Houston friends! You are invited to a reception at Rice University next week, honoring members of the Rice University community who have written a book, composed a piece of music, etc.:
I won’t be able to be there, but as a proud graduate of Rice*, I’m excited to be on this list.
I wouldn’t have even known about this event, except that I got an email from someone asking for the discussion guide. She wanted it for her Sunday School class, but I noticed in her email signature that she worked at Rice. We struck up a conversation—she didn’t know I was an alum when she first wrote me—and when this Friends of Fondren event came up, she was kind enough to forward me the information.
People are so lovely.
*”Those who say Rice is Houston’s Harvard should be told that Harvard is the Rice of the Northeast.” -George Will, in a moment of clarity.
Update July 2013: Sabbath Supplementals are coming soon! More resources for groups and classes… Read more here.
Up to now I’ve been giving out the discussion guide for Sabbath in the Suburbs to anyone who requested it… but you had to email me for it.
This gave me the happy opportunity to connect with readers and learn about the different groups that would be using the book. But now the requests are coming in briskly enough that it makes sense to make the questions available to everyone. (I have word of mouth and the awesome Christian Century review to thank for that.)
So here are the questions. I’d still love to hear how the book is being used in churches, book groups, and other gatherings, but in the meantime, happy reading!
Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Guide for Reflection and Discussion
Note to the Reader and Chapter 1. “Beginnings”
What images, positive or negative, come to mind when you think about Sabbath?
Do you take time for rest and renewal in your life right now? If so, what does it look like? If not, what would your ideal “Sabbath” be like? Don’t worry about whether it’s a realistic picture or not. Just imagine it.
MaryAnn describes an experience at her child’s bus stop as a wake-up call to the need for Sabbath (p. 7). Have you had a similar experience that revealed a need for rest and play?
Chapter 2. “September”
What days make the most sense for you in terms of taking a regular Sabbath? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
How do you define your work? What are the activities you need to rest from?
The book describes a basic definition of Sabbath as a day not to change one’s environment (p. 15). How do you react to this statement?
What would it look like for you to “live Sabbathly”?
Chapter 3. “October”
MaryAnn writes, “Taking a break from the routine changes the way I think about the routine.” (p. 28). Do you agree or disagree?
Make a list of “delights”–things that bring joy to you and your loved ones. How might you incorporate these delights more fully into your life on a regular basis?
One of the sabbath “hacks” this month is to think about the boundaries around Sabbath in a fluid rather than rigid way (p. 35). How do you respond to this idea?
Chapter 4. “November”
What do the psalmist’s words, “teach us to count our days,” mean to you?
Sabbath can be a way to bring life back into balance. In what way does your life feel balanced or out of balance? What role might Sabbath play in recalibrating?
Chapter 5. “December”
How do your own holiday preparations encourage an attitude of Sabbath? How do they inhibit this attitude?
MaryAnn writes about a study that compares the happiness we receive from experiences as opposed to things (p. 55). How do you see that playing out in your life?
How do you react to the Good Samaritan study (p. 58)?
Chapter 6. “January”
What role should technology play on our days of rest and renewal?
MaryAnn describes missing two scheduled appointments in a week and sees these as a warning sign that life has gotten too hectic and full (p. 73). Do you have similar warning signs? What are they?
Chapter 7. “February”
What’s your reaction to the “extinction burst” (p. 84)? When have you experienced this? What are ways to reduce its impact when learning a new habit or pattern of being?
One way of thinking about Sabbath is as a time to fast from just one thing. What might you fast from?
Chapter 8. “March”
What do you think about the idea of the spiritual life as a process of subtraction?
MaryAnn writes about saying “No” to some things in order to say “Yes” to more important or life-giving things (p. 94). What would it look like for you to say “Yes” more often in your life?
In talking about a Sabbath “cheat” this month, MaryAnn writes, “I’ll take a messy and real imperfection over an impossible perfection any day.” (p. 98) What’s your reaction to this statement?
Chapter 9. “April”
MaryAnn talks in her “sabbath hack” about training our vision. Instead of seeing what’s left undone, let it represent something nourishing that we did do (p. 104). What are some examples you might use in your own life?
In what ways is Sabbath a time for authenticity?
What were your childhood experiences of Sabbath? play? hurry?
Chapter 10. “May”
Who or what is your Jethro (pp. 113-114)?
In what ways can the harder thing become the easier thing?
MaryAnn quotes Abraham Heschel who warns against kindling fire on the Sabbath, including “the fire of righteous indignation” (p. 122) How do you react to this idea?
Chapter 11. “June”
What do you think of J.O.Y. (p. 125)?
MaryAnn talks about the Reboot organization and their Sabbath Manifesto (pp. 128-129). What would yours be?
How does the idea of the Sabbath as a commandment impact your understanding of the practice?
Chapter 12. “July”
In what way is a vacation a Sabbath for you? In what way is it not? Do particular destinations lend themselves to Sabbath times and others not?
MaryAnn talks about “playing without a purpose” (p. 139). Is this easy or hard for you? Why?
The chapter describes a number of justice/economic issues relating to Sabbath. How do you respond to these, and what others can you think of?
Chapter 13. “August”
How do you understand scarcity? How do you understand abundance?
MaryAnn writes about learning to play softball. Knowing the rules meant she was able to enjoy the game more fully (pp. 152-153).What is the relationship between freedom and discipline?
In what ways might Sabbath contribute to the healing of the world?
I’m back from Chicago, where I led a group of lovely Presbyterian pastors in a Sabbath retreat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I learned while I was there that next year’s speaker will be Phyllis Tickle. Boy howdy! As I told the participants, I do not have anything close to Phyllis’s depth of historical knowledge and insight. Rather, I am a generalist. With me you get a weird synthesis of Bible, art, theology, folk music, brain chemistry research, low-impact crafts, and clips from The Office.
We had a good time.
The retreat had a strange dimension to it. A couple of our sessions were filmed by a camera crew for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a public television show. (Check local listings.) I’m very grateful to Judith Valente, a correspondent for the show, whom I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing and who saw the potential for a story about Sabbath-keeping in our 24-7 world. I’ll let you know when the segment airs—it’ll be a while, since they also plan to come to our house and film our family on one of our Sabbaths. I find this ridiculously fun, although I’m worried about Caroline—apparently it is one of her life’s goals to appear on television, and I don’t know what it does to a kid to achieve a life goal at the age of 10. Anyway.
In addition to filming parts of the retreat, I was also interviewed about Sabbath: how our family does it and how others might take it on. It was, frankly, harrowing. The inner critic was on the prowl, taunting me with a voice that sounded suspiciously like the mean girls in my fourth grade class. Oh my God… who cares what YOU have to say?
Ah well. I did it, and during my run 30 minutes later I was SO much more brilliant, but at least I didn’t die, so there’s that.
After we finished the interview the audio guy said, “Time for room tone. Everyone be still for 30 seconds.” They explained later that room tone is a recording of the room, which they use when they need to edit dialogue together. They record the quiet room using the same mic configuration so that the sound has the same quality to it.
After talking for almost 40 minutes non-stop, it felt downright contemplative to sit, and be quiet, and listen to the silence that was not really silent. I began to wonder about room tone as a spiritual practice.
Another one I shared earlier this week, but dang, I like it:
To have faith in a religion, any religion, is to accept at some primary level that its particular language of words and symbols says something true about reality. This doesn’t mean that the words and symbols are reality (that’s fundamentalism), nor that you will ever master those words and symbols well enough to regard reality as some fixed thing. What it does mean, though, is that you can ‘no more be religious in general than [you] can speak language in general’ (George Lindbeck), and that the only way to deepen your knowledge and experience of ultimate divinity is to deepen your knowledge and experience of the all-too-temporal symbols and language of a particular religion. Lindbeck would go so far as to say that your religion of origin has such a bone-deep hold on you that, as with a native language, it’s your only hope for true religious fluency. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say that one has to submit to symbols and language that may be inadequate in order to have those inadequacies transcended.
This is true of poetry, too: I don’t think you can spend your whole life questioning whether language can represent reality. At some point, you have to believe that the inadequacies of words you use will be transcended by the faith with which you use them. You have to believe that poetry has some reach into reality itself, or you have to go silent. – Christian Wiman, “Notes on Poetry and Religion,” from Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.
We are rarely presented with an authentically fulfilling trajectory for our desires… If we are created for infinite satisfaction, we really only have three choices about what to do with our desire in this life: We will become either a stoic, an addict, or a mystic. The stoic squelches desire out of fear, while the addict attempts to satisfy his desire for infinity with finite things, which, of course, can’t satisfy. That’s why the addict wants more and more and more. The mystic, on the other hand — in the Christian sense of the term — is the one who is learning how to direct his desire for infinity toward infinity,” - Christopher West, whose new book is Fill These Hearts.
Incubation breaks boosted creative performance, but only when the time was spent engaged in a different kind of mental activity. Participants who in the break switched from verbal to spatial, or from spatial to verbal, excelled when they returned to their main task – in terms of the number and quality of their solutions. The change in focus freed up their unconscious to spend the incubation period tackling the main challenge.
Highly recommend running, for people with the knees for it.
Follow the thread. Each of us has a unique unfolding story and call in this world. We don’t “figure this out” but rather we allow the story to emerge in its own time, tending the symbols and synchronicities that guide us along. Trust in what you love. Following the thread is essentially about cultivating a deep trust in what you love. What are the things that make your heart beat loudly, no matter how at odds they feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so)? Make some room this year to honor what brings you alive.
Nina Katchadourian whiles away long plane journeys by locking herself in the lavatory and pretending to be a 15th century Dutch painting. The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing…
I do think about the line forming outside the door while she’s doing this, but:
In a just world, this would be my birthday cake today. YOU HEAR ME UNIVERSE?
I’m back from a wonderful time of vacation with the family in Massanutten. We found a sweet little farm house to rent that had comfy rooms and no wifi. Perfect. We lazed about and did the indoor water park. By the way, there are two kinds of people in the world: people who shoot complete strangers with water cannons, and non-a**h***s.
We also enrolled the kids in a morning of ski school, which (after seeing James zip down the mountain) I’d call frighteningly effective.
It was great to be on the slopes and off the grid. But apparently I was quite busy on the Intertubes while I was away. Today’s bonus edition of Link Love is MAMD-specific. It’s my birthday, so you will indulge me:
This coming year I’ll be an occasional contributor to The Hardest Question, which is a weekly resource on the Revised Common Lectionary. I’ve got the texts for this Sunday, and wrote about the Gospel and the Old Testament texts.