Friday Link Love

It feels strange to post LL on this, the darkest day of the year for Christians. Buta) maybe it's helpful to get a picture of this wild, crazy, illogical, beautiful world that God so loved, b) not all of you are Christian, and c) many of you are pastors and might need a little light. And in that vein, how about a screen cleaning?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMmjSE_d6J0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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Trickle-Down Consumption: How Rising Inequality Can Leave Everyone Worse Off -- Washington Post

As the wealthy have gotten wealthier, the economists find, that’s created an economic arms race in which the middle class has been spending beyond their means in order to keep up. The authors call this “trickle-down consumption.” The result? Americans are saving less, bankruptcies are becoming more common, and politicians are pushing for policies to make it easier to take on debt.

And a related issue:

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity -- The Atlantic

The people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.

One hears from fiscal conservatives that if we get rid of "big government" safety nets, that individuals, charities and churches will pick up the slack. I don't see how, but I'd like to engage with a fiscal conservative on this topic, especially the results of the study.

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100 Rules of Dinner -- Dinner, A Love Story

DALS is a recent discovery. A fun list for people who want to take cooking beyond the paint-by-numbers approach:

11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.

12. Herbs in the salad.

13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.

14. Cinnamon in the chili.

Also:

37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.

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The Case for Getting Married Young -- The Atlantic

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for this article. I agree that it shouldn't be proscriptive, but is a good counterpoint to a lot of current conventional wisdom about waiting to marry until you're "established":

Interestingly, in a 2009 report, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that much of the pressure to delay marriage comes from parents who encourage their children to finish their education before marrying. One student told him that her parents "want my full attention on grades and school." But such advice reflects an outdated reality, one in which a college degree was almost a guarantee of a good job that would be held for a lifetime. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, with so many students graduating from college with knee-buckling debt, they have worse than nothing to bring into a marriage. Indeed, prolonged singledom has become a rolling stone, gathering up debt and offspring that, we can be imagine, will manifest themselves in years to come in more broken, or never-realized, marriages.

Looking back over a marriage of nearly three decades, I am thankful that I married before going down that road. Now as a college-educated, doctorate-holding woman, I can attest that marrying young (at age 19) was most beneficial: to me, to my husband, and to the longevity of our marriage. Our achievements have come, I am convinced, not despite our young marriage, but because of it.

Our marriage was, to use Knot Yet's terminology, a "cornerstone" not a "capstone." ...

It was not the days of ease that made our marriage stronger and happier: it was working through the difficult parts. We learned to luxuriate in the quotidian, to take wonder in the mundane, skills that have become even more valuable in our prosperous years. We invested the vigor of our youth not in things to bring into the marriage, but in each other and our marriage.

As one sociologist put it:

Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you're fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life.

Robert and I married young (22), and next year will be our 20th anniversary. Blessed be.

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and more from The Atlantic:

Ogooglebar... and 14 Other Swedish Words We Should Incorporate Into English Immediately -- The Atlantic

I agree with my friend Jay: "attitydinkontinens" needs to take hold, now.

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From Puppy with Love -- The Bygone Bureau

How daily photos of a couple's dog helped them get through a long-distance relationship. I'm starting work on a second book, thinking about technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective, so this is of interest:

Did the pictures somehow substitute for or distract from our relationship? And the answer is yes. And I think that’s why we’re still together when so many people think long-distance relationships are impossible. Instead of focusing on us – which in the context of distance so often means strain, effort, and unhappiness – we dote on our dog and his boundless photogenicity.

I’m not suggesting that pictures can make a relationship work. And I’m not exactly sure why dog pictures are more effective for me than Skype or the telephone or texts.

...At the same time, though, this dog — something very much a product of our ability to raise it but at the same time independent, separate, us mediated into dog-life — has made a huge difference.

Loving the contrast between labyrinth and cone of shame here:

grid2-02

 

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The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, by Sylvia Plath -- Brain Pickings

Did you know Sylvia Plath wrote a children's book and it's charming and poignant?

itdoesntmattersuit_plath5

 

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The Two Epiphanies That Made Me a Better Negotiator -- 99U

Let's call this the latest installment in our ponderings about the Lean In movement:

When people are about to enter a negotiation, they see it as either a threat or a challengeStudies show that people who see negotiation as a threat experience greater stress and make less advantageous deals. They behave more passively, and are less likely to use tough tactics aimed at gaining leverage, compared to the hard-ballers who feel negotiation to be more of a challenge than a threat.

This makes so much sense to me. My husband absolutely sees negotiating as a challenge. He looks forward to a good haggle. I do not. Reading about these studies, I realized that I have always seen negotiations as threatening, and just wanted them over with as quickly as possible, no matter what it cost me. Why prolong a stressful, threatening situation when you can throw in the towel and move on?

But why do I see negotiations as threats, and not challenges? To answer that, I needed…

Epiphany #2: There is more than one way to look at any goal.

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God is With Me -- Practicing Families

This is a wonderful site, full of good practical ideas for incorporating faith and Christian practice into everyday life as a family.

When my kids were small, aged 6 and 3, getting out of the house in the morning was the worst part of the day....

I decided to write a litany for our mornings, and say it with them every school day morning for the year. These were the words that I hoped would help them in the most difficult parts of their day.

Parent: When I’m scared, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m happy, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m having a hard day, Kids: God is with me. Parent: When I’m having a super day, Kids: God is with me. Parent: All day long, every day, Kids: God is with me. All: Thank you God for being with me.

You could get playful with this: When my mommy forgets to pack a dessert in my lunch... When I forget to ask 'mother may I' at recess...

On the darkest day of the Christian year... God is with me. And you.

Peace.

Friday Link Love

Some things I found captivating, thought-provoking, or just plain fun this week: ~

"BLOOM SKIN" -- YouTube (video)

How cool would it be to do something like this in worship...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGTOq4RGMP4]

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NPR Tries to Get Its Pressthink Right -- PressThink

NPR has a new ethics policy:

With [the policy], NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin!

May God bless them and keep them as they (hopefully) seek to live into that...

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Pursuit, by Stephen Dobyns -- Writer's Almanac

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do something else. In such a way do the days pass— a blend of stock car racing and the never ending building of a gothic cathedral. Through the windows of my speeding car, I see all that I love falling away: books unread, jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?

More at the link. Powerful.

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Forty Ideas for Keeping a Holy Lent -- House for All Sinners and Saints

Good, simple ideas.

Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill

Day 8: No bitching day

Day 9: Do someone else’s chore

Day 10: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter

(Sunday)

Day 11: Call an old friend

Day 12: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)

 Etc.

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Tertium Squid -- Gordon Atkinson

Gordon has been blogging each day during Lent---good, heart-wrenching stuff from his vantage point as a former pastor. His mini-essays have become daily reading for me, since the book our congregation is using was written by yours truly.

I don't have much to say to God these days. No requests. No praises. No promises that I'll be a better boy. It's not that I have anything against talking to God. It's just that I did so much of that for such a long time. I grew up in the Baptist church where all we did was yammer on about this and that. Then I ended up being a preacher for twenty years. I've done my share of talking is what I'm saying. I'm kind of in a season of quiet these days.

I like to say I'm listening to God, but I've never heard God say anything. I get messages now and then but they always come through a side channel.

What I do these days when I pray is get very quiet. You have to work hard at real quiet. It takes me about twenty minutes to settle in. The Quakers taught me that. At first I thought the Quaker meetings seemed kind of long. Later I found myself arriving early so I could get calm ahead of time because I was losing a third of the hour to the fidgets.

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Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation -- Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Pagels ... shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look.

...

What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic.

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We're Starting a New Presbyterian Church -- Bruce Reyes-Chow

It will be an online church.

It's an intriguing prototype (to use language we heard at NEXT) and I think I'd sum up my opinion of this with one of the comments: "Please push the envelope on this, while regarding the en-fleshed experience of the gospel as essential."

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Why It Matters That Our Politicians Are Rich -- Boston.com

Politicians would like us to believe that all this money doesn’t matter in a deeper sense—that what matters is ideas, skills, and leadership ability. Aside from a little extra business savvy, they’re regular people just like the rest of us: They just happen to have more money.

But is that true? In fact, a number of new studies suggest that, in certain key ways, people with that much money are not like the rest of us at all. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.

Read the studies for yourself and tell me what you think.

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Have a good weekend, everyone.

Can Religious Communities Help People Be More Generous?

A friend recently shared this New York Times article about the "charitable-giving divide" between rich and poor. You might think that wealthy people would give a higher percentage of their incomes to charity, since they have more income to spare, but in fact the opposite is true: "In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent." Also, higher income folks give much of their money away to cultural institutions or universities rather than to organizations that help the poor. Money quote:

[One study found that] lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.

“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.

I haven't done a lot of reading to validate these claims. But it does bring to mind something Robert told me recently about environmental responsibility and the "moral balance sheet." People who do activities that they deem to be green will cut themselves a lot more slack in other areas. For example, people who have an energy-efficient washing machine do more laundry than people who don't. They sort of grade themselves on the curve.

I wonder if it's a similar dynamic here---wealthy people think "Well I give a lot more in absolute dollars, so who cares that it's a smaller percentage?" Assuming they even know about the discrepancy, or care...

Part of the empathy problem is that wealthy folks can isolate themselves from the needs of others. However, one study revealed that "if higher-income people were instructed to imagine themselves as lower class, they became more charitable. If they were primed by, say, watching a sympathy-eliciting video, they became more helpful to others — so much so, in fact, that the difference between their behavior and that of the low-income subjects disappeared."

Maybe churches and other places of worship can help?

One of the assertions the "new atheists" like to make is that religion serves little to no purpose. However, I think religious communities are places---one of the few places, actually---where people from different socioeconomic backgrounds live and share community in a mutual way. It is there that the empathy deficit can be built up again.

Certainly there is a lot of income stratification within churches and other places of worship. Like groups together with like. But I've been in churches in which people with vacation homes worshiped side-by-side with people who were barely off food stamps. Pastors get more of an inside look at people's financial situations---we visit their homes, we get told about bankruptcies---and believe me, there's a lot more income disparity than people might assume on the surface. So how can our places of worship help foster the kind of compassion and empathy that allow the wealthy to give more sacrificially?

UPDATE 4 p.m.: This article (also from the NYT) is about the Muslim prayer room that was in the Twin Towers pre-9/11. It is making a point about the peaceful Muslim presence that was there; however, I was struck by the description of the people who prayed there: "On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam’s companions in the prayer room might include financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers. There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors conducting international business — the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and race." This is exactly the kind of equalizing dynamic I'm thinking about!