Bob Sitze's Blog
March 10, 2014
Simple enough: Are you bored yet?
If Buckminster Fuller (an architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist) was right, humans are anti-entropic creatures — forever winding up lifestyle clocks that would otherwise run out of energy and stop. If he was wrong, we're all facing the possibility of being bored out of our skulls about anything, for any reason at any time. (Are you bored yet?)
It seems that boredom is an attitudinal luxury among folks who have too much, for whom a comfortable lifestyle comes perhaps too easily. (People who don't know where their next meal is coming from don't usually describe their lives as boring.) So if I complain about "being bored" — or worse yet, name you and your presence in my life as the source of boredom — I'm probably revealing the telltale truth that I'm ungrateful, unaware or uneasy about a life that's filled with a surfeit of stuff, activity, fun or other excitement. I'm not satisfied with what presents itself to me each day (including you?) and so attach the "Boredom Curse" on whatever or whomever stands in front of me. My basic worldview? It's all about me. (Is this boring you?)
If you know me or care about my well-being, don't let me get away with that kind of sinfulness. Don't ratchet up my surroundings or circumstances in hopes of exciting me to exit ennui. Don't clutter up my mind with more new experiences or thoughts in hope of redeeming my sorry attitude. Don't let me get away with this subtle self-idolatry. Instead, name my boredom as a problem, a useless approach to the future, an insult to the God who created/creates everything. Tell me that I'm wrong, that I should grow up. By your example, show me what it means not to be bored, not to be a boring person.
So, have I bored you about boredom?
March 7, 2014
Simplicity's children: Valuable life skills
If you're a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you probably already have a long-standing or nagging urge to provide for the child(ren) you love some valuable skills that will equip her/him/them for life beyond the first years of development. In no special order, some recommendations:
- Don't rely only on team sports or weekly lessons to provide the necessary socialization skills your child(ren) will need to navigate relationships in the future. (Leadership is built in more places than on a soccer field.)
- Teach your child(ren) how to use basic tools (yes, starting at appropriate age levels) so she/he/they can successfully encounter the physical contexts of adulthood.
- By about 8 or 9 years, your child(ren) can learn rudimentary skills necessary for the maintenance of your home. (Yes, children can vacuum, dust, unclutter, wash, cook and remove trash!)
- With your child(ren), spend some time with elderly folks. Soon enough you will grow old, and your child(ren) will want to love the elderly you with words and actions.
- Fill your family travel with more than just entertainment or pleasure-seeking. Spend time on a farm, get off the beaten path, and substitute discovery experiences for budget-busting ones.
- Spend time in nature. Travel to nature reserves, expand the capacities of your yard or walk your neighborhood with the natural world in mind.
- Think about what might be in short supply in the near- or long-term future. Help your child(ren) get beyond wasteful dependence on plentitude, valuing scarcity as a reality that is expected and natural.
- Encourage your child(ren) to find shrewd or creative approaches to vexing situations or people.
- Teach and model contentment — in all things — in the place of unsustainable/unrighteous acquisitiveness or a false sense of deservedness.
Your child(ren) can learn these truly valuable life skills. And you get to be the teacher.
March 4, 2014
Simple things: Radio
(This entry is part of a new mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise is simple: From time to time, 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.)
Radio is a strangely enduring technological artifact that pundits thought would disappear with the advent of television and ensuing digital communication tools. Because I remember the advent of FM radio and still listen to an actual radio device that sits here as part of my desk furniture, I'd like to offer a few thoughts about the wonder and value of this time-honored piece of technology. Think along with me:
- Unless you listen to a robo-station located on a server in western Washington, your radio still provides you an at-ready connection to music, weather, news or commentary.
- The science of radio transmission allows you to hear at a distance what would otherwise be confined to the voice of your gossipy neighbor.
- In-car radio transmissions follow you reliably along your way.
- Radio programs invoke your brain's potential for imagination and meditation. (I listen to quiet music when I want to be mindful or prayerful.) Radio's content can take you to new places, new identities, new possibilities.
- If you live alone, just the right kind of radio (your choice, right?) can be a better companion than the message-pinging of your smartphone or the blaring of your television.
- In small towns and rural areas, radio provides the immediacy and connectivity of a local context and familiar people, something that fits the ways you've chosen to live and relate to others.
- Because it's regulated — by advertisers and federal directives/laws — radio is not as existentially noisy as other forms of mass communication.
- Radio is not as cynically manipulative of your senses, brain or soul. (So far neuromarketers concentrate their wiles mostly on television and digitized media.)
- Radio listening comes to you at no cost.
So, consider activating the on button on an ordinary radio, and let its sound benefits surround you.
March 1, 2014
Simple enough: Being alone
Thanks to Chicago Tribune columnist Jennifer Weigel for the foundational insights for this entry, first published on Jan. 6, 2014. Her commentary is derived from How to Be Alone (HarperCollins, 2013), written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman.
For introverts, time alone is energy-giving and part of one's overall well-being. Lingering moments away from the maddening crowd are a cherished part of life. For the rest of us, "being alone" may sound like an echo of childhood, when "time-out" or "go to your room" were meant as punishment. WGN commentator Jennifer Weigel and Canadian author Andrea Dorfman offer these suggestions to help you find and welcome solitude:
- Embrace your pain. There's something wonderful in acknowledging and accepting the suffering you may imagine embedded within your isolation.
- Get outdoors. Wherever you live, you can find a place to experience the natural world's calming beauty without being easily disturbed. Being alone in nature takes you outside of yourself into life all around you.
- If you're not outside, go to a public place. Coffeehouses, libraries, neighborhood restaurants — all can offer you the chance to observe appreciatively the fascinating presence of a variety of people.
- When interrupted, join in the conversation. Not every conversation has to become a prelude to new friendships. Still, any conversation can be a learning experience, and a way to invite others into the benefits of quiet, thoughtful privacy.
To these insights I'd add these two:
- Don't overtask or overtax yourself during these times. "Being alone" can also be a sacred time "to do nothing."
- Aloneness doesn't necessarily mean emotional separation from others. A good way to include both elements: Pray for those around you and those in your heart of hearts.
I commend the thoughts of these women for your consideration, affirmation and action.
February 26, 2014
Simple enough: Smart chickens redux
Hats off to animal cognition researcher Carolynn L. Smith and science writer Sarah L. Zielinski for their February 2014 article in Scientific American, from which this chicken-appreciative entry is derived.
When last you left them, ordinary chickens were presenting you with range-free eggs and meat, and reassuring you (by various "clucks" and "docks") that they were basically as stupid as a walnut, with walnut-sized brains rendering them incapable of anything beyond minimal intelligence. "Reassured" because it's perhaps easier for you to eat something that's stupid (like a sea slug) than something smart (like a pig).
Turns out that you may need to revisit (that's redux for all you Latin-speakers out there) the notion that this variety of protein provider is actually dumb or dumber. Turns out that chickens' beady eyes are a window into a brain that is capable of:
- Showing empathy, at least toward other chickens.
- Using "pecking order" to establish more than just a multilayered social network.
- Tricking each other to gain access to food, mates or safety.
- Using "tidbitting" (a rooster's head- and wattle-waving) to attract females.
- Identifying simple geometric patterns.
- Engaging in "risk compensation" analysis (balancing possible risks with possible rewards).
- Watching television during experiments focused on their intelligence!
What's this have to do with simple living? Perhaps just another reason to raise questions about what you eat and how well you treat your food sources. Perhaps to be deeply grateful that you can live well in your home on the range because of these somewhat-smart, not-always-home-on-the-range animals.
Yes, "the ethics of eating" comes to mind here, with any number of questions about what and how you consume in order to be healthy and serve God's will. None of this is easy to consider, but always necessary — for simplicity's sake.
Walnuts, anyone ...?
February 23, 2014
Simple enough: Lingering
(Thanks to Pam Voves, director of family ministries at Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn, Ill., for the thoughts that sparked this entry.)
My simple living lexicon can get a little stale — a fact that plagues the word-finding part of my brain every time I sit down to write one of these pieces. In a recent conversation I learned that "linger" could form the basis for an entire year of someone's prayer thoughts. That got me to thinking how this familiar word could also be helpful in describing basic simplicity precepts. Perhaps linger could frame new ways to characterize living simply. Let me try on these few ideas:
- When you linger over something, you take time to get to know it well, to enjoy it fully, perhaps even to cherish it.
- Mindfulness (increasingly valued as a lifestyle attribute) is probably enhanced by lingering.
- It's hard to linger too quickly.
- When you linger, you're probably less prone to make the mistakes that come from rushing to describe or decide.
- Lingering might be a welcome antidote to being distracted or becoming a distraction.
- Reluctant to say goodbye, those who linger honor each situation or relationship in which they find themselves.
- The act of lingering can show persistence, courage and loyalty.
- Lingering feels like a quiet activity.
- When you linger with another person or in a task, you stay there. You're rooted.
- Lingering is akin to "accompaniment," a bedrock principle of practiced justice.
- Even in its pejorative sense — being tardy or procrastinating — the act of lingering is perhaps preferable to an overactive work ethic, a 24/7 lifestyle that robs you of sleep and health.
- Many valuable human activities (e.g., prayers, conversations, exercises, mealtimes) work better when executed in a lingering fashion.
An invitation to you then: See how lingering might enhance your simplicity-seeking.
February 20, 2014
Simple things: Tables and chairs
(This entry continues a new mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. As always, the premise is simple: From time to time, 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.)
As I write this, I am comfortably seated in a chair that luxuriously holds my frame in an upright position approximately 30 inches off the floor. This allows for swiveling and tilting that makes for good word-smithing! A writing table is in front of me. In my home there are four other tables and about 30 chairs, stools or similar items. All make it possible for me to live and work in positions in addition to squatting, standing or lying prostrate. This may be no big deal for me, but for most of the world's population what I have just named is an inestimable sign of wealth and luxury. Now that I think about it, they may be right. Consider this:
- I don't have to move my body into cramped, contorted or uncomfortable positions in order to work, eat, relax or entertain others in my home.
- These objects of seated-living convey a sense of beauty and order.
- The tables in this home keep food, work, tools and treasures easily available, clean and safe from things that might harm or break them, including very young humans, pets and pests.
- Chairs and tables bring beloved people close together in a common space.
- Some of the chairs and tables fold for easy storage and portability, adding to the ways I can use limited floor space.
- Although not completely conducive to my health, chairs provide rest and comfort.
- Because I'm not living on the floor itself, I can be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
- Chairs, stools or tables can become pedestals for home repair and maintenance tasks.
My chairs and tables are certain signs of some of the invisible wealth that, though ordinary to me, would be treasured possessions in many places in the world.
I am rich, indeed.
February 17, 2014
Simplicity's children: Lenten practices
Soon the liturgical calendar will circle around to Lent, a season rich with possibilities for helping your children understand and practice simplicity. These possibilities:
1. Think which "Lenten disciplines" might also fit your children's sensibilities, emotions, intelligence. (For example, "fasting" appeals to children who feel deeply the injustice that other children around the world don't have the option of eating every day.)
2. Lent offers you the chance to add variety and creativity to your family's prayer life. Change the content of the prayers; consider new settings or times of the day; select artifacts as focus points for individual prayer or start a "prayer wall" on your refrigerator.
3. Lent is a time to heighten the practices of confession and forgiveness. Spend family conversation time on these heartfelt matters.
4. Start or strengthen family devotional practices during these six weeks. Use devotional books, your congregation's weekly lectionary or Bible reading format, or a Bible story book. Make true conversation — not "discussion" — an integral part of this time together.
5. Don't be afraid to tackle (at age-appropriate levels) the big theological questions rooted in Lent's themes: Why did Jesus choose to suffer and die? What is "sin" and how does it ruin God's intent for our lives? What can we learn from Jesus' words or witness during his last months of life?
6. Provide each member of the family with a Lent-oriented object to carry with them throughout the season. (For example, a set of prayer beads, a friendship bracelet, a touchstone, a small wooden cross.) From time to time, talk about the experiences that come from these artifacts of faith.
However you observe this season, do so with the joy that comes from being joined together by your faith in a God who always loves you dearly.
God keep you!
February 14, 2014
Simple congregations: (NOT) repristinating the cult
(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.)
By definition, some congregations—and by further extension, some denominations—could be described as cults. Overtly or subtly, they may display:
- avid emotional dependence on a charismatic leader.
- strict adherence to an unchanging set of rules or doctrines.
- active accountability processes (with accompanying rewards and/or punishments).
- emotive welcoming and banishment rites.
- codified morality/piety.
- grand visions for outcomes or mission.
These religious groupings can be large or small, socially/politically liberal or conservative. They offer their participants/members the comfort of manageable systems of belief and behavior. At various moments in history, some manifestations of Christianity have fit the definition of "cult", mostly for admirable purposes and resulting in mostly positive outcomes. ("Cult" is not necessarily a negative descriptor.)
Over several decades of observation, I have seen parts of our culture shift towards fundamentalistic or evangelical Christianity. At the core of this change may be the desire to repristinate—to make pure again—the essence of the church. Understandably and perhaps accurately, this effort sometimes claims the Protestant Reformation as its historical antecedent and inspiration, hoping to achieve in these times a similar result—the purging of time-laden accretions of thought and practice that are no longer useful. Orthodoxy is another desired outcome, a way to frame hoped-for vitality and relevance in these times.
While I understand those hopes—and admit to working towards them at times during my own church-professional years—I'm no longer convinced that this effort can be sustained, especially in these days of supposedly post-Christian acculturation. To say that directly, the efforts we put into re-instilling faith practices, "discipling" or reclaiming historical roots may not be manageable over time, especially during the coming days of likely societal upheavals.
Granted, a good share of current Christian ecclesiology seems to be successful precisely because it invites believers back into beliefs and practices that seem to work. Large ecclesiastical enterprises—"mega-churches", events, and meta-organizations—seem to tote up significant metrics in attention, people and money. And so it's perhaps easy to name those efforts as productive for now. I get that.
But I also don't want to lose sight of the basic quest for "simplicity" as it applies to people and institutions: What will remain manageable over time? Will repristinated congregations and people be able to handle the volume of entrepreneurial heavy-lifting that's required in the face of increasing complexity? Will orthodoxy stand the test of time, as increasing amounts of useful knowledge become increasingly available? Will charismatic leaders be able to maintain their physical, emotional and spiritual energy long enough to anoint and train their (eventual) replacements? Will purified and cult-like denominations be able to accrue enough attention and funding to carry themselves into the near- or long-term future? (Remember that attention is always the first and most basic commodity in any human enterprise.) Will present or future societies desire (or reject) religious identity and practice that is prescribed by a cult-like sociology? I don't know—which is why I ask.
I have for years advocated for an understanding of "church" that sidesteps "trying too hard"—itself an always-present component of repristination. The dimensions of this ecclesiology are simple and circle around some seemingly secular presumptions:
- The church can offer real value to its members' desire to serve God in their daily lives.
- It should take seriously the good and godly knowledge that science offers.
- The church can exercise its counter-cultural role in matters of structural injustice.
- It approaches its cultural status with humility and discernment.
Even your gentlest intellectual poking could dislodge me from my lifelong pursuit of this matter—I'm still a seeker in this regard. Still, I am sure that the questions I raise here can be helpful to congregations (and their leaders) who are trying to avoid "going forward by going back". I am also certain that the critique embedded in these paragraphs comes from my deep and life-long love for churchly enterprises.
I hope you already knew that, that you'll see that spirit in these continuing entries.
February 11, 2014
Simple enough: Present shock
Just when I thought that "simple living" could be described mostly by matters such as materialism, greed or hurried lifestyles, along comes an observant author to point out a concept I somehow missed along the way. That's the case with the writing of media theorist, commentator and documentary producer Douglas Rushkoff. In his recent book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Rushkoff notes the pervasive presence of "presentism," whose disturbing features he describes in intriguing terms: narrative collapse, digiphrenia, overwinding, fractalnoia and apocalypto. (My spell-checker just went into shock.)
I'm still winding my way through the book, but here's what I'm picking up so far, as the book relates to simplicity:
- New and continuing technologies may be causing the deterioration of important capabilities of the human spirit, such as valuing the past in order to understand the present.
- We are sinking into public discourse and personal relationships increasingly characterized by triviality.
- Narcissism may be running amok, albeit disguised.
- Impulsivity and impatience increasingly invade individual identities.
- "Always on" describes more elements of our life than we may realize.
Rushkoff's thesis: If, in the previous century, we had trouble handling the fast-paced changes in a future-oriented world, now we may be living with "present shock," reacting and improvising where we used to plan and remember.
My take on the book so far: We're not managing the present moment, increasing the likelihood that this way of living won't have a future.
Rushkoff writes with more than a wave of his rhetorical hand, and nowhere does his writing deteriorate into broadly aimed cheap shots. Citing various chapters-and-verses of contemporary life, this prescient author and teacher presents a clear case for a lifestyle that holds to time-tested values in the face of mindless worship of technologies. This is a book worth your time.
Right now ....
February 8, 2014
Simple enough: Fuller, not more forgetful
(A tip of the hat to Benedict Carey, whose January 28, 2014 article in the New York Times ["The Older Mind May Just be A Fuller Mind"] summarizes research that might explain a vexing matter.)
Just when you worried that your forgetfulness regarding words was a sign that your cognitive capacities were heading south, there come these new findings about information processing in older brains.
Turns out—even though the speed and accuracy of recall start to diminish at about age 25—there may be other explanations of why older adults have trouble remembering words easily. Various studies—based on data mining simulations—may indicate something different: What seems to be diminished verbal memory may actually be a function of having accumulated in your brain a lifetime of knowledge and possible meanings, thus requiring additional time and effort to organize and retrieve information.
- Older people recall words with an "age-related positivity effect," a bias towards positive connotations in words. This can throw off scores on tests involving supposedly neutral-affect word associations.
- The estimated assemblage of words and phrases available to an educated 70-year-old is considerably greater than that of a 20-year-old. Applying this fact to models of verbal decline can account for more than 75% of the supposed difference in scores between younger and older adults.
- Memory and intelligence theories distinguish between "fluid" (short-term, analytical) and "crystallized" memory/intelligence (knowledge, vocabulary, experience). It's possible that an increase in crystallized memory capabilities decreases fluid intelligence.
In summary, it seems that, alongside neurobiological facts—decreased blood flow to the brain and slower synaptic firing—lies the possibility that an older person's time-consuming verbal recall might be explained by these studies. Or, as author Benedict Carey aptly summarizes, "It's not that you're slow. It's that you know so much."
February 5, 2014
Simple enough: When the hackers succeed
Despite the wiles of cryptologists and computer wizards we trust, the skills and intentions of those we don't trust may eventually hold sway over large swaths of the digital landscape. In an attempt to be useful in the event that hackers succeed, I offer these observations:
- Conduct an audit of the basic components of your daily life, noting the degree to which any parts of your daily schedule are dependent on computer-based processes. Make special note of those NOT tied to digital devices. (For example, do you have a fireplace or camping stove you could use to cook food should the electric grid get hacked for awhile?)
- Think honestly about how self-reliant your family might be in the case of a cyber-attack.
- Accumulate a supply of writing paper, envelopes and stamps, for communicating with loved ones in the case cyber-communications are interrupted.
- You might want to check the location of board games or other non-digitized entertainment items that you have in your home.
- If all your important documents are located on a computer, also consider the benefits of a safety-deposit box at your local bank.
- Talk together—with children or elderly friends—about how you might live for awhile without assistance of computers and other digitized contrivances.
- Strengthen your relationships with neighbors, family, church members and friends. These are the folks who will surround you in times of need.
- How will you remain joyful and thankful?
It's necessary that you maintain prudence regarding online- or computer-based aspects of your lifestyle. It's also important to extend your vigilance to elements of your life that are not simple, manageable or sustainable. Whether the hackers ever win, your wisdom about "the good life" will remain an important feature of your identity and behavior.
February 2, 2014
Simple enough: Fungus alert
Just when you thought it was safe to breathe, a small-but-persistent danger has emerged: the spread of a newly virulent fungus infection. Since its initial reappearance in 2001 in British Columbia, the yeast, Cryptococcus gattii, is slowly spreading southward into the Pacific Northwest and perhaps beyond. To be blunt: At present there seem to be few ways to stop the spread of this fungus that can sicken and even kill healthy people.
Global warming is certainly one among several factors that are connected to the re-emergence and evolution of this yeast strain. So whatever causes the planet to be warmer (insert your own culpability at this point) might be creating a newly hospitable environment in which funguses of all kinds can prosper anew. Our lifestyle pleasures might be the root causes for many of our lifestyle ills.
More research into fungal diseases, the development of anti-fungal medicines, increased vigilance in medical diagnoses—all are probably necessary. But here again we simplicity seekers come up against imponderable thoughts. What can any of us do, individually or collectively, to face yet another emerging threat to our lives? Who will rescue us from an almost-invisible killer that could be living in the trees, soil or air of our neighborhood? What else out there in the world could be silently stalking our well-being?
To the last question, this recurring answer: Those of us who seek simplicity in life are also the hopeful ones. We're the people who have enough attention, time and energy to think more carefully about "alerts" that come to our eyes and souls every day. We're the ones called out of dull-and-brutish consumption and pleasure-seeking to offer insight and courage to those who desperately seek it.
So take another wonderful deep-breath and then get to work being alertly hopeful!
January 30, 2014
Simplicity's children: Entitlements begone, Part 2
In the last entry we considered the possibility that today's children may think they are entitled to their lifestyles. Today we consider addressing this attitude. These thoughts:
- As soon as they are able, your children can participate in the daily chores of maintaining your family home. Without the promise of connected rewards (including "allowances") children can quickly learn that their work contributes to the greater good: a well-functioning family.
- When complimenting or praising your child, do so with specificity, and without effusive or grand expression that arises for any reason. Bring your child to an accurate picture of self-worth by limiting praise to occasions and accomplishments that are truly remarkable.
- Refrain from too-frequent gift-giving to your children. Stay away from gifts that keep increasing in their size, cost or complexity. Add simple, thoughtful and nonmaterial gifts to your array of presents.
- Talk with your children about the reasons you are pleased and grateful about them. Help them understand the many joys and pleasures you derive just from their presence.
- Diminish the expectation that every childhood task ties to a reward. (An example: paying children who "earn" good grades.)
- Talk with your child's teacher if entitlement-like attitudes are being taught at school.
- Watch speech patterns or conversations — perhaps with your spouse or friends — that subtly suggest to your children your own overwrought sense of entitlement. Check your vocabulary for words laden with self-idolatry, greed or deservedness.
- Make forgiveness — and its related behaviors/attitudes — a ready and oft-used part of your relationship with your children. Forgiveness transcends deservedness — and punishment too — to make "grace" vital, cherished and useful.
However you accomplish this matter, keep your children from feeling entitled to everything. The work you do now will bode well for their adult lives.
January 27, 2014
Simplicity's children: Entitlements begone, Part 1
One of the criticisms I hear about today's children is their deeply embedded sense of entitlement. (This observation may apply mostly to middle- and upper-class kids, but narcissism can affect anyone.) So it makes sense for parents to consider the ways in which Little Abner or Daisy Mae are being tempted to think of themselves as minor gods come to earth, deserving of everything they have and more.
Children raised in relative luxury — surrounded by and plied with gifts at every turn and provided easy access to a variety of comforts — can easily begin to think of well-being as something normal or effortlessly obtained. Their worldview can be hindered by their narrow view of "the good life," and they may have a hard time being grateful to others because of their overactive sense of being worthy and wonderful.
Fortunately, there seems to be a growing movement to wrench families away from "Good Job!" mentalities that reward everything their children do, and for any reason. Many parents are coming to terms with their tendencies to overpraise accomplishments, overinflate egos and overpromise the qualities of the good life that children (and youth) can hope to experience as they mature. Happiness psychology has itself morphed into a sensible body of thought that helps people seek satisfaction and contentment in what they already have, and in who they already are.
Martin Luther was right when he wisely observed (on his deathbed) that "we are beggars, all of us." No one deserves anything, children included. Mercy, forgiveness and kindness; clean water, air and food; the love of parents and friends — none of these essential qualities of living comes to fruition because children are entitled to them. Life itself is always a precious gift of God.
Next entry: What to do about this?
January 24, 2014
Simple enough: Learning humility simply
So you want to learn to be humble, do you? You say you're tired of pride and arrogance? And you don't want to read another book or hear another sermon on the subject? Well, stop right there, Sonny. You've come to the right place!
So here's what you do: Wait until your Sphinx 5000 computer develops symptoms of an infirmity, signaled by error messages from the Netherworld. Find the contact information for the software and hardware vendors who enable your digital co-dependence, and contact their departments of technical wizardry. You're ready for your humility training!
You are now talking to a faithful employee whose work takes him or her into the early a.m. hours helping soon-to-be-humble people just like you. Once you turn over your computer's control to this person, you'll watch the cursor dart around the screen into corners of technology that no mortal would ever enter. You'll likely be asked questions you can't answer, such as "Did you recently update your Framischer Add-On?" You'll hear bits and pieces of arcane information that you'll never remember, and you'll begin to understand that you have heretofore lived in a world of unwarranted technological self-congratulation. In short, you'll come to see that you know very little and that these kind folks — they are always courteous and graceful — are part of an advanced civilization that you may never be asked to join.
Congratulations, friend! Not only has your Sphinx 5000 been healed of all its maladies, but you have also learned to be humble. Simple and assuredly, this lesson will be burned into your brain for years and keep you from false pride forever.
Simple enough, Sonny?
P.S. My humble shout-out to Krishna in India and Michael in the Philippines. Thanks for your recent help, guys, and for inspiring this blog!
January 21, 2014
Simple things: Running water
(This entry begins a new mini-series within the larger Simple Enough blog family. As always, the premise is simple: From time to time, 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.)
Inside and outside my home, there are 13 places where I can easily obtain running water. These water access points work flawlessly to deliver to my family ample quantities of fresh, clean water. (By comparison, there are places in India, Brazil or Rwanda where just one of my water-delivery mechanisms would serve an entire village of thousands.)
Running water may be an ordinary-and-expected feature of most homes around me, but that doesn't mean that faucets, toilets, filters, showers, pumps or water heaters are any less amazing. Think about it:
- Because of in-ground pipes, the water comes to me; I don't have to seek or carry it.
- With the use of a flexible water hose, I can keep the land around this home verdant and fruitful.
- By the turn of a dial, I can obtain water heated to a temperature that helps me stay warm and clean.
- When I choose, I can make the water's flow strong enough to wash anything in its path.
- Much of my home's running water takes away filth, impurities, waste — and with them, harmful pathogens.
- Unless the electricity goes out (I'm on a well) the supply of water is continuous, assured and constant.
- At the present moment, I pay very little money for the luxury of running water.
- It is so readily available that I can use water as a verb that applies to so many daily activities and so many living things. (I'm not sure that grammatical convention exists in India, Brazil or Rwanda.)
Because I grew up in a continuously arid part of the country, I know that running water is not an inalienable right. So what I've written here is an acknowledgment that I consider running water a blessing, and thus a cherished gift of God that I will never waste!
January 18, 2014
Simple enough: Assessing "actionable"
As I grow toward maturity — yes, this is hard work — the vanity of various "life-guiding truths" sometimes rises up to hit me in the face. Recently I have been troubled by the idea that the worth of my thinking can best be measured by whether it's "actionable." (If I can't act on my thoughts, what good are they?) Another related-but-questionable lifestyle axiom: I can usually trust my intuition to be a reliable and accurate motivation for taking immediate action on my views.
For any number of reasons — and because of the example of any number of friends — I've come to see that it's probably better not to act on any number of my thinking patterns. My reasoning goes like this:
If I'm both sinner and saint, perhaps as many as 50 percent of my thoughts (on a good day?) are smeared with sinful origins and character. (Which of my supposed good intentions could be masking deadly sins?)
If, like most other folks, I'm skilled at garden-variety self-delusion, how can I trust a good share of my basic motivations or thought patterns? (If I write you a heartfelt email, who actually benefits?)
My immature brain sometimes lacks the ability to connect actions to webs of consequences. Without quiet, ongoing contemplation, my decisions to act could yield unforeseen and hurtful results.
A good share of my thinking may have little value for others. (We blog writers wrestle with this one, yes?)
As I move toward eventual prudence, I want to remember the value of inaction or delayed action. I yearn to cultivate a patient mindset, one less greedy for results and more satisfied with slow and deliberate activity. I hope to distill possibilities before deciding what to do. I want to step around impulsivity and live a measured life.
And you, already-mature friend?
January 15, 2014
Simple congregations: An attention ministry
(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.)
Today I’d like to tickle your brain’s attention mechanisms with a possible ministry that takes advantage of a commodity that your congregation likely possesses in large amounts: attention. First, these background thoughts:
Attention in society
In applied neurobiology, attention is most likely a primary, precious and therefore most-valued commodity in human interactions. Most of us deeply desire the attention of others, or work hard to offer our attention as a requirement for satisfying relationships. Yet we may be frustrated in parceling out the finite amount of attention available to give. We’re pulled, cajoled, tricked or even shamed into paying attention to things and people that don’t warrant our giving away this God-given gift. The problem is obvious in most places and relationships: Too little attention is available for too many people, so most folks are not paying attention to most things most of the time.
An amazing asset
Many congregations have a surfeit of surplus attention that’s available for ministries. This valuable resource rests in an amazing place: The hearts and minds of “active seniors.” These folks are most likely wise, spiritually mature, sharp-witted, verbally gifted, friendly, intuitively observant and gracious. A growing percentage of them are also computer-literate!
A widespread need
Out there in cyberspace are many people who write blogs as a way of offering to others the benefit of their insights about life. But most of these bloggers don’t garner many responses. That may not satisfy these writers/thinkers who are seeking the attention of other people for admirable purposes. Were they to be given the attention they deserve, these bloggers might be encouraged to write carefully and helpfully.
How could you start an “attention ministry”? These thoughts:
- Assemble active seniors who might be willing to try this idea. They should be connected to the Internet and capable of expressing their thoughts in writing.
- Using your search engine, find bloggers in your locale. (Enter “bloggers in _____” and the name of your city/county. See which blogs turn up.)
- Pick several blogs whose content is consistently worthwhile and helpful, but that garner few responses. Follow these blogs for a few weeks to look for positive patterns in tone, style, content and intent.
- Assign several of the new “attention ministers” to read and respond occasionally to each of the blogs you’ve chosen. They can reflect on or react to the content of the blog, ask pertinent questions or direct the blogger toward other, connected ideas. Responses can be appreciative, helpfully critical and respectful. The responders should also understand how to keep proper distance in terms of their privacy. (Yes, this is a kind of digitized pen-pal relationship!)
- The entire group of responders can meet once a month, checking notes about the effects and directions of this ministry. The group can also consider matters such as prayer concerns, faith-sharing and evangelism, expanding this ministry into social media platforms or good ways to be helpful to these writers.
- After a few months, evaluate the benefits of this ministry, both to the bloggers and the responders. Consider inviting others into this work and sharpening or expanding its focus or direction.
If this turns out well, “attention ministry” may become part of your congregation’s unique place in your community. And you may have tapped into a deep and rich resource that has been hidden in plain sight all these years: The appreciative attention of wise older members.
January 12, 2014
Simple enough: Cozy you
As I put my fingers to this keyboard, it's snowing here in the confines of my frozen neighborhood. It's a simple scene, beautiful in poetry-inspiring ways. Large snowflakes gentle themselves toward their companions on the ground. Barren branches, bushes and human artifacts compete for their share of the coating of white. No wind disturbs gravity's pull, so the snowfall is not tempted toward a blizzard-harsh identity. Inside this home, I am warm in my layered clothing, listening to quiet classical music that mimics the mood this weather invites. A single desk lamp illumines an otherwise-dark room, focusing attention and pleasant emotions. At this moment, I am cozy. Simply cozy.
And you, friend? What does it take for you to be cozy right now, comfortable and snug in a context that feels safe and restful? What atmospheric conditions cause you to exult quietly in the warmth of your relationships, lifework or home setting? How does God coax you into quiet and slow appreciation of being sheltered? What does it mean for you to be cozy, hmmm?
My guess is that your answers will somehow be stripped of technology or hurriedness, gathered together in images that are especially precious to you, and soulful in the way they infuse your well-being. However "cozy" comes to you, it's likely simple, a gift that surprises you and evidence of God's grace. Depending on the rest of your life, "cozy" may be fleeting or rare. (A cup of hot chocolate in front of a warm fire with someone you love — this may not happen as often as you'd wish, yes?)
Why write about this nearly ephemeral quality of life? Perhaps only to remind you that "cozy" is one quietly delightful evidence — and result of — simple living.
I hope this day is a cozy one for you!