Friday Link Love: Laughing at Kids, Love Connections at Wal-Mart and More

First of all: new author website! Woohoo! Thanks to the folks at Paraclete Web Design for their great work, prompt service, and good humor. There will be a number of kinks to work out in the days to come, but how fun to have some new digs! Away we go:

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The Saddest Map in America -- The Dish

Looking for love in all the wrong places? The most popular places mentioned in Craig's List "missed connections" feature, compiled by state:

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I don't know what's more awesome: that Wal-Mart appears so many times, or that Oklahomans are looking for love at the state fair.

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Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals -- Spiegel

He's changed his position on kin selection as it relates to evolution, favoring group selection instead:

During the 1970s, I was one of the main proponents of kin selection theory. And at first the idea sounds very reasonable. So for example, if I favored you because you were my brother and therefore we share one half of our genes, then I could sacrifice a lot for you. I could give up my chance to have children in order to get you through college and have a big family. The problem is: If you think it through, kin selection doesn't explain anything. Instead, I came to the conclusion that selection operates on multiple levels. On one hand, you have normal Darwinian selection going on all the time, where individuals compete with each other. In addition, however, these individuals now form groups. They are staying together, and consequently it is group versus group.

I'm no scientist, but the tribal thing makes sense. There are new studies out about how liberals and conservatives over-exaggerate the characteristics of the other.

And this phrase was new to me:

"Humans," the saying goes, "have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology".

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When the Children Make Us Laugh -- Worshiping with Children

She is sitting on the steps with the pastor who asks a question.  She offers what seems like a perfectly sensible answer and the whole congregation laughs.  In that moment one of two things happens, either a comedian is born or a child feels humiliated.  When a comedian is born, he often uses the children’s time to practice his new-found vocation, generally with beginner comedian results.  He may even compete with the pastor for the attention of the congregation – especially if mom or dad is the pastor.  The results can embarrass everyone – except probably the young comedian. But if the child who drew laughter feels humiliated, she often decides the conversations on the steps are dangerous.

There is surely middle ground here between a fledgling comedian and abject humiliation. But laughing at children when they are being serious is a major issue with me. It's fine to share delight with one another, regardless of age. But I felt disrespected as a child when I made an earnest comment and adults laughed. Some ideas in this article about how to handle this in worship.

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It's Absurd -- Bromleigh McCleneghan

During the Oscars, the Onion posted a vile tweet about child actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Bromleigh's take on the incident is one of my favorites. She also has the best "About" page I think I've ever read in all my years of blogging.

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Trust and Society -- Bruce Schneier, The Montreal Review

This past weekend during book group at Tiny, we were discussing the Harry Potter series. I remarked that both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games portray institutions (such as government) as completely inept at best, and malevolent at worst. I wondered what it does to kids to receive such messages---that basic institutions are not worthy of our trust---at such a formative time in their lives. (I honestly don't know; I mean, look at fairy tales!)

Many people piped up with variations on the idea that institutions should not be worthy of our trust, and certainly not blind trust (I agree with the latter). One person said "Kids needs to learn that they can trust their families, their friends. Not institutions." Another brought up Watergate. I get that. But really, is it helpful and healthy to promote cynicism at such an early age?

I wish I'd had this article at the time:

In today's society, we need to trust not only people, but institutions and systems. It's not so much that I trusted the particular pilot who flew my plane this morning, but the airline that produces well-trained and well-rested pilots according to some schedule. And it's not so much that I trusted the particular taxi driver, but instead the taxi licensing system and overall police system that produced him. Similarly, when I used an ATM this morning -- another interesting exercise in trust -- it's less that I trusted that particular machine, bank, and service company -- but instead that I trusted the national banking system to debit the proper amount from my bank account back home.

What do you think?

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Sister Corita Kent’s Timeless Rules for Learning and Life, Hand-Lettered by Lisa Congdon -- Brain Pickings

Thought-provoking list:

  1. Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.

(Speaking of trust...)

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Want to Give Your Family Value and Purpose? Write a Mission Statement -- The Atlantic

Can mission statements be pointless wastes of time? Yes, they can. But not necessarily. I'll admit it, I love the idea. The author quotes the Covey family mission statement:

"The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society."

I had a range of reactions on reading this. On the one hand, I found the whole thing a little corny. It seemed cumbersome, heavy-handed, and a tad humorless. On the other hand, I kinda loved the idea. I'm corny! I also thought Covey's idea captured something inherently true: How can we ask our children to uphold our family's values if we never articulate what those values are?

This calls to mind some of the discussion going on in the church about teaching kids the Christian faith. For decades, we have relied on Sunday School and mid-week programs to do the job. But it's the parents' job, first and foremost. (Especially since the trend now is for "regular" attendees to come only a few times a month---we just don't have time and wherewithal to the do it all at church.)

Finally we voted on a single statement (taken from a remark I made when they were born): "May our first word be adventure and our last word love." Finally we added a series of ten statements: "We are travelers not tourists;" "We don't like dilemmas; we like solutions."

Or how about a family faith statement? Thank you John Vest!

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We Are Not What We Were Called -- The Dish

Two from Brain Pickings, two from The Dish. This is a link to that amazing movie/slam poem about bullying that's been making the rounds. But also check out this study:

Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.

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What Now? Advice for Writing and Life from Ann Patchett -- Brain Pickings

Two from Brain Pickings this week! I guess this post is from a commencement speech Patchett did. I took note of it because I was recently back at Columbia Seminary for only the third time since graduating 10 years ago. It was a very deep, rich experience, to walk those halls and to emerge from the Harrington Center into the quad like I did some 13 years ago when I first visited the campus and thought, "I am home."

So her remarks about going back to the pivotal spaces in our lives resonated with me:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours — long hallways and unforeseen stairwells — eventually puts you in the place you are now. Every choice lays down a trail of bread crumbs, so that when you look behind you there appears to be a very clear path that points straight to the place where you now stand. But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight — there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?

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What now, indeed? May whatever it is be wonderful for you all.

Friday Link Love

Today I'm off to a presbytery training on congregational transformation. So in lieu of a long blog post today, I'm going to share some links that I've collected this week and found interesting. The Coming Decade Will Be About Trust

I think the next decade will be about trust. This is the only decade in history that will be formed wholly by Gen X—we are so small that our age of power is brief. But research from sources like Tammy's Erikson's book, What's Next Gen X?, shows that the most pronounced traits of Gen X are no patience for veneers, hierarchy, and BS-laden idealism. Gen X will oversee a decade of trust.

What do you think? I agree about the BS detector. Some interesting thoughts in her post about what it means to be transparent.

The Anti-Social Network: Is Facebook Making Us Sad?

The researchers found that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. Jordan got the idea for the inquiry after observing his friends' reactions to Facebook: He noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through others' attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates. "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life," he told me.

I'm not sure I buy this. Yes, some people seem to have it all together on FB. (Heck, maybe I seem that way to other people.) But I think there are just as many examples of people using Facebook to kvetch and vent about their lives.

Any folks out there willing to run through their newsfeeds and tally up positive vs. negative statuses?

Comfort Kills

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading positive psychologist and the author of the book The How of Happiness, told me a funny story about her parents. They emigrated from Russia when she was a child and often go back to visit. When they come back they always say: Oh, America is so boring! Everything is so easy: you drive to the supermarket, park, get beautiful and fresh groceries for a reasonable price, put them in your car, and drive home. In Russia the same shopping trip is a huge challenge. Not only do you have to go to ten different stores to get what you need (and half of them are probably out of stock) but you also might get mugged on the way there. There's mafia everywhere. They say it's a "high" to be there.

Conclusion 2: Lack of comfort brings excitement, comfort brings boredom.

I'm a little concerned that the article glamorizes what it's like to be poor. Still, I tend to agree that in general, "We live in a society where comfort has become a value and a life goal. But comfort reduces our motivation for introducing important transformations in our lives."

Be More Successful by Planning for Frequent Failure

Every day we try to do well and minimize our failures. The problem is, we're going to fail frequently no matter what. Rather than trying to minimize the quantity of failures, you should try reducing their impact. Here's why...

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And lastly, a book recommendation. At our training today we will be discussing Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change by Robert Quinn. I've read a lot of books about leadership through change, and while this wasn't my favorite, I liked it in spite of myself. I didn't like this term "the fundamental state of leadership"; it seemed clunky and obtuse to me, so in my mind I substituted "authentic leadership." Quinn argues that leadership is more a state of mind than a set of activities. This is a book that fosters self-examination, with each chapter concluding with probing questions and self-assessments. I've decided to focus on one chapter per month over the next several months to see what that gets me. I also like the dialectical nature of Quinn's leadership attributes---for example, "reflective action." Too much reflectiveness and you never get anywhere; too little reflection and you can become capricious.

I'm eager to see what the other pastors in the training have to say about it.

Sometimes It Just Comes to You

One of my father's favorite expressions was "nature abhors a vacuum." Apparently this comes from Aristotle, and I am not scientifically literate enough to know whether that categorical statement is still correct. But it's a useful idea spiritually, that things often come to us more effortlessly if we create space for them. Or perhaps the corollary is more helpful for me: that when I fill my life up with too much activity, too much distraction, too much stuff, then there is no space to receive the unexpected gift, the bit of grace, or even the opportunity to serve. I was reminded of my dad's expression last year when my brother quit his job without another one lined up. That's a risky thing to do in any economy, and sensible people will say you should look while you're still drawing a paycheck. But in Luke's case, it worked---the empty space that was created by his resigning was filled up, and quite quickly, by another great opportunity.

Would that have happened anyway if he'd looked before he resigned? Sure, perhaps---but that empty space gave him a sense of urgency and, I would say, a MacGyver-ish creativity to use everything he had to fashion a new career opportunity for himself. Don't we all know people who do jobs they hate for months and years, all the while dreaming of something else? Don't you wonder what would happen if they just up and quit?

[Please note that I am not giving employment advice.]

Some time ago I read a book about simplicity and getting by with less. The author suggested that when you find yourself in need of something, to wait and see if it might come to you another way before going out and buying it. The person even suggested telling folks, "Hey, I'm really in need of this---do you have one to spare, or do you have any ideas?"

Something about the way the author presented this smacked of begging, so I dismissed it at the time. On the other hand, if it's done in the right way, why not put a need out there in the universe and see what happens?

Several times in the last three weeks, something I needed or wanted has come to me without my having to go out and buy it. In no case did I ask someone for the item, but in every case, I made a decision to wait before buying it... just to see. Just to open up some space for... who knows?

One of them was small. After our trip to NYC we really needed some groceries, but I was procrastinating, mainly because I hate shopping, but also to see how far we could get on freezer and pantry miscellany. Two days later a friend gave me two quarts of fresh berries that were being thrown out by the high-end chocolate shop where her daughter works. The berries were no longer pristine but still perfectly good. They lasted for several meals.

I have wanted some additional winter clothes for James, but I've been putting off buying any, because again, I hate shopping. While doing yet another quick load of laundry so he'd have long pants to wear the next day I thought, "I would love to be the recipient of someone's hand-me-downs... but I have no idea who to ask."

Several days later my friend L offered to give us her son's clothes after he outgrows them. I've gotten several bags full so far, and she's thrilled to have a destination for this stuff.

The third happened just this morning. Both girls want American Girl dolls, and that's just not something we're going to do. But thanks to a Facebook post about gift ideas for eight year olds, we have not one, but two hand-me-down AG dolls coming our way for Christmas. Compliments of a friend and her college-age daughter.

As I ponder Thanksgiving and gratitude, this is what I am thinking about. Gratitude is about appreciating what one has, but maybe it's also about trusting that things can come unexpectedly from others, not just our own resources, time, and money.

I wonder what needs or desires you have that you could put out into the world... just to see what happens. Or how this idea has worked for you.

How Do You Decide?

How do you decide what's "yours to do"? I've got an invitation in my e-mail box to do some writing for someone. It's a paying gig, which is a rare and wonderful thing... though let's not kid ourselves, it's not much. And I try not to break it down by the hour.

I've written for this outfit before. It's not hard stuff, and I believe in what they're doing, but it's not exactly what I want to be focusing on right now. There are two large projects I want to work on that I really feel energy for, but there's no deadline on them, and if they take a little longer because of side projects, well, nobody will care but me (and perhaps my writing group).

The invitation came right before I left, so I mulled it on my trip. As often happens, I came home from our travels invigorated, and resolved to be intentional about the things I take on, to avoid doing things just because they're expected of me by others. Again I link to the Christian Century and the article about the power of travel.

Our church also suffered a sudden, unexpected loss of a pillar member while I was away. I will miss T and her caring spirit. Such losses always invite us to consider our lives and make course corrections if necessary. Life is short and we are each irreplaceable.

So this morning I started to write a "no thanks" e-mail... and then something stopped me. I started to think about how the project really wouldn't take that much time, and it's far enough out that I could plan my time to get it done and also work on my personal projects. It's a slightly different focus than the work I've done for them before, which makes it enticing. Besides... I'm a writer. I serve a church part-time so that I can work on projects just like this one.

Those are all valid points, but I wonder if they are really what stopped me. Maybe I stopped because of fear. Maybe I am worried that if I start saying no to stuff, people will stop asking. Or maybe it's ego---I want to feel important and needed. Or maybe it's competitiveness---they'll ask someone else and like his/her stuff better.

First John talks about "testing the spirits" to see if they are of God. If I am leaning toward yes, and and that comes from a place of trust and joy, then I want to go that way. If I am working primarily out of fear or shadow stuff, then I want to check that. Unfortunately, most decisions are a muddled mix of both.

Interestingly, Bruce Reyes-Chow (the former moderator of our denomination) just announced today that he's letting go of two projects he's been working on. I admire his discernment and am sure it was tough. I believe in saying No when it allows you to work on the larger Yes, but discerning what that is isn't easy.

How do you decide to say no to worthy invitations? How do you determine what's "yours to do"?

Letting Go [cont.]

This one's in honor of the kids getting ready to start school in these parts, and the people who love them: I wrote the other day that I'm ready for Caroline to walk home from the bus stop this year. And more to the point, she is ready. It will be good for her to have this freedom. We shelter our kids more than we need to in many situations. She can do this.

Well, last week we found out that the district has eliminated the stop at the end of our street, so she will be walking on a busier street in our subdivision for the first part of the walk.

It's just an additional four houses (ten houses total), but still. I either have to decide that it's too far---that it's too much responsibility or "risk"---or I have to expand my vision a little and live in trust and not fear. I think it will be the latter.

Sounds like that "letting something go" thing has greater implications than I'd thought. I hate when the universe does that...