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Bob Sitze's Blog

August 28, 2015

Simple enough: A bandwagon is coming your way

It seems apparent that decluttering (one aspect of simple living) has become trendy. (This is a good thing, even if you have enjoyed being a countercultural rogue!) The newest evidence of this fact is the lingering presence of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on New York Times and international best-seller lists. Author Marie Kondo has added a dash of zen and charism to this subject to make it more approachable to more people. The book joins multiplying YouTube videos, blogs and Twitter-chatter. A bandwagon is coming your way!

Given this rising wave of interest in decluttering, you may find people around you who have recently discovered the lifestyle wisdom that you've been practicing for years. Since you are not given to "I told you so" or other forms of arrogance, you might consider how you could take advantage of this growing movement within the general culture. (And remember: In these matters, you are already a prophet and evangelist of something good and godly, so "taking advantage" is part of your larger, sacred lifework!)

You can now come out of hiding! Those people who used to yawn when you asked questions or proposed simple-living ideals may now be willing to listen or query you. Your book-reading group could have another best-seller to consider, perhaps with the insertion of spiritual insight. Your spouse, family or friends might understand you better and treat you with added respect. Some of the book's readers might seek you out as a mentor, counselor or life-coach. At last, you might be able to incorporate simplicity-seeking into your congregation's life.

For as long as this bandwagon continues to roll, you can count it as a blessing, a confirmation of what you hold dear and a recommissioning to keep at simple living.

All good things!

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August 25, 2015

Simple words: Hormesis

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also attracts the admiring winks of actual scientists. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Yes, I know hormesis is not a simple word—maybe it's not even in your dictionary yet. But the significance of hormetics is likely to grow over the next few years, so I'm using this "Simple words" entry to acquaint you with what may turn out to be an important development in the health sciences. For the information in this entry, I am indebted to John Hopkins University neuroscientist Mark Mattson, whose July 2015 Scientific American article "What Doesn't Kill You ..." treats this subject in fascinating and hopeful detail. The longer article merits your reading.

First, an explanation of how hormesis works. Mattson wrote: "Toxic chemicals that plants use against predators are consumed by us at low levels in fruits and vegetables. Exposure to these substances causes a mild stress reaction that lends resilience to cells in our bodies."

Where scientists and nutritionists have formerly promoted the positive effects of consuming fruits and vegetables because of their antioxidant properties, it now seems possible that—when exposed to the mild neurotoxins in fruits and vegetables—our nerve cells can build the strength they need to combat brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke. Mattson said medical practitioners "are now convinced that plant chemicals that are toxic when consumed at high levels can be hermetic—that is, they provide health benefits when eaten in smaller amounts." Regular fasting may also offer some of the same benefits. Debate continues, as does practical research.

Where's simplicity in the gathering evidence about the process of hormesis? Three possibilities: That this field of inquiry will further encourage healthy diets filled with fruits and vegetables, that lifestyles made unmanageable by debilitating brain diseases will diminish in number and in power, and that the discipline of fasting will gain favor among simplicity-seekers.

Simple enough? 

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August 22, 2015

Simplicity's children: Nothing new

In a May 25 article in the Chicago Tribune, columnist Heidi Stevens reported on a local family that had completed the challenge of living an entire year without purchasing anything brand new—except for items necessary for health and nutrition. Her article included interesting discoveries that I'd like to spotlight here.

The columnist notes that the family's not-new purchases—seeking products at thrift or secondhand stores—provided them with a different way of looking at possessions. To be specific, this family learned how unwarranted some of their previously "necessary" purchases actually were.

Mom and Dad had to work hard when their two young boys interacted with other kids, especially when bringing gifts to other youngsters' birthday parties. The parents' creative solution: To give experiences (e.g., museum tickets) for the birthday child's whole family. Another difficulty: first presenting this idea to their children (the solution in this case: "We're doing something cool").

Stevens observes that overbuying—yielding to children's sometimes-whiney insistence about what they want—is really a grown-up problem. More specifically, a "grown-up-who-doesn't-say-no-enough problem." By this comment, she calls attention to a truism about materialism: Children have to be taught by mature adults to resist the temptation to buy whatever they think they "need."

A year after they finished this lifestyle shift, the family remains committed to one-on-one time together, and the children have come much closer to understanding the difference between wants and needs. Through their courageous lifestyle lesson, these parents have given their children a legacy of wisdom that they will likely remember for their entire lives.

You might want to talk with your family about trying a variation of this experience.

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August 19, 2015

Simple enough: TV glut

In a probing article in Time (June 22), James Poniewozik, the magazine's television critic, noted how a TV glut is growing within our culture. Some quick facts frame his implicit warning: During the 2014-15 season, more 350 scripted series were available on a vast array of channels. To view all of these programs would take 146 days of nonstop watching. One more: Available soon is TiVo's new DVR, which can store as much as three year's worth of TV shows for retrieval!

Poniewozik widens his critique of hyper-abundant TV content by characterizing this phenomenon as a kind of Midas effect: "The paralyzing promise of riches everywhere you touch." (Midas was literally and figuratively paralyzed by his rapacious desire to touch everything so that it turned to gold. You will recall that this mythological king's story included some damaging side effects, as he obtained one part of his imagined well-being—financial riches—only to pay dearly by relinquishing almost every other quality of life.)

A culture continuously connected to live, streaming or recorded television programming does not enable a satisfying lifestyle. Poniewozik wrote: "We carry in our pockets tiny rectangular windows into which it is possible to fall forever and ever." This falling might also be termed a failure of the human spirit, enabled by our continuing addiction to being entertained by whatever we encounter.

I note these insights here as part of my continuing comments about the damage that excessive television viewing can have on those who want to live manageable and sustainable lives. I hope you are not captivated by this Midas-like phenomenon within our society, and that you have found ways to resist the false promises of the TV glut.

Simple enough?

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August 16, 2015

Simple enough: Relishing the small stuff

I've written about this before, but the thought bears repeated emphasis: You can be satisfied with your life, however simple, when you find delight in even its smallest elements or features. "Relishing the small stuff" starts with the realization that nothing—no person, no conversation, no deed, no item, no attitude, no event—is actually "small." In a world where everything is connected to everything else, what appears to be small is really the first evidence of something very significant.

Finding delight requires sharply tuned senses. Not just your physical senses (smelling, tasting, seeing, etc.) but also the "senses" of intuition, appreciation, love or gratitude. All your senses can help you perceive and interpret every moment fully. You see more than what's obvious and you hear important subtexts in conversations. Your curiosity extends over the horizon and you empathize with deeper motives. You experience life both from intimate and 30,000-foot viewpoints.

When you encounter anything "small" in your life, your attention can bore fully into that moment, that person, that action. You look for beauty, excellence, connectivity, depth and meaning. You expect God to surprise you in this Spirit-inspired moment.

So a flower becomes a soft sculpture, an angry word announces a tipping point when honesty emerges, another's smile encourages you toward joy, another's gentle touch evokes delicate intimacy. A bee works as your partner in food production and an airplane conversation develops into a free education. A sermon invites you into reverie, prayers quiet you down and the kind questions of others signal God's care for your inner being. Your problems humble you toward gratitude and your forgiven sins encourage you to forgive others.

Best of all, in a world of small delights comes another gift: You can find satisfaction that you are not small either!

Simple enough? 

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August 14, 2015

Simple congregations: The no-program church (Repeat)

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

Previously I wrote about "the simpler pastor," whose ministry could be manageable in part because his/her congregation no longer depends on programs. Let's explore that idea in a little more detail.

Programs have an honored place in congregational identity. They consist of regularized benefits that are offered to congregation and community members. The programs require funding and leadership that are provided by lay volunteers and professional staff. The planning and maintenance of programs comprises the majority of a congregation's meetings. When developed and administered well, the programs fill presumed needs and can become a standard for measuring the strength of a congregation. (So an outreach program can satisfy congregation members' desire to care for those in need and be known as a primary marker of that congregation's vitality.)

In many congregations, programs continue to multiply to fit a growing number of recognized needs. The sophistication of programs frequently requires increased expertise (staff), funding or volunteer time. When these resources aren't easily available, the programs can deteriorate in quality or dependability. Staff members may have to pick up the slack when fewer volunteers are willing to lead or participate; staff stress and burnout become more likely. Congregations that have few staff members or whose volunteer pool is shrinking may find it difficult to compete for the attention of program-seeking members. Except for very large congregations, many program-oriented churches have begun to diminish or eliminate programs.

What might a program-free congregation look like and how could it fulfill functions formerly assigned to programs? Let's look at some examples:

Asset-based planning
At least annually, congregations can map the assets of members. This establishes a basis for the useful gifts, talents, skills and connections that can be available for the congregation's ministries. These assets—not the needs that programs ostensibly fill—determine the work that members will undertake together. Where the assets of the staff and lay members do not warrant a ministry, it is not begun or continued.

Event-orientation
Instead of offering regularly scheduled programs, congregational leaders can plan and offer periodic events. Here, planning focuses on one-time experiences that offer opportunities for fellowship, training, conversation, service, learning or mission-funding. This focused approach takes advantage of members' assets for only a specified period of time. This makes the events more likely to be manageable and successful.

Some examples: Parent training events (offering family devotions, Bible reading, spiritual conversations) could take the place of a formal Sunday school. Ongoing social ministry could be replaced by periodic expert-briefings about a pressing problem or opportunity for service that are offered to the entire community. Fellowship meals or retreats could spark informal caring ministries. Adult Bible study programs could become online courses from authoritative sources, with occasional gatherings for networking or testimonies.

Participation in community efforts
In some situations congregational programs duplicate already-existing efforts in the community. Here this is true: congregation members can offer their expertise or time to whole-community efforts. This can enrich members' experience of success and the community's appreciation of the congregation's involvement with its neighbors.

Orientation toward lay ministry
All significant program-like efforts of the congregation can be led by lay members. More importantly, the congregation can repurpose itself to be an equipping place for members' daily ministries in the world. Because it takes advantages of members' already-existing relationships and skills, this may be a more effective and efficient method for outreach, evangelism, creation stewardship or justice ministries.

These few thoughts don't cover this subject completely and may give rise to many questions. But I hope you can begin to see that it's possible to maintain a healthy, strong congregation without letting proliferating programs drag congregational leaders—lay and professional—into unsustainable roles or ministries. 

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August 13, 2015

Simple congregations: The simpler pastor (Repeat)

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

In many congregations, pastoral ministry may not be manageable or sustainable. The role of the pastor is fraught with impossibilities and improbabilities that lead toward burnout or worse. Whether in your congregation or in your soul, you may know firsthand how strongly the whole church yearns for ministry that's manageable and sustainable—hence "simple." In this entry, I want to add my voice to the chorus that continues to sing hopefully about what might be called "the simpler pastor."

The congregation
By definition, a simpler, more manageable pastoral ministry takes place in a simple congregation. This congregation has quietly—and perhaps painfully—shed itself of a program-orientation or an identity as a kind of hospital. Its numbers have stabilized somewhere in the range of 150 to 250 members. Its governance structure has flattened to a church council that supervises and enlivens the work of permanent and intermittent task forces. In this congregation, the number and shape of ministries changes periodically as members' assets and interests fuel specific efforts.

The primary mission of this congregation is (per Ephesians 4:11-13) to equip members for their vocations in the worlds in which they find opportunities for ministry. The congregation identifies strongly with its denominational family. The congregation's influence is rooted in the collected relationships its members enjoy within their community.

The pastor as a professional
The simpler pastor is seminary trained, ordained and called to this congregation for word and sacrament ministry. The pastor brings an additional set of marketable skills and experiences gained during a previous career. He or she is schooled in the arts of community organizing, including the identification and use of gathered assets. The pastor works on a bi-vocational basis: Time and energy devoted to this vocation is shared with another calling, preferably one located in the congregation's community.

The pastor's work
With the diminishment of program and "chaplaincy" duties, the tasks required of a simpler pastor are considerably diminished. The time a pastor devotes to the congregation consists mainly of visiting members in their workplaces or other relationships. (In this critical role, the pastor helps members connect their faith and life.)

The pastor is not the congregation's ex officio or de facto organizational leader. Significant leadership roles and responsibilities are assumed by members. In addition to worship leadership and legally described pastoral acts (marriages, funerals), the pastor convenes small groups of lay members, assisting them in their leadership of changing ministries. Some of that assistance takes place in formal and informal events that promote Christian formation and fellowship.

In the pastor's shared vocation, she or he works as a trusted employee in a local enterprise. In this role, the pastor also carries the congregation's influence into community matters. The pastor/employee may also take secular leadership roles and responsibilities consonant with the skills and experiences carried forward from previous work.

Observations
These descriptions presume that a congregation will have condensed or modified its expectations about what's manageable. It has turned much of its presumed "outreach" over to societal institutions (populated by some of the congregation's members). This congregation and their pastor remain uniquely powerful in their roles, largely because they have matured past the narrow idea that ministry occurs primarily within the congregation's programs. Both a simpler congregation and a simpler pastor function as yeast that infuses everything it touches.

This description of pastoring seems possible to me, most likely in a smaller congregation where members are willing to shed long-held assumptions about the function of the church in our society. The description may hark back to simpler times, but it may also point the way forward to newly simpler times.

God's Spirit will be there too! 

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August 10, 2015

Simple things: Garden tools

(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 the many elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

I've written an earlier entry about the humble shovel, and thought I would extend that appreciation to include all simple garden tools. Besides shovels, they also include hoes, rakes, winnowing forks, trowels and scythes. We have reason to be grateful for all tools that help us deal with the plant world, the ultimate source of much of our food.

As an observant reader, you will note that the tools I've named above have been part of human culture for millennia. Beginning as cleverly formed or fitted pieces of wood or rock, gardening tools helped our ancestors work with soil and seeds to create foodstuffs that helped them prosper without nomadic wandering. (Hunting and gathering had worked for a while, but single-location farming/gardening became much more efficient, sustainable and manageable for our forebears.)

Humankind benefits today from these same tools, which are now more ergonomically engineered and durable. Although most food production is now mechanized on a large scale, gardening—raising one's own food—still feeds a sizable portion of the world's population. Around the world, small-scale farmers use their own variations of ancient plant-tending tools, providing for their families both a source of food and an income.

Gardening tools might be for you only a gentle hobby, seemingly not the same kind of necessity as, say, a smartphone (!). On the other hand, as you use these tools to till your soil, gather your produce, clean your physical environment or de-stress your lifestyle, you are participating in a centuries-old human activity that brings pleasure and satisfaction to the deepest parts of your soul.

Today, thank God for the unknown creative souls who, thousands of years ago, first realized that they could coax food out of the ground—with simple tools whose wonder you have inherited!

Simple enough? 

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August 7, 2015

Simple enough: Simple upgrades?

Scientific American technology columnist David Pogue recently commented on the continuing trend among technology companies to upgrade both software and hardware. Pogue notes that this business model affords these companies a reliable source of income, as we strive to stay current with what we perceive as the necessity of the most recent versions of our techno-tools.

His June 2015 column shows some of the costs of this assumed obligation. Pogue points out that the upgrades—both software and hardware—consist mainly of added features. Your original word-processing program, for example, now also serves as a database and a Web-design tool. These added features make the programs more complicated. The cost? Extra time and effort to achieve mastery of the now-unfamiliar program.

Another cost comes in the eventual obsolescence of hardware and software. No tech company can afford to maintain support services for a host of its constantly changing versions. Earlier editions are consigned to the "No Longer Supported" category of soon-to-be-useless tools. Even if you were satisfied with the earlier manifestation of a machine or its software, newer versions may not be compatible with your now-ancient technology. Thus you are effectively forced to purchase new equipment or upgrade its software.

These experiences—based on the merry-go-round model of constant upgrading—call into question the place of these technologies in a simple lifestyle. Add to computer technologies the new necessities of smartphones and other digital wonders, and this problem may overrun broad swaths of your waking hours.

A small suggestion: Audit the presumed necessity of all your digital devices. Where you could easily return to former ways of living, consider doing so soon—before you become compulsively obedient to your "Upgrade Masters." And before you purchase any spiffy new technology, ask yourself again the age-old question, "Do I really need this?"

Simple enough? 

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August 6, 2015

Simple congregations: The no-program church

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

Previously I wrote about "the simpler pastor", whose ministry could be manageable in part because his/her congregation no longer depends on programs. Let's explore that idea in a little more detail.

Programs have an honored place in congregational identity. They consist of regularized benefits that are offered to congregation and community members. The programs require funding and leadership that are provided by lay volunteers and professional staff. The planning and maintenance of programs comprises the majority of a congregation's meetings. When developed and administered well, the programs fill presumed needs and can become a standard for measuring the strength of a congregation. (So an outreach program can satisfy congregation members' desire to care for those in need and be known as a primary marker of that congregation's vitality.)

In many congregations, programs continue to multiply to fit a growing number of recognized needs. The sophistication of programs frequently requires increased expertise (staff), funding or volunteer time. When these resources are not easily available, the programs can deteriorate in quality or dependability. Staff members may have to pick up the slack when fewer volunteers are willing to lead or participate; staff stress and burnout become more likely. Congregations that have few staff members or whose volunteer pool is shrinking may find it difficult to compete for the attention of program-seeking members. Except for very large congregations, many program-oriented churches have begun to diminish or eliminate programs.

What might a program-free congregation look like and how could it fulfill functions formerly assigned to programs? Let's look at some examples:

Asset-based planning

At least annually, congregations can map the assets of the congregation members. This establishes a basis for the useful gifts, talents, skills, connections that can be available for the congregation's ministries. These assets—not the needs that programs ostensibly fill—determine the work that members will undertake together. Where the assets of the staff and lay members do not warrant a ministry, it is not begun or continued.

Event-Orientation

Instead of offering regularly scheduled programs, congregational leaders can plan and offer periodic events. Here, planning focuses on one-time experiences that offer opportunities for fellowship, training, conversation, service, learning or mission-funding. This focused approach takes advantage of members' assets for only a specified period of time. This makes the events more likely to be manageable and successful.

Some examples: Parent training events—in offering family devotions, Bible reading, spiritual conversations—could take the place of a formal Sunday School. Ongoing social ministry could be replaced by periodic expert-briefings offered to the entire community—about a pressing problem or opportunity for service. Fellowship meals or retreats could spark informal caring ministries. Adult Bible study programs could become online courses from authoritative sources, with occasional gatherings for networking or testimonies.

Participation in Community Efforts

In some situations congregational programs duplicate already-existing efforts in the local community. here this is true, congregation members can offer their expertise or time to whole-community efforts. This can enrich congregation members' experience of success and the community's appreciation of the congregation's involvement with its neighbors.

Orientation toward Lay Ministry

All significant program-like efforts of the congregation can be led by lay members. More importantly, the congregation can repurpose itself to be an equipping place for members' daily ministries in the world. Because it takes advantages of members' already-existing relationships and skills, this may be a more effective and efficient method for outreach, evangelism, creation stewardship or justice ministries.

These few thoughts do not cover this subject completely, and may give rise to many questions. But I hope that you can begin to see that it's possible to maintain a healthy, strong congregation without letting proliferating programs drag congregational leaders—lay and professional—into unsustainable roles or ministries. 

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August 4, 2015

Simple words: Quotidian

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also enables you to inspire incredulity among colleagues. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Today I want to introduce you to an admittedly odd word that might help you remember an important feature of simple living: its ordinariness. The word is quotidian (kwoh-TIH-dee-uhn), an adjective that labels an action or personal quality as commonplace because it occurs daily. (The word's Latinate derivation asks the question "How many times?") I think this odd adjective could be instructive for your simplicity-seeking.

First, let me ask you some slightly personal questions:

  • Do you overaffirm your children as perpetually special?
  • Do you buy into the self-help nostrum that you are a "brand of one"?
  • Do you think of yourself as above average in most areas of life?
  • Do you harbor the secret fear that you're living only an ordinary life?

A "yes" answer to any of these questions might signal how difficult it could be for you to be content with a simple life. Why is that true? By their nature, the daily routines of your career, marriage, parenting, friendships are quotidian: They are common to most other people and they recur daily. If your goals or self-concept require you to spend your life only in unique experiences, forever checking off your overflowing bucket list, you're going to find it hard to discover the beauty and satisfaction of an ordinary life.

This quotidian observation: Abundance can be found in a common life. Today, as you count how your life might be satisfying, think how many times will you find pleasure in a standard routine; how many average people will trust you as one of them; how fully your familiar possessions will bring you contentment; and how many temptations you will avoid because you are satisfied with normal relationships. In other words, it's possible that when you think of yourself as quotidian, you are truly special and truly happy!

Simple enough? 

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August 1, 2015

Simple enough: Talking with Jesus

My office is graced by a Frances Hook portrait of Jesus—one that shows him as believably human. What makes this painting compelling is the sense of having Jesus present while I'm working. He's someone who looks like he just finished his shift in the fields—someone who understands what it means to be a worker. Definitely someone who understood simplicity. So today I want to talk with Jesus, and you can listen along.

Bob: Hey, hard day today? I know the feeling.

Jesus: We both did enough for one day. It's time to rest.

Right, but you must get tired of talking to people who won't listen. That's got to wear you down.

It wears me out, but never wears me down. There's a difference.

Like what?

When you're worn out, you can get back up. When you're worn down, you shrink in size.

That doesn't happen to you?

No, I can't let that happen when there's so much more to do tomorrow.

So how do you keep from wearing d... shrinking?

I try to think the big thoughts my Father requires.

For example?

Like loving the people who don't listen so well. Trying to imagine their viewpoints, their feelings about their lives. Looking for the places we already understand each other. Maybe even forgiving them again.

What makes those thoughts "big"?

Like Peter once wrote—you'll remember this, I'm sure—"Love covers a multitude of sins." God's love for these people is bigger than my words, bigger than my need to tell people what they need to hear. Bigger than anything. I'm trying to make God's love cover the world. That's big!

Is that something you'd recommend that I try?

Sure. You wouldn't want to wear down, would you?

(We kept talking for a while longer. It's a kind of prayer ....) 

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July 29, 2015

Simple enough: A redeeming life

Lent's long gone, but one of its themes still sticks in my brain: How does God continue to redeem the world? Yes, Jesus' life, death and resurrection first accomplished and undergirded that part of God's will. But what about the smaller "redemptions" that we all yearn for each day? What about the rescues, escapes and saving actions that we all need just to get through our lives? How does God act in those situations?

One possibility: God still uses death to redeem lives. (A local woman recently was given life again when she received a transplanted kidney from her son, who had died unexpectedly.) Perhaps every organ donor gives life (redemption) when she or he dies. And think of soldiers defending their homeland or heroic rescues that also extinguish the rescuers' lives.

Another possibility about redemption comes to mind, one connected to simplicity: By our lifestyles, each of us can be (very junior) partners with God in redeeming the world. When we aren't insistent on extravagent lives, enough food, water or money remains for others' use. When we pay our taxes, the benefits of a civil society are available to all. When we visit people who are lonely or sick, their lives continue to have meaning. When we train our children to follow Christ's example, they (and the world in which they will grow up) are brought back from the brink of selfish extinction. When we take and use only what we actually need, "abundance" is possible for more than just ourselves. When we take time to find wisdom, we make better decisions that affect people all around us.

In all these cases, lives well lived are a contributing factor to these smaller redemptions. In all these cases, God is working through us to remain savior of the world.

Simple enough? 

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July 26, 2015

Simplicity's children: The unstructured summer

Today let me propose a simple idea that might help you and your family carve some simple pleasures out of the remaining days of this wonderful season of the year. I'll group them around the idea of "unstructured," an adjective that already tells you what's coming. (Staycation might also help frame these possibilities.)

Hints:

  1. Think how your kids might spend at least a couple of days a week with no rules or schedules. If you're already over-scheduled and over-ruled, let your children know in advance about this change in their use of time.
  2. Share your memories of unstructured summer days during your childhood. Without glossing or exaggerating, speak about your positive feelings about these times.
  3. Paint yourself out of the picture; paint in your children's friends. Your children are capable of inventing their own activities and priorities.
  4. Enjoy the benefits of setting aside your roles as chef, concierge, taxi driver or law enforcement officer. Think of these days as mini-sabbaticals.
  5. When the (unstructured) days are complete, talk with your children about the experience. Refrain from cheerleading or judging.
  6. Characterize these times as adventures, explorations or hunts.
  7. If appropriate, relieve your children of their digital leashes.

Ideas:

  1. Where they're safe, walks into other contexts can result in new settings, new learnings, new questions.
  2. Odd objects—even junk!—can inspire building/inventing instincts.
  3. Exploration tools—magnifying glasses, walking sticks, rubber boots, camera with close-up capabilities—can engender children's natural curiosity.
  4. Loosely framed challenges might start the ball rolling (e.g., invent a new sport, bring home something interesting or explore a tiny space completely.)

Unstructured time might not work well at first. But sitting at home in front of a screen won't teach your child anything about the simple pleasures of life.

Your choice, of course .... 

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July 23, 2015

Simple words: Mansplaining

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also enables you to assume leadership among truth-seekers. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Among some educated males in our species there is a quirksome personality flaw that has come to be called "mansplaining," as in "Men who overexplain everything they think of." (Dilbert of cartoon fame skewers his boss about mansplaining, which means that this condition has become a widespread societal problem!)

I notice this flaw in myself when I write—yes, even in these blogs! Often I include at least three iterations of an idea before moving on to the next one. And in public and private discourse, I sometimes find myself circling back on the same general thought, as if living in a verbal version of Groundhog Day. I think of my motives as positive: I really want you to comprehend (for your benefit?) what I'm communicating.

Being totally honest, though, I'd say that mansplaining could be a sign of personal insecurity: I'm worried that you won't understand me, so I'll expound on the subject one or two more times. Mansplaining may also indicate my subtle disregard (or arrogance?) regarding your ability to pick up meaning. This behavior may also signal my need to control meaning or relationships.

The results of mansplaining—so well portrayed by Dilbert and his colleagues—are complicated and certain: Disregard of the "splainer" and what he explains. Lost possibilities for heartfelt conversation. Wasted time, paper or screen space.

What might cure mansplainers of this trait? Perhaps benevolent interruptions, quickly summarizing the content of a discourse or conversation in exquisite simplicity. Perhaps refraining from asking appreciative questions that encourage more explaining of what's already obvious. Perhaps showing by your example how to speak directly with fewer words.

So if you see me coming, please help me wrestle with this character flaw and be prepared to forgive me for my advanced degree in "Overly Obvious."

Simple enough? 

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July 20, 2015

Simple enough: Distilling

In my ongoing search to find a just-so metaphor for our simplicity-seeking, I want to explore with you the idea of "distilling"—pulling out of something ordinary what is delectable and precious. Distilling involves gathering raw materials, smashing them into a pulp, applying gentle heat over time, filtering out unwanted substances, gathering the essential vapors and condensing them—resulting in the concentrated essence of something new and valuable.

Simplicity-seeking may be a kind of metaphorical distilling. When you try to live simply, you approach the ordinary stuff of life with expectant appreciation: Something surprising might be hidden in what's commonplace. You are willing to mash up what you experience without immediately having to make sense of the mess. You apply heat—insistent, critical thought—to your experiences. You use filters (for example, the wisdom of God in Jesus' teachings) to draw off what's not good, not necessary, not vital. You condense small wisps of new attitudes and behaviors and put them to use in your life. This work takes time.

What comes of simplicity-distilling? I think it's exciting to think of simplicity as a purified way of living, a lifestyle that's been concentrated, and a viewpoint that screens out unhelpful and unwise habits. You can sometimes find quiet delight in discovering the exquisite essence of some part of life that had gone undetected for years. In its condensed form, simple living can be wonderfully palatable, something you want to share with others. Rare and therefore precious, simplicity-seeking can give you pleasure. You can learn to be patient as you make sense out of what others may overlook or not value.

As you continue this metaphorical process—distilling ordinary life into something precious—expect delightful surprises and deep satisfaction with what a purifying Spirit can accomplish in your life!

Simple enough? 

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July 17, 2015

Simple enough: Evoking profound memories

One of the valuable lessons I've learned from elderly friends is the fulfillment that comes from recalled memories. While I'm still adding to the stories that will constitute my later-in-life memories, it makes good sense to practice that memory rummaging now. I'm going to spend this entry's word-quota doing just that, with my office walls as a source. You're free to come along ....

The Bach Cantata Series wall poster recalls a host of memories about all the quiet moments I've listened to cantatas, performed in them as an organist or singer, and drew inspiration for a current situation from a worship service wrapped around a cantata. Sometimes I miss being a musician.

My Amsler Grid eyechart reminds me of the early discovery of my age-related macular degeneration, when the possible loss of vision really frightened me. I recall those legitimate emotions vividly, but also recollect how my eye doctor put the fears to rest with this reassurance: "You will not lose your sight." His gracious announcement put my condition into perspective.

The photos of my parents in their later years: How I am starting to look like them—even think like them! I recall their plucky acceptance of aging's effects: "Getting old ain't for sissies," they would say. I remember so many of their other adages. They are my mantras now.

The tiny business calendar from one of my former youth group members in Texas evokes all the wild times Chris and I spent as "newbieyouth" ministers—we made a lot of it up as we went along. But now I think carefully about how the recent floods continue to affect him and his family.

My short personal reveries also provoke this invitation: Practice memory-evoking now, so that when you are older, you will be skilled at this life-enriching activity.

Simple enough?

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July 14, 2015

Simple enough: Connecting to your legacy

As you grow older, you shift from being a legacy-receiver to a legacy-giver. At some point you come to realize your responsibility to improve and protect inherited blessings before you pass them along. Here are some beginning steps that might help you connect to your legacy:

  1. Know your family history. Talk with older living relatives about family artifacts. Help these relatives develop, write or narrate their personal life stories. Begin chronicling your life story—journaling, captioning photos or recording stories.
  2. Honor your mentors. Your legacy may include individuals who guided you through beginning stages of your career or parenting. Pay tribute to your mentors with grateful conversations or letters. Tell them how you've turned out!
  3. Identify your teachers. You have inherited the knowledge, skills and wisdom of countless teachers, some of them filling that role formally and others informally. Name these individuals and identify what you learned from them.
  4. Consider whose shoulders you stand on. You owe your legacy to people who paved the way for you. They may have sacrificed their own well-being for your sake. Learn those stories.
  5. Remember your childhood goals for your life. Those early expressions of your desired life-purpose may help you remember what was originally important to you. Save artifacts that reveal your earliest thoughts about your possible future.
  6. Live into the witness of Scripture. You can find your most-trusted legacy in the Bible. Not just the wisdom of the ages, but the lives of God's people that can serve as examples for how you might live.

As you undertake any of these tasks, keep a record of what you find so those coming after you will find their own legacies more assuredly and more appreciatively. Soon they will be connected legacy-givers as well!

Simple enough? 

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July 11, 2015

Simple things: Glass

(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 the many elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

As I write these words, I can take my eyes away from the (special glass) screen of this computer and gaze out the transparent double-paned (glass) windows of this office to see the beauty of a cloudy day. Next to me is a (glass) container of water that will keep me hydrated throughout this writing. My work is illumined by the glow of a (glass) light bulb. And, of course, my eyesight is made possible by the corrective (glass) lenses of my eyewear.

In each of these examples, a vital ingredient in my well-being (or work) is made possible by a form of glass. In the near-alchemy of turning silica into various substances, the manufacturers of glass create a low-cost, durable material that continues to amaze me. I am protected from the elements by a translucent sheet of glass. I can touch the screen of this computer without ruining its inner workings. My water will remain cool and clean. The illumination of my work area will be free from glare, diffused evenly into this room. And the miracle of eyeglasses—precision-ground, UV-filtering, multi-focus lenses—is critical to my daily safety and routines. (I cannot drive a car without wearing these glasses!)

Glass is easy to take for granted until it's broken. But even then, this wondrous material is easily replaced at an affordable price. In any of its forms, glass is readily available near my home. Glass is another example of how human ingenuity has taken one of God's created substances—in this case, common sand—and made good use of it. And in its more exotic forms—auto glass, art glass, heat-resistant glass—this ubiquitous material is an example of God's abundance.

Join me today in being grateful for the benefits that come to our lives because of glass! 

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July 5, 2015

Simple words: Finicky

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also enables you to gain respect among erudite eccentrics. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Before talking about the derivation of this word, let's set the context of this entry: It's hard to live simply if you're going to be finicky—fussy, fastidious, hard to please. Got it? Now let's see how this word started and where it has led.

The term has a British derivation, dating to the late 1500s and denoting a person who was too dainty or too particular. (The sense of "too fine" comes from fine, the likely root for this less-than-complimentary adjective.) Thus this descriptor has maintained its negative meaning for centuries.

It amazes me how much finickiness still exists—and is perhaps condoned—in our culture.

Some examples: A significant number of children are allowed to be finicky about which foods they will eat. "No questions asked" returns on purchased goods seems like an encouragement to be finicky. A high percentage of the goods we purchase are available in multiple colors, styles and sizes. This feels like a tacit acceptance of finickiness reaching into our entire economy. Digitized matchmaking services may be supporting the finicky idea that finding and marrying a perfect spouse is possible.

I have questions about the lasting results of being finicky: Is someone who is finicky about small details also overparticular about most everything else? Can finicky people see life's big pictures? If finicky people cannot be content with what they have or accept less-than-perfect lives, what motivates them toward gratitude? What does satisfy them or make them happy? How do finicky children mature into selfless, giving adults? What worries me the most: It seems as if finicky people are really vulnerable to the vagaries of real life. (Remember the original sense of "daintiness" in this word's etymology!)

Or perhaps, when finickiness doesn't work any more, will these folks be ready to seek simplicity?

Could be .... 

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