Lent begins tomorrow, and among other things, I’m experiencing the season by taking a break from blogging. But only sort of. These next several weeks I’ll be highlighting posts from the archives, sharing quotes and links that mean something to me, and maybe even posting a photo or two.
There are a number of reasons for this, one being that I’m trying to make headway on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. I need to create some space and time for those words to come. So I’ll be resting in the words of others…
In this space, anyway. I’ll be writing short weekly reflections on my email list, which you can sign up for here.
I’ve written before about how judgy people can get about Lent practices that strike them as too much about self-improvement and not enough about devotion to God. I’m not interested in diagnosing whether giving up blog writing is a “good enough” discipline. It’s what I’m doing, that’s all. I feel called to it.
How about you? Will you be taking on a practice this Lent?
It’s cold here, and school is closed, so we are hunkering down on this day that I’m choosing to call “a bonus day of winter break” rather than “colossal monkey-wrench in my plans to get back to a routine.” Our family is fortunate to have the shelter of this warm, albeit not fancy, house. It’s a good place to nest.
I’ve been thinking about nests lately, because mine had gotten out of hand. Thankfully I got a scanner for Christmas/birthday, having never had one. I’ve been busily scanning years’ worth of papers, photos, and kid artwork. My corner of the blue room (yes, it’s a real physical place!) has been cluttered and cramped with all of this stuff, and it’s nice to have a chance to clear it out.
Studies show that too much tidiness stifles people’s creativity—they need a moderate amount of disarray in order to feel loose enough to create. Either the mess around my desk was beyond “moderate,” or I’m wired differently, because the clutter was taking tiny nibbles out of my mental health. A tidy, harmonious space allows me to think more clearly. It will get messy again, but for now, it gives me a happy feeling and makes me to want to write, knit, create a book, bake… it makes me want to make stuff.
Here is my shelf of honor, containing those books that have inspired me over the years. It’s not that I consult them all that often, but each of them has played a role in my writing life thus far. I like having these folks nearby:
On the next shelf down I have a birthday card I sent to my dad a long time ago. He adored it and kept it for decades in a frame in his study—my stepmother returned it to me last year. As far as I know, my dad never sat on the roof with his morning coffee… but he’s the type who would have:
On my desk itself I have a strawberry candle, a mother and child soapstone sculpture, and a framed postcard of the nunnery at Iona.
I wonder if you have a similar shelf, or a place in your house or office that’s been carefully curated with inspiring things. I’d love to see it. I don’t think WordPress lets you post pictures in comments, but you could post them on your blog/Facebook page, or email them to me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail, and maybe I could share them in a future post?
We aren’t just collections of disembodied ideas, you know. We are grounded in particular places. It’s lovely to see what those places look like.
Disclaimer:It can be a trap to spend too much time on a shelf of honor or a perfectly appointed study. You don’t need a special pen, or for the sunlight to come in just so, before you can make things. That’s classic procrastination. Just sit down in your chair, the one with the bad ergonomics, and start.
Oh, and psst… the price of Sabbath in the Suburbs just went down on Amazon (at last!). Order it here, or at Chalice Press.
Not long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.
People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing.
Kreider goes on to explain that people soliciting free labor promise the writer or artist that she will receive “exposure” instead, thus increasing her audience. Kreider’s view, however, is that venues offering decent exposure are often those that can afford to pay. In his article, he offers a template for graciously declining such offers to work for free, and also admits that there are times when pro bono work is perfectly OK: to help out a friend, or to support a cause one believes in. But freebie work can get out of hand, and after all, writers are professionals and deserve to be treated as such.
There’s a lot of stuff wrapped up in this article:
an undervaluing of creative work and/or the view that “anyone” can write, design a website, etc.
the sheer proliferation of writing and artistic endeavors, especially on the Internet, much of which is given away for free… so why should we pay YOU for your work? What makes you so special?
the sense that artists and writers are so passionate about their work—that they would “do it for free”—that they can be asked to give away their stuff.
Being in the church adds another layer to all of this. As a pastor, I know that most churches aren’t exactly flush with cash. And that “help out a friend/believe in the cause” stuff that Kreider talks about? In the church, that’s baked right in. We aren’t just friends, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ! Yikes! And belief in the mission? One would certainly hope so.
Besides, we ask all kinds of people to offer their gifts to the church for free: gardeners tend the lawn, amateur electricians do minor repairs. But we have to be careful we’re not taking advantage of people who depend on such skills for their bread and butter.
I really like NEXT Church‘s policy on this. We are getting ready for our fourth national gathering in Minneapolis next spring (which by the way is going to be OUTSTANDING). We are a lean, nascent, grassroots organization, with one paid staff person who works out of her house. When it comes to speakers for our big events, we invite people to come and share their expertise as a way of fulfilling their ordination vow to “be a friend to our colleagues in ministry.” However, there are two important caveats:
1. We cover their travel and lodging expenses, so at least the experience doesn’t cost them anything.
2. If a person is a so-called tentmaker, i.e. if speaking at conferences is a part of how she makes a living, we will offer an honorarium.
I think this policy has integrity. I also know that the Wild Goose Festival got off the ground by asking its speakers and leaders to give their time the first year (not sure about the second year). And they had BIG names who took them up on it.
Gender stuff is wrapped up in this too. For all its limitations, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In continues to have an impact on a lot of women I talk to. Friends who write and speak are constantly struggling with negotiating speaking fees that honor their experience and expertise yet are within the reach of a congregation or judicatory’s budget. I know women who presented at a conference only to discover that they received a lower honorarium than the men at the same event. I know women who give their time and gifts for free because their family’s economic situation is such that they don’t need the money. I know others who work for free, hoping the volunteer work will transition to something for pay.
I don’t have a pithy conclusion to this. Just wondering what other people’s experiences are. And I’m glad Tim Kreider raised the issue. (By the way, I’ve used his article The Busy Trap in numerous retreats and workshops, so I owe him a debt. Hmm… maybe I owe him some cash too.)
It’s Thursday evening and I am just back from Birmingham, where I had a book event and also preached at the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. I’ll post that sermon to the NEXT Church website early next week and link to it here. It was a fun trip—got to hang out with Elizabeth, one of my favorite seminary peeps and a dear friend. So I’m happy, but tired.
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our non waking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
The funeral will be led by Rev. Curt Moore of Orlando, Florida, a questionable choice for any spiritual event, but one the family felt would be appropriate due to the fact that every time Toni heard Curt preach she prayed for Jesus to return at that very moment.
On a last but serious note, the woman who loved life and taught her children to ‘laugh at the days to come’ is now safely in the arms of Jesus and dancing at the wedding feast of the Lamb. She will be missed as a mother, friend and grandmother. Anyone wearing black will not be admitted to the memorial. She is not dead. She is alive.
H/t The Dish, which highlighted this piece that I found astounding:
How a group of 12-year-olds in a Calcutta slum improved their community:
Like so many slum neighborhoods, the notorious Nehru Colony doesn’t officially exist, meaning it has no access to government services such as sanitation and electricity. The youngsters set out to literally put themselves on the map. They went door to door, taking photos with their mobile phones, registering residents and detailing each child born in the colony. Information is then sent by SMS text to a database that links the data to a map hand-drawn by the kids, which is overlaid to GPS coordinates. By registering their existence on Google Maps the group has doubled the rate of polio vaccination from 40% to 80%, decreased diarrhea and malaria rates in the slum, and is lobbying for electricity.
This made the rounds, and rightly so. The billboard displays a different message depending on how tall you are:
The secret behind the ad’s wizardry is a lenticular top layer, which shows different images at varying angles. So when an adult—or anyone taller than four feet, five inches—looks at it they only see the image of a sad child and the message: “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” But when a child looks at the ad, they see bruises on the boy’s face and a different message: “if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you” alongside the foundation’s phone number.
The ad is designed to empower kids, particularly if their abuser happens to be standing right next to them.
Eve Mirriam, a native of Philadelphia, captures something of the beauty of not just poetry but also, I think, creativity itself.
She invites us to consider making two moves: the first is attentiveness. Trace it’s shape, pay attention to its movement, follow its life, chew and smell and see and feel all you can about that thing that fascinates you.
Happy Friday, everyone. What do you have planned this weekend? May you find a little space for things that are bubbly and fun, nourishing and vital. We will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Robert’s grandmother. Joy!
My colleague late at night, a year or two older, was Bill Lyon, who covered Champaign High School sports and became a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. … Bill and I would labor deep into the night on Fridays, composing our portraits of the [football] games. I was a subscriber to the Great Lead Theory, which teaches that a story must have an opening paragraph so powerful as to leave few readers still standing. … Lyon watched as I ripped one sheet of copy paper after another out of my typewriter and finally gave me the most useful advice I have ever received as a writer: ‘One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?’ These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.
More at the link, including excerpts from his memoir and his TED talk.
H/t to my friend LeAnn Hodges. I didn’t see the Louisville/Duke game, but yikes. Yet horrific events can bring out the best in people:
[Ware’s teammate] Hancock thought back to last summer, when he suffered a gruesome shoulder injury in a pickup game. He remembered how others were aghast. He remembered how former Louisville guard Andre McGee was the only one to rush to his side, to rush him to the hospital. He remembered how much that had meant.
So as Ware lay there in the first half of the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament victory over Duke on Sunday, scared and alone and stunned, Hancock ran to him. He held Ware’s hand and told him they would get through this together. He told Ware he would say a prayer for him.
Ware didn’t respond at first, because he was in shock. Hancock took a deep breath, closed his eyes, clenched Ware’s hand and started the prayer.
…You can’t fault the other players for their initial reaction to such a macabre moment. But you can praise Hancock, and you should.
I especially like the responses from Karen Armstrong and Alain de Botton (not too surprisingly—he’s a Blue Room mainstay). Here’s de Botton:
For centuries in the west, there was a figure in society who fulfilled a function that is likely to sound very odd to secular ears. The priest didn’t fulfil any material need; he was there to take care of that part of you called, rather unusually, “the soul”, by which we would understand the seat of our emotions and of our deep self.
Where have our soul-related needs gone? What are we doing with the material we used to go to a priest for? The deep self has naturally not given up its complexities and vulnerabilities simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the tales of the five loaves and two fishes.
The loaves and fishes story is a tale that resonates beyond matters of science, but I take his point.
Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?
Long but excellent rumination on parents’ ambivalence about their kids’ use of technology:
By their pinched reactions [to questions about how much screen time their kids have], these parents illuminated for me the neurosis of our age: as technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, American parents are becoming more, not less, wary of what it might be doing to their children. Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.
And on the other end of the spectrum of childhood… college students:
“I occasionally see students using their phones during yoga or pilates, which makes me a bit sad,” Determann said. “If you can’t be unplugged for 45 or 60 minutes, that’s a bit concerning, in my opinion. I know that this has just become the way we, as a society operate, but the world will go on without you checking your notifications.”
A critique against drones from a Christian perspective:
Our use of drones is only defensible on “Just War Theory” grounds, if we are able to demonstrate an immediate threat to this country that is specific and specifically premeditated with a specific objective. Unfortunately, the current administration, with its complex entanglements of secrecy and formal denials, has not been able to explain or demonstrate an immediate threat.
Our use of drones are out of “proportion” because it uses the most advanced technology in the world to assassinate people who can basically only throw the equivalent of sticks and stones back at you. Moreover, it gives these people no chance to surrender. It is like capital punishment without an arrest, a charge, a trial, or a right of appeal.
Our use of drones is not humane, because it totally objectifies the enemy by making them into a picture on a screen. There is not the faintest possibility, in the conduct of drone warfare by means of remote control, that you can regard the enemy as a fellow human citizen of the planet.
Longish article about a new book, Give and Take, and its author, professor Adam Grant who, and I say this in a nice way, sounds like a freak. You might describe him as… radically generous with his time—he answers every email request for help, he spends hours mentoring students, etc. But all of this giving comes back to him in very interesting, even powerful, ways. “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”
“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. Many of the examples — the selfless C.E.O.’s, the consultants who mentor ceaselessly — are inspiring and humbling, even if they are a bit intimidating in their natural expansiveness. These generous professionals look at the world the way Grant does: an in-box filled with requests is not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work. “I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant told me. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?” Where other people see hassle, he sees bargains, a little work for a lot of gain, including his own.
There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in this way rather than the calculating tit-for-tat manner we are often trained to employ with one another. But I spent most of the article assuming he must be single, because what family could put up with someone who lives this way? Turns out he has a wife who stays home to take care of the kids. Which hey, more power to them. But it does color things somewhat, eh?
At any rate, I’m interested in the research on this topic. It seems like Grant’s outlook requires you to see time as an abundant resource, which I don’t. As I write in the book, I’m much more comfortable with the idea of holy scarcity. There isn’t enough time for everything we want or need to do. So how do we move as creatively through our days as possible?
Speaking of which… may you shimmy and tango through your weekend and all of its work, play, errands, and maybe, a few surprises. Peace.