Tag Archives: spirituality

Useful Fictions

As I get ready for the release of God, Improv, and the Art of Living (have you pre-ordered?) I’ve been asked, in both interviews and regular conversation, “How has improv changed your life?” It’s a big question with a lot of small, everyday answers. Here’s just one:

We all make assumptions about the people and circumstances around us, often without thinking critically about those assumptions. The improv principle of yes-and (to receive what is offered and to build on it) invites me to lean in the direction of compassion for others and myself in the assumptions I make.

For example, on a recent Saturday morning I was in a coffee shop, waiting my turn and growing increasingly late as the person in front of me placed a large and complicated order—about six hot beverages to go, each with some specific, nit-picking substitution or adaptation. Moment by moment, my irritation grew: I have somewhere to be. What is taking so long? Why do we all need these special snowflake drinks anyway? I fumed, preparing to order my decidedly uncomplicated tea.

Then I noticed that the man was wearing a suit. To pass the time, I found myself thinking of reasons why someone would be dressed up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Job interview? Stayed out all night and on his way home? Laundry day and everything else was dirty? I finally decided he was attending a family funeral, and had decided to pick up beverages for his fellow bereaved loved ones. And those picayune order details? Rather than being indulgences of an “I want it MY WAY!” society, they became a means for this gentleman to show care for people who maybe needed a little comfort on a very difficult day.

I obviously have no idea whether he was really going to a funeral. But ultimately, what does it matter? My little moment of improvisational imagination allowed me to breathe deeply, to relax into the waiting, and to beam a little love toward this stranger—and don’t we all need love? Making a decision to move toward charity helps me be the kind of person I would like to be—who I feel called to be. 

To be clear, I have to work constantly at this practice. My mind often wants to go to the least charitable interpretation of events. But improv reminds me that while I can’t always change or control the circumstances of my life, I have full control over my own yes-and.

Last week I was with 16 clergy colleagues for our annual “preacher camp,” called The Well. During our time together we delve deeply into scripture and theology through papers and sermons we share with one another. It’s always one of my favorite weeks of the year.

My friend Andrew Foster-Connors shared some ideas from philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his book As If: Idealization and Ideas that intersect with this idea of “yes-anding” in a positive direction. Appiah talks about the concept of “useful fictions.” No world of ideas can possibly represent the full truth, because our minds aren’t big enough to encompass it. So “there is a gap between what is true and what is useful to believe,” writes Appiah. This is even true with certain scientific principles, which are helpful in predicting outcomes, but are not always 100% accurate. Such principles aren’t strictly “true,” because they can’t predict outcomes in all times and all circumstances. They are “roughly right,” however, and therefore a useful belief.

I wonder what kind of beliefs you are currently clinging to, and whether they help you live as the person you are created to be. How might you alter those beliefs in the spirit of yes-and? What kinds of “useful fictions” might you play with? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

~

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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.

What Does ‘Spirituality’ Mean?

A photo taken on the path beside the Mississippi River, Minneapolis

A photo taken on the path beside the Mississippi River, Minneapolis

My next book is currently titled Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. Which raises the question, what is “spirituality”? When growing numbers of people say they are spiritual but not religious, what do they mean by that?

I’m working on that answer for the sake of the book.

There’s been a lot already written about the Internet/digital culture and its effect on us mentally, psychologically and relationally. What does having the whole world in your pocket mean for one’s attention span, or ability to synthesize information? Does constant connectivity make us happier, or more anxious? How does social media bring us closer and drive us apart?

I’m not interested in rehashing those writings so much as bringing them in conversation with one another. In my view, spirituality encompasses mental, psychological, and relational health—and much more. And I don’t see spirituality as a vague woo-woo concept so much as an integration of all aspects of our lives—the ways we observe and think about the world; the ways we move within it; the ties that bind and break. And for many people, spirituality means a connection to something larger than themselves, whether it’s God, a sense of mystery, the human family, or the planetary ecosystem.

I’ve found two recent definitions that are helping me home in on this. One is from Brene Brown and her book The Gifts of Imperfection:

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

The other is from Richard Rohr and his book Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. It came to me by way of his daily email. Rohr writes about mysticism, but I think his words relate to spirituality too:

False mysticism, and we have had a lot of it, often feels too much like “my little Jesus and my little me,” and doesn’t seem to make many social, historical, corporate, or justice connections. As Pope Francis says, it is all “too self-referential.”

If authentic God experience first makes you overcome the primary split between yourself and the divine, then it should also overcome the split between yourself and the rest of creation. For some, the split is seemingly overcome in the person of Jesus; but for more and more people, union with the divine is first experienced through the Christ: in nature, in moments of pure love, silence, inner or outer music, with animals, a sense of awe, or some kind of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” experience.

I’m interested in your definition of spirituality. Where do you resonate with the definitions above? What is missing or off-base from your experience?

 

Teri’s Turn: A Q&A with Teri Peterson, Co-Author of Who’s Got Time?

A couple of weeks ago we heard from Amy Fetterman, co-author of Who’s Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation. Today we hear from the other half of that dynamic writing duo, Teri Peterson:
url1. What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to read this book…and it didn’t exist. Now it does!

In all seriousness–we kept looking and looking for something that would address the spiritual lives of people like us: smart, busy, X-Millennial bridge people who long for something bigger but aren’t super interested in just retreading the same institutional route and are decidedly unwilling to disengage from culture or intellect. There was lots of stuff about resourcing the spiritual journeys of teens, and lots written about how all of us young adults were entitled rejectors of everything our parents built, but nothing written to or for us, or even really for anyone trying to figure out 21st century spiritual reality. Enter one professor-mentor-turned-colleague who gave us “the look” over a glass of wine in a hotel room, and voila: a book proposal was born.

2. What does “spirituality” mean to you?
For me it’s about how we approach life. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s a division between sacred and secular, so I think of spirituality almost as a worldview. I’m constantly looking for the Spirit, and for what speaks to my spirit. But that all takes practice…and that practice is spirituality.

181195333. What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?
An imaginative yet grounded, playful yet profound look at how to engage the world. And hopefully some ideas that spark their own imagination toward seeking a deeper relationship with God even in the midst of the crazy that can be life in the 21st century.

What they will not find is a lecture about how they’ve been praying wrong all these years, and if they would just try XYZ thing that (insert historical figure here) did, they’d be happy and rich and find world peace. Though if anyone does find that thing, we hope they’ll write to us…

4. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.
While pajama days are probably my favorite practice in the book, I have to say that the chapter on making up rituals to mark the moments of our lives (which are often different, or differently timed, than previous generations’ moments and rituals) is some of our best work–and having actually done many of the rituals in that chapter, and others inspired by that chapter, I can say that they work. In spite of the skepticism of some of my 25-years-older friends.

If this question had been about the writing and what was the most fun part to actually figure out how to put on paper, it’d have to be researching songs in the Common Meter and singing Amazing Grace to them. Seriously…ask me to sing Amazing Grace to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sometime. It’s awesome.

5. Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered? (Oprah’s Book Club, Colbert Report, etc.)
We clearly need to be on the Daily Show. Obviously. Though I might settle for Krista Tippett’s On Being at first. 😉

Ooh, good choice Teri! Whether you end up across the table from Jon or Krista, we will cheer you on.

Who’s Got Time? A Q&A with Amy Fetterman

18119533My friends Teri Peterson and Amy Fetterman have a new book, Who’s Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation. Teri and Amy have agreed to engage a little Q&A here at the Blue Room. Teri is currently on a cruise ship with the RevGals, so this week is Amy’s turn.

1. What inspired you to write this book?

Frustration inspired us to write this book – that and a good smack upside the head by a cherished mentor! We kept looking for a book like this in bookstores, online, and found nothing but books about young adults, not for us. Nothing that met us where we are. Nothing that respected that young adults could be interested in deepening their relationship with God yet not necessarily interested in doing the same things their parents and grandparents did (because they aren’t in the same place as the previous generations).

We made the “mistake” of sharing this frustration with a mentor of ours and she just looked at us and stated the obvious we had clearly missed: we needed to write this book. She was right and so we did!

2. What does “spirituality” mean to you?

It’s being intentional about noticing God’s presence, seeking that presence, growing in that presence.

3. What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?

The comfort in knowing that they are not alone in yearning for something deeper and that they can find connections to the Holy One in so many different, meaningful, and not necessarily obvious ways.

Amy Fetterman, Co-Author of Who's Got Time?

Amy Fetterman, Co-Author of Who’s Got Time?

4. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.

Getting “Samuel L. Mother-bleeping Jackson” into print! Because seriously, that man as the voice of God is just amazing.

I am particularly proud of the chapter on encountering God in creation, because such practices were not a go-to for me. In order to write about meeting God on a hike or camping or gardening, I had to get out there and do those things. Not only did I get material for that chapter, but I also grew in the process! I’m not saying I’m up for taking on the Appalachian Trail tomorrow, but I now enjoy my walks in a more meaningful way.

5. Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered? (Oprah’s Book Club, Colbert Report, etc.)

I would love to watch Teri throw down with Colbert! I’d also love to be a special guest on Wil Wheaton’s Youtube series Tabletop – geeky young adults are right up my alley and I think they’d dig this book!

~

I hope Wil takes you up on the challenge, Amy!

Meanwhile, check out Who’s Got Time at Chalice Press, Amazon or your favorite online book retailer. (And maybe some brick and mortar places too!)