Are Religious Children Less Generous Than Non-Religious Ones?

2394859566_71a94927f5 Last week The Guardian published the results of a study that claims to demonstrate just that:

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

Someone asked me a few days what I thought about the study. I said, "Non-religious people get to feel superior and vindicated in their choices, conservative evangelicals can complain about the liberal media, and progressive religious types can geek out by wondering about sample size and methodology. Something for everyone."  I can't speak to the quality of the research, though I'm told it's a peer reviewed study, which counts for something. On the other hand, Robert tells me that half of all psychological studies are unreplicatable, so...

But assuming this study is accurate, what would account for a lack of generosity in religious children? Not sure. For the record, I don't think you need to have a religious tradition or belief in God to be a moral person. And at the same time, there is a strain of judgmentalism in some expressions of Christianity, and apparently Islam too, since that was also mentioned in the study.

But I do have one small hypothesis.

For the past several months, our family has been between churches. Since I finished my tenure at Tiny Church, we haven't found a church to call home. I may preach in 2-3 congregations a month, but many of these are in other cities, so the kids don't come with me.

During these months without a church, I've been keenly aware that it's my job and Robert's job--and pretty much ours alone--to teach generosity and kindness as spiritual practices. I say "as spiritual practices" because to some extent they also learn these attributes at school, during team sports and in other activities. But there's usually no deeper meaning underlying them--it's just the way you treat people.

Anyway, if this is our job and ours alone, we will want to approach it with great intentionality and care. Whereas parents who are religious may be relying on their faith communities to do a lot of this work. I used to hear this often from parents when I was a pastor--they rarely felt equipped to pass on the tenets of their faith to their children, and really hoped the church would do it instead.

Yet we know from study after study that parents are their children's most important teachers. Which means that if parents are relying on faith communities to do this work, then the work isn't getting done nearly as effectively.

What do you make of the study?

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photo credit: lone kid (6 of 8) via photopin (license)

Friday Link Love: Online Slacktivism, Be a Poet, and Everest Gear Then and Now

Hello friends! It's Thursday evening and I am just back from Birmingham, where I had a book event and also preached at the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. I'll post that sermon to the NEXT Church website early next week and link to it here. It was a fun trip---got to hang out with Elizabeth, one of my favorite seminary peeps and a dear friend. So I'm happy, but tired.

But... the Link Love must go on! 

Climbing Everest, Then and Now -- National Geographic

A comparison of the tools used to climb the world's tallest peak. Boots and oxygen systems, then and now.

Let's be honest: P90X or no, I'm pretty sure our forebears could take us.

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Does Online "Slacktivism" Reduce Charitable Giving? -- New Scientist

Looks like it's a hybrid effect. Click the link for a study relating to attitudes about gun control.

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Collected Wisdom of Great Writers -- Brain Pickings

Maria Popova has compiled advice from several writers she's highlighted on her blog, so it's all accessible in one place. Vonnegut, King, Allende, Sontag and more.

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Cook Dinner, Save the World -- Dinner, a Love Story

Love this quote from Michael Pollan:

To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our non waking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”

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Antonia Larroux -- Obituary

Not since Hugh Gallagher's infamous college essay for NYU (the laws of physics do not apply to me) have we have such an exuberant accounting of a life! This part really clinched it though:

The funeral will be led by Rev. Curt Moore of Orlando, Florida, a questionable choice for any spiritual event, but one the family felt would be appropriate due to the fact that every time Toni heard Curt preach she prayed for Jesus to return at that very moment.

On a last but serious note, the woman who loved life and taught her children to 'laugh at the days to come' is now safely in the arms of Jesus and dancing at the wedding feast of the Lamb. She will be missed as a mother, friend and grandmother. Anyone wearing black will not be admitted to the memorial. She is not dead. She is alive.

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Smart Cities: Sustainable Solutions for Urban Living -- BBC

H/t The Dish, which highlighted this piece that I found astounding:

How a group of 12-year-olds in a Calcutta slum improved their community:

Like so many slum neighborhoods, the notorious Nehru Colony doesn’t officially exist, meaning it has no access to government services such as sanitation and electricity. The youngsters set out to literally put themselves on the map. They went door to door, taking photos with their mobile phones, registering residents and detailing each child born in the colony. Information is then sent by SMS text to a database that links the data to a map hand-drawn by the kids, which is overlaid to GPS coordinates. By registering their existence on Google Maps the group has doubled the rate of polio vaccination from 40% to 80%, decreased diarrhea and malaria rates in the slum, and is lobbying for electricity.

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This Ad Has a Secret Anti-Abuse Message That Only Kids Can See -- Gizmodo

This made the rounds, and rightly so. The billboard displays a different message depending on how tall you are:

The secret behind the ad's wizardry is a lenticular top layer, which shows different images at varying angles. So when an adult—or anyone taller than four feet, five inches—looks at it they only see the image of a sad child and the message: "sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it." But when a child looks at the ad, they see bruises on the boy's face and a different message: "if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you" alongside the foundation's phone number.

The ad is designed to empower kids, particularly if their abuser happens to be standing right next to them.

What the kids see:

anar-lenticular-02

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How Can You Become a Poet -- David Lose

Or a theologian:

Eve Mirriam, a native of Philadelphia, captures something of the beauty of not just poetry but also, I think, creativity itself.

She invites us to consider making two moves: the first is attentiveness. Trace it’s shape, pay attention to its movement, follow its life, chew and smell and see and feel all you can about that thing that fascinates you.

The second move is courage, fearlessness...

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Friday Link Love

First off: I have several good friends who've published books recently, and while I've mentioned them around the Internets in a piecemeal way, I wanted to make sure y'all knew about them. In most cases, I've read the book and can recommend it; in all cases, I can recommend the writer. These all came out in the last few months: Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land by Ruth Everhart

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink

The Girl Got Up: A Cruciform Memoir by Rachel M. Srubas

Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses

Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian-American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

RIDE 2: More Short Fiction about Bicycles edited by Keith Snyder

And now... away we go:

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The Rubber Barber: Make a Mistake and Give Your Eraser a Fancy Haircut -- Colossal

Delightful. Makes mistakes fun!

haircut-2

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Givers, Takers and Matchers: The Surprising Science of Success -- Brain Pickings

Last week I linked to an article about Adam Grant and was intrigued by what I called his radical generosity, even as I pointed out the stay-at-home wife who helps make such generosity happen. Here is an article that looks at the book's findings, apart from the personality of Grant. "If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them." Takers, by contrast, get more than they give, always trying to find what's in it for them; matchers try to keep the ledger as even as possible.

It's not surprising that givers often end up on the bottom of the career ladder. But guess who rises to the top? Read the link to find out.

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Mary Oliver Reading Four Poems -- Englewood Review of Books

Including "Wild Geese":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XnaP7ig69go#!

Happy National Poetry Month.

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How to Talk to Kids About Healthy Eating -- Dinner, A Love Story

An excellent resource for those of us who are trying to equip our kids to make good food choices:

Focus on health not weight. And emphasize function over form. Remind your son that a healthy body is what allows you to do all that you do in the world. Think of something your child likes to do – whether that is a sport or otherwise – and point out how it’s his body that does that. If your child is an athlete, he or she probably gets a lot of reinforcement for this idea. But even if what your child most likes to do is to sit quietly and read or draw, you can reinforce the concept. You can say, “Your body is what allows you to do [fill in your child’s favorite activity]” to foster your child feeling good about his body’s capability.

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And speaking of health and diet:

We Should Measure Our Food in Exercise, Not Calories -- Fast Company

1681708-inline-labels-that-translate-calories-into-walking-distance-3I love this:

A study by researchers at UNC’s medical school, published in the journal Appetite, showed the kind of choices people make when randomly presented with different types of menus with differing levels of nutritional information: one with no nutritional info, one with calorie info, one with calories plus the minutes of walking required to burn the calories, and a fourth with calories plus the distance required to burn off the calories.

"People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal totaling 1,020 calories, on average, significantly more than the average 826 calories ordered by those who viewed menus that included information about walking-distance," writes Scientific American. People who saw the menu with walking-distance info also ordered less than people who just saw calorie info.

Way to hack the brain!

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How Busy People Find Time to Think Deeply -- Ben Casnocha

I'm pretty good at the Sabbath thing---setting aside time for rest, play and puttering---but my problem is I absolutely jam-pack the rest of my life. I'm working on this lately. My current tweak is listening to music while running. (I'm usually a podcast runner.)

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A New System for Reading -- Robert Estreitinho

30 pages is enough. Not enough to grasp the key message, but enough to understand if it’s worth grasping. If by page 30 of a book I’m not hooked, I stop reading. A writer has to hook our imaginations, and 30 pages should be enough to do just that. Need more pages? I say need more editing.

I read so many short things (articles, essays) that when I do pick up a book, I feel like abandoning it is a sign of failure. I stick with books to prove to myself that my attention span can hack it. So this system intrigues me... But I give it 50 pages. I recently abandoned The Casual Vacancy. Broke my heart to do it---I applaud J.K. Rowling for tackling something so radically different---but I just didn't care about the characters.

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And speaking of J.K. Rowling... the girls and I just finished the Harry Potter series. As luck and timing would have it, I found this tumblr of facts that Rowling has let slip about what happened after the series ended. Please forgive the URL; I didn't come up with it. But there's some great stuff here:

~Neville Longbottom worked as an Auror before moving on as the Herbology professor at Hogwarts.

~The remaining Death Eaters were killed or imprisoned in Azkaban for their crimes, with the exception of the Malfoys.

~Luna Lovegood married the grandson of the Newt Scamander, author of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

~Firenze survived his wounds and was welcomed back into the Centaur herd.

~Harry will never become Headmaster of Hogwarts since an academic career just isn’t him.

~Hagrid was still working at Hogwarts by 2017, at 88 years old.

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Friday Link Love: Roger Ebert, Louis CK, and Radical Generosity

Happy Friday, everyone. What do you have planned this weekend? May you find a little space for things that are bubbly and fun, nourishing and vital. We will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Robert's grandmother. Joy! Here are a few items that grabbed me this week:

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RIP Roger Ebert: The Beloved Critic on Writing, Life, and Mortality -- Brain Pickings

I loved his writing and will miss his wisdom:

My colleague late at night, a year or two older, was Bill Lyon, who covered Champaign High School sports and became a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. … Bill and I would labor deep into the night on Fridays, composing our portraits of the [football] games. I was a subscriber to the Great Lead Theory, which teaches that a story must have an opening paragraph so powerful as to leave few readers still standing. … Lyon watched as I ripped one sheet of copy paper after another out of my typewriter and finally gave me the most useful advice I have ever received as a writer: ‘One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?’ These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.

More at the link, including excerpts from his memoir and his TED talk.

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Human-Tower Competition in Tarragona, Spain -- Colossal

The things we human beings come up with! Amazing pictures of a swarm of humanity working together:

007_DAVID-OLIETE_Concurs-de-Castells_Colossal

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Kevin Ware on Louisville Teammate That 'Touched My Heart' -- USA Today

H/t to my friend LeAnn Hodges. I didn't see the Louisville/Duke game, but yikes. Yet horrific events can bring out the best in people:

[Ware's teammate] Hancock thought back to last summer, when he suffered a gruesome shoulder injury in a pickup game. He remembered how others were aghast. He remembered how former Louisville guard Andre McGee was the only one to rush to his side, to rush him to the hospital. He remembered how much that had meant.

So as Ware lay there in the first half of the Cardinals' NCAA tournament victory over Duke on Sunday, scared and alone and stunned, Hancock ran to him. He held Ware's hand and told him they would get through this together. He told Ware he would say a prayer for him.

Ware didn't respond at first, because he was in shock. Hancock took a deep breath, closed his eyes, clenched Ware's hand and started the prayer.

...You can't fault the other players for their initial reaction to such a macabre moment. But you can praise Hancock, and you should.

We are wounded healers, all.

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After God: What Can Atheists Learn from Believers? -- New Statesman

I especially like the responses from Karen Armstrong and Alain de Botton (not too surprisingly---he's a Blue Room mainstay). Here's de Botton:

For centuries in the west, there was a figure in society who fulfilled a function that is likely to sound very odd to secular ears. The priest didn’t fulfil any material need; he was there to take care of that part of you called, rather unusually, “the soul”, by which we would understand the seat of our emotions and of our deep self.

Where have our soul-related needs gone? What are we doing with the material we used to go to a priest for? The deep self has naturally not given up its complexities and vulnerabilities simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the tales of the five loaves and two fishes.

The loaves and fishes story is a tale that resonates beyond matters of science, but I take his point.

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Louis CK on David Letterman -- YouTube

Two of my favorite funny men:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtwD48v0Cyo&feature=youtu.be

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The Touch-Screen Generation -- The Atlantic

Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?

Long but excellent rumination on parents' ambivalence about their kids' use of technology:

By their pinched reactions [to questions about how much screen time their kids have], these parents illuminated for me the neurosis of our age: as technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, American parents are becoming more, not less, wary of what it might be doing to their children. Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.

And on the other end of the spectrum of childhood... college students:

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Addiction to Electronics Growing -- Times-Delphic

“I occasionally see students using their phones during yoga or pilates, which makes me a bit sad,” Determann said. “If you can’t be unplugged for 45 or 60 minutes, that’s a bit concerning, in my opinion. I know that this has just become the way we, as a society operate, but the world will go on without you checking your notifications.”

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A Religious Wake-Up Call in the Matter of Drones -- Alternet

A critique against drones from a Christian perspective:

Our use of drones is only defensible on "Just War Theory" grounds, if we are able to demonstrate an immediate threat to this country that is specific and specifically premeditated with a specific objective. Unfortunately, the current administration, with its complex entanglements of secrecy and formal denials, has not been able to explain or demonstrate an immediate threat.

Our use of drones are out of "proportion" because it uses the most advanced technology in the world to assassinate people who can basically only throw the equivalent of sticks and stones back at you. Moreover, it gives these people no chance to surrender. It is like capital punishment without an arrest, a charge, a trial, or a right of appeal.

Our use of drones is not humane, because it totally objectifies the enemy by making them into a picture on a screen. There is not the faintest possibility, in the conduct of drone warfare by means of remote control, that you can regard the enemy as a fellow human citizen of the planet.

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Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? -- NYT

Longish article about a new book, Give and Take, and its author, professor Adam Grant who, and I say this in a nice way, sounds like a freak. You might describe him as... radically generous with his time---he answers every email request for help, he spends hours mentoring students, etc. But all of this giving comes back to him in very interesting, even powerful, ways. "The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves."

“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. Many of the examples — the selfless C.E.O.’s, the consultants who mentor ceaselessly — are inspiring and humbling, even if they are a bit intimidating in their natural expansiveness. These generous professionals look at the world the way Grant does: an in-box filled with requests is not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work. “I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant told me. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?” Where other people see hassle, he sees bargains, a little work for a lot of gain, including his own.

There's something wonderful about seeing the world in this way rather than the calculating tit-for-tat manner we are often trained to employ with one another. But I spent most of the article assuming he must be single, because what family could put up with someone who lives this way? Turns out he has a wife who stays home to take care of the kids. Which hey, more power to them. But it does color things somewhat, eh?

At any rate, I'm interested in the research on this topic. It seems like Grant's outlook requires you to see time as an abundant resource, which I don't. As I write in the book, I'm much more comfortable with the idea of holy scarcity. There isn't enough time for everything we want or need to do. So how do we move as creatively through our days as possible?

Speaking of which... may you shimmy and tango through your weekend and all of its work, play, errands, and maybe, a few surprises. Peace.

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:

ig5Y3iZcDUBK8

 

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...)

Friday Link Love: How Creativity Happens, Generosity, Musical Black Holes and More

Hey there, I'm off with the beloved to a weekend in the mountains before It All Starts Again -- here are some things to keep folks busy in the meantime:

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Colossal Turns Two -- Colossal

Colossal is one of my favorite sites, and I loved reading the story of how Christopher Jobson first started it. He got the idea while waiting for jury duty:

So I sat. And waited. For some reason I launched a text editor on my laptop and started making a list of things I had been thinking about doing lately (read: procrastinating for months). At first it was just ten simple things that we all put on our lists “get in shape” and “read more books”. But as I sat there, with this day of civic boredom stretching into infinity before me I became ambitious. I made spaces instead for 100 things and decided to get specific. “Learn to kayak. Run a 5k. Take a course in ceramics.” Because why not? All that pot throwing has to be pretty calming and therapeutic or meditative right? The list went on and on. There were plenty of easy things and lots of hard ones. I put “Finish a book” on there about a dozen times because I’m terrible about finishing anything I begin to read. Then, way down toward the bottom, at number 83: “Start a blog.”

The entirety of 2010 was spent Doing the List.

There's so much to love about this when it comes to how creativity happens. First, there's the importance of fallow time (there was no WiFi at jury duty, which is what initiated the list. Then there's the creation of a list. Lists are powerful; I write about them in Sabbath in the Suburbs because we created lists of suggested things for the kids to do on Sabbath, to try to stave off the "I'm bored" monster. Then there's the very unsexy part of creativity which is actually implementing all these lofty ideas, bit by bit, action by action. Here's the first image he ever posted:

Thanks for such a great ride, Chris.

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What Successful People Do with the First Hour of Their Work Day -- Fast Company

Brian Tracy’s classic time-management book Eat That Frog gets its title from a Mark Twain saying that, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you’ve got it behind you for the rest of the day, and nothing else looks so bad. Gina Trapani explained it well in a video for her Work Smart series). Combine that with the concept of getting one thing done before you wade into email, and you’ve got a day-to-day system in place. Here’s how to force yourself to stick to it...

More at the link...

What do you do? I'll admit it--I answer e-mail. Sometimes I blog. It helps me ease into the day.

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Louis CK, TJ and Dave, and the Power of Slow Comedy -- Splitsider

I am a big Louis CK fan, though I don't watch his show (maybe I should). I liked this article about comedy that builds, rather than providing a one-liner every 20 seconds (though that's fune too). Mike Birbiglia's stuff is like that too.

I first discovered the concept of slow comedy while taking a level 3 class at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York City nine years ago. My instructor, Michael Delaney, was a long time veteran and one of the strongest performers at the theater. I desperately wanted to make a good impression in his first class. During one of my first scenes, which took place in a prison, I decided to make my character into a ridiculous prison caricature, threatening to rape my scene partner while sharpening a shiv. I’d even made the threat into a silly song, because I’d decided this prisoner was way into Disney movies. “What a bold character choice!” I thought to myself. A few minutes into the scene Delaney stopped everything and asked me, flat out, who I thought this character I was playing really was, and what he was all about – his name, why he was in prison, his hopes and dreams. I stammered and tried to explain that he was just some angry prisoner who probably also loved The Little Mermaid, but he wasn’t buying it. And right then he went into a speech on improv and comedy that I’ll never forget:

“If you create a world with ridiculous characters, you may discover something funny in your scene. But I believe the stronger decision is to play real, grounded characters that are vulnerable and affected by the world around them. You take your time, perform at the top of your intelligence, and react realistically to what happens. Now, this won’t always lead to a hilarious scene. Sometimes you’ll have a scene that won’t be funny at all. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. Sometimes you’ve just made some interesting theater. And if that sounds awful, know that the audience will not hate you like they will if you try to force something funny on them and it falls flat.”

~

Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don't Give -- The Atlantic Cities

...as a share of their income, the richest people in the U.S. are giving at a significantly lower rate than the less affluent.

The study looked at tax returns for people with reported earnings of $50,000 or more from the year 2008 – the most recent year for which data was available. The report found that for people earning between $50,000 and $75,000, an average of 7.6 percent of discretionary income was donated to charity. For those earning $200,000 or more, just 4.2 percent of discretionary income was donated.

Turns out lower giving among the rich likely has much more to do with where they live and who they live near.

As this accompanying article from the journal notes, when the rich are highly concentrated in wealthy enclaves, they're less likely to give as compared with the rich living in more economically diverse neighborhoods. The report found that in neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of taxpayers reported earning $200,000 or more, the average giving was just 2.8 percent of discretionary income.

In other words, concentration of wealth is also isolation from the less fortunate.

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Imagine: The Music of the Universe -- Duke Divinity Call and Response

I'm just finishing A Swiftly Tilting Planet with the girls. Not one of Madeleine L'Engle's best, but I love her descriptions of the "music of the spheres" -- the ways the heavens sing of the glory of God. Turns out there's something to that:

A recent Spark story in News & Ideas is about an astronomer who studies black holes. With a bit of techno-engineering he found that the sound of a star dying is approximately a D-sharp. How delightfully geeky and wondrous.

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Is God Good... All the Time? -- Andrew Kukla

Andrew is a friend from seminary who has a way of drilling down on the big questions I'm thinking about too. Here he takes on the "God is good... all the time... all the time... God is good" call and response:

Do I think that God isn’t good?  Not exactly… it’s never that clear and straightforward for me.   I don’t think God is evil, or amoral, or capricious (well… there are moments).  It’s just that the statement “God is good all the time” is the kind of statement made of the God that died for me back [during a difficult stint as a hospital chaplain among the poor of Atlanta].  I had to kill that God… strung that God up on the cross and nailed the hands and feet and pronounced God dead.  Here is the wonderful thing that occurred to me because of that experience.  When I killed the God of my own creation, the God that fit my categories (like goodness), when I killed that god the God that really is – a God of mystery and wonder and grace and life and love – was resurrected, came alive to me in ways I had not previously experienced.  To borrow from Joseph Campbell I had begun to worship the mask of God created by my theology and thoughts and (most problematic) my needs rather than the God that lay beyond the mask.

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I Believe in God. I Don't Believe in God -- Guardian

This:

In a celebrated essay on Russian literature, Isaiah Berlin famously borrowed a quotation from the Greek poet Archilochus to distinguish two very different sorts of thinkers: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." The fox, like Berlin himself, can commit to a plurality of values, even when they are incommensurable.

The hedgehog wants to subsume all reality under a single idea or principle. Speaking for myself, I fear hedgehogs, whatever the brand of reality they want to sign up to. Yet hedgehogs, and certainly clever ones, are well defended by their consistency. By contrast, foxes are in the awkward and vulnerable position of contradicting themselves. I love the church. I hate the church. I believe in God. I don't believe in God. I do it all the time. And I am totally unrepentant. It seems to me that one of the marks of sanity is that one can live with contradiction.

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Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children -- Bill Nye (video)

The Science Guy makes it plain:

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

And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.

~

Off to eat great food, hike some mountains, and sit in a hot tub. Etc. See you next week...

Should He Donate a Kidney?

This story popped up in my Facebook newsfeed this morning. A philosophy professor asked his "Altruism and Egoism" class to write a final paper, applying the learnings from the class to the question of whether he should donate a kidney to someone in need---something he has considered seriously for some time. The assignment succeeded as a learning exercise; however, (or maybe I should say "and") the class refused to come down on one side or the other.

"It was very clear that they believed that this would be a very good thing to do; an excellent thing to do, going above and beyond in all the usual sorts of ways we would talk about such charitable actions," Taber says. "But they felt uneasy making that recommendation to somebody they know — namely, me."

Lots of things to chew on here. I'm thinking specifically about the takeaway for religious communities. Christians are big fans of Jesus. We like his message. Loving our neighbor? Giving to the poor? We recognize these are very good things to do; excellent things to do. But actually doing what Jesus did, wholeheartedly?

Err, uneasy is a good word for that.

One of the commenters on the news story wondered if the outcome would have been different had the class known the potential recipient as well as the potential donor. I suspect it would have been harder to demur on the issue.

What do you think?

So Be Good for Goodness' Sake

A member of the church sent me this article as a response to some of the themes we've been discussing in our Advent Conspiracy study. I was especially interested in this 1984 experiment:

The children were asked to tell stories about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or their pets. They were then given nine pieces of gum and “encouraged to donate any amount of their gum to handicapped children.”

The kindergartners, who were clearly not yet into sharing, tended to hold onto their gum. But the first-graders were far more generous, and those who had been discussing Santa were the most giving of all. They gave up an average of 3.63 pieces of gum, compared to 1.3 pieces for those who talked about the Easter Bunny and 1.63 for those who discussed their pets.

The study's authors surmise that the "Santa kids" display the most generous behavior because “children perceive Santa Claus — but not the Easter Bunny — as a contingent gift-giver, assessing the quality of a child’s behavior before determining the nature of gifts... Alternately, children may see Santa Claus as more generally vigilant than the Easter Bunny.”

That seems very likely, especially since many parents use Santa Claus as a carrot and a stick at Christmastime. I suspect this was even more true in the 1980s than now.

However, it is also possible that the story of Santa's giving inspires giving. I'd like to think that is a factor; in fact, I have read studies that strongly suggest this. People learn and exhibit empathy when they are intentionally exposed to people in need and to stories of extravagant generosity. To be frank, this idea is pretty foundational for me as a Christian minister---that the epic story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection effects a transformation in the lives and hearts of its listeners, such that they are moved to "go and do likewise."

But if that were the case---that stories of generosity inspire generosity---how do we understand the discrepancy between the "Santa children" and the "Easter Bunny children"? There are all sorts of possible reasons:

  • The quality of the stories. The Santa story is much more deeply resonant with children than the Easter Bunny.
  • Along those same lines, the Santa myth is grounded in a historical person, Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. And I think the myth carries the weight of that historicity, even when the listeners don't know the source material. Stories are powerful and mysterious that way.
  • The Easter Bunny is an animal, giving the story much less of an aspirational quality. What, I'm supposed to emulate a rabbit?
  • Generally speaking, Santa displays an abundance of generosity (toys, candy and stocking stuffers) that the Easter Bunny does not (a basket of candy).

What do you think?

By the way, I never realized until I typed the title how contradictory that verse of the song. "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good." Then comes the line in the title.

But wait---is it contradictory? I think it all comes down to the punctuation. When viewed like this:

So be good, for goodness sake!

It's totally in keeping with the song. It's a threat---be good, or else. (And how many folks do we know who still cling to that view of God?)

But when viewed like this, it's totally different:

So be good for goodness' sake.

Be good... for the sake of goodness. Not because you get anything in return. It's like a little glimmer of good news and a faithful bit of ethics right in the middle of "Boogeyman gonna get ya" theology. I'll take the glimmers and bits where I can get them.