I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s (and my birthday). So much end-of-the-year reflection! So many lists! (Not to mention Gate of the Year, my new workbook/playbook for you to do your own yearly review and dream about 2016. It went out this morning to my email subscribers. You can still get it here.)
Here are some of my favorite lists of 2015. I’ll be away from the blog until next week sometime, but here’s plenty of goodness to tide you over until then.
I read only 20 books in 2015 (assuming I finish the one I’m currently working on). I’m setting the intent to read at least 26 this year–one every two weeks–and this list provides some great suggestions.
A personal favorite. You don’t have to be a runner to appreciate these stories–there are some lovely, inspiring pieces here. A 570-pound man ran twenty 5K races this year (as well as a 10K and half a Tough Mudder). If that doesn’t get you off the couch, nothing will.
And closer to home, here were the ten most read posts here at the Blue Room. Enjoy… and see you in 2016.
Love All: A Sermon for Advent: this sermon is five years old but it’s consistently one of the top posts each year. Maybe it’s linked from somewhere? I don’t think it’s one of my best but I’m glad it speaks to people.
Congratulations to everyone involved with the Philae probe! There have been some bumps and snafus with the landing, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement: a human-made object has made physical contact with a comet for the first time ever.
Say what you will about the Internet—and there’s plenty to critique—but it’s a wonderful tool for cultivating awe and wonder. Of course, there’s the ability to watch things like the Rosetta mission unfold in real time. But I’m a sucker for a good space video. Here are a few of my favorites.
(These two videos have soundtracks that detract, in my opinion—watch with the volume turned down, or put on your favorite musical accompaniment.)
Then there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the “cosmic calendar”: the entire timeline of the universe, mapped to one year on the Gregorian calendar. I can’t find a video that encapsulates the whole thing; here’s a short video that outlines the concept, plus a partial transcript. Spoiler alert: every person we’ve ever heard of occupies the last 14 seconds of the year.
Yes… I’ve decided to take a break from Friday Link Love through the summer, at least. I will still link to stuff at Twitter and Facebook, and will probably drop a link here and there occasionally. But this summer is too squirrelly to commit to a regular posting schedule, so I’m hanging out my Gone Fishin’ sign on this feature.
But we’re going out with a bang! TON of stuff today. A couple of gleanings from social media and some other random stuff. Away we go:
But I am also compelled by this post, which questions the rise of edutainment:
Most importantly, is the central claim [by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, in a recent interview] that the test of education is whether or not it’s entertaining. Wales asks, “why wouldn’t you have the most entertaining professor, the one with the proven track record of getting knowledge into people’s heads?” Is there evidence that the most entertaining lecture is the one that gets “knowledge into people’s heads”? Again, I’m not suggesting that a boring lecture is going to do the trick, but I’m arguing that entertaining students doesn’t necessarily equate with teaching them something.
When I lecture on Kant, I don’t think I’m really entertaining my students. In my opinion, Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals doesn’t lend itself to entertainment; it’s a dense text that needs some serious explication. Now, I don’t speak in a monotone and I try to find relevant examples to help them make sense of the material, but I’m not standing in front of the class hoping that they’ll all have a great time; I’m standing there with the express purpose of teaching them about Kant.
At the risk of a “get off my lawn” moment… Yes.
I read a New Yorker profile about TED not long ago and came away a bit soured. TED talks are very formulaic—not necessarily a bad thing, I’ll admit—but the organizers work with presenters to make their content fit their rigorous. This includes dumbing down some material. Do we really want to go down that road?
Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.
A nice argument for living “as if.” Which is what I see in a lot of church work.
…We found that people who wrote about engaging in a ritual reported feeling less grief than did those who only wrote about the loss.
This site is just getting going but looks very promising: “Explore stories about musicians, crafters, dancers, painters, and more, who demonstrate the many inspiring (and surprising) ways art can deepen your relationship with God.”
A little bit of Getting Things Done jiu jitsu—this is good advice even if you’re not a disciple of David Allen as I am:
In GTD, “visit Japan” is not a task, it’s a project. Fortunately, my old job helped me get good at breaking complex behaviors (or in this case, projects) down into very small, observable, concrete actions. Perhaps “discuss life in Japan with uncle who used to live there” is a doable first step. Maybe “research seasonal weather in Japan” or “find a well-written book on Japanese customs or food” could be other first steps. In breaking down the project, two things happen.
First, I feel like I’m making progress on this huge task, rather than letting it stagnate. Second, I’ll get a true measure of my willingness to go through with completing the project completely. If my interest wanes, I can safely remove it from the list as Merlin suggested. If I have an increase in interest that will suggest motivation, and I’ll continue to devise small steps that move me closer to completing the project.
If you’ve seen Dewitt Jones’s now-classic DVD, Everyday Creativity, you know he talks about putting yourself in the place of most potential. This photographer has clearly done that—as Christopher notes on Colossal, she must never be without a camera, because she’s able to capture amazing images.
James Hollis, Jungian analyst and writer, suggests that literalism is actually a form of religious blasphemy because it seeks to concretize (nail down, define) and absolutize the core experience of the Holy, of God – a God, if God, who cannot be controlled or defined; a God, as theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) insisted, who was Wholly Other, a God who remains ultimately a mystery. And a mystery is not the same thing as a puzzle (which can be solved); a mystery is always enigmatic and is therefore inherently unknowable. The German theologian Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769) reminded us, “A God comprehended is no God.”
How about closing with two links from my alma mater, Rice University?
HOW LUCKY IS THE CLASS OF 2013 TO GET NdGT AS COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER?!?
We got Elizabeth Dole, which… eh.
Tyson, whose wife, Alice Young, is a Rice alumna, challenged the new graduates to become part of the new drive to discover. “There is no solution to a problem that does not embrace all we have created as a species,” he said. “The original seeds of the space program were planted right here on this campus, and I can tell you that in the years since we have landed on the moon, America has lost its exploratory compass.
Also: some straight talk about what motivates humanity to explore:
War, money and the praise of royalty and deity. He noted Kennedy’s speech at Rice that laid out the plan to go to the moon followed one a year earlier to Congress that first proposed the adventure.
“We haven’t been honest with ourselves about that,” he said, reciting the part of JFK’s 1962 speech to Congress that appears in a monument at the Kennedy Space Center. What’s missing, he said, is a reference to the war driver: in this case, Yuri Gagarin’s orbital mission for the Soviet Union six weeks earlier.
“No one has ever spent big money just to explore,” he said. “No one has ever done that. I wish they did, but they don’t. We went to the moon on a war driver.”
It’s Thursday evening and I am just back from Birmingham, where I had a book event and also preached at the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. I’ll post that sermon to the NEXT Church website early next week and link to it here. It was a fun trip—got to hang out with Elizabeth, one of my favorite seminary peeps and a dear friend. So I’m happy, but tired.
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our non waking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
The funeral will be led by Rev. Curt Moore of Orlando, Florida, a questionable choice for any spiritual event, but one the family felt would be appropriate due to the fact that every time Toni heard Curt preach she prayed for Jesus to return at that very moment.
On a last but serious note, the woman who loved life and taught her children to ‘laugh at the days to come’ is now safely in the arms of Jesus and dancing at the wedding feast of the Lamb. She will be missed as a mother, friend and grandmother. Anyone wearing black will not be admitted to the memorial. She is not dead. She is alive.
H/t The Dish, which highlighted this piece that I found astounding:
How a group of 12-year-olds in a Calcutta slum improved their community:
Like so many slum neighborhoods, the notorious Nehru Colony doesn’t officially exist, meaning it has no access to government services such as sanitation and electricity. The youngsters set out to literally put themselves on the map. They went door to door, taking photos with their mobile phones, registering residents and detailing each child born in the colony. Information is then sent by SMS text to a database that links the data to a map hand-drawn by the kids, which is overlaid to GPS coordinates. By registering their existence on Google Maps the group has doubled the rate of polio vaccination from 40% to 80%, decreased diarrhea and malaria rates in the slum, and is lobbying for electricity.
This made the rounds, and rightly so. The billboard displays a different message depending on how tall you are:
The secret behind the ad’s wizardry is a lenticular top layer, which shows different images at varying angles. So when an adult—or anyone taller than four feet, five inches—looks at it they only see the image of a sad child and the message: “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” But when a child looks at the ad, they see bruises on the boy’s face and a different message: “if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you” alongside the foundation’s phone number.
The ad is designed to empower kids, particularly if their abuser happens to be standing right next to them.
Eve Mirriam, a native of Philadelphia, captures something of the beauty of not just poetry but also, I think, creativity itself.
She invites us to consider making two moves: the first is attentiveness. Trace it’s shape, pay attention to its movement, follow its life, chew and smell and see and feel all you can about that thing that fascinates you.
I also did a webinar on Sabbath for the Presbyterian Outlook this week. I covered some stuff that’s in the book but a lot that’s not, including how to get congregations thinking about and practicing Sabbath. You can order a DVD here.
Some schools forbid children to play in the snow for fear of legal action in the event of an accident. We live in a litigious age, but this is about far more than that: it is about the kind of children we are creating.
By insidiously demanding that children always seek permission for the most trivial of actions, that they must obey the commands of others at every turn, we ensure that children today are not so much beaten into obedience as eroded into it. A risk-averse society creates a docility and loss of autonomy that has a horrible political shadow: a populace malleable, commandable, and blindly obedient.
The author also talks about a real-life Lord of the Flies incident… that didn’t end like Lord of the Flies:
One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?
They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After fifteen months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.
If anyone knows more about this story, please let me know. I would love to read more. Google didn’t turn up much.
In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.
“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don’t want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”
But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.
Dr. Angelo Volandes is making a film that he believes will change the way you die. The studio is his living room in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; the control panel is his laptop; the camera crew is a 24-year-old guy named Jake; the star is his wife, Aretha Delight Davis. Volandes, a thickening mesomorph with straight brown hair that is graying at his temples, is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and looks like he belongs at a football game. Davis, a beautiful woman of Guyanese extraction with richly braided hair, is dressed in a white lab coat over a black shirt and stands before a plain gray backdrop.
“Remember: always slow,” Volandes says.
“Sure, hon,” Davis says, annoyed. She has done this many times.
Volandes claps to sync the sound. “Take one: Goals of Care, Dementia.”
As a pastor I would love to get my hands on the video series Dr. Volandes is creating.
I’ll read just about any topic, so long as Gopnik writes it. And we are years away from kids leaving the nest, but this still spoke to me.
I suspect he will return one Christmas soon with an icy, exquisite, intelligent young woman in black clothes, with a single odd piercing somewhere elegant – ear or nose or lip – who will, when I am almost out of earshot, issue a gentle warning: “Listen, with the wedding toasts – could you make sure your father doesn’t get, you know, all boozy and damp and weepy?” My son will nod at the warning.
Doubt is a thing which many Christians see as opposing their faith. Many have fought it and its prevalence in the modern minds of man. 19th century pastor Robert Turnbull once stated that “Doubt, indeed, is the disease of this inquisitive, restless age.” Many people react negatively towards any feelings of doubt that they may have, fearing that this doubt means that they aren’t fully committed to God.
However, this fear of doubt is dreadfully dangerous. Not every man who doubts his faith loses it. And if they look at most human lives, they’ll find that if one doesn’t doubt, then one isn’t human. It is a necessary idea for any believer, for it acts as the catalyst and tool for a man or woman to grow.
Then a quote from Tim Keller:
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.
Would be interesting to have a church group study on doubt.