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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Be Bored! Be Brilliant!

I've recently discovered the New Tech City podcast, and am liking it a lot. Here are folks who love and use technology and are interested in how it's impacting our world: "No jargon – just compelling stories about how technology is changing our lives for better and for worse." A recent episode followed a 16 year old girl living in the NYC suburbs, resulting in the fun and informative 9 Things We Learned about Phones from a Teenager. The New Tech City folks have a new initiative that starts next week: a project called Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out. And it couldn't come at a better time for me.

BoredBrilliant_SplashPage

As I prepare to leave Tiny Church and strike out on my own to write and lead retreats and other events, I've been wondering (OK, worrying) about how to keep myself productive and on track. As the New Tech City folks admitted, lots of people make big creative plans only to fritter away the time. It has always been thus, but the Internet makes that much easier.

One part of the answer for me is a part-time writing/editing gig I'm in the process of negotiating (more on that soon). Having a bit of structure will have a ripple effect on the less structured parts of this writing call. (Plus it's a cool organization with a great mission---I can't wait to start.)

Another part of the answer: getting a reign on my social media and technology use.

Smartphones and tablets have the potential to eradicate boredom and whittle away our downtime. But the New Tech City folks argue (with neuroscientists and psychologists to back them up) that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. One researcher found that people who were given a boring task (copying numbers from a phone book) were able to come up with lots more and better ideas for solving a simple problem than those who didn't have this so-called "idle time."

So far 11,000 people have signed up for the Bored and Brilliant challenge. Phase 1 is currently underway: tracking your smartphone use via specific apps---you can read about on the NTC website. I've been using the Moment app for iPhone and I have to admit, it's not perfect. It tallies up whenever you're on your phone, but I use my phone for GPS and for work, which skew my results. Still, it's an illuminating exercise.

Phase 2 will start February 2: a different challenge each day. From their website:

Our big challenge week starts February 2. They'll be issued via a mini-podcast episode for you every day that week. If you subscribe to the New Tech City podcast, you'll get the challenges automatically downloaded to your device as soon as they're ready. Subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or via RSS.

Each of those mini-episodes will be short and sweet, explaining the logic behind the day's challenge, along with some research and/or personal stories to help you achieve your goal in the challenge. We'll send out an early morning email to keep you in the loop and on track each day that week, and you can (yes, we see the irony) follow along on social media as well.

I'm in. How about you? I'd love to have some company in this boredom challenge! I have no idea what the challenges will be, but if they lend themselves to blogging some reactions, I'll be here. And yes, as the podcasters admit, there is irony in using technology to reflect on the excesses of technology. Life is marvelously complicated, no?

Here's My Nest. Show Me Yours?

It's cold here, and school is closed, so we are hunkering down on this day that I'm choosing to call "a bonus day of winter break" rather than "colossal monkey-wrench in my plans to get back to a routine." Our family is fortunate to have the shelter of this warm, albeit not fancy, house. It's a good place to nest. I've been thinking about nests lately, because mine had gotten out of hand. Thankfully I got a scanner for Christmas/birthday, having never had one. I've been busily scanning years' worth of papers, photos, and kid artwork. My corner of the blue room (yes, it's a real physical place!) has been cluttered and cramped with all of this stuff, and it's nice to have a chance to clear it out.

Studies show that too much tidiness stifles people's creativity---they need a moderate amount of disarray in order to feel loose enough to create. Either the mess around my desk was beyond "moderate," or I'm wired differently, because the clutter was taking tiny nibbles out of my mental health. A tidy, harmonious space allows me to think more clearly. It will get messy again, but for now, it gives me a happy feeling and makes me to want to write, knit, create a book, bake... it makes me want to make stuff.

Here is my shelf of honor, containing those books that have inspired me over the years. It's not that I consult them all that often, but each of them has played a role in my writing life thus far. I like having these folks nearby:

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On the next shelf down I have a birthday card I sent to my dad a long time ago. He adored it and kept it for decades in a frame in his study---my stepmother returned it to me last year. As far as I know, my dad never sat on the roof with his morning coffee... but he's the type who would have:

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On my desk itself I have a strawberry candle, a mother and child soapstone sculpture, and a framed postcard of the nunnery at Iona.

I wonder if you have a similar shelf, or a place in your house or office that's been carefully curated with inspiring things. I'd love to see it. I don't think WordPress lets you post pictures in comments, but you could post them on your blog/Facebook page, or email them to me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail, and maybe I could share them in a future post?

We aren't just collections of disembodied ideas, you know. We are grounded in particular places. It's lovely to see what those places look like.

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Disclaimer: It can be a trap to spend too much time on a shelf of honor or a perfectly appointed study. You don't need a special pen, or for the sunlight to come in just so, before you can make things. That's classic procrastination. Just sit down in your chair, the one with the bad ergonomics, and start.

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Oh, and psst... the price of Sabbath in the Suburbs just went down on Amazon (at last!). Order it here, or at Chalice Press

Upcycle the Blue Hymnal: Five Easy Advent Crafts

Like many Presbyterian churches, Tiny Church recently purchased a set of the new hymnal, Glory to God. (I love it.) Now, of course, we have stacks and stacks of blue (1990) hymnals we are no longer using. We'll keep a set of them, but we're starting to talk about what to do with the extras. Are there fledgling church communities or nursing homes that could use them? Undoubtedly... though I suspect many of these organizations will be inundated with offers of old hymnals since there's a lot of us suddenly trying to unload these things.

If and when we find a new home for the hymnals, there will be some random extras that are in such poor condition that they can't be passed along. I myself have 2 or 3 hymnals floating around my house and study, and they are not fit to donate.

So... how about upcycling the copies that have lived a good life and are ready for some transformation? Old sheet music is beautiful and historic and a lovely material to work with. It's good stewardship to give these old books new life.

Presenting: five easy Advent crafts using the blue hymnal!

I enjoy doing things with my hands, but I'm not skilled. So my suggestions are meant to be simple enough even for the craft-challenged. Got an Advent ministry event coming up? Sunday School lessons to plan? Potluck dinner in need of an activity? Here are my five best suggestions for EASY crafts with the blue hymnal... or any other sheet music or pretty paper. (Of course, I recommend you use hymns 1-60 for these crafts: Advent and Christmas.)

Stamped Music Ornaments

Upcycled Vintage Book Paper Holiday Ornament Tutorial

My girls and I are in the middle of making these right now and they are pretty and simple to make. The circles of music are so pretty, and the snatches of lyrics are festive. I got a set of Christmas-themed stamps and some burlap ribbon and we're good to go. We're putting sheet music on each side so there's no "wrong" side.

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Clear Globe Ornaments

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This picture is done with a wedding invitation but it would be easy to create strips of hymns and coil them inside the ornaments. Add a decorative ribbon and you're done. Here's one set of plastic ornaments I found.

For this project and the one above, it would be nice to have a small tag explaining the source of the music... especially if these are gifts.

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Advent Poems

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This is a craft and a contemplative activity rolled into one---great for a Quiet Day or prayer gathering. Take a favorite Advent/Christmas hymn (or maybe a non-favorite) and read through it for words or phrases you might string together to make a new poem. Circle those words and doodle the rest of the page as shown.

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Paper Chain

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Oldie but goodie! Use strips of hymnal pages to make a garland for the tree or a Christmas "countdown" chain. I can report that vertical strips of the hymnal are a good length for stringing together.

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Paper Trees

CONFESSIONS OF A PLATE ADDCIT Easy Vintage Paper Trees_thumb[5]

Scroll to the bottom of this page for instructions. This is the most complicated of the five options here, but still not all that challenging.  

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I've started a Pinterest board with these and other ideas for upcycling the old hymnals. With each liturgical season---Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost---I will choose my favorites and create a post just like this one. In the meantime you can follow my "upcycling-the-hymnal" board (or all of my boards).

Speaking of ways to connect, starting later this month I'll be writing weekly email articles including tips and inspiration to have a "Sabbathy" Advent. Sign up for those here.

What Happens in the Upper Room: A Case in Point

A short follow-up to yesterday's post about bidding farewell to children's Sunday School at Tiny Church, in favor of the Upper Room and other activities. For several weeks in late April/early May we adapted the "ribbon ritual" that took place at the NEXT Conference in Charlotte in March. At Tiny Church, the ritual built over a series of weeks and ended on Pentecost. The previous week, people had written their names on ribbons with different prayer words they selected. Then on Pentecost, we handed out the ribbons and folks were invited to take those home and pray for that person over the coming weeks.

We had the children hand out the ribbons before going to the Upper Room. One of the children spent the rest of the service creating a sort of "cocoon" in which to put the prayer ribbon she received. This was not an assignment. This was her own initiative, using nothing but paper and tape.

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I especially love the lid that tapes shut for safekeeping. And of course, the heart.

Children do listen, process and respond.

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Speaking of heart, I am off this afternoon to one of my heart places, Mo-Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where I will lead the good folks of St. Philip Presbyterian Church in a Sabbath retreat. My piece is minimal: a few presentations and a sermon on Sunday. The real Sabbath comes from walks under the grape arbor and across the catwalk, BBQ by the river, and long hours in God's hot tub, the rapids of the Guadalupe River.

St. Philip is where Robert and I married almost 19 years ago, where I first felt called to ministry, and where I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament 10 years ago. It will be lovely to go home to those great folks, many of whom I remember, some of whom are friends I haven't met yet.

Friday Link Love

Can you believe this is my 108th Link Love? That's about 2 years of collecting bits and pieces of stuff. Like a magpie. I should probably go on hiatus at some point. Don't want to get stuck in a rut. Maybe this summer. In the meantime... here we go!

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Modern Art Desserts -- Brain Pickings

This is from a few weeks ago--I've been saving it.

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More at the link.

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Perfectionism as Paralysis -- David Foster Wallace

Courtesy of The Dish and a good adjunct to my post about perfectionism and failure the other day, an animated clip of DFW talking in 1996 about perfectionism, ambition... and tennis:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=w5R8gduPZw4

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The Good Kind of Crazy -- David Lose

After filling me in on some of the latest and greatest ideas she’s had about the church she leads, she stopped and said, “You know, you’re about the only person I know who doesn’t think I’m crazy when I talk this way.”

“Actually,” I replied with a smile, “I think you’re crazy too. But the church needs crazy right now.”

...My friend is perceived as a little crazy. She’s not content with the same old thing, only better. She wants something new. So she has the youth of her church lead worship and participate in the sermon. She doesn’t do confirmation anymore, but instead finds ways to gather her youth around conversations about faith, life, and life lived faithfully. And this summer they’re not singing hymns at her church, but pop songs. And talking about popular YouTube videos. And other crazy stuff.

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On that note... maybe this is an example of the good kind of crazy, albeit from another era:

100 Years Later, a Time Capsule is Opened -- Yahoo! News

The First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City dug up and opened its Century Chest, a time capsule that was buried under the church 100 years ago.

The artifacts inside the copper chest were remarkably well intact. Credit for that goes to the church's Ladies Aide Society, the group that buried the capsule a century ago. The group buried the chest in double concrete walls and under 12 inches of concrete, according to Fox News.

As my friend Alex Hendrickson said, "Varsity level church ladies." Seriously.

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For a Student of Theology, Poetry Reverberates -- NPR

My favorite class in seminary was The Preacher and the Poet, so Robert sent this to me with the subject line "MaryAnn bait."

I read a lot of theology, both for my degree and for my professional track, and sometimes I think poetry, whether or not it's explicitly religious, is one of the best modes that theology, or talking about God, can take. ... Poetry is a form where the language is under so much pressure, and that can really bring about these wonderful surprises and insights in our ways of talking about God or thinking about our faith.

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The Best Lesson My Kids Ever Taught Me -- Practicing Families

The author describes the experience of having a newborn and always having to think about the next thing. Ohhhh yeah. That kind of extreme time maximization is part of what led us to Sabbath, when we can turn off (or at least mute) those endless calculations:

I was always planning ahead for the next step of the operation. It’s breakfast time. Eat because we have to get dressed! Get dressed because we have to go to baby class! Finish baby class so we can get home for nap! Get nap started so I can have writing time! Hurry, hurry through writing before the baby wakes up! Get ready so we can go to the park! Finish up at the park so we can get home so I can make dinner! And on and on…We were still on that hamster wheel, still always urgently moving forward to the next item on the agenda.

It wasn’t my schedule that was the problem. It was the fact that during every activity we engaged in, my mind was already on the next one.

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Journey to the Center of the Earth: Glimpse Inside an Active Volcano -- Colossal

I didn't do Kid Link Love this week but if I had, this would've been featured. Volcanoes are so awesome. This planet is doin' stuff:

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Speaking of Kid Links, I shared this one with my girls:

A Wet Towel in Space is Not Like a Wet Towel on Earth -- NPR

I've gotta think that zero gravity tourism will happen in our lifetimes. Which is irrelevant for me since I get motion sick on a porch swing. So I'll have to content myself with videos like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o8TssbmY-GM

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Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. We've got a party Saturday night and I'm leading a retreat after church on Sunday. A full weekend but a good one. Peace.

Innovate and Imitate: What's Cooking at Tiny Church

venezuela51-590x442 Our kids like to ask us, "Who invented ________?" Some of the answers are easy: Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Percy Spencer. (OK, we had to look up the last one---he invented the microwave.)

But inventions are hard to pin down to a single person or moment. Who invented the Internet? You could come up with a single name, but really it's the product of a lot of discoveries and advances. Even big names like Bell and Edison and Spencer stood on the shoulders of people who came before.

Some months ago I read an article about how creative people are called to innovate and imitate. The article is long gone, but it went something like this: if there's an approach out there that works, use it, even if competitors are doing the same thing. Imitate without shame the good stuff going on out there. Where you distinguish yourself is in how you innovate---how you make changes and improve on an idea, product or service.

Innovation is vital, but not everything needs to be innovated.

The key is to find the right balance and configuration of imitation and innovation so that you provide something unique, yet don't wear yourself out reinventing the wheel.

This has played out at Tiny Church in a number of different ways. For example, in worship. I love crafting liturgy---writing prayers, thinking up cool interactive elements, and so forth. I also love preaching and crafting a strong sermon. But I simply don't have the creative energy to do both.

Over the years I've noticed that there's not much difference in people's response when I knock myself out writing liturgy v. borrowing stuff. So for liturgy, I imitate. I grab things from the Internet and adapt them. I mine Pinterest and Theresa Cho's blog. I incorporate prayers from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion.

But for the sermon, I innovate. That's the piece of worship that gets my best creative self, because that's the piece that people respond to. It also happens to be the element of worship I'm most passionate about... and I'm sure those things are related.

I suspect many of you do this as well. I sometimes feel a little guilty, like I should be crafting everything from scratch. (I feel guilt easily, have you noticed that?) The innovate/imitate balance helps me get over myself.

Another element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we're in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our Journey to Jerusalem, in which we encouraged folks to walk, bike, run, swim, etc. and turn in their miles each week to see if we could make it from Falls Church to Jerusalem by Easter. I stole this idea, blatantly and unimaginatively, from someone at the Presbyterian CREDO Conference. I loved it because it connects the biblical story and our lives as pilgrimages with health and fitness.

Well, a funny thing happened. We got to Jerusalem and the next week people started asking, "I've got miles to turn in. Who do I give them to?" So when our transformation team met last week we decided to keep the journey going. We're going to spend the rest of 2013 wandering around the world, plotting our paths using the big map in our fellowship hall. We have members who have lived all over the world so when we arrive at a place, we will experience something of life in that place. Our first stop will be the Democratic Republic of Congo where one of our members has traveled countless times with her job at USAID. We hope these stops will involve some kind of cultural experience, a learning about how Christians experience life and ministry in that place, and maybe even a mission opportunity that connects to that place. We have a general idea of where we'll end up but we're also going to be open to the Spirit.

(This idea came completely from the team and not from me, but I'm realizing now that these pilgrimage stops are akin to Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that features food from conflicted countries as a way of educating patrons about these places.)

Imitate... and innovate.

How are you doing this dance in your own context?

Link Love for Kids: Losing Your Marbles

Because Friday is a long way away to wait for link love... my second in an irregular series on kid-appropriate goodies on the Internet. Seven Incredible Marble Machines -- Paul Grundbacher (Colossal)

The girls and I attracted quite a crowd with these while waiting for choir to start yesterday. Several videos at the link above, but here's a picture of just one of them. Enjoy.

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