Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friday Link Love

Good morning!

…And away we go.

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A Glorious Sight — Andrew Sullivan

There’s an article up at Scientific American about “glories,” a quantum mechanical effect called wave tunneling:

The article is beautifully written, tracing the historical significance of glories (they can only be seen against one’s shadow and thus may be one reason that holy individuals are seen with halos)…

Sadly, the article is behind a paywall, but what a lovely concept.

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Move On – Bernadette Peters, Stephen Sondheim

Yesterday was the King’s birthday and many of us were gushing about him on Facebook. I remarked that this song is one of the best manifestos for art and life that I’ve found. Give it a listen.

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The Scale of the Universe (Flash)

I’m certain I’ve posted this before, but it came my way again, and boy howdy. Spend some time with this.

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Instructions — Sheri Hostetler

Beautiful poem:

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

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Rachel Maddow and My Lesson in Civility — Cal Thomas

A man apologizes, sincerely and humbly, for the red meat he threw at CPAC regarding Rachel Maddow:

The next morning I felt bad about it, so I called Maddow to apologize. It wasn’t one of those meaningless “if I’ve offended anyone …” apologies; it was heartfelt. I had embarrassed myself and was a bad example to those who read my column and expect better from me.

Maddow could not have been more gracious. She immediately accepted my apology. On her show, she said publicly, “I completely believe his apology. I completely accept his apology.” To be forgiven by one you have wronged is a blessing, it’s even cleansing.

More of this, please. From everyone.

And on the flip side of that…

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The Internet Has Failed — Bioethics Bulletin

Specifically internet comments:

Time was when ‘disabling comments’ on a blogpost was at best an indication of arrogance and at worst an indication that the author was an anti-democratic elitist who did not value the opinions of his or her readers. It is time, I think, for us to accept that disabling or deleting idiot comments is no more anti-democratic or elitist than refusing to engage with a person harrassing you on the street. Just because everyone is allowed to have their say, it does not follow that the bilge they say is worth listening to.

As I’ve said many times, anyone who rejects Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity has obviously never spent time reading Internet comments.

What do you think? Is it time to disable comments at the “big” sites? (I am blessed with smart and civil commenters here at the Blue Room. Huzzah.)

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Peace be with you.

A Thing of Beauty

Follow up from this post.

I enjoyed hearing about your things of beauty via Twitter and other means.

And mine? Turns out I got to see cherry blossoms after all, during my run this afternoon. There are several mature trees in my neighborhood. Those are beautiful in their own way; I like the darkness of the bark against the brilliant white petals. But today I was drawn to the brand new trees I saw in several yards. They were staked in the ground, with a trunk the size of my arm, with tiny twig branches sticking out the top. In fact, the branches were so puny that the weight of those pink and white petals bent them towards the ground. So the tree looked like a mushroom, or maybe a fountain of blossoms.

And I thought about people I know who are going through really tough stuff these days, especially two families I know with children suffering life-threatening illness. Both of them have shared stories just recently of the extravagant kindness of people around them. And I know what that’s like. I felt that when my father died while I was great with child. People arrived with food and cards and oil to rub my swollen pregnant feet.

That kindness can feel overwhelming, like you can’t even carry it all. It’s a kindness born of grace, a grace that’s so powerful you feel like you might break from the holy heft of it because, well, look at you, you’re thin and pale and staked to the ground for gosh sakes, because you can’t even stand on your own, let alone reciprocate or say thank you or do all those things competent people do. Yet somehow, by some miracle, you have enough strength to bear the weight of all that love that blazes with a white light.

Your Mission Today

cherry blossom

I have a mission for you, if you choose to accept it.

I blogged a few weeks ago about John Donohue, a Celtic philosopher and poet who inspired me to find the beauty around me, right where I am. That afternoon I picked up the girls at the bus stop and whispered to them, “I have a job for you right now. You are a detective, and you are supposed to find one beautiful thing between here and home. Don’t tell me what it is until we get home.” Caroline picked the deep red berries on the holly bush on the corner.

That’s going to be my practice again for today — to find something beautiful that I wasn’t expecting, something I might have missed if I hadn’t had my eyes wide. I was going to make a quick dash downtown to see the cherry blossoms, which are at peak right now. But it’s a yucky day so I think I’ll go Friday. That makes today’s practice a little more challenging. I’ll be working on the computer for much of the day, in my blue room, then running a quick errand before picking up the girls.

Then again, maybe it’s not so challenging after all. Just this second a friend sent me an e-mail containing a screen shot of something that she called a “miracle.” It’s her story and her miracle so I won’t say what it is, but I agree, it is miraculous. And a thing of beauty.

Sometimes it comes to you.

That was a freebie, though. I’m still going to look around for something beautiful today and I invite you to do the same. I need to look at the world that way, because right now the world is a dead black boy in Florida and mean Internet comments and a law student who was called a slut for having an opinion. The world is protesters slaughtered in Syria and dead Jewish children in Toulouse and a soldier gone mad in Afghanistan. Surely there’s more to the world than that.

Later today I’ll come back and post the beautiful thing I found. And I want to hear about your beautiful thing too.

Ten on Tuesday

1. Watch this if you haven’t—it’s making the rounds and is SO wonderful.

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2. A Neighborhood Watch person should not be carrying a gun. I’m just saying.

The discussion about this incident is bizarre, too. Like, if they can just prove the shooter wasn’t a racist, or guilty of profiling, then the incident would somehow cease being completely horrific. News flash: they could both have chartreuse skin and it would still be horrific.

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3. I do writery things now. Like look at proposed book covers, and receive permissions in the mail for quotes I’m using in the book. It’s weird. I feel like I’m playing dress up.

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4. I’m also attending the Festival of Faith and Writing for the first time next month. Can’t wait. Been hearing about this shindig for years.

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Mason Neck State Park. I didn't take this but it looked liked this when we went.

5. Saturday I took the kids to Mason Neck State Park (20 minutes from our house) for some bike riding. The kids went five miles, even Jamesy! Afterward we walked the trail to the beach. I had James by the hand and the girls were walking up ahead, arm and arm in the slanting sun. So lovely. We’re happy spring has arrived.

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6. I finished the Hunger Games trilogy. I really enjoyed the series, and thought the writing was just fine. (A few of my friends panned it.) It’s hard to read them as a mother though. You want to protect all of the children from such heinous violence and exploitation. I also found myself wondering how Katniss’s story was impacting her mother. But there was none of that in the books… which, considering they are young adult novels, is entirely appropriate.

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7. It’s not Friday, but here’s a little link love: Why We Have to Go Back to the Forty-Hour Week to Save Our Sanity:

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.

Yes, this flies in the face of everything modern management thinks it knows about work. So we need to understand more. How did we get to the 40-hour week in the first place? How did we lose it? And are there compelling bottom-line business reasons that we should bring it back?

Our church treasurer tells me that according to our presbytery, full-time is 50 hours. When did this happen and why? I know many people in our congregations work way beyond that. But aren’t we called to model a different way?

When I first started in ministry I read a book by Roy Oswald in which he said that pastors cannot work more than 50 hours a week on a consistent basis without suffering physically, mentally and spiritually. I’ve taken that to heart as much as possible. Note that he wasn’t lifting up 50 as the ideal, but as the upper limit, beyond which you can suffer harm.

I recently asked a head of staff how many hours he works and he said, “You don’t want to ask that.” Actually, I do. We need to be asking that of each other and ourselves.

I know the economy is still not great for a lot of folks. People are afraid to complain because at least they have a job.

But we’re kinda messed up when it comes to time.

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8. I’ve hit a big plateau with the weight loss. Good news is that I am in “normal” range according to the BMI. But I’ve lost the same pound about three times in the last few weeks. I’ve been less strict on the weekends and that has hurt me. I’m trying various suggestions and we’ll hopefully push through.

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9. By the way, I don’t want to say weight loss is easy, but I’m kind of amazed any of us lost weight effectively before smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal. It’s really a quantum leap in terms of surpassing everything that came before. I’ve done a variety of things over the years, including Weight Watchers, and there really is no comparison in terms of ease and usefulness.

Maintaining will be the challenge for me. I am such a goal-oriented person that once I’ve reached mine (eight pounds to go) I am wondering whether I will slack off. Thankfully the tools and approaches to maintaining are much the same as losing.

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10. Speaking of goals, I’m looking for a good 10K. Anyone know one?

Would love to hear what’s knocking around your brain this Tuesday.

Holy Week Helps: Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday

From the forthcoming book White Flour by David LaMotte. Illustration by Jenn Hales.

First, do you know about Liturgy Link? It’s a place for open-source liturgy creation. The folks there recently asked about Palm Sunday and my answer was longer than a comment, so I’m sharing my plans here. Feel free to borrow or use anything I post. I don’t need attribution. Although, if someone leaves worship and tells you, “That was awesome,” I’d love for you to tell them about The Blue Room and my work.

If they hated it, blame it on some random person on the Internet.

So… Palm Sunday is also April Fool’s Day, which is an amazing opportunity to work with some of that Pauline stuff about God choosing the foolishness of the world to bring down the wise. Also the deep paradoxes that are present in Jesus’ teachings: to save your life you must lose it, and so forth. Reign of God as a series of topsy-turvy reversals. That sort of thing.

I am thinking about doing the service in reverse. I will start with the benediction—a blessing to the community. It’s communion Sunday, and since we usually have that near the end, we will move it towards the beginning. At its best, when communion is at the end, it’s the climax of the service (rather than the afterthought). But if it’s near the beginning we can hit themes of the grace of God that is a free gift for the asking, without even having to sit through the sermon as payment first. Heh.

For the message, I will read the poem “White Flour” by David Lamotte. Read the poem here, or hear more on Kickstarter about David’s plans to publish a children’s book—it’s due out in May. The poem is a true story about a Klan parade in Knoxville five years ago. A troupe of clowns called the Coup Clutz Clowns mounted a counter-protest that exposed the ugliness of the Klansmen. From the Kickstarter page:

Rather than shouting down the shouters, meeting rage with rage, they simply refused to take such foolishness seriously. Fight and flight are not our only two options, and humor, it turns out, beats hatred.  At least it did on that day.

I find this a powerful story to connect to the Palm Sunday narrative. Jesus, too participates in a parade, and while he doesn’t don a clown nose, he rides in on a donkey. He confronts power with humility.

We will move the confession to the latter part of the service, as we start to shift from Palm to Passion… and then we will close with the call to worship—the idea being that as we move into Holy Week, our lives are an act of worship.

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For Maundy Thursday, the message will borrow from a story I heard on The Moth podcast a few years back. You can read about it here and listen to it here. In this story, writer Andrew Solomon talks about researching his book on depression, which took him to Cambodia to see the impact of the Khmer Rouge on the people there. He met a woman who works with other women to help them recover, and the recovery involved three basic components.

First, she teaches the women to forget—to have something in their mind besides the trauma. This will be an interesting twist as we have communion that night—because communion is all about memory. But what kind of memory we cling to is important. Jesus says, “do this in remembrance of me.” In communion we are called to remember not just the trauma of the cross, but the totality of Jesus’ life and ministry, and of course, the story of his resurrection.

Second, this Cambodian woman gave the other women meaningful work. Here I will talk about the life we are called to lead as followers of Jesus.

Third and most surprising—and specific—she taught the women to do manicures and pedicures. Wait, what? But listen to what she says:

You know, the worst atrocity of all that was brought by the Khmer Rouge was that half the country turned against the other half of the country. And people who lived through that period knew that they couldn’t put anything in anyone else, and they completely lost the habit of looking anyone else in half in the eye.

All of these women had been deprived for a long time of any occasion to indulge in the least bit of personal vanity. I brought them to my hut, and I built a special room that I would fill with steam. And it was a pleasure for them to feel beautiful. But what was really amazing for them was that, in this context, it was something that was at once very intimate and very impersonal. And they would start, because I was telling them how to do it and giving them some instruction, to handle each others’ fingers and each others’ toes. And it meant they were touching each other. And if I had told them to begin to hold each others’ hands or to have some kind of physical contact with other people, they would’ve shied away and they would have pulled back. They weren’t ready to do anything with anyone. But, in this context, they would touch each others’ fingers, touch each others’ toes, and then, because it was such a funny context, and because they felt so happy about the fact that they were, for a moment, feeling a little bit beautiful again, they would begin to laugh together. And they would begin to tell each other little bits of stories and things and that was the way that I taught them to trust again.

This, of course, leads right into the washing of feet. We will actually wash hands, because feet are a barrier for folks. Hands are vulnerable enough; in fact more vulnerable, in a way, because you can look someone in the eye. I will probably not shy away from the beauty aspects of this story, because I think that’s important. Not in a vain way, but in the sense that our physical selves are more than just a utilitarian container for our brains. Our bodies are precious to God.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that we are going to close Maundy with a pivot to Good Friday, since we alternate MT and GF each year. I’m going to borrow an idea from my friend Jan, who used to have people bring thirty “pieces of silver” (i.e. coins) as an offering. People dropped the coins into the empty (?) baptismal font. Since the thirty pieces of silver are symbolic of Judas’s betrayal, the money collected goes to an organization that works with individuals who have been betrayed in some way (e.g. domestic violence, child abuse).

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So, them’s the plans. I am excited about all of this… my only anxiety is that for Easter, I got nothin’.

What are you doing Holy Week?