Bob Sitze's Blog
March 26, 2016
Simple enough: Mindless exultation?
Easter’s imminent dawning includes repeated invitations to rejoice. Ample Scripture readings, earnest sermons and loud exhortations can require your mind to revert to its logical-sequential modality in order to find reasons for that exultation. Today I’m suggesting something a little bit different, perhaps even weird: Rejoice without really needing to know why. Let me explain….
If your jubilation and celebration become too dependent on logic, your brain might not get the chance just to be wildly happy. If your soul needs to concoct some kind of spiritual balance sheet before you can decide whether to be joyful, the debit side may come up stronger—illness, difficulty, despair, war, pain and death may really be overwhelming right now. It could feel a little surreal—maybe even fake?—to be singing alleluias just to tamp down the fear that lives in much of your brain. Big parts of you—the brain structures that are addicted to destructive habits—might rebel against rational explanations of why resurrection and eternal life trump what seems like your dull-and-brutish existence right now.
What am I suggesting instead? That you shut off some frontal lobe reasoning just for this day. That you regale others with memories of your deepest joys. That you act exuberantly even if there are few reasons to do so. That you ratchet up cheer and happiness—even in their quietest forms—and wallow in those thoughts. That you dance and whirl—even if only in your imagination—at the sheer elation of being alive! That you end your utterances with exclamation points.
I’m a guy living with cancer and deteriorating vision, so I refuse to make Easter into a purely logical proposition. Today I invite you to join me in mindless exultation about God’s gift of life.
Or am I just being weird….?
March 25, 2016
Simple enough: Time for hard choices?
“What time is it?” Along with “Where am I?” the question of your place in time is the first matter your brain engages when you awaken each morning. In both literal and metaphoric understandings, knowing your temporal situation is critical to knowing yourself. Today I want to ask perhaps the hardest question simplicity seekers have to face: Is it time to make some difficult life choices?
It seems that we don’t have to await the effects of global warming any longer. What we thought were just warning signs have turned out to be the first among what are likely to be a growing crescendo of distressing environmental changes. Tornadoes in February, highest-ever temperature records being broken regularly, more frequent and more intense storms, persistent drought and rising sea levels, swarms of earthquakes in high-fracking locales—each becomes part of a new normal that we can’t overlook or downplay as temporary anomalies in the natural world. Wise business and governmental leaders are shifting their attention from simple reactivity toward large-scale changes in “the American way of life.” Environmental prophet and writer Bill McKibben characterizes these choices as necessary because “you can’t argue with physics”—his way of saying that lifestyle changes are no longer just good ideas.
It may be time to consider your part in this shift by:
- Giving up or curtailing your use of an automobile.
- Traveling by airplane.
- Investing in alternate forms of energy for your home.
- Eating foods or buying merchandise whose production requires smaller amounts of energy.
- Spending less, saving and sharing more.
- Downsizing your home.
- Preparing your children for lifestyles that will have to be simpler.
- Rethinking your sources of pleasure, hope and purpose.
Big lifestyle changes require big changes in thinking, a constant calling of the Spirit. It may be time to answer hard questions.
March 22, 2016
Simple things: Hats
(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.)
I am a bald man, and likely prejudiced about the value of hats in a life of simple pleasures. In almost every part of my life, a variety of simple appurtenances cover my vulnerable scalp and skull. Not for the sake of fashion or appearance, but for the sake of necessity. Without a hat, I am less of a man than with my hat(s) in place. (I am wearing a simple woolen watch cap as I write this blog in a cold room.)
Whether bald or not, you might also find hats or caps a simple and necessary feature of your life. Hats protect you—from harsh weather and the not-so-gentle sun. Hats hold your hair in place (or hide it when it’s disheveled or dirty). Worn frequently enough, hats can provide reliable markers of your character or social standing. Hats can accentuate your visual appeal or add to your anonymity in a crowd. Hats guard your eyes from retina-destroying UV rays. When pulled over your eyes at bedtime, hats can help you sleep soundly.
Sturdy hats hold to your head like a friend, adding a layer of insulation or safety. Festooned with slogans or names, hats identify you as part of a team or gathering of like-minded people. As part of a uniform, hats can help establish your authority or role. Worn often, hats can even shape your character—think about the emergent self-image of people who wear berets or seed caps!
Because hats have been a part of human existence for eons, they will likely continue into the distant future as useful features of a satisfying lifestyle. You might take some time today to organize your collections of hats, so that you can reap the benefit of this simple piece of clothing into the coming years!
March 19, 2016
Simple words: Hysteria
(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also enables you to calm down people around you. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)
Rarely can you find a word so steeped in male-dominant thinking as hysteria. Its false association with women’s imagined lack of steady temperament and emotional strength hearkens back to the Greco-Roman notion that women’s body structures did not allow for even-keeled emotional responses. It seemed likely that the womb (hustera) could malfunction (husterikos), and thus render women incapable of the steel nerves and sterling disposition that automatically characterized men in difficult situations.
Neurobiology has thrown oceans of cold water on this pseudo-scientific notion. In fact, during distressing circumstances, women’s hormonal makeup equips them for tending and befriending instead of the more typical male responses of fighting, fleeing or freezing. Still, the prejudice might remain in too many minds that women are more likely to lose emotional control under duress.
In other entries I’ve noted the obvious: We live in stressful times that can easily engender widespread panic, terror or anxiety. Perhaps invisible or unnamed, hysteria can live in the algorithms of stock markets, in gated communities, in class warfare, in helicopter parenting and stampedes toward fear-mongering political candidates. Named in genteel language or expressed in raw emotions, hysteria may also live inside churches that rush among flavor-of-the-month “cures” for their organizational disease or dying.
Hysteria probably works against simplicity-seeking. Rational, calm and emotionally balanced reactions to life’s vagaries don’t do well when terror invades our souls. To say that another way, it’s hard to value the principles of simplicity if your self-control is governed by wholesale hysteria.
An observation from my experience with simple living: When I am prone to hysteria, I seek the calm wisdom and guidance of women. It’s women’s voices I need to hear when being talked off the ledge of my self-destructive apprehension. And the spiritual depth of women keeps me from a train-wreck lifestyle.
March 16, 2016
Simple enough: Protective workplace talismans
If you are trying to ensure or create an ethical workplace environment, there’s some good news from researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. (A grateful shout-out to columnist Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz for writing about these fascinating findings in the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 16.)
In brief, these researchers found that the presence of “moral symbols”—religious posters, ethical quotes, religious items visible in one’s workplace environment—were one factor in protecting employees from invitations to engage in dishonest business practices. And these symbols (or are they actually protective talismans?) could also dissuade one’s fellow workers from engaging in ethically questionable acts themselves. Elejalde-Ruiz suggests that these moral symbols operate at a subconscious level, which can make them even more effective.
Simplicity seems embedded here, perhaps in the matter of “witnessing at work.” It may be possible that engaging in conversations about business ethics—as a follower of Jesus—is more difficult than Sunday morning pronouncements suggest. The words come hard sometimes, and the occasions for that kind of forthright conversation may be limited. Perhaps a simple approach (a subtle invitation or warning?) is to trust the effect of artifacts of your faith, not only as protectors against nefarious actions or assumptions, but also as strong indicators of your frame of reference, your views of righteous living or your big-picture mission in life.
How might this work as one way for you to follow the moral compass of Scripture more directly or simply at work? Obviously the moral symbols can’t be ostentatious or overbearing. They should be easily understood and forthright. Bible quotes are good, but much of scriptural wisdom is embedded in secular expressions too. It might be interesting to use unique items—sculpture, children’s artwork, a screen-saver—to send the same message.
March 13, 2016
Simple congregations: Writing together with Spirit
(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.)
Fair warning: This entry fits into the category of "Spiffy Ideas That Only Edge-Prone Leaders Would Try." Thus warned (or perhaps invited?) you can proceed through these paragraphs with this idea in mind: What if you offered a “Writing with Spirit” experience in your congregation?
Still with me here? Let’s keep going ….
In previous entries I’ve mused about the possibility that the verbal identities of some congregations might come up two tamales short of a full plate. A little wanting in spirit and excellence, the written utterances of some congregations might benefit from a nudge toward better—more enthusiastic, less platitude-prone—written communication. Add to that possibility the likelihood that in many congregations there are those who yearn to put into words the spiritual depths they experience in their souls. In still other congregations, the resources—people, time, space, necessity—are available to develop skills and passion for writing among members. (Find yourself in any of these phrases?)
How might that work? Proceeding with an asset-based approach (assembling the useful gifts of God that are available to you here-and-now) you might construct an experience that develops, encourages and legitimizes the spiritual writing talents in your congregation that may be waiting to be called forth.
To construct such an experience, you might keep in mind some of these observations:
- Writing for the congregation’s purposes and identity is different from writing for the good of readers in other venues or contexts. (For example, think of a new column for your local newspaper.)
- “Writing with Spirit” can encompass a broad variety of forms or styles. Devotions and meditations, certainly. But also illustrated prayer books, business writing infused with bits and pieces of spirituality, purposed and effective letter-writing, family histories of faith, journaling beyond the mundane, short stories, poetry for children, donor thank-you letters, first-person narratives, profiles of courage or essays about contemporary culture.
- “The gospel” always breaks out into words, some of them new and living at the core of people around you.
- The experiences might include peer-learning, authoritative editing and actual time to write.
- Leaders would be facilitators, not necessarily experts. (Both likely exist within any congregation!)
- Guests and friends of your congregation would be invited as rich additions to the mix of writers.
- It probably makes sense to offer these experiences over time rather than stuff everything into a single weekend.
- The participants in this writing class might also include younger members, “inactive” members, congregational leaders and staff members.
- The effectiveness of these experiences might best be measured with long-view metrics. (For example, the “writing class” continues as a de facto small group or “writers’ guild.”)
No rocket science is required here, but careful planning and discernment are probably requisite features in your thinking about this possibility. A first and necessary step: See what kind of interest already exists in your congregation and context. A next-and-equally-necessary step: finding leadership assets. (Don’t forget partner or neighboring congregations!)
It seems like you’re still reading, so let me assure you that this spiffy idea could also be an exciting and energizing marker of your congregation’s front-edge thinking about the gospel. I know this can be true. Why? Forty years ago I couldn’t spell “writer” and now I are one ....
March 10, 2016
Simple congregations: Between now and then
(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.)
These are tough times for many congregations. Enough ink has been spilled—or pixels spread onto screens—to fill volumes of thought about this matter. In this entry I want to take a slightly different tack, sailing in a more hopeful or positive direction. My thesis: There is good reason for optimism about these times of transition between what seems to be true about congregations now and truths that may be emerging.
First, let’s admit that we are in a more intense period of ecclesiastical transition than we may ever have experienced. Its parameters seem almost surreal—increasing splits in religious thought; congregations diminishing at rates similar to the melting of the polar ice caps; “spiritual-not-religious” becoming the predominant descriptor of spiritual life in this country; and the slow fading of religious authority in society. Respected elders of the faith are dying, even as hopeful upheavals of budding faithfulness are just now poking their heads through the ecclesiastical snow. We can see what’s disappearing, but it’s also apparent that the dim outlines of renewal and Spirit-inspired reformation are coming into sharper focus.
What to do during transition times? (See the earlier reference to spilled ink or splotches of pixels.) These additional thoughts come to mind:
- It’s probably inaccurate to describe “what’s coming” as brand-new, just as it’s not correct to say that “what’s disappearing” is just old stuff. Through generations, truths circle back on themselves, perhaps in new clothing, even as falsities and weak ideas gasp for new oxygen in today’s ecclesiastical atmosphere. (Christianity Today talks about “beautiful orthodoxy” to describe this juxtaposition of the old and new.)
- For a few decades we may have bounced around on a path of fad-chasing, but its trail markers are getting faded. Flavors-of-the-month don’t gather as much excitement as in the past, and cultish leaders aren’t selling as many books.
- In tough times like this, discernment seems to be replacing panic or desperation. (The congregation of which I’m a part is spending an entire year in a process of wisdom-seeking.)
- Those who are carving out new models of congregational life and purpose seem to be more assuredly grounded in basic stuff and less enamored of the sound of their own voices. Many of them are younger, and some are already supplanting time-honored leaders.
- In tough times, hopeful people live courageously. There is a lot of evidence of that happening across the spiritual spectrum. In every congregation, hopeful people—unburdened from nostalgic notions of church life—are speaking their minds and living their lives as examples for the rest of us.
- When congregational life seems to be assaulted by slow fires of distress it’s good to remember that fires burn off detritus, dross and chaff—the stuff that may have gotten in the way of health and vitality.
- Repristination—the work of the Spirit in making all things new—can yield a simple congregation, one more manageable and, therefore, a more sustainable enterprise than the clunky, overburdened entities that many of us try to serve faithfully. (“Pristine” means “pure”!)
As the rest of the world continues to devolve—into fear, hatred, misogyny, ignorance or selfishness—what every congregation offers is the pure facts of God’s love, wisdom and redemptive grace for people. Every congregation can proclaim and live out the gospel-truth that so many people desperately seek, perhaps without even knowing how to describe those yearnings.
Perhaps you also see some hope in what’s coming next?
March 7, 2016
Simple congregations: Disaster preparedness (Repeat)
(This entry is part of a continuing series that applies simplicity ideals to congregational life. These entries can complement any program of congregational transformation.)
Here’s a thought for all you congregation leaders who want to be at the front edge of ecclesiastical life: Reconfigure some of your congregation’s purpose and identity so you are identified as the place in your locale that’s ready for the next disaster. Here’s some of my logic:
- Everywhere in this great land of ours, natural and human-caused disasters are increasing, both in numbers and intensity. (A simple conversation with your local insurance broker will provide you sobering details.)
- Unprepared for what is more-and-more likely to occur, people in your locale are going to suffer more-and-more.
- Being ready for disasters is not rocket science.
- There’s a bit of God’s good news in your service to others in times of travail.
- This can be joyful, hopeful work for your entire congregation.
- You can do this.
It doesn’t take much for you to make a phone call or look up a Web address to find some wisdom and assistance in starting this kind of ministry. You can start with your denomination (I’m an ELCA Lutheran and we do good work at elca.org/disaster) or with a nonprofit agency already devoted to this purpose. You can partner with civic clubs, high school students, and city or county officials. You can take advantage of your congregation’s facilities and the already existing assets of members. You can imbue “preparedness” with matters of faith, trust in God, comfort and shrewd stewardship of resources. (In times of calamity, these essential elements of life can be in short supply.)
What’s simple here? Managing your preparedness for what’s eventually going to occur, you’re more likely to avoid the misfortune of unmanageable lives when adversity strikes. Today’s success—preparing for a catastrophe—will help you reduce tomorrow’s mess!
Make sense to you?
March 4, 2016
Simple enough: Hands up!
Given the capability of our hands to express more than one-finger insults, it might make sense to review some simple ways in which your hand gestures can transmit messages that are more positive and helpful. These reminders might help.
I salute you
Any variation on saluting can acknowledge the presence and authority of another person, perhaps even your willingness to agree or accede to that person’s wishes.
OK is a good thing
When thumb and forefingers are joined to form the letter “O” you affirm the actions or ideas of another person. (Sometimes “OK” can be a superlative, as in “That was/is perfect!”)
A little more exuberant and emotional, “thumbs up”—one or both hands—can send out an unmistakable message: “What you just did was really good!”
I got it
In combination with other gestures, pointing to one’s self can bring relief to someone beleaguered with too much work or stress. The idea is simple and redeeming: “I’m with you on this one; I understand you and am willing to pitch in here and now.”
I know you
With just the right facial expression (a smile?) pointing at another person directly can send a welcome thought: “In spite of the presence of all these other people, I have spotted you and send you my recognition.”
An acknowledging wave to others (at a four-way stop sign, for example) sends out your message of appreciation for a silent, quick moment of favor.
An inward wave of your palm invites a perhaps-reluctant person to come closer to you, presumably for a favorable exchange between the two of you.
Your hand signals can be a simple way to offer others what may be missing in their lives: visible evidence that they are known, accepted and affirmed.
March 1, 2016
Simplicity's children: Historical love letters
There may be some value for the love letters that you and your spouse composed, sent and saved as part of your courtship. They might be a simple way to help your children understand important lifestyle matters such as:
- The beginning history of your marriage.
- Personal thoughts that still live inside your memories.
- What attracted you to each other.
- What still binds you together as married partners—and likely compels your parenting style.
- What it means to love and be loved.
- How your life of faith infuses your decisions about your future life together.
- Who you two really are!
There are, of course, right and wrong times to open these deeply personal missives to the consideration of your children. (It’s also possible that you may never want to open your personal history to them!) An optimal time might be when your child begins romantic friendships, or even when one of those relationships goes sour or gets really serious. Another time: If your children marry and have children of their own, your love letters might serve as a reminder of the legacy of love and purpose that they have inherited from you and your spouse.
Judiciously quoted or cited, your love letters might also serve as starters for writing your family history. They can add depth and emotion to what could otherwise be just a dry recounting of facts—dates and places and events. And those love letters might also serve as a kind of extended celebration of life stages, including your final years. (Think how instructive love letters might be for your children after either you or your spouse dies!)
If you have love letters, don’t let them molder or disappear. They may be profound artifacts of the simple fact that love is always a gift of God!
February 27, 2016
Simple enough: Hiding behind minutia?
One of the unintended side effects of our culture’s appetite for data may be the piles of factual detritus that crowd out what’s really important in life. It may even be possible that, as we speed through life chasing “proof” in mountains of numbers, we are actually hiding from large questions or realities. Our frenetic whizzings and whirrings through statistic-soaked lifestyles might just be convenient ways to sidestep nagging thoughts whose answers threaten our lifestyle ideals or behaviors. Our presumptions about what’s righteous in others. the eventual results of our misdeeds or the true nature of love, forgiveness or joy.
Majoring in minors can easily consume any organization that tries to tackle large-scale problems. Documenting health care visits in exquisite code might obscure the fact that we are not providing care for people’s spirit. Accountability metrics could paint a rosy picture of churches whose soul is sorrowful and vulnerable. Bottom lines in businesses could exclude matters such as employee trust, long-term viability or environmental costs that the company never pays.
In our individual lives, we can measure the worth of our parenting in the number of after-school activities our children engage in, hiding the truth that we spend too little time in conversation with them. We might tussle with teachers over grades or test scores, not realizing that our offspring might have become weary of learning. We might protect our spouses with intricately constructed financial safeguards while at the same time not surrounding them with intimacy and love.
As I have often noted, data is not fact; facts are not information; information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. As we seek simplicity, we yearn most for wisdom that transcends superfluous minutia and lays open for us the open truths of God’s own revelation, God’s own Spirit.
February 24, 2016
Simple words: Maverick
(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also makes you proud to be an eccentric. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)
Eponymously engendered by the odd behavior of 19th-century Texas rancher Samuel E. Maverick who didn’t brand his cattle and thus laid claim to all unbranded stock grazing the range, “maverick” has come to describe any unorthodox behavior or person. You can think of mavericks in a positive or negative way: Society benefits from having just enough mavericks to keep the rest of us on our toes, but when everyone thinks they are mavericks, then society is flirting with anarchy.
We’ve said this to each other before and it’s still true: Those of us who seek simplicity are, for some people, oddballs, outliers, eccentrics or mavericks. At the metaphoric level, we don’t follow the herd. We go our own way, guided by a different view of a good and godly life. We see what others miss and are willing to talk about what we observe. Our drummer is different, so our life path has a dancing rhythm difficult for mere marchers to discern. We are stubbornly insistent about not giving up, giving in or giving over to prevailing “wisdom” what we know to be true.
To be honest about our state of being as mavericks, we’re as vulnerable to life’s vagaries as a steer out on the range by itself. Subtle ridicule and avoidance may characterize our social standing. We may live at the edges of financial well-being. Our children may chafe at our lifestyle decisions. Even our self-worth may be buffeted by even the quietest winds of relational tension.
Still, it may be better to be unbranded, not easily characterized, a puzzlement to those around us. The quiet attention we engender eventually leads to others’ curiosity. And at those moments, we have the welcome opportunity to share our selves.
For the good of the herd!
February 21, 2016
Simple congregations: The unexamined life
(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.)
If Socrates was right when he observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” it might also make sense that, when unexamined, congregational life is not worth living. (Socrates would not have known about congregations, but you and I do.) Follow along with these further observations ….
In a world marked by frenzied, sometimes mindless lifestyles, it’s fairly easy to move through life with only a nod to serious self-examination. Whether as individuals or as congregations, we can get through most of life just by tracking our habits back to their dependable roots and following them where they have always led. This kind of mindset might not always yield the best results, but at least it’s a manageable (and familiar) way to live. It’s just simpler to rely on past behaviors, attitudes and identities.
One problem: Gradually those habits, however well-engrained, just don’t fit the present-day context in which you find yourself. As you—or your congregation—slowly begin to experience a jarring gap between your behaviors and the realities in and around you, two choices emerge: Bear down harder, framed by the same mindset and habituated behaviors, or engage in some serious self-examination.
This is hard enough for you to do as an individual—probably because examining your life takes time and energy, both of which may be in short supply. Examining congregational life can be even more difficult because the process requires you to assemble the time and energy of many people.
What seems most complicated—engaging in purposeful self-examination—is actually the simpler road to take. Why? Once your habits stop being useful or relevant, you can come to a point of chaos or danger, where it’s difficult to get past fear or stress and engage in calm, positive or hopeful thought. The examined life turns out to be more easily sustained!
Examining your congregational life doesn't have to become a large-scale exercise, completing complicated assessment instruments, adopting a sure-fire system of transformation or relying on an outside coach. Each of these has advantages, certainly, but they’re not critical for the most basic forms of self-examination. For Socrates—and for your congregation—the examined-life starts with good questions, probes that require emotional and intellectual honesty to answer. The discernment can be prompted by focused reading over time. Prayer is always helpful, certainly, but so are processes of discovery and measurement. Before crises make self-examination mandatory, your congregation can spend enjoyable time in conversations about what’s important—keeping track of the subjects and your observations. You can discover how your assets might combine to yield different results—different habits. You can slow down, perhaps postponing, rescheduling or even jettisoning some congregational activities that steal time from quiet, prayerful discernment about your congregation’s place in people’s lives, your worth and your purpose.
After you finish reading this entry, think about this one thought: With whom would you enjoy spending some quiet time, examining joyfully the identity and direction of your congregation? And when those names pop into your head, set a time and a place for your first conversation!
The examined (congregational) life could start that simply!
February 18, 2016
Simple enough: Quit your complaining
Join me today in a celebration of a "Festival of Not Complaining." You get to choose which day to celebrate your lack of whining and moaning. And you get to name the saint who will be the patron of this special festival. Here are some suggestions to help you.
The Scriptures for this day will include the Sermon on the Mount and the part of Exodus where God’s delivered people gripe about the lack of good Egyptian food out there in the desert. The "Prayer for the Day" would be short and sweet—filled with reminders about gratitude. And the "Hymn of the Day" would be "Now Thank We All Our God."
The sermon? You get to imagine it yourself: Think how your griping would sound to a Syrian refugee on a rubber dingy in the Aegean Sea. Let your mind wrap around the daily life of a mentally ill person whose congregation forgot about him or her. Wander mentally into the diminishing hopes of someone whose job was given to a robot. Tell yourself—you’re preaching today’s festival sermon, right?—how your complaining is not justified, how you deserve nothing more than what you have now and how you never feel better when you whine. Recall the times when Jesus could have grumbled and carped about his life’s work but didn’t. Remember the exemplary life of the patron saint you’ve chosen.
Decide how you will contribute an “offering” to God that will forestall the nit-picking of others, that will inspire them to gratitude—how you might become a lasting example of grateful satisfaction. Let the Prayer of the Church send you into the needs and hopes of the whole world.
And when your worship service is finished, head into this blessed day with nary a murmur or a moan.
Happy Not Complaining Day!
February 15, 2016
Simple enough: Don't let your craziness get you down
During this season (of politics, environmental degradation, economic vulnerabilities) it can feel like the doors have been opened in all the zoos where weird behaviors and attitudes are locked up. News stories seem to be filled with irrationality. Outrageous ideas get poured into fearful minds like liquid candy. Foolish people attract our attention—some even want our loyalty, vote or acquiescence to their wild ideas. Anger is the preferred currency of discourse, and what’s silly and stupid sucks air out of what’s wise and helpful. These attitudes seem to be winning, and it can wear your emotional veneer down to its core. Not good for people who seek what’s good and godly in simplicity!
I write this entry today with that same set of feelings whirling around in the emotional parts of my brain. My spirit is assaulted with senseless craziness that I know is not true, not useful, not from God’s Spirit. And it is hard not to get weighed down by the seeming prevalence of bizarre behaviors that run around in our society like frightened squirrels.
What I want to say to you today is what I keep saying to myself: God is still at work. We can take comfort from God’s providence, love and grace despite what seems to be coursing through the veins of our cultural institutions, despite how the "Irrational Ones" act, despite our own craziness in the face of the stresses that reel around us. (Read Romans 8:18-39 for a review of these ideas.)
These events and attitudes are part of a season, not a permanent condition of human nature. “This, too, will pass” is a hopeful and courageous answer to my inner plea, “How long, oh Lord, how long?” God’s deliverance will eventually come.
February 12, 2016
Simple things: A radio
(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 your lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary.)
Over the years of writing these entries, I have been accompanied by the quiet comfort of classical music that emanates from a rather simple radio on my desk. Granted, it’s not as simple as a flower, rug or pencil. But in its wondrous ability to make life enjoyable, a radio presents itself more simply than its technological cousins. In gratitude for my radio, these few thoughts for your appreciation ....
As with all current radios, this instrument receives signals on both the AM and FM bands. Each turn of its dial tunes in the message of a single station, a transmitter-and-tower combination that hopes for my attention. As a medium of mass communication, my radio encourages the notion that news, opinion, music and events can be broadcast into thousands of waiting ears. Into thousands of stationary, traveling or waiting lives. Large segments of society can be welded together by their reception of the same signal at the same time, over wide expanses of space.
My radio speakers allow for sound to be amplified to any level, filling just this room or my entire home. In my case, these little pieces of vibrating material can infuse my entire being with the wonders of a composer’s efforts, soothing or inspiring me with imagination, creativity or courage. (In earlier decades, those speakers would have invited many of us to gather around them for a shared experience.)
I don’t determine what my radio sends my way—I’m dependent on its ability to transmit what others have deemed important for me to hear. My radio makes me dependent on the wisdom of unknown others. I am grateful for this radio’s presence in my life—as well as for the daily life ministries of those who send me the sounds that make my life enjoyable.
February 9, 2016
Simple enough: Can you be stupid and live simply?
No, I’m serious. The above question connects to what may plague the Christian life. Yes, God loves people of all kinds, even those with low intellect or supremely selfish dispositions. But does that mean that those folks can carry out the requirements or accept the invitations of a gracious God? Does our redemption from self-idolatry result in greater wisdom than what was previously available to us?
Why ask now? It seems like there’s not a lot of intelligence being called forth in our present political or economic climate. Fear, anger, selfishness, hatred of others, un-Christlike behaviors—these characterize too many of our fellow-citizens. Desperation—one form of stress or fear—dumbs down people, taking them toward acquisitiveness, disregard for others and disinterest in the created world.
You and I sit here on Shrove Tuesday, wondering about matters that may seem esoteric to folks for whom wisdom is difficult. We deal with humongous concepts. We ask ourselves questions about things—explorations that are way deeper than others may understand. We wrestle with self-doubt, dystopian futures, the greater good and stewardship of the broadest kind. For those mired in dull and brutish lives, all this simplicity-seeking may seem like mental games that don’t amount to much in a hard-scrabble world.
I’d like to think that the answer to the question in this entry’s title is a resounding yes. I’d like to know for sure that wisdom comes with repentance. I’d like to believe that simplicity’s complexity still has enough easily grasped ideas that anyone can comprehend them, that anyone can practice them in daily life, that I’m not shutting out anyone by what I write.
This question comes at my self-identity too—I am stupid in enough ways to carry that label, and so I have asked it for myself as well.
February 6, 2016
Simple enough: A new simple living metaphor?
Recently a friend characterized his reluctant participation in an opulent meeting as being “the benevolent parasite” at the event. It struck me that maybe he was onto something: a new way of thinking about how to live simply. See if the metaphor makes any sense for your life.
First of all, parasites are usually thought of as little creatures that suck the life out of their hosts. What’s left when a parasite has completed its work is the husk of a formerly living organism. The parasite and its babies benefit from removing life’s essence from the host in order to pass on life to another generation. Because they are small, parasites are not easily noticed and can be deft at their work. They rarely fail at their task.
So how would benevolent parasites—people like you, let’s say—behave in matters of lifestyle? These thoughts:
- They would live off the wealth of larger, wasteful organizations or individuals, slowly taking from those organisms their capacity to ruin the world.
- Benevolent to a fault, these parasitic simplicity-seekers would not resort to obvious violence or other broadly destructive behaviors.
- They would be motivated by their desire to inject alternate views of well-being into false notions of abundance.
- These parasites would be deftly inconspicuous in their work to dismantle the ruinous materialism that characterizes too much of today’s culture.
- Their offspring would repeat the cycle of their behaviors, through countless generations.
- If enough simplicity parasites were working in one part of an over-affluent culture, they could eliminate virtually that entire element of wasteful or ruinous living.
OK, so you know: I’m not sure the metaphor works all that well. But perhaps there is some small, benevolent part of you that understands what might be possible here?
I hope so ....
February 3, 2016
Simplicity's children: Trophy children?
Social critics are blunt in their assessment of men who marry women who make them (the men) look good. These men see their wives as trophies, signs of how they (the men) are powerful, attractive and worthy of admiration. Sadness abounds in these situations—false pride, women-as-possessions, love gone sour—and these marriages are difficult to sustain.
I wonder whether those of us who are parents think of our children in the same way, as if they are trophies awarded for our efforts. I’m not sure about all the signs of this condition, but I’m certain that the attitude could easily invade our parenting.
Some trophy child behaviors might include:
- How easily we brag about our children’s ordinary accomplishments.
- How strongly we insist on their perfection in everything.
- How willingly we spend money for their “skill development” in lessons, sports, academic matters.
- How unquestionably we lavish attention on their every comfort.
- How fiercely we protect them from all dangers, even those that only we imagine.
- How quickly we let them dominate family decisions.
- How minimally we lead them toward self-reliant maturity.
- How little we love them for who they are, warts and all.
Trophy wives and children don't prosper inside what seems to be their exalted or honored position. Eventually all bubbles burst, and trophiness is likely one of them. At the moment we discover that our children are average; that their “participation” sports trophies are meaningless; that our braggadocio is suspect; that we’ve mortgaged our children’s futures by our present behaviors—at those moments a mental mantle filled with trophies just won’t satisfy anymore. Worst of all, the self-worth we’ve built on a shaky foundation of trophy-hood eventually collapses.
How to avoid all this? Remaining content and grateful about the ordinariness of our children.
January 30, 2016
Simple enough: The lies bubbles tell us
Our economic life rises and falls with seeming unpredictability: Formulas of supply and demand don’t offer prescient knowledge any more. Economics has devolved into mysterious anachronisms of behavior that can’t be predicted or described accurately by algorithms. The complexity of vast global systems is beyond complete understanding.
One thing is sure: Seemingly unexplainable economic expansions eventually become unsustainable. At their heart, bubbles are always lies. (The film, The Big Short, opened the window on one of those inventions: The home mortgage banking boom-and-bust.) These lifestyle-related falsehoods have similar characteristics:
- There is no downside to a sudden increase in benefit or value.
- You are not going to be harmed by what may harm everyone else.
- You are among the first to notice a sure-fire winner (or loser).
- By extension, you are smarter, quicker, wiser or shrewder than most people.
- You have to act now; your expertise or intuition is your guarantee of success.
- This idea, event, trend, asset or resource is too large to fail.
- You can benefit in a huge way with minimal effort or investment.
- These profits will come to you quickly, assuredly and continually.
- This bubble is not like the last one.
- You can win by deflating others’ bubbles.
What strikes those who live simply is how readily any of us can fall into the trap of others’ mendacity. Each of the fabrications I have noted above has its proponents, its success stories, its beyond-belief truths and logic. So we fall for bubbles that predict growth in our churches, bubbles that guarantee our children’s intelligence, bubbles that assure us of health. and others bubbles that cause us to mortgage our future wellbeing for a life of contentment now.
However you encounter them—in all their disguises—remember that emerging or continuing bubbles are always harmful lies.