Improv in Action: Guest Post from Marthame Sanders

1-faith-450x300I met Marthame Sanders a couple of years ago at an event at Columbia Seminary. Since then we've followed one another on Facebook and shared a mutual interest in improv and the spiritual life. Marthame was lucky enough to receive a sabbatical grant last summer which allowed him to study improv at Second City. Right now I'm working on a grant application for a similar purpose myself, but in the meantime, it's great fun to see what Marthame and others are doing to encourage an improvisational "posture" in worship and think about how to expand those skills into the larger church. (Church of the Pilgrims in DC is also doing great work in this--see Ashley Goff's blog for more.) Marthame wrote recently on his blog about an anthem the congregation composed in the middle of worship. So rad. I especially love the acknowledgement that while there are many more polished, technically "perfect" pieces of worship music out there, there's something powerful about creating something right in the moment. And it sounds like he provided just enough structure for this creative work to happen.

Thanks for sharing this inspiration, Marthame!!

~

An Improvised Anthem--guest blog by Marthame Sanders

Pulling the weekly bulletin together is always an act of improvisation.

It rarely looks like it; after all, it is the planned order of worship that the congregation receives a few days later. And yet, there is always something that we hadn’t anticipated: a hymn we chose that’s unfamiliar; a special litany that needs to be included; a Scripture that doesn’t speak to the moment…There are always last minute adjustments. This past Sunday, however, stood apart.

Tim, our Music Director, was returning from a month-long sojourn in Europe. Our worship planning had gotten us through his absence, but we had not planned for his return. Tim and I agreed that the two of us would “do something”, and that was as concrete as it got.

Then it hit me: why not improvise? After all, I have been spending the better part of a year learning about the habits of improvisation; why not put some of that into practice? Using my own children as my willing improv guinea pigs in the days before (with different results each time), I hatched a process.*

Last Sunday, our Scripture was Psalm 146 from the Narrative Lectionary. During our time with children, I told them how the psalms were meant to be sung, and that Tim and I had nothing planned. And so we needed their help figuring out what it was we were going to sing.

I read the Psalm, asking them to say something like “I like that” when I read something that grabbed their attention. Then I told them we needed to figure out our key: I needed a letter between A and G and two numbers between 2 and 6. After one child asked if it needed to be a whole number, we got our suggestions: A, 3, and 5. That became the chord progression.

Tim and I began playing our three chords on piano and guitar; eventually, a melody emerged, which became a simple chorus:

I will sing my praise to God;

I will sing my praise to God;

I will sing my praise to God all my life.

The congregation soon joined in; I used the “liked” phrases to build verses. It took a while. The melody wandered on- and off-key, but we always returned to the chorus with full energy.

I have heard prettier and more interesting melodies. I have encountered more poetic lyrics. This was no Coltrane or Davis. And yet, there was something about this particular piece of music that “worked”. Along with everything else, the whole process invested the congregation in the anthem in a unique way. It wasn’t just Tim’s music or the choir’s music or my music; it was our music, our praise. Our shared creation had them “rooting” for the music in a new way.

We will definitely do this again.

One final note: our worship recording failed Sunday; so here’s my rough re-creation with guitar and voice:

[audio mp3="http://theblueroomblog.org/wp-content/uploads/146.mp3"][/audio]

~

Marthame Sanders is pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. His 2014 Sabbatical in Chicago focused on the intersection of Spirit, creativity, and improvisation, including classes at the Second City Training Center. Since returning to Atlanta, he has continued with classes at Dad's Garage and has incorporated improv exercises into congregational leadership training. His website is www.marthame.com.

The Upper Room Gets Splashed with Color

I've written several posts about the Upper Room, the kid-friendly space in our sanctuary balcony where school-age children go during the worship service. There they take part in quiet crafts, books, and other activities, all the while listening and participating in the worship service in their own way. It's always gratifying to hear about a child asking her parent about something she heard while puttering around the Upper Room. Children listen.  You can read about some of our new challenges and growing pains here. It's all good and natural stuff as we seek to be hospitable to our young friends upstairs in the balcony and our young-at-heart friends downstairs in the pews.

But I wanted to share a BIG cause of joy---the Upper Room is getting a mural! One of our folks has contacted an artist, Kate Cosgrove, who generously and graciously allowed us to use her work to adorn our walls. Nancy, the mother of two of your little ones, did the outlining based on Kate's work, and the kids are filling in the color.

The idea is that the children would work at various times before and after worship, but last Sunday there was so much joy and momentum that, well, they kept going during church itself. Yes, things got a bit boisterous. But the photos of this masterpiece-in-progress speak for themselves:

Upper Room 5 Upper Room 4 Upper Room Upper Room 2 Upper Room

 

"More, More, More": A Sabbathy Call to Worship

More More More... My time at Myrtle Beach with First Presbyterian Church, Sumter SC, closed with a wonderful worship service, planned and led by the pastoral and music staff. I preached, but as is sometimes the case with these things, we did not coordinate a huge amount. Still the Holy Spirit wove everything together.

I was particularly taken by the call to worship, which pastor Ray Fancher says he adapted from another source.

Sabbath confronts the culture of relentless production and our fears of scarcity... and this responsive call to worship captures it perfectly:

Temptation surrounds us: do more, take more, have more. More food, more money, more power, more life! 'What could it hurt?' we hear---from friends, the media, our own souls: More hunger, more suffering, more need, more fear, more anger. So we gather in God's abundance and remember: God rested. We were slaves. God gave us Sabbath for renewal. In Christ we have everything! Let us drink deeply from God's spirit. God gives us all we need to Live fully, love deeply, and serve faithfully. Thanks be to God!

~

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 through Easter. 

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

First Sunday after Christmas: A Sharing of Gifts

What's inside? The collective wisdom and inspiration of the people of Tiny Church. Pastors well remember that Christmas fell on a Sunday two years ago. In some traditions, a Christmas morning service is par for the course, but it's not the norm for Presbyterians. What to do?

At Tiny Church we had a "come as you are" service in which people could wear PJs or other casual wear. We did not have a printed bulletin, which gave our administrative assistant a break from the copy machine during a busy time of year. Instead, I announced each element of the service. We read the psalm for the day from the pew Bibles as the call to worship. And the hymns that morning were the organist's choice.

For the sermon/proclamation time, I had prepared a series of questions, each of which was printed on a slip of paper. These I placed in a Christmas-themed gift bag which people passed around. They were invited to pull out a slip of paper and answer the question, or choose a new one, or they could pass.

It was such a fun, low-key mode of worship that we did it again last year, and we'll do something similar this weekend. (This time around we have the new "Glory to God" hymnal that has ready-made liturgies in the front!)

The gift-bag "proclamation" will be an experiment---Sunday is December 29, and it could be a good-sized crowd, much larger than Christmas Day two years ago---and people may come expecting an actual sermon. I may preface the sharing time with a short story or poem. But one of the great things about Tiny Church is how willing they are to do different things in worship.

Below are some of the questions I've used in the past. Have you done something similar? What questions would you add?

This Sunday's gospel text is about Joseph, Mary and Jesus' flight into Egypt to escape Herod's murderous paranoia. We'll be hitting that story harder on January 5, but if I use this text on Sunday, I'll need to supplement these questions with some tougher ones that tease out the incredible sense of danger and drama in the story.

Tell about a favorite gift you’ve received—tangible or not.

Tell about a favorite gift you’ve given—tangible or not.

What is your most beloved Christmas carol and why?

“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ____________________.”

Which character from the Christmas story do you most admire and why?

Tell us about someone you think of especially this time of year.

Tell about a great surprise you have received. (not necessarily at Christmas)

Tell about an important Christmas tradition, now or in the past.

“For me, the Christmas season tastes like _______________________”

“For me, Christmas season smells like _______________________”

Jesus is the “prince of peace.” What’s one situation (personal, or global, or in between) in which you’re longing for peace?

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not? If so, will you make them this year?

This Week's Running Playlist: Worshipful Edition

medium_386762837 Shelli Latham (whose blog is quickly becoming a must-read for me) put together a great mix of tunes to help her "worship in her running shoes." I tried it out this morning (had to download a couple of the songs) and can testify that it's great for running, and for running as a spiritual practice.

Someone commented on her blog how fun it would be to have with a whole series of playlists that follow this pattern, starting with gathering/call to worship, proceeding through the liturgy of the Lord's Day, and closing with a blessing/sending.

I decided to come up with my own mix. I used Shelli's criteria:

(1) You have to be able to run to it.

(2) It has to have the capacity to point you to God, even if you have to be a little creative.

(3) No references to pimpin', guns, or anything that may sound like making out with Jesus... This is not the place to come for your Jesus is my Boyfriend fix.

Regarding (1), I'm a pokey, look-at-the-trees-while-gasping-for-breath runner, so my challenge was to pump up the energy with this mix, rather than fall back on the sad-sack aging girls with guitars stuff I usually listen to. Regarding (2 and 3), some of these actually do mention God, but Jesus is nobody's boyfriend in these.

I also changed a couple of the categories and added baptism and communion. What do you think?

Prelude: Great Day, Eddie from Ohio

Call to Worship: Get Up Offa That Thing, James Brown

Prayer of Confession: Been Caught Stealing, Jane's Addiction I liked Lori McKenna's Mars here, but it's not fast enough for running. See sad-sack thing above.

Assurance of Forgiveness: Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours, Stevie Wonder

Prayer for Illumination: Ray of Light, Madonna

The Word: I'd suggest putting several things in this slot and/or mixing and matching depending on what inspiration I need that day. Options off the top of my head:  World Leader Pretend, R.E.M. Dare You To Move, Switchfoot All Star, Smash Mouth Yahweh, U2 Where You Been, Carrie Newcomer, which is actually about Jesus, but he visits the gay pride parade in a borrowed El Camino... so a bit of a midrash, no? Anything by the Psalters. Gypsy gospel punk makes ME wanna run, how about you?

Affirmation of Faith: Let It Ring, Amy Ray

Baptism: Glass of Water, Coldplay That seems too on-the-nose, but it works.

Communion: Cheeseburger in Paradise, Jimmy Buffett It's sad the extent to which I'm chuckling at this one.

Prayers of the People: Higher Ground, Red Hot Chili Peppers version See how skillfully I avoided doubling up on the Steve Wonder? But the RHCP version really is better for running.

Offering: Hammer and a Nail, Indigo Girls

Benediction, aka Cooldown: Joy to You Baby, Josh Ritter

Can't wait to try it out. Marathon training starts next week and I'll need all the help I can get. Suggest your favorite running/workout/feelgood song in the comments.

--

photo credit: eschipul via photopin cc

On Letting Go of Sunday School

The Sunday School movement began in the 1780s to provide education to children working in factories---children who were not receiving any other formal education. Teachers shared lessons on Christian religion, but also things like reading, sports, and drama. Today, more and more people are asking whether Sunday School is nearing the end of its life cycle, particularly in certain congregations and contexts. Tiny Church's practice in recent years has been to have Sunday School class during the worship hour, following the children's time. For a small congregation, we have a good number of school-age children---this fall there will be nine, plus about seven middle and high schoolers and a handful of nursery-age.

That's if they're all there.

But they're never all there... which is one of the problems with relying on Sunday School as a child's primary Christian formation. "Regular church attendance" is different than it was even 5 years ago. Now, a couple times a month is considered regular. Around here, folks generally aren't slacking off and sleeping in. They're attending Girls on the Run, taking a weekend trip out of town, volunteering at the Kennedy Center, or helping a friend move. That means the adults who would teach weekly Sunday School are also out a lot, in addition to the kids.

Several of us at Tiny met this past Sunday to talk about Christian education in our congregation, and decided to see all of this as a creative challenge rather than a problem. We have the opportunity to think about Christian formation more holistically, rather than shuttling kids off to a separate room and trusting that they'll get everything they need there.

Starting this summer, Tiny Church will no longer have Sunday School.

Instead, we will continue work in our Upper Room, which is the kid-friendly worship space in our balcony. School-age children go up after the children's time and spend the rest of the service there. An adult leads them up and, before they go in, encourages them to "get ready to continue worshiping" by calming and centering, removing their shoes, and so forth.

There are always kinks to work out, but I'm happy to say that the Upper Room is working as well as I could have dreamed. Kids are able to wander, browse a children's Bible or picture book in one of the comfy chairs, draw or do a simple craft at the table, use the Buddha Board, or mess around with the wooden Noah's Ark or nativity set. And yet... they're listening. They'll walk over to the railing, peek over and watch what's going on. I was preaching about Pope Francis's recent remarks and a six year old walked up to Robert and whispered, "What's an atheist?" I love it.

That said, we also see the value in building intentional relationships between adults and children (which is one of the primary benefits of Sunday School), so we're thinking about planning a multi-week project maybe once a semester. At these times, children would have a "pull-out" during worship, perhaps to make a video about a Bible story, plan a puppet show, or prepare an anthem as an ad hoc children's choir. But---and here's the key---those activities would always connect to the life of the whole worshiping community. The video would be shown in worship, etc.

We also know we need to help equip parents. Like it or not, we are our children's primary faith educators. I've heard of a church that sends home a packet each month with stories, activities, questions to discuss together, rituals, etc. I love this "homeschooling" approach. Sometimes (when I have time and inspiration) I will put together a GPS guide (Grow Pray Study) in the bulletin that helps people think further about the scripture and sermon, and I try to include something for families. That might be something we do more regularly.

We are also still considering how youth fit into this mix. We can see them as co-leaders of the special  pullout activities. And we're considering some mentoring, as well as partnering with another congregation for a mission trip.

Have you moved beyond Sunday School where you are? Would love to hear what you're up to.

Innovate and Imitate: What's Cooking at Tiny Church

venezuela51-590x442 Our kids like to ask us, "Who invented ________?" Some of the answers are easy: Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Percy Spencer. (OK, we had to look up the last one---he invented the microwave.)

But inventions are hard to pin down to a single person or moment. Who invented the Internet? You could come up with a single name, but really it's the product of a lot of discoveries and advances. Even big names like Bell and Edison and Spencer stood on the shoulders of people who came before.

Some months ago I read an article about how creative people are called to innovate and imitate. The article is long gone, but it went something like this: if there's an approach out there that works, use it, even if competitors are doing the same thing. Imitate without shame the good stuff going on out there. Where you distinguish yourself is in how you innovate---how you make changes and improve on an idea, product or service.

Innovation is vital, but not everything needs to be innovated.

The key is to find the right balance and configuration of imitation and innovation so that you provide something unique, yet don't wear yourself out reinventing the wheel.

This has played out at Tiny Church in a number of different ways. For example, in worship. I love crafting liturgy---writing prayers, thinking up cool interactive elements, and so forth. I also love preaching and crafting a strong sermon. But I simply don't have the creative energy to do both.

Over the years I've noticed that there's not much difference in people's response when I knock myself out writing liturgy v. borrowing stuff. So for liturgy, I imitate. I grab things from the Internet and adapt them. I mine Pinterest and Theresa Cho's blog. I incorporate prayers from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion.

But for the sermon, I innovate. That's the piece of worship that gets my best creative self, because that's the piece that people respond to. It also happens to be the element of worship I'm most passionate about... and I'm sure those things are related.

I suspect many of you do this as well. I sometimes feel a little guilty, like I should be crafting everything from scratch. (I feel guilt easily, have you noticed that?) The innovate/imitate balance helps me get over myself.

Another element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we're in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our Journey to Jerusalem, in which we encouraged folks to walk, bike, run, swim, etc. and turn in their miles each week to see if we could make it from Falls Church to Jerusalem by Easter. I stole this idea, blatantly and unimaginatively, from someone at the Presbyterian CREDO Conference. I loved it because it connects the biblical story and our lives as pilgrimages with health and fitness.

Well, a funny thing happened. We got to Jerusalem and the next week people started asking, "I've got miles to turn in. Who do I give them to?" So when our transformation team met last week we decided to keep the journey going. We're going to spend the rest of 2013 wandering around the world, plotting our paths using the big map in our fellowship hall. We have members who have lived all over the world so when we arrive at a place, we will experience something of life in that place. Our first stop will be the Democratic Republic of Congo where one of our members has traveled countless times with her job at USAID. We hope these stops will involve some kind of cultural experience, a learning about how Christians experience life and ministry in that place, and maybe even a mission opportunity that connects to that place. We have a general idea of where we'll end up but we're also going to be open to the Spirit.

(This idea came completely from the team and not from me, but I'm realizing now that these pilgrimage stops are akin to Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that features food from conflicted countries as a way of educating patrons about these places.)

Imitate... and innovate.

How are you doing this dance in your own context?

More on Lent at Tiny Church, Plus Easter Musings

A few weeks ago I shared a little about our Lent series at Tiny Church. Here are a few notes for the second half of the season: Our series on the last week of Jesus' life continued on March 3 with the Last Supper. I didn't do much with the table since it was set for communion. The kids went to Sunday School that day (we do SS twice a month and the Upper Room twice a month) and they made chrysalises. They made tissue paper butterflies, which they put inside toilet paper tubes, wrapped them in purple tissue paper and tied them off on each end. They are currently hanging from the ceiling of our fellowship hall with the idea that the "new life" will emerge on Easter Sunday.

On March 10 we shared the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Here is the table:

photo copy

 

The white candle I had burning the entire time. The three purple candles were lit at the beginning of the service, and each time Jesus returned to find the disciples sleeping, I extinguished one of the candles (I told the story from the chancel rather than the pulpit).

Since the story was about Jesus praying, I gave the kids some prayer-related items to do in the Upper Room: I gave them a page with instructions for praying in color (I call them 'prayer doodles'), and a printout of this page on cardstock for them to make a prayer cube if they wished:

prayer cube

March 17 was a special day. I was away, recovering from the half marathon, and we had a completely elder-led service. We had a paperless order of worship, sermon, images on the projector, two guest musicians, luncheon afterwards, and the whole service was broadcast on Ustream. I eavesdropped from home and it was a wonderful sight to see.

March 24, Palm/Passion Sunday was heavy on the passion, since I told the entire story by heart---Mark 14 and 15. I kept the table simple: Black cloth spread flat, wooden cross in the middle, with a short white taper candle burning in front of it. We will extinguish several candles just like that one on Friday during the tenebrae service.

Now, Easter. None of this is formed yet, but I'm toying with a number of things:

First, I'm on the lookout for an Easter bulletin cover that doesn't stink. So many bad fonts. So many cheesy Easter lilies. Luckily we have a color printer so I expect I'll come up with my own image. I love this:

Untitled

It's so Johannine, eh? But a couple of friends said it was "creepy". Whatever...

In terms of service: two years ago we started with a call to worship that wove in the song "He Lives In You" from The Lion King. While the song played, we stripped the black cloth from the table (leftover from Good Friday---the song starts tentatively which lends itself to a slow build), then gradually added elements: water for baptismal font, communion elements, candles etc.

Last year we did the call to worship from the fellowship hall, so that our Easter breakfast led immediately to the service. As the people flooded into the sanctuary, the choir sang a boisterous introit.

What to do to start the service this year? We seem to have more than our usual crop of people out of town, so I'm going with video images rather than something involving a lot of people. I'm thinking about the Ode to Joy flash mob---thanks Marci---you can google it if you want (though if you attend Tiny, don't google it, be surprised!).

I will definitely be weaving this video (which has gone viral bigtime) into the sermon:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3KyvlMJefR4

And I still want to find a way to talk about that woolly bear caterpillar.

It is traditional for Tiny to have communion on Easter. I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I'm not sure how visitor friendly it is. Of course we welcome all to the table, but do visitors really feel welcomed if they're not accustomed to the eucharist? In any case, I'm contemplating a slide show of evocative images as we come to receive the elements, perhaps while listening to David Wilcox's song "Rise":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBJqTdTK4t4

Beloved,  it is time for you to rise.  Time for you to RISE UP.. With a sudden sense of wonder | Though the promise goes unspoken As the joy comes to your eyes | When the joy comes to your eyes From the burden you've been under | For your soul was never broken

Beloved, it is time for you to rise, time for you to rise.

How about you? What are you planning?

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:

~

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:

zi-1175-2013-j-f00-idsi-76-1

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.

~

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".

~

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.

~

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.

~

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?

~

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...)

~

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!

~

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.

~

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?

~

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