Friday, November 1, 2013

A Month Of...

It is November, and time again for National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo.  By writing just 1700 words per day, a whole host of enthusiastic folks will write a whole bunch of miraculously, sometimes hilariously, bad fiction.  And that's just fine, because the point isn't to write the Best Novel Ever, but to write a novel at all.

Or maybe that's just the method, and the point is something deeper.

There is something here about a passion that becomes a dream that becomes a vision that becomes a plan that becomes a discipline that becomes a reality.  There is something here about setting a goal that feels big and amazing, the kind of thing that other people do, and then realizing it is actually possible.  There is something here about giving ourselves permission to be playful and serious and fun in pursuit of a passion without perfectionism.  There is something here about connecting with like-minded others.

Once again, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo.  Still, once again, I will be celebrating people who do.

Perhaps God gives some ambitions knowing we won't fully achieve them but will accomplish other important things in their pursuit. (N.T. Wright)

Friday, March 15, 2013

More Young People These Days

I wrote several years ago about young people these days, and had similar thoughts today while reading this article.  It's a great story of individuals not just recognizing and bemoaning a problem they see, but taking the initiative to come together, with courage and enthusiasm, to bring about positive change.  "They were leaders, and they have reminded us again that our future is in great hands" (Sarah Watkins).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Community and Process

I recently read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parliamentary Procedure, Fast Track. And, unexpectedly, I enjoyed it.  Weird, right?  But here's the thing -- it's not dry, dull lists of rules and regulations (though it does certainly explain the core principles, and does it very well).  Rather, it's built on a solid foundation of developing and sustaining a community marked by mutual respect throughout its membership, and one designed for creativity and excellence.  It's about being flexible at the right times and in the right ways rather than complying so rigidly to a set of behaviors that we risk losing a part of our humanity.  It's about being open and honest in our dealings with each other, always with a focus on the good of the whole rather than the convenience or desires of those with the most power.  It's about honoring the unique contributions of each individual toward a common goal, and ensuring that each one has a place in the process.  It's about grace and truth, and navigating together through sometimes-sticky issues.  It's about covenant relationships that nurture souls.

Seriously, what's not to love about this?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Magic of Christmas Cards

Today we received another cheerful Christmas greeting with a photo of people we love, and I smile when I see it.

I've been pondering this all day -- we can put an envelope in a box and send it very reliably, even to and from obscure places thousands of miles away, for less than the price of a candy bar. And this particular envelope found its way to us even though it was addressed to our old place. Its cross-country travel, including the redirection to our current home, took only a week. Receiving mail is one of those things that is so easy to take for granted, but when I really stop to think, it's pretty amazing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Powerful Alliances

I love the story of George and Alice in the TED Talk below. She was determined to solve a tough problem and he was determined to help her. These two very different individuals formed a powerful alliance, with world-changing results. As Heffernan says, "the truth won't set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it."

Heffernan: "I wonder how many of us have -- or dare to have -- such collaborators." I wonder this, too.

I wonder when in Heffernan's other story Joe began to recognize his allies, and how.

I wonder how we distinguish between allies and enemies.

I wonder if you have had someone help you like George helped Alice.

I wonder what the word conflict looks like, sounds like, feels like for you.

I wonder how you reacted to Heffernan's description of such collaboration as a kind of love.

I wonder what problems you have to solve.

I wonder who you might invite to help you by disagreeing with you.

I wonder how we can best enjoy the benefits of those who think similarly while also guarding against forming echo chambers.

I wonder how often I prioritize my own comfort above what truly matters by avoiding what has the potential to be productive conflict.

And I am grateful for the "Alices" and "Georges" and "Joes" in my life -- individuals who intentionally engage, who bring their whole selves to our interactions, who are attentive enough to recognize our differences, loving enough to speak authentically, intentional enough to communicate effectively, and trusting our relationship enough to disagree.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Hope

On Sunday we lit one candle of the Advent wreath, bringing first light to the perimeter of the circle. This small flame will be joined by the remaining candles as the story continues to unfold through the coming weeks, but we're not there yet; it's not time.

This lone candle shining quietly on the wreath represents hope. Hope is not the expectancy of assumption or entitlement, but it is recognition that good may yet come about even in what seems like a very dark time. Hope's strength is most truly known when the outcome matters deeply and remains yet to be seen.

Such hope resonates with my soul, especially as I walk together with others through seasons marked by darkness of depression, grief, anxiety, health issues, unresolved conflict, bitterness, addiction. As I sat pondering the hope candle on Sunday, I thought of people I love in the midst of such times. In some of those situations, the light of hope is still just a flicker, but great light begins with a flicker, and I am abundantly grateful for such hope.

"The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land
of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Wondering

We've been reading the "Anticipate" devotional for Advent this year. When we reached the first "I wonder..." question in the part written especially for families with children, Mark and I looked at each other with wide-eyed expressions and gleefully exclaimed "Batman!"

It was a shared memory from early in our married life, soon after we moved to this area. The two of us had begun leading a children's worship program called Stories of God at our church. Created by a denomination more liturgical than ours, each week's lesson followed a consistent pattern, which provided wonderful structure for working with these 4-7 year old children. Part of that pattern was the "wondering time" -- thoughts posed at the end of the story to help the children connect with it. Similar to questions, the thoughts presented during wondering time were meant to model exploring a parable for meaning rather than simply dictating it.

I don't remember which story we were telling, but probably The Good Shepherd, or maybe The Lost Sheep. Anyway, it was definitely a sheep story, because the first wondering question was this: I wonder if these sheep have names? The children looked at me with puzzled expressions. They were quiet for several moments as they considered the question. Then one's face lit up with excitement as he responded: "Batman! I'll bet one of them is named Batman!" At that, the whole circle of little faces lit up, each with similar ideas.

I suppose this is what the child development experts talk about in those education and psychology texts when they describe the "concrete stage of development." For the most part, young children simply are not ready to come up with the more abstract understandings of parables on their own. As a result, the "wondering time" was a fascinatingly unpredictable part of a generally routine Sunday morning program. Sometimes the responses went far afield, occasionally they found fertile ground, and usually they were somewhere in between. And ultimately, it was in the midst of such variety that I discovered their great value. After all, there's not much point to asking questions we already have all the answers to. Really good wondering time provides space for the unknown, nudging us past simplistic answers and cultivating our souls for growth.

Advent and Christmas are seasons of wonder. Not every question has a clear answer, but authentically pondering them can be significant. Like I learned while leading Stories of God, I want to experience wonder and grow up into it, to pursue understanding while leaving space for mystery.

I wonder where I'll see God at work during this Advent season.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I have a Ticket to Ride app, a.k.a. "the train game." The computerized players aren't too bad but are generally pretty beatable, so it's nice to have "achievements" to shoot for, too -- usually something about staying within specific, stricter limits, which tends to require adjusting one's approach to win.

Hey, look!  I achieved something!
This concept of achievements is a common theme in game app development. The word suggests meeting a challenge and calls the player to something beyond the usual.

A different game I've played incorporates "missions," which seems to be their attempt at the same idea. The implementation in that one is mediocre, though. A few of the "missions" call for actual skills, but most read merely like a to-do list (e.g., construct eight four-letter words), and a few are blatantly non-challenging (e.g., request hints). Ugh. Why did the programmers even bother creating such goals?

The thing is, even without being well-designed, this tactic manages to increase player engagement and keep people playing longer than they would otherwise. We more readily squander time as the game renames our efforts in terms of "mission," as if we were doing something important.

As much as I'd like for all of this to be about game design, it's not. It is much more about human drives to find meaning and significance, meet challenges, do something extra, go beyond the ordinary. When channeled appropriately, such drives are a great gift. Unfortunately, it is easy to instead become distracted toward focusing on "achievements" and "missions" and "badges" -- externally defined goals completed for some lesser purpose -- at the expense of those things which truly matter most.

Setting aside my to-do list for awhile earlier in the year was a worthwhile experience, and continues to shape my thoughts each day. I'm still learning to persistently measure my moments based on what matters rather than being drawn back to the black hole of The List. I do enjoy when I have a bunch of tasks completed at the end of a day. Still, the truest joy and satisfaction come when I can look back and genuinely know I've lived the day well, approaching it the best I know how while persistently attentive and prepared to change course when God prompts to do so.