Bob Sitze's Blog
December 5, 2013
Simple enough: Stirring protection
In the next few weeks, these “Simple Enough” posts will be devoted to “Advent stirrings,” adaptations of the liturgical Prayers for the Day that occur at this time of the year. The adaptations will turn themes from these prayers toward simple living thoughts. The style and tone of these Advent entries will be more prayerful than didactic; more personal than generic and more quiet than busy—an approach that fits the season, the weather and perhaps your inner stirrings.
Stir up your protection, Oh Lord, and come.
Surround me, Lord, in the assurance that you are near. When I am full of fear, remind me that you will not let me fall. When I have wandered away from you into dangerous decisions, gentle me back to the shelter of your holy will. Tear down the idols I construct from my possessions so that I trust only in your care.
Grant safety and wellbeing, Oh Lord, so that I recognize your protection and claim your promises.
In Jesus’ name.
December 3, 2013
Simple enough: Stirring power
In the next few weeks, these “Simple Enough” posts will be devoted to “Advent stirrings,” adaptations of the liturgical Prayers for the Day that occur at this time of the year. The adaptations will turn themes from these prayers toward simple living thoughts. The style and tone of these Advent entries will be more prayerful than didactic; more personal than generic and more quiet than busy — an approach that fits the season, the weather and perhaps your inner stirrings.
Stir up your power, Oh Lord, and come.
Incite Spirit-given vigor in me, so I can amend my wayward lifestyle. Gather together and show me the sparks of wisdom that come from Jesus’ example. Help me find the energy I need to throw off the dull and stagnating attitudes that have kept me imprisoned in worry, accumulation, rushed living and disregard for others.
Grant courage and strength, Oh Lord, so I recognize your power and claim your promises.
In Jesus’ name.
December 1, 2013
Simple enough: Advent stirrings
In the next few weeks, these “Simple Enough” posts will be devoted to “Advent stirrings,” adaptations of the liturgical Prayers for the Day that occur at this time of year. The adaptations will turn themes from these prayers toward simple living thoughts. The style and tone of these Advent entries will be more prayerful than didactic; more personal than generic and more quiet than busy — an approach that fits the season, the weather and perhaps your inner stirrings.
- Although Advent occurs during a meteorological season that suggests hunkering down, hibernating or retreating from life’s harsh realities, the themes of these prayers move in opposite directions.
- “God’s stirring” fills the premises of Advent. Not just the God who will bring salvation in Christ Jesus, but also the God whose eye turns toward restoration, justice and fulfillment at the end of time.
- The prayers of the season connect with simplicity and simple living, as though when all is said and done — and life’s perplexing tensions are distilled to their basic elements — there are some important things that we do well to remember.
- Always paradoxically, autumnal-Advent is also the time for the liturgical year to begin. Beginnings and endings play together with our emotions and deepest yearnings. We contemplate the drawing down of our lives at the same time we anticipate newness, renewal and another chance to get this “living for God’s will” thing right.
- God’s stirring is at once fearsome and gentle, rousing and quieting, disturbing and comforting. In these prayers we experience a full range of emotions regarding this God we serve, and the Son whose life, death and resurrection save us.
The entries during this month will be posted at two-day intervals, so you might want to reset your viewing/reading habits regarding this blog.
November 29, 2013
Simple enough: The unencumbered life
An important principle of psycholinguistics is summarized in the axiom “The quality of your thoughts are dependent on the depth of your vocabulary.” (Or in blog-speak: “No words, no thoughts; know words, know thoughts.”) That’s the reason why, in these entries, I try to find a variety of ways in which to express the tenets of simplicity-seeking. Today’s blog continues that effort.
It’s occurred to me recently that the phrase “living the unencumbered life” might just describe an ideal toward which simplicity seekers like you are striving. Down deep, what you may want is a life unburdened with the weight of unnecessary things, impossible schedules, overwrought self-images or heavy-duty hopes for your ministries. You may secretly resent the people and situations in which you are required to take on more debt, responsibilities, expectations, duties or possessions. And part of what may be vexing you about your lifestyle may simply be the realization that you’re carrying others who seem more than just weak and heavy-laden.
“Not fair!,” your body or soul quietly protests even as you continue dutifully through life with physical or mental loads that eventually tax your capabilities past their limits. You yearn for a time in life (perhaps in retirement?) when you believe that you will finally take off your lifestyle backpack and live free of the heavinesses that have dragged you down all these years.
The roots of unencumbered connect with ideals like being free from what’s blocking, hindering or thwarting you (old French) and stepping around barricades or obstacles that accumulate around you (Latin). A first step toward that unencumbered life? Naming the blockages, hindrances or obstacles, perhaps even identifying the places and ways in which they pile up. I’ll try to encourage and admire you in these blogs.
It seems like the right psycholinguistic thing to do.
November 25, 2013
Simple enough: Thank your insisters
We’re coming to that time of year when we thank God for just about everything. Today I’d like to suggest that you add your ”personal insisters” to that list. These are the people around you (some of them very close) who provide extra motivation to keep seeking simplicity in your life. These people take on the role of firm and resolute friends or relatives who help you persevere in the face of obstacles, boredom or flagging interest. They don’t let you get away with anything, tell you the truth (in love) and provide an extrinsic force that helps you hold to your resolve to live simply. They know you like a book, see what you might miss, remain vigilant about your behavior patterns, and combine empathy with persistence. And, yes, they may even nag you.
Your insisters may be your spouse or partner, a sibling, parent or child. Friends or supervisors can be insisters. Spiritual advisers (pastors, small group members, prayer partners) can offer you the gift of tenacious insight and adamant advice. Therapists, coaches and counselors can fill this role. Sometimes even total strangers can surprise you with short-term observations that bring you up short or spur you toward a particularly helpful behavior.
These folks deserve your continuing thanks for the specific ways in which their attitudes and actions prompt your simplicity-seeking. (Without them, you’d fall back into bad habits, miss what’s obvious or lapse into self-idolatry, self-congratulation, emotional dishonesty or worse.) Over time your insisters provide a kind of external memory (a relational hard-drive?) that warrants your gratitude.
So thank your personal insisters, often and regularly. Perhaps more importantly: Keep paying attention to what they see and say. And no matter how difficult it may sometimes seem, do what they tell you.
It’s the thankful thing to do.
November 22, 2013
Simplicity's children: Homing instincts
A thoughtful friend and I were talking about our children’s development toward adulthood, and the question came up about young adults who return home to live with their parents. This situation is sometimes seen as problematic — Mom and Dad imagine continuing their own development, and a returning offspring doesn’t always fit into that picture. In my friend’s case, though, another thought occurred: that today’s young adults have a “homing instinct.” The idea warrants consideration.
A son or daugher returning home has likely experienced enough of “adult life” already to know its joys and sorrows. (Today’s world probably is tougher on starter-adults than at other times in recent history.) Therefore, this predilection (instinct) for the comforts of one’s childhood home could also be seen as evidence of the quality of life that your home afforded to your children. “Comfort” could include safety, assured identity, undeserved favor or love, trustworthy advice/wisdom and enduring accountability — a “reset” on adulthood. These rare qualities of life are sometimes difficult to secure from other sources. It makes some sense, then, to think of returning home as an extra period of preparation or formation before young adults strike out on their own.
In many societies around the world, it is perfectly natural (and expected) that more than one generation of family members might live under one roof as a coordinated, cooperative social unit. In those settings, choosing to leave home could be seen as a rejection of one’s upbringing, a dishonoring of parents and family. Maybe even a forsaking of natural “homing instincts”?
I don’t want to discount obvious complications or difficulties, of course. But if your family is considering this possible living arrangement, a good starting place might be to honor the almost-reflexive urge of a young adult to return home as something good.
Perhaps very good.
November 19, 2013
Simple enough: So that others simply live
It’s that time of year when hunger education and fundraising campaigns shift into high gear. This is also a good time to remember an insistent adage about combating hunger: “Live simply so that others simply live.” Embedded in the philosophy and mission of hunger programs in almost every denomination, this quiet sentence presents perhaps the greatest challenge to our efforts to combat the poverty that underlies hunger.
The positive results of international efforts to eliminate hunger continue and can always be celebrated. But for those who have been part of this work for a while, a nagging truth remains: Unless we repent of our profligate and wasteful lifestyles and strive to live lightly on the Earth, our efforts to stem poverty’s grim growth will not likely succeed.
Because the world’s economies remain inextricably intertwined, another person’s hunger invariably connects to our lifestyle decisions. Our sometimes shallow understandings of “abundance” notwithstanding, we still live in a finite world. When our lifestyles require a large share of the world’s resources (think clean water or arable land) someone else won’t get what they need.
One example: The U.N. now projects sobering statistics about the effects of global warming on the production of food. When we use croplands to produce fuel for our vehicles, that land is not available for the production of food. So shortages of basic foodstuffs can result, prices rise and those who are poor cannot buy what they need. To say this simply: I drive my car at the expense of someone else possibly not eating.
So continue to contribute money to hunger efforts and continue to advocate for justice in business and government. But please remember that in its most basic forms, hunger will continue to ravage the world unless you and I humble ourselves toward simple living
November 16, 2013
Simple enough: Avoiding daily similitude
What’s that you say, buddy? Your simplicity-seeking is starting to feel like eating oatmeal mush three meals a day? Everything around you has gone from exciting to blah? Your friends think gray is your favorite color, and your dog has stopped asking you for a walk? Are you suffering from a daily life characterized by the same routines, the same people, the same food, the same recycled socks? You say you’re suffering from the sickness of similitude?
Well, buck up, old friend! You don’t have to live this way! You can find energy and excitement again! Listen to this old lifestyle philosopher:
- Simple living doesn’t have to confine you to a set of narrow choices about what’s pleasurable, who’s righteous or what’s important.
- If “managing my life” has become a dreary task, your brain is trying to tell you something: It doesn’t like to spend all its time on automatic pilot.
- Variety is more than the spice of life; it’s the stuff of life!
- With not too much effort, you can rework your routines, change your clothing, modify your meals and deviate from dull!
Here are some starters for avoiding a bland lifestyle. They have worked for me, and they can work for you:
- Insert into any daily routine one oddball or unexpected action.
- Put fruits in your mush, spices in your soup or meat-substitutes in your casseroles.
- Befriend an elderly person in your neighborhood or church.
- Read an obscure journal at the library.
- When speaking or writing, use old words in new ways or new words in old ways.
- Take a different route to your workplace.
- Read the Bible in a translation that’s new to you.
- Surprise someone.
Yes, you can find verve again, and you can still be attractive! Why? Because you have avoided similitude.
Good luck, old buddy!
November 13, 2013
Simple congregations: Measuring manageability
(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These slightly larger entries can complement any program or planning process.)
With the fall program season underway, now is a good time for you to measure the degree to which your congregation’s mission is manageable. (If it’s manageable over time, then most likely it’s also sustainable.) The following self-rating scale will help you determine the degree to which your congregation is managing its affairs without heroic effort. This tool is not scientific, but the items included here can help you and other leaders consider matters critical to your congregation’s well-being.
Read each item carefully. Then use the numerals 1 – 5 to rate how accurately the statements or questions below describe your congregation (5 = very true; 1 = rarely true).
____ 1. We fill volunteer positions readily.
____ 2. It is difficult to find qualified or willing candidates for leadership positions.
____ 3. Congregational programs are initiated by members more than by staff.
____ 4. Most leaders have been in the same leadership position for a considerable time.
____ 5. Most congregational leaders have participated in some kind of leadership training experience.
____ 6. Our budgeted expenses routinely exceed our budgeted income.
____ 7. Annual events (e.g., Christmas services) include new elements or themes.
____ 8 Parishioners are usually willing to accept invitations from our pastor(s) to serve.
____ 9. Newer leaders are gradually replacing present leaders.
____ 10. The congregation’s connections to denominational emphases and services are minimal.
____ 11. This congregation is willing to terminate poorly performing programs, emphases or events.
____ 12. Staff members ordinarily work at least 60-hour weeks.
____ 13. Our pastor visits members in their workplaces.
____ 14. The last revision of the congregation’s constitution took place more than 10 years ago.
____ 15. The congregation’s organizational chart is fairly simple.
____ 16. The congregation regularly engages in extensive long-range planning processes.
____ 17. Leaders operate on the basis of available assets for ministry rather than needs-based approaches.
____ 18. Getting permission to undertake a task or program requires several steps and/or meetings.
____ 19. The physical plant and grounds are in good repair and attractive to visitors.
____ 20. The congregational membership rolls were cleaned more than 10 years ago.
Interpreting the results
To score this scale, tally the ratings for even-numbered items separately from odd-numbered items. If the totaled score for even-numbered items greatly exceeds the total score of odd-numbered items, your congregation may be working too hard to manage its affairs. (The even-numbered items indicate some kind of subtle early-warning sign that considerable effort is required to maintain some aspect of the congregation’s life or that fresh thought is not being applied as much as you might hope.)
Using this tool
Think together with other leaders about how your ratings of each item indicate strength or weakness in matters of manageability. (For example, No. 8 might indicate that congregation members are willing to be “the pastor’s helpers” but perhaps not willing to initiate ideas or programs on their own. And No. 13 could show that your pastor understands the congregation’s primary function to equip members for their vocations in the world.) Consider other items you might add to discover how well you’re managing your affairs. Talk honestly about what changes could be made to simplify the way this congregation operates or the way it sees its role.
You probably already have an intuitive sense of whether your congregation is operating simply — managing its ministries so they match its available assets of members’ attention, time, energy and contributions. Trust your instinct and prayerfully consider further examination of your mission and the gifts God has granted you to bring God’s will to bear on the world around you.
November 10, 2013
Simplicity's children: Empathy atrophy
Empathy, a developing sense of others, is a necessary piece of your child’s personality equipment as he or she grows toward adulthood. This attitude/skill helps your child — and later, your teen and young adult — navigate the terrain of pleasing relationships that form the basis for a rewarding and purposeful life.
Empathy is a whole brain activity that involves structures and elements such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and the pleasure and mirror neuron systems. These brain structures help elicit, coordinate and use functions such as face recognition, mimicry, memory and theory of mind (knowing the likely thoughts of one’s self and others). Children are born with these functions in place, but their capabilities for empathy are further honed by the contexts in which they live.
The capacity for empathy can diminish or even atrophy if a child is not part of relationships in which he or she can interact with others in rewarding ways. For example, natural skill in face recognition can’t become part of your child’s social/emotional equipment if your child sees and reacts to very few faces!
This is why some child development researchers and social critics are sounding alarms about the effects of increasing “screen time” among children as young as 2. Youngsters whose days are filled with technology may be deprived of repeated encounters with the faces and emotions of others. Empathetic skills may atrophy, along with related neural capacities within developing brains. No one quite yet knows for sure what will happen to children who have diminished capacities to understand or identify with others, but the results may already be evident to parents and teachers.
Research and conjecture continue, but for now it seems wise to limit your children’s screen interaction, as well as increasing their face-to-face moments with other human beings!
November 7, 2013
Simple enough: Wallet-diving
It used to be that you could tell a lot about a person by asking them to pull out their appointment calendar and checkbook. Even in these overly electronic days, you can audit your lifestyle choices by examining the contents of a wallet (or purse).
Let me use myself as an example. As I look at what’s inside my well-worn billfold, I can easily conclude the following:
- When I breathe my last breath, my brain will be given to science and my body to cremation (an ID card for each eventuality).
- My Subaru and I are well-insured (an insurance card).
- Last summer I fished for trout in California (one-day fishing license).
- I buy very little on credit (one credit card, one gas credit card).
- My blood type is O+ (a blood donor card).
- I have health insurance (a nice plastic card).
- I may want to play nurse some day (at least one Band-Aid).
- I still mail stuff at the post office (several forever stamps).
- My public library is a favorite place (A worn-out library card).
When you imagine any of those discoveries back to their possible roots in my persona or values, you can surmise even more about what motivates and energizes my lifestyle. You might say that my life is an open wallet!
The point here is hopeful: Wallet-diving is one good way to get into a productive conversation with someone who wants to think more clearly about her/his way of life. Each of the items in anyone’s purse or wallet elicits stories or observations that themselves prompt other questions or reflections.
So the next time you’re sitting around with simplicity-seeking friends, explore the contents of your wallets or purses, and rejoice in ready evidence of a lifestyle that is moving toward simplicity.
Yes, this can be fun!
November 4, 2013
Simple enough: A new crusade?
Hey, there, simplicity-seekers! Looking for an important cause to pursue, something that will avoid the difficulties of sometimes-quixotic efforts? I’ve got just the crusade you’re looking for: Teen Sleep Deprivation! This is a campaign that can change lives, not only those of here-and-now young folks, but also untold millions of people into future generations. Read on.
It’s an established fact that too many teens get too little sleep — ask any high school teacher or parent. Evidence builds every day about the harmful effects of sleep deprivation on teens’ physical/mental health: obesity, depression and stress are examples. Overall well-being (academic success, positive self-image, safe driving, improved family life) also seems to correlate with increased levels of nightly sleep among teens.
So what’s this crusade’s focus? Later starting times for high school students! Hundreds of school districts across the country have made this change, with thousands more considering the possibilities. Yes, sports and other extracurricular programs can be affected, as well as after-school work schedules. But the positive, long-term effects of increased daily sleep may warrant changes in our expectations about the benefits of these post-school day activities. Good news: Simple living principles and practices are well-connected with this effort.
How to start this campaign for teen health and well-being? Talk to some youth, their parents or high school teachers. Gather information (for current research findings, check out the Center of Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota at http://www.cehd.umn.edu/CAREI). And when you’re ready, have an earnest conversation with the high school principal or a member of the board of education. Ask good questions and don’t be satisfied with simplistic answers. Be insistent about the positive effects of later starting times, and look forward to eventual success in this endeavor.
You’re a crusader, after all!
November 1, 2013
Simple enough: Before you walked here
Part of the deep satisfaction implicit in encounters with the natural world is the thought that you are trodding on untrammeled territory. But as any seasoned hiker or camper will tell you, almost every square inch of the outdoor world (even supposed wilderness) has already been visited. Other wayfarers have walked here before you. The artifacts of their experiences are all around you. In maps and field guides, you benefit from their discoveries, mistakes or advice.
The same phenomenon may be true among those of you who have just begun your walk toward simplicity. In your mind you may be traversing unknown lifestyle canyons, camping in pristine lifestyle meadows or beholding original lifestyle vistas. A humbling and ennobling thought to remember: Generations of other pioneers, scouts and pilgrims have come this way before you.
Two ideas come to mind. First, you are not alone in this adventure, this elemental struggle to think and act righteously. At those moments when simplicity weighs you down, it can be helpful to know that another suburban homemaker, another single mother, another harried office worker, another solitary prophet has come this way before you. Some of these like-minded lifestyle pioneers, scouts and pilgrims are even close at hand, ready to stand and walk beside you. Second, the centuries-old artifacts of the life journeys of sainted simplicity-seekers cover the landscape. You don’t have to invent your own tools. The evidences of their tussles with materialism, greed or an overwrought life are available to you.
Your simplicity forebears would find great joy in knowing that you can find courage in their example. They would also be happy to know that you are preparing the way for those who will follow you, readying this path for saints to come.
So that simple living will always be satisfying ....
October 30, 2013
Simple enough: Nails in your church door
It’s Reformation-tide, when we’re too-easily tempted to remark on how others ought to behave in order for “reformation” to continue. Truer to Martin Luther’s intent, though, might be our reflections on how we can personally ensure that God’s continuing reformation can root and grow in our lives. In the spirit of this short season of the year, this simple question: What nails are you willing to pound into your church entrance? (Of course, these aren’t real nails that will ruin the finish on your genuine Texas oak doors, but instead metaphoric constructs denoting “invitations to sincere and courageous debate about what’s truly important about this church.” Now you get the picture, right?)
If you ask me the same question (I’m always interested in reforming and being reformed) I’d answer with some of the following statements or questions for church door nailing:
- If “ministry in daily life” is so important to the health and ministry of the church, why does clericalism persist?
- Grace is central to our beliefs, but how is it actually practiced among us here?
- How or when do we ever come together to discuss, debate or wrestle with what’s truly important?
- Even if I don’t sell indulgences, I may still be implicitly fostering works-righteousness.
- One or more of our members could be respected as a contemporary “Luther” for the rest of us.
- The multiple “marks of discipleship” may be corrupting the Three “Solas” (scripture, faith, grace) in our midst.
- What or what might be getting in the way of my own reformation?
This simple invitation: Take time during this transformation-tide to consider what’s worth publicly discussing or debating in your setting. Gather up your courage and your convictions and head for your nearest metaphorical church gateway.
But please don’t damage the genuine Texas oak doors, OK?
October 27, 2013
Simple enough: Positive signs 2
In previous blogs I have written hopefully about encouraging developments that are unfolding in the lifestyle universe. Today’s blog continues this process, documenting an “undeclared movement” toward simplicity that is being taken up by young adults. (The following paragraphs summarize an Aug. 25, 2013, article in The Chicago Tribune, whose “Money & Real Estate” section often features noteworthy lifestyle trends. The article reprints the writing of Barry Shlachter of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)
According to the Star-Telegram report, pollster John Zogby, author of The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream, says this trend is at least 15 years old and gaining traction. John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio complement Zogby’s conclusions in their co-authored 2010 book Spend Shift. They note that simplicity-seekers are no longer “radical frugalists, Christian ascetics or extreme New Age anti-materialists.” Something more profound is occurring: Gerzema’s data shows that about 55 percent of Americans are fully involved in this movement, with another 26 percent sharing their attitudes.
What are downsizing and downscaling young adults doing instead of amassing fortunes and cramming excess stuff into storage lockers? Volunteering, spending time with others, working productively in satisfying careers, re-evaluating priorities (“seeking a higher cause,” according to Zogby) and enjoying life!
Why spotlight this article? To remind you that a growing number of your fellow citizens, including the demographic cohort “young adults,” may share your basic view about lifestyle choices. They are chewing up and spitting out profligacy and selfishness in favor of a more manageable and satisfying outlook on life.
And should your church ever take on this bedrock principle of Christian living as part of its identity, you might even become a place where members of this “movement” could find a welcoming, understanding home.
Now wouldn’t that be a positive sign?
October 24, 2013
Simple enough: Positive signs 1
Not everything in the lifestyle universe is going to Hades in a basket. In fact, any number of positive developments seem to pop up in the news on any given day, giving simplicity-seekers like you and me some hope that tides are turning.
Today I am happy to report that my grocery store — a gem of a market — decided to discontinue its practice of asking me to produce a “preferred customer card” before any of my purchases can be rung up. This feels like good news about simple living:
- Corporate owners may have figured out that these cards were more trouble than they were worth.
- Their assemblage of surefire algorithms about predicting customers’ buying patterns may have turned out to be pure baloney. (On sale in aisle 6.)
- Customers may have realized — and complained — that they were no more “preferred” than a head of cabbage. (Two-for-one in the produce department.)
- This supermarket chain may have discovered that most of its competitors have discarded so-called loyalty cards (there’s an ironic term, hmm?) in favor of lower prices for everyone.
- The checkout clerks may have explained to head office decision-makers how these cards unnecessarily complicated shopping.
- Customers may have grown tired of targeted mailings arriving in their homes, ostensibly tailored to their food, drug and beverage purchasing habits.
Whatever the reasons, the outcomes are the same: my billfold is lighter and thinner by one plastic card, and the act of buying food for my family has become just a little bit simpler. On a grander scale, this policy change may signal the weakening of the pervasive grip of supposed marketing wizardry into every aspect of my private life.
Now I can read my newspaper, expecting further good news about (market) baskets that are no longer heading toward Hades!
October 21, 2013
Simplicity's Children: Dangerous toy alert
I am happy to send out the following warning to all you alert parents out there: your little Bancroft’s most beloved toys may be dangerous to his present-tense psyche and his future-tense temperament. I am talking, of course, about the research from New Zealand about the attitude problem that Lego characters have been displaying in recent years.
Scientific analysis of thousands of Lego-character catalog photos shows that the emotions of these block-headed playthings are trending toward angry. This decades-long slide into wrathful countenances may come from the inclusion of weapons and other possible indicators of character deterioration. But it may also signal an increase in conflict-based themes within Legoland.
Why note this? Bob’s Blog staff would never want your little Gennifer to learn bad character traits from her play with otherwise innocuous plastic figurines. Face-recognition skills among tots may render them defenseless against the influence of grimacing dispensers of playtime anger. Given the ability of children to mimic what they see, your little boy or girl could be learning attitudes harmful in playtime situations. This change in seemingly innocent toys may also render your soon-to-be-adult Bobbie-Sue into an innocent victim of what might be a sinister plot to foment anger among vast swathes of America’s emerging adults.
Fortunately, our friends Down Under have sounded their warning, which we share with you in the hopes that you will explain to your little Germaine that, no, little Mr. Knight-on-the-horsey is not angry or trying to kill anyone, but just having a bad hair day because of that strange helmet he’s wearing. Or your little Gandolf could play-persuade the Mr. Christian figure to help Mr. Knight use his sword for good purposes!
There you have it: Another Bob’s Blogs service to keep simplicity-seeking parents on the straight-and-narrow.
Where all Lego characters could be.
October 18, 2013
Simple enough: College as simple living
A while ago I was driving past my local residential college, noticing the blithe and carefree students. I caught sight of an old duffer who did not seem to be a faculty member or a wandering minstrel. At that moment, I wondered if this “older adult student” had figured out a way to live simply as a college student!
That’s why I’m intrigued by the possibility that single seniors could live out their days on college campuses, in a blithe and carefree manner, at a cost less than living in one’s own home with Bowser, Fluffy and dust bunnies.
The tuition, housing and book costs of being a student at some colleges may compare favorably with the cost of living in a fully furnished and maintenance-starved home. Colleges feature economical dorm arrangements, exquisite cafeteria food and a modicum of acceptable medical care. Staff members take care of bothersome tasks like cooking, cleaning and repairing. Entertainment of many kinds comes at low cost, and one’s time is easily filled with attending class, considering ideas, taking tests — and being blithe and carefree. Ownership and maintenance of a car are unnecessary. (Good friends might be hard to find, but at an advanced age one’s friends tend to die off or move to Camelot.) With any luck, a shrewd senior citizen could appear to be a faculty member (or wandering minstrel) and disappear into the folds of the college’s student-tracking system, thus keeping at this lifestyle for many exciting years.
Help me out, folks. Does this work for you? Would you be willing to give this a try? And how could you perfect this possibility to make it work for the rest of us who will be following your successes?
However you approach this possibility, remember that there’s more than one way to be blithe and carefree!
October 15, 2013
Simple enough: Abstemious actions
Hello again, vocabulary lovers! Today we will parse the glorious meanings and use of another uncommon word related to simple living. The word for today is abstemious. Derived from Latinate etymological roots (“temperance with strong drink”) this adjective is a high-brow way to describe moderation in eating and drinking, being sparing in any kind of consumption. (Every so often, we simplicity-seekers can be high-brow, right?)
I’m thinking that really clever readers will immediately find good uses for this word, as in:
- Stop eating with both hands, Clyde, and act more like the abstemious man I love.
- So, friend, you’re not going to get in touch with your abstemious self if you keep getting refills on that Big Guzzle soda drink!
- Let’s go over this again, Junior: What part of abstemious don’t you understand?
- Yes, waiter, I’d like to order only an abstemious portion of those delicious sweet potato fries.
- You look great, Gustine! It’s that new Absolutely Abstemious diet, right?
Why might this word be important for your vocabulary? Abstemious reminds you that temperance — broadly or narrowly considered — is a part of living simply. The word certainly attracts attention because of its rare-if-ever usage in polite conversation. Once you get folks’ attention with this fine adjective, you have the opportunity to extend any simplicity conversation past familiar places and ideas. And of course, when you’re in the company of high-brow folks, you don’t want to be constantly throwing around “simple living,” “simply” or “simplicity” without some emergency back-up synonyms, right? “Abstemious” puts a nice gloss on “moderation,” one of the pillars of simple living, an ideal that holds gluttony in tension with all its opposite behaviors.
In conclusion, then: If you are assiduously abstaining from abject abstinence, you can instead find an abstemious lifestyle more approachable and affable.
October 12, 2013
Simple congregations: Time to grow up?
(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These slightly longer entries can complement any program or planning process.)
If your congregation seems stuck in an endless loop chasing the attention of present and possible members, you may be suffering from a kind of institutional immaturity that can be named and tamed. To say this another way, your church may need to grow up. (At some time in our lives, we all have to deal with the fact that we’re thinking and behaving in childish ways, to our detriment and to the anguish of others around us. The same could be true of congregations, which likely face the same developmental difficulties along the way to true maturity.)
Permit me these few observations and questions about institutional childishness, with some thoughts about possible remedies:
- Because inferiority feelings confound the process of growing up, congregations and their leaders might also display deep insecurities regarding their identity, behavior or stature among peers.
- In the face of real or imagined inattention, congregational leaders can resort to an ecclesiastical song-and-dance mentality, using the attention-getting tricks favored by politicians, comedians, entertainers and demagogues.
- Can you be satisfied with your congregation’s aging, or with the truth that institutional death may be part of institutional life?
- Institutional adolescence is sometimes evident in a congregation that requires its pastor to be the equivalent of a rock star. (Or a pastor who takes on that role without being asked to do so.)
- Infantile institutional behavior can be thwarted by a gentle insistence that prospective church leaders, professional and lay, be selected first for their maturity.
- Emotional hijackings (ratcheting up communications and activities to their highest emotive levels) can characterize an institutional personality in which logical/sequential thought is at a premium.
- A congregational self-study might center on attributes that characterize maturity, translated into observable behaviors in the congregation’s life. (For example, patience, gentleness, intuition, awareness of others, kindness, humility.)
- On the other hand, you might want to audit your congregation’s identity, purpose or personality to ferret out behaviors that are selfish, arrogant, lacking in empathy or self-aggrandizing.
- If your congregation is led solely by extroverts, might you encounter problems in the narrow range of traits — some of them possibly immature — that may be present in that personality type?
- If “Hey, look at me/us!” characterizes any of your congregation’s programs, publicity, worship, relationships or yearnings, you may instead be telegraphing your great neediness to be noticed, wanted, loved. This may be a turnoff or turn-away.
- If you expect immediate results from surefire programs, events or emphases, are you also falling prey to a life-view that ignores the time and work required for people and institutions to grow up?
Sooner or later, institutional immaturity stands out, works its will and names its price. The way life works (I’m pretty sure about this) is that eventually we get tired of the frenetic expending of energy that comes from being childish. In due course, we seek those who show us the way forward, past our insecurities, shortsighted philosophies and self-centered personas.
I’m also certain that if your congregation remains frozen in perpetual adolescence, others will notice. Their attention may not be all that appreciative. Maturity — with all its characteristics — may actually be more attention-worthy in our society. So your congregation could be the place where spiritual adulthood is proclaimed, practiced and offered as part of God’s good news in Christ Jesus.
Eventually, growing up could be a good thing.