Tag Archives: aging

“I Know What I’m Doing and I’m Fearless.”

Note: This post uses Barack Obama as an example to discuss a broader point, though it’s not a post about his policies. However, if you are someone for whom any mention of the President makes your blood boil, you may want to skip this post. Go in peace.

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I’ve always admired the university tenure system. Academic tenure’s original purpose was to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics. (That’s Wikipedia’s explanation of tenure–whether it works like that in practice or not, it’s an admirable concept. Good scholarship depends on it.)

For many years, my friend Gini and I have talked about what we call “spiritual tenure.” Spiritual tenure is not granted by any external body–you grant it to yourself. Spiritual tenure is being able to speak the truth as you see it, with integrity and without fear. Spiritual tenure does not shield you from consequence, like academic tenure might do. But it does give you the personal strength to recognize when it will cost you more to shrink, to keep your opinions quiet, to keep your self to yourself, than it will to stand in your own truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Perhaps you saw this image make the rounds on social media recently:

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Meryl Streep has oodles of spiritual tenure.

When Gini and I were younger, we did a lot of work around the spiritual lives of young women, mainly because we were annoyed by the Oprah-esque, “life-begins-at-50” messages that we saw all around us. As if we were merely women-in-training, biding our time until our moment of enlightenment arrived. We didn’t want to wait for wisdom, we wanted to seek it out and celebrate it even in our tumultuous 20s, imperfect though that wisdom may be. I remember a book came out around this time called The Quarter-Life Crisis, talking about the sense of drift that people can feel in their 20s. When the authors were interviewed on the Today Show, Katie Couric sniffed, “What, do you guys have an aunt in publishing?” Nice attitude.

Now that I am solidly in my 40s, I’m reluctantly realizing that the Oprahs of the world have a point. Spiritual tenure is something I’ve been able to grant myself gradually over time. (At the same time, the young women I know are so much more evolved and self-possessed than I was in my 20s. My hat is off to them. Maybe they’ll get tenure sooner than I did.)

Anyway, I thought about spiritual tenure again this week when I read about President Obama’s interview with Marc Maron in which he said, “I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless.” Indeed, the man has had a pretty notable week, what with the Supreme Court’s decisions on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality… and his soaring eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. There’s something very attractive about a leader who operates without fear. I’m not talking about bravado or over-confidence. And certainly fearless leaders still make mistakes. I’m talking about being purposeful, even graceful, with the actions you take as a leader.

In fact, Obama’s entire quote has even more power. He was talking about what he’s learned about himself and compared his experience to that of a professional athlete past his prime. “You might slow down a little bit, and you might not jump as high as you used to,” Obama said, “but I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless.”

As I continue in this transition period, in which I’m not currently a pastor but am exploring other identities and callings, I’m thinking a lot about this fearlessness, and cultivating a sense of spiritual tenure. I’m trying to speak up more and qualify my words less.

I’m curious what your own milestones and markers have been for this kind of work.

There’s a coda to all of this. That quote in the Meryl Streep photo? Didn’t come from her. It’s from a Portuguese author named José Micard Teixeira. He’s quite a bit younger than Meryl Streep, which goes to show–some spiritual tenure committees work fast. May yours be swift too!

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Image: Pete Souza captures Obama’s reaction on hearing the Supreme Court decision about the ACA. Official White House photos.

Treehouses, Letting Go, and the Definition of Food: Friday Link Love

Let’s start with a feel-good:

97 Year Old Woman Gets a Diploma — Washington Post

She had to drop out during the Depression:

“When I told her she was getting a diploma, she sobbed as if a pain had been relieved from her heart,” [her daughter] said. “I never knew what it meant to her. She wanted this.”

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The Minister’s Treehouse — Colossal

A self house! Built over 11 years and without blueprints:

More at the link.

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What is Food? — New York Times

Mark Bittman doesn’t mince words in his support of Mayor Bloomberg’s limiting the size of sugary drinks that are sold in New York:

If the mayor were to ban 32-ounce mugs of beer at Yankee Stadium after a number of D.U.I. arrests — and, indeed, there are limits to drinking at ballparks — we would not be hearing his nanny tendencies. (And certainly most non-smokers, at least, are ecstatic that smoking in public places — including Central Park — is increasingly forbidden.) No one questions the prohibition on the use of SNAP for tobacco and alcohol. And that’s because we accept that these things are not food.

Sugar-sweetened beverages don’t meet [the standard of ‘food’] any more than do beer and tobacco and, for that matter, heroin, and they have more in common with these things than they do with carrots.

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You’re Not Special — Boston Herald

A high school commencement speech from David McCullough, Jr.

…do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.

It’s downright theological, the way it critiques an overly indulgent, everyone-gets-a-trophy culture… but then flips “you’re not special” at the end:

Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.

Watch the video interview too, as he talks about privilege.

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A New Ministry Scorecard — Progressive Renewal

How’s your church doing?

% of people who can articulate a clear sense of vision and purpose for the church

% of active participants in all areas of the life of the church

% of first and second time guests

h/t: Jan Edmiston

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The Art of Letting Go — Harvard Business Review

“You know what,” I heard myself saying, “I don’t think our work is right for you at this point.” He looked slightly stunned. In all honesty, so was I.

I couldn’t quite believe I’d let go of a potential client who had explicitly expressed interest in our work. But by the end of the evening, I felt lighter, as if I’d done the right thing for both of us.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. After reading this, I said no to an opportunity that had been shoulding on me for weeks. Wonderfully freeing.

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Speaking of letting go…

The Good Short Life — New York Times

After posting this sad story written about a mother’s slow, sad and (yes) expensive decline unto death, “The Good Short Life” is a wise and pithy “yes-and”:

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou [Gehrig’s Disease].

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

It’s an uplifting article, really. I discovered it while reading this post, about seeing life’s most profound challenges as not debilitating, but “interesting.” Easier said than done, but…

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I’m on vacation next week, and The Blue Room will be closing up shop while I’m gone. Be good, and savor your life.

Breaking in Interesting Ways

My friend Keith Snyder, a music geek, recently tweeted a line from Brian Eno: “Analog synthesizers break in interesting ways. Digital synthesizers just break.”

Keith has made that line into a prayer:

May I continue to break in interesting ways.

That may be a strange place to start talking about a beautiful change, but stick with me.

I hit two personal milestones recently. First, I ran a 10K race. That was big for me. Until a year ago I had never run for more than a few minutes at a time. Ever. I was the smart one, you see, and the musical one, but never the athletic one. My body was the thing that carried my brain around. Aside from the occasional mountain hike while on vacation, and an intermittent practice of walking to stay in basic shape, I was a sedentary type.

But at 40, with a father who dropped dead from cardiac stuff at age 56, getting in better shape felt non-negotiable—the reasonable thing to do from an actuarial standpoint. That’s how the running started. Of course, it’s become something deeper than that.

Before I ran the 10K (6.2 miles for the metrically challenged), I’d never run farther than 5 miles in training. When I reached mile 5 at the race, I thought, This is as far as I’ve ever gone. Beyond this point, it’s all new. That’s a wonderful thing.

Indeed, my whole life feels that way in this, my fifth decade. I’m not a rookie in ministry anymore; I’m not the mother of little ones anymore; as of this fall I will be a published writer. Lauren Winner talks in her latest book about reinventing oneself every ten years. That’s happening, through my own volition and beyond it.

Among other things, running for me means embracing a blessed mediocrity. I’m not a fast runner; Robert has described my gait as “a bit loping.” I’ve never experienced a runner’s high. I like races because the crowd and the music provide a boost that my body chemistry seems unwilling to muster. I love the feeling of having run, but running itself is frequently a chore. At last month’s race, I was second to last in my age group, and way down in the bottom third overall.

Yet I do it. And there’s something liberating about doing something badly by most objective standards. I’m a perfectionist, you know. I like setting a goal and reaching for the top, and if I’m not good at something, eh…easy come, easy go. With so many luscious possibilities in this life, more than I could ever undertake, such a standard may not be the best way to discern what’s mine to do, but it’s what works.

Or has worked in the past. Something in me had to “break in an interesting way” for me to start running—to do this thing that’s never been part of my self-understanding. Something shattered in my brittle, do-it-well-or-don’t-do-it exoskeleton.

And thank heaven it did. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, in more ways than one.

I now ask myself: What else could I do badly for the sheer satisfaction of it?

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The second health-related milestone happened a few days ago. I hit my weight-loss goal of 40 pounds.

I’m no numerologist, but there is significance in the numbers. James weighs about 40 pounds, so every time I pick up his stocky four-year-old frame I think to myself, This is the weight I carried around all the time nine months ago. It seems fitting somehow: in another year, James will be in kindergarten. There are no babies or toddlers in my house anymore. It feels right that as I move into another phase as a mother, my body would look different.

Also, it took me nine months to lose the weight. Is it an exaggeration to say that a new person has been born? Perhaps. But as with the running, something in me had to break in order for this change to occur. Caring for myself—I mean really caring, not punishing myself until I shrink down into some “acceptable” size—requires a certain vulnerability. I can do all the right things, as many people do, but there will always be aspects of our health that are beyond our control. Life is a genetic and environmental crap shoot. That’s an uncomfortable truth to face. Denial feels easier sometimes.

Another thing that had to break: a rigid expectation of what I would look like as a 40 year old with a normal BMI.

Hint: it’s not like a 20 year old.

Don’t get me wrong, I look different than I did when I was a new mother, with all my ample post-pregnancy curves. But as I’ve left 40 pounds behind on so many jogging trails and city streets, I’ve been amazed at the parts of me that haven’t been magically transformed. There is still…a thickness. A settledness. This body will never be that of a college student. Or a newlywed. Or a non-mother. As that great philosopher Indiana Jones says, “It’s not the years…it’s the mileage.”

And I’m grateful for every one of those miles.

Friday Link Love

Still at FFW. (Ah, the joy of pre-scheduled posts…)

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Gymnast Johanna Quaas — YouTube

She’s 86.

That’s Eighty-Six:

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95 Tweets against Hell — Two Friars and a Fool

I love the friars, and this is a tweeting tour de force:

#95Tweets #E1: Eternal Hell is not in any way restorative – it eternally severs relationship and eternally prevents redemption

#95Tweets #E2: In fact, eternal Hell is the teaching that there are people and things that can never be redeemed, even by God

#95Tweets #E3: Eternal Hell is vengeance made infinite, and is therefore even less noble than vengeance

#95Tweets #E4: Eternal Hell lacks the sole moral underpinning of punishment, which is correction

 And yes, there are 95 of them.

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How to Store Fruits, Vegetables and Eggs without a Fridge — Improvised Life

Such ingenuity and simple beauty in this approach.

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Walking the Tightrope: Thoughts on Vulnerability and Hurt — Brene Brown

Brene is one of my heroes. With this post, she takes a stand: she will no longer write articles for venues that don’t moderate their comments or have some basic controls in place to keep the discussion civil.

Brava.

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Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy — YouTube

My friend Todd passed this along: why the first follower is just as (more?) important than the leader. Good stuff and a joy to watch:

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A Congregation of Theological Coherence — Alban Institute

I really like the idea of a congregation having a common theological vocabulary:

This pastor leads a congregation that is sturdy. It isn’t likely to be the focus of a church growth study, or make the cover of Time during Holy Week. However, it is a congregation that makes a difference in people’s lives. The parking lot is full during the week. The lights are on in the evening. Membership numbers are steady. 

Several conditions enhance a congregation’s ability to address the challenges and opportunities it faces. They include simple yet important realities: use of outside resources to learn new capacities, clergy and laity learning together, and congregations assuming the initiative over their futures. 

Another emerging condition we’re observing is theological coherence; the ability to think clearly about God and then act accordingly. A congregation that is clear and consistent about how it understands God, and applies this understanding to its daily life, is more able to deal effectively with challenges and opportunities. 

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Why Storytellers Lie — Atlantic Monthly

I’ve just put Gotschall’s book,  The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, on my Goodreads:

When we tell stories about ourselves, they also serve another important (arguably higher) function: They help us to believe our lives are meaningful. “The storytelling mind”—the human mind, in other words—”is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence,” Gottschall writes. It doesn’t like to believe life is accidental; it wants to believe everything happens for a reason. Stories allow us to impose order on the chaos.

And we all concoct stories, Gotschall notes—even those of us who have never commanded the attention of a room full of people while telling a wild tale. “[S]ocial psychologists point out that when we meet a friend, our conversation mostly consists of an exchange of gossipy stories,” he writes. “And every night, we reconvene with our loved ones … to share the small comedies and tragedies of our day.”

…Every day of our lives—sometimes with help working things out via tweets or Facebook status updates—we fine-tune the grand narratives of our lives; the stories of who we are, and how we came to be…

…We like stories because, as Gotschall puts it, we are “addicted to meaning”—and meaning is not always the same as the truth.

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Have a good weekend, dear readers.

On Removing the “Young” from “Young Clergy Woman”

A couple of years ago, I applied to be a commissioner to our denomination’s General Assembly. After glancing at the essay questions, I went back to the top of the form to fill out the easy stuff:
Name… Address… Phone… Email…
Gender… Ethnicity… Age…

The “Age” line had several ranges to choose from. I began scanning the numbers with some smugness—This will be my ace in the hole! They’re always looking for young people to go to these things—until I realized which box I would need to check at age 37:

____ 36-64
Thirty. Six.
To Sixty. Four.

When did that happen?
When did I get old enough to be lumped in with people who were one liturgical year away from retirement?
On top of it all was a panicked lament: Why, dear God, why?

CLICK HERE to read the rest at Fidelia’s Sisters.