Bob Sitze's Blog
June 16, 2013
Simple enough: The tragedy of being a dog
Being raised by wolves, I can speak with authority about the quiet tragedy that comes with being a canine. Permit these few thoughts, written so you can understand better the psychological burdens borne by your furry friends.
Yes, dry food that tastes like dirt is problematic, as are fleas. But I am talking about the more troubling circumstance of being mute. Dog facial architecture prohibits the formation of words, the foundation of language. Hence dogs lack the capacity to express their feelings. (Yes, fMRI tests on dog brains confirm that they could have emotions.)
Think about it the from the dog’s viewpoint: Here you are, observing the human condition from your close-to-the-ground perspective. Living as simply as you do, you notice things humans overlook, like wasted food, speeded-up lifestyles that prohibit daily walks or the necessity for adequate sleep. You sense desperation, sadness and confusion among your humans, but cannot convey your emotions other than through body language (e.g., pawing, rolling your eyes or whining).
You see how human lives are difficult, how little time is available for what’s important, but your snout, tongue, teeth and palate can’t bring sounds together to form words. Tragically, you can only growl, bark or groan. Even when you’re happy that your humans make good choices, you can’t bring precision to those feelings except through prancing, wiggling, wagging your tail or salivating.
The tragedy of being a dog is unfortunate for dogs, of course, but perhaps even more calamitous for you. Right before your eyes are canine simplicity-seekers whose unspoken words could redeem your human condition! Teachers rendered mute, prophets destined to silence, examples whose deeds can never be supplemented by well-chosen words.
And how tragic for your family, friends and associates if your dogged determination toward simplicity never finds words in their presence!
June 13, 2013
Simplicity's children: Sobering facts
Today I’m going to share some facts about the impact of consumerism on children. So that I don’t wash away your resolve to live simply, I’ll temper my factoid-flooding with some hopeful ideas. (My facts-source is Brandwashed by marketing guru and consumer advocate Martin Lindstrom.) Consider the implications of these realities:
- By the time they are 36 months old, American children can recognize, on average, about 100 brand-name logos.
- 56 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens prefer to use brands they remember fondly from their childhoods.
- 75 percent of family food purchases are guided by the antics of a nagging child.
- Because they shop with their kids, mothers likely impact children’s buying habits more than fathers.
- Most children receive an average of 70 new toys and gadgets annually.
- Children gradually come to believe that their favored brands match their preferred personal qualities.
- By the age of 2, 90 percent of children are watching screen-based media regularly.
- Amniotic fluid retains the chemical essence of what a pregnant mother ingests or inhales. Thus, a fetus “eats” what its expectant mother consumes.
- Developing fetuses can hear — and come to prefer — the sounds, tunes and jingles of radio or television commercials.
- All over the world, babies’ most-recognized first-word is “McDonald’s” or “Ronald.”
Some hopeful parenting behaviors:
- Recognize that marketers are trying to form your child into a consumer.
- From the first weeks of a pregnancy, plan for a calming auditory context in which the coming baby might be immersed.
- Limit television-viewing.
- If your child watches television, turn off the sound or skip forward through commercials.
- From early on, do not reward or submit to your child’s nagging or negotiating behaviors.
Above all, remain facts-vigilant so your child won’t be “brandwashed.”
June 10, 2013
Simple congregations: Tipping toward simplicity
(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 previous entries I have suggested that simplicity might be a focus for your congregation’s behaviors and identities. Here I want to offer you observations about seizing tipping points — moments when conditions are just right — so you can move toward a whole-congregation change centered on simple living.
Readily identifiable tipping points that offer especially good opportunities might include:
- Changes in staff.
- Real or imagined failure as a “program congregation.”
- Financial windfalls.
- Change of location.
- Sale, shedding or repurposing of facilities.
- Identifiable demographic shift in membership.
- Presumably imminent “death” of a congregation.
In each of these cases, the congregation will pivot in one way or the other. As a leader, you can influence that shift toward simplicity-seeking. The good news about simplicity-as-congregational-identity is that members are likely ready to change the way they approach life or lifestyles.
To take advantage of the tipping points, consider this possible sequence of steps:
- Think of any approaching large-scale changes in the congregation as opportunities, not problems. If you have not yet acquainted yourself with “asset-based thinking/planning,” do so immediately.
- Prepare a short summary of salient points that explain how simplicity-seeking could be at the core of your congregation’s life. (To start or confirm your thinking, visit other “Simple Congregations” blogs at this site by clicking on this blog’s “archive” button.)
- Gather a small group of present, former or future leaders of the congregation (preferably over a meal) to present your case: If this congregation could help people manage their daily lives, present and prospective members would consider this place a gift from God!
- With this or a smaller subgroup, look at the congregation’s available assets — as individual members and an entire assembly — to see how this emphasis could play out easily in specific ways.
- As time and assets permit, try out one of the ideas to see how it works. (A sermon series, Lenten meal conversations or simple-living events might be manageable first steps.) Assess the effects of this idea on individual participants.
- With these steps as background, begin a process of renaming or repurposing presumed functions or identifying marks of your congregation. See how each of these typical programs or emphases could be wrapped into a simplicity-seeking framework. (For example, “adult education” could become a set of weekday luncheons about ethics in the workplace. “Family ministry” might be given new purpose with “parenting in a materialistic culture” as a primary focus.)
- As this work is being completed, involve congregation members in earnest conversation about how this emphasis might offer hope and life to your mutual ministries. Listen for concerns as well as creative possibilities.
- Finally — after a period of living into this new way of thinking — formalize the congregation’s new identity and focus in constitutional language. Understand that you are not forsaking the traditional aspects of congregational life, but instead placing them within a workable focus that attracts attention and energy within and outside your church.
- If your assets permit, reframe your way of telling others about the congregation. Think about identity, purpose, mission or branding statements as well as logos and signage.
- Tell your members what you have done and what you hope to do: Bring to them the good news of God in Christ Jesus that “abundant life” is more than a good idea in this congregation. And show your pride and gratitude for where the Spirit has led you!
May the Spirit guide you along the way, so the witness of this congregation will not falter or fail, but grow strong and sturdy in its commitment to proclaim simple living as a gift of God.
June 8, 2013
Simple enough: Around a few trees
There’s value in having “been around a few trees.” (For those of you unfamiliar with rich rural metaphors, this means “having experienced a lot of life.”) This characterization comes at a cost: living through varied experiences that can wear the hide off you. Eventually, though, you come to an age-related plateau where “being around a few trees” is something others might value in you.
To those of you who have circumnavigated the aforementioned trees, this reminder: You possess a richness of experience that’s beyond words. “Folk wisdom” or “common sense” come close to describing what you’ve learned from all of life’s tree-encirclings, but there’s more. For example, you probably:
- Know what to seek and what to avoid.
- Understand causes and effects as well as miracles and mysteries.
- Trust God more than you trust yourself.
- Don’t rush to judgment or condemnation of any kind.
- Remain satisfied with who you are and who you aren’t.
- Are not easily surprised by something unexpected, unwanted or untoward.
- Know how to pace your travels through life’s vagaries.
- Connect to multitudes of people, places and possibilities.
- Live within a faith that’s simple and hard to define; a spirituality that’s also gritty and hard to suppress.
- Stay grounded in what’s important, durable and satisfying for the long haul.
- Have more admirers or followers than you’ll ever know.
So take time today to recall — and rejoice about — all the life experiences that have shaped you. The good ones and the not-so-good ones, OK? The rough patches you thought you’d never survive, the sublime moments that still give you goose bumps, the saintly forebears whose example you follow, or the astounding places where you’ve traveled with others.
And be glad that you’ve lived long enough to tell the rest of us how tree-circling has prepared you to live well.
June 5, 2013
Simple enough: Bloviating begone
From my constant presence in America's barbershops and bars, I have gleaned the following postulate to my trove of sociological theories: I think too many of us think it's our right to hold forth, opine, prognosticate or otherwise blather on and on about any subject that flits by our brains. (You sports or talk radio fans know what I'm talking about, right?) Whether or not we have any real knowledge or experience upon which to base our publicly voiced thoughts, we can be a blight on society and a threat to simple living.
I'm writing this today because, in my constant search for universal truth in public and private places, I frequently encounter public and not-so-public bloviaters — folks who never let little details like facts get in the way of their too-frequent wind-filled pronouncements. Somehow their thoughts spread out into the wider society — probably because "bloviating" is too often stuffed with infectious anger or fear. Before you know it, the air is filled with empty arguments, ego-inflating harangues and scolding sermons. From my perch's view, this speaking and writing does little or nothing to advance our civilization.
Granted, you and I have the right to state our feelings — "Why yes, Bob, you're doing that right now, aren't you?" But doesn't the overabundance of fact-starved tirades add to the complicated noise that confuses our minds and souls? Don't self-appointed experts crowd out effectiveness during meetings? Don't uncalled-for impromptu lectures dampen the spirit of a group of people, and aren't unwanted diatribes a barrier to cooperative work among diverse populations?
I'm no expert on most things, friends, but I'm pretty sure that whenever ranting Jeremiahs fill our relationships with baseless invective, life just can't be simple anymore.
Or am I just imagining this about other people because it's too often true about me?
June 2, 2013
Simple enough: New reality TV network
In my never-ending quest to be truly relevant, I have come upon a totally epic idea: Create my own television network, one devoted totally to simple living reality shows! Two full disclosures here: My previous venture, The BOB Network (“Bring on Boredom”), didn’t work out like I expected, and I don’t turn on my television all that much. Still, I think this could work. Here’s how:
- The network would seek or develop only low-budget series — hey, simple living folks don’t need much money!
- Like all good reality TV, the network would feature programming in which only the foibles, failures, mistakes, stupidity and vileness of other people were shown as they actually occurred.
- Content would include shows like: House Sloths of Las Vegas, Loser Bridesmaids, Closet Stuffers Run Amok, The Biggest Couch Potato, Stupid Lifestyle Tricks, Children’s Coaches From Hell, This Rundown House, Poor Little Rich Kids of Dallas, Killer Food-eating Contests and, of course, Nervous Breakdown Abbey.
- Program sponsors would not be needed. Instead, the network would depend on the “investments” of multitudes of multimillionaires encouraged by their previous forays into big-ticket political adventurism.
- If necessary, advertisers would be sought to promote products that make simple living look good by comparison. Examples: Manufacturers of oversized underwear for children, mega-churches promoting prosperity evangelism, pharmaceutical giants who make drugs that ameliorate laziness and new Rent-a-Servant companies.
- “Stars” would emerge as the viewing public gradually came to adore and identify with people who were brave enough to show their lifestyle shortcomings as acts of public humiliation and faux penance.
I don’t know about you, but the more I think about this idea, the more truly relevant I think I could become, and the more simple living could be part of everyone’s real life.
Especially on television!
May 31, 2013
Simple enough: Digital dieting
In the May 6, 2013, edition of The Chicago Tribune, reporter Jessica Yadegaran (Contra Costa Times) cites research that pegs 12 hours per day as the time an “average American” spends plugged in. In the same article, Yadegaran suggests that a new psychological malady, “Internet Use Disorder,” may soon be included in a coming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. By these two tantalizing citations, this reporter joins those of us who wonder whether hyper-dependence on all things digital is reducing our capacities to be fully human.
The Tribune article sounds a hopeful note in its listing of helpful sources and methods by which “digital dieting” can take place. With thanks to this fine newspaper and Yadegaran’s research, these gleanings for those of you ready to start this kind of simplicity diet.
- Levi Felix’s Digital Detox is an Oakland, Calif., company that promotes “digital-free retreats” for those suffering from the genuinely harmful physical effects of digitally addicted personalities.
- Lifestyle author and artist Gemini Adams takes a sharp-eyed look at social media excess in her latest book, The Facebook Diet: 50 Funny Signs of Facebook Addiction and Ways to Unplug with a Tech-Detox (published in the U.K. by Live Consciously Ltd.). Her lively approach to the subject: a cartooned format!
- You can download apps that help you limit your online time. Check RescueTime or MacFreedom as examples.
Digital Detox’s Felix also suggests simple disconnecting habits, such as using an alarm clock instead of a cellphone to wake you in the morning; banning digital devices from your bathroom; dining with an eye toward conversation sans digital interrupters; and changing “like” from social media metaphor to the practice of publicly expressing gratitude.
And as with any dieting, the best time to start is now!
May 28, 2013
Simplicity's children: Monkeys do what monkeys see
When it comes to mimicking behaviors, monkeys, apes and parrots get a bad rap for conduct somehow deemed less-than-intelligent. Truth be told, humans are also equipped to mimic the actions, attitudes and feelings of others. Because of “mirror neurons” spread throughout the brain’s many structures, human babies are capable, within hours of their birth, to recognize and copy the actions of those nearby. Those capabilities extend from childhood into adulthood and likely form the neurobiological basis for memory and learning.
Children’s skill at aping or parroting others’ behaviors creates a recurring problem: Who is your child mimicking and what can you do about it? Let’s think about this phenomenon together:
- If strange new conduct or attitudes appear in your child, look around for the source — probably nearby or easily found. (Friends, television, teachers/coaches, video games, social media or you!)
- If you don’t want those mannerisms to be formed into habits, try to eliminate or diminish the mimicking by removing your child from the source of the objectionable original behaviors, attitudes or feelings. (This may become a tough-love situation.)
- If you’re the source of the less-than-acceptable conduct, change your actions, body language, facial expressions or speech patterns. You have no one else to blame.
- To ameliorate already-established patterns learned through mimicking others, spend more time with your child in conversation and in shared activities. Demonstrate desired behaviors rather than talking about them; stay alongside your child as he/she practices new patterns.
Hold this thought: Your child probably won’t benefit from your words of wisdom as much as your deeds of wisdom. Every moment you spend with your beloved son or daughter is a chance for behaviors, attitudes and emotions — yes, self-identity — to form because you are present.
And please, give monkeys, apes and parrots some credit!
May 25, 2013
Simple enough: Thriving men
Have you ever wondered what it would take for men to thrive into their later years? Thanks to the really good reporting eye of Scott Stossel over at The Atlantic, you can now take to heart the conclusions of the Grant Study. As you will recall, this project is a longitudinal examination of the flourishing of male humans (who were/are Harvard University undergraduates). Recently republished in Triumphs of Experience (authored by George Vaillant, the study’s director for over three decades), the findings from this continuing research might add to your hope that men will continue to prosper in our civilization.
Some of the findings trend toward the simplicity-seeking principles you practice. Among them are the following:
- Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce among the men in this study.
- The warmth of these men’s relationships was a major determinant of their financial well-being.
- Men who had good relationships with their mothers were likely to earn more than men whose mothers were not as caring.
- Men’s poor relationships with their mothers correlated strongly with dementia in old age.
- Men who had warm relationships with their fathers experienced less anxiety, and at age 75 experienced greater life satisfaction. (They also enjoyed their vacations more!)
Vaillant sums up the results of this study in these words: “The 75 years and $20 million expended on the Grant Study points … to the straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”
Bravo to Stossel, Vaillant and The Atlantic! They have reinforced what likely supports and encourages the long-term well-being of the boys and men you know and love. And now that you know how warm relationships are at the core of male well-being, your Father’s Day gifts this year don’t need to cost very much at all.
(For further information about the Grant Study, visit www.wilsonquarterly.com/blog/index.cfm/Current_Books/2013/2/21/Work-and-Love)
May 22, 2013
Simple enough: Slow families
If there's slow food and slow dancing, why can't there be "slow families"? That's the question that underlies Slow Family Living, a book by mother, teacher and blogger/author Bernadette Noll (Perigree Books, 2013; www.slowfamilyliving.com). From the title you might guess the book's content. You'll also be pleasantly surprised to find in its pages a remarkably honest new friend! That's my sense of Noll's transparent and practical approach to a parenting style that's "slow" (simple or sustainable).
Here's a simplicity-seeking author who leapfrogs over shoulda-outta's toward principled approaches to everyday child-rearing. One reviewer notes that this book is one of the few that doesn't make you feel guilty about the way you're parenting. (In the field of simple living, that kind of writing is a welcome departure from too-easy scoldings that writers like me can too-easily craft!)
This book intrigues me because the author feels like a longtime friend who doesn't mind taking some (slow) time to have a cup of coffee, ask "How ya' doin'?" and listen for ways to affirm and guide you through life's variations and vagaries. (Her blog also transcends self-righteous puffery, chatty blather and shallow spouting.) You get the picture that this is someone who is wise in practical matters, who's living what she proposes, who's willing to admit life's ups and downs. Someone who avoids drama-queening because she understands her role as a kind of earth mother among earth parents.
I envy this kind of writing, and her kindness and wisdom. I'm past the days when our Little Orvy and Oswald were outside eating the dog's food, and my family never had to confront the level of techno-addiction that plagues your parenting in these times. So Noll's observations are a breath of fresh air that's also as sturdy as oatmeal cookies!
Mixed-metaphorically slow-cooked oatmeal cookies ....
May 19, 2013
Simple enough: Raw living
Our dog is dying. Inexorably and inevitably, cancer is taking away our pet’s life. Right now the feelings and other thoughts inside my brain are raw. Past words and therefore past processing, most synapses are staying disconnected to most brain functions. I think there’s a simplicity lesson to be learned in this situation. Let me try to explain.
One of the things that happens in simple living is that many of life’s experiences come at you in their most basic or crude forms. Whether painful or joyful, they pass into your psyche unrefined by words or momentary connectivity to the rest of life. These happenings are what they are, and perhaps nothing more. For a while that may be good enough.
So the first blush of young love, an overwhelming upwelling of gratitude, justifiable anger, some spiritual profundity that defies doctrinal verbiage, the fullness of taste in a special meal and, yes, disease that points toward death — any of these events may defy careful discernment or meaning-making for a while. And in the moments between the raw, unprocessed experience and its eventual fit into the rest of your life, you may find a strange satisfaction in the purity of the uncooked or ineffable nature of that state of being.
You may even be able to rejoice in the simplicity of this state of mind. Unfettered by the necessity of sense-making, the ineffable incident can lounge in your soul like an untested new friend, like a guest whose personality you don’t yet know, like a bitter pill whose aftertaste will eventually bring pleasure.
I don’t know whether these still-raw thoughts might be useful to you. But I do know that I’m feeling OK about not fitting this ongoing experience into any greater scheme of things.
I think I can be satisfied with raw living.
May 16, 2013
Simple enough: What/who runs what/whom?
Today I want to reflect on something a recent computer-system update announced: “3 billion devices run on Java!” While I am pleased to receive this important data point (I’m sure that this fine coffee-loving company has only my best interests in mind) I also want to ask some simple-guy questions. The most obvious: Wouldn’t it be more honest to change the statement to “Java runs more than 3 billion devices.” As in, “Our omnipresent and omniscient product controls more of your life than you realize, friend.” (Note: “Coffee” here is a euphemism for a computer program that influences a good part of my life.)
Let me amplify this thought into other observations, centered on the question, “What/who runs what/whom?” This is an important matter for those of us trying to manage our lives toward simplicity. So my imagination wanders to other queries:
- Do I determine my dog’s daily schedule, or is versa the vice?
- How have some of my keeno-snazzy devices turned me into a sedentary organism?
- How can I hope to manage all the cravings that lurk inside my personality?
- Do the hierarchal leaders of the church run congregations, or is the opposite true?
- Do advertisers and politicians “just give you want you want,” or do consumers and voters actually control commerce and politics?
- When/how do my simplicity-seeking actions determine my thinking about life? (Or how do simple living thoughts cause simple living actions?)
- How am I influenced by my peers, and how do I help them run their lives?
- Do I run on coffee, or does coffee ruin me? (Yes, I know, this is a trick question!)
There you are: My questions about what/who runs you — and how you influence or control your surroundings.
And yourself ...?
May 13, 2013
Simple enough: The new nation
Here's a question for all you Geography Bee followers out there: What's the newest nation in the world? The amazing-yet-unthinkable answer: Garbage Patch! Yep, you read it right. As of April 11, 2013, this mostly mid-Pacific "nation" was designated by UNESCO as the newest state in the world. Some comments seem necessary ....
First, there are no human inhabitants on this floating mass of trash about the size of the actual state of Texas. Instead, it provides a place for more than 37,000 tons of garbage to find a home. This gross gathering of detritus probably does provide a habitat for a gathering number of organic forms.
The "nation" is formed by five separate dead-zones among the ocean currents of the world, places where the moving waters forever encircle whatever is trapped in their fluid grasp. Because of the physical forces that impinge on its existence, Garbage Patch — yes, its real name! — is constantly broken down into smaller pieces that inevitably become toxic "food" for the ocean's legitimate inhabitants. Thus Garbage Patch will likely poison the world's fisheries, eventually crippling the food chain on which we humans depend.
From whence doth the trash come? Everywhere and nowhere. The illicit at-sea dumping of refuse, the inexorable flow of polluted rivers and streams into the ocean, the effects of tsunamis and hurricanes and even the up-swelling of offshore garbage dumps' contents — any and all of these natural and human-caused activities contribute to this growing natural disaster.
Waggish imaginations aside (Will cruise lines book tours to Garbage Patch?) ugly truths grow daily. Among them the simple fact that, because of our consumptive and wasteful ways of life, we are creating ever-growing Garbage Patches in the sea and in nearby landfills.
Someday, perhaps soon, this "nation" may exact its tribute (its cost) on our daily living.
May 10, 2013
Simple congregations: Age-old assets
(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These entries can complement any program or planning process.)
If your congregation's demographics include an especially high number of people over 55 years of age, you may have slipped into a frame of mind that requires some fixing. That way of thinking could be called an “old-age inferiority complex” — you think less of your congregation because so many of you are old folks. The fix? It’s simple, and available in the paragraphs that follow!
Those who are skilled in the practices of asset-based thinking know that inside of every individual and every group are useful gifts — assets by another name — that can be important factors in self-identity and in ministry. When mapped, those gifts may coalesce to reveal identifiable means by which something good can happen. These ideas have worked well almost everywhere, especially in places where God’s people have fallen into the trap of thinking less of themselves than their God-given assets should allow.
In the interest of looking at old-age assets in an age-old way, let’s think about the usefulness of elderly people in a congregation. Those who are older likely:
- Have accumulated and distilled considerable wisdom from all their life experiences.
- Ended their careers at or near the top of their game — extensive knowledge and skills honed over years of work.
- Can ask for and receive long-overdue favors from former colleagues, customers, business associates, offspring or other relatives.
- Have cultivated a variety of people as lifelong friends.
- Know what’s important and what’s not.
- Have learned to live within their means.
- Want to continue to live purposefully as long as possible.
- Value the coming generations with special care.
- Can’t be rushed into rash decisions or actions.
- Have dealt effectively and respectfully with just about any kind of personality type.
- Forsook long ago most shallow notions about success, fame and attractiveness.
- Have boodles of discretionary time that can be filled in any number of ways.
- Are willing to be generous for good causes that might not attract other donors.
- Tell the truth without fear of reprisal or trying to impress others.
- Know about coming through rough times by God’s grace.
- Add a sense of history to their curiosity and hope about the future.
Not every older person possesses the exact same set of assets, of course. But in general, the asset-laden advantages of old age are easily identified as valuable if you take off the blinders of age-related prejudices. Many congregations have seen new life blossom primarily because they took seriously the usefulness of the gifts of older members.
One more thing, just so you don’t fall into another trap, sometimes labeled “false humility.” Many elderly members may think of themselves as somehow lacking in desirable or useful traits. Wrong, right? So don’t let any of your congregation’s most senior members foist their sometimes overactive modesty on you.
So please tell or share these useful ideas with someone you know who’s missing this age-old point about old age: God’s not finished with people when they reach old age!
You will be glad you did.
May 7, 2013
Simple enough: Sleepless phone people
Recently I noticed that a highly regarded telephone services provider is spotlighting its corporate excellence by describing the workplace habits of its overworked and sleep-deprived employees. Apparently this industry-leading firm wants us to connect the concept of excellent service with "smart people working overtime, running on fumes." The headline on the ad claims that "believing more" (whatever that means) results in sleeping less.
Given what even junior-grade neurobiologists have known for decades about work-addled brains, it seems odd that this communications conglomerate would tout obviously dysfunctional workers as a reason for me to engage its services. (In fact, I'm a customer of this company and experience exactly the opposite of what the ads portray: less-than-adequate services from workers who may just have turned in a 16-hour shift or are sleeping on the job.) And what makes the least sense among these bold propositions: The ad's beginning sentence reads: "Brains matter." Sure.
How would this play out with the rest of us — let's say in the community of believers — if we took as actionable facts and admirable personality traits what this ad announces? Would our meetings produce better results if participants worked overtime, operating only on fumes? ("Coffee fumes" for Lutherans.) Could we expect "bigger solutions" — what this company supposedly delivers — if our pastors and leaders stayed up all night working on more-sophisticated algorithms? Would "sleeps very little" be a requirement for passionate denominational leaders? I think not.
So unless you work for this industry-leader (whose name will remain mercifully unspoken) keep your craving for work within the bounds of an eight-hour daily sleep pattern. Run on solid nutrition. Avoid mindless techno-addictions. Keep overtime of any kind (work, play, entertainment, family, church) to a minimum.
And for heaven's sake, remember that your brain does matter!
Even for this sleepless communications provider.
May 4, 2013
Simplicity's children: And the livin' is easy
Summer is coming soon, and it’s time for you to start imagining the unique joys of parenting during these months. Today I’d like to share some thoughts about how to make this summer an easy-living time for you and your children. (You've worked hard during the school year, so a relaxed summer lifestyle may be just the thing you need!)
An easy-living summer might include some of the following shared experiences:
- Providing unscheduled time and activity choices.
- Insisting on plenty of time outside in the sun — with sunscreen, of course!
- Arranging an ongoing project such as building, digging, assembling or taking apart something that’s really big.
- Exploring new meal choices for your family.
- Spending more time together at every meal.
- Reading widely and wildly, then writing or drawing your reactions to what you read.
- Receiving or sending surprises in the mail.
- Purposed shutting off or turning down the volume on some of the school year’s busy-making activities.
- Mini-excursions, trips or adventures that cost little or nothing (e.g., visiting a homebound member of church or smelling all the trees in the park.)
- Learning a new household skill (e.g., vacuuming, clothes-washing, mending or minor repairing.)
The best summertime options presume that you and your children enjoy this time together. If that’s not possible, plan with your children’s caregivers how to make the coming summer something different from just a continuation of the school year. If you take a vacation, make it a time of unhooked relaxation rather than frenetic travel crammed full of expensive activities or stuff.
My invitation is simple: Make “easy-living” the frame of mind that governs your summer planning, and see how it adds to the quality of your life.
You can do this, I know it!
May 1, 2013
Simple enough: Practice downsizing now (Part 2)
In the previous entry, we considered the advantages of practicing the lifestyle downsizing that will likely be part of your life in the future. (Or that might become a difficult task for loved ones.) Today let’s think about some ways to approach this matter.
- Before you begin practicing, spend some time rejoicing in the belongings you have accumulated, especially those that hold extraordinary meaning or memories. Better yet, make this into a prayerful starting point. Your blessings invite gratitude to God!
- If it’s appropriate, challenge your family members to identify any of your possessions that they cherish or can put to good use now. Make the transfer right away.
- Start with one area of your home — a bathroom, closet, workbench or “entertainment center” — and set yourself the task of collapsing the most essential functions of that area into one box.
- Think of organizations or people who can make good use of your possessions now rather than 30 years from now when they will all be dated or nearly useless.
- Imagine spending your days in a two-room suite — including limited wall and storage space but with a minimal kitchen. Which of your possessions — furniture included — will not fit into this space?
- Spend quality conversation time with friends who have gone through this experience, or who are living in a permanently downsized space. Ask good questions and listen closely to their answers.
- Attend estate sales to see which parts of that process might be instructive for your rehearsing your own eventual downsizing.
- Film a video tour through your home, with verbal instructions clearly aimed at individual possessions.
- So that the process doesn’t overwhelm you, keep at it over a period of time. Take a small-steps approach.
I wish you well in this task.
April 30, 2013
Simple enough: Practice downsizing now (Part 1)
As a regular and respectful volunteer at a local assisted-living facility, I get a regular and respectful free education. (My teachers are mostly in their ninth decade of life, so they deserve my attention and respect!) Today I want to suggest something I’ve observed in the lives of almost every one of these fine souls: the need to practice the art/science of downsizing. Now.
Later in life you will either be gentled into a necessary lifestyle downsizing or you will leave for your survivors the complicated task of undertaking this work. Without forethought you may come to that stage in life unprepared for the physical, emotional and spiritual work that comes along with significant downshifting. One more thought: Depending on how and where you’ve lived, “downsizing” will likely be a super-sized collection of difficult actions that could be overwhelming. During those times, “simplicity” will be hard to find.
One sobering note: Social scientists are starting to pick up on the fact that coming generations don’t want to be bothered with most of their forebears’ possessions, no matter how dear. So don’t count on your adult children or their families to be the automatically grateful recipients of your collected stuff.
Getting ready for this inevitable life stage can be an exercise in hyper-imagination — thinking through the process in enough detail that you can construct detailed instructions. Or your “practice” can be a set of actual physical tasks that you undertake to get a tangible feel for what will likely occur later in life. (See the following blog for suggestions.)
Consider your rehearsal as a time to be grateful for the way God has blessed your life. Approach any practicing tasks as evidence of God’s grace, and your response as a regular and respectful steward.
April 27, 2013
Simple enough: Biology alert
Once again the staff here at Bob’s Blogs have unearthed — note the careful use of a possibly derogatory verb — information that could change your life, perhaps measured by iotas or scintillas. Today we share with you the growing body of evidence that your growing body is governed by a “second brain” located in your gut. Yes, I’m talking about a separate nervous system of about 500 million neurons that’s about nine yards long, stretching from your esophagus down to your bottom parts. The entire system (termed the enteric nervous system or ENS) is responsible for your craving under stress the foods that may not be good for you! This second brain strongly influences the workings of your head-brain.
Wait, there’s more, all of it connected to your pursuit of simple living.
The ENS system — largely dependent on the vagus nerve — helps you sense threats in your surroundings and influences your responses to danger. This automatically functioning system coordinates the complex workings of digestion with other brain functions such as emotion, fear and stress. These connections between your gut-brain and your head-brain also influence pleasure-seeking: 95 percent of the feel-good chemical serotonin is located in the ENS. This second brain may be implicated in diseases of the digestive system, depression and other head-brain disorders.
What to make of all this? The most obvious conclusion for simplicity-seekers: Pay close and respectful attention to your digestive system or, more specifically, to the simplicities and complexities of your daily nutrition. (Given the vagaries of ingesting food, eating can be a dangerous activity!) Another thought: In times of stress or fear, you may want to give credence to “gut instincts,” a response coordinating both first- and second-brain functions.
One more thing to note: As a marvelously formed being, you can thank God for being fearfully and wonderfully brained.
April 24, 2013
Simple enough: Vexing matters
Today I’m going to let you see behind the curtain here, as I tell you about some of my simplicity related questions that just don’t go away. No matter how much I cherish a simple lifestyle, I’m still vexed (a really juicy word for you to use somewhere else today) by matters such as the following. See if any of these squeeze, point, jab or nibble at you:
- To what degree is simplicity-seeking just a different kind of narcissistic self-help process?
- How can I shut off condemning or false-superiority attitudes regarding others’ lifestyles?
- How can I know if I’m stuck, plateaued or complacent?
- What’s new and exciting about simple living?
- Where in contemporary science, philosophy, economics or theology is simplicity igniting imaginations or intellects?
- When might it be good to take on some new lifestyle element — a cause, a mission or person — that’s likely to be purposefully unmanageable?
- Why does simple living seem to attract more women than men?
- When will involuntary simplicity eventually overtake our entire culture, giving us no choice but to live with scarcity or sorrow?
- Why do I have this niggling feeling that simple living makes me more vulnerable?
- How does the church work for or against my living simply?
- Who’s paying attention to any of this?
- Who’s out there at the front of this movement, saying and doing exciting things?
- Does simplicity appeal only to certain personality types, socioeconomic groups or age levels?
Why share these thoughts with you? All of us have to be deeply honest about this simple living thing. And the more forthright we are about quietly bothersome imponderables, the better we’ll be able to continue toward simplicity, persuading others to join us in the journey.