My Friends Write Stuff–For Readers on Your Gift List

One of the reasons I’m so happy to be done with the manuscript for Improvising with God is the chance to consume art, and read books, and generally get the tank filled up after expending so much energy writing. I also realize I’ve had my head down so much I haven’t had a chance to promote the really great work that’s already out there, written by friends and colleagues.

In no particular order, here are some recent books you should know about:

birthedMy friend Elizabeth Hagan’s memoir Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility dropped last month! You got to meet her here at the Blue Room in her Q&A, but check out her book, which is not just for people struggling with infertility–the story is much broader than that and resists easy answers.

51pdlkkoutl-_sx320_bo1204203200_Elizabeth was a member of my Writing Revs group, as was Ruth Everhart, whose memoir Ruined is her harrowing account of a sexual assault that took place in college and the healing that occurred in the long aftermath of that trauma. I got to read both of these books in earlier stages of the process, and it is heartening to see them both loose in the world.

cuv_6emwyaamu92I had the chance to read Lee Hull Moses’s More Than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess and is a great companion for anyone who’s tried to live more lightly on the earth, only to discover that simplicity is anything but simple. Lee is a trustworthy companion on this journey, offering just the right blend of deep wisdom and disarming authenticity. 

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Bromleigh McCleneghan is stoking the fires of controversy with her faithful and provocative book Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex. I’ve started this one and it’s accessible and honest. A friend of mine likes to say that you know you’re doing good work when you have all the right people mad at you, and judging from the nature of the one-star reviews on Amazon, Bromleigh is shaking things up in just the right way.

verymarried_cover_final-1On the topic of love and relationships, I haven’t picked up Katherine Willis Pershey’s book Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, but it’s also making a big splash. Eugene Peterson has called it the best book on marriage he’s ever read. Holy endorsements, Batman!

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And finally, looking ahead, Carol Howard Merritt is another Writing Rev who has gone on to do prolific work for the church. Her book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church will be out next year. Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?

Now, who did I miss?

When Your Energy is Low

This was sent to my email list this morning. To get these messages in your inbox twice a month, subscribe here

Long time no email. But I’m happy to report that the manuscript for Improvising with God is DONE and turned in, so the editor can do her magic. So grateful to have the book finished. One giant step down, eleventy-seven (admittedly smaller) steps to go before it’s published next summer/fall.

I’ll be getting back to my regular practice of twice-monthly reflections to you all, and I’m kicking things off with something my husband taught me recently about life and improv that has really stuck with me.

Robert is one of those people that picks up new hobbies, pursues them obsessively for a while, and then moves on to new things. I think he feels bad about this, like he should stick with stuff for the long haul, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Life is full of great adventures to pursue; why not try as many as possible?

About three years ago, he decided he might like to get a fish tank. He researched and planned and ended up with some small catfish, rasboras, and the queen of the tank, a pearl guorami we named Frederica:

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And with the exception of the untimely death of one of the rasboras, Joe Pesci, the fish have thrived. When we moved last year, we made a plan for bringing them with us, and the tank is currently in the corner of our dining room, to the entertainment of our kids and especially our cats:

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I even wrote a blog post about the stress-relieving effects of the fish tank.

Well, over time, a few more of the fish died, and the tank started to feel like a burden. Life got complicated as life does, until the fish hobby became nothing but a weekly chore: changing out water, scraping algae off the sides of the tank, etc. Every time Robert looked at the tank, he felt the weight of not taking better care of it, which made him want to devote even less time to it. (Negative feelings aren’t great motivators, are they?)

I expected him to keep the tank minimally functioning, but phase out of this hobby over time as the remaining fish died. That’s probably what I would have done.

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he doubled down on it.

First, he bought more fish for the tank, and we all watched with delight as the rasboras schooled with their new friends almost immediately. They even pinked up in color, which apparently is a sign of contentment in fish:

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Robert also made the move from plastic plants to live ones. And he acquired some snails and small shrimp, which are theoretically supposed to help with algae cleanup.

In the short-term, all of this involves a lot more work—acquiring the new items, introducing them to the tank, and cleaning it even more often, since the live plants required better lighting, which can encourage algae to grow, and the snail population isn’t quite… how should we say… abundant enough to keep up with their cleaning duties.

But over time, the investment seems to be paying off—the tank still needs maintenance and always will, but the fish are happier, and the shrimp and snails are chomping away at the algae.

This strikes me as fundamental to living improvisationally—to saying Yes And to the circumstances of our lives. When we’re feeling bored or disconnected from something, the temptation can be strong to walk away from it. That’s fine sometimes—energies shift, and Robert is under no obligation to be a fish owner for the rest of his life. But maybe that sense of disconnection isn’t a sign to let something go, but to go deeper with it: to invest more time, not less; to find creative new ways to engage the situation; or to change something about it, even if that requires more energy than you think you have.

I’m curious if you’ve ever experienced this in your own life.

Peace, Joy and Yes,
MaryAnn

On Running and Rest (from the Archives)

I ran across this post on FB memories–it was posted to the now-inactive Sabbath in the Suburbs blog four years ago. Enjoy!

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My view from this morning’s run. Lake Anne Plaza, Reston.

I’ve been running for some 18 months now. Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from being someone who runs to being a runner. I now read about running, strategize my routes, have strong opinions about my footwear, blah blah blah.

I also seek inspiration from running and its connections to life, and even to the spiritual practice of taking time for rest and sabbath. See if you agree about the power of these connections in a quote I ran across recently:

For some messed-up reason, our athletic egos still feel that we only get faster as we pedal harder, run quicker and swim stronger. It’s athlete psychology—all of our confidence is built around the times that we actually destroy our bodies. But it’s only the rest afterward that makes our bodies stronger.

Because of this psychological dichotomy, when and how long to rest is the hardest decision to make as an athlete. It takes a level of confidence above even the level necessary to push your body to the limit. You don’t get the endorphin release, the feeling of accomplishment, and the external and internal praise and satisfaction. All you get are feelings of losing your edge, getting out of shape and nervous anticipation.

So the next time you need to rest, whether it be for a mid-season break, post-big race, or just an easy day or two between training blocks, remember that it takes confidence to rest. Remember that it is just insecurity and a lack of endorphin release that makes you feel like you’re getting out of shape. Know that when you decide to rest, you’re making the right call—the better, smarter decision. Feel good and confident about it. You’ve done yourself a favor—you have literally just made yourself a better athlete.

-Jesse Thomas, Professional Triathlete & CEO of Picky Bars, originally read on Gibson’s Daily Running Quotes on Facebook

Muffin of the Week: Turkey Day Detox

How was your Thanksgiving? We had a lovely one–one of the best I can remember.

These muffins are great for the day after Thanksgiving because… well, you know.

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Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Morning Glory Muffins.

INGREDIENTS

Disclaimer: there are no cranberries in this recipe. But Caroline staged and took this picture yesterday and I thought it was so pretty.

Disclaimer: there are no cranberries in this recipe. But Caroline staged and took this picture yesterday, and I thought it was so pretty.

1/2 cup raisins
2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled and grated carrots (I had slightly less–threw in what I had)
1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, and grated
1/2 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (I omitted, because gross)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sunflower seeds or wheat germ, optional (I used wheat germ)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil — You can substitute canned pumpkin for oil at a 1:1 ratio, so I threw in that annoying leftover bit we always have when we make our pie.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line it with papers and spray the insides of the papers.
  2. In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water, and set them aside to soak while you assemble the rest of the recipe.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt.
  4. Stir in the carrots, apple, coconut, nuts, and sunflower seeds or wheat germ.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and orange juice.
  6. Add to the flour mixture, and stir until evenly moistened.
  7. Drain the raisins and stir them in.
  8. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until they’re nicely domed and a cake tester inserted in the center of one of the inner muffins comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes in their pan on a rack, then turn out of pans to finish cooling. Wrap any leftovers airtight, and store at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

George Washington, Race, Greatness, and Me (and You)

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Members of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton (Chris Jackson as Washington, far right)

The other day I listened to an interview with Chris Jackson, who recently wrapped up his time playing George Washington in the musical Hamilton on Broadway. Robert and I were fortunate enough to see him in this role last month, and wow. Wow.

The depth of talent in New York is so deep that I have full confidence in Nicholas Christopher, the next Washington, but wow. Charisma for days.

Jackson was talking to Gene Demby of NPR’s Code Switch, a podcast about race and culture (and an indispensable one in my opinion). Demby asked Jackson about the experience of being an African-American man who is playing a slaveholder. Jackson has said in the past that he’s not interested in “reconciling” those parts of Washington’s character, and here’s part of how he explained that:

He owned people.
He owned people that looked like my father and that looked like me.

I’ve made a compromise with myself. I haven’t compromised my principles. But I told myself, “You have to portray somebody that was behind so many unlikely, breathtakingly genius ideas and who found a way to enact them.” But I’m not the guy to see him as a god. There’s always been a movement to deify [the Founders], and that has its place and is important in terms of educating the public on what we should strive for…

But to almost a person, they were under the mindset that someone who looked like me was not capable of pressing a thought, not capable of civilized behavior, or who had no aptitude for greatness.

And I’ll never make peace with that. But I don’t have to.

I’ve just been editing a section of my book in which I talk about improvisation as having a spirit of “And” rather than “But.” When we learn to improvise, we learn to receive whatever our partner offers onstage (Yes), and then to build on it (And). That doesn’t mean we go along passively with that offer, by the way. If they pull an improv gun on us, we don’t need to let ourselves get shot. But we at least need to agree that the thing they’re pointing at us is a gun, and not, say, a banana.

We have to agree on the reality before we can move forward. (Another post, perhaps, in this era of fake news.)

I hear Chris Jackson talking about approaching the Founders with a spirit of And rather than But.

Because here’s the problem with But. When we use But, we have to figure out which part of the statement is primary. Consider:

George Washington was a wise and discerning leader, but he owned slaves.
George Washington owned slaves, but he was a wise and discerning leader.

Each of these statements suggests a different starting point. Was he a great man, who oh-by-the-way had this terrible blind spot? Or was he at his core a racist, but despite this tragic flaw managed to lead our country with wisdom and strength?

A spirit of “And” means we don’t have to make that judgment, because ultimately we can’t. They are both part of who he was.

Zooming out a bit, in my reading about leadership, I’ve studied some polarity management (enough to be dangerous). My understanding of it is that most problems aren’t really solvable. Rather, it’s more important to manage the various competing concerns so they complement each other in a healthy, balanced way. We seem to have lost the ability to do that in the US, which is odd considering that, at least on the national level, we are basically a 50-50 country.

Yes, there are some ideals upon which we cannot budge an inch and still maintain our integrity. With a president-elect who is appointing white supremacists to his inner circle and talking of a registry of immigrants based on religion, I realize that “And” may sound like capitulation. I’m not willing to go along with actions which, I believe, compromise fundamental American values.

Still I wonder, is there any way to move past this zero-sum mentality in which our leaders (and we the people) seem to have gotten stuck? Are there any issues on which people can come together?

As one of my favorite Presidents, Josiah Bartlet, once said, “Every once in a while—every once in a while—there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country.” I’d like to see us find our way toward a bit more “And.”

Contradiction, polarity, “And,” whatever you want to call it–it’s been with us since the days of George Washington, patriot and slave-holder, slave-holder and patriot.

Happy Thanksgiving!