Tag Archives: community

Friday Link Love: Roger Ebert, Louis CK, and Radical Generosity

Happy Friday, everyone. What do you have planned this weekend? May you find a little space for things that are bubbly and fun, nourishing and vital. We will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Robert’s grandmother. Joy!

Here are a few items that grabbed me this week:

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RIP Roger Ebert: The Beloved Critic on Writing, Life, and Mortality — Brain Pickings

I loved his writing and will miss his wisdom:

My colleague late at night, a year or two older, was Bill Lyon, who covered Champaign High School sports and became a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. … Bill and I would labor deep into the night on Fridays, composing our portraits of the [football] games. I was a subscriber to the Great Lead Theory, which teaches that a story must have an opening paragraph so powerful as to leave few readers still standing. … Lyon watched as I ripped one sheet of copy paper after another out of my typewriter and finally gave me the most useful advice I have ever received as a writer: ‘One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?’ These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.

More at the link, including excerpts from his memoir and his TED talk.

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Human-Tower Competition in Tarragona, Spain — Colossal

The things we human beings come up with! Amazing pictures of a swarm of humanity working together:

007_DAVID-OLIETE_Concurs-de-Castells_Colossal

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Kevin Ware on Louisville Teammate That ‘Touched My Heart’ — USA Today

H/t to my friend LeAnn Hodges. I didn’t see the Louisville/Duke game, but yikes. Yet horrific events can bring out the best in people:

[Ware's teammate] Hancock thought back to last summer, when he suffered a gruesome shoulder injury in a pickup game. He remembered how others were aghast. He remembered how former Louisville guard Andre McGee was the only one to rush to his side, to rush him to the hospital. He remembered how much that had meant.

So as Ware lay there in the first half of the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament victory over Duke on Sunday, scared and alone and stunned, Hancock ran to him. He held Ware’s hand and told him they would get through this together. He told Ware he would say a prayer for him.

Ware didn’t respond at first, because he was in shock. Hancock took a deep breath, closed his eyes, clenched Ware’s hand and started the prayer.

…You can’t fault the other players for their initial reaction to such a macabre moment. But you can praise Hancock, and you should.

We are wounded healers, all.

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After God: What Can Atheists Learn from Believers? — New Statesman

I especially like the responses from Karen Armstrong and Alain de Botton (not too surprisingly—he’s a Blue Room mainstay). Here’s de Botton:

For centuries in the west, there was a figure in society who fulfilled a function that is likely to sound very odd to secular ears. The priest didn’t fulfil any material need; he was there to take care of that part of you called, rather unusually, “the soul”, by which we would understand the seat of our emotions and of our deep self.

Where have our soul-related needs gone? What are we doing with the material we used to go to a priest for? The deep self has naturally not given up its complexities and vulnerabilities simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the tales of the five loaves and two fishes.

The loaves and fishes story is a tale that resonates beyond matters of science, but I take his point.

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Louis CK on David Letterman — YouTube

Two of my favorite funny men:

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The Touch-Screen Generation — The Atlantic

Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?

Long but excellent rumination on parents’ ambivalence about their kids’ use of technology:

By their pinched reactions [to questions about how much screen time their kids have], these parents illuminated for me the neurosis of our age: as technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, American parents are becoming more, not less, wary of what it might be doing to their children. Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.

And on the other end of the spectrum of childhood… college students:

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Addiction to Electronics Growing — Times-Delphic

“I occasionally see students using their phones during yoga or pilates, which makes me a bit sad,” Determann said. “If you can’t be unplugged for 45 or 60 minutes, that’s a bit concerning, in my opinion. I know that this has just become the way we, as a society operate, but the world will go on without you checking your notifications.”

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A Religious Wake-Up Call in the Matter of Drones — Alternet

A critique against drones from a Christian perspective:

Our use of drones is only defensible on “Just War Theory” grounds, if we are able to demonstrate an immediate threat to this country that is specific and specifically premeditated with a specific objective. Unfortunately, the current administration, with its complex entanglements of secrecy and formal denials, has not been able to explain or demonstrate an immediate threat.

Our use of drones are out of “proportion” because it uses the most advanced technology in the world to assassinate people who can basically only throw the equivalent of sticks and stones back at you. Moreover, it gives these people no chance to surrender. It is like capital punishment without an arrest, a charge, a trial, or a right of appeal.

Our use of drones is not humane, because it totally objectifies the enemy by making them into a picture on a screen. There is not the faintest possibility, in the conduct of drone warfare by means of remote control, that you can regard the enemy as a fellow human citizen of the planet.

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Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? — NYT

Longish article about a new book, Give and Take, and its author, professor Adam Grant who, and I say this in a nice way, sounds like a freak. You might describe him as… radically generous with his time—he answers every email request for help, he spends hours mentoring students, etc. But all of this giving comes back to him in very interesting, even powerful, ways. “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”

“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. Many of the examples — the selfless C.E.O.’s, the consultants who mentor ceaselessly — are inspiring and humbling, even if they are a bit intimidating in their natural expansiveness. These generous professionals look at the world the way Grant does: an in-box filled with requests is not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work. “I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant told me. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?” Where other people see hassle, he sees bargains, a little work for a lot of gain, including his own.

There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in this way rather than the calculating tit-for-tat manner we are often trained to employ with one another. But I spent most of the article assuming he must be single, because what family could put up with someone who lives this way? Turns out he has a wife who stays home to take care of the kids. Which hey, more power to them. But it does color things somewhat, eh?

At any rate, I’m interested in the research on this topic. It seems like Grant’s outlook requires you to see time as an abundant resource, which I don’t. As I write in the book, I’m much more comfortable with the idea of holy scarcity. There isn’t enough time for everything we want or need to do. So how do we move as creatively through our days as possible?

Speaking of which… may you shimmy and tango through your weekend and all of its work, play, errands, and maybe, a few surprises. Peace.

Deep Acting at 35,000 Feet, and in the Grocery Store Line

My friend Jan recently uninstalled the Disaster Alert app on her phone. Her hope was that the app would move her to pray and respond to natural and human-inflicted disasters as they happened. Instead, the app overwhelmed her and stressed her out.

Some years ago a Twitter acquaintance went through a terrible crisis. I followed the sad progression of events and grieved the person’s loss even though I had never met anyone involved. On one level, this is a beautiful thing: community that transcends the traditional boundaries. On another level, it left me depleted, and for no good purpose. There was nothing I could “do.” Compassion fatigue is very real, and in the digital age, its effects are compounded by being connected to more people than ever before.

Last week at CREDO we talked about emotional labor. Emotional labor is the work involved in responding appropriately to different emotionally fraught situations. Many professions involve heavy doses of emotional labor—ministry is one of them. We might go from leading a staff meeting, to celebrating a job promotion on the phone with a parishioner, to navigating a conflict with a co-worker, to visiting a dying person in the hospital, to teaching a group of 6th graders at the mid-week children’s program. And that’s before we get home and have another set of emotional issues to respond to among our families and friends. Lots of stops and starts. Lots of switching gears.

It can be tiring.

Emotional labor was fleshed out by Arlie Russell Hochschild in her book The Managed Heart, which looked at flight attendants and the ways they must put on a persona in order to respond to airplane passengers. During the presentation, we received an article by Barbara Brown Taylor for the Christian Century some 14 years ago. From BBT’s article:

Emotional labor must not show, however. If the flight attendant feels tired and irritable, this must be disguised. If a passenger turns hostile, the flight attendance is taught to reconceive that person as a fearful flyer or a little child—anything that will help the attendant overlook the rude behavior and relate sympathetically to the passenger. The point of all these “feeling rules” is to win the customer’s repeat business. …

Hochschild found that most flight attendants cope by learning a form of “deep acting” that helps them produce the desired feelings in themselves. They learn other strategies for repressing negative feelings so that they do no erupt on the job. After awhile, many say they have a hard time recovering their true feelings once their shifts are over. They begin to lose track of when they are acting and when they are not. Eventually they become aware that the hidden cost of managing their emotions is the impoverishment of their emotional lives. They have sold their hearts, and do not know how to buy them back.

What happens at CREDO stays at CREDO—-there’s a confidentiality I won’t breach. Suffice to say there were many lightbulbs during this presentation, and also many tears throughout the week as these good clergyfolk got in touch with some deep wells of emotion, wells they may have thought were capped and done with.

Since returning from CREDO I have been monitoring my own responses and reactions as I go throughout my day, and I had an epiphany in the grocery store. While waiting in a long line I did what many of us do, which is fiddle with my phone. I saw something on Facebook that took my breath away: a picture of a child I care about very much, who is going through leukemia treatment. I saw her hairless head and her bright smile as she beamed at the camera. I saw her beads of courage, ropes and ropes of them around her neck. I read the accompanying message. She is a warrior. But she is a small child. And no child should have to fight in any war, even (and perhaps especially) a war against cancer.

I wanted to cry for her, and I could have cried for her, even in the checkout line. But I did not. I checked myself… but this time, I was aware of checking myself.

Emotional labor.

Like many people, I have long wondered about (and written about) the impact technology has on our attention spans and our ability to be present in the moment. This is something I struggle with, and strive to put boundaries around (grocery store checkout lines notwithstanding). But I saw another way that our constant access to technology can harm us: sometimes we are not in a place to respond emotionally to the images we see, so those emotions get suppressed. That can hurt us in the long run.

It’s an irony—we praise technology (often rightly) for the ways it connects us, but we become disconnected from ourselves in the process. We have sold our hearts—how do we go about buying them back?

Friday Link Love

A bounty today:

High Speed Liquid Flowers — Colossal

“High speed photographs of colored water.” Amazing:

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A Company’s Stand for Gay Marriage, And Its Cost — NYT

It’s a very interesting story because it blends the personal with the corporate and the political:

“I understand that your company donated $250,000 or so to the effort to ban the marriage amendment,” read one [critical e-mail]. “I am very concerned that with an increased visibility and acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, one of my children, who would have grown up and been happily married to a husband, could be tempted to the lesbian lifestyle.”

I support people putting their money where their mouth is. I’ve bought from Replacements Limited several times over the years. I wish I hadn’t already completed the set of china we got for our wedding.

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13 Great Books on the Horizon — NPR

You can look forward to a host of new titles by writers who’ll keep you riveted without insulting your intelligence, whether you prefer thrillers, literary fiction, biographies or page turners in just about any genre. Books are among the joys that make summers memorable, and this year we’re spoiled for choice.

Every summer I make an informal pact with myself not to read any church administration, organizational leadership or theology books for the summer. Maybe I’ll check some of these out.

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An Anne Geddes Baby Manifesto — McSweeneys

Occupy Flower Pot!

We reject the premise that all babies are cute and worthy of being surrounded by fluffy, pastel, scented debris. We reject the serving up of people in the early stages of cognitive development in giant teacups, unable to comprehend the tropes they are helping to propagate, specifically regarding colonialism and unsupervised use of diuretics. We reject the reverse anthropomorphism of humans into bumble bees, especially in so anatomically simplistic a manner, without so much as a solid thorax to recommend the likeness.

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Fifteen Ways to Stay Married for Fifteen Years — Huffington Post

We’re going on 18 years and yes, I’d agree with every one of these on one level or another.

Marriage is not conditional. It is permanent. Your husband will be with you until you die. That is a given. It sounds obvious, but really making it a given is hard. You tend to think in “ifs” and “thens” even when you’ve publicly committed to forever. If he does this, I won’t tolerate it. If I do this, he’ll leave me. If I get fat. If I change jobs. If he says mean things. If he doesn’t pay more attention. It’s natural, especially in the beginning of your marriage, to keep those doubts in your head. But the sooner you can let go of the idea that marriage is temporary — and will end if certain awful conditions are met — the sooner you will let go of all kinds of conflict and stress. Yes, you may find yourself in a horrible situation where it’s absolutely necessary to get a divorce. But going into it with divorce in the back of your mind, even in the way way way back of your mind, is going to cause a lot of unnecessary angst. Accept that you’re going to stay with him. He’s going to stay with you. Inhabit that and figure out how to make THAT work, instead of living with the “what if”s and “in case of’s.”

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Bone Flutes Found in German Caves Point to Roots of Creativity — LA Times

Researchers have discovered flutes dating back to as much as as much as 45,000 years ago using radiocarbon-dated bones found in the same layer of the archaeological dig.

Awesome.

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John Waters Tries Some Desperate Living on a Cross-Country Hitchhiking Odyssey — NYT

Loved this article. The Freakonomics podcast had a feature several months ago exploring whether hitchhiking is as dangerous as we think. Conclusion: probably not. Stil, I will live vicariously through John Waters, methinks.

May the highways of your life be full of joy and surprise this weekend.

What is a Mentor?

Carrie Newcomer, a mentor from afar.

I made an offhand comment yesterday on FB about a “creative mentor” who had sent me an e-mail that made my week. Afterward a FB friend asked a simple but confounding question: What is a mentor? 

I await her response to the same question—it’s something she’s been wrestling with for some time, apparently—but I said something like this:

Mentor is a pretty broad term for me. There are people who mentor me who don’t know they’re doing it. Like the person I was talking about yesterday–she’s an artist whose work I’ve been enjoying for a long time. I met her several years ago, but we don’t talk regularly.

I guess my definition is someone whose life or work inspires you to be the best person you can be.

This is a timely question because Jan’s blog post for today talks about being a mentor. She, by the way, is one of my mentors. And friends.

Jo(e) is another one. I admire the way she lives, works, thinks, and walks around in the world. I’ve never met her, but I hope to someday.

I believe that technology allows us to be mentored by people in a way we could not be in previous generations. Sometimes social media creates a false sense of intimacy, though. When well-known people share their lives on Twitter or Facebook, we can get sucked into feeling like we know them. It’s a mistake to call them friends, though. But I think it’s OK to call them mentors.

I also think these virtual mentors are no match for someone who has agreed to take on the role of mentor—someone who interacts with a mentee with that intentional relationship in mind. I have had that kind of relationship too. Mainly professors.

What do you think? What is a mentor? And do you have one?

The Internet Kills Community! Except When It Doesn’t

First, a big welcome to those of you who’ve made your way here thanks to the Fellowship of Prayer! Come on in and stay awhile. This blog is named after the Blue Room in our house, which is the arts and crafts space we set up in what used to be our dining room. We are well stocked with everything you need for your stay: glitter glue, play-doh, googley-eyes and more.

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Two articles crossed my screen recently about the Internet and its effect on community. First:

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered… Online — Sojourners

My editor passed along this link in response to some of stuff I wrote in Sabbath in the Suburbs about my experience taking a tech Sabbath each weekend. The article describes a very vibrant, supportive community that formed via Facebook in the wake of a friend’s death in Iraq.

I noted that there was a physical dimension to the community—it did not take place solely online; in fact the author actually moved so she could live closer to several community members. Certainly there are online communities that get along and get deep without ever meeting face to face… but most of the ones I’ve been a part of are either physical friendships that are kindled and stoked online, or online friendships that deepen to the point that people want to meet face to face. Examples of the former include my group of friends from Rice, who have had an e-mail list for going on 20 years now. Examples of the latter include the RevGalBlogPals and the Young Clergy Women, both of whom have annual conferences now.

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Second is this article about digital Sabbath that my mother sent me:

We Don’t Need a Digital Sabbath; We Need More Time — Atlantic

The blurb summarizing the article says, What if our technology isn’t the problem? A look at “Digital Sabbaths” and the dangers of holding our gadgets responsible.

But the article isn’t really about that. I thought from that description that the article would pooh-pooh tech sabbaths, but in fact it’s a fairly good synopsis of the ins and outs of them. Here is the vital bit:

When we make a Sabbath and push back against the many claims on our time, we are, in some ways, rebelling against this speed-up and the intrusion of work and labor into our domestic sphere…

It’s for all these reasons that a Sabbath, digital or otherwise, can be reinvigorating. When we take a day away from our tools and create a day entirely under our own control, we create that “palace in time” where we can meet our friends and family and, finally, connect.

If one concedes the point that a Sabbath for restorative reasons need not proscribe technology, it may seem pointless to argue against the digital sabbath. What’s the harm?

The reason is that if we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us. We need to realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn’t a need to escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our relationships.

I think that’s a little facile, and this issue of “blaming the technology” is strange. Yes, putting away the phones and iPads isn’t enough to make a radical change in one’s life and world. But I’m almost willing to say that radical change is impossible without putting them away now and then.

I think about this from an incarnational point of view, which comes from my faith tradition: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Technology, by and large, connects us with people across the miles (which is valuable) but it distracts us from the physical world immediately around us. Setting aside these gadgets is the first step to reconnecting with the real fleshy people right there with us.