Ten for Tuesday

Back from an amazing vacation in Colorado, so let's get right to it, shall we? (Note: more than ten this week!)

LIVING BETTER

Wisdom for people with...

...imposter syndrome?

...FOBO? (fear of better options)

...more books than you could ever read? (Raising hand)

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NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED

Women being awesome, including:

The first female duo working together in a pit crew in a NASCAR race, including the first African-American woman in a pit crew. (What took so long?) 

- The women driving the digital revolution... in the Arab world.

- Artist-philanthropist Carrie Mae Weems, who gave away millions to artists anonymously, until now.

- Serena Williams, whose trick for facing negativity is to be too busy for it. Darn right. (This being from Elle magazine, there's also some stuff in there about beauty products, so be advised if that's not your thang.)

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THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM

How America uses its land: an interactive tool. tl;dr -- there's a lot of cattle involved.

And how about a little law of unintended consequences?

For hotel guests who care more about saving water and electricity than they do about clean towels and a freshly scrubbed tub, opting out of housekeeping seems like the right thing to do. The incentives offered to some of those who decline cleaning services — rewards points, restaurant discounts, even having a tree planted — make it even more enticing.

But the housekeepers who would otherwise be cleaning these rooms, many of them immigrants, say the increasingly popular programs are cutting into their livelihoods by reducing their hours, making their schedules more erratic, and — ironically — making their jobs harder. That’s because rooms that go without housekeeping for several days are often a wreck — trash piled up, shower doors coated in gunk, crumbs in the carpet, and hair everywhere.

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FIGHT BACK WITH BEAUTY

A restaurant takes on the opioid crisis one worker at a time.

Preschoolers left a note on an abandoned tree... and people responded. As my brother likes to say, "People can be so dope sometimes." 

The road to Maccu Picchu starts at 385 pounds. A wonderful travel essay that's about more than travel. 

Finally, did you know that improv can help with anxiety? (And hey, there's a book for that.)

Have a great week!

When You're Tempted to Give Up

I'm on vacation this week, so in lieu of a post written by me, I want to pass along a story that's been resonating with me lately.

Many of us know and love Humans of New York, the book, website and social media presence. HONY is the brainchild of Brandon Stanton, who took a simple premise and made it a huge phenomenon: to photograph ordinary New Yorkers, telling their stories. It's a testament to the power of attentive listening and radical empathy, and has become wildly popular--an outpost of kindness on the Internet. (HONY is now nomadic, with recent trips to Pakistan, Brazil, and more.)

 Brandon Stanton.

Brandon Stanton.

But have you ever heard the story of how HONY began? Here is Stanton talking about the tumultuous--and lonely--early days. I'm not going to offer any commentary or pithy summary at the end of this--I'm simply going to share it, so we can rest in these words and let them do whatever they need to do, for each of us:

“I’m in New York, and I’ve been trying to make it work for 6 months. I worked every day, including Christmas and Thanksgiving. All I did was photograph all day long. I had gotten thousands of these portraits and not many people were paying attention.”

“The hardest part about it was especially when I got started, and Humans of New York didn’t have any fans, and it wasn’t made into any books, and my family didn’t believe in it, and my friends thought I was crazy. I had no photography experience. I’m in New York City stopping random people and asking them questions. I’m feeling insecure.”

“When you walk up to somebody and you ask them if you can take their photo and they respond like you’re some sort of freak or that you’re weird, it’s hard to not internalize that because you’re so insecure at the moment about whether or not what you’re doing is weird and if it’s something that – am I weird for asking these people for their photographs? I’d go out some days, and ten people in a row would make me feel like I’m some sort of freak.”

“Like, “Do you know what city you’re in? You can’t be stopping random people. Get out of my way. What are you doing? No, you can’t take my photo. Get out of here.” And during my formative and impressionable early days when I’m trying to figure this out, five reactions like that in a row when nobody’s paying attention to your work, and you’ve been trying for months, and you can’t figure it out, psychologically was very tough. There’d be days where that would happen, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I would just go home and lay in bed.”

“It was all of the doubt, and not having any money, and nobody’s paying attention, and I’m just doing this all day long for months. The loneliness too, I didn’t know anybody in New York. I knew two people. There was a Christmas break where those two people went home, and for two weeks, I didn’t see anybody that I knew. I remember I spent Christmas Eve alone at a diner. Then I just went out and photographed because it was the only thing that would keep me from thinking about how unlikely it was and how stupid of an idea it might be.”

“The only thing that I think kept me from thinking about the possibility of failing was doing it, was just photographing. Whenever I started to think, “Is this gonna work? Is it not gonna work?” I’d just go out and photograph. That was my only way of keeping those wolves away of, “Is this ultimately going to be a success? Am I wasting my time? Am I stupid?”

“The only way to keep those away was to go out and work. So that’s what I would do just all day long and do it and do it and do it. These negative things like the rejection of people and people saying no that I was talking about, all of the negative stuff, the thing that was counteracting that all the time was just loving it so much. I just loved it so much.”


Onward.
MaryAnn

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My Friends Write Stuff: Read These Now, Church Folk! (and Others)

I'm on my way out of town tomorrow for some much-needed vacation with the family, but I wanted to share these two books before I left. Truth be told, each is strong and deep enough to warrant its own blog post, but with time growing short and the packing list growing long, I will lean into the spirit of #WorldsOkayest and share briefly about both.

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First is The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls for Today, by Robert Williamson. Bobby is a seminary colleague, and now a fancy Bible professor, but he writes beautifully for a wide audience, which this book deserves. The book considers five biblical texts that are often considered also-rans in the Christian tradition, which is a shame, because they are so rich and, well, just plain fascinating: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. I have a passing knowledge of two of these, Ruth and Esther, only because I've preached and taught on them from time to time. The other three were largely new to me as objects of study, and Bobby is a great guide--clear and wise... and funny! "Naomi and Elimelech should have known better than to name their sons Mahlon, which hints at the Hebrew word for 'sickness,' and Chilion, which resembles the word for 'annihilation'. It’s like naming your kids Sicky Sickerson and Deathy McDeathface. Don’t do it. They will die."

Bobby looks at these texts as conversation partners with contemporary issues of the day, such as Song of Songs and human sexuality/#MeToo, and Ruth and immigration. He ably avoids "ripped from the headlines" syndrome that can plague many books that try to tackle current events, though. He pulls this off because the stories resonate across the ages, but also because the dynamics underlying so many of our current issues are also timeless, and he treats them with wisdom and care.

In addition to being a scholar, Bobby also pastors Mercy Church, a community in Little Rock that ministers with and to people experiencing homelessness and other challenges. This gives him an important and needed vantage point from which to write and reflect. 

This book is released TODAY, so if you think you'll buy it anyway, do a good deed for a writer's first book and get it today; it will boost his numbers and make him so happy. (Voice of experience.) This would be a great group study, and I hear a study guide is forthcoming. 

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The second book is Anna Carter Florence's Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community, newly released last month. Anna was a seminary professor who continues to be a mentor and light to me, and to many. One of my regrets is that I never took her "theatre in the text" course, but a lot of it is here, I suspect. Anna considers the congregation as a repertory community, similar to repertory theatre companies, who work together as a team over a long period of time, poring over texts and bringing them to life. The book makes the argument for engaging scripture as a script--not for the purpose of dramatizing it, though you could; this is a process of formation, of going deeper than head knowledge into the realm of embodied experience.

In addition to sharing why this work is important, Anna also offers a number of tools for encountering scripture together. I love her approach of considering the verbs first--who is doing what action, and in what order does this action take place? Which verbs catch our eye, and which ones do we miss on first reading? Why might the author have chosen this action word and not another? What an enlivening place to start!

Here is my endorsement of this book: I love what I do in my current ministry of writing, speaking and coaching. It's a joy to visit so many communities and be with them for a short period of time, engaging them in a deep, albeit temporary way. I do not feel called back into the pastorate. But as I read this book, I found myself longing for that role again, because it's such a gift to let this work unfold, in relationship and over time; to engage a community as they play with scripture in a spirit of exploration, curiosity and play. That's what this book does: it invites you to engage the text, not just with your head, but with your heart and body as well.

The Art of Coaching Improvisationally

“The five minutes before the coaching conversation begins are the most important five minutes of the whole encounter.”

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I remember hearing this in coach training and feeling surprised. Surely the wrap-up is most critical, I thought to myself, in which actions steps are articulated and clarified. Or, the initial check-in, which sets the stage for everything that is to come. As a coach, I now see the wisdom of this instruction. If I come into the appointment distracted and scattered, I cannot be of service. In my pre-conversation time, I try to center myself, prepare to listen deeply without agenda, and most of all, trust the process and my role in it. There’s always a bit of nervous excitement, too, because I have no idea what will happen and where we’ll end up at the conclusion of our conversation.

Interestingly, that anticipatory energy is exactly what I feel when preparing to walk out on a stage to do improv comedy.

READ THE REST at Coaching World, the blog of the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Ten for Tuesday

A compendium of links and images I found captivating recently:

How an improv class is helping the anxious

I did some interviews several weeks ago with a number of friends, talking about the intersection of improv and life--look for those videos to drop this fall. One of them talked about improv as a way of dealing with social anxiety. This article expands on that idea:

“Little by little, you realize that just because things are uncertain doesn’t mean they’re frightful.”

That'll preach!

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The sad, sad stories of the Presidential Fitness Test

Sit and reach. I sat, I reached, I farted. Ruined 5th grade. -- @cellsworthless

I was today years old before it occurred to me that there was something deeply problematic with the way we assessed fitness back when I was in school. (And according to my kids, still do.) 

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Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?

Guaranteed income, reconceived as basic income, is gaining support across the spectrum, from libertarians to labor leaders. Some see the system as a clean, crisp way of replacing gnarled government bureaucracy. Others view it as a stay against harsh economic pressures now on the horizon. The questions that surround it are the same ones that Nixon faced half a century ago. Will the public stand for such a bold measure—and, if so, could it ever work?

Two confessions. One, many of my friends are really into the idea of UBI, but I can't get my mind around it. Yet? Ever? Maybe? I don't know. Second confession is that I haven't finished this article, so I'm posting it as a TRL (to read later) for myself. 

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The Moral Ledger

In recent months, a consensus has emerged among the conservative dissidents of the Trump era: We’ll continue to oppose the president when his policies and practices are counter to our principles, they say, but also be sure to publicly give credit whenever he stakes out an agreeable position on any issue that matters.

...It is a coherent approach. It is the pragmatic one. But it is unsatisfying and unsettling. And with each casual lie, crude insult, attack on the media, slight of the intelligence community, and example of grotesque servility to Russia’s dictator, it increasingly appears morally misguided.

Why yes, that is the conservative Weekly Standard there. 

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What Men Say About #MeToo in Therapy

The #MeToo era has changed my work. If therapy has a reputation for navel gazing, this powerful moment has joined men in the room, forcing them to engage with topics that they would have earlier avoided. [I am] heartened by the private work that men are doing in therapy and how it can help us understand the relationship between what has been called “toxic masculinity” and the reservoirs of shame that fuel these behaviors.

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Find Your Address As It Was Millions Of Years Ago (+ Other Perspective Expanders) 

Software designer Ian Webster created Ancient Earth Globe, a website that lets you type in a modern address and see how its place on earth has changed over the past 750 million years. You can select views from 750 million years ago to the present and find notes about what was happening on earth at each stop.

Here's my home, when the first land plants appeared:

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Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up

Thomas Friedman:

I was invited in April to give a paid book talk here in Lancaster, and I was so blown away by the societal innovation the town’s leaders had employed to rebuild their once-struggling city and county that I decided to return with my reporter’s notebook and interview them.

Some of the leading citizens decided that “time was running out” — hence “Hourglass” — and that no cavalry was coming to save them — not from the state’s capital or the nation’s capital. They realized that the only way they could replace Armstrong and re-energize the downtown was not with another dominant company, but by throwing partisan politics out the window and forming a complex adaptive coalition in which business leaders, educators, philanthropists, social innovators and the local government would work together to unleash entrepreneurship and forge whatever compromises were necessary to fix the city.

If you're despairing at the dysfunction of the world and the state of civic discourse, this article will hearten you. It's also a great parable of adaptive leadership.

 The city has made a big push with public art, such as "Moving in the Right Direction" by Béatrice Coron, at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

The city has made a big push with public art, such as "Moving in the Right Direction" by Béatrice Coron, at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

 Sacajawea and Heather.

Sacajawea and Heather.

My friend Heather curates this labor of love, which is exactly as it's described. These images show the lovely and sometimes fierce public art that highlights the accomplishments of women in our country, while also highlighting . Many of the women are unnamed.

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With a Sniff and a Signal, These Dogs Hunt Down Threats to Bees

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In Maryland, a state employee is training dogs to inspect hives for harmful bacteria — a crucial job as honeybees are sent around the country to pollinate crops.

Dogs are so dope sometimes. (So is Maryland.)

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Toddler who beat cancer serves as flower girl—to a bone marrow donor who saved her life

Fight back with beauty.

Yes-And: Worth a Thousand Words

I've been working with Lukrative Visual Products on a series of video interviews connecting improv with life. This week I'm combing through these videos for editing, and remembering warmly the great time Luke and I had filming these rich conversations.

Luke--who's also my brother, in addition to being a wonderful videographer and producer--knew very little about improv before reading God, Improv, and the Art of Living and taking on the project, but he's really embraced the ideas wholeheartedly. Part of the fun of our collaboration is getting little notes and tidbits from him about improv. Like this image he sent recently, which perfectly illustrates one of the basic themes of the book:

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Let's all strive to be Yes-AND people today!

Kick With Your Left Foot

I recently caught an episode of the Slate podcast, Upon Further Review, while out on a run. The program, and book by the same name, look at pivotal moments in sports history and ask, What if it didn’t happen that way? (Example: What if Richard Nixon had been good at football?)

The episode I heard considered the 1999 World Cup, in which the U.S. Women’s team beat China in a penalty shootout. The program used the “what if” format to highlight the fact that, despite the World Cup victory, women’s sports still struggle to achieve the same prestige, audience, and financial support as men’s sports. 

A particular detail in the story stood out to me. Brandi Chastain was the last of the US players to attempt a penalty kick, and when she prepared to walk onto the field, coach Tony DiCicco gave her a last-minute instruction: Take the kick with your left foot, not your right.

She did, and the U.S. won the game. You probably remember Chastain’s iconic celebration photo! (I covet those arms and abs... but I digress)

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Imagine if it had gone the other way. There was a lot riding on that kick, regardless of which foot she used, but think about what it must have been like for Chastain and her coach: she had never taken a penalty kick with her left foot in a professional game. Ever.

Chastain explained the rationale for switching feet: the Chinese team was surely well-schooled in Chastain’s moves, and would have be able to anticipate where the ball might go. Changing feet made that kick less predictable. But with my improv lenses on, I also wonder whether switching things up was a way of getting Chastain out of her head, allowing her to be a little looser, less mechanical, more grounded, as she executed that historic kick. 

As I am often fond of saying, I practice and write about improv because it doesn’t come naturally to me—I like my backup plans to have backup plans. And I’m a good planner. I could probably live the rest of my life making good solid plans and carrying them out. It would probably be a fruitful life. But… it also sounds a little boring, even to me. 

I’ve been wondering what it would mean for me to “kick with my left foot”—to intentionally introduce some unpredictability into my life. To do the opposite of what I’m conditioned for and comfortable with, just to see what happens. To surprise myself. What would it mean for you or your organization to do the same? What would we learn? What do we have to lose? And best of all, what do we stand to gain?

I went looking for more information about this World Cup story, and unsurprisingly, Chastain had practiced kicking with her left foot a lot. A lot. Yes, she’d never deployed that move in a game, but she’d practiced and prepared and conditioned. And when the moment came—the decisive moment—she was ready. 

And that’s how life works, isn’t it? We do what's ours to do, day by day. We pursue our “craft,” whatever that might be; we explore what it means to be our authentic selves; we learn, we engage in rituals and traditions, we practice—so that at moments when we are most needed in our communities and families, we are ready to give our best effort for the sake of tikkun olam, the healing of the world. As Danusha Veronica Goska writes, “When we study the biographies of our heroes, we learn that they spent years in preparation doing tiny, decent things before one historical moment propelled them to center stage.”

Tiny, decent things. 
Tiny, decent, surprising things. 
Tiny, decent, surprising things… so we’re ready to jump in, with either foot forward.

Onward,
MaryAnn

This reflection was sent to my email newsletter; subscribe to receive articles such as this, twice a month, right in your inbox.

 

Ten for Tuesday

I'm away this week at Cub Scout camp, so in my absence, here are some links that I hope inspire, confound and entertain. Onward:

THE STATE OF THE WORLD

Lots here this week, starting with A Janitor Preserves the Seized Possessions of Migrants. Like belts:

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How Entitled Parents Hurt Schools

Careful readers of my work will remember the story from Sabbath in the Suburbs of the "bus stop moms" who petitioned for a change in bus schedule such that the kids at our stop ended up getting home four minutes earlier. Many similar behaviors in this article, and their effects on schools. 

Research: Women Ask for Raises as Often as Men, but Are Less Likely to Get Them

Sigh... hard not to get pretty "burn it all down" up in here. (Glimmer of hope: the gap is almost non-existent among younger populations.)

After Six Days, Portland’s ICE Blockade Is a City of More Than 80 Tents

The protest, blocking the front doors and driveway of ICE's building along Southwest Macadam Avenue, has forced the suspension of agency work since June 18. The Portland  occupation, the first nationwide, is an attempt to disrupt President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy that has treated refugees seeking asylum as criminals and separated small children from their parents.

Portland gotta Portland... and I'm glad they do.

Unfair Four-Square

A kids' game that teaches about inequality and injustice. (Hint: not all squares are the same size.) Great for youth groups to address issues of privilege.

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FIGHT BACK WITH BEAUTY

I love the results of the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest. Current favorite:

  Another Rainy day in Nagasaki, Kyushu. Hiro Kurashina

Another Rainy day in Nagasaki, Kyushu. Hiro Kurashina

Did you see Incredibles 2, and the lovely short film, Bao, which preceded the movie? Here's an exploration of the short's cultural resonances.

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LIVE AND LOVE BETTER

From the Improvised Life website: Understand That the Glass Is Already Broken. I've been thinking about this one for days.

Feeling totally overwhelmed by the pace of news? Here's a twitter thread written by a former CIA military analyst, who had to manage information and misery overload for a living. Good, practical, comforting advice here.

And from the On Being blog, We Are Not Middle Aged: What Medieval Women Taught Me About My 40s. Oh how I loved this one. I love my spouse, who is my favorite person, and the thought of losing him makes me ache, but I also know that if he dies before I do, I'm joining or establishing a beguinage

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BONUS: ANNALS OF SELF PROMOTION

Lastly and leastly, I was recently interviewed for the Give and Take podcast. Fun conversation! Also check out some recent reviews of God, Improv, and the Art of Living at the Presbyterian Outlook and Anglican Journal (Canada).