The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Bob Sitze's Blog

November 29, 2015

Advent Special Feature (Repeat)

This blog repeats from last Advent a series of short observations for your devotional use during this season. Each entry invites you to consider your readiness for whatever God has in mind for your life, especially during this season. The entire series is included here, but you get to choose which entries to use—and in which order they occur—to fit your setting. One note: Be sure to credit The Lutheran and the author.

Advent's here again—along with cooler weather and best-ever sales—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of Advent themes and texts: Are you ready?

Readiness is an elusive quality of well-lived Christianity. It's observable in the kind of physicality that includes tensed muscles, alert sensory organs, sharp-thinking and proclivities toward action. When you receive advance notice, readiness also suggests anticipatory actions, preparations, a change in mindset and high expectations.

Advent is a season for getting ready – something different occurs in your physiology, your mindset, your spirit. You feel an itching for the future, an uneasiness about looming possibilities, an upswelling of hopes—even a hunkering down to wait. Christ is coming, and you get to choose whether it's a Baby you're waiting for. Or perhaps something else.

That something-else is what can unnerve you. The Second Coming of Christ—to judge you along with the rest of the world—is more than a little bit daunting. Likewise with an attendant reality: "The End is Near!" Perhaps the looming Winter cold adds its own hint that something ominous or frightening may occur in the near or distant future.

So we encourage each other to be ready. Even more appropriately, to get ready. To do something while we're waiting. To engage body and soul in preparation for whatever God has in mind for our futures.

In the blogs that follow during the coming weeks, I invite you to think along with me how you might ready yourself for God's coming actions in your life.

And to rejoice!

(294 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Rust?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with piling trash and castaway possessions—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rust?

Soon, most folks be awash in new toys—also called Christmas presents—that bring with them the inevitable result: New things displace old things. What's shiny attracts attention, and what's dull gets overlooked and discarded. During Advent, a quiet description of this inevitable devaluing and destruction—something about "moths and rust corrupting"—sounds its sad little note: All this stuff? It's going away. All that people hold dear about themselves? It will pass. All that seems immutable or eternal? It will turn back into small piles of dust. Insect hunger and oxidation will remain active, dismantling what we think is valuable, taking the mighty off their seats—and sending them away hungry.

Strange as it may sound during these days, you may be part of that moth- and rust-process, an agent of God's quiet judgment about what's important and what's not. Your Advent calling may be to eat away at false notions of the good life, to nibble supposed "power" down to nothing, to corrode the false shine of transitive things. To be an agent of rust.

This may seem like an odd calling, but Advent gets right to the point: Are you ready to rust?

(228 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Run?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with purposeful hustlings and aimless bustlings—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to run?

One of the supporting actors in Advent themes is the messenger. The one who brings good tidings to Zion and relies on good highways to carry good messages. Someone who runs, for long distances and for important purposes. A go-between and an announcer, the running courier was the key link between royal/godly decrees and people who would carry them out. Someone like you. Someone like you, who connects God's wishes with God's people. Someone like you, who won't stop moving until your task is done. Someone like you, who carries God's messages without thinking that you're also part of those memos. Someone like you, who God trusts to bring truth and good news to people who desperately want it.

God's Advent messages are waiting for someone to carry them to the places and people where they will accomplish God's purposes. Are you ready to run?

(177 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Rumble?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with special foods and warm beverages—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rumble?

At selected wrestling events—or monster truck shows—big-voice announcers rev up the audience with the question, "Are you ready to rumble?" The question—oddly directed to people who will only observe a fight or competition—alerts the attentive crowd to what's coming: a struggle filled with danger. It seems fitting that, during Advent, you could get ready to rumble. Not as an audience member who's watching God take on evil. Not as an appreciative observer, just glad to be watching what you may not really want to see. Instead, your ticket to Advent comes with an implicit invitation to step into the ring, into even bigger arenas. To gird your loins, to strap on whatever you need in order to engage the forces and powers who work against God's will, God's commands, God's invitation. Advent can be a time where you become a participant in God's wrestling with (or wrecking) everything contrary to Jesus' ministry. Where you step out and take charge of your life. Where you insist that righteousness prevails.

The main event is about ready to start. Are you ready to rumble?

(217 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Rouse?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with sleepy days and restless nightss—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rouse?

Directed at the obscure biblical figures of night watchmen and sleeping bridesmaids—the sturdy-joyful hymn, "Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying" is an Advent favorite. It carries a necessary message: Wake up, people of God! However the imagery of the hymn gets played out, one fact emerges strongly: Following Christ is not something for sleepyheads! During this season—Christ is coming again, everything may end suddenly and we all have work to do in the meantime—it makes sense to stay alert. Mindful about what you observe, hyper-aware of small signs, attentive to what's going on around you, keeping your wits about you—all necessary traits and behaviors if you want to be nimble, flexible and quick.

You watch people, you listen under the obvious surface of conversations, you stay connected to God in prayer and Scripture. You ask hard questions and show people what they're missing. You're awake and part of your mission is to shake open others' eyes and hearts to God, to stir people "who rest "complacently on their dregs" (Zephaniah 1:12).

Caffeinated or not, your neurons and muscle fibers scan far horizons and your own mind for evidence that God's coming again will make a difference. You're ready to rouse.

(236 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Root?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with Christmas tree lots and the warmth of good coats—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to root?

Plants root, but so do pigs. In both cases, a necessary digging takes place: Plants grab tightly onto life-giving soil and pigs find delectable treasures for their fine dining experiences. Advent could be a season for rooting, a time of necessary digging into your lifestyle and identity. Assessing reasons for gratitude, evaluating what's important and what's pure frippery. Thrashing around in Christmas decorations to find that one ornament that calls you to reflection. Digging out the cancerous sins that you hope to throw away for good. Finding deep in your soul some delicious possibility for renewing mind and body. Pulling heartfelt encouragement and God's goodness out of the sometimes-detritus of Christmas family newsletters.

Your first ancestors started from the ground, and that's where you'll end your dusty existence. In the eons in between, the earth has been the source of all good that comes from God. And digging deep into the soil of your inner life is a good way to thank God for the ground.

For pigs and for plants, rooting continues life. Are you ready to root?

(215 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Rock and Roll?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with fallen leaves and the hint of snow—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rock and roll?

Yes, you can start this season with the anticipation that there will soon be reason to celebrate. To party hearty, to get down. Before you head for other Advent themes or frames of mind, what would happen if you started Advent with a sense of blessed relief—Christ is coming soon....finally! What if you could be satisfied with whatever state you're in now, and celebrate it? What if you could start your seasonal activities with the assurance that you're forgiven—no matter how messed-up or complicated your life seems? What if you could sense the coming of a big Reset Button for your life? What if you knew—for certain—that "the end of everything" wasn't really the end?

How soon would the dancing and singing start? How soon could you decorate yourself as a room fitting for the coming King? And who would you invite?

Ready to rock and roll?

(187 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Roar?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with ancient hymns and strange Scriptures—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to roar?

During Advent, you learn again that "lions will lie down with lambs" in a peaceable kingdom yet to come. You also remember that lions roar, so this season could encourage you, the lion (or you, the lamb) to do more than approach life quietly or sheepishly.

You have reason to roar this season. Not on account of yourself. God is doing wonderful things, perhaps in spite of your lifestyle. People who are hungry will eat well this season; in some places, "the mighty" will fall; God is picking up a winnowing fork for some heavy-duty work and the impossible seems reachable. So you can roar—your never were good at praise hymns or any singing—about God's mighty works, God's mighty power to change the world. You can bellow your gratitude that God's will is breaking out everywhere. You can frighten away hyenas from your peace-seeking.

You can be glad to be one of God's lions—whose best bawling invites lambs to grateful rest! Ready to roar?

(199 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Reveal

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with dancing candles and crisp sunlight—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to reveal?

Advent topics sometimes include notions of "light" and the good that comes when even the smallest source of illumination signals that something is about to happen. Advent announces the Messiah's other code name—"Dayspring". With it comes the idea that the Messiah will be the brightness that makes tunnel-time bearable. And even though you're not the source of this hope, you have enough of a glow in you to be a revealer. "Look there", people think when they encounter you. "We can see what Jesus is all about." Someone may plead, "Can you please show me (how you stay so calm, how to be forgiving?" In your daily living, you can light up a room with your quiet presence. Sometimes you can spotlight what others miss, what's unethical, what's possible, what's true. You uncover what has remained hidden and make transparent what's been opaque. Mostly, you show people Christ, the coming Light.

It's dark during most of Advent, but not when you're around. When it gets hard to see, you're ready to reveal.

(205 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Return?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with nostalgia and homecomings—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to return?

Christ is coming again. A big event, this last-ever visit. Something you've dreaded—you're not quite finished with your work yet—but something you could still look forward to. All these years you've been waiting to meet Jesus; all the wonderings and worryings about what he'll do or say when you meet up. Something powerful and awesome, calming and frightening, this reappearance of Jesus!

Advent could be your homecoming, too. Back to the start of another church year—the cycle returns to its beginning—but also a time when Christ may come to gather all of us and head for Heaven. When you'll be reunited with those who left you behind. When God's purposes will all come together. When all of this Christ-following will finally make sense.

Are you ready to return?

(162 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Restore?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with old stuff about to be made new—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to restore?

Part of your work during this season might be to freshen up, refurbish or at least repaint some of what's gone bad. Not furniture or your old easy-chair. Nope. Instead, you get to work on yourself. With the help of others—who have been standing alongside you all this time—and with some guidance from the Word, you can spend these days in self-examination that leads to restoration. Bringing what was once old back to what will be new. Strapping new personality accessories for a new long-haul. Shaping up, slimming down, polishing over or dusting off.

You have all these weeks to consider how God might already be working to help you peel away what's useless or sinful. Scraping off the futility of trying to die with the most toys. A new coat of spirituality that can soak into your wooden heart and preserve you.

New usefulness, new justifiable pride, new purpose, new outlook—all part of God's invitation to Advent renovation. Are you ready to restore?

(201 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Reap?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with full larders and overflowing grain silos—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to reap?

The corn's in and the beans are heading overseas. The applesauce and rows of recently stewed tomatoes smile at you from their shelves. Inventory is up and sales will be good at Christmas. You're counting on a bonus—or at least breaking even. It's harvest time—maybe a little past, actually—but you're still in a "reaping" mood. A year of work, and there's something to show for it: Good friends, love ready to be seen and stored. A strengthened core, flexible joints, ailments gone for now. Life is good. Thanks to God's grace, your thanksgiving can continue.

However large or small the "harvest", now seems like a time to name it and claim it: God's blessings pour over you. Now's the time for your stewardship to be a ministry of receiving. And as you reap—what God has sown!—you remember in gratitude those for whom harvest won't be possible, those still hoping for today's food and water, those whose bounty seems only to trickle at them.

You're a steward—none of what you have is yours—so you're going to continue to gather it in, store it away and prepare to use everything you have to God's glory. You're ready to reap!

(236 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to Ramble?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with new imagination and old memories—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to ramble?

Every so often—perhaps during Advent?—it's time to get off the path and wander a bit. Like a child purposefully distracted (by what's intriguing and new), you might find surprise and delight during this season of warnings and work, damage and destruction, eons and endings. It might be just the thing you need, a cold-weather Sabbath in the middle of what's perhaps dragging you down. Rambling—wandering with a whistle and a spring in your step—might take you to new places. In your lifework, your attitudes towards others, in your self-talk. A time of tromping through forests of worry—but looking for the last flowers of the season. A time to snowshoe off the beaten trail—hoping for the tracks of wandering animals. A time for tip-toeing up to God's newest saints—and hugging them because they bring you hope. Rambling moves you off the dime, but towards what's surprising—farthings? Rambling reawakens your sense of adventure, a balance to your sense of duty. Rambling energizes your soul, your body, your brain.

Soon enough you can get back to Advent's major themes, but for now, a little roaming could be fun. Ready to ramble?

(228 words)


Simple Enough: Ready to rage?

By Bob Sitze

Advent's here again—along with darkness growing longer and pain growing closer—so it's time to ask (again!) a question that springs out of the season's themes and texts: Are you ready to rage?

One of the more stirring arias in Händel's The Messiah asks the question about why nations "so furiously rage together." (The bass soloist gets really worked up!) This fuming doesn't seem to be an Advent kind of question—the Prince of Peace is coming, after all. So it doesn't make sense that furious raging would something positive or even necessary. And yet....

During this season, it might be a good or necessary thing for you to join in some raging. Anger at evil and people who promote it; weary disgust with decision-makers with no interests other than their own well-being. Seething, steaming fury because the bad guys seem to be winning. Irritation or exasperation with the slow pace of change. Enough excusing of the malicious opportunism that tramples people who are poor. And so you rage—against The Machine, the powers-that-be, people who stand in opposition to Christ's ways. Not always a good thing, raw rage nevertheless won't leave you.

Some Advent days, rage may seem like the only option left. Like it or not, are you ready to rage?

(214 words)



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November 26, 2015

Simple enough: Mortal thanks (Repeat)

Thanksgiving may be peeking around the corners of your calendar, but another face may also be appearing next to it: Your mortality. (An aside for financially settled retirees: Check the small print reminding you about your annual Required Minimum Distribution on investments: You will notice a number, smaller than you'd like, that actuarial wizards have determined is your likely span of years!)

If you know where to look—and have the courage to peer into these places—signs of your mortality are all around you. The company that insures your car has a formula that considers the relationship between your driving record and your lifespan. The folks who help you guard your health can tell you which diseases or physical conditions will affect the length of your life. (Sitting—what I'm doing as I write—snips off days and years from your vitality.) The coming themes of Advent are fairly direct about the end of all things—including you. Like the last annoying mosquitoes of the season, algorithms about your mortality buzz around you, reminding you that you will eventually become dust or ashes.

What to think about this? The reasons for your gratitude at this time of year can transcend the simplicity of material blessings—observed by the consumption of turkeys, potatoes, cranberries and other living things whose lifespan was cut short in order for you to delight in your own! What is perhaps most important as a cause for rejoicing is that you are still alive! (I greet most "How are you?" queries with the honest response, "Happy to be alive!" And I mean it. Every day, especially on Thanksgiving.)

For you, simple friend. this friendly simplicity: Rejoice in the life that God offers you today. All of its blessings, opportunities and surprises. You are alive!

Simple enough? 

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November 23, 2015

Simple things: Rope

(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.)

As both a literal and metaphorical concept/term, "rope" is one of the most necessary simplicities that have graced civilizations worldwide for millennia. Defined by the physics of twisted strands of fiber, rope is not all that complicated—the greater the number of strands and the greater the strength of the individual fibers, the greater the tensile strength of the rope. Starting from humble pieces of substances as ordinary as hemp, manila or cotton, twisted string joins twisted string, interwoven in intricately connected patterns to become a mighty bundle of fibers that are not easily destroyed.

As they become "rope," the individual fibers—by themselves puny and insignificant—can bind together or move large objects. Depending on their weavings, they can become mats, traps, packs, nets or even clothing. Rope can be joined with other objects to fashion fences, gates, armor and other protective barriers. Rope can extend over great lengths, serving to bind, tether or anchor extremely large mechanisms—e.g., ships. When they are made from more durable materials—e.g., nylon or steel—ropes can form dependable objects on which we depend every day, such as tires or electrical wire. In its more delicate forms, rope is thread, a miniature manifestation of the same phenomenon: tightly twisted or woven fibers. In any number of small or large formats, rope graces much of your life.

Rope exemplifies the ingenuity of human beings in fashioning useful objects from something as simple as plant fiber. In a metaphorical sense, "rope" can be any substance or relationships that takes advantage of the simple principle: Alone I am nothing; joined with others I am strong. Any rope is a testament to the human spirit, but also to the God whose creative acts included imbuing humans with inventive curiosity and appreciation for simple things!

Simple enough? 

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November 20, 2015

Simple words: Intimacy

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also attracts the insightful looks of would-be friends. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Today's entry is my attempt to rescue a wonderfully useful word for simplicity-seekers, one that's been corrupted enough to suggest that it not be used in polite company. Intimacy is a variant of intimate, whose Latin roots come back to inmost, a pretty significant idea for those of us who see the Spirit's loving invitations to a change of heart! The original meanings of intimacy—inward, essential, intrinsic—have sadly corroded into relational usages that are suggestive of inappropriate friendships or worse. Not a nice thing to happen to an otherwise useful word!

Think about original-use intimacy in terms of discovering, promoting or otherwise sharing the tenets and practices of simple living. How else to get to the heart of difficult matters but through conversations, pleadings, inquiries or examples that deal with inward, essential or intrinsic personal matters? It is all too easy to confine simplicity to principles, axioms, statistics, ideas or truths that can remain stuck in the neutral zone of our frontal lobes. Like me, you may have experienced the frustration of having a perfectly logical discussion with someone about lifestyle matters. But you leave the conversation with the dull sense that you have not broken through to the inmost core of that person—and so have been treading merely conceptual waters!

In the larger scheme of things, most of us hope for intimacy somewhere in our lives. That's why I try to probe a little deeper in these blogs, revealing my core thoughts and inviting you into a writer/reader intimacy that helps us understand and practice what truly matters in life. I'm trying to get past surface-level stuff so we can reach a level of understanding that's deep and lasting. I hope you're looking for the same. Maybe we can call it implicitly simple simplicity intimacy?

Simple enough? 

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November 17, 2015

Simplicity's children: Best friends forever

It turns out that "BFF" may be a dependable goal for adolescent relationships. In a Sept. 16, 2015, article in the Chicago Tribune, columnist Leslie Mann reports on a Florida Atlantic University study that explores factors that help extend middle school friendships into adulthood.

The study finds that middle school children find and hold onto friends with whom they share similarities. Given shared contexts and geography into adulthood, these friendships can last a lifetime. (To say that another way: The friends your child finds in middle school can become his or her lifetime pals.) This bit of common wisdom comes with another insight: Dissimilarities eventually spell the demise of a friendship. The strength and sustainability of the friendship aren't dependent only on pre-teens "liking" each other, but on the reciprocity they exhibit toward each other. These middle school friendships help ensure adolescent survival during the years of relational vulnerability that can continue through high school into adulthood.

The implications seem obvious: In parenting your pre-teens, you bring long-term value to your child as you help her or him navigate the choice and maintenance of friendships. Your child depends on you to apply wisdom—including affirmation and warning—about the dynamics of relationships. Conversations about your child's friendships are one place where you can ground his or her social explorations in the wisdom of Scripture and the example of Jesus.

Another implication extends into your faith community: Whether in deliberate programs, events or emphases, your congregation—a multifaceted collection of basically similar people—can offer to adolescents a setting in which they can discover and form lasting friendships. As pre-teens in your congregation learn, work and play together, they bring their faith to their lives, intermixing vital spiritual matters with other aspects of relational skills. BFF? A good and godly thing!

Simple enough?

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November 14, 2015

Simple enough: The Law of Unintended Drones

Today's entry continues along my thought-paths about "The Law of Unintended Consequences," a classic part of simplicity-seeking practice. Today I invite your consideration of the consequences of the growing number of hobby-strength drones that are beginning to fill nearby airspaces. As the years of drone use continue, this phenomenon may become the preferred case study for the aforementioned law.

What are some consequences of the explosion of drone purchase and play? Try these ideas, each possible evidence of an increasing complexity that has emerged:

  • Airports around the country are bedeviled by empty-headed hobbyists who find pleasure in flying their rotary aircraft dangerously close to their non-toy counterparts.
  • Professionals who fight forest fires have been thwarted in extinguishing blazes with air tankers for the same reason: drone pilots who want to see up close what's happening on the ground.
  • An unnamed business behemoth hopes to fill low-altitude airspace with package-delivering drones, perhaps unaware that large numbers of birds already lay claim to this part of the environment.
  • With birds out of the picture literally, humans can finally get rid of useless bird-envy—wanting to be able to experience flying like our feathered friends.
  • Inventive commerce now offers yet another "useful hobby" to men (too many pilots of toy drones are guys), enabling them to ignore their families or loved ones.

Certainly drones have their place in today's burgeoning economy, but they also have  become another example of how easily we repurpose toys into something supposedly useful. With these cool little flying things in our line of sight, how quickly we can imagine new functions for our playthings—new ways to distract ourselves from what's truly important and useful. And how quickly the spread of unintended consequences may eventually embarrass us into putting aside shiny things and getting back to the business of living simply.

Simple enough?

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November 11, 2015

Simple enough: Mortal thanks

Thanksgiving may be peeking around the corners of your calendar, but another face may also be appearing next to it: Your mortality. (An aside for financially settled retirees: Check the small print reminding you about your annual Required Minimum Distribution on investments: You will notice a number, smaller than you'd like, that actuarial wizards have determined is your likely span of years!)

If you know where to look—and have the courage to peer into these places—signs of your mortality are all around you. The company that insures your car has a formula that considers the relationship between your driving record and your lifespan. The folks who help you guard your health can tell you which diseases or physical conditions will affect the length of your life. (Sitting—what I'm doing as I write—snips off days and years from your vitality.) The coming themes of Advent are fairly direct about the end of all things—including you. Like the last annoying mosquitoes of the season, algorithms about your mortality buzz around you, reminding you that you will eventually become dust or ashes.

What to think about this? The reasons for your gratitude at this time of year can transcend the simplicity of material blessings—observed by the consumption of turkeys, potatoes, cranberries and other living things whose lifespan was cut short in order for you to delight in your own! What is perhaps most important as a cause for rejoicing is that you are still alive! (I greet most "How are you?" queries with the honest response, "Happy to be alive!" And I mean it. Every day, especially on Thanksgiving.)

For you, simple friend. this friendly simplicity: Rejoice in the life that God offers you today. All of its blessings, opportunities and surprises. You are alive!

Simple enough? 

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November 8, 2015

Simple enough: More magic thoughts

Recently a friend told me about imagining what would happen if there actually were wizards and other wand-wielding people among us. Would those of us not possessing magical abilities be able to recognize what was happening around us? Would we be able to see—or at least wonder about—the strangely wonderful things that had occurred? (That same friend mused whether birds might just be today's analogues to the enchanting beings in J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potterish imagination!)

It's possible that there are some magical components within simplicity seeking that are rooted in Christian stewardship. It may be true that what you experience as normal ways of being and doing (those attributes of godly living—forgiving, listening, putting others before yourself, sacrificing for a greater good, shutting down evil in others and in yourself, striving for simplicity) are like "magic" for irreligious people. Devoid of the purposed lifework you assume as a follower of Jesus, nonbelievers may not have as many satisfying or useful choices for how to live. When they confront evil, they may not be able to see themselves becoming the evil they fear. Living in fear? That's the uncharmed way too many people may approach most of life.

In Jesus' mission, you have what others may dearly hope for: ongoing rescue from dull and brutish lives. You can utter the incantations of ancient truth because the ageless wisdom of God in Scripture is available to you. You can bypass futile lifestyles that circle endlessly around outcomes that aren't manageable. You can live past yourself. Beyond small or short views of life, beyond the loneliness of selfishness. And for people for whom all this might be unavailable, what you think of as normal Christian living could be magical! Kind of makes you want to share God's lifestyle wizardry, hmm?

Simple enough? 

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November 5, 2015

Simple words: Mother Carey's Chickens

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also attracts the admiring looks of arcane-loving friends. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

Just in case you're looking for an apt bit of archaic verbiage to use in your pre-Advent discussions about the end of the world or generalized dystopian thinking, today's entry is what you've been waiting for! Today we consider how "Mother Carey's Chickens" might be one of those useful expressions with which to salt your conversations or correspondence. (As in, "Yes, this all reminds me of how we need to pay attention to Mother Carey's Chickens.")

You're wondering what's going on? An etymological sidebar: This term comes from the world of mariners, in which stormy petrels were a harbinger of bad weather. Sailors believed their patroness, the Dear (Virgin) Mother (Mater Cara in Latin), sent these birds to warn seafarers, offering ample time to prepare for impending danger. With their legs dangling close to the water—as if walking on its surface—these "chickens of Mother Carey" were a sign of God's providence. No small matter in a world in which the smallest signs of hope were the greatest signs of safety!

Do you see where I'm going here? Along with this seemingly silly playing with the arcane, I'm asking you to think about the presence of Mother Carey-esque chickens that might come your way during your life's journey. What or who is out there, close at hand, providing you a gentle warning that storms are coming? Who or what does God use to suggest strongly that you change the course of your life? What might cause you to pay attention to the presence of harbingers? What voices crying in your wilderness might help you prepare the way of the Lord? Perhaps most importantly in this wordplay, for whom might you be a chicken of Mother Carey's sending?

Something to think about, especially during these days of pre-Advent journeying!

Simple enough? 

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November 2, 2015

Simple congregations: Longevity

(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.)

Sometimes simplicity is just about how long you're going to live well as a saint. At whatever age, your congregation might wonder how long it will continue to exist. If you're one of the venerable institutions—over 100 years old—you have probably gone through several cycles of decline, near-death, resurrection and beyond. If you're a younger congregation, you might live with the delusion that you'll live forever or the equally specious assumption that you are likely to die young. If your congregation is living into its sixth or seventh decade, longevity questions can manifest themselves in a shaky self-image, the sense of listlessness or your hopes for the future.

Longevity is probably an implicit part of being alive. As individual Christians—and as congregations—we choose a life of service to God's will that we hope will last for decades of stewardship. Even though we know there are no guarantees for a prolonged existence, we tend to measure the success of our individual and congregational lives by the number of years we remain alive and vibrant.

But sociologists of religion are quick to remind us that congregations, like any human enterprise, go through predictable life cycles as surely as individuals. There are ecclesiological equivalents to stages of life: infancy, adolescence, maturity and beyond. Congregations that expect to be forever young overlook the certainty of these cycles, sometimes resisting their onset or harboring unrealistic notions of remaining forever situated within one stage. (Transformational ministry, for example, can be misinterpreted in that light.)

One of the most interesting and necessary questions about congregational longevity now seems to be similar to those any of us ask as we grow older: How well can we die? How well do we live before death? Or even more interesting: What can come of our death? It may be true that considering these matters is as important to our longevity as determining the signs of institutional vitality or health that so many leaders promote as near-guarantees of congregational immortality.

The basic matter of congregational life cycles, including death and even rebirth, suggest other matters for your consideration:

  • How and when can young congregations admit to adolescent sensitivities or behaviors?
  • When does a congregation seek hospice-like assistance?
  • What is the legacy of a congregation—the part of its history that re-emerges in other places, other institutions, other people?
  • When does desperation about its slow decay or dying prohibit a congregation from living fully and joyfully?
  • How might rebirth or resurrection appear in congregations?
  • How can a congregation divest itself of the institutional dysfunctions that shorten its life?
  • How simply can a congregation function, either as a way to live longer or a means for living well into its dying years?
  • At every stage of their lives, for what can congregations be grateful?

As much as never-ending liveliness is a laudable goal for congregations, it is also life-giving for a congregation to be secure and satisfied in the simple facts of its present stage of life. To give God glory for what has transpired and to trust God's guidance—even into times of waning health—for useful and valuable ministry.

For as long as you live, then, praise God for a saintly life! 

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October 30, 2015

Simple enough: No (Reformation) choice

When you distill this whole simple living thing down to its purest form, you come to the realization that living simply is about choices. In the lexicon of following God's will, though, there really is no choice. Reformation begins!

When the children of Israel were about to rest their weary and battle-scarred bones in their new home, Joshua presented them with a choice: "Whom will you serve?" In their righteous fervor, they responded that they would serve the Lord. During the centuries of their on-again, off-again obedience as God's people, the Israelites lived with that choice deeply embedded into their identity. Prophets and other charismatic leaders helped remind them of what they had chosen.

That choice continues into your lifestyle now. It's relatively simple: Who will you serve? The true God or your own idolatrous self-image? The creator of the universe or the spiffy, self-serving idols you construct? Finding and attending to God's will or your own self-interest? Following Jesus as he really lived, or remaking him into a convenient and easily followed friend? Staying close to God's word or making up the rules as you roll along?

When it comes to seeking simplicity, decisions in the matters above are probably not reasonable choices after all. The godly option clearly works. Any other choice—the world owes you a living and you are in charge of your own life—eventually falls apart because of its own weight or its own absurdly shortsighted vision.

This no-choice choice is still difficult—the temptation to make yourself into the "God Who Ya' Just Gotta' Love" is strong and seemingly present everywhere you turn. Still, what makes the most sense and eventually gives the most joy is also the most simple: Serve God!

To continue every Reformation, choose distilled simplicity! 

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October 27, 2015

Simplicity's children: Shared hobbies

Hobbies may seem old-fashioned in today's digital wonderland, but you might want to consider the lasting value of finding hobbies that you and your children can share. This idea contrasts strongly with the practice of transporting children to their hobbies and then trying to find time for your separate interests.

As you already know, people in our culture spend much more of their relaxation times in passive activities (think watching TV) than in active leisure activities such as sports or hobbies. For the most part, passive activities are experienced in isolation, while hobbies can invite the time and gathered attention of a variety of people. (Given the still-present epidemic of obesity, it's hard to justify passive activities as a valued part of your parenting!)

There's strong value in sharing hobby-focused activities with your children. At their core, shared hobbies are a kind of shared sabbath. You talk to each other about many subjects while engaged in mutual interests. You learn from each other, develop bonds of commonality and lay the foundation for shared experiences for the rest of your lives together. Hobbies help marriages—people who play together stay together! These pastimes help children form basic life skills such as cooperation, discovery, problem-solving, creativity and communication.

Hobbies can include a variety of experiences and don't require large expenditures of time and money. To start a shared hobby, invite your children's suggestions, broaden their existing interests or piggyback their interests onto yours. As your leisure pursuits continue over the years, they can become part of the lore or legacy of your family for generations!

Another suggestion: Be sure that both you and your children continue to derive genuine enjoyment from the hobby itself as well as the sheer joy of being together. This is a privilege, not an obligation!

Simple enough? 

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October 24, 2015

Simple things: Flowers

(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, yet startlingly rare in some places in the world.)

As a transplanted Californian, I am a sucker for flowers. Point out flowers to me, give me the gift of a flower, share your flower stories or walk with me among flowers and I'm your friend for life! In my native land, flowers graced almost every corner of the landscape. Even the sides of freeways were festooned with flowering ground cover. In my childhood, abundant water and sunshine enabled flowers of every kind to prosper almost year-round, seemingly without effort. Every flower was proof that God-given beauty filled the world. As botanically complex as any flower presented itself, each one was also a symbol of simplicity.

As years of drought have progressed toward cataclysmic dimensions, flower-filled landscapes in too many parts of this country are becoming increasingly rare. In these times our love for the multisense beauty of flowers is balanced with the sober possibility that they may soon become luxuries. The simple joys of observing the life cycle of a flower, its interactions with insects and its lessons about daily life—"Consider the lilies"—may not be possible in places where water is scarce and heat is unrelenting. In our growing dependence on digital attractions, flowers might merit less worth, less appreciation and less attention than the mechanical beauties we have created. And with the diminishing presence of the smells and sights of blooming plants, we might easily forget that the providence of God also includes providing beauty for our eyes and noses. There may be fewer suckers-for-flowers among us!

Packed into the flowers that you'll encounter today are small miracles, life processes critical for your well-being, important surprises and lessons. For that reason, it might make sense for you to include flower appreciation as a small part of your day today.

It could be one way to remember your Creator with awe! 

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October 21, 2015

Simple enough: Filling in the holes in your brain

In order to perceive and react to reality, your brain makes use of a "hole-filling" capacity that is both marvelous and problematic. As it processes the chatter and clutter of an information-rich sensory environment, your brain selects salient features of its sensory inputs, compares the already existing patterns/memories, and forms a final concept of reality on the basis of connecting the dots among partial clues. This is the most efficient way for the human brain to enact responses—including the emotions that accompany perceptions.

One problem: Our brains don't always fill in the holes accurately. Sometimes the memories—and their patterns of suggested perceptions and actions—are biased or worse. (In highly emotional states, we are especially prone to miss cues, make wrong conclusions and take actions without fully considering their consequences.) This fact has intrigued neuroscientists for decades. The late nuerologist Oliver Sacks epitomized that fascination in his memorable classic The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He describes several neurobiological conditions that caused people's reality-perceptions to become totally skewed, adding dysfunctional complications to their lives.

The hole-filling, connecting-the-dots capability of the brain suggests possible book titles that might open our eyes about how lifestyle realities can be skewed away from simplicity:

  • The Boy Who Mistook His Parents for an ATM Machine.
  • The Teenager Who Mistook Her Popularity for Friendship.
  • The Man Who Mistook His Large Salary for Wealth.
  • The Dad Who Mistook His Toys for Tools.
  • The Homemaker Who Mistook Her Busyness for Meaning.
  • The Pastor Who Mistook Full Pews for Success.
  • The Parents Who Mistook Their Children's "Happiness" for Contentment.

How to solve this neurobiological problem in your lifestyle? Stick close to or surround yourself with people whose brains are less hole-filled, and who have the courage to challenge or correct your mistaken notions!

Simple enough? 

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October 18, 2015

Simple enough: Solving global warming

An introductory confession: The looming horror of global warming weighs in my gut like a lump of chicken fat—indigestible and always there. I can't avoid thinking about this subject because it caroms into my thinking at almost every waking moment. Maybe you have the same dread in your soul?

A few years back, I wrote It's (NOT) Too Late: A Field Guide for Hope, I wanted to find ways of thinking and acting beyond despairing. "Hope is as hope does," I wrote. I filled the book with short entries that suggested some kind of small actions that could reinstill hope in minds besotted by the likelihood of growing worldwide disasters.

Today I want to remind you about a hopeful, planet-saving action: planting trees and other flora. One of the most necessary features of our planet's health is the ability of plant life to insert oxygen into the atmosphere while cleansing carbon dioxide and some particulates from the air. That's why it makes good sense to "solve global warming"—yes, a euphemism you can live with—by planting trees.

The first place to start is with the folks at the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org). For decades they have advocated for the planting of trees; their wisdom and experience is unparalleled. This is a place where you can order at low cost trees appropriate to your setting. Another obvious source is any local tree nursery. Some seed companies also sell rootstock for fruit trees, vines and shrubs.

By planting a tree—on your property, at your church, in a relative's yard, on public lands (with permission)—you can help restore the atmosphere to its life-giving best. Grow your own fruit. Replace your nearly useless lawn with saplings. Substitute rows of trees and shrubs for fences.

Keep planting, and keep on hoping! 

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October 15, 2015

Simple enough: Magical living

I recently read all of the Harry Potter books in one binge. My appreciation has grown for J.K. Rowlings' epic intellect and sensitive approach to broadly important life themes. But one element of her series raises a question about living simply: How much do we think of our lives as magical, dependent on factors that seem ready to rescue us supernaturally? (Despite obvious character flaws and mistaken judgments, Harry Potter is regularly and reliably redeemed by magical acts or people.)

Thinking that God—like Dumbledore, Snape or Hermione—will always rescue you seems reasonable if you expect continual redemption as a deserved right. Because miracles are possible you can always pray for them to occur again as they have in the past. Magical thinking can absolve you of your responsibilities to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." With magic in place, you might even be able to avoid the consequences of your actions or inactions.

So it's not too big of an attitudinal and practical jump to think of your lifestyle in the same way: No matter how badly you ruin the environment, some magical technology will save the planet. No matter how poorly you budget time and money, a lottery-like financial miracle will take place. No matter how much you waste, there will always be an abundance of anything you want. No matter how poorly you parent, your children will somehow turn out all right or at least marginally "happy." No matter how negatively you approach congregational life, you can still hope for a positive future. Magic is in the air, and it always works.

Yes, the miraculous or magical redemption of your lifestyle is always possible, but you also have work to do. Perhaps your own simplicity seeking will seem magical for someone else.

Simple enough? 

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October 12, 2015

Simple enough: Lifestyle exemplars

As I try to live simply, I find myself in constant need of encouragement. Lately, I have become aware of the existence of lifestyle exemplars who are probably also available to you. They're sometimes called the "new evangelicals," Christians like you who seem to have adopted simple living into their doctrines and faith practices. They can be found in almost every faith family, but seem most concentrated in denominations within the Anabaptist tradition. Many of them are younger—20- and 30-somethings—but there is also no shortage of simple living adherents among older generations.

I see these folks living wisely on the planet, connecting social justice with simple living and staying aware of Scripture's prophetic injunctions about wealth, greed, love of neighbor and following Jesus. They are unobtrusive, quietly going about their lives without calling attention to their radical approach to well-being. If you look closely, I think you can find them in your neighborhood as well. Here are some hints that come from my experience:

  • If there's a Christian college or university nearby, participate in some of their community outreach events or programs.
  • Check your newspaper's "Church Activities" page to see which congregations make simple living precepts a part of their identity. Attend some of their functions or worship with them.
  • Dine or take breaks at small out-of-the-way restaurants or coffeehouses.
  • As you read The Lutheran or Christianity Today, see what you can learn about these exemplary people, especially what they think and where they show up.
  • Google "new evangelical blogs" plus your location, and see what pops up. Follow the blogs, perhaps eventually introducing yourself to the bloggers.

Don't ever think that you're all alone in seeking this way of life. You are surrounded by all the people of God who have chosen to live justly!

Simple enough? 

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October 9, 2015

Simple words: Kerfuffle

(This entry continues the series "Simple words," which helps you increase your simplicity vocabulary and also causes birds to fall out of the sky in stupefied amazement. Etymologies and musings will ensue.)

It's time in our relentless search for a larger vocabulary to head down the etymological path of British-isms. Kerfuffle is a wonderful example, rolling off one's tongue with tiny puffs of air and just a little bit of unstated whimsy. Its meaning matches that seeming innocence while maintaining just enough of an edge to attract the attention of hearers. As a noun, kerfuffle describes a commotion, disorder or agitation that's noticeable without rising to the level of angry conflict. The disturbance is presumably contained, manageable and short-lived. The cause for a kerfuffle is strong enough that the point is made: This matter is worth more than polite disagreement.

Its Scottish Gaelic and Old Irish roots suggest that kerfuffle carries a gentle purpose. (Cur is a twisting or turning, and fuffle indicates a determined disordering or confusing.) That's why kerfuffling—yes, it's also a verb—might be a useful way to think about your simplicity-seeking. A family kerfuffle might be a good thing if your teenagers are becoming addicted to their digital masters. You might cause a kerfuffle when you say "No!" to your employer's implicit invitations to overworking. Insistent kerfuffling might be a way to move a group off the dime. Kerfuffles might be useful in places where churchly niceties keep the status quo in place. You might develop kerfuffling skills in the place of your usual quiet acquiescence in the presence of greed. You might think of kerfuffleness as a new personal character trait that fits well with both your honesty and civility about lifestyle matters.

However you use this word—or engage in its implied actions—you will warrant the attention of people who want to avoid angry confrontations but still want to probe simplicity at its depths. Perhaps that's the ultimately helpful British-ism, say what?

Simple enough? 

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October 6, 2015

Simple congregations: Sports sloganeering

(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 the following entry, most of that introductory statement might not be operational!)

On account of my deep attachment to the sports culture that forms the basis of our civilization, I have recently become convinced about the value of sports-related slogans (for example, "Bear Up, Chicago Bears!"). In most team sports, these slogans provide much-needed personal identity, help support the burgeoning sports apparel conglomerates and create the necessary emotion-laden conversations that grace family dinners and first dates (for example, "How about them Cubbies?").

It seems logical, then, that congregations wanting to grab even a small piece of America's dwindling attention span would want to get in on the action—the sports-slogan action and all its connected artifacts and activities. This entry might help your congregation make the transition from perhaps-meaningless vision and mission statements to sloganeering that captures the essence of spiritual life.

Co-opting existing slogans
With only slight twists of verbiage, you might adapt Wichita State's enigmatic "Fear the Wheat" as a way of bringing former fearmongers into faithful church membership. You could also enable liturgical literacy by fitting any of the formulaic color-infested slogans—for example, Nebraska's "Go Big Red"—into liturgical seasons (as in "Go Big Purple!"). Cal State Santa Cruz's mascot, Sammy the Banana Slug, has inspired the  slogan "Let There Be Slugs," a motto easily adapted to your congregation (as in "Let There be Church Mice").

Worship cheers
You could certainly enliven worship with sports-based cheers, fight songs or chants. For example, before-sermon mantras might include "All the way through the text, hey!"; "Give 'em Heaven"; or the ever-popular "Fight, fight, fight"—for those sermons where you really want to exorcise sin. Worship leaders could be introduced at the start of every service with a light show and public ceremony naming them with high-pitch and high-volume bios that look good on your jumbo screens. Fist-pumping and "No. 1" gestures seem especially appropriate here.

Mascots and logos
In previous decades, Jesus was thought to be a cult figure worthy of adorning bumpers, T-shirts, window decals and hats. Nothing should prohibit you from doing the same, now substituting colorful mascot logos that advertise your congregation's name. For example, any church named after one of Jesus' Capernaum disciples could be thought of as a fisherman, yielding mascots such as Thomas the Tilapia Trader or Bartholomew the Boat Guy. Newer church names—e.g., Community of Happiness—could be pictured as a crowd of joyful people holding—you guessed it—varieties of sports equipment!

Sports-based linguistics
Given the vast array of colorful sports metaphors and the extensive vocabulary of on-air announcers, it makes good sense to adapt the linguistic formulas of sports into sermons, teachings, creeds and liturgical elements. The Kyrie could be rephrased around the theme "My bad, 'bro." The Christian life would no longer be a "journey" but instead be cast as "The Game." Worship could be divided into "halves" or "quarters," and Sunday school classes would get to choose a name inspired by their favorite sports team. Sermons would be thought of as "locker room talks" and prayers as a function of "the huddle." Doctrines could be grouped under the headings, "Offensive" and "Defensive." Your pastor would be repurposed as a line coach and the youth director as the farm team director. Membership classes would end with a draft—for committee assignments—and unproductive members thought of as injured reserves.

In all of these adaptations, you would be taking to heart the pervasive influence of sports in the lives and personalities of a vast array of the citizenry of this great land, thus making your congregation appealing for all the same reasons that sports-living permeates our culture. Perhaps most gratifying, Sunday morning soccer coaches may soon be complaining about your congregation stealing their players for worship and learning opportunities!

Go, Spirit! 

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October 3, 2015

Simple enough: Gracing customer surveys

Here's one way to add grace to the dreaded customer surveys that pop up at your local cash registers: Go online and complete them! Here's my reasoning.

First let's admit that there may be something not-quite-kosher in these surveys. Companies use this device as a way improve their service, but they are also amassing data and mailing list contacts for marketing purposes. (Your email flood increases five minutes after you complete the survey!)

An often overlooked purpose for these surveys is to evaluate the work of employees, in some cases even tying compensation levels or other perks to worker ratings. Here's where you come in, with grace! When you feel that the employee reminding you about the survey's existence is doing so because its results affect his or her continuing employment, resolve to complete the online survey. Consider these added suggestions:

  • When the level of service is just ordinary, still rate it at the top of the available scale. (For some businesses, nothing less than complete excellence is required of employees.)
  • Always complete the "Comments" section of a survey. If possible, use the employee's name, and craft your comments so that specifics of high quality service are contained in easily recognizable verbiage. Use complimentary adjectives that any algorithm can recognize. Don't spare superlatives or other positive reactions. Fill the available space as much as possible.
  • After you start receiving unwanted emails from the company, use the "unsubscribe" feature to end their unwanted communications.

Why do this? It's one way of adding grace-filled justice back into employment systems that can sometimes squash workers inside of narrowly framed, data-based philosophies of acceptable work. Yes, you are gaming a system that has winners and losers, but you're doing so on behalf of people who have served you. It seems only fair.

Simple enough? 

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