We Admitted We Were Powerless... That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

During our year of Sabbath, reading magazines became one of my favorite Sabbath activities. I love how easy they are to dip into. The photographs are often calming and sumptuous. The articles are the perfect length for Sabbath, better than a book, because I was disturb-able while I read. If a kid wanted to color a picture with me, or build an elaborate model of Hogwarts out of wooden blocks, I could put the magazine down more easily than I could an engrossing novel. The problem is, thanks to an accumulation of subscriptions that year, as well as a few enticing Groupons since then, I subscribe to way too many magazines.

The title of this post is from Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization dear to my heart for familial reasons, but the sentiment can be applied to a great many things. My magazine consumption has gotten completely out of hand. What started as a quiet diversion, steeped in quiet contentment, has taken over my life. I love reading and learning new things, so it's hard to recycle these magazines, unread, when they start to pile up.

I've been thinking a lot about Meister Eckhart's thing about the spiritual life being a process of subtraction. I need to let go of some of these magazines, but I can't decide which ones to let lapse. All the pretty pictures! The inspiring, preachable stories! The penetrating commentary on religion and culture!

Add in the couple dozen wonderful blogs and sites I read regularly, and it's the classic case of too much of a good thing.

In fact, I wonder whether every spiritual quandary can be boiled down to an overabundance of something.

I wonder if you have things that started as life-giving practices that have become burdensome. How do you go about letting go of them? Or is "letting go" the goal?

On Aurora, Sabbath, and Technology

The terrible events in Aurora, Colorado have felt a little remote. The news broke while I was in the bubble of the PW Gathering, and it didn't seem real. It still doesn't.

I'm not sure what I might contribute to the discussion about the murders. (I agree with Adam Gopnik: calling it a "tragedy" dignifies the act.) Here are two links that spoke to me: An Open Letter to All Who Suffer, and The Grief We Carry in Our Bodies. (The photo is from Dark Elegy, which is featured in the latter post.)

But I have been thinking about how we receive and process news about tragedies like this. I keep remembering a passage from my book. The shooting at Gabby Giffords' town hall event in Tucson happened on a sabbath day during our year-long sabbath experiment; I remember it vividly. Here's what I wrote then. Here's what I have to say today:

It’s early evening on a Sabbath when I learn about Tucson. A congresswoman and several people have been shot, some fatally. I get the news through Facebook, which I’ve logged into at an idle moment. Through the tributes, links, laments, and predictable anti- and progun sentiments that get voiced during events like this, I piece together what has happened. As I click from article to article, I feel strange that while I was in my own little world, terrible events were transpiring.

I think back to the 9/11 attacks, which happened while I was in seminary in Atlanta. We were told about the planes hitting the Twin Towers in the middle of Hebrew class. Afterward, someone had wheeled a television into the hallway, and many of us saw the towers fall. These days, during the course of my life, I’m rarely very far from e-mail, the radio, or an Internet newsfeed. So to have a tragedy like Tucson unfold over several hours while I was blithely knitting a Harry Potter scarf for Caroline is bizarre.

It’s bizarre but also liberating. I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families, but after a while, I decide to turn off the computer. All year, Sabbath has been reminding me that I am not indispensable. I can do nothing to change what has happened. I cannot alter the trajectory of this story as it moves forward either, and sitting at my computer, combing news sites for additional bits of information about the shooter, does nobody any good.

The world has gotten a lot smaller, thanks in part to the 24-7 news cycle. I am grateful for many aspects of our hyperconnected world. But I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges from all this togetherness. Within hours, we know all kinds of details about the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and the theories spread like wildfire as to his motives and alleged political leanings. Many of these theories will turn out to be false, but by then it will be too late. These snatches of information, fed to a hungry public, will only confirm what people are already inclined to believe. We hear what we want to hear. We become more entrenched, stony, and immobile in our views. We become more polarized.

Time will tell us what we need to know. I believe this. Sabbath is so much deeper than a weekly rest and renewal. Sabbath fosters perspective and clarity. Through Sabbath, perhaps, we can learn the difference between urgent and important. We can learn that reading or commenting on news articles is not the same thing as working for the healing of the world—it only gives us the illusion of doing something useful.

As I watch my laptop screen flash into darkness, I feel a sense of relief. Yes, the world falls apart, even on the Sabbath. Tomorrow I will do my small part to put it back together again, whatever that might be. But today, taking this time to cherish family, self, and God is the most faithful way I can think of to begin.


To pre-order Sabbath in the Suburbs, click here or here.

Friday Link Love

A more random assortment than usual:

The Best and Worst Places in the World to Be a Woman -- Belfast Telegraph

In honor of yesterday's International Women's Day:

1. Best place to be a woman: Iceland

Iceland has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators. The UK comes in at 16th place, down one since 2010. The worst is Yemen, and the most dangerous is Afghanistan.

2. Best place to be a politician: Rwanda

Rwanda is the only nation in which females make up the majority of parliamentarians. Women hold 45 out of 80 seats. The UK comes in at 45th place, behind Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. The worst countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Oman and Belize, have no women in parliament.

More at the link.


And while we're on the topic...

The Census Bureau Counts Fathers as "Child Care" -- NYT

...when they are caring for kids when the mother is working. Srsly?

If, every morning, I go off to work and my husband stays home with a child, that’s a “child care arrangement” in the eyes of this governmental institution. If the reverse is true, it’s not. I asked Ms. Laughlin if the Census Bureau collected data on the hours mothers spend offering “work support” to their husbands. “No,” she said. “We don’t report it in that direction.”

How's about we call both of those things "parenting" and get on with life in the 21st century, OK?


Fresh Guacamole -- YouTube

So clever:



The Exit Polls Tell the Story -- McSweeney's

Because you've got to embrace the silliness sometimes:

Romney was the overall winner among ascot-wearers. Santorum won among the subset of voters wearing denim ascots. Gingrich was the pick of those wearing gravy-stained ascots.



Lenten Epiphany -- theskyislaughing

Susan Olson does it again. Wise and heartfelt.


Lists of Note

What a fun site to browse. The latest list (as of this posting) includes 17 books that Hemingway "would rather read again for the first time [...] than have an assured income of a million dollars a year."


How Far Apart on Iran Are GOP Candidates, Obama? -- NPR

Last week's Link Love included a link to NPR's new ethics policies, in which they try to get away from gotcha, false-equivalence pieces. This story is a perfect example of that. It's actually a real news story, not a puff piece about the horse race. They even correct a factual error that one of the candidate made.



That's all I got today. Peace be with you.

Friday Link Love

Away we go: ~

Speed Creating -- Dominic Wilcox

I included a link to this earlier in the week, but Wilcox's stuff is so cool I just had to post it in Link Love. Whimsical! Practical! Genius!

At left is the foil bust.


Where Am I? The Middle Class Crisis of Place -- Christianity Today

To exist at all, we must be somewhere. And as embodied creatures, we are implaced in specific contexts. Yet in contemporary culture, this aspect of human existence is threatened by what Bartholomew calls a "crisis of place" created by several elements of our technological society. To fully flourish as human beings—and to flourish as entire communities—Bartholomew argues, we need to recover the lost art of placemaking.

I especially like the spiritual/incarnational practices he suggests to recover a sense of Place.


How "Not Giving a ****" Can Really Help You a Lot -- Improvised Life

Interesting videos with George Carlin and Louis C.K. (one of my favorite comedians) about truth-telling, authenticity and creativity. Obvious warning: both have potty mouths. If that bothers you, don't send me letters clutching your pearls. Just don't watch.


The Illusion of Choice -- An Infographic

The statistics in infographics always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. However, the basic assertion is this: despite a dizzying number of media options today, 90% of what we read, watch or listen to is controlled by just six corporations.


And another graphic, Highways as the London Subway Map -- Good Design

h/t Keith Snyder. I love maps, and this one is especially fun to look at.


I'm off to Big D on Sunday for the NEXT Church conference. I've been so focused on getting my workshop ready that I haven't had a chance to get excited about seeing old friends and getting inspired for ministry. It's going to be great! And if any of you Blue Room readers are coming, be sure and say hello.