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Bob Sitze's Blog

October 23, 2014

Simple enough: Writer's demons

Some of you have taken heart from my writing and may now be picking up pens or keyboards to share your thoughts about simple living. Fair warning: Soon enough, "writers' demons" will awake inside your self-concept, trying to dissuade you from this necessary work. To save you the trouble and time of discovering these devilish voices, I will devote today's blog to naming their fiendish pronouncements. Here are the ones I know only too well:

Who do you think you are, anyhow?
When it comes to simplicity, you're a hypocrite, so you're no more of an authority on lifestyle matters than Porky, your pet hamster.

Everyone already knows this stuff.
Several centuries ago, everyone in the civilized world figured out what you hope to name as a new discovery. Your master's degree in obvious is so five-minutes ago!

Is that all the better you can express yourself?
Your tiny vocabulary must come from a thesaurus for babies. Maybe crying or drooling should accompany your word-choices?

This is typing, not writing.
The contents of a paper shredder show a better command of writing mechanics than you.

Your words are venal.
Who knows what that means, but it sounds bad.

No one is paying attention to you.
Why should anyone take time away from their smartphones to give your words more than a passing yawn?

Your writing will accomplish nothing.
Words on a page don't change anyone or anything. If you're after "change," you're already a failure.

Because these self-accusations are partially true, their base-line temptation—"Only a fool would continue"—is strong. Hold on, though, because their insistent voice is mostly wrong so you should keep on writing! One hint: Find someone to be your muse, helping you persevere against your own devilish self-talk.

Simple enough? 

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October 20, 2014

Simple enough: Gut-brained people

Don't look now, but poly-vagal theory is coming your way. And not a moment too soon. (What? You're not following gastronomy or neurobiology that closely since Little Orvey stopped playing on the freeway?) To correct that situation, let's review this burgeoning field of study and consider some matters that might affect your living simply.

Poly-vagal theory revolves around the structure and functions—some of them astounding—of the vagus nerve. Because this large superhighway of nerves runs almost the entire length of your body, it's the key feature of the entire enteric nervous system—esophagus, stomach, pancreas and GI tract. Two other important features: First, at its top end the vagus nerve connects to your brain stem, where critically important brain functions happen nearly automatically. Second, this system uses more dopamine—the brain's feel-good chemical—than the brain in your skull. For these and other reasons, neurobiologists call this system a "second brain (or more colloquially: "The gut brain").

Why pay attention to this developing theory centered on the vagus nerve? There is already significant research suggesting that some forms of intuition and decision-making may involve this second brain. (As in "gut instinct.") It's possible that appetites—both a literal and metaphoric concept—are connected with the work of this system. Stress and other brain-based difficulties may originate in disorders in the GI tract. Depression could be associated with the effects of inflammation in your enteric nervous system.

Where's simple living in here? Think about lifestyle matters that might correlate with any of the ideas in the preceding paragraph. Appetites, dopamine, mood disorders—any of these can undergird faulty decision-making in your life, resulting in habitual behaviors that might be detrimental to the health of the planet, your body or your soul. All because of your gut-brain!

Simple enough?

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October 17, 2014

Simple things: The shovel

(This entry continues a mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise: It's important to look more deeply, appreciatively and gratefully at some of the elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

Although the shovel (or spade) has been around for eons, it's also one of those simple things that's easy to take for granted. You might not have that many reasons to dig holes, transplant bushes, make trenches or move dirt anymore. But if your home includes a yard, a shovel is probably one of the most dependable tools you possess. Think with me for a moment or two about the qualities and blessings that this scoop-and-lever-with-a-long-handle brings.

The shovel's development over the ages has resulted into a rather sophisticated object. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, the shovel holds just about the right amount of stuff—so you don't waste effort and don't hurt your back. The scoop's metal is an alloy that provides strength and flexibility without unnecessary weight. The handle—whether wood, steel or composite materials—is shaped at the right length and diameter to fit your hands and torso for maximum ergonomics. Special kinds of shovels make possible special work—shoveling manure, scooping grain, digging post holes.

You can find satisfaction and delight in using a shovel. Some of my favorites include:

  • Digging household garbage into our compost heap, whose attending odors tell me that waste is turning back into useful dirt.
  • Turning over soil in my garden—putting the ground to sleep for the winter and reawakening it in the spring.
  • Exercising my entire torso in a coordinated process that results in observable outcomes.
  • Reshaping the natural history of my yard toward beauty and functionality.
  • Building trenches and small dams that channel water away from my house toward more useful locations.

I'm happy to have a shovel or two in my possession, and thank all those people who, over the ages, have perfected this tool for my appreciative use.

Simple enough? 


P.S. Everything I know about shovels comes from my father Estel and grandfather Floyd, who knew the business end of a shovel like they knew the Apostles' Creed! 

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October 14, 2014

Simple congregations: Fledgling Care Part 1

(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These slightly longer entries can complement any program or planning process.)

One way to reimagine your congregation's health and vitality is to frame its identity around some new metaphors. (Because deep spiritual maturity necessarily invites your brain into metaphoric language, it stands to reason that a new metaphor might just yield a new identity.) Let's try that today with a metaphor from the world of birds: The church as a place of fledgling care!

Some background here: One of the most difficult tasks in Christian living is reaching toward spiritual maturity. Whether you're an old or new believer, you can easily remain stuck in the "nest" of belief that's too-easy, too-comfortable, too-protective. Faithful followers of Jesus like you can see the church as a safe place, a refuge from the dangers of the world. And it's probably not too far-fetched to wonder how congregations suffer when their members remain eternal fledglings—newly hatched birds who want to stay in the nest and be fed by their mature parents. You get the picture.

What would happen, though, if you thought of your congregation as a place where "baby birds" in the faith could be gently edged out of the nest to fly on their own. Not dependent on parents/pastors for their safety or sustenance, these feathered friends would understand that their eventual goal would be to leave home and minister in God's world beyond the nest. To take the risks of mature faith and work wherever they were called by God. To take on danger and opportunity with a chirping song in their hearts.

How might this image be played out? You and your congregation might:

• Play with this metaphor a little bit more, asking questions like "In what ways do we behave like birds in a nest?"; "How is God like a protective hen? Like an insistent bird parent?"; or "When does a nest start to be a problem for birds—and for people?"

• Ask an avid birder to detail the process by which fledglings learn to leave the nest and fly! Listen to the language of the answers to see if any more concepts might apply to your congregation's identity or behaviors. (For example, testing one's wings or first flight.)

• Look at Scriptures where birds are described as emblematic of God's working or will. (For example, see Matthew 23:37 or Psalm 8:8.) Use a Bible concordance to note all the references to various species of birds (e.g., eagles, doves, cormorants, pelicans or swallows) and see what you can learn from Bible birds.

• Recast some youth ministry goals with "fledgling care" as their guiding metaphor. Important question: Who, really, are the newly hatched ones, the fledglings or the parent birds in your congregation? (Be careful not to answer too quickly!)

• Think together about how you care for not-yet-ready-to-fly members. Not to make them overly dependent on the congregation, but to ready them for their lives as mature believers!

I hope this little trip into "Metaphor-Land" might be helpful for your imaginative thinking, and that you'll take these few thoughts and expand them into something wonderful and appealing.

Like fledglings ....

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October 11, 2014

Simple enough: Noticing

This past summer I had the great pleasure of hanging out with some natural history folks. They're well-read, thoughtful and honest about putting into practice their precepts about living respectfully in the natural world. One of the things I learned from them is the valuable skill (and its underlying attitudes) of simply noticing. "Simple" because you don't need elaborate equipment or extensive training to become a wondering, wandering observer. At the same time, "noticing" is an exquisitely complex activity of the human spirit and worth pursuing as part of your personal skills.

These naturalists understand what neurobiologists have named as a bedrock principle of brain science: Everything human-related starts with attention. Seeing and observing with appreciation. Noticing. Attention is a commodity—see "marketing strategies" on your browser. In a world that's too noisy and too desperate for attention, "to be noticed" is a precious gift that others can offer to you. It's probably true that those who can notice are among the true prophets and leaders in society.

Simplicity depends on noticing, and noticing depends on simplicity. When you slow down your tendencies to look without seeing, when you pare down your focus to what's important, when you value both the big picture and the tiniest detail—when this happens you can absorb the beauties of nature into your entire self. You can also find in any situation what's truly amazing or worthwhile. You can find in others' eyes the clues to their inner beauty. You can avoid distractions and competing stimuli. You can engage your entire brain in curiosity, imagination and wonder.

Noticing requires time and timing. Surprise starts with noticing. Gratitude and humility find their source in noticing. Discernment rests on noticing. Noticing begets appreciation and admiration.

How to start noticing? Stop. Look. Listen. Repeat as necessary.

Simple enough? 

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October 8, 2014

Simple enough: No time to write

I'm not going to be able to compose a blog now on account of some urgent digital tasks that have been requested from me over the past few days. I am talking, of course, about the need to change my passwords now. So that you can forgive my lack of bloginess, let me detail my work plan for today:

I will follow my bank's instructions and increase the password strength on my online account by adding meaningless emoticons or symbols located under F17 and F23 on this keyboard.

According to my credit card company, I am likely the target of a Shanghai-based hacker, so I'll change my password into coded verbiage unknown to soldiers.

All the Cyrillic characters on my airline rewards password should be eliminated, according to Oleg Trymenshicov, their online security vice president.

I'll need to set up a new online identity with the NSA immediately, on account of having thought that "Oleg" was a real person.

Next I will change the answers to the "Oh-So-Secret Questions Profile" for my HealthNutCo ID access, especially the ones about my mother's high school nickname (Biffy Sue) and the color of my first dog's tail (magenta).

My congregation's contribution system may have been hacked by atheists, so my new online donor password will no longer include Lutheran-only terms, such as "beer," "Katie Luther Rocks" or "space-alien abduction hymns."

For privacy's sake, I'm going to eliminate all the code language I use in these blogs, those words and phrases that I was previously assured would ward off heretical hackers and their unsightly carbuncles. I am thinking of writing with more illiterate obfuscation than usual.

I'm so sorry that my usual 5#$brilliant*& blog#$!!!won't be available(#)$@@today. I'm sure you understand this matter, because you2know the #@value@$#that#43%%comes from living in this @@$))wonderfully@@digitized))(#@@@world!

Simple enough? 

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October 5, 2014

Simple enough: Observing obvious oxymorons

Who was it—Yogi Berra?—who said that you can see a lot just by looking? One of the banes or blessings of simplicity-seeking can be an increased awareness of lifestyle elements that just don't make sense. They're oxymoronic—self-contradictory to the point of being empty-headed. The term can also describe situations, ideas or life elements whose incredibility inspires statements of wisdom! If that's true, perhaps it's a good mental exercise to observe and name some places in contemporary culture whose oxymoronic nature might inspire you to change your behaviors. Try some of these as examples:

• People who feed their lawns with dangerous chemicals that cause the lawn to grow faster so they need to use gas-hogging riding lawnmowers to mow the lawn more frequently.

• The guy in my neighborhood who walks his dog every day, with a cigarette in his hand or mouth. I wonder whether he thinks he's doing the dog a favor, exercising his body or just hiding his habit from his wife. (Probably none of the above!)

• Runners who traipse through verdant landscapes festooned—and isolated—in electronic music machines and earbuds. Yes, they're exercising, but they're also cut off from appreciating the natural world and the people around them.

• People who send little packets of rice off to places in the world where food is scarce, thus cutting off the livelihood of local farmers and vendors, making them dependent on—you guessed it—the food packets.

The point again is not that we should all find, name and ridicule people whose lifestyle behaviors are self-contradictory, circular arguments or worse. The value in careful observation is, instead, to measure our own lives in order to find the places where our behaviors make no apparent sense and to make necessary changes.

I think Yogi Berra would approve. 

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October 2, 2014

Simplicity's children: Falling activities

It's autumn again, the time of year when "falling"—activities you can undertake to enjoy fall—is something wonderful in which to engage your little darlings. Here, just in time, are my heartfelt ideas on how to help your children with their falling.

Making leaf toys
With just a little bit of creativity, several piles of dried leaves and lots of glue, your children can construct little boats and rafts that can function not only as enchanting toys but also as emergency transportation devices when the next 100-year flood hits your neighborhood.

Harvest fun
If you have a garden—or a lively collection of weeds—it's time to bring in the sheaves. Your children can learn the delights of digging carrots, picking berries, shucking corn, gathering the last flowers of the season and trampling thistle plants into oblivion.

Losing clothing
Because the weather of this season varies so greatly, your children can have loads of fun trying to remember where they left their sweaters, bathing suits, flip-flops or snow boots before the autumnal climate fools you again. (The fun is in the remembering; the "finding-and-bringing-home" part isn't always enjoyable.)

Core strengthening exercises
Children of every age welcome the return of school in the fall, the time when they don backpacks the size of Delaware, and thereby build muscle mass and strong bones. These body-building exercises can prove helpful should children encounter bullies the size of Delaware.

Thank-you note construction
Looking for an enjoyable activity to occupy your children during long days of inclement weather? Consider asking them to create a treasure-trove of almost-complete thank-you notes. Featuring cute drawings (of grandparents, pets, children's self-portraits), these missives of gratitude can be completed quickly as occasions arise (birthdays, visits from grandparents, Christmas) and add to the reputation of your children as grateful people.

Simple enough? 

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September 29, 2014

Simple enough: Sustaining simplicity

Every so often I run across a resource that may have receded into the back-rooms of the church's memory—an important source for understanding the life of faith that has somehow been forgotten. Today I want to reacquaint you with a book that fits this description, one whose reading I strongly encourage.

I refer to Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal by freelance writer and journalist Anne Basye. This resource was produced by the ELCA hunger program a few years back, part of a larger effort to connect the "root causes of hunger" with the lifestyles of contemporary culture. Not confined to this purpose, though, Sustaining Simplicity tracks the author's wide-ranging reflections about her simple lifestyle over an entire year.

Full of spiritual depth, transparent and emotionally rich, this journal draws you into Basye's life in an urban setting. As you read the variety of entries she accumulates, you find yourself making comparisons to your own simplicity-seeking: Where do her circumstances match mine? What am I missing in my life? Where around me are there people like this author? Perhaps the most important question: How could my own journal be helpful or inspiring to others?

Presented in an attractive design and written in an approachable style, this journal can hearten you, provide you with practical suggestions for your life and encourage you to keep working at your sometimes-lonely lifestyle goals. Because it can hook your emotions and imagination, this book remains relevant, evocative and inspiring.

You can order Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal at the ELCA website, part of its treasure-trove of hunger resources. You might also develop accompanying materials that could help make this book into a congregational resource.

Have fun with your reading! 

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September 26, 2014

Simple enough: Weeding weather

You may experience in your climate zone what we junior meteorologists call "weeding weather." This is the time where outpourings or pilings-up of moisture make the ground soft and yielding. The end result? Weather that makes possible one of life's most pleasurable and rewarding tasks: Pulling weeds out of a yard, sidewalk, garden or unwashed ears.

It's a simple thing, this weeding, but it brings with it feelings that can color your entire day or personality. From my experience (yes, I am a flagrant weeder) come these thoughts:

  • When the ground is super-saturate­d, weed roots of almost every kind release their tenacious grip on that soil and yield to your insistent tugging.
  • As the weeds come free of their unsightly perches, your eyes feast on a space suddenly redeemed, clean or pleasing to the eye.
  • Piled weeds seem almost eager to greet their next iteration: material for the compost heap. The weeds wilt even before their gentle placement into/onto their new home, as if waiting to decompose and turn back into soil.
  • When you clear enough weeds, the satisfaction of restoring that space to an original state of beauty can also lift your spirits. The semi-depression that comes from a weed-choked space is now lifted, and endorphins take their rightful place in your now weed-free brain.
  • If you are a gardener or other plant-lover, you may elect to replace the weeds with other growing things that don't cause hay fever, attract vermin or spread into your teen's overgrown bedroom. Botany shifts gears, and so does your view of verdant life.

Are there lifestyle metaphors growing here? Certainly. Are weeds still only plants that are unwanted in a particular space? Of course. Is weeding weather a time for thanking God? You got it!

Am I finished pulling word weeds?

Yep. 

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September 23, 2014

Simple Congregations: Simple Stewardship (repeat)

The following set of entries, "Simple Stewardship," is a bonus feature just for you. Use these entries as part of your congregation's annual efforts at stewardship education or your preparations for funding God's mission in your congregation. Each entry is devoted to a single stewardship topic.

Who's a steward? (A little background on the term)
All of life (What "stewardship" includes)
Who's on first? (Choosing a stewardship ministry team)
A better starting point (Beginning with your assets in mind)
Giving is emotional (A key concept in generosity)
Stale bread (Communicating in fresh ways)
Proof-texting stewardship (Using the Bible wisely)
Avoiding asking (Detouring around the core task)
The perfect response method (Choosing a method for requesting contributions)
Fundraising (A good term with wise practices)

I hope these entries are useful for you, that they're simple to understand. And if you want to learn more, follow your denomination's stewardship ministry leaders to their resources, their wisdom, their helpfulness.

God keep you joyful in your stewardship!

To learn more about these and other stewardship concepts, visit http://bit.ly/oODN6v to view a set of whimsical animated movies about "Pig Boy" (one way of describing the Anglo Saxon term, "steward").


Simple stewardship: Who's a steward?

To start out with, let's get this "you're a steward" thing straight, OK? First, some Greek and Anglo-Saxon basics:

Greek: The "steward" (economos) the chief slave in first-century estates who knew and carried out the plan (economia) of the owner. This person did not just follow the "household rules" (an old translation of economia), nor was an economos simply a "caretaker" or "manager."

Anglo-Saxon: Even before the English language was regularized in writing, there were stewards. They worked in castles. The person in charge of the castle sty—the place where animals were cared for—was called the stywaerden, a fairly responsible position in the hierarchy of castle life. Over time—probably because of the faithful service of these sty-wardens—the "steward" was given charge of the great hall, then the responsibility for the economic well-being of the castle. Eventually, "stewards" became the Stewarts, rulers of Scotland and other kingdoms.

So when you use the terms "steward" or "stewardship" today, you're talking about someone who:

  • Works faithfully to complete the plan of an absent owner, making decisions and taking action to fulfill the owner's expressed will.
  • Works with both gritty, grimy realities and the big-picture elements of life.
  • Gets the job done, whether or not the available rules require specific actions.
  • Lives with a sense of responsibility regarding what he or she does not own.

In contemporary Christian theology, the designation "steward" is applied to every Christian. Each of us has the privilege and responsibility of serving God's will. Wherever we are, and using what's at our disposal, we accomplish what God has in mind: creating, redeeming, sanctifying, combating evil, forgiving, loving, leading, sacrificing for the sake of others.

In today's world, stewards are mature disciples who do more than follow the instructions left for them. Self-starters, stewards are pragmatic, can-do people who know that fulfilling the will of God for the world is a whole lot better than following their own whims, fantasies, imaginations, or egos. They look after the welfare of others, keeping in mind their once-lowly estate—remember the sty?

So you're one of those people, you and all the other members of your congregation. You have a joyful task in front of you, good stuff to work with, and wonderful outcomes to seek. God calls you, equips you, and sends you to accomplish God's will in the world.

Good work!

 

Simple stewardship: All of life

You already know this, right? Stewardship is about all of life, not just your congregation's annual to secure commitments for funding its ministries. (The New Testament economos and the stywarden of the Middle Ages were responsible for much more than money.) If you took that premise to heart, what could "whole life stewardship" do to simplify your congregation's life together? These thoughts:

  • You could choose from among a wide variety of topics and lectionary texts on which to preach and teach during the entire year.
  • Hearers and learners—and other members—might see themselves as stewards wherever their lives take them.
  • Your congregation could have a wider variety of caring ministries. (For example, what if you explored the stewardship of expectant mothers or the stewardship of the arts?)
  • Your congregation's mission statement could get shortened to: Together we accomplish God's will wherever we are.
  • Members would see how their use of money helps them fulfill their yearning to do God's will in the rest of their lives.
  • Because money follows passion, your annual funding programs could start with people's passions for their lifework inside and outside your congregation.
  • Marginally involved members could find excitement and purpose in your congregation. (Think children, youth, "inactives.")
  • Contributors could see your congregation's value for its members' entire lives. (For example, "This church helps you fulfill your calling as parents, students, truck drivers, and farmworkers.")
  • Stewardship might replace discipleship as a focus for your identity as a congregation.

Yes, worship, witness, and Christian formation are also legitimate centers for congregational identity. But if may be difficult to connect those valued elements of practical theology with the daily lives of "ordinary Christians." It's possible that stewardship is a more easily understandable way for members to approach their entire lives in God's service. That's why "stewardship of life" has other names, like ministry in daily life, lifestyle stewardship or creation care. That may even be a reason why the term "stewardship" still attracts attention and energy in the enterprises of commerce and government.

So here's a question: How could stewardship—putting God's useful gifts to work in order to fulfill God's will—simplify your congregation's programs, attitudes or identity? One answer: This approach might prove to be a fresh and enjoyable way for you to conduct this year's annual mission funding appeal.

Willing to try this out?

 

Simple stewardship: Who's on first?

The classic comedy act of Abbott and Costello made famous a routine in which a miscommunication about nouns and pronouns results in total confusion about the names of the players on a fictitious baseball team. What may not be funny in your congregation—even though it could be a classic situation—is the matter of finding just the right "players" to serve on your congregation's team for stewardship ministry.

So in the interest of helping you with simple stewardship thinking, these few thoughts:

  • Don't rely necessarily on the usual suspects or the obvious choices. Yes, bankers and financial planners know about money, but stewardship also concerns itself with lifestyle, greed, unemployment, care of the earth and difficult decisions.
  • This wider view of stewardship ministry may suggest a wider view of who could best take leadership in these matters.
  • Start your selection process with the view that this team is going to talk honestly with congregation members about decisions they make about their way of living. (Remember that giving is only one aspect of life stewardship.)
  • Who in your congregation is straightforward, courageous, truth seeking and truth telling, curious, humble, hopeful or trustworthy? Being a steward isn't necessarily an easy task for anyone, so perhaps your team members are those who are working hard to make sense out of their calling in life, their present economic situation, or their attitudes about the future or parenting.
  • Consider some unlikely candidates for the team, as a way of bringing fresh ideas and vigor to stewardship ministry. They might be teenagers, commodity traders, shut-ins, coaches, entrepreneurs, "inactive" members, people with disabilities, writers or artists.
  • As you solicit participation, frame the tasks these leaders will undertake in terms of the time required, duration of the work, and expectations for outcomes. Share with prospective team members the specific personal qualities that attracted your attention as well as the benefits you hope will come to them.
  • Invite individuals into this group with a personal invitation, preferably face to face. You are your most earnest and persuasive self when others can see your face!

You can fill a stewardship task group with a wonderful collection of interesting and eager people. They're out there in plain sight, waiting for your invitation. As they work together with you, you'll all come to see that there is joy and fulfillment in stewardship leadership!

From time to time, maybe some comedy too.

 

Simple stewardship: A better starting point

In my many decades of stewardship ministry, I've seen that stewardship too often begins with presumptions regarding great and continuing neediness. You probably know what I'm talking about if you've ever had to cajole your congregation into generosity by revealing the overwhelming problems facing the people of God. Here's another characteristic of this approach: an overwhelmingly depressing logic about the pervasive incapacities of this congregation. (My way of framing this attitude: "If we had some eggs, we could have some ham and eggs—if we had some ham.")

When you start with neediness, you get trapped into stress and fear. Both of these conditions elicit reactions like fighting, fleeing and freezing—hardly behaviors for congregations wanting to get God's work done! And stress chemicals mess up your brain's capacity for imagination, action, generosity, creativity and remembering.

A better place to start? What you already have that could be useful. (So, in the ham-and-eggs formula, you'd start with something like, "We have all this ham; what could we do with it?") The name for this approach is "asset-based planning and thinking," but don't let that term scare you. This is a much better approach, mostly because it leapfrogs over negativity.

Right now you may be thinking about how to fund God's mission or how to ask people to join in that task. Start your thinking and planning with your already-existing assets—God-given gifts that are useful. (Don't worry about objectives and outcomes; they'll show up later.) Take a careful look at all the skills, experiences, education, hobbies, and attitudes of your congregation that you might use in getting God's work done. And then put them together to forge approaches that start with strengths, not weaknesses.

I've seen this work in places where the only assets people could think of were their problems ("We're just a bunch of old people here") and I've seen this approach ignite excitement in places where all the assets seemed odd ("Most of us have lawn tractors"). In almost every setting, the assets are surprising motivators, because they've been hiding behind all the presumed neediness! And when they're exposed to the wind of the Spirit, the assets join together, generating innovation, energy and a can-do attitude that eventually succeeds. That's why I encourage you to explore you're the usefulness of all your gifts.

And by the way, you most likely have both the ham and the eggs!

 

Simple stewardship: Giving is emotional

Any decision to give is basically an emotional act, especially when it comes to contributing money. The research out there—philanthropy, altruism, behavioral economics—seems pretty consistent on this point. Because the emotions that underlie giving are fairly complex, they likely involve much more of the brain than logical-sequential thought. You know many of them: love for others, love for God, sympathy, empathy, fear/anger, hope, kinship, affinity, duty, admiration, joy, gratitude, generosity, surprise, delight, or humility.

When it comes to funding God's mission through your congregation, you may want to assess how much you rely on emotion—and how much on intellect—as the bases for your appeal. You might ask questions such as these:

  • In what ways do your communications include language that acknowledges or invites emotions?
  • How do you connect factual matters with emotions?
  • How much do you look only to "proofs"—appeals to intellectual truths—as primary motivations for giving?Which emotions might you have overlooked?
  • On which emotions do you depend too often?Where in your appeals for contributions do you invent or amplify "emotions" that just aren't that strong or don't exist at all?

A caution here: Appeals to emotion can sometimes weaken the effectiveness of your annual mission funding emphasis. Why? Several reasons come to mind. Processing emotions requires a lot of brain power, making it hard to sustain that kind of mental work. Even though most decisions start in the brain's emotion centers, not every thought is completely and forever laden with emotion. Sometimes appeals to feelings backfire or become manipulative when the emotions start to run roughshod over every other legitimate thought process. (Think about pleas that rely only on sympathy for people who are poor.) And getting from motivation to action requires some logical-sequential thinking, especially planning.

But if your annual emphasis on securing contributions is primarily an invitation to intellect—"God tells us thus-and-so, and therefore we will do this-and-that" or "We should do our part to meet the budget"—you may be barking up the wrong tree, or at least appealing to only one part of givers' brains. And a purely logical approach to giving can become overloaded with information and thus cumbersome for the brain to process fully. That limited way of encouraging giving just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

My encouragement for you: Consider including emotional appeals in your calls to members' thinking about funding God's mission. I think this could simplify stewardship.

Does any of this make sense to you?

 

Simple stewardship: No stale bread

For as long as I can remember, I've been struck by the willingness of some church leaders to serve "stale bread" in their communications and utterances. This has seemed especially true in the area of stewardship. Leaders who would never serve stale communion wafers or stale lemon bars at potlucks seem nevertheless content to serve up huge helpings of verbiage that may have passed its usefulness several football seasons ago.

I'm not entirely sure what makes one person's bedrock truth into someone else's stale bread, so I want to be careful here. But I also want to be honest: Some of our stewardship utterances may be musty mutterings or grand flourishes of ancient rhetoric that just don't carry messages very well any more.

Consider these examples:

  • Is there a better way of saying, "time, talents, and treasures"? How about "useful gifts of God" or "God-given assets" or even "the stuff that makes life worth living"? (And be honest, is active alliteration attractive any more?)
  • I don't know what do about "the giver's need to give." It seems to me that if we encourage or fill that need, we're primarily benefitting the giver, which feels kind of selfish.
  • "Blessed to be a blessing" is true, but so is, "We get to do God's work together."
  • "Give back to God what God has first given us" seems both stale and a minor heresy. Nothing in our lives belongs to us, so how can we give God anything? (Yes, I know those Bible passages.)

The solution is not to invent spanking-new expressions that call so much attention to themselves that folks get lost in our gosh-darn cleverness. Spiffy could also be silly. If stewardship is about serving the will of God wherever we are with whatever we have, though, it seems to me that the language of stewardship should be as delightfully ordinary as the discourse of everyday conversation.

So how does "stale bread" (not) work where you are? How have you been able to find fresh and honest ways to talk about things like money, generosity, God's will for your life, or being mindful of blessings? What would it take for you to start baking and serving what's clean, bright, and unsullied by overuse?

I wish you well in your consideration of these questions. And when you find good answers, share them with someone else.

May your stewardship be fresh and simple!

 

Simple stewardship: Proof-texting stewardship

My spiritual heritage includes the skill of proof-texting, using biblical material—even out of context—to bolster one's beliefs, values, attitudes, or actions. Inside the confines of Mother Church this ability was important, but when I stepped outside into the world, very few people saw my adroit quoting of Scripture as proof of anything.

A similar problem may complicate stewardship ministries. In some places, the legitimacy of a practice or truth is accomplished by slathering stewardship-related communications with Scriptures. Some stewardship leaders also believe that seasoning their invitations and arguments—about generosity, pledging, proportional giving, and so forth—with Bible passages will motivate others towards correct actions. It's not that simple, though. Proof-texting probably doesn't work well as a motivation for most people. Their gratitude and generosity are generated by other, deeper spiritual factors.

Proof-texting as a form of persuasion can also be marginally dishonest when Scripture is taken out of context. Twisting and tweaking the Bible to "prove" how we might behave as contributors to congregational ministries is no better than using God's Word to prove scientific facts. Let me share these possible examples:

  • Many of Paul's exhortations about regular offerings refer specifically to the first-ever hunger/disaster relief program of Christianity. This is not the same as weekly offerings to support congregational ministries.
  • The Old Testament seems to encourage three different tithes. One of them was devoted to funding a big celebration!Urgings to "sacrificial giving" that cite Old Testament references may overlook the fact that most sacrifices were payments for the misdeeds of God's people.Those same sacrifices provided God with a pleasing odor, but also ensured good eating for the priests and Levites.
  • Jesus was likely not a regular contributor to his local synagogue.
  • Newer exegetical tools provide possibly different meanings for some of the New Testament parables of Jesus that are frequently cited as examples of giving.

Let me say right away that the deeper meanings and practices of stewardship—gratitude, generosity, un-deservedness, giftedness—are amply illustrated and encouraged in the Bible. Most of them, though, are embedded in stories of God's people, in the utterances of prophets and Wisdom literature, or in out-of-the-stewardship-limelight passages. (For an example, see 2 Peter 1:3ff in the CEV translation.) Those are the wonderful places to seek God's wisdom for stewardship ministry. Look for these heartening encouragements as you continue to search the Scriptures.

That's proof enough for me.

 

Simple stewardship: Avoiding asking

I'd like to talk about what I think may lie behind some of the difficulties many of us face when it comes to funding God's mission in our congregation. I think it's really simple: We're afraid or embarrassed to ask other people to give money. (We may also be afraid of folks who might say "No!") Some of us may not be sure whether our congregation is worthy of people's contributions.

When we don't admit those fears, we hide behind getting the right theme or speaker, or we spend big bucks bringing in experts to do our asking for us. Our fears might drive other behaviors like depending on sure-fire techniques, crafting overwrought communications, or passing on vague euphemisms and metaphors. Another possible sign of avoidance: allowing meetings to slip into trivial or endless planning.

How to get around this? Admit together that you may be uncomfortable asking other people for their contributions. Take an appreciative look at the work of God that gets done because of your church. Think about how lives get changed by your congregation's programs and your congregation's members. People receive benefits such as:

  • Courage to face the world every day at work.
  • Honesty and integrity in the face of difficulty.
  • Comfort, wisdom, and hope when times are tough.
  • Lives that make sense.
  • Reasons to keep on keeping on.

More benefits? Consider how contributors can gain an identity that's more than self-idolatry; the life-truths and joy that come in sermons; the support of other, like-minded souls; and the thrill of being part of something bigger than you. How about forgiveness, love, trust, delight—human commodities available to all comers? Because of your congregation, God's work gets done here at church and out in the world.

Understanding the value of your congregation—fund-raisers call this a case statement—you can face potential contributors with the assurance (for them and for you) that they receive and offer benefits because of this congregation.

One other thing: If your congregation includes marketers, advertisers, salespersons, or business owners, ask them to train you in the good and godly arts of asking! These are folks who do not apologize for asking or hide behind modesty or false humility. They believe in what they do, what they offer, who they are. You can learn from them.

Now are you ready to ask others for contributions without looking down at your shoes?

 

Simple stewardship: The perfect tesponse method

Here's a classic urban/suburban/rural myth of stewardship ministry: There is a perfect response method. In the minds of some stewardship leaders, you find the magic method, do what its developers tell you to do, and watch those pledges roll in like grain into a silo!

The truth? No such thing exists! Some reasons:

  • One person's goose is another person's grain silo. No method works perfectly for everyone.In stewardship ministry,
  • "Be like me and, verily, ye shall be successful" can be another way of saying, "Buy my snake oil."
  • "Perfect" doesn't mean easy.Clever slogans and flashy graphics aside, all methods boil down to a predictable series of steps you probably already know.
  • The fundamentals of generosity are based on spiritual and personal relationships. Most response methods help generosity and relationships become the foundation for people's best thinking.

How do you find a response method that works well in your congregation? Stewardship leaders generally agree on these principles:

  • Start with your already-existing capacities or assets, and examine how they fit possible response methods. For example, if you have just five talented and committed people on your team, and the method you choose requires dozens of volunteers, you're moving away from what's possible towards what's difficult.
  • Instead, match the method you choose to the assets of those five people!Think about how the response method brings you closer to the contributors you hope will support the mission of God in your congregation.
  • Quick-and-dirty methods may get pledge cards smoothly in and out of family mailboxes but may not strengthen faith relationships.
  • Watch out for cute and clever. Most folks know when they're being hustled, and they don't like it. Catchy aphorisms and marketing techniques may work well for businesses, but you're trying to build long-term relationships, lives of generosity, hope, and loyalty—stuff that you can't trick people into.
  • Make sure the method doesn't bury people in communications, concepts, or contacts. Information overload doesn't help anyone.

My favorite method? Visiting every member where he or she lives, works, or plays. Why? Face-to-face conversations change lives. Yes, they consume time. But chasing saddlebags around your congregation or making follow-up calls to the people who didn't attend the congregation's fundraising dance can take even more time!

I hope these thoughts help you choose a response method that is simple, direct, and effective.

And maybe even perfectly enjoyable!

 

Simple stewardship: Fundraising

In some quarters, "fundraising" is a term that carries some negative shading, perhaps deservedly. When they substitute for joyful, generous giving, some kinds of fundraising can diminish stewardship to a market-based interaction—"You contribute some money and I'll give you a car wash." I get that. Some of us also have memories of fundraising professionals who were a little less-than-ethical, a little more-than-persuasive and a little slicker than a rogue salesperson. I get that too.

But when you look at the values and practices that are currently part of professional fundraising, you may have to soften too-quick condemnations of the art and science of philanthropy. Let me illustrate:

  • Fundraisers know how to ask. Directly, honestly, eye-to-eye. No apologies or false humility.
  • Philanthropic research—based on behavioral economics—is fairly accurate about the inner workings of people's minds when they are invited to become contributors.
  • The fundamentals for building a donor base can work in any organization, including your congregation.
  • Most fundraising practices today are donor-centered, honoring the callings and mission of contributors.
  • Even secular fundraising professionals understand the decidedly spiritual nature of any act of giving.
  • Fundraising specialists have a rich vocabulary of words and concepts that communicate effectively with those who wish to contribute.

What's this mean for your congregation? At the very least, you might want to ask what you and other stewardship leaders could learn from professional fundraisers. Most of them are filled with the same sense of lifework that compels your stewardship leadership. They want good to flourish in the world.

Within your circles of influence and connectivity, you are likely surrounded by people who know and practice the philanthropic arts. They might not work full time as fundraisers, but they have enough training and experience to offer wisdom to your congregation. They're likely part of nonprofit organizations, leaders in organizations or the kind of visionaries who are two steps ahead of most everyone else.

One caution, though: You have to be able to put aside your fears or distaste about the kind of fundraising that you might have experienced decades ago. You also have to humble yourself to the possibility that your congregation's approach to funding God's mission is basically ill-informed and ineffective. Perhaps hard to admit?

As for the car washes and bake sales, I'm still not sure about this form of stewardship.

Maybe you have some thoughts? 

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September 20, 2014

Simple enough: Killdeer lessons

I spent a good share of several weeks this summer watching the behaviors of a killdeer couple that had decided to nest in the sandy soil of our front yard. I figured that this front-row seat to ornithological behavior might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the nesting/hatching/parenting parts of the remarkable killdeer's life cycle. I was right.

For those not familiar with this bird, it's a ubiquitous variety of plover that loves sandy or marshy areas, nesting directly on the ground (no twigs or mud) camouflaged and hiding in plain sight. Its name comes from one of its frequent calls. Among its unique talents is feigning a broken-wing injury that draws intruders away from its nest. (I observed this tactic working consistently on deer, quail, ground squirrels and rabbits!)

Watching this plucky bird duo, I noted their insistent presence on the nest in order to keep the eggs at the right hatching temperature. Both the female and male shared these duties, trading off regularly when it was hot. They worked as a team when it came to warding off invaders of their nesting territory. After three weeks, the fledglings emerged but required no parental feeding. The babies immediately began walking around, nibbling at ants or other bugs. For two days, the hatchlings periodically returned to the safety of a parent's enfolding wings. Eventually the family (absent one unhatched egg) walked into the bushes.

Why tell you all this? To encourage you to engage in careful observation of nature. The object of your scrutiny doesn't have to be anything amazing or rare. The important thing is that you set aside time to look appreciatively at some part of God's natural world. What you'll discover will be surprising, heartening or even instructive—wonderful attributes of a life well-lived.

Simple enough? 

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September 17, 2014

Simple enough: Dry thoughts, Part 2

"Dry" is an attention-getting metaphor because its real-life analog always deals with life-and-death matters. Today I continue simplicity-oriented meanderings inside the images of drought, dryness and God's precious gifts.

When you don't have a lot of something valuable—let's say a lake filled with pure water—you are more easily satisfied with its slightest manifestation—the trickle of water from under a patch of snow. "Abundance" cuddles inside of just-enough-for-now. Your thirst is slaked, not by burying your face in deep waters but by sipping the precious drops that fall on your tongue. So, too, with any of the gifts of God that you receive—and use—as part of your lifestyle.

If it continues to the end of its natural course, dryness will kill you. Death creeps up on you stealthily, like credit card debt or the emptiness of having too much stuff. Weakened, inured or fooled by what seems to be your continuing survival in the face of no moisture (I'm speaking metaphorically) you may not see death's hands until its grasp is inescapable.

One result of dryness is desiccation—the shriveling of something formerly alive into a small and horrific replica of itself. In the driest conditions, your carcass soon becomes dust. No longer recognizable, you are no longer remembered. Not what you want for your legacy.

You're getting the picture, right? "Dryness" is not just the absence of water in a Western landscape. The concept applies to any aspect of your life where an essential source of life is diminished. Generosity, happiness, spirituality, friendships—all can dry up, leaving you without a lifestyle of any kind except desperate acquisitiveness.

So where's the "water" in your life and how are you going to keep seeking it? Always a good place to start: God's wisdom!

Simple enough? 

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September 14, 2014

Simple enough: Dry thoughts, Part 1

Soon enough, the drought that continues in the Southwest will be described in "biblical proportions"—an allusion that may also elicit a new direction for Bible study! (Elijah as rain-bringer or farmer's friend?) The continuing water shortage also sharpens other kinds of thinking. Based on my personal experiences this summer in the Sierra Nevada, the following observations.

After at least three years of below-average moisture, the West is parched and dry. It's also shriveling toward desolation. Fields and forests, grasslands and croplands, mountains and deserts—each feature of the landscape totters toward slow destruction. It doesn't take much thinking to realize that water-dependent humans also face that same slow death. (Most of our body weight is comprised of water; we die from a lack of water sooner than we die from a lack of food.)

In these settings, the wasting of water—for whatever reasons—may constitute a new level of craven sinfulness. Those who have legal rights to water can hide behind decades-old laws but can't escape the glaring truth that their misappropriation of those rights results in the erosion of others' well-being. Water-selfishness looms large as a cause for civil strife.

Understandably, the simplest uses of water bring enjoyment, as this precious gift of God becomes available for life's necessary tasks. A glass of water becomes something to savor, and a periodic bath/shower accentuates the joy of being clean. The water-endowed taste of vegetables and fruits makes meals into exquisite experiences. Clouds become emblems of almost-miraculous relief.

The simplicity connection? Deprived of life's most necessary elements—in this case, water—you have the choice to grab, hoard or misuse what you name as yours. Or you can renew your commitment to living simply and gratefully, mindful of those around you.

Mindful of God, on whose creation you depend. 

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September 11, 2014

Simplicity's children: Yucky learning

Today I'd like to help you equip your children to handle what's gross, slimy, dirty, odiferous, nauseating or otherwise disgusting in life. My logic is simple: Hermetically sealed, bubble-wrapped lives won't be the norm when your kids grow up, so part of your parenting responsibility is to acquaint your children now with what's physically revolting. Some yucky-learning observations:

  • To introduce "slimy" as an acceptable experience, involve your children in from-scratch cooking or encourage their playing with or in mud.
  • Think carefully before you make every inch of your yard, your children's clothing or your home pristine and antiseptically clean.
  • Introduce your children to the richness of trash by including garbage-related chores as part of their responsibilities. You might want to include cleaning out garbage cans as one facet of the experience.
  • Your public library may have a (secret?) selection of children's books written especially for this purpose. The keywords "yucky," "gross" or even "poop" are good starters.
  • When the need arises, help your children increase their yucky vocabulary past "Gross!" or "Eeeeww!" (What are some acceptable synonyms for unpleasant body functions?)
  • Should your children start to describe everything in yuck-based terms, take the time to show them that inside of what seems revolting are counterbalancing realities such as beauty, function or necessity.
  • If you have a young baby in the house, ask your other children to assist in some of the physically unpleasant tasks of parenting. (Boys and girls, can you say "diaper"?)
  • In your spoken depictions of life around you, be careful not to name as unpleasant or repugnant what may actually be worthy of appreciation.

However you accomplish this task, its rewards are great: Adult humans who, because of you, will be lucky to see past yucky.

Simple enough? 

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September 8, 2014

Simple enough: The well-tethered life

As children return to schools and schoolyards, many of them are looking forward to recess time, when they get to play tetherball. Good for kids' well-being, of course, but have you ever thought about the ball's viewpoint? Pounded by one player, the ball swings wildly in one direction around its anchoring pole, only to quickly reverse its course when struck by an opposing player. Back and forth the ball goes, until the game is won by the child(ren) first able to get it most tightly wound around its tethering pole.

"Pounded back-and-forth, but always tethered." These words might also characterize your lifestyle during this time of year. Beset behind and before, you reverse your directions regularly and are never free from the perhaps-invisible fetters that keep you from living as you might hope. Some examples:

  • You're bound to a soccer parent life, hindered from managing your calendar because of the team's exhaustive (travel?) schedule.
  • Your family is handcuffed to a unsustainable budget because of the cost of maintaining your too-big home.
  • You've given up thinking for yourself spiritually because it's easier to go along with what your church requires.
  • You are chained to a car that always needs repairs but whose current-year model costs too much to purchase.
  • Permanently attached to your hands or clothing, your electronic toys impede your abilities to take in and appreciate the world right in front of you.

If you feel like your life is more tethered than you'd like, perhaps you can remember why or how you originally chose to be chained. Perhaps it's time to think about cutting yourself free from what constrains you from living a manageable life. Maybe you need to re-connect to your spiritual core. To God's calling, to God's freedom.

Perhaps it's time to take a recess?

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September 5, 2014

Simple enough: A noisy quiet

It's amazing how quiet can sometimes be boisterously engaging, how a calming mini-vista can be full of energy and life. (A friend recounts delight in watching the movement of clouds, bats and birds on a quiet summer evening—a scene full of sights and sounds that could have easily passed as ordinary.)

As I move through life, I am captivated by the benefits of quiet. When I experience lingering moments in which noise and motion are stilled, my senses seem to expand to fill my brain to capacity with the fullness of the smallest sounds, the slightest movements, the fewest molecules of an odor. (Today, in the quiet of an early morning, the smell of wet-dog wafted into my nostrils from who-knows-where!)

You and I live in a world in which commotion of any kind is a default attribute of life. But in biological terms, we're probably not hardwired to encounter the din that comes at our senses each day. Our pace of life is probably measured better by our at-rest heartbeats than the needles on our speedometers or exercise machines. Our brains do better when they can process a moderate amount of input than when our fight/flight/freeze stress mechanisms are overwhelmed by uninvited clamor and speed. Like other creatures from God's generative hand, we're built for stillness first and only secondarily for sound-and-fury.

Any broad view of simple living starts with quiet—both a physical and metaphorical reality. Slow living—a descriptor of more than just cooking or eating—probably starts with quiet living. Lingering is probably as valuable as coping. Lying on your back, looking at clouds, is likely more life-giving than staring at a smartphone in a semi-crouched posture.

So here's my blessing for your day: Carve out some quiet, and exult in its joys.

Simple enough? 

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September 2, 2014

Simple enough: On whose terms?

National park rangers and other naturalists get frustrated when people encountering the natural world presume that that environment will conform to their terms (requirements, context, laws, order, realities). As in, "Our dog is part of the family and loves to play in that meadow where all the birds are nesting, so why can't we let Sniffy off her leash to run wild the way God intended?" Clearly these folks don't understand that, when visiting the wild outdoors, humans and their dogs must live within the terms of that setting. Requiring nature to conform to human needs or foibles seems to be a dishonoring of God's creation and an arrogant view of human preeminence.

It occurs to me that any simplicity-seeking might always require answers to the question, "On whose terms ...?" For example, on whose terms:

  • Will your family's monthly budget be decided?
  • Might you seek your children's well-being?
  • Do you engage governmental rules or regulations?
  • Are medical issues defined or dealt with?
  • Might the benefits of your vacation be determined?
  • Should job or career changes be sought?
  • Should your aging parents be cared for?
  • Are lifestyle matters considered to be wrong or sinful?
  • Might your congregation determine its identity?

The answers to any of these questions rest on matters of your presumed authority: In what situations do you have the prerequisite, preeminent right to set the defining parameters for decisions? To say that another way, when do your "terms" start to reek of self-idolatry or worse? Conversely, when does the common good preempt your real or imagined self-interest? How do you know about all the other "terms" that you might consider as you make decisions? These are important questions for you to consider as you make lifestyle decisions.

Sniffy, the birds and the rangers are waiting for your answers.

Simple enough? 

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August 30, 2014

Simple enough: Dusting off

Want an easy way to have fun that could last a while? Consider dusting off some of your former skills, interests or relationships—or if you're younger, adding a little polish and verve to what you've set aside for a while! Here's my thinking on this wonderful possibility.

This may be easier, simpler and less expensive than pursuing the vaunted "bucket list" approach to finding new pleasure in life. Your old clarinet, binoculars or toolbox are probably still in a closet somewhere, your collection of vinyl records or CDs is still waiting to be cataloged, your Spanish-speaking skills are still available somewhere back in the linguistic part of your brain, your address book (excuse me, "contact list") is still filled with the names of folks who would love to reconnect with you. Nothing new to buy, no lessons/courses to complete, no rearrangement of your self-concept or identity. No starting from scratch, no fretting over doubts about unknown capabilities, no embarrassment about possible failure.

Yes, there's work involved. You're sharpening synapses that will need some coaxing to remember what they used to be capable of doing. You're reconnecting to emotions about these former skills, experiences, interests or relationships. And you're playing inside of the tension that comes when your now-older brain and body have to deal with the reality that this dusting-off might not return you to the luster of your younger days.

I speak from experience. Just today I reconnected with my hobby of twig-gathering, amassing several cute little piles of dead mountain willow branches and imagining their use in coming campfires. (OK, OK, you can safeguard your hobbies. I enjoy burning mine!)

One caution: If your former capabilities include either brain surgery, skullduggery, rocket science or world domination, disregard this blog and go frolic inside your bucket list!

Simple enough?

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August 27, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity effigies

Consorting with simplicity miscreants and anarchists as I do, it's only a matter of time before I/we hang someone in effigy. Like voodoo dolls, this ancient practice—in Europe, going back to the 1670s—has weird roots, perhaps in magic or sorcery. The basic idea? If you construct the likeness of something or someone and then hang/burn/harm that replica, those actions may inflict similar pain (at least shame) on that person or thing. While I'm not sure there's any science behind any of this, my fellow radicals and I (you too?) might be on to something if we apply "hanging in effigy" to matters of simplicity. Here's how it might work:

  • We build the crude model of a management structure that sucks employees dry, and we torch it on Administrative Professionals Day.
  • We invent a large-sized logo for "running behind all the time" and hose it down in public.
  • We fashion a huge graphic organizer chart about "necessary stuff," and then write and distribute a ritual that mocks the concept.
  • We construct a large mosaic comprised of advertising slogans that tempt us to buy what we don't need. And then we hold a big rally where we edit each slogan into oblivion.
  • We erect a large paper sculpture comprised of our overstuffed calendars, burn it to a crisp on New Year's Eve and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

And when we've destroyed or expunged all these examples of what's wrong in the world, we will all go home, make little clay effigies of ourselves, weep over our own sinful natures and bury the self-replicas in our yards or cat litter boxes. Only then can we understand that each of us creates some portion of a sad world that remains unmanageable and unsustainable.

You in on this? 

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