Tag Archives: theology

Friday Link Love: Nude Dancers, Suburban Living, and the Empathic Rat

First, a link to my article at catapult magazine for their 10 Things edition: 10 Ways to Savor Your Time in 2013.

Annnnnd…. away we go:

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Time-Lapse Images of Nude Dancers Created with 10,000 Individual Photographs — Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Post. Lots more at the link:

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Five Easy Things to a Happier Year — National Catholic Review

I’m keeping it light on the New Year’s resolutions/intentions this year. I’m already running a half marathon, promoting a book and planning the next one—that’s plenty to keep me busy. Plus I’m all about the improv and less about the major planning. But I can get behind these:

Be a Little Kinder.  I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person.   No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions, to get this: Be gentler and more compassionate towards other people.

I like the one about enjoying nature more. Reminds me of one of my father-in-law’s practices. When he comes home from work, he takes a moment between car and house to look up. Just to see what the sky looks like. I love that.

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Why Do Americans Have Less Vacation Time Than Anyone Else? — Big Think

This one gets in my craw. It’s not the most pressing issue we face, but it is a justice issue and a spiritual issue:

Like many of you, I am on vacation this week. For most Americans, Christmas week represents about half of the time off we will enjoy all year long. Compared with Australians (at least 4 weeks off, plus 10 public holidays), Brazilians (22 days of paid leave with a 33 percent salary vacation bonus) and the French (at least 5 weeks off and as many as 9 for many public employees), we are seriously bereft.

Look at how the United States stacks up against the rest of the developed world in number of mandatory days off each year:

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What is that all about, do you think?

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How People Live in the Suburbs: A Vintage Illustrated Gem — Brain Pickings

How People Live In The Suburbs was published as part of a Basic Understanding series of primary school supplements, also including How People Earn and Use MoneyHow Farms Help Us, and How Our Government Helps Us — all, sadly, out of print but delightful if you’re able to secure a copy.

Click the link above for more images. These are just cute and bizarre:

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The Five Types of Work That Fill Your Day — 99U

I’m still using Toggl to keep track of how much time I spend on creative work, connecting with people, and doing logistics. Read more about that process here.

But based on this article it would be interesting to do an audit of my time to see how much of my day is spent on Reactionary, Planning, Procedural, Insecurity, and Problem-solving tasks. Good tips here for how to bring things into a frutful balance for your situation.

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The Power and the Allegory: A Book of Interviews with Madeleine L’Engle — BookForum

The book itself is called Listening for Madeleine. From the BookForum article:

L’Engle’s faith was deeply untraditional. A mathematics professor who advised her on A Wrinkle in Time says the three beings who guide Meg on her interplanetary journey—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—were meant to be angels, but they could just as easily be mistaken for witches. And the novel’s dominant image of evil is an undefined blackness that casts its shadow across a wide band of the universe, including Earth. Camazotz, a planet controlled by the blackness, is not a hotbed of violence and depravity but a vision of perfect order. All the houses are identical, the children bounce their balls in perfect unison, and anyone who refuses to submit to the program is punished. “I am freedom from all responsibility,” the evil power croons to Meg. But she recognizes that this is a false consolation, a substitution of conformity for equality. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” she screams.

The fundamental lesson is that it’s OK—even desirable—to be a misfit.

Looking back, I’d say that A Wrinkle in Time formed my early theology as much as (or let’s be honest, more than) the Bible.

Incidentally, I’m putting this post together on Thursday, and Caroline is in the chair next to me with the new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I gave it to her for Christmas and she’s already on her second reading of it.

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A New Model of Empathy: The Rat — Washington Post

I expect there is more of this going on in the animal kingdom than we want to admit:

In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.

The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

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May your weekend be filled with a small hoard of chocolate chips… or whatever delights you.

An Improvising God

Many years ago I worked for an interfaith organization that did work in the Third Ward of Houston. One of the congregations there overlooked a building that had been tagged with graffiti. Various people had painted over the graffiti, but it always came back with a vengeance. So the congregation worked with an artist to design a mural that incorporated the graffiti into the design. The wall was never bothered again.

I can’t find a picture of the wall, but a Google search suggests that this is a common approach to graffiti. I remembered that today when I saw this piece on Colossal: Brilliant Urban Interventions by OakOak Turn Crumbling City Infrastructure into a Visual Playground. Click the link for more, but here are two of my favorites:

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I’ve been thinking for some time about the rules of improv as they relate to life, church work, and even our ideas about God. The basic rule of improv is to yes-and—to accept what is offered and to build on it. That’s what I see in these images, and in the Third Ward mural. (Listen to Stephen Colbert talk about yes-and in this YouTube video; skip to minute 18:00 for the pertinent bit. Or just watch the whole thing, because Colbert.)

This is a personal journey for me—I’m such a planner at heart. If I can plan it, I can control it. If it all fits on the calendar, then it will fit in real life. But life doesn’t work that way, and the older I get the more I see the limitations to planning. It’s not that planning is useless. But what’s more important is cultivating the grace and especially the skill to adapt to changing situations. Like Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” I take “planning” to mean preparation, analysis, skill-building, and discernment.

This improv stuff is also a pastoral thing. When I arrived at Tiny, there was some discussion of making a five- or ten-year plan. It just didn’t seem right. Especially in a small church, where deaths and departures of just a few key leaders can fundamentally alter the makeup of the church. Plus I think the world is changing too fast. You have to know your values and your purpose, but a ten-year plan? Makes no sense to me.

And all of this has theological dimensions. As I’ve written here before, the idea of God’s Plan doesn’t work for me. It really never has. And it doesn’t work for a great many people. But an improvising God… that’s a God that intrigues me. And I think we see some of that God in scripture.

I’ll be thinking and writing about these things a lot in 2013. (I’m also trying to figure out how to get myself into an improv class, which will take some MacGyvering of my schedule.) In the meantime, I began work on some of these ideas at the NEXT Church regional gathering in Rochester last November. Click here to get to the audio of that presentation.

Incidentally, my friend Ashley Goff is also doing some work with improv as it relates to liturgy. She will be speaking about this at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte in March. She rocks, and the conference will rock.

Dobson’s God is a Feckless Narcissistic Thug. Now What?

My Facebook feed is ablaze with righteous anger and defiant opposition to the god preached by James Dobson and others. (Google his remarks if you want.) The sentiment is rather consistent, at least among my gaggle of mostly mainline Protestant/Episcopal friends:

This is not the God I recognize and not the God I pledged to serve as a minister of the gospel.

It is good and right to shout No to the Dobsons and their distorted god. As I said on Sunday morning:

No, by the way, to the idea that God let this madness happen because we no longer pray in school. Like clockwork, the political and religious pundits have suggested exactly that. Imagine what kind of a god that is. A narcissistic thug who would allow such carnage because we don’t pray in the time and place and manner that god specifies. No.

And if I were ever to find out that that’s the kind of being god is, I think I’d have to renounce my ordination and go sell insurance, because that god and I would be finished.

So, No to that.

But what do we say Yes to?

The answer I’m hearing, and affirming myself, is that God weeps with us in the wake of what happened in Newtown. That God’s was the first heart to break that blood-soaked day.

But that’s not enough. Not near enough.

God is more than the Chief Griever.

So what are we willing to affirm? I hear loud and clear the god we reject. But after Friday, and after so many other tragedies that we can’t even name them all… who is the God that we preach?

This is what I’m thinking about almost constantly.

UPDATE:

Here is the thing that has come into focus for me since posting this.

Many people are rejecting Dobson’s comments altogether by saying, “God did not allow this to happen.”

And yet, if God is an omnipotent deity—if God has the capability to intervene in human history and in our individual lives—then technically, God absolutely did allow it to happen. It’s just that we reject that God allowed it to happen for the reasons that Dobson et al put forth.

But God allowed it to happen.

Unless we’re also willing to reject or mitigate God’s omnipotence.

Which is what I’m pondering so strenuously, and have been really since little E died three years ago, and certainly since his brother J died in September.

Wholeness

Our church is continuing its year-long theme, “Who is our neighbor” with an emphasis on health issues in our community. On Sunday we had a guest speaker, so my sermon is a little more concise than usual:

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
October 28, 2012
Mark 10:46-52

‘Wholeness’

Another thing God didn’t “intend to happen.”

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

We’ve got about nine days until the election, and I think I speak for many of us when I say, “Thank God. Make it stop.” …The ads, the phone calls, and the soundbites. It’s been a particularly bizarre season for soundbites. Barely a week seems to go by without a political candidate putting his foot in his mouth. This week a Senate candidate from Indiana, Richard Mourdock, was asked about abortion. Many people who are pro-life make exceptions in cases of rape—in fact, most people do—but this particular person does not, and he said,

Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

My intent in bringing this up is not to talk politics, but theology. What do we believe about good things happening out of bad, even terrible, circumstances? Does that mean the bad thing was part of God’s plan?

Some are inclined to give Mr. Mourdock the benefit of the doubt—he wasn’t saying rape is good, he was saying that life is good, regardless of how it comes about. Others said his theology is flawed: pregnancy through rape is not the work of a good God, but a consequence of an evil human act and a burden that no woman should be forced to bear.

What’s more, I read countless reflections this week by people, friends, who have been victims of sexual violence who were hurt deeply by his words. A few weeks ago in worship we heard Jesus’ words, cautioning us not to create a “stumbling block” for others. Mr. Mourdock’s comments created a painful stumbling block for those who are still struggling with the painful aftermath of these traumas.

Let me put to you another situation: a few weeks ago I read a blog post by an Episcopal priest and a breast cancer survivor. She talked about the impact of cancer on her life, and she gave thanks for friends and family who supported her, she gave thanks for the strength to withstand the treatment, and she gave thanks for world-class medical care and the means to access it—something not everyone has. And then she said, “And thank you, God, for cancer.”

Thank you for cancer.

She went on:

Because of cancer I learned lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn. Because of cancer I discovered a depth of love, faith and gratitude I never knew existed. Because of cancer, I learned that bad news is best handled when infused with the Good News.

Is she right? Does God make cancer happen? Is Richard Mourdock right, about God’s intent? Does everything that befalls us have God’s fingerprints on it?

The question of God’s involvement in good and evil has puzzled theologians for thousands of years. The fancy theological word for that question of good and evil is “theodicy.” And for many people living in the late twentieth, early twenty-first century, it is the sticking point for faith. It’s hard to reconcile the existence of a good and loving God with the holocaust or the killing fields in Cambodia. And it’s not a problem we’re going to solve at Idylwood Presbyterian Church on October 28, 2012. But Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus gives us a few pieces to the puzzle:

God is a God of mercy. Repeatedly Bartimaeus calls out “have mercy on me!” Mercy is compassion. Mercy is kindness. Mercy is care. Does that sound like a God who makes cancer happen, who is so bent on granting the gift of life that God will use a rape to make it happen? There is nothing merciful about that.

God does not impose on us. Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t presume. He doesn’t assume he knows what Bartimaeus wants. He asks, and he waits for the answer. God is not a presumptuous God. Ultimately we are given the dignity to ask for what we want, and to make meaning of our experience for ourselves. I read a reflection by a woman who became pregnant through rape and made the audacious decision to keep the baby. And for her, there was redemption in that decision. And that’s the key phrase—for her. It’s her right to make meaning of her experience; no politician should do it for her. No clergyperson should either. I wonder about the priest with cancer—it’s fine for her to thank God for it but I sure hope she doesn’t insist on her parisioners’ doing so. If God, if Jesus, is gentle enough to ask, “What do you want? How do you see your life and your need?” then that is our call as well. God does not impose, and neither should we.

We are partners in our healing. Bartimaeus has to get up and go to Jesus. There is no remote-control healing here. He’s gotta get up and move, he’s got to ask for what he needs in order to receive it. That means that we avail ourselves of the medical technology that we are fortunate to have. That means that if we’re overweight or a smoker or making poor choices with our diet, we are called to do something about it, not hope for a divine rescue.

And again, that’s the problem with Mr. Mourdock’s theology. If God is the author of everything that happens, then what’s the point of striving for wellness, or going to the doctor? What’s the point of doing anything?

That doesn’t mean that our efforts are always successful. We know the heartbreak of people who do everything right, who make all the right choices, and who still suffer from disease or injury. There’s no getting around that.

And principled people can come to different conclusions about abortion and when life begins. But Mourdock’s theology is wrong. A God of mercy, a God who does not impose on us, a God who asks us to be a partner in our own healing, desires our wholeness…desires our peace… desires our shalom. And not just our wholeness and peace and shalom, but that of this world that God loves.

In Christ, God is reconciling the world. Thanks be to God.

Friday Link Love

And they’re off!

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Blind Runner’s Despair Turns to Joy at Paralympics — NBC

After suffering a devastating loss in the 400M, Brazilian runner Terezinha Guilhermina and her guide Guilherme Soares de Santana win the Women’s 100m at the Paralympics. Great photos there including this one:

So much to love about this. The guide had fallen in the 400 which cost them the victory, and you can see the joy here! Also love that this year, guides are also receiving medals.

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Gym-Pact — RunKeeper

I have joked about there needing to be a system that penalizes you financially for not keeping your fitness goals, and here it is, from the good people at RunKeeper!

Earn real money for making your workouts — paid for by those who missed theirs! With cash on the line, you’ll find it easier than ever to get to the gym and see real results.

Somebody try it and let me know how it goes. Although, so far I have been able to keep myself motivated because of…

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The Benefits of Middle Age Fitness — New York Times

What [researchers] found was that those adults who had been the least fit at the time of their middle-age checkup also were the most likely to have developed any of eight serious or chronic conditions early in the aging process. These include heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer.

The adults who’d been the most fit in their 40s and 50s often developed many of the same conditions, but notably their maladies appeared significantly later in life than for the less fit. Typically, the most aerobically fit people lived with chronic illnesses in the final five years of their lives, instead of the final 10, 15 or even 20 years.

There’s some insightful discussion in the comments about whether the study says what it claims to say. An example:

What if those middle-fit people had been fit their whole lives and it was their youthful fitness that gave them the real benefit?

I’m going to keep being fit, just in case the article is right, and because nobody has invented a time machine yet. And also because I feel much, much better in every measurable way.

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The Invisible Bicycle Helmet — Vimeo

Got this video about these two inventors from Brene Brown, who said, “I love these women’s daring!” Yes indeed.

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

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The Pleasure Of… — Vimeo

Already shared this early in the week but it bears repeating. It will make you feel good. What pleasures would you add?

The pleasure of from Vitùc on Vimeo.

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On Christian Platitudes — Captain Sacrament

During the FB discussion about “God has a plan” (which helped inform this) a friend shared this blog post. I appreciate this critique from someone within the church:

It may not be immediately obvious, but when people offer these phases, these stock answers, it sends a clear and demoralizing message: “I don’t take your struggles seriously, and I’m not prepared to muster the theological depth to share them with you.”

This might be a harsh assessment, but this is a great problem, and worthy of such consideration. If you use these Christian platitudes, these unholy clichés in your care for your brothers and sisters, I urge you to carefully consider dropping them. If you find your friends using them on you, forgive them, then challenge them. Muster some courage and tell them you find those words to be theologically empty and pastorally cold. It’s the only way we’re going to grow and learn to struggle together.

I think there can be another, more benign message in these platitudes: I love you so much, and am so hurt that you are hurting, that I will seek to reduce the hurt any way I can. It’s just that platitudes aren’t effective in reducing the hurt and in fact can make things worse.

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A Chronological New Testament — Marcus Borg

Not really new stuff here, but it’s good to be reminded (and help people who didn’t go to seminary to understand) that the New Testament we have is organized by genre rather than chronologically. And Paul’s letters were written earliest, before the gospels.

Seeing and reading the New Testament in chronological sequence matters for historical reasons. It illuminates Christian origins. Much becomes apparent:

  • Beginning with seven of Paul’s letters illustrates that there were vibrant Christian communities spread throughout the Roman Empire before there were written Gospels. His letters provide a “window” into the life of very early Christian communities.
  • Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.

More at the link.

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Prayer for the Nation — Jena Nardella

The benediction from night 1 of the Democratic National Convention. This has been shared widely but it’s here in case you missed it. Excerpt:

Give us, oh Lord, humility to listen to our sisters and brothers across the political spectrum, because your kingdom is not divided into Red States and Blue States. Equip us with moral imagination to have real discourse. Knit us, oh God, as one country even as we wrestle over the complexity of how we ought to live and govern. Give us gratitude for our right to dissent and disagree. For we know that we are bound up in one another and have been given the tremendous opportunity to extend humanity and grace when others voice their deeply held convictions even when they differ from our own.

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And my last link is especially for you church folk…

A Growing Church is a Dying Church — Street Pastor

So much to love here.

Whenever a congregation goes looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our church?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now: No, she will not.

No amount of pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take your congregation back to back to its glory days.

Read the whole thing.