Tag Archives: ritual

What’s Saving Me: The Five Minute Journal

This week I’m over at the NEXT Church blog. This fall they’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Here’s my offering.

What’s saving my ministry these days is a five minute journaling practice I’ve been doing each morning (and most evenings) for the past few months. I’ve tried various journaling methods off and on for years. Something about holding the pen in my hand allows me to focus my prayers in a way my monkey mind can’t do by simply sitting quietly. And now that I work from home “for myself,” I have lots of possible things vying for my attention and time. I was looking for something short and focused that could bring clarity and discernment to my day.

8Y0EDX4VP9Many of us are familiar with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which she calls her “spiritual windshield wipers.” This practice serves the same purpose, but instead of writing stream of consciousness, I write short pithy statements. Whereas morning pages are like an epic poem, this is journaling as haiku. I adapted it from Tim Ferriss, an author and entrepreneur. He’s a little too “guru” for me, but I think he’s hit upon a good structure to get the day started with intention.

Here are the questions for the morning:

Three things for which I’m grateful:
1.
2.
3.

Three things that would make this a fruitful day: These don’t have to be things I want to accomplish, but they usually are. Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.
1.
2.
3.

An affirmation: 
I am…
I have three kids, so “patience” shows up a lot here.

I’m curious about:
This is something I’ve added recently, thanks to Brené Brown’s work. This is often where I think about my reactions to things and wonder “What was THAT about?!” 

As for the evening practice, it is similar:

Three things to celebrate about the day:
1.
2.
3.

One thing I could have done better:

Those of you who know the Ignatian examen will recognize threads of this practice in these questions. The questions are framed in terms of gratitude, and there is ample space to acknowledge the times I’ve fallen short—to see them written in my own hand, and to let those moments go—to let God absorb and hopefully transform them.

Monster Friday Link Love: Link Love’s Out for Summer!

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:

~

Here We Are Now Entertain Us — Running Chicken

This week Jan blogged about TED Talks, the Moth, and sermons and said, “one of these is not like the other”. Why are sermons viewed as boring? she asks. How can we sharpen our proclamation by listening to these other forms of communication? As a huge fan of The Moth, and a semi fan of TED, this is a great question and one to explore. Good discussion in the comments of her blog.

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?

~

Why Rituals Work — Scientific American

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.

~

Arts and Faith — Loyola Press

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.”

~

Orchestra Hidden Camera Prank — YouTube

Somebody asked me recently where I get all my links for FLL. The fun thing is that people have started sending me stuff. Here’s one example. Pretty cute:

~

Keep Your ‘Someday’ List from Being Clutter — David Caolo, Unclutterer

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.

~

Photo Series of a Young Girl Dressed Up as Great Women Throughout History — Peta Pixel

A photographer wanted to commemorate her daughter’s fifth birthday:

My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters.

The resulting photo series has Emma dressed and posed as five influential women from the history books, with a presidential photo thrown in at the end. Click the link to see.

H/t Facebook friend Jeanny House.

~

While we’re on photography:

The Art of Being at the Right Place at the Right Time — Colossal

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.

Tons at the link.

~

The Threat of Literalism — Ken Kovacs

A friend and colleague pens this:

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?

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Grads: Future of Exploration in Your Hands — Rice.edu

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.”

(And in case you missed it, here’s a bonus link that had a lot of social media buzz: John Green’s commencement speech to Butler. Top-notch.

~

Shimmering Chain-link Fence Installation by Soo Sunny Park — Colossal

How exciting to see the Rice Art Gallery featured on Colossal! Wish I could see this in person. Plexi-glass and chain link.

~

Peace be with you, friends.

Penn Jillette: Atheists Need Holidays Too (Bonus Link Love)

festivus-yes-bagels-noTomorrow’s Friday Link Love will feature a discussion on the New York Times about whether atheism is a religion. As a setup to that, Penn Jillette has a book out called Every Day is An Atheist Holiday! Here’s an excerpt, posted on Brain Pickings:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

Once again Jillette lumps religion into the same tired heap of deferred-gratification, sweet by-and-by that bears little resemblance to religion as it’s lived by many, many, many people. Even Christians for whom praying the sinners’ prayer gets you a ticket to heaven are working to fight poverty, human trafficking, and even climate change. But that’s not my point.

Further, the idea that atheists are people who are full of joy and mirth is so over the top as to not warrant much comment. I find them to be just as dour and road-ragey as the rest of us. Except Buddhists. You get the feeling those folks don’t ever drive angry.

Instead, I want to highlight the importance of holidays, for atheists and for everyone.

Of course every day is a gift to be celebrated, whether you are a Christian, a Baha’i, a Pastafarian, or a member of the Church of Christopher Hitchens of Latter-Day Drunks. No less than Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out that in the Jewish/Christian creation tale, God creates the stuff of the universe and calls it all good, but when he creates the Sabbath he calls it holy.

Things are good. Time is holy. Jillette is absolutely right. We have the wonder and glory of life, right now. We need not wait until Christmas or Easter to revel in it.

But the problem is, that kind of wide-eyed wonder is simply not sustainable 365 days of the year. I’m not even sure it would be desirable. Human beings need seasons. We need rhythms and days and times set apart. OK, maybe need is a little strong. But psychologically speaking, holidays are healthy. They serve a worthy purpose.

I respect the heck out of Alain de Botton, atheist philosopher, partly because he approaches both his atheism and the religious life with humility and curiosity. He understands the utility of many aspects of the religious life, including days and seasons for specific purposes. Take it away:

Ms. Tippett: And, I mean, it’s interesting, a couple of other things that you — features of — very religious features of traditions that you also say that atheists and secular society could learn from, like the Day of Atonement in Judaism or the tradition of saints in Roman Catholicism.

Mr. de Botton: Yes. I mean, taking those two, the Day of Atonement, a fascinating moment in the calendar in Judaism where people essentially say sorry to each other and they say sorry against the backdrop of a God who doesn’t make mistakes, but humans who do. You are given license, encouragement, structure to do something which would be mightily hard if you were left to do it on your own like, as I say, saying sorry. It’s much easier to say sorry if everybody is doing it on a particular day because then there’s a sort of cycle of mutual apology and forgiveness which makes the whole thing much more normal. We’re very suspicious of ritual in the nonbelieving world. You know, we think that there shouldn’t really be rituals, that the private life should have its own rhythms and that no one should come in from the outside and say, you know, today we’re going to say sorry and next week we’re going to worship spring and the day after we’re going to think about the qualities of humility in a saint or something. The idea is you should do all this on your own in private. I’m coming around to the view that that’s nice in theory, but the problem is we’ll never get ’round to it.

As someone who practices, thinks about, and writes about Sabbath, let me humbly suggest to Jillette and other atheists that you not let go of holidays. I’ll leave it to you to discern what those might be—and you could have big fun with this by coming up with your own, or just co-opting the religious ones. (We did it first, and turnabout is fair play.)

But this wonderful life that we all live in different ways? Is also a life filled with commutes and grocery lists and sciatica. It gets away from us, all too easily, if we don’t take time to savor it. Holidays help us do that.

Sabbath as Ritual, in a Religion for Atheists

Yesterday I heard a fantastic interview with Alain de Botton, who was discussing his book Religion for Atheists on Krista Tippett’s show.

Here’s the intro to the show:

“Religion for Atheists” — that’s Alain de Botton’s prescription for people who don’t believe, but may respect and miss experiences of faith. This cradle-atheist is dissatisfied with popular dismissals of religion, and he’s giving voice to a new way. He says that the most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true. But how to live, how to die, what is good, and what is bad — these are questions religion has sophisticated ways of addressing. And he feels that secular society has emptied public spaces of religious messaging, only to fill them with commercial proselytizing that may impoverish us morally. And so, Alain de Botton has created something called The School of Life, where people young and old explore ritual, community, beauty and wisdom.

They talked in the interview about religious people who have dismissed de Botton’s work as somehow missing the point, or accused him of co-opting something that he has disavowed. I myself praise him for his tone and his humility and his approach to religion in general. He comes from a place of reverence—a virtue that can be sadly lacking in our culture these days.

There were many quotable moments but this one captured my notice:

Ms. Tippett: It’s interesting, a couple of other things that you — features of — very religious features of traditions that you also say that atheists and secular society could learn from, like the Day of Atonement in Judaism or the tradition of saints in Roman Catholicism.

Mr. de Botton: Yes. I mean, taking those two, the Day of Atonement, a fascinating moment in the calendar in Judaism where people essentially say sorry to each other and they say sorry against the backdrop of a God who doesn’t make mistakes, but humans who do. You are given license, encouragement, structure to do something which would be mightily hard if you were left to do it on your own like, as I say, saying sorry. It’s much easier to say sorry if everybody is doing it on a particular day because then there’s a sort of cycle of mutual apology and forgiveness which makes the whole thing much more normal. We’re very suspicious of ritual in the nonbelieving world. You know, we think that there shouldn’t really be rituals, that the private life should have its own rhythms and that no one should come in from the outside and say, you know, today we’re going to say sorry and next week we’re going to worship spring and the day after we’re going to think about the qualities of humility in a saint or something. The idea is you should do all this on your own in private. I’m coming around to the view that that’s nice in theory, but the problem is we’ll never get ’round to it.

People sometimes ask me, why don’t you take Sabbath whenever you want? Why does it need to be the same day? Why does it need to be weekly? I think de Botton hints at the danger of just letting Sabbath happen within your own “rhythms of private life”—it won’t.

(Full disclosure: Saturday was our default sabbath day, but we did in fact reschedule it for Sunday sometimes. So we did change things up a little as necessary… but it always felt a little tenuous when we did so, as if we might lose our grip on Sabbath altogether by moving it.)

And I hope that the book speaks to people outside of Christianity, and maybe outside of religion altogether—although I’m too close to the topic to know whether I pulled that off. I do talk a good bit about the biblical narratives and how they inform a practice of Sabbath, but those narratives aren’t intended to be universal expressions of truth, but rather, where I start from.

What do you think about the role of ritual in our lives? What’s helpful about ritual and what is not?