the aisle wearing the dress I once wore is a good story. But it’s a story that I ultimately control and own. There’s something to be said for letting the story go, so it can take on a life of its own.

I’m still thinking. What do you say?

Photo: Jane Ngoiri of Nairobi.

Friday Link Love

A few random things…

Ice Art


Greenpeace got artist John Quigley to partially recreate da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man on a melting ice pack near the North Pole. Nicely metaphorical, dontcha think?


Overshoot on Your Salary Request to Get the Best Offer

With any luck, I won’t be negotiating another salary from scratch any time soon. But I was intrigued by this approach:

Asking for a ridiculously high salary—even when offered as a joke—can get you a much higher salary offer than if you stay within the typical salary range for a job, the Harvard Business Review suggests.

I’m wondering whether this approach works in other areas of life!


Choices for Change

This is an article for church leaders on how to catalyze change, but it has good thoughts for anyone needing to make a shift in his or her life: “When you want to change, you have two choices: think your way into acting or act your way into thinking.”


If It Feels Right…

This David Brooks column has been making the rounds among my Facebook friends:

During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth.

Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.

It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.

[more at the link]

At least one commenter suggested that people of all ages are not necessarily good at talking categorically and philosophically about moral issues… but they are still good and moral people. What do you think?


Hope it is an excellent weekend for everyone.

“We Fight Back with Beauty”: Prayers on 9/11 at Tiny Church

The Man Who Walked between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein

Tiny Church is a traditional Presbyterian church. Until only a few years ago, they recited the Apostles’ Creed every week, so for some of our folks, reciting a different creed or confession every week is bleeding edge. They like printed prayers, organ music, and sitting quietly for a sermon.

But slowly over time, we have mixed things up. We have guest musicians who come in every third Sunday and provide an interesting variety. We’ve had a clarinet/piano duo, an a capella gospel group, and a variety of singer-songwriters. We’re using the piano more—at least once a service. We played “stump the pastor” in May, with written questions from the congregation. And people have started talking back during sermons a little. On Sunday I was telling a story about a family in our congregation (with their permission) and the husband chimed in with some additional tidbits.

Either they are humoring their new pastor, or the genuinely like what’s happening—hard to tell, but I haven’t seen a single folded arm or glare of disapproval yet.

My goal is not all that profound, and it’s based on something that most of us know—people learn in a variety of ways and have lots of different intelligences they bring to worship. Sitting quietly and absorbing the lesson, sitting quietly while the pastor prays, sitting quietly, period, is not the only way to do things, nor is it the best way in a visual, experiential culture.

Sunday night we had our quarterly service for wholeness and healing. At these services we always have prayer stations where people can share a concern with an elder, receive prayer, and be anointed with oil. But I decided to add a few more stations as we commemorated 9/11:


Lighting of candles. We had votive candles in holders on the communion table that people could light in honor or memory of someone. Many people brought their candles back to their seats to keep the light close by. I found this touching and was glad they felt the freedom to do this. Our group was small so we gathered around the table for communion. It was a full sensory experience to have the candles radiating warmth as we shared the supper.


Prayer wall/book of beauty. During my short “talk” I told the story of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, the Caldecott book about Philippe Petit, who walked between the Twin Towers on a 3/4 inch tightrope in 1974. The last page of the book talks about how the towers are gone, but they live on in memory, and part of that memory is the beautiful day on which Petit shared his crazy gift with the city of New York. I also talked about this article by Sally Schneider. She describes the experience of being fed at Mario Batali’s restaurant, which was open for business in the days following 9/11. The sumptuous meal felt like “an act of defiance to the repressive violence we had experienced.” A friend of hers later said, “We fight back with beauty,” and that was the theme I riffed on. I don’t often use “fighting” language, but on this day, it felt appropriate, especially with beauty as our weapon. Whatever challenges we might face—illness, a broken relationship, a national tragedy—we fight back with beauty. I think that’s what Jesus did too.

I created a prayer station where people could thumb through the book and write a prayer, or describe an act of beauty they are called to enact, and put it on the wall.


“We Will Rebuild.” Recently in worship I had a big pile of Duplo blocks on which people wrote their name in Sharpie and joined their piece together with other people’s blocks. The theme that day was “city” and the New Jerusalem, so we were considering how we are part of building the kingdom/beloved community. People had fun with that, so I brought out the structure and the extra blocks and had people add to what was there. The instructions talked about how people often say “we will rebuild” after a tragedy, and I asked people to consider what that really means.

It was a lovely service, with a small willing crowd. As I think about these stations, I think that as people get more comfortable moving around and interacting with materials and ideas, I think the prompts will deepen as well. Right now we are in the beginning stages. It’s fun to read about what other churches are doing as well.

Friday Link Love: Fitness Edition

It’s been a big week here—first week of school, back to a routine after the summer, and I have a major deadline next week (not the book—that’s due in November).

And the 9/11 coverage is ramping up. Maybe I should share some wise thoughts about this milestone, but I don’t have any.

So in the spirit of something completely different, in the spirit of “life moves on in profound and quotidian ways”… I decided to share a few health-related links that I am currently obsessed with.

Be good to your body. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. There, that’s profound enough.


MyFitnessPal is a website and smartphone app that lets you track your food and exercise. You set a basic lifestyle/activity level (from sedentary on up), a weight goal, and the app tells you how many calories to eat a day. Exercise, of course, bumps up the calories you can consume.

The barcode scanner is fun, and after a few weeks of use we have only found a small handful of items that aren’t listed. The database even includes recipes from the Six O’Clock Scramble and Cooks Illustrated, our two most relied-upon recipe sources.

Side comment: I gushed about this app on Facebook this week, and a few friends chimed in: is it better than (random other app)? I actually don’t know. Robert chose it and liked it so I jumped on board. This makes me a “satisficer,” by the way. Satisficers look for something that meets their criteria, then they stop. This is in contrast to maximizers, who look at all the options to make sure they’ve found the very best item for their needs. So I have no idea whether it’s the best app, just that it meets my needs.

Your random glimpse into human psychology…


I started using one of the Couch to 5K apps in March, but once I ‘graduated’ (and made it up Mt. Washington) my motivation flagged. I’m planning another modest hike and will be running my first 5K in December, but I needed a new training buddy. RunKeeper has been around a while and I’ve found it easy and fun to use. I’ve already noticed my times and distances improving.

Oh! And here’s one quirk about RunKeeper. For some reason, the RK app doesn’t track weight, but the website does. The first time I finished and logged a run on my phone, it said I burned a certain number of calories. That seemed low to me compared to the C25K app and the treadmill, but whatever. I’m a slow runner. But later, after the run had been synced with the website, I happened to notice that the number of calories burned was much higher.

For some reason this tickled me. I imagined the little gremlins on the Internet going, “Oh wait, she’s fat. Better bump up the calorie count!”


And finally, for you runners of the cloth, the RunRevRun website has a lot of great info and inspiration. Also T-shirts!