Emailing Beyond the Grave

medium_15612803237I'm a big fan of David Eagleman, author, neuroscientist, and fellow Rice grad (peck 'em Owls!). His book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is one of the most imaginative, dare I say spirit-filled books I've read in recent years. And he's a mainstay on Radiolab. Eagleman has a startup venture (a few years old by now) called Deathswitch, which lets people schedule various technological actions that occur in the event of their deaths. You set the system to contact you every so often and ask for a password in reply. If you do not answer, the system assumes you have died, which triggers whatever actions you designate---sending password and bank information to your executor, say, or emailing crucial files to co-workers. But the beauty of the system is, you can set any action or message you want. So you can write a note to your spouse that gets sent on your 50th anniversary, for example---or get the last word in an argument. (Or both: Happy anniversary, my darling. You'll always be my lobster. And we WERE on a break.)

One of my favorite chapters in this tech book I'm writing (Lord will it ever get done?) is the one on death, and how technology impacts the way we grieve. I find the idea of a deathswitch fascinating. And Eagleman's jovial optimism is appealing: he "likes to imagine the many sensational messages, waiting to be delivered: unexpected declarations of love, confessions of secrets or crimes, or the location of buried cash."

It also raises some compelling questions. What would it be like to receive love notes from a long-deceased spouse who remains frozen in time, as the recipient ages and changes? Would these messages become a burden? If this technology takes off and someone declines to participate, will the absence of a message at key moments cause further sadness? How does a continued "relationship" help or hinder the grieving process?

On a positive note, what a gift it would be to think about what you'd like to say to your children and loved ones in the future. You can do this "legacy" work regardless of technology, to be sure, and many people do... but knowing that these messages will be delivered (rather than forgotten in a desk drawer somewhere) gives the task an increased sense of purpose and urgency.

What do you think? Would you partake of this technology? What would your deathswitches be?

photo credit: StencilArchive.org via photopin cc

Death and Dying on the Internet

I'm back from Collegeville and a fruitful week of writing. I've now got a very (very) rough draft for book two, currently titled Spirituality in the Smartphone Age.  It's a shorter book than Sabbath in the Suburbs, and I'm still planning to publish it via e-book, though a print option will be available. I've been in touch with an editor and a friend who does e-book production for a living. This thing will happen. The final chapter will be about how the Internet has impacted the way we think about death and dying. It's turning out to be one of my favorite chapters to research and write. Here's some of the conversation about the topic on Facebook.

One of the cool things about writing a book is that people send you things. Today Dave True, a friend and professor at Wilson College, sent along this post from the Religion and American History blog by Laura Arnold Leibman. Key quote:

In The Hour of Our Death (1987), Philippe Ariès argues that an "invisible death model" has dominated twentieth-century American life.  In this model,

Death's medicalization distanced the community from the dying and the deceased.  Individualism ruled, nature was conquered, social solidarity waned, and not the afterworld but family ties mattered.  Western society surrounded death with so much shame, discomfort, and revulsion that Gorer (1965) even spoke of a pornography of death.  Death became concealed in hospitals, nursing homes, and trailer parks.  Yet, the death of death remained, a fear corresponding more to people's social than biological death. 

Accompanying this dispossession of the dying person is a "denial of mourning" and the subsequent invention of new funerary rituals in the United States (Philippe Ariès, "The Reversal of Death," Death in America, ed. Stannard [1975], 136).  Excessive displays of emotion both by the person dying and those they leave behind are considered taboo and "embarrassments."  ...

What interested my students, however, was the impact of the internet on the "invisible death model."  Have we entered a new era regarding death and loss?  They noticed in particular three results of the internet.

Check out the post for Leibman's observations.

And in case you missed it, Katherine Willis Pershey also sent this along--a beautiful expression of solidarity and care for bereaved parents. Their little one spent her entire life in the NICU and they wanted to see her pretty face without the tubes. Members of the Reddit community responded:

6752ec7b0

I like the middle one, but they are all haunting. And they are all an offering to total strangers, which makes them beautiful.

Make It Secure: A Post for Good Friday

medium_8436625358 Matthew 27: The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day." ...Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

It’s downright comical. Pontius Pilate and his men actually think that sealing the stone and stationing guards at the door are all it will take to keep the body safely inside the tomb. Pilate’s power is considerable, as far as it goes. But he has no idea what kind of power is at work.

Some folks have convinced themselves that might makes right, that the ones with the money and the status run the show. But they’re wrong. Desmond Tutu used to say to the apartheid government, “You may have the guns, you may have all this power, but you have already lost. Come: join the winning side.”

It was forty-six years ago this month when a bullet pierced the cheek, jaw, and spine of a man standing on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room. He was pronounced dead an hour later, and in that moment, the civil rights movement lost its most visible and captivating leader. The days following Martin Luther King’s assassination were bleak. Riots broke out in a hundred cities. More militant voices urged their followers to take up arms against white America. And the Pontius Pilates of the world chuckled.

And yet here we are, decades later, and King’s words pierce our hearts as much as they ever did. His dream still endures. His vision of non-violence has deepened and expanded to guide every social movement from Cape Town to Tiananmen to Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, the powers that be continue to insist that sealing the stone will tamp things down, that a bullet will silence a voice and a movement for justice.

They honestly think that death will have the last word.

I feel a little sorry for them.

~

photo credit: Demmer S via photopin cc

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The message above was adapted from The Fellowship of Prayer, a Lent devotional I wrote for Chalice Press in 2012. A few copies are still available.

Friday Link Love: Doubt, Virginia Woolf, and a Real-Life Lord of the Flies

A couple of quick me-links: Last minute, preachers, I'm at The Hardest Question this week with pieces on the gospel and Acts.

I also did a webinar on Sabbath for the Presbyterian Outlook this week. I covered some stuff that's in the book but a lot that's not, including how to get congregations thinking about and practicing Sabbath. You can order a DVD here.

Enough about me. Here we go!

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The Politics of Play -- Orion

A plea for a little more free-range parenting:

Some schools forbid children to play in the snow for fear of legal action in the event of an accident. We live in a litigious age, but this is about far more than that: it is about the kind of children we are creating.

By insidiously demanding that children always seek permission for the most trivial of actions, that they must obey the commands of others at every turn, we ensure that children today are not so much beaten into obedience as eroded into it. A risk-averse society creates a docility and loss of autonomy that has a horrible political shadow: a populace malleable, commandable, and blindly obedient.

The author also talks about a real-life Lord of the Flies incident... that didn't end like Lord of the Flies:

One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After fifteen months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

If anyone knows more about this story, please let me know. I would love to read more. Google didn't turn up much.

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Principal Fires Security Guards to Hire Art Teachers--and Transforms Elementary School -- NBC

Thanks to Marci Glass, who said, "This is what it means to live the future you envision." Yes:

In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

Swords into ploughshares.

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How Not to Die -- Atlantic

My friend Shala linked to this article on her Caterpickles blog. Not a happy topic, but an important one.

Dr. Angelo Volandes is making a film that he believes will change the way you die. The studio is his living room in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; the control panel is his laptop; the camera crew is a 24-year-old guy named Jake; the star is his wife, Aretha Delight Davis. Volandes, a thickening mesomorph with straight brown hair that is graying at his temples, is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and looks like he belongs at a football game. Davis, a beautiful woman of Guyanese extraction with richly braided hair, is dressed in a white lab coat over a black shirt and stands before a plain gray backdrop.

“Remember: always slow,” Volandes says.

“Sure, hon,” Davis says, annoyed. She has done this many times.

Volandes claps to sync the sound. “Take one: Goals of Care, Dementia.”

As a pastor I would love to get my hands on the video series Dr. Volandes is creating.

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A Prayer for Children of All Ages -- Ashley-Anne Masters

Mother's Day is coming up, and then Father's Day. Both of these days can be very hard for folks; Ashley-Anne offers a prayer for use in worship:

God our perfect parent, we pray:

For those who will send flowers to their mom and those who will put flowers on their mom’s grave

For those who wish their children could have met their grandparents and those who will tell their parents that they will soon be grandparents

For those who will make new memories and those who will carry on old traditions

For sons named after their fathers and for those who don’t know their father’s name . . .

More at the link.

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On Craftsmanship: The Only Surviving Recording of Virginia Woolf's Voice -- Brain Pickings

True confession: I didn't listen to the whole thing. But it's very moving to hear her voice.

~

Speaking of writing:

A Backwards Pitch -- Ruth Everhart

I highlighted Ruth's book, Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, a few weeks ago on Link Love; I like how she puts into practice Seth Godin's advice to "say it backwards":

 My book about pilgrimage is not for everyone.

~ If you venerate icons you may find this book to be irreverent, even off-putting.

~

And a few things I posted on social media earlier this week, but they bear repeating:

9 Questions to Ask about Social Media -- 99U

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living it now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?

~

The Pain When Children Fly the Nest -- Adam Gopnik, the Guardian

I'll read just about any topic, so long as Gopnik writes it. And we are years away from kids leaving the nest, but this still spoke to me.

I suspect he will return one Christmas soon with an icy, exquisite, intelligent young woman in black clothes, with a single odd piercing somewhere elegant - ear or nose or lip - who will, when I am almost out of earshot, issue a gentle warning: "Listen, with the wedding toasts - could you make sure your father doesn't get, you know, all boozy and damp and weepy?" My son will nod at the warning.

~

And this one was posted to the church's Facebook page:

To Doubt Is Christian -- The Dish

The Dish quotes Christopher Hutton:

Doubt is a thing which many Christians see as opposing their faith. Many have fought it and its prevalence in the modern minds of man. 19th century pastor Robert Turnbull once  stated that “Doubt, indeed, is the disease of this inquisitive, restless age.” Many people react negatively towards any feelings of doubt that they may have, fearing that this doubt means that they aren’t fully committed to God.

However, this fear of doubt is dreadfully dangerous. Not every man who doubts his faith loses it. And if they look at most human lives, they’ll find that if one doesn’t doubt, then one isn’t human. It is a necessary idea for any believer, for it acts as the catalyst and tool for a man or woman to grow.

Then a quote from Tim Keller:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.

Would be interesting to have a church group study on doubt.

~

And finally... there's this!

rundisney 2013 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Female Winner Renee High_0

M-I-C... see you in January!

K-E-Y... why? Because I'm running the Disney Marathon!

I'm sure there will be much weeping and consternation on this blog over the next several months, but for now... yeah. Inhale. Exhale.

~

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday Link Love: Death with Dignity, a Real-Live Forrest Gump... and a Cross-Dressing Mayor

And they're off! Lots of video today:

~

Cross-Dressing for the Gospel -- David Lose

I'm on a big David Lose kick right now. I posted this one last week to Twitter but saw it too late for last week's Link Love. Stu Rasmussen is a man in Silverton, Oregon who is a cross-dresser. He was also elected mayor of the town:

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone was wild about this development. The election was very close and his doubters didn’t stop doubting. Some because of their religious convictions, some simply because cross-dressing just goes against their sensibilities.

But then something else amazing happened. After his election, and before his inauguration, a group from the Westbro Baptist Church came to town. (A quick side-note: this isn’t your typical Baptist church. In fact, this is an extremist group not affiliated with any major Christian tradition.) They came with signs – “God hates Silverton,” “God hates your mayor” (and these were the more polite signs!) – and with their slurs, determined to protest Stu as an abomination.

And although Stu encouraged people not to give them the time of day, folks in the town staged a counter-protest…where lots and lots of ordinary, everyday folks cross-dressed. Men dressed as women, grandmas dressed as men. Kids joined in. Liberals, conservatives, young, old, on this day in Silverton it just didn’t matter. They were determined to stand with Stu, to identify with him, to stand up for him.

That'll preach.

BTW, the story originally aired on Radiolab, which is my favorite podcast bar none.

~

I also got this video from David:

Bus Station Sonata -- Arts Council of England (video)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0BvGbJhig1Q]

From the site: "The work was created with commuters and passers-by from the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle UK. Most of the participants are non players, many had never touched a piano before, we just convinced them to donate a note or two."

The delight on some of the faces is palpable... and I love the end.

~

How Not to Spend Your Whole Day on Facebook -- BigThink (video)

An important tip for procrastination:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fQkgiizWNNk]

~

12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit -- Harvard Business Review

When to hold 'em, when to fold 'em:

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this [is] a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?

Etc.

~

Massachusetts Vote May Change How the Nation Dies -- Slate

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act has been in effect for the past 14 years, and the state of Washington followed suit with a similar law in 2008. Despite concerns of skeptics, the sky has not fallen; civilization in the Northwest remains intact; the poor, disenfranchised, elderly, and vulnerable have not been victimized; and Oregon has become a leader in the provision of excellent palliative medicine services.

But the Massachusetts ballot question has the potential to turn death with dignity from a legislative experiment into the new national norm.

I support so-called Death with Dignity statutes. When properly defined and carried out, they are sane and compassionate.

This article profiles some of the physicians involved in this movement:

Perhaps it takes the dramatic actions of a flawed advocate like Dr. Jack Kevorkian to catalyze change that leads to the appearance of more reasonable and likable physician reformers. Physicians of this new generation do not seek out or necessarily welcome the role, but, having accepted it, they are irreversibly changed. Most are modest, highly intellectual, and intensely private professionals who are drawn to medicine because it offers a challenge and an opportunity to help relieve distress.

...After her patient’s death, Dr. Kate concluded, “I think Cody taught me that ‘first, do no harm,’ is different for every patient. Harm for her would have meant taking away the control and saying, ‘No, no, no! You have got to do this the way your body decides, as opposed to the way you as the person decides.’”

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Real-Life Forrest Gump Walks Across America in 178 Days -- Oddity Central

A friend sent this to me and wondered: "Sabbathy? He talks about taking the trip because he had stopped appreciating things and wanted to slow down his life." Could be...

He left only with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, his backpack and a few thing in it, determined to survive only on the goodness of the people he met on the road. He depended on them for the most basic needs, like food, water and a place to sleep, and whenever he got money and gift cards he didn’t actually need to survive, he just gave them away to the homeless. He said the point was always to give away more than he took, and added that the biggest takeaway from this epic experience is to have realized that “mankind is better than I ever dreamed.”

This is one of those "it takes all kinds" stories. And I don't mean that disparagingly---it really does take all kinds.

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Does Brainstorming Work? -- RSA (video)

No, but you should watch this anyway because it's entertaining:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RgPIkx2JyQU]

~

Peace be with you...

Friday Link Love: Mrs. Jesus, Mandatory Sandwiches, and a Wee Bit of Death

Let me first dispense with the Links of Self Promo: New Website // Order the Book // Sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway

OK. Now that that's done...

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Interactive Cloud of 6,000 Light Bulbs -- O.C.L.

That's Obligatory Colossal Link:

Gorgeous!

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Small Good Things -- Paris Review

A lovely little essay about how writers illuminate the sacramental nature of ordinary things, particularly food.

The author talks about Raymond Carver's story "A Small Good Thing," which you may recall is about a couple who lose their 8 year old son, and they are tormented by the phone calls from a hapless baker who is demanding payment for the birthday cake he made for the boy.

I performed that piece for Prose Interp competitions in high school. I read it now and cringe to think of my performance. What did I know at 18 about the heartbreak within that story? Nothing. I knew nothing.

~

Famous Writers on Death and Mortality -- Flavorwire

I'll say it---Christopher Hitchens was a pretentious old crank---but I cannot wait to read his book Mortality. In honor of its publication, here are 20 writers on the last great mystery:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.

I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography — to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

By the way, if you haven't read it, I highly recommend Sum: 40 Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman. So, so imaginative and poignant.

~

How the President Gets Things Done -- 99U

I really like 99U. Lots of cool ideas there. Here are some things that Barack Obama does to make his life easier and more efficient, including offloading trivial decisions like what to eat and wear.

#5 warmed my Sabbath-loving heart:

5. Your personal time is sacred.

The president has three moments in his schedule that are unquestionably his: the morning workout, his dinner with his daughters, and the nighttime after his family falls asleep. Each block of time serves a different role for Obama: the gym keeps his body in good health, the late night helps him catch up on work, and the dinner is especially sacred time, with the added benefit of giving the president a bit of perspective outside his hectic workday.

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Historian Says Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus' Wife -- NYT

This has been making the rounds. This scrap of papyrus suggests that Jesus might have had a wife---it would not have been unusual at the time, folks---and  that there were female disciples (not earth-shattering to anyone who's actually read the gospels---sisters are all over that good news!). Here's the pertinent bit:

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Dr. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

People have been wondering and arguing about this guy for a very, very long time. Disagreement over contested truths are nothing new. Giddy-up and praise be.

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Should Lunch Breaks Be Mandatory? -- BBC

I'm not sure how I feel about mandating lunch breaks. Especially for people with a long commute and/or kids at home, there's something to be said for compressing the workday so they can get home at a decent hour. Still:

One obvious reason to do lunch is to slow down and gain some perspective. If we burrow into work, and don't come up for air during the day, we will have a hard time thinking strategically or putting our daily tasks into broader context.

By taking a lunch break, we can think outside the box. In the interviews I conducted for my book, I was struck by how many senior leaders stressed the importance of strategic "downtime" - lunch or some other block of an hour or more per day - to break up their thinking and spur them to be more strategic.

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What Americans Actually Do All Weekend, in 2 Graphs -- NPR

What do you see in this graph? I see:

  1. A lot of sleep.
  2. Religious activities are only 37 minutes... and yet many worship services last an hour. So what's up with the other 23 minutes? Oh right: sleeping.

Well, whatever the weekend holds for you, I hope that the leisure bit is a nice big piece of the graph.

Treehouses, Letting Go, and the Definition of Food: Friday Link Love

Let's start with a feel-good: 97 Year Old Woman Gets a Diploma -- Washington Post

She had to drop out during the Depression:

“When I told her she was getting a diploma, she sobbed as if a pain had been relieved from her heart,” [her daughter] said. “I never knew what it meant to her. She wanted this.”

~

The Minister's Treehouse -- Colossal

A self house! Built over 11 years and without blueprints:

More at the link.

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What is Food? -- New York Times

Mark Bittman doesn't mince words in his support of Mayor Bloomberg's limiting the size of sugary drinks that are sold in New York:

If the mayor were to ban 32-ounce mugs of beer at Yankee Stadium after a number of D.U.I. arrests — and, indeed, there are limits to drinking at ballparks — we would not be hearing his nanny tendencies. (And certainly most non-smokers, at least, are ecstatic that smoking in public places — including Central Park — is increasingly forbidden.) No one questions the prohibition on the use of SNAP for tobacco and alcohol. And that’s because we accept that these things are not food.

...

Sugar-sweetened beverages don’t meet [the standard of 'food'] any more than do beer and tobacco and, for that matter, heroin, and they have more in common with these things than they do with carrots.

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You're Not Special -- Boston Herald

A high school commencement speech from David McCullough, Jr.

...do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee... I am allowed to say Needham, yes? ...that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians... 37,000 class presidents... 92,000 harmonizing altos... 340,000 swaggering jocks... 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.

It's downright theological, the way it critiques an overly indulgent, everyone-gets-a-trophy culture... but then flips "you're not special" at the end:

Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.

Watch the video interview too, as he talks about privilege.

~

A New Ministry Scorecard -- Progressive Renewal

How's your church doing?

% of people who can articulate a clear sense of vision and purpose for the church

% of active participants in all areas of the life of the church

% of first and second time guests

h/t: Jan Edmiston

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The Art of Letting Go -- Harvard Business Review

"You know what," I heard myself saying, "I don't think our work is right for you at this point." He looked slightly stunned. In all honesty, so was I.

I couldn't quite believe I'd let go of a potential client who had explicitly expressed interest in our work. But by the end of the evening, I felt lighter, as if I'd done the right thing for both of us.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should. After reading this, I said no to an opportunity that had been shoulding on me for weeks. Wonderfully freeing.

~

Speaking of letting go...

The Good Short Life -- New York Times

After posting this sad story written about a mother's slow, sad and (yes) expensive decline unto death, "The Good Short Life" is a wise and pithy "yes-and":

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou [Gehrig's Disease].

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

It's an uplifting article, really. I discovered it while reading this post, about seeing life's most profound challenges as not debilitating, but "interesting." Easier said than done, but...

~

I'm on vacation next week, and The Blue Room will be closing up shop while I'm gone. Be good, and savor your life.

Forgiving, Forgetting and Remembering

If you're trying to run for speed, Krista Tippett's On Being podcast is not for you. (See also: The Diane Rehm Show.) But if you're doing a nice slow run as a spiritual and physical discipline, On Being is just the right show.

Today's run featured Contemplating Mortality, with Dr. Ira Byock talking about "dying well." I am fascinated by this topic, and it's come to me several times recently in different forms, so perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.

This topic is also hard for me to listen to, because the most profound death I've experienced in my life was a sudden death, not a slow, impending one.

A death that comes with a collapse to the floor, an ambulance screaming down the street, a tearful phone call late at night... I don't know. There's no doing that well or badly. I'm not even sure the person is the subject of the sentence; more like the object. Death happens to them.

So I get a little angry when I listen to shows like this. A prolonged death is no picnic, and I'm glad that Dad did not suffer. Still... there was no deathbed for my siblings and me to flock to, no heartwarming StoryCorps Legacy interview.

Then after getting angry, I decide that the only thing to do, if dying well isn't always an option, is to live well.

Part of living well and dying well is about forgiveness. There are so many cliches around forgiveness, the most famous being to "forgive and forget." You know I hate that, right? So pat. So simplistic. So inadequate.

I told you the phrase that came to me after Festival of Faith and Writing, yes? "Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world."

The simpler something is, the less I trust it.

Anyway, they talked on the show about what forgiveness is all about, and Krista quoted Paul Tillich:

Forgiving presupposes remembering, and it creates a forgetting, not in the natural way we forget yesterday's weather, but in the way of the great 'in spite of' that says: I forget although I remember. 

The whole show was great, despite my own residual anger and grief over Dad's death. But it's "the great 'in spite of'" that will stay with me.

Fighting back with nuance.

Friday Link Love

If you haven't already, check out my previous posts from this week (spiritual genius and mentoring) for additional links. Onward...

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My friend Susan shared this on Facebook yesterday:

Excellent reminder.

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Showing Death with Humanity and Dignity -- New York Times

A photographer in Mexico City documents the effects of Mexican and North American policies on the border region where he was raised. I appreciated this interview about one of his heartbreaking images:

I shot the scene a bunch of different ways, but the way that worked best was just showing it from the front. These people were killed by one single bullet. The woman is far into her pregnancy. The hit man came in from the left-hand side of the car and fired a bullet into the man’s head when they were embracing and killed both of them.

I don't know. It seemed appropriate as we move into Holy Week.

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Religion for Atheists -- Alain de Botton

I know I've linked to his work before, but I find it fascinating as an agnostic theist (I don't know but I believe):

The French atheist and proto-fascist Charles Maurras, an admirer of both Comte and Nietzsche, was an impassioned defender of the Catholic Church. John Stuart Mill - not exactly an atheist but not far off - tried to fuse Comte's new religion with liberalism. In marrying atheism with very different ethical and political positions, none of these thinkers was confused or inconsistent. Atheism can go with practically anything, since in itself it amounts to very little.

Most people think that atheists are bound to reject religion because religion and atheism consist of incompatible beliefs. De Botton accepts this assumption throughout his argument, which amounts to the claim that religion is humanly valuable even if religious beliefs are untrue. He shows how much in our way of life comes from and still depends on religion - communities, education, art and architecture and certain kinds of kindness, among other things. I would add the practice of toleration, the origins of which lie in dissenting religion, and sceptical doubt, which very often coexists with faith.

Today's atheists will insist that these goods can be achieved without religion. In many instances this may be so but it is a question that cannot be answered by fulminating about religion as if it were intrinsically evil. Religion has caused a lot of harm but so has science. Practically everything of value in human life can be harmful. To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity.

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Language Cop: Christian -- The New Republic

In November I introduced a periodic blog feature called “Language Cop” to “keep track of unacceptable words and catchphrases that enter the political dialogue.” In that column I exiled the terms “optics” and “inflection point.” Earlier this month I inveighed against “pivot,” and last week I suggested this euphemism be replaced with a new term, “shake,” in deference to America's first multiplatform gaffe. Today I banish “Christian ”—not the word itself, but a specific, erroneous usage.

In other words, a usage that implies that Christians are all conservative/fundamentalist. A- to the -men.

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And on a whimsical note:

Frame of Mind -- Vimeo

Incredible:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/38940289 w=400&h=300]

Frame of Mind from Steven Alan on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend. I've got a session retreat on tap as well as a visit with my cousin B.