The Joy of Yes-And

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You may have seen the amazing video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi absolutely nailing her floor routine—with precision, energy, and sass. If you haven’t, please check it out, and the Washington Post story about this amazing athlete.

My friend and colleague Kathryn Johnston summarized what was so powerful about Ohashi's performance:

What really caught my attention is how Katelyn Ohashi stepped back from training to be on the Olympic elite level because it was breaking her body and spirit. She decided to focus on her college career instead, and have fun doing it. Obviously from the video you can tell, she's still pretty damn elite. There's a sermon in there about going for our joy even when it's not what society says should be our joy. 

I need that sermon, as I’ve gotten myself in a bit of trouble with Yes-And lately.

Many of you know Yes-And as the cardinal rule of improvisation—we receive what is offered on stage (or in life) and build on it in some way. I’ve written about this, I speak about it, and it’s the place where I start in God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

And it’s something I still get turned around about. Too often, Yes-And becomes an excuse to add more and more to my schedule without removing anything.

We had our first snowfall in the DC area this past weekend, which meant a snow day for my kids on Monday. Meanwhile I had a number of phone calls scheduled, and a lot of “thinking work” I really needed to do.

Now, my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and also entertain one another. I could have made those calls. I could have sequestered myself for a couple of hours and gotten the work done, popping out from time to time to make sure everyone was OK. And I have done that—it’s a staple for working parents, and a Yes-And of a sort… to say “Yes, this is a lot, and I’m going to embrace the chaos, juggling these handfuls of Jello as best I can, and being kind to myself when some of it splishes through my fingers.” A full, abundant life is a gift.

But for whatever reason, this time I took my own internal temperature, looked at the bigger picture, and Yes-Anded in a different way. I rescheduled my calls and subbed in some less taxing mental work. This enabled me to help my eldest with a looming school project, consult with the middle child on making the traditional snow-day pocket pies, and when my youngest came back in the house, stomping snow boots and shedding gloves and coat, I was ready with the hot chocolate. Most importantly, I saw this as a faithful expression of who I am and who I wanted to be that day.

Now, as Kathryn points out, Katelyn Ohashi is still performing at an extremely high level. But too often, our culture looks at people who take a step back in terms of what is lost. Maybe Ohashi will not end up at the Olympics as a result of her choice... but it’s clear from that performance how much has been gained.

Sure, sometimes Yes-And is a process of sheer addition, and making it work imperfectly and beautifully.
But other times—maybe more often—it’s about subtraction. Clarification. Deepening. 

One of my favorite follows on social media is elite runner Tina Muir. Tina is a serious athlete, logging hundreds of miles a month, and winning and placing in all kinds of races (she won the Army Ten-Miler here in DC in 2015). 

A couple of years ago, she left running altogether—arguably at the pinnacle of her own physical conditioning—because she hadn’t menstruated for nine years and had simply had enough of putting her body through that. She and her husband Steve wanted to start a family. 

Now, a couple of years later, she has a baby daughter, Bailey. She’s training again, but she trains differently. Her body has changed. She logs a bunch of her training miles with a jogging stroller. The demands on her life are more complicated. She’s also happier than she’s been in a long time.

She entered this weekend’s Disney Half Marathon with no expectations, but determined to run the 13.1 miles as best she could—to run them hard, and to run them joyfully.

Well… she won:

Screen Shot 2019-01-14 at 4.36.03 PM.png

...Now, just because you Yes-And and shift priorities and embrace the journey and all that stuff doesn’t mean you’re going to “win,” whatever winning means in your context. Results not guaranteed; this isn’t a formula.

But using Yes-And as a way of aligning with your deepest purpose means that winning no longer matters. The joy is its own sweet reward.

Fixing What's (Not?) Broken

One of the guiding principles of NEXT Church is a focus on healthy congregations. That’s what drives us, rather than an ideological or theological agenda. A big part of our focus is to identify, celebrate and support places of health in our denomination so that they can propagate. But what does health look like? How do we know it when we see it? And what about churches that are currently struggling?

As a co-chair of NEXT, this is something our strategy team thinks about a lot. I think we all know (or serve) churches that are struggling, but that have a lot of potential—potential to transform, potential to be a vibrant witness to Jesus Christ in their neighborhood, potential to grow in depth or breadth of ministry. Maybe they need a little inspiration, or somehopeful connection with colleagues, or a burst of energy and new ideas that comes from, say, a kick-butt conference.

But we also know that countless churches will close their doors over the next several decades.

Read the rest at the NEXT Church website.

Friday Link Love: Free to Be You and Me, Jovan Belcher's Guns, and Rocks That Defy Gravity

Lots and lots of links! Part of me wants to save some for next week. But I'm trying to follow Annie Dillard's advice to "spend it all... Something more will arise for later." So here goes: ~

She Who Dies with the Most Likes Wins -- Jessica Valenti, The Nation

On the ways successful women still struggle to be liked... and why they (we?) need to get over it.

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The Balanced Rock Sculptures of Michael Grab -- Colossal

They rely solely on gravity, yet seem to defy it:

blog-5-2

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Free to Be... You and Me Turns 40 -- Slate

Forty years ago this fall, a bunch of feminists released an album. They wanted to change … everything.

Great couple of articles about the classic album/TV special/phenom.

(I almost called F2B a "seminal" work of the movement, but... no. Heh.)

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Jovan Belcher's Guns -- Amy Sullivan, New Yorker

This is the best piece I've read on that appalling murder-suicide:

Costas’s critics... responded by counting out the ways in which Belcher could have killed both Perkins and himself without a gun—a morbid, reality-denying game. ...[One] suggested that Belcher could have driven his car into a wall. There are men who do that. But guns make everything faster and deadlier—they remove the space for doubt and regret, reaction and rescue. Recognizing this does nothing to exculpate Belcher; ignoring it is beyond obstinate.

Costas and Whitlock were not addressing gun legality, but gun culture. Not hunting rifle culture or antique collector culture---handgun as weapon and "protection" culture.

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Kentucky Doctor Joins Growing Movement to Keep a Sabbath -- Courier-Journal

Anyone read Matthew Sleeth's book 24/6 yet? I haven't, though it looks good:

The principle [of Sabbath] is at least as valid today as it was in ancient times when it was incorporated in the Ten Commandments, says Matthew Sleeth of Wilmore, Ky., a former emergency-room doctor who launched a Christian ministry to promote environmental care.

“Now we’re consuming seven days a week,” said Sleeth, author of the new book “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.”

“The problem with that is it’s not very fulfilling spiritually, and I don’t actually think it’s sustainable economically,” he said. “... And it’s bad for the planet.”

On another note, how do I get me some news coverage like this for Sabbath in the Suburbs?

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Creativity Blocked? Try a Common-Scents Solution -- Pacific Standard

Sleep + orange vanilla scent = creativity. Who knew?

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A Dash of Cold Water for Christian Anarchism -- Geez, John G. Stackhouse Jr.

Many years ago, during a meeting with the ministry preparation committee of my presbytery, I made what I thought was an uncontroversial statement: that while Jesus' life was a model for Christian living in a general sense, he was not my model for ministry in a specific sense. As a married woman who held down a job and paid rent and expected to live longer than 33 years and needed to plan for it, I didn't see Jesus' ministry as a paint-by-numbers enterprise so much as an overarching ethos.

This really bothered one member of the committee, by the way. Everyone else got what I was saying. Anyway, this article reminded me of that encounter. The question isn't WWJD so much as WWJHUD (What Would Jesus Have Us Do). Christian anarchism isn't a term I'm familiar with, but we do have our Christian purists out there whom Stackhouse could be addressing as well:

Jesus, I clearly saw [in my youth] (and clear-sightedness is one of the benefits of this point of view), collaborated with no institution and endorsed no regime. His gospel was a message of creative freedom, individual dignity and mutual responsibility and care. He and his disciples enjoyed tramping about the countryside, living on the margins, engaging people as they found them, giving to each according to his or her need. Small was, indeed, beautiful.

So why in the world wouldn’t we do the same?

Two reasons: We aren’t Jesus. And living just like Jesus doesn’t get done what Jesus wants done.

...For Jesus wants what God wants, and God’s first commandment in the Bible is to make shalom – to take the good world that God has made and to cultivate it, to make something of it, to encounter every situation and try to make it better. Note: God’s commandment is not to “stay pure,” a kind of double negative that is typical of a lot of Christian ethics: “Don’t sin!” “Don’t get implicated in anything compromising!” “Don’t commit violence!” God’s commandment, then and now, is a positive one: cultivate. Make things better. It’s not enough to say, “See, Lord? I kept the talent you gave me and didn’t lose a penny of it. My record is unbesmirched by moral compromise. I didn’t get much done, sure, but I didn’t come even close to risking my purity.”

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A Conversation between A Mother and Her Son -- StoryCorps/YouTube

I originally saw this on Upworthy, which provides the description:

You can learn a lot from a kid, especially from a super-insightful kid like Joshua Littman, who happens to have Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that makes social interactions difficult. Don't miss his question for his mom at 2:43... and his mom's response at 2:50.

It's a StoryCorps piece that was sweetly animated by The Rauch Brothers.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eO7sKVKMO2s]

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Dance v. PowerPoint: A Modest Proposal -- John Bohannon and Black Label Movement

Use dance to convey information instead of PowerPoint. There are worse ideas...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0nqhopRhju4]

h/t Teri Peterson for this link.

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Remains of the Day -- Matt Mendelsohn, Washingtonian

Long but worth-it article in which a photographer tracks down some of the couples whose weddings he photographed. Here's the money quote for clergy, who have a front-row seat for these sometimes bizarre festivities:

Jesus, as wedding photographers are reminded each week, performed his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. Of course, there’s no photographic evidence. Probably for the best. Had there been a photographer that day in Galilee, the world might today be looking at a picture of a bride and groom posed sexily in some ox cart, lit from behind by a strobe hidden in the hay, holding balloons while drinking wine out of Mason jars and gazing adoringly at each other.

That’s the current state of the art.

It’s no longer enough to take wedding pictures that show a bride and groom in love—dancing, whispering during dinner, playing with a nephew or niece. These days, wedding pictures are elaborate, photographer-contrived setups that show the newlyweds kissing in a wheat field (as if it were a natural act to go wheat-harvesting on one’s wedding day) or aboard an old-time fire engine.

Eighteen years in, we look at our photos so rarely. Of course we got married before the wheat-field trend started. But I doubt we'd look at them any more frequently if it had, except to chuckle at how clueless we were on our wedding day. Everyone is, of course. Maybe wheat-harvesting photos somehow highlight that fact.

Have a wonderful weekend...

To Err is Human, To Fail Divine

I can't remember who turned me on to Happy News, but what a great addition to my Google Reader. If you find yourself getting depressed about the state of the world, check it out. It's real news---no treacly chicken-soup stuff---but with a positive spin.

One recent story talked about a study which shows that failure is a better teacher than success. Now that's something a lot of us already know, but to recap:

While success is surely sweeter than failure, it seems failure is a far better teacher, and organizations that fail spectacularly often flourish more in the long run, according to a new study by Vinit Desai, assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

Desai's research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, focused on companies and organizations that launch satellites, rockets and shuttles into space – an arena where failures are high profile and hard to conceal.

Working with Peter Madsen, assistant professor at BYU School of Management, Desai found that organizations not only learned more from failure than success, they retained that knowledge longer.

"We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting, while knowledge from failure stuck around for years," he said. "But there is a tendency in organizations to ignore failure or try not to focus on it. Managers may fire people or turn over the entire workforce while they should be treating the failure as a learning opportunity." [emphasis mine]

Good stuff, but I sat up and took extra notice at this bit:

"Despite crowded skies, airlines are incredibly reliable. The number of failures is miniscule," [Desai] said. "And past research has shown that older airlines, those with more experience in failure, have a lower number of accidents."

I started thinking about our little church, almost 100 years old. They've had their share of failures over the years. Yet through it all they have survived. That longevity gives us a tremendous leg up; if we were to take a great risk and fail---even fail spectacularly---I'd like to think we have enough history to know that there is much more "to us" than one particular failure. Of course, there is an unfortunate paradox at work as well---the older an institution is, the more set in its ways it can be. It seems one of the tasks of leadership is to help an organization live into the gift of longevity as a foundation for risk, rather than a plateau on which to become complacent.

There might be some middle ground with this failure business. A few summers ago I was speaking with a man about his trip to Boy Scout camp with his son’s troop. “Well, how was it?” I asked. “Great,” he replied, and told me about the guiding principle for the week’s activities, a concept called “managed failure.”

The idea is to set the bar high for the boys, exposing them to tremendous challenges, giving them the training and equipment and support they need, and then letting them succeed, or fail, knowing that big successes are that much more gratifying, and in failure comes great learning. The father told me that his son had been doing a metal-working project when a piece of metal had chipped off and flew into his face. I gasped, but the man said quickly, “No no no, but you see? He was fine. He was wearing protective gear. That’s why it’s managed failure!”

I’ve been looking for references to this idea elsewhere and haven’t come up with much—but it seems like something for organizations to pay some heed. Most sessions (church councils) I know, given their druthers, would like to know ahead of time whether an idea will work. Failure is “not an option,” to use the cliche. The problem is, some ideas look great on paper but bomb in reality. Other ideas seem kooky but turn out to be transformative. A culture of experimentation, of “managed failure,” might make room for the kooky-yet-God-inspired options.

Have you failed spectacularly lately?