Tag Archives: spirituality

Five Ways to Make the Most of the 30 Days of Thankfulness

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It’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, which means that folks on Facebook are celebrating the 30 Days of Thankfulness. Last week a friend me asked if I knew the origins of this practice. I don’t know where it started, but I’m touched that she would associate it with me. The 30 days is a burst of positive energy in an often snarky and cranky social media universe…

…Generally.

However.

My friend Marci has decided not to participate because of the potential for bragbooking. I’m sympathetic to her concerns. My next book looks at technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective.  As I research, I’m finding various studies suggesting that Facebook has the potential to decrease people’s happiness. One person’s gratitude is another person’s braggadocio. We end up comparing other people’s outsides to our insides, or as I saw it expressed somewhere, everyone else’s sizzle reel to our blooper reel.

But I’m not sure the answer, for me, anyway, is to sit out the practice altogether. After all—and Marci points this out herself—gratitude is a spiritual practice.

Where’s the challenge in being thankful when you’re on top of the world?  It’s considerably harder to see gratitude in ordinary life as it chugs along. And when things are downright crappy, gratitude can be transforming, the tiny candle you wrap your fingers around to keep the darkness at bay.

Social media is here to stay. People are welcome to dip in and out of it, or take long breaks, or hide the gratitude posts that make them crazy, or whatever they need to do for their own mental and spiritual health. As someone who takes tech sabbaths every week, I believe you’re under no obligation to consume social media the way other people do. But it is a part of our lives. So it seems worthwhile to practice engaging with it in ways that are hospitable to others and gracious to yourself.

So here’s how the 30-day gratitude challenge can be helpful and not an exercise in bragbooking. I offer these as someone who studies social media and digital culture, and as a pastor who has taught and practiced the Ignatian examen (a practice of gratitude and discernment) for many years.

1. Go beyond the obvious. At the women’s retreat I led this weekend, I gave them an icebreaker question to answer in small groups: “It’s just not Thanksgiving without…”  But I specifically told them, “You can’t say ‘family’ or ‘my grandkids.'” I hope this caveat invited them to share something more specific and personal.

My friend Kristen posted a great moment of thankfulness this weekend: “Hair – as a fresh ‘do can literally change you. [My hairdresser] has been a steady presence in my life since 2004 when I wandered into the salon where she worked. 9 years, 2 salons, 4 jobs (me), 5 kids (hers plus mine) and countless haircuts, highlights and hairstyles later – I’m proud to call her friend and stylist extraordinaire.”

No bragbooking there. Just a touching tribute by a fabulous, sassy gal. Kristen’s update invites me into gratitude for the folks who provide services for me and the friendships that can develop.

It also makes me consider getting highlights. Again.

2. Think small. The examen is meant to be a daily practice. And often our most grateful moment is not the biggest headline of the day, but the moment that took our breath away. Maybe you got a huge raise at work (I know, in this economy? hey, it could happen), but the breathtaking moment was the act of kindness you saw in the line at Starbucks. Gratitude can be a trickster.

3. Be specific. “I’m thankful for my health” may be true. And for someone who’s battled cancer, or recovered from an injury, that’s huge. But consider how your update sounds to a friend whose health is a source of stress, or who’s in a chronic struggle with an illness. Instead, how about a specific thing your health allowed you to enjoy today? I’m thankful that I could pick up my big kindergartner today without my back going out.

4. Violate the Zaxxon rule. At the end of every Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, the host and guests share “what’s making us happy this week.” The idea is to recommend interesting movies, TV or books to the audience. During an early episode Stephen Thompson gushed about the Zaxxon video game he’d recently purchased. Later the group realized that it wasn’t the best “what’s making me happy,” since it’s not like everyone can go out and buy a Zaxxon machine. They instituted the Zaxxon rule to keep them accountable to share stuff that other people could reasonably partake of.

When it comes to gratitude, we should violate, rather than follow, the Zaxxon rule. That cuts down on comparisons. I am grateful for the flame of color from the Japanese maple in my front yard. That’s very particular to my situation. You don’t feel bad for not having a Japanese maple in your yard, do you?

5. Confront the bragbooker. Do it publicly only if you can do it lightheartedly, otherwise in private. Is it crazy to think we could do this, in the spirit of authenticity and friendship? Maybe. I realize this is hard. But if my posts are providing a stumbling block to someone, I want to know it. We’re all works in progress, folks. We can help one another along.

Are you participating in the 30 days of gratefulness? Why or why not?

~

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

Friday Link Love

It feels strange to post LL on this, the darkest day of the year for Christians. But
a) maybe it’s helpful to get a picture of this wild, crazy, illogical, beautiful world that God so loved,
b) not all of you are Christian, and
c) many of you are pastors and might need a little light. And in that vein, how about a screen cleaning?

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Trickle-Down Consumption: How Rising Inequality Can Leave Everyone Worse Off — Washington Post

As the wealthy have gotten wealthier, the economists find, that’s created an economic arms race in which the middle class has been spending beyond their means in order to keep up. The authors call this “trickle-down consumption.” The result? Americans are saving less, bankruptcies are becoming more common, and politicians are pushing for policies to make it easier to take on debt.

And a related issue:

Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity — The Atlantic

The people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.

One hears from fiscal conservatives that if we get rid of “big government” safety nets, that individuals, charities and churches will pick up the slack. I don’t see how, but I’d like to engage with a fiscal conservative on this topic, especially the results of the study.

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100 Rules of Dinner — Dinner, A Love Story

DALS is a recent discovery. A fun list for people who want to take cooking beyond the paint-by-numbers approach:

11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.

12. Herbs in the salad.

13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.

14. Cinnamon in the chili.

Also:

37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.

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The Case for Getting Married Young — The Atlantic

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for this article. I agree that it shouldn’t be proscriptive, but is a good counterpoint to a lot of current conventional wisdom about waiting to marry until you’re “established”:

Interestingly, in a 2009 report, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that much of the pressure to delay marriage comes from parents who encourage their children to finish their education before marrying. One student told him that her parents “want my full attention on grades and school.” But such advice reflects an outdated reality, one in which a college degree was almost a guarantee of a good job that would be held for a lifetime. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, with so many students graduating from college with knee-buckling debt, they have worse than nothing to bring into a marriage. Indeed, prolonged singledom has become a rolling stone, gathering up debt and offspring that, we can be imagine, will manifest themselves in years to come in more broken, or never-realized, marriages.

Looking back over a marriage of nearly three decades, I am thankful that I married before going down that road. Now as a college-educated, doctorate-holding woman, I can attest that marrying young (at age 19) was most beneficial: to me, to my husband, and to the longevity of our marriage. Our achievements have come, I am convinced, not despite our young marriage, but because of it.

Our marriage was, to use Knot Yet’s terminology, a “cornerstone” not a “capstone.” …

It was not the days of ease that made our marriage stronger and happier: it was working through the difficult parts. We learned to luxuriate in the quotidian, to take wonder in the mundane, skills that have become even more valuable in our prosperous years. We invested the vigor of our youth not in things to bring into the marriage, but in each other and our marriage.

As one sociologist put it:

Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life.

Robert and I married young (22), and next year will be our 20th anniversary. Blessed be.

~

and more from The Atlantic:

Ogooglebar… and 14 Other Swedish Words We Should Incorporate Into English Immediately — The Atlantic

I agree with my friend Jay: “attitydinkontinens” needs to take hold, now.

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From Puppy with Love — The Bygone Bureau

How daily photos of a couple’s dog helped them get through a long-distance relationship. I’m starting work on a second book, thinking about technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective, so this is of interest:

Did the pictures somehow substitute for or distract from our relationship? And the answer is yes. And I think that’s why we’re still together when so many people think long-distance relationships are impossible. Instead of focusing on us – which in the context of distance so often means strain, effort, and unhappiness – we dote on our dog and his boundless photogenicity.

I’m not suggesting that pictures can make a relationship work. And I’m not exactly sure why dog pictures are more effective for me than Skype or the telephone or texts.

…At the same time, though, this dog — something very much a product of our ability to raise it but at the same time independent, separate, us mediated into dog-life — has made a huge difference.

Loving the contrast between labyrinth and cone of shame here:

grid2-02

 

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The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit, by Sylvia Plath — Brain Pickings

Did you know Sylvia Plath wrote a children’s book and it’s charming and poignant?

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The Two Epiphanies That Made Me a Better Negotiator — 99U

Let’s call this the latest installment in our ponderings about the Lean In movement:

When people are about to enter a negotiation, they see it as either a threat or a challengeStudies show that people who see negotiation as a threat experience greater stress and make less advantageous deals. They behave more passively, and are less likely to use tough tactics aimed at gaining leverage, compared to the hard-ballers who feel negotiation to be more of a challenge than a threat.

This makes so much sense to me. My husband absolutely sees negotiating as a challenge. He looks forward to a good haggle. I do not. Reading about these studies, I realized that I have always seen negotiations as threatening, and just wanted them over with as quickly as possible, no matter what it cost me. Why prolong a stressful, threatening situation when you can throw in the towel and move on?

But why do I see negotiations as threats, and not challenges? To answer that, I needed…

Epiphany #2: There is more than one way to look at any goal.

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God is With Me — Practicing Families

This is a wonderful site, full of good practical ideas for incorporating faith and Christian practice into everyday life as a family.

When my kids were small, aged 6 and 3, getting out of the house in the morning was the worst part of the day….

I decided to write a litany for our mornings, and say it with them every school day morning for the year. These were the words that I hoped would help them in the most difficult parts of their day.

Parent: When I’m scared,
Kids: God is with me.
Parent: When I’m happy,
Kids: God is with me.
Parent: When I’m having a hard day,
Kids: God is with me.
Parent: When I’m having a super day,
Kids: God is with me.
Parent: All day long, every day,
Kids: God is with me.
All: Thank you God for being with me.

You could get playful with this: When my mommy forgets to pack a dessert in my lunch… When I forget to ask ‘mother may I’ at recess…

On the darkest day of the Christian year… God is with me. And you.

Peace.

Brother Lawrence’s Guide to the First Day of School

Last night, after the kids were in bed, their first-day-of-school outfits spread on the floor, complete with necklaces and socks, I started to feel stressed.

Summers are often hard for working parents because of childcare issues, but the fall brings a whole ‘nother level of stress: for us this year, it’s three kids, two schools, piano lessons, Girl Scouts, a new activity for the girls (community choir), and a renewed commitment to fitness on the part of the parents (Robert is now on the Couch to 5K bandwagon too).

Oh, and let’s not forget the little matter of paid work for the grownups.

And writing a book.

And a commitment to Sabbath time each week.

The hectic-ness of the school year came back to me as I set the table for breakfast, put the morning lists next to each place, along with hairbrushes and toothbrushes, and put the vitamins in a little cup next to my plate. This is really anal retentive, and not an evening task I love, but I’m always grateful the next morning to have everything laid out—it means less time spent setting the table while ravenous kids run by in various stages of undress, less yelling on my part to put your shoes on!!!!! The morning starts peacefully with this preparation, even if it doesn’t always end that way.

But ugh, what a pain, to always be on top of things.

After setting the table I dug the lunchboxes out of the cabinet. They’re new, and differently shaped than before, and the containers I use for sandwiches and chips aren’t going to fit quite as well now. Then I began to think about making two lunches instead of one, and pictured myself doing that Every Single Day. I thought about the convenience and prevalence (and non-eco-friendliness) of juice boxes and Doritos in individual serving bags, and wondered whether a trip to CostCo is in my future.

So I was grateful for the spirit of Brother Lawrence in my inbox this morning, before the kids were even up:

Gerald May described this process of awakening to God’s presence through five steps: pausing, noticing, opening, yielding and stretching, and responding. In the spirit of Brother Lawrence, who saw every encounter as an opportunity to experience God’s blessings and praise our Creator, this process of awakening can be utilized both as a momentary call to awareness or as a regular practice of self-examination.

Ah, yes. I love those five steps, woven together. This morning we all woke up a little early so we could pause over breakfast and relish this milestone of a new school year. I noticed how Margaret got on the bus without even a sideways glance toward us, and I didn’t worry too much about the camera. When the power went off at home ten minutes later, I remained open to my own irritation about it, was curious about it, acknowledged it and moved on, rather than “shoulding” on myself about not letting little things bother me.

This allowed me to yield to the day looking a little different than I’d planned: because we were without power, our neighbor who provides childcare was also without power, so after taking James to meet his preschool teacher, I took him to lunch so our neighbor would have one less kid to wrangle and feed in the dark. At the Panera, I watched James squeeze the yogurt into his mouth with nary a drop on his shirt—that’s a new skill. And I beheld the way he bit right into the middle of the PB&J triangle for maximum cheek stickiness. And the delighted way he reacted when he saw his teacher there: “She’s following us!” he declared. And the sound of his guffaws as we dodged raindrops to the car. And I responded to all of this the only faithful way one can: with wonder.

So thank you, Brother Lawrence, for turning your little omelette in the pan for the love of God.

I will do the same.

I will spread peanut butter and slice apples and roll turkey into tortillas and dole out chips and write notes for the love of God.

Because I Will Reflect on Anything… Even a Facebook Kerfuffle.

Why yes, don't mind if I do.

Quite the kerfuffle on Facebook yesterday over this devotional about the “spiritual but not religious.” People felt very strongly about it, and I even got defriended over the discussion. And because I will ponder anything, even a FB kerfuffle:

If you want commentary on the piece itself, I recommend this and this, and my friend Martha offered her own meditation on “SBNRs” (written several years ago) here. This blog isn’t really about the post itself, except I wanna say this: I’m kinda over the word “spiritual.” I think the shift is toward something different that doesn’t have a name yet: embodied? incarnational? grounded? integrated?

Anyway, today I’m thinking more about writing, how we communicate and how we reflect on that communication.

Many clergy friends gave virtual high fives that the writer finally said what needed to be said about the shallowness that often emanates from some who call themselves spiritual but not religious. Others admitted the tone was snarky and smug, too focused on the speck in the SBNR’s eye and completely ignoring the log in the church’s, and not a great thing to have out there if we claim to be an evangelistic people. But, they argue, the germ of an idea was sound. (My husband, a product manager, offered, “Sounds like a classic venting-about-the-customers thing. Everybody does it, but not to the customers.”)

My personal view is that voice cannot be separated from message. Tone is not a dropcloth that can be removed with a flourish and stowed away, revealing the true work of art underneath. It’s baked right in. “Set aside X and Y and her point is valid,” some folks said in defense of the piece. But I don’t think you can set those things aside.

My writing group deals with this problem often after several years together. I’ve been told more times than I can count, “I know what you’re trying to say because I know you and the experience you’re describing, but it’s not at all clear from the words on this page.” or “I get your point, but you come off really sarcastic here—was that what you were going for?”

That’s what the kerfuffle was about. Words on a page. (OK, screen.) People who know the writer personally consider her a lovely person. I have no reason to doubt that. But that’s beside the point when it comes to this piece of writing, which should be evaluated on its own merits. Does it work? Does it work in this genre? Does it communicate what she wants to communicate?

This completely freaks me out, by the way. Come fall 2012, it will be my words that are evaluated. Maybe even critiqued. Maybe even critiqued harshly and pointedly. There may be readers who cross the line and make it personal. But not all sharp critique is personal. Remind me of this next year, Gentle Readers, when some doofus on the Internet makes me cry. Help me sift through what’s helpful but hard to hear. Help me find a safe place to put that. And help me take everything else, tie it to the tail of a kite, fly it into a strong wind, and cut the string.

But the stuff I write doesn’t get a pass just because I’m a nice person.

That’s the work of community. That’s what the piece tried to emphasize—and failed, in my opinion, because of what was used to leaven it.

One final thing. On the Internet, there is no place for the church to talk to itself internally without the general public listening in. That includes, sadly, a lecture given by the speaker to a room full of pastors, which is readily available too. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. We live in Terry Benedict’s casino in Ocean’s 11: “In my hotels, there’s always someone watching.”

All right then… what’s next?

Friday Link Love and a Book

Just a few today—I’m not exactly doing a lot of outside reading this week…

We Are Just Not Digging the Whole Anymore

We just don’t do whole things anymore. We don’t read complete books — just excerpts. We don’t listen to whole CDs — just samplings. We don’t sit through whole baseball games — just a few innings. Don’t even write whole sentences. Or read whole stories like this one.

We care more about the parts and less about the entire. We are into snippets and smidgens and clips and tweets. We are not only a fragmented society, but a fragment society.

Do you agree?

I quibble with a thing or two. For example, the author cites the example of BusinessSummaries.com, which gives quick and precise summaries of business books. I don’t know. I’ve read a lot of books about business, leadership and administration, and many of them contain a few good ideas with 300 pages of padding. I just can’t see summaries of those books as a bad thing.

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The Medium Chill

This really resonates with me… and has been good discussion fodder for Robert and me this week:

“Medium chill” has become something of a slogan for my wife and me…

We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the “next thing” on our respective career paths. She could move to a bigger company. I could freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book, hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the kids in private schools. All that stuff people with more money than us do.

But … meh. It’s not that we don’t think about those things. The water pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.

So why do it? There will always be a More and Better just beyond our reach, no matter how high we climb. We could always have a little more money and a few more choices. But as we see it, we don’t need to work harder to get more money to have more choices because we already made our choice. We chose our family and our friends and our place. Like any life ours comes with trade-offs, but on balance it’s a good life, we’ve already got it, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it.

That’s the best thing about the medium chill: unlike the big chill, you already have it. It’s available today, at affordable prices!

Related to this: I started reading a book called The Great Disruption about our current economic and environmental crisis. The author argues that both are related and stem from a myth of infinite growth, more, better, faster. That’s going to collapse soon, and we will be moved to adjust our ways in a manner that fosters simplicity and community. I hope he’s right—and it’s the first book I’ve read that’s fundamentally hopeful about our ability to respond to climate change and the disruption that will come with it.

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And a video that’s related to the ‘medium chill’ article…

Dan Gilbert asks, “Why Are We Happy?” (TED)

Shorter Dan Gilbert: we suck at being able to assess what makes us happy.

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L. Gregory Jones: Executing with Urgency (Faith and Leadership)

“We are looking for Christians who understand and practice leadership as an entrepreneur would,” the philanthropist told me. We had already talked about some key aspects of such leadership, such as developing vision, taking risks, being willing to fail and learn from failure, and tolerating ambiguity. But then he said that the heart of the issue was what another friend described as lacking among Christian leaders: people who could “execute with urgency.”

I heard those three simple words as a judgment, recalling too many Christian meetings I had sat through, and even convened, where we had confused having a meeting with taking action. We had acted as if we had all the time in the world, as if nothing really was very urgent. Indeed, we had often met as if we were a group gathered primarily for social purposes.

SO spot on about the way church committees often work. My current ministry obsession is thinking about agile software development as it relates to church work. One of the many great things about small churches is the ability to get to execution relatively quickly.

~

And finally, a book:

I’ve had Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography on my shelves for many years but had never finished it. Norris is one of those folks I’m proud to claim as Presbyterian, along with Anne Lamott and the Rev. Mister Rogers. Her meditation on life in the Dakotas is gorgeous, funny and wise. She really captures the feel of the place and its people.

The book got me thinking, too, about the terrain in which I’ve been placed—what I ruefully call “suburban sheol.” Yet every place has its beauty. And every place is its own wilderness. One of the women who’s here this week wrote a book about life in the South Bronx as a bit of a response to Norris’s book and others like it, that lift up rural locations as particularly spiritually rich. What an interesting challenge it would be to think about the suburbs of the nation’s capital in a similar way.