Improv: It's Not Just for Comedy Anymore

2832131751_ed18ffab4e_z (News flash: it never was.)

What happens when you give scientists improv lessons?

That's what New York's Stony Brook University is trying to figure out through Improvisation for Scientists, a class spearheaded by a team of folks including actor Alan Alda.

They aren't trying to find the next Amy Poehler. Instead the goal is to teach a mindset and a series of communication skills to budding STEM and medical students. Alda tells about a science student whose perspective shifted as a result of the class. Rather than looking at a set of data and feeling it was his job to make sense of it--to control it by explaining it--he “lets the data talk to him.” Just as a partner on stage speaks to you, and it's your job to pay attention so you can respond.

Improv is a process of discovery, much like the pursuit of scientific knowledge itself. But most of life is an improvisation, I'm convinced.

In fact, I'm very grateful to have received a grant from the Louisville Institute to explore this topic. I'll be taking improv classes, here in DC and in Chicago at Second City, and I'll be interviewing people for a podcast that will roll out next year. Stay tuned for more on that work!

I've already studied and written a bit about improv, and have led events on improv and the spiritual life. Sometimes people balk at the topic because they think my goal is to get people up on stage, or to be funny on command. That's not it at all. 

As an example, a medical student in the Stony Brook program used his improv training from a game called ‘Mirror Exercise’ to better communicate with a patient:

He had to tell her that her cancer had metastasized and she had only two weeks left to live. He was terrified going into the conversation.

At first the woman had no reaction at all to the news. He had the feeling she didn't understand what was happening, so he decided to use some of his improv training.

“He said, ‘I sat down with her and we held hands. ... I told her in the simplest possible way what was happening. I didn't use any three-syllable words. I didn't use the word ‘metastasis,’ I didn't use the word ‘prognosis.’ I just tried to be simple and slow because I knew that there was a pacing to the way that you could hear this information.’ And he said ‘For the first time, the woman started to cry.’ And when she cried, it made him cry, and then when he cried she had a question,” [the student] says. “He said, ‘What I felt happened was that I was able to help her understand how to understand the end of her life. And she was able to help me understand how to be a better doctor.’”

Recently I was talking to a woman in charge of programming for a congregation--we're trying to figure out whether I might come and lead some events there. I was explaining this improv stuff and launched into my standard speech about how improv isn't about performance for me--it's about learning to listen to your intuition, to take risks, to pay attention to what's going on around you. Suddenly the woman said, "Oh, I know exactly what you're talking about." She told me about a young woman in her life who struggles with OCD. Her doctor "prescribed" improv lessons as one aspect of her treatment and it's had a tremendous positive impact.

This is powerful stuff, folks.

And for the record: it scares me. It scares me because it's powerful, and because it's fundamentally out of my control. I joke sometimes that when I write the book on this it'll be called Improv for Control Freaks, because that's where I live and where a lot of us live.

For me, improv is wrapped up in the spiritual practice of letting go.

I can't wait.

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Reminder: Sign up to receive Gate of the Year, a free workbook/playbook to help you do a review of 2015 and set intentions and visions for 2016. Learn more here. Sign up here.

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Image: 24h Contact Improvisation Jam by David Olivari through Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Link Love: Rosetta Celebration Edition

Congratulations to everyone involved with the Philae probe! There have been some bumps and snafus with the landing, but that doesn't diminish the achievement: a human-made object has made physical contact with a comet for the first time ever. Say what you will about the Internet---and there's plenty to critique---but it's a wonderful tool for cultivating awe and wonder. Of course, there's the ability to watch things like the Rosetta mission unfold in real time. But I'm a sucker for a good space video. Here are a few of my favorites.

(These two videos have soundtracks that detract, in my opinion---watch with the volume turned down, or put on your favorite musical accompaniment.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17jymDn0W6U

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEheh1BH34Q

Then there's Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the "cosmic calendar": the entire timeline of the universe, mapped to one year on the Gregorian calendar. I can't find a video that encapsulates the whole thing; here's a short video that outlines the concept, plus a partial transcript. Spoiler alert: every person we've ever heard of occupies the last 14 seconds of the year.

And here's one I just discovered this week---a page in which you can scroll to view composite photos from the International Space Station. Don't miss the set of aurora borealis images.

I'm awed by that thin membrane of atmosphere that makes all of life possible:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.22.09 PM

What's your favorite image, page or video that helps you cultivate awe?

On the Edge of Ignorance

NCOS7200 "Science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance. We’re not afraid to admit what we don’t know – there’s no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers."

-Neil deGrasse Tyson, on the stunning new series Cosmos

Any theologian worth her salt works on that frontier as well.

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My blog practice during Lent is to Rest in the Words of Others. Interested in original content? I will be writing short reflections each week on my email list

Religion, Improv, and Why Penn Jillette Gets It Wrong Again

Experimenting-with-your-own-life I'll be at Fondren Presbyterian Church (Jackson, Mississippi) at the end of July for four nights of study around the topic "The Improvising God: God's Work in an Imperfect World". I've been preparing these presentations for several weeks, and I'm feeling both excited and daunted to explore issues of God's providence, God's "will," and the classic question of why bad things happen to good people. You know, little things like that.

I'm captivated by this idea of life as improvisation, and God as an improviser. As I read the Bible, and as I try to discern the Spirit at work in a world that is full of suffering and even cruelty, I don't see things being governed by some divine plan from the foundations of the world. Purpose, maybe, but not plan. Rather, I see creativity within constraints; I see adaptation and fluidity. I see responsiveness. (Yes, I know the classic answer: God has a plan; we just can't see it. I can't get there. The misery is too great. As I read today, "There is more undeserved suffering in the world than faith can contain.")

As I wrote recently:

Things happen [in life] that you didn’t anticipate, and you have to adjust. With luck and grace, you “yes-and” the thing, accepting and building on whatever gets thrown at you. Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it, by the way. But a spirit of improvisation leads us to be curious, to ask, “Well, OK. Now what?”

We are made in the image of God, and God is a master of improv. This I believe. I don’t know what that means when stacked up against sturdy preacherly words like eternal, immutable, absolute, all-knowing, perfect. I just know that when I look at the sacred texts I see a God who iterates. Who pivots. Who encounters the world as it is, not as God planned it to be. Who yes-ands all over the place.

One place where I see yes-and: the book of Exodus. Remember, "exodus" literally means "a way out." Not THE way out. I like the idea that God might have liberated the people of Israel in any of a hundred different ways, but thought, "Hey, this will do: Moses... Ever-escalating plagues... Passage through the Sea... Forty years of kvetching. Bring it." That's a creative and interesting deity. I'm down with that God---way more than a God who wrote down everything that was going to be, hit Save on Microsoft Word and then commenced the Big Bang.

I'm still testing this stuff out, and the folks in Jackson will help me build and refine these ideas. (Or they will brand me a heretic, but eh, it wouldn't be the first time.) The presentations will explore some of this yes-and work. Jurgen Moltmann meets Tina Fey. Samuel Wells's book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics has been very helpful as I prepare.

Anyway, what does all this have to do with poor Penn Jillette, magician and atheist extraordinaire? (I've gotten on his case before, the big lug.) In my reading today, I ran across this quote from Jillette, who wrote in his first book, God, No!:

If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

As I think about the possibilities of an improvising God and an improvising church, I think Jillette is both wrong, and right but missing the point.

Wrong, because when you boil them down, there's a startling symmetry to the basic message of many of the world's religions and faith traditions.

Right and missing the point, because of course they'd be different, but so what? That's not a bug, that's a feature. Religion, God-talk, and philosophy are a response to the world we inhabit---a frame for our experience of both ourselves and that which is beyond ourselves. Religion is both the lens, and the thing being scrutinized through the lens. Taking the Exodus story as an example: God, or the Universe, or the Great Whatever, would not carry out the work of liberation the exact same way, because that world would not be the same. (And how boring a God would be who behaves the exact same way in every case!)

In a world full of rich possibilities---a world of creativity and improvisation---our sacred stories would not be created the same way again. But that doesn't make those stories any less valid as illuminations of deep truth.

Friday Link Love

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

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Modern Art Desserts -- Brain Pickings

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

modernartdesserts3

More at the link.

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Perfectionism as Paralysis -- David Foster Wallace

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

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

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The Good Kind of Crazy -- David Lose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For a Student of Theology, Poetry Reverberates -- NPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

volcano-8

 

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Link Love: Darwin's Religion, and Saving the Planet through Slacking

  Away we go...

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HD Photos of the Sun -- Obligatory Colossal Link

Alan Friedman photographs the sun from his own backyard. Amazing what the world offers us if we look:

sun-9

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Work Less, Save the Planet -- Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones

 

I already shared this on FB/twitter but it bears repeating:

 

new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research concludes that if we all worked fewer hours, we could cut future global warming by as much as 22 percent by 2100.

 

Sabbath has environmental benefits! Yee-haw!

 

I was on God Complex Radio recently, and the discussion between Derrick and Carol following my interview touched on this exact thing. Good on them for being all cutting edge!

 

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Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday -- Presbyterian Church (USA), Shannon Kershner

It's humbling to be mentioned in the same article as the totally awesome Theresa Cho. Thank you Shannon.

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The Evolution of Religion, According to Darwin -- Elizabeth Drescher, Religion Dispatches

Was the great scientist a “proto-None”?

Pleins argues that reading Darwin and the theories he developed through the lens of an uncompromising rejection of religion has prevented us from seeing the full scope of Darwin’s genius, which reckoned with religion in evolutionary terms every bit as much as it did with natural selection or adaptation.

..."I’d say that Darwin teaches us that it is quite natural for humans to be religious and that it is appropriate for Darwinians to be curious about why humans seek a religious purpose to their lives. That doesn’t require that we think that religion is entirely artificial. That it’s merely a coping mechanism. One can be a Darwinian without having to condemn religion or the sense—a sense that Darwin often explored—that there is something more."

The book is called Evolving God and it's going on my Goodreads.

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Spirituality in the (Snow) Storm -- Brad Hirschfield, Washington Post 

The spirituality of snow is a spirituality of repose. It offers the opportunity to celebrate simply being, not the doing which fills most of our lives most of the time. It literally creates a blanket which absorbs the noise that fills our ears during less snowy times.

I write in the book about Sabbath as a spiritual snow day. That said, an actual snow day would be nice, O DC area weather gods.

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Labor of Love: The Enforced Happiness of Pret a Manger -- Timothy Noah, The New Republic

I've written about emotional labor before; here's another article about emotional labor in the restaurant business:

For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pret A Manger was in love with me. How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.

...

In the three decades since Hochschild published The Managed Heart, the emotional economy has spread like a noxious weed to dry cleaners, nail salons, even computer-repair shops. (Think of Apple's Genius Bars—parodied by The Onion as "Friend Bars"—where employees are taught to be empathetic and use words like "feel" as much as possible.) Back when she wrote her book, Hochschild estimated that about one-third of all jobs entailed "substantial demands for emotional labor." Today, she figures it's more like half. This is, among other things, terrible news for men, who (unlike women) are not taught from birth how to make other people happy. Perhaps that explains why men are losing ground in the service economy.

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How Parenting Became a DIY Project -- Emily Matchar, Atlantic

From home birth to homemade baby food to homeschooling, raising kids is a way for parents to express their individuality.

We see [the] principle of individualism writ large when it comes to parenthood. Parents often value individuality—both their own and their children's—above other concerns.

These main factors have led to the growth of what historian Stephanie Coontz calls "the myth of parental omnipotence"—the idea that parents can and should personally ensure their children's success through their own hard work and hyper-attentiveness.

I've been casting about for a Lent discipline. I finally settled on it: to do nothing extra. I will be content with good enough. That sounds a bit lame on the surface---I'm going to half-a** my way through Lent---but I think I'm on to something. That omnipotence stuff is very powerful in our culture, and not just with parenting. The myth of omnipotence seduces us into thinking we're in charge of our lives. We are not---and what could be more Lenten than that?

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50 Sure Signs that Texas is Actually Utopia -- BuzzFeed

enhanced-buzz-11300-1360191348-10

Texas politics are seven kinds of crazy, but I love this list. And the counter-list.

I'd remove the Bush twins though, and add this lady, of blessed memory:

We miss you, Molly.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. Even if you're not from Texas.

Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It's going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering. Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I'll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? -- New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He's not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

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Salon's Guide to Writing a Memoir -- Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I'm pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World -- Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I've seen. OK, posts like this don't solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

life-hacks-how-to-make-your-life-easier-29

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Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? -- Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

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Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too -- New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe -- Deb Perelman, Slate

I'm a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb's description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers -- Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet. 17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight. 18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. I'm off to Windy City tomorrow, where I'll be leading a pastors' retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I'll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!

Friday Link Love: Tech Overload, Life of Pi, and the Death of Homework?

Away we go! ~

dove-hands12NEXT Church 

I am on the strategy team for the NEXT Church, an initiative that is trying to encourage dynamic and vibrant ministry, particularly in the Presbyterian Church (USA). If that's something you care about too, you want to be reading our blog, perusing (and contributing to) our archive of ministry resources, and registering for our 2013 gathering, March 4-5 in Charlotte.

Bookmark it! Share it! Love it!

Update: The latest post on the NEXT blog is by yours truly. Yes, I'm getting cranky about not singing Christmas carols during Advent again.

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Time to Tune Out -- Roger Cohen, New York Times

Posted this on FB/Twitter yesterday with the question, "Is disconnecting from technology going to be the new trend?" Here's the article again:

[The author quotes a reader who unplugged from Facebook] “Now, I am back to reading books when I would have been Facebooking. I talk to folks at the café I frequent. People have started calling me on the phone again to catch up because they don’t know what is going on with me otherwise. I have a hunch that being DISconnected is on its way to being the new trend.”

So here’s to doses of disconnection in 2013. Get out of the cross hairs of your devices from time to time. Drink experience unfiltered by hyperconnection. Gaze with patience. Listen through silences. Let your longings breathe.

Take a tech sabbath!

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Can Faith in the Better Story Sustain Us? Survival and Significance in “Life of Pi” -- Nick Olson, Patheos

Life-of-Pi

Life of Pi is a story about Story, which means I love it:

Taken together, Life of Pi‘s various themes seem to suggest a longing for human significance couched in vaguely religious language. It’s a contemplative tale rooted in questions with room for open-ended interpretation. More specifically, Lee’s film — as an extension of Martel’s novel — suggests that our difficult, often tragic lives matter in a way that cold “facts” can’t totally explain. You might characterize the story as a “desperate” (survivalist) attempt to re-enchant a supposedly disenchanted modern world. Interestingly, in an interview with PBS, Martel says that he wrote his novel during a time when he felt lost: “I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small ‘s’ but sort of with a capital ‘S’ — something that would direct my life.” Martel’s existential plight seems to have been Pi’s shipwrecked plight: lonely and directionless. Having “faith” in this particular context has a less specific range; its content is the simple belief that our lives — suffering included — are filled with meaning, purpose, and wonder. Which is to say, in Life of Pi, the religious and literary imaginations merely function as signals of the truth of significance itself, a “better Story” compared to a disenchanted, cold rationalism because there is more to humanity and existence than meets the eye.

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Isaac Newton v. Rube Goldberg -- 2D House (Video, 1:07)

Who will win the battle? Why, you will, because you'll be wonderfully entertained. Here it is. (Can't embed for some reason)

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Today's Assignment -- Louis Menand, The New Yorker

Is homework useful? The article looks at attitudes about homework in two very different countries, Finland and South Korea.

Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead. When President Hollande promises to end homework, make the school day shorter, and devote more teachers to disadvantaged areas, he is saying that he wants France to be more like Finland. His reforms will work only if that is, in fact, what the French want.

What do Americans want? Not to be like Finland is a safe guess. Americans have an egalitarian approach to inequality: they want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else.

That's one of the truer sentences about the American Dream I've ever read. He goes on:

The dirty little secret of education reform is that one of the greatest predictors of academic success is household income. Even the standardized tests used for college admissions, like the S.A.T.s, are essentially proxies for income: students from better-off backgrounds get higher scores. The educational system is supposed to be an engine of opportunity and social readjustment, but in some ways it operates as a perpetuator of the status quo.

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An Age-Old Question: Readers Debate Science and Theology -- New York Times

The author, Nicholas Wade, wrote a reflection on Marco Rubio's recent comments about the age of the earth. These are some of the responses to that article, which I found interesting. Here's one:

In calling Senator Marco Rubio’s answer to a question about the age of the earth “15 back flips and a hissy fit,” Nicholas Wade grossly misdescribed the answer quoted earlier in his article. Mr. Rubio’s answer was a simple and ordinary evasion. It left room for Mr. Rubio’s religious right supporters to hope that he will support teaching the Bible in science class, while leaving himself room not to appear to be an outright science denier, to appease his more scientific supporters.

Possibly, the article should have been put in the political news section rather than the science section; the scientific truth of the theory of evolution has not been news since about 1859.

I'm not sure whether it was a simple evasion or not, but it seems plausible.

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"Couponing" for Authors -- J.L. Greger, Mystery Writing is Murder

This link is going to be most of interest for writers; if that's you, check it out. The author describes a process by which she collects stories, data and tidbits that might be inspiration for a bit of writing.

Good principles here. But the main reason I'm linking to the article: it gives me yet another chance to profess my love for Evernote. I have several notebooks set up at the moment, in which I'm couponing ideas for new book projects.

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A 120-Year-Old Mechanical Device that Perfectly Mimics the Sound of a Bird -- Colossal

Get out the headphones or turn up your speakers and prepare to be impressed by archaic 19th century engineering.

Delightful:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tPKFT_t2rL0]

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Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday Link Love

Three Christmas Gifts -- Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I've started thinking about the kids' Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas -- a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because "It was good enough for Jesus." We've been doing that for some time, but I think we'll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline's heart's desire is a guinea pig.

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An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education -- Brain Pickings

Apparently we're not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BGL22PTIOAM]

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Why You're Never Failing as a Mother -- Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.

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Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner -- Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

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How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal -- 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., "If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.") The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in "If X, then Y" terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.

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Motoi Yamamoto's Saltscapes -- Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

[vimeo 52553020 w=500 h=281]

Motoi Yamamoto - Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That'll preach.

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