It is easy to get into competitive mode with one’s creative endeavors, and to feel like if one person does well, then that means less of the pie for you. And let’s be honest—few of us are going to order two Lent devotionals. (Let’s be honest even further and say that for many of my readers, one Lent devotional is a stretch. Ahem.)
But Ruth and I are in a writing group together, and we scheme about creating a writers’ guild that would support, cross-promote, maybe even co-publish our work. If she does well, I’m happy. It’s also good for me. And vice versa. And if either of us does well, it’s good for the RevGals, the grandmama of online communities that I was honored to help form more than six years ago. (Grandmama? Yes. It’s kinda like dog years.) And one hopes that the reign of God is somehow illuminated too.
But what we all want, at the heart of it, is to write and be read. So order one of these books.
…We often need to collaborate in order to solve really big problems. And, as humans, we also need to work alongside other people to satisfy more basic emotional desires for community and belonging.
But, the hard slog of creating, innovating and thinking is something we largely do alone.
That’s something I totally agree with. And, it worries me that in many parts of society, including schools, we are not encouraging people to develop the skills required to work alone, for extended periods of time, on complex problems.
Add in the fact that smartphones mean that we need never be alone again, and this is an issue worth thinking about. Alone. Or together.
We are far more desperate than secular modernity recognises. All of us are on the edge of panic and terror pretty much all the time – and religions recognise this. We need to build a similar awareness into secular structures.
Religions are fascinating because they are giant machines for making ideas vivid and real in people’s lives: ideas about goodness, about death, family, community etc. Nowadays, we tend to believe that the people who make ideas vivid are artists and cultural figures, but this is such a small, individual response to a massive set of problems. So I am deeply interested in the way that religions are in the end institutions, giant machines, organisations, directed to managing our inner life. There is nothing like this in the secular world, and this seems a huge pity.
The above link is to an FAQ about Botton’s TED talk on Atheism 2.0, which is outstanding and available here.
In a nutshell: That we can get it all done. (Comments are interesting, trying to diagnose “Brad’s” problem in the article.)
I think this simple realization has profound spiritual implications, way beyond simple time management. But then again, I would think that, I just wrote a book about Sabbath…
Have a good weekend. It’s a long weekend for us, what with teacher work days on Monday and Tuesday. We have our congregation’s annual meeting on Sunday, after which the kids and I head to Johnstown, Pennsylvania for a short visit with Robert’s grandmother.
Clergy, DCEs, church education committees… this is for you.
I was grateful for the opportunity to write the Lent Devotional Guide for Chalice Press, available for order here at the low low price of $2.95. (E-PDFs available too!) Some of you have asked me if there is a place to get a preview of the content. For a while there wasn’t, though I see now that they’ve put up a link to the first few entries. But how about a preview here at the Blue Room too? Here are the first few entries to give you a feel for the whole thing…
As a child, I loved going through my grandparents’ encyclopedias. A favorite section was on the human body, with intricate, full-color diagrams of the circulatory system, muscles, nerves. Each system was illustrated on its own clear plastic page, so you could view it on its own, or you could lay them on top of each other—organs on top of arteries on top of bones. And then there was the skin that covered everything underneath it—an entire universe, encased in human flesh, fearfully and wonderfully made.
Life feels like this—layers upon layers, laid on top of each other. There are carpools and dinners with friends, oil changes and books due at the library. There are friends in the hospital, bills to pay, tensions with a family member, a presidential election looming, a never-ending onslaught of news and punditry. There’s that guy on the park bench, his worldly possessions crammed in a purloined grocery cart. There’s the sweet little girl in your son’s fifth grade class who just arrived in the U.S. and speaks no English. There’s the neighbor who gets on your last nerve. There’s the church committee meeting.
Life goes on as usual during between now and April 8, but with a new layer: the season of Lent. For some of us, Lent means intentional scripture reading, or giving up an indulgence through Easter, or an increased commitment to prayer, or daily reading of the book you now hold in your hands. But our life of faith is not just a set of tasks like any other. It is the circulatory system, our lifeblood, the heart that pumps life into us and keeps us going. Or perhaps it’s the nervous system, the center of feeling and awareness. Or perhaps it’s the skin—the flesh that enfolds everything else we do.
Lent can be all of these things, and more, if we give ourselves fully to the season, its themes, and its practices. Take a deep breath, and let us begin.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Ash Wednesday • Feb 22
We Are Dust
Read Psalm 51. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Tonight, many of us will attend worship services in which we receive ashes on the forehead along with the stark words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In a death-denying culture, it is one of the more radical things we do. Anthony Robinson, a pastor and writer, served a congregation that decided to have an Ash Wednesday service for the first time, followed by a community concert. When Robinson looked out on the crowd that night, his sermon about sin and brokenness clutched in his hands, he realized that many people in the sanctuary were from the greater community. How would they react to an extended time of confession? Would the imposition of ashes feel weird or punitive?
The next day he was walking with his wife in a sketchy neighborhood in town—lots of folks sporting tattoos and piercings. A young woman with both of these, plus wild multi-colored hair, stopped him. “You’re that pastor from last night, aren’t you? What you did, and what you said—it was so meaningful. It was awesome.”
We are dust, and to dust we shall return. We are dust, all of us—the pastor and the wild-haired young woman, and the toddler and the nonagenarian. Our time is short upon this earth. Only God endures forever. In the meantime, what are we living for? What are we willing to give ourselves to? We long to belong to something larger than ourselves. But what is that something? The ashes, marking us with the cross, proclaim the answer. We belong to God. Even in our frailty and finitude, a good and powerful God loves us. That is the gospel message of Lent.
Dear God, help me to live in hope this Lent. I am your child. Amen.
Thur • Feb 23
From the Ashes
Read Isaiah 43:18-19. Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.
Her name was Isabella Baumfree, but most of us know her by the name she chose for herself, a free woman: Sojourner Truth. A gifted preacher and activist for abolitionism and women’s rights, she aroused controversy whenever she spoke. On one occasion, when she was greeted by hissing and booing, she responded, “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway. You can’t stop us, neither.”
One day, while preparing to speak in Indiana, word came that someone had threatened to burn down the building if she spoke there. Sojourner said, “Then I will speak upon the ashes.”
The message is clear: nothing would stop Sojourner Truth—not hatred, not intimidation, and certainly not a lit match touching dry wooden beams. If necessary, she would stand tall on the charred remains of that building, a living testimony that oppression and ugliness are not the final word. Liberation, beauty, truth—these things prevail.
Ashes are a reminder of our mortality, to be sure, but they are more than that. They are a reminder that life can erupt from death. God’s creation testifies to this again and again, as forests are decimated by fire, only to burst with green in seasons to come. Lent testifies to this too.
You are about to do a new thing, powerful God. Give me eyes to see it, and the words to testify to what I see.
Thanks for all of your support and encouragement, friends. If the devotional suits your needs or that of your congregation, I’d be honored if you checked it out.
Where did the week go? Oh yeah, to Baltimore for a planning meeting for the NEXT Church. Now that’s a group of folks with some big dreams for the church! Stay tuned… and if you are of the Presbyterian flavor, register today for the 2012 conference!
I recently read A Wrinkle in Time to the girls and was re-astounded at its beauty, complexity and depth:
What [L'Engle] seems to have intended to do is add a new twist (wrinkle?) to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. Those, too, combine fantasy with a religious message; The Magician’s Nephew even includes an element of planet-hopping sci-fi. But while the Lewis of Nephew was a veteran children’s author who knew, metaphysically speaking, where he stood, the L’Engle of Wrinkle was a relative newcomer, and there’s something less slick and complacent about her universe. Blend pagan myth with Christian themes and you’re repeating an old formula; stir in large quantities of secular literature and modern science, and you get a more intriguing, more volatile chemistry.
There’s also a discussion of a pivotal scene in the book (one of my favorites), which may be “the single most outrageous scene in classic children’s fiction.”
A magazine dedicated to plus-size fashion and models has sparked controversy with a feature claiming that most runway models meet the Body Mass Index criteria for anorexia.
Accompanied by a bold shoot that sees a nude plus-size model posing alongside a skinny ‘straight-size’ model, PLUS Model Magazine says it aims to encourage plus-size consumers to pressure retailers to better cater to them, and stop promoting a skinny ideal.
Lots of very arresting photos of a beautiful “plus-size” model.
There are hard problems, and there are wicked problems:
Steve Jobs was a master at dealing with wicked problems, and when he came back to Apple [in 1996], it was in a very bad place. They had the success of the Macintosh, and then they really struggled.
Most CEOs would come back and say, “How do I sell more computers? We’ll have to expand the number of consumers who are interested in my products. We’ll have to hire a chief marketing officer.” It’s a hard problem — “How do I sell more computers?”
Jobs came in and asked different kinds of questions about what could that company even be. He famously said his objective was to make a dent in the universe. He asked, “How do I transform how people interact with each other and the devices that enable them to communicate?” It’s a totally different kind of thing.
I talk about this all the time in the church. We are very good at avoiding the wicked problems by asking the wrong questions: how can we halt membership decline? How do we get young people back to church? Wrong questions.
This is a couple years old, but couldn’t help but share. We love Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs in our house:
Oodles of fun anecdotes, commentary, and yes opera singin’. Also, his answer to “Is there any chance you’ll stop having sex with my wife in her dreams? It’s getting pretty old, Mike” is so elegant, it would have made Archimedes jealous.