On Intent, Impact, and "Political Correctness"

Hey friends. Check my math on something:

This article recently made the rounds: “Large Majorities Strongly Dislike PC Culture”

Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” 

And this attitude transcends race, age, and geography. As a 40-year-old American Indian in Oklahoma put it: 

“It seems like everyday you wake up something has changed … Do you say Jew? Or Jewish? Is it a black guy? African-American? … You are on your toes because you never know what to say. So political correctness in that sense is scary.” 

In the extended interviews and focus groups, participants made clear that they were concerned about their day-to-day ability to express themselves: They worry that a lack of familiarity with a topic, or an unthinking word choice, could lead to serious social sanctions for them.

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I have long said that what some people call “PC” really sounds to me like basic kindness. When people share how they self-identify, or how they want to be addressed, it seems like a no-brainer to honor that. It costs me nothing to do so, and it matters. That is basic Golden Rule stuff. 

But I also empathize with those who find it hard to keep up with changes in culture, and who worry about giving offense without meaning to. A new friend of mine is gender non-binary and goes by the pronoun “they.” Despite wanting to honor this person’s identity, I have slipped up many times. I’m also realizing how often I use the word “guys” to describe a generic group of people. It doesn’t bother me to hear the term, but people I care about bump on it. It costs me very little to be more inclusive with my language. I’m grateful for the grace of others to both point out when I fall short, and to understand that I’m trying and will screw up along the way. We could all be kinder to one another.

Even as I seek to do my best to honor others, people of color who are friends and colleagues have helped me see that impact matters more than intent. People can mean well—can intend to act in a positive way—but the effects of their actions are what matter most. I get that. As a woman, I can think of times when a man has tried to stick up for me in a way that goes beyond being an ally and tips over into paternalism. They meant to help, but their actions had the effect of portraying me as helpless and needing a man to rescue me. Impact over intent. 

But I also think that, in Maya Angelou’s words, when you know better, you do better. What if one genuinely doesn’t know better? What the survey about PC suggests is that many people want to do the right thing, they just don’t know what it is. I have long loved Thomas Merton’s prayer/poem that begins, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.” He writes, “the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” We are flawed, limited, imperfect human beings, often fumbling to do the right thing. I can’t dismiss the power of intent. 

I’ve long wondered, then, is there a way to deepen our cultural conversation beyond impact and intent?

I recently attended a conference for coaches, where I attended a workshop on building trust in teams. The presenter offered four aspects of team trust, gleaned from the book The Thin Book of Trust:

  1. Sincerity: do you mean what you say?

  2. Reliability: do you honor commitments?

  3. Care: do you hold others’ interests in mind?

  4. Competence: do you have the ability to do what’s asked of you?

A lightbulb went off as I considered whether these four traits might help us bust through the impasse I see over what many call “PC culture.” If someone has shown themselves to be generally sincere, reliable, and caring, I will be less inclined to take instant offense when they do something that has a harmful impact. That’s not excusing their behavior, that’s viewing it in a larger context. 

A person is sincere when they say, “I’m really trying here,” and you know that they truly are.
A person is reliable when they set a course of action and you see them follow through on it. 
Care is demonstrated in any number of ways, but an overall relationship of care can be a container to hold the many missteps and screwups we make because we’re human.

As for for the fourth quality, competence, well, some folks are willfully ignorant, and don’t care to learn about the world around them and how it’s changing. But others simply don’t know what they don’t know. The goal, then, is to help one another develop cultural competence, in ways that flow from our own sincerity, reliability, and care. (It’s also why social media can be so detrimental to dialogue about these things. How do I know how sincere, reliable, caring, and competent random person on the internet is? Instead we blast first, ask questions later.) 

What do you think?

Three Reasons Why "Because It's 2015" Is So Brilliant

12188958_10153715347984581_1797771260858227074_n Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put together the most diverse cabinet in his country's history. Not only does the cabinet have gender parity, but it features two aboriginal politicians, two persons with disabilities, and three Sikhs. It's also the youngest cabinet than any past administration.

When asked why having a gender-balanced cabinet was important to him, Trudeau said, "Because it's 2015." My friend Michael called it "the mic drop moment of the political season."

Predictably, there are people who are crying about quotas, and criticizing Trudeau for passing over qualified [white male?] candidates out of political correctness run amok. To that I say psssshhhh. For three reasons:

  1. The wisdom of crowds depends on a diverse crowd. If you've read James Surowiecki's book with that title, you know that large groups of people are surprisingly good at arriving at the right answer on things. (That's the poll-the-audience option on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.) BUT, that crowd needs to be as diverse as possible, in order to correct for biases and blind spots. All other things being equal, Trudeau's cabinet will be wiser than one in which everyone comes from the same background, even if that background happens to be exemplary.
  2. It matters that people see leaders who look like them. My little niece saw a picture of Hillary Clinton recently and asked who it was. My brother said, "That's Hillary Clinton, she's running for President." My niece stared rapt at the picture and said, "I want a woman president." Ultimately Clinton will have to earn our votes, or not. But seeing people who look like you, especially when you're young and dreaming of what's possible for yourself, is huge. (And let's face it, there are still plenty of old white men in Trudeau's cabinet.)
  3. It acknowledges that in a complex world, there is rarely a single "right" or "best" option. When people argue against, say, affirmative action, they often complain that the [white, male, whatever] candidate gets passed over for an unqualified or less-qualified [minority, woman, whatever] candidate. This strikes me as a very old fashioned notion. In a world as complicated as ours, once you weed out people who are clearly not qualified, you may be left with multiple qualified candidates, albeit with different skills and backgrounds. This happens in college admissions--if a school admits 500 students, there's probably going to be very little difference between candidate 500 and 501. That's an uncomfortable truth if you're #501, but it's simply the reality. The idea that there is one and only one clear answer seems very romantic, like believing there's one soul mate out there for everyone. Eh. Not really. Instead there are flawed people who measure up to one another like apples and oranges, so you have to be rational and discerning, but ultimately trust your judgment. Or put another way:

Why indeed?

The Art and Craft of Not Being a Racist

Thanks to my friend Amy Hemphill for sharing this video, in which Jay Smooth turns a critical (side) eye to the Academy Awards. While this year's presentation was the most "explicitly political" Oscars ceremony in years, the academy selections and nominees also managed to represent "the most exclusionary, white-ish, dudebro-ish" aspect of Hollywood. Even if you care nothing for the Oscars, you owe it to yourself to watch this short 5 minute video. Especially if you've ever said to yourself, "I can't be [racist/sexist/homophobic], I'm a good person."

To that Jay says: There is nothing that does more to perpetuate injustice than good people who assume that injustice is caused by bad people.

The message is an especially potent one for those of us in the church, given the ways we both perpetuate the status quo without intending to, AND give ourselves a pass because we consider ourselves to be nice people who mean well.

Watch, think, and learn. And tend to your craft.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7c9CIHm09M

Friday Link Love: Maurice Sendak, Bracket Madness, and What, Me Worry?

Bit of a weird assortment this week. Lots of links related to women and gender issues, probably because I'm still pondering Lean In, the Steubenville verdict, and the connections between them. But first: March Madness! That's right:

Public Radio Bracket Madness! -- Poll

As I'm putting this post together on Thursday morning, they're accepting votes for the sweet 16. Some are a slam dunk: Radiolab beats Morning Edition---sorry Steve Inskeep. Some are impossible: Fresh Air v. Prairie Home Companion? What if you find them equally irritating?

Speaking of NPR, Radiolab's Speed episode was excellent as usual, and my kids and I continue to monitor the pitch drop experiment. Any week/month/year now...

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NEXT Church -- Liturgy, Music and More

I'm humbled to be the co-chair of NEXT Church for the next two years. NEXT is a conversation within the Presbyterian Church that's seeking to find areas of health and innovation in the church so they can be nurtured and propagated. You can access the music, liturgy and "ribbon ritual" we did at the conference from our resources page. Or watch the presentations here. And here's our video. You might recognize a familiar voice:

http://vimeo.com/61370349

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Imagine a World without Hate -- Anti-Defamation League (via Upworthy)

This 1-minute video was spammed widely on Facebook this week. But in case you scrolled by without watching, as I did repeatedly---stop now and click the link above. It's powerful.

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Five Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself -- Positively Positive

This came from a Facebook friend:

The big question remains: Can women really “have it all?” I tend to categorize myself in the “something’s got to give” camp—multi-tasking and juggling can take us just so far.

...It seems like we are feeling more exhausted and guilty than ever before because we are constantly reaching for the unreachable. And research seems to back this idea. Studies show that women today are less happy relative to where they were forty years ago and relative to men.

So, where do we go from here? The answer may be in the way we are defining a fulfilling life or “having it all.”

I could write about this tension between ambition and balance for the rest of my life. Suffice to say that there's a reason that this E.B. White quote is so beloved to me:

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

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Choosing to Stay Home -- Andrew Sullivan, The Dish

Sully's had a lot of discussion lately on gender differences, work-life balance, wives taking their husbands' names, etc. Was especially interested in this graph in this post:

work-week-by-sex

Women are doing more child care than they were in the 1960s, even though their work outside the home has almost tripled. ??

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How Not To Worry: A 1934 Guide to Mastering Life -- Brain Pickings

How can you not love a book called You Can Master Life? Adorable. Anyway:

Gilkey [the author] cites a “Worry Table” created by one of the era’s humorists — most likely Mark Twain, who is often quoted, though never with a specific source, as having said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” The table was designed to distinguish between justified and unjustified worries:

On studying his chronic fears this man found they fell into five fairly distinct classifications:

  1. Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40% of my anxieties.
  2. Worries about decisions I had made in the past, decisions about which I could now of course do nothing. About 30% of my anxieties.
  3. Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12% of my worries.
  4. Worries about my children and my friends, worries arising from the fact I forgot these people have an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10% of my worries.
  5. Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8% of the total.

Gilkey then prescribes:

What, of this man, is the first step in the conquest of anxiety? It is to limit his worrying to the few perils in his fifth group. This simple act will eliminate 92% of his fears. Or, to figure the matter differently, it will leave him free from worry 92% of the time.

Unfortunately Gilkey doesn't understand that worry abhors a vacuum. Eliminating 1-4 will mean that we worry the same amount, just with greater focus... ;-)

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When Do Good Deeds Lead to More Good Deeds? -- Science and Religion Today

Sometimes good deeds make us feel good, so we do more. Other times we feel we've "done our share" so the good deed excuses us from goodness the next time. A brief discussion about the current research on this topic, which is scant, unfortunately.

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"We Are Inseparable!": On Maurice Sendak's Last Book -- New Yorker

Blake-233Sendak continues to fascinate, even after his death:

Sendak made this book for those adults who had grown up with his stories.

This is a melancholy thought. In dedicating this last story to us, his once-children readers, he is marking the passage of time in our lives. He’s dated us. When I pick up this new book, I am reminded, as if I needed to be reminded, that I am no longer the ferocious, hyper-absorbed, small wonder of a Sendak reader I once was—nor, I’m guessing, are you. Had Sendak created another “Where the Wild Things Are” for us, would we even be able to appreciate it? For us obsolete children, as Theodor Geisel dubbed adults, it would be beside the point.

What makes this last book special is that Sendak is willing to meet his former-children readers where they are now in their lives—on the condition that they meet him where he was at the end of his. Kushner told me that he saw Sendak, toward the end of his life, eyes dimmed, hunched over his studio desk, pressing his face so close to the drafts that his dear nose was almost touching them. For his devoted readers, this tender proximity—this intimacy—may be the most affecting part of “My Brother’s Book.” The supple details are Sendak’s way of physically drawing us in, closer and closer, until we tap the page with our own noses: one last kiss goodnight.

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And finally, some perspective. This was posted to Facebook this week:

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I'm in Massachusetts until tomorrow, officiating a wedding for a high school friend. Congrats to D and D! (Hey, that's handy for monogramming...)

How Men Can Help Women Lean In

urlI wrote a post Friday afternoon about Sheryl Sandberg's new book Lean In and said in part:

There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)

My friend Andrew Taylor-Troutman commented on Facebook:

I appreciate (and am convicted by) your point about men lamenting sexism while benefitting from it. As an ally, I wonder what the image for privilege would be. Leaning back? Or, as you point out, support is key. Leaning in together? Lean, mean fighting machine?

If my comment convicted him, then his sincere question convicted me: What would I ask of my brothers who are in positions of influence and privilege? That is an excellent question. Here are the first things that come to mind:

Don't be a jerk. I guess that's not very useful advice, because jerks either don't know or don't care that they are. But basic kindness and empathy go a long way. If you see a woman "leaning in," don't push her over. But don't hover around, ready to catch her if she falls either. That's annoying. And patronizing.

Name it when you see it. That thing where a woman makes a suggestion and it gets ignored, and then a man suggests it and people fall over themselves to praise it? It's happened to me. It's happened to virtually every woman I know. It's nice when women aren't the ones to point it out.

Advocate for decent parental leave, even if you don't need it. Maybe you aren't planning to have kids, or maybe your kids are grown. All the more reason for you to get into the game---it's not personal. When I was pregnant with my second child, I helped the church I was serving put together a good parental leave policy, which they didn't have. They were great about it. There was not a lot of pushback. Even so, it's an awkward process. Help a gal out.

Cut the macho stuff. If you are eligible for parental leave and the situation arises, take it. See also: vacation, study leave and for heaven's sake, days off!

Recommend us for stuff, and mean it. I'm not looking to move into a new call, but I appreciate that people put my name in for pastoral positions that open up. And don't give up just because it's not the right time. Someday it could be. (Don't freak out, Tiny Church. I ain't going anywhere.)

What have I missed?

Leaning In: A Post on International Women's Day

lean1-640x426 Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has a new book out for women leaders called Lean In. It's featured on the cover of Time, and Andrew Sullivan has had some good discussion about it here, here and here.

In Sandberg's view, women are sabotaging themselves. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes, and the result is that “men still run the world.” Ms. Sandberg wants to take women through a collective self-awareness exercise. In her book, she urges them to absorb the social science showing they are judged more harshly and paid less than men; resist slowing down in mere anticipation of having children; insist that their husbands split housework equally; draft short- and long-term career plans; and join a “Lean In Circle,” which is half business school and half book club.

The issues of women in leadership, especially in the workplace, are so complicated that I feel overwhelmed even starting to write this post. There's so much to say.

It's personal: some women feel resentful that the lion's share (lioness's share?) of domestic work still falls to women, and are working to change this. Others don't feel called to climb the career ladder even if you offer them equal footing on it. Still others would like to stay home with children, or pursue a more leisurely career trajectory, but can't for economic reasons---they may be the sole breadwinner, or their family depends on two full-time incomes.

It's political: I love Sandberg's Lean In initiative. We need to stop sabotaging ourselves and our sisters. But let's also be honest and admit that there are still structural barriers for women. The Time article reports that the United States's maternity leave policies rival those of Papua New Guinea, "a country that still has actual cannibals." My dad gave me a T-shirt when I was a teenager that said, "A woman must work twice as hard as a man to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult." That was some thirty years ago, and it's still true.

It's cultural: women who are competitive, who have strong personalities and negotiating skills, are viewed negatively in comparison to their male colleagues with the same attributes. The Time article quotes a woman who interviewed for an executive job and did not get it. When she asked for feedback on how she might improve her chances, she was told, "You could have smiled more."

Oooh, you should see the smile on my face right now

And it's ecclesiological (if you're talking about church leadership). There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it---sincerely, I believe---but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)

Many have pointed out that Sandberg frames the issue from a place of obvious economic privilege. For a woman to "lean in," she has to have the support and means to outsource a lot of the household tasks. That's just not possible for a big swath of the population. Very true. Let's acknowledge that, while also giving her the dignity of addressing the audience she wants to address.

A couple additional things come to mind as I read the buzz around the book:

Your partner matters. Sandberg argues that your choice of partner/spouse is one of the most important career decisions you'll ever make. This is absolutely, positively true. I could not fulfill this dual vocation of pastor and writer/speaker without a supportive spouse who believes in me and the work I do. Seriously. (A friend of mine quoted the Christian Century article that reviews my book with Rachel Held Evans's A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It says "Robert is a much more active presence... Evans tells us that she has an egalitarian marriage; Dana shows us what this look like." My friend added, "Robert drops the mic - boom." Dang straight!)

Leaning in is an internal issue and an external one. It seems that there are two issues at play: the way in which we do the work we do, and the speed with which we advance in our careers. Although they are related, I think it helps to separate them. I know women who genuinely enjoy being home with their children, perhaps while working part-time, and do not want to lean into a promotion or a higher powered position. More power to them. But they still need to lean in emotionally, with confidence, not shrinking or minimizing. In order for us to start changing the culture that says that an assertive woman is a domineering b****, everyone needs to lean in. They need to model assertiveness and competence, whether on the PTA, in part-time ministry, as volunteers, or wherever.

I recently accepted the role of co-chair of the NEXT Church. That was a leaning-in moment, even though it doesn't land me a fatter paycheck. (Interesting fun fact: the two co-chairs of NEXT and its director are all women.)

And in a related point:

Meaningful work isn't always the same as paid work. I need to say this carefully, because too often women leave money on the proverbial table, either by not negotiating or by not going for higher-paying opportunities. But someone recently said to me, "You seem to have set up your life in order to do the work that you care about most." This stopped me in my tracks, because while I'd never thought about it that way, it's true. I don't serve a large church; I don't feel called to that. I like being home most evenings. Driving the preschool carpool and eavesdropping on two five-year-old boys is a delight I wouldn't trade for much of anything. And to be blunt, in the economy of our household, it makes way more sense for the IT professional working for the cyber-security company to lean in to traditional ideas of advancement.

But I get to write and be read. I get to speak to congregations and groups. I get to serve on the board of a fledgling national organization. And I get to serve a local congregation. None of that pays a lot of dough---some of it doesn't pay anything. But it's meaningful, significant work. And maybe when my kids are older, this work will lead to something that pays more; I don't know.

Discuss...

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Image source: Colossal

Thank You for Asking... A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

question-markLast week I wrote a guest post at Jan Edmiston's blog. Today Jan shares her space again for a great post. Larissa Kwong Abazia writes about the sticky (and in some cases illegal) questions that search committees have asked her in interviews:

I’ve recently started interviewing for ministry positions and felt I was prepared for the onslaught of what I deem “inappropriate questions” from churches.  As a 30-something woman of color, I am familiar with comments that pose doubts about my age or experience, ability to minister to people older than me, slotting me right into youth ministry roles, assuming that hiring me will automatically grow the young adult population, or blatant misunderstandings surrounding race.  I’ve learned to take them as par for the course, as sad as it may seem in the life of the Church.  I was not ready, however, for questions surrounding my role as a mother.

Every single interview (Did you read that?  EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW) that I have had in the past several months has included some form of the question, “How do you feel about going back to work?” or “What will your son do once you start working?”

I started to comment on the post but it got long. I want to give Larissa's post a hearty "Yes... and."

Every person's experience is different. I know many women who have experienced a level of sexism, paternalism, and intrusiveness that I simply have not. That said, I've been asked similar questions, though not in an interview setting. In almost every case, the person was asking out of curiosity, concern, and in good faith.

Curiosity: The idea of women serving as pastors is beyond a no-brainer for me, but it's still new to many people. Many of them are not looking for a reason to weed you out, or a reason for you not to succeed. They are simply trying to picture how the life of the pastor works, what with night meetings and hospital emergencies. Our busiest times in ministry coincide with the school's winter break and spring break. (Fairfax County schedules spring break during Holy Week every flippin' year. Grrrr.) So... "how do you do that?" they want to know.

Concern: Many church people I meet are genuinely interested in the well-being of the pastor and her family. Many church folks get the stereotypes surrounding the minister's family---how kids are put under the microscope and spouses are expected to be a de facto "second pastor"---and conscientious ones want to mitigate that through expressions of care and concern.

Yes, in some cases, "How do you feel about going back to work?" is a trap. But not necessarily. Remember, the church is a community, a place where people care about people. Many people sitting on search committees have felt ambivalence about going back to work---and joy at being there. The question is not necessarily a wall. It can be a bridge.

Good faith: Again, I know women who have been the victim of appalling examples of sexism. That has not been my story, for whatever reason. I wonder all the time why that is. It could be that I'm simply clueless, that there's sexism going on and I'm not paying attention. Or I got lucky with the congregations I've served. Or I've decided to give people the benefit of the doubt, and when those potentially iffy questions and comments come my way I see it as someone trying to establish contact and relationship, albeit in a fumbling or even frustrating way. Probably it's a combination of all three.

(This is an aside, but I was asked some time ago how I view my leadership style as a woman---how do I understand authority and assertiveness, especially with people who may not be keen on a woman pastor? My approach is twofold:

1. a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor

2. really knowing my... stuff.

Both are vital. The former is what disarms one's detractors; the latter ensures that they can't write you off.)  

Recently I highlighted a pair of articles that touched on issues of clergy health and clergy burnout. I suggested that the traditional understandings of authenticity, boundaries and pastor-parishioner friendship are changing as the demographics of pastors change. So how do questions like the ones Larissa writes about play into these changing boundaries?

Am I suggesting that religious communities should be allowed to ask illegal questions in interviews? Well, no. But I want search committees to care about work-life balance. And if I have children, their child-care arrangements are a part of that. That's just a fact.

Larissa writes:

It seems as though the underlying concern in [intrusive] questions is a distrust that a woman can care for her congregation if she is also a mother (and therefore caring for her family).  Perhaps, then, congregations should consider if they are asking for too much time and energy from their leaders that won’t allow them to maintain healthy boundaries outside of the church.  We aren’t parents of, but partners in ministry with our congregations.  It’s long overdue that we begin thinking about the ways we support our clergy, male and female, in their calls in ways that allow them to be whole people both inside and outside of the church walls.

 

I completely agree with the second part (we are partners in ministry), but am not at all sold on the first part (the questions show distrust). Of course, it depends. But if we are partners in ministry, don't we have to hold one another accountable? Aren't questions about self-care part of accountability?

I guess I'm arguing for more questions, not fewer. They need to be good ones, of course, Generative ones. But ask. Ask everyone. Congregations should be similarly concerned about male pastors, with or without children. They should care about single parents, and single folks without children.

I want churches to care about, and ask about, the self-care of their leaders.

Friday Link Love: Waves, High-School Heroes, and Embracing Limitations

Huzzah! ~

Wave Photographs by Kenji Croman -- Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Link:

Many more at the link...

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Cross Country Runner Saves Life, Finishes Race -- KnoxNews

The young man is a trained lifeguard. He came upon a fellow runner in medical distress and stopped to help:

In the midst of this, a woman named Jessica Chandler ran up. She's the mother of another Germantown runner and had known the fallen runner for years.

"Honestly, I was in shock," she said. "But this guy was taking complete control. He was like, 'You — call 911. You — go get some ice.' He turned him on his side. I thought he was a parent or an EMT."

At this point, the victim was shaking, his body seizing again and again.

"This is normal," said Goldstein. "I've seen this before."

Note: Goldstein had actually never seen this before. But he didn't see the point in panicking. He was calm, reassuring everyone involved.

Many parables of non-anxious leadership in that bolded statement.

If you ask him, Goldstein will tell you it's the slowest race he's ever run. It's also his personal best.

Amen.

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Religion, Science and Easy Answers -- NPR

Everyone knows that cell-phones work because of radio waves. Sure it's complicated and, in general, few of us really get it. But we all know that cellphones work because the natural world is built in simultaneously subtle and complicated ways.

What is remarkable about the fundamentalist perspective, however, is an unwillingness to see spiritual life in the same light. Instead of seeing subtlety and complication that require a lifetime of intense dedicated effort — a genuine personal investigation of the world — to understand, everything is reduced to magic-marker outlines with unwavering, absolute answers....

While writing on science and religion, however, I have met lots of really amazing folks who are quite serious about their spiritual lives. They have come from a diversity of faith backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and more. Some of these people were highly educated, some where not. What struck an atheist like me about these folks was their dedication to the investigation.

Fighting back with nuance in a sloganeering world...

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Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect -- Newsweek

Yes, yes, yes. A worthy follow-up to Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent tour de force, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Debora Spar writes:

So what, then, are we to do? One possibility, of course, is simply to give up; to acknowledge women’s destinies as something different from men’s and stop complaining about it. This, however, hardly seems fair, either to the generations who fought so hard for women’s freedoms, or to those who have not yet had the opportunity to give these freedoms a try. A second possibility, trumpeted most recently in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her examination of why women still can’t have it all, is to keep fighting the proverbial fights—for better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home. These are all important goals. Yet they will never be sufficient to address the underlying issues.

This is because many of the problems that plague women now are not due to either government policy or overt discrimination. They cannot be resolved solely by money and they are not caused only by men. Instead, the problems we face are subtler. They come partly from the media, partly from society, partly from biology, and partly from our own vastly unrealistic expectations. To address them, we must go beyond either policy solutions or anger with the patriarchy. We must instead forge partnerships with those around us, and begin to dismantle the myth of solitary perfection.

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The Tricky Art of the Children's Sermon -- United Methodist Reporter

A good point/counterpoint on the efficacy of children's sermons in worship. Most forward-thinking pastors I know have already done away with them or would dearly like to. I get the impulse. But I still do them. I try to avoid interactive questions that set kids up to be entertaining*. My approach is to tell the biblical story so that they're ready to go upstairs to the Upper Room for the remainder of worship, or to Sunday School, where they engage the story they just read. It's a way of setting up the rest of the morning's experience for them.

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Videos on the Creative Process -- 99U

What a treasure trove of wisdom. I've watched a few of the shorter ones, and others I've seen before, but I might make it a goal to watch the others during my time away for CREDO. I leave in a week and will spend a few days with my BFF before it starts. Squee.

Here's a specific vid I liked, about the importance of constraints in fostering creativity:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eH4NhlxSrOw]

I've had two different people recently ask me to help them think about the process of writing a book. One of their concerns is how to get it done with everything else going on in life. I've tried to explain how that busyness can benefit them. Assuming you have enough motivation to start, of course--if you're lukewarm about doing it, the rest of life will conspire against you. But if you just have to write that book, you will find a way. And the limitations will help you. At the end of the process you will have an imperfect thing on paper, rather than a perfect thing in your brain and nowhere else.

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*My favorite children's sermon story: I was talking about Jesus' parable of the yeast and I'd brought some yeast from home. I showed it to the kids and said, "What is yeast used to make?" One of them piped up, "BEER!"

Yes, that was my child.

Friday Link Love

Away we go! ~

"I am in a state of shock" -- Flannery O'Connor

A lit class in 1961 tries to understand "A Good Man is Hard to Find." They, um, miss the mark. O'Connor responds in part:

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

H/t Keith.

On a different note but still related to the power of story:

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The Bible Is Not a Diet Plan -- Religion Dispatches

On Rick Warren's "Daniel Plan" for fitness, which he cribs from the pages of an apocalyptic text:

I can’t begrudge anyone whatever motivation they need to live a healthier life, and Warren deserves respect for using some of his enormous cultural capital to fight obesity—especially now that biblical values are suddenly synonymous with consuming fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But I am in awe at the superhuman degree of willful blindness it must take to read a profound story of conquest and resistance, of identity and assimilation, and discover, at the bottom of it all... a diet plan!

A story, sacred or secular, is a test of our empathy: an invitation to enter into the trials and hopes of a stranger. And it takes a remarkable self-centeredness to deliberately reject that invitation, to mine that story for anything that helps us grow our portfolios or shrink our waistlines, and throw away the husk of the human at its heart once we’ve sucked out all we can use. We can read selfishly just as we can act selfishly.

A big AMEN to that.

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A Mother Tries to Atone for a Deadly Hate Crime -- NPR

At 40, Julie Sanders is a mother of three from Portland, Ore. But when she was 16, Sanders belonged to a white supremacist group — and one night in 1988, she witnessed a murder. Since then, she's kept the event a secret from most of her friends and family.

She has broken the cycle and raised thoughtful and courageous children---one of them is defending a cross-dresser in his high school who's being hassled---but it doesn't feel like enough:

"But, I just still feel like not a good person," she says. "And I don't forgive myself."

Sanders recently completed a degree in social work. She plans to work with kids who are at risk of joining hate groups.

How "much" atonement is enough? Is it even fruitful to think that way?

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Half Drag -- Leland Bobbe

These are closeup portraits of drag queens with half of the face made up and half au naturel. Says the artist: ‘My intention with Half-Drag is to capture both the male and the alter-ego female side of these subjects in one image.’

What is feminine? Masculine? Beautiful? Where does authenticity originate and how does it find expression? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I look at these.

Not to mention that the images are amazing. The makeup itself is artistry.

;

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Offline: How's It Going -- Paul Miller

I featured Paul's year-long no internet experiment a while back and here's an update:

The first two weeks were a zen-like blur. I've never felt so calm and happy in my life. Never. And then I started actually getting stuff done. I bought copies of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and Aeschylus. I was writing at an amazing pace. For the first time ever I seemed to be outpacing my editors.

Without the internet, everything seemed new to me. Every untweeted observation of daily life was more sacred. Every conversation was face to face or a phone call, and filled with a hundred fresh nuances. The air smelled better. My sentences seemed less convoluted. I lost a bit of weight.

Three months later, I don't miss the internet at all. It doesn't factor into my daily life. I don't say to myself, "ugh, I wish I could just use the internet to do that." It's more like it doesn't exist for me. I still say "ugh, I have to do that" — it's just not the internet's fault.

But now that not having internet is no longer new, just normal, the zen calm is gone. I don't wake with the sunrise while chirping birds pull back the covers. I still have a job. I feel pressure and stress and frustration. I get lonely and bored. My articles aren't always submitted on time. Sometimes my sentences aren't good.

I'm just stock Paul Miller. No more Not-Using-The-Internet custom skin; I'm just myself. And it's not all sunshine and epiphanies.

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The Veil of Opulence -- NYT

This is a long but clear excursus on how we decide what's fair and what's not as a society, for the purposes of, say, designing a tax policy. It's hard to figure out where to excerpt, so read the whole thing, but here's the crux: the veil of ignorance (a traditional way of evaluating what's fair) has been replaced in many quarters by a "veil of opulence." Chopping mercilessly at the article:

The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.

Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.

Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy. “If I were such and such a wealthy person,” they ask, “how would I feel about giving X percentage of my income, or Y real dollars per year, to pay for services that I will never see nor use?” We see this repeatedly in our tax policy discussions...

...The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved. The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might take steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get.

Interesting example in the NFL draft.

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One final link: I preached some time ago about Dan Savage and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage sitting at table together. Here is the video of that debate. I haven't watched any of it yet and caveat emptor because Dan is famously salty in his speech. (Though I should also warn about Brian Brown, since many people find his perspective much more offensive than an errant F-bomb.)

Anyway, I link, you decide.