Category Archives: Spiritual Stuff

Be Bored! Be Brilliant!

I’ve recently discovered the New Tech City podcast, and am liking it a lot. Here are folks who love and use technology and are interested in how it’s impacting our world: “No jargon – just compelling stories about how technology is changing our lives for better and for worse.” A recent episode followed a 16 year old girl living in the NYC suburbs, resulting in the fun and informative 9 Things We Learned about Phones from a Teenager.

The New Tech City folks have a new initiative that starts next week: a project called Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out. And it couldn’t come at a better time for me.


As I prepare to leave Tiny Church and strike out on my own to write and lead retreats and other events, I’ve been wondering (OK, worrying) about how to keep myself productive and on track. As the New Tech City folks admitted, lots of people make big creative plans only to fritter away the time. It has always been thus, but the Internet makes that much easier.

One part of the answer for me is a part-time writing/editing gig I’m in the process of negotiating (more on that soon). Having a bit of structure will have a ripple effect on the less structured parts of this writing call. (Plus it’s a cool organization with a great mission—I can’t wait to start.)

Another part of the answer: getting a reign on my social media and technology use.

Smartphones and tablets have the potential to eradicate boredom and whittle away our downtime. But the New Tech City folks argue (with neuroscientists and psychologists to back them up) that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. One researcher found that people who were given a boring task (copying numbers from a phone book) were able to come up with lots more and better ideas for solving a simple problem than those who didn’t have this so-called “idle time.”

So far 11,000 people have signed up for the Bored and Brilliant challenge. Phase 1 is currently underway: tracking your smartphone use via specific apps—you can read about on the NTC website. I’ve been using the Moment app for iPhone and I have to admit, it’s not perfect. It tallies up whenever you’re on your phone, but I use my phone for GPS and for work, which skew my results. Still, it’s an illuminating exercise.

Phase 2 will start February 2: a different challenge each day. From their website:

Our big challenge week starts February 2. They’ll be issued via a mini-podcast episode for you every day that week. If you subscribe to the New Tech City podcast, you’ll get the challenges automatically downloaded to your device as soon as they’re ready. Subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or via RSS.

Each of those mini-episodes will be short and sweet, explaining the logic behind the day’s challenge, along with some research and/or personal stories to help you achieve your goal in the challenge. We’ll send out an early morning email to keep you in the loop and on track each day that week, and you can (yes, we see the irony) follow along on social media as well.

I’m in. How about you? I’d love to have some company in this boredom challenge! I have no idea what the challenges will be, but if they lend themselves to blogging some reactions, I’ll be here. And yes, as the podcasters admit, there is irony in using technology to reflect on the excesses of technology. Life is marvelously complicated, no?

You Get to Decide

I’ve had the urge to update these pages, and have started a number of posts only to leave them languishing in the drafts folder. Too much to say right now and an inability to say it. As I prepare to say goodbye to Tiny Church, emotions are right at the surface. I feel gangly and prickly. I climbed into the pulpit on Sunday with a page missing from my sermon. As I pronounced the benediction, my throat got a weird scratchy tickle in it from the dry air, which brought tears to my eyes, which made it seem like I was crying, but I wasn’t, except just physiologically. But then I was, a little.

I want to write but the words do not come. This is frightening when one has made a decision to write as one’s primary vocation. And when you’re not writing, it looks like everyone else is. Everyone.

I seem to be called to trust that the words will come, and to put myself into places and conversations that are plump and abundant and maybe daring and see what happens. I seem to be called to plant seeds and ingest nourishing things and not worry about output at this particular moment. I think and hope I’m reading this right.

So during this time of collecting and breathing and grieving and changing, allow me to share unformed thoughts and tidbits in this space that knock me over. Here is today’s offering: a video of an excerpt of David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005.

You get to decide how you’re gonna see.

You will look at the video length of 9:22 and wonder whether you have that kind of time and attention. And when you start watching you won’t want to stop.

H/t to one of my favorite blogs, The Improvised Life, which featured this video yesterday.


Come Improvise with Us!


I’ve written and presented a good bit about the theology and practice of improvisation. To be precise, I’ve thought and read a lot about the theology of it, and am still a real amateur of the latter. Yet it’s one of the best metaphors for life that this recovering control freak has stumbled upon.

Starting in February I’ll be embarking on a major improvisation. I am leaving my post as pastor of Tiny Church in order to focus my vocational energies on writing, speaking to churches and groups, and doing some writing/editing consulting work for a non-profit or two. This is my attempt to say “yes-and” to this work I’ve been doing for the past couple of years–work that continues to deepen, widen, and beckon.

While there is great joy in this new endeavor, the path is not clear. I don’t have a ten-year plan or even a ten-month plan. Yes, there will be lots of thought and intention going into this new chapter, but my hope is to be open and flexible to learnings and opportunities as they arise.

But I need practice in this. I need to hone my improvisational chops. And DC-area folk, you’re invited! Here’s an invitation from Ashley Goff, a friend and co-conspirator on this improvisational journey. From Facebook:

Church of the Pilgrims is hosting an all-day intensive on the practice of improv on January 20th from, roughly, 9:30-3pm. The intensive will be led by my improv-guru, Andrew Wassenich. Why an all-day intensive on improvisation? Life is improv. The work of Jesus was improv. The Holy Spirit is improv. The Church has a lot to learn about improv. We will spend the day engaging in improv games, Bible study using improv techniques, and group/personal reflection on what improv unlocks within us. Perfect for Epiphany. Cost is $50 and lunch is included. Space is limited. Connect with me via FB comment, FB message, or email.

Get in touch with me if you’re interested; we’d love to have you.

And to read more of my writings about improv, here you go. Or join the Theology of Improv Facebook group.


photo credit: daintytime via photopin cc Ashley has worked with the talented Sherri Lynn, whose work is pictured.

Nine Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

An update from a previous post.

e2bea3ef389032a3b8df0afe7f7999c8Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

As for me, I love looking back and looking forward. And I make resolutions, though I call them something else (see below). Whether I fulfill them or not is really secondary. This year I’ve decided to tackle this Ultimate Reading Challenge. And I’m setting a goal to run 1,000 miles in 2015. That’s about 20 miles a week, and feels ambitious but doable, since I’m running a half marathon in March and the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Training for those two races should put me at 750 easily, unless something happens.

And things do happen. Whether I achieve those goals or not, setting them is the important part for me. It points me in the direction I want to go.

Still, if you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. So you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this? [Update: another way to look at this is to focus not on making goals, but on refining your systems.]
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year. (My 2014 word was compassion.)
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ve been using this tool to say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015, but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December writing group would together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
  9. Take two steps, not just one. This one came from a recent issue of Runners World. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.

What are your hopes for 2015? If you’re not sure where to start thinking, check out my post from earlier this week, What Will Be in 2015?


Image source

What Will Be in 2015?

The week of New Year’s is one of my favorites of the year. The run-up to Christmas is over but schedules aren’t quite back to normal, so things are quieter, more relaxed. The kids are out of school (though they’ve been driving me a tidge crazy at times). And my birthday so close to New Year’s invites reflection and taking stock.

I love the idea of the new year being a clean slate. I need that every year. (I need it more often than that, actually—thank heaven for the weekly prayer of confession in worship, when we let go of the brokenness and ask that it be healed and renewed.)

As I think about what 2015 might bring to birth in my life, the following video came my way, “Acorn” by Madeline Sharafian. I love the story that’s told in just 4 beautiful minutes. I’m touched by this little acorn’s attempt to fulfill its destiny of “acornness,” yet in its own unique way. That is our human calling, is it not? I heard Jesuit priest and writer James Martin tell Krista Tippett this week:

As [Thomas] Merton said, for me to be a saint means to be myself. …I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that. So I’d get up and I’d pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought oh I have to be really quiet, and diffident. And, sort of soft spoken. And my spiritual director said to me, what’s wrong with you? You’re so quiet. I said, well, so-and-so’s quiet. And he’s really holy. And he said, you know, in order to become holy, you don’t become someone else. You just become yourself.

Whether you’re a resolution/intention-maker like me or not, I invite you to watch this in with a seeker’s heart and consider the hard work of transformation and the grace at play as well. What might 2015 hold for you?

As the artist says in her description: “Growing up is hard, but it’s also beautiful. We can do it!” Indeed.