3:30 Thursday, Projects

Dear Hollywood…Once was Enough

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret, and Jillian. Several months ago, we wrote about our favorite movies—the ones we return to again and again. This month we flip that around and explore movies that we never need to see again…for varied reasons. I’m up first (Mary Margaret), and to be perfectly honest, I had no idea that this would come out of me when I sat down to write, so I’m hoping for your grace as I try to articulate a difficult subject. 

12 Years a Slave

Undoubtedly this movie is tremendously acted, with impeccable production design, stunning visuals, and of great historical relevance, but having watched once, I can also say that I never need to see this movie again. This movie falls into a category that I find a bit tricky, because I feel like people don’t so much watch or enjoy a movie like this, but rather, they submit or subject themselves to it. Films like this develop the status of being labeled “important,” and then groaning under their powerful historical weight, they suddenly become the sort of films that people do not simply want to see, but perhaps more significantly, feel they should see. In a country and culture still deeply and painfully grappling with its legacy of slavery, systemic and self-selected segregation, and racism, some of us feel the need to attempt a head-on look at our past; one way we seek to do this is through the medium of film and other arts. I know I may be generalizing or that this may sound judgmental, but I sometimes feel like I hear white, educated, liberal people falling over themselves to say how excellent and amazing movies like this are, without being truly honest with themselves or others about how the movie actually impacted them. I’m not suggesting that the movie is not of cinematic excellent and deserving of its accolades, but rather that there’s a different sort of conversation that occurs when a movie takes on certain grave, (almost sacred), and relevant social subject matter. I sometimes feel that the vociferous adulation of “important” films is used as if to prove some point about one’s level of social consciousness and awareness. Incidentally, this film came out the same year that the Black Lives Matter movement began, and I admit a part of me wonders if the impulse to discuss the power of this film is also an attempt to signal one’s “woke-ness” to the racial divides coursing through both our history and everyday reality. In other words, “I appreciated this film, therefore see how racially sensitive and enlightened I am.” I am not criticizing the impulse to signal open-mindedness, but I want us to be honest about what we mean and the limits of this kind of signaling.

So I will be frank about my experience: This movie was truly difficult to watch, and I can honestly admit I did not enjoy the experience of sitting through it. Great acting does not make seeing people inhumanely chained in the hold of a ship, or being raped, or being flogged to within an inch of their lives a pleasant or good experience (not that I’m suggesting this as the ultimate goal of art, to be clear). In fact, I did not watch the movie all in one sitting, and I had to force myself to return to finish the last hour, driven by an innate sense of guilt that I should face these images. These events truly happened to people, so who was I to say that I wanted to look away from viewing a fictional presentation of these atrocities on a screen?

The story was undoubtedly fascinating, the performances powerful, and I do not regret seeing the film…but once was enough. Firstly because I do not have to convince myself that winning awards or being historically significant means I must like a film; I did not like watching this film. I felt sort of sick and emotionally wrung out, but not in the cathartic way that certain songs, films, and books elicit. Secondly (and closely linked) because I think we need to remember that simply subjecting ourselves to the difficult facts of our past is not some sort of atonement or exculpation for those events. I am not a better, more purified person for simply having watched 12 Years a Slave and experiencing an emotional reaction to its raw intensity. I haven’t done anything to help heal the wounds that the institution of slavery drove deeply into the core of this country.

Sorry, folks, there are just no moral merit badges handed out because you watched a movie that exposed you to difficult truths. There is always the temptation to substitute emotional reactions for true changes of heart or meaningful action, and I think we must guard against this. Art is one of the most powerful ways we can be awakened to certain heartbreaking realities, but we can’t get stuck in the moment of realization or emotion and feel the work is done somehow, when that’s really the point where the true work begins. I don’t need to revisit this movie to remember that the gut-wrench it left with me is a merely an infinitesimally small twinge of the pain that we must continue to try and heal in our nation. It is a pain not mine to claim, a pain inflicted undoubtedly by some of my own ancestors as white Americans, but also a pain that I pray I might have a part in further distancing ourselves from.

So view this film and others like it–if you truly want to. Dare to ask yourself the context that brought you to watch it, and try to recognize how your own race, gender, age, cultural identification, history, and bias may play a part in reaction to the film. Perhaps most importantly, remember emotion isn’t action; you may not have to watch the film again, but I think we must keep trying to face the hard truths- again, and again.

 

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects

A season for taking stock

In Florida, fall is the most wonderful time of the year. The weather slowly transitions from barely tolerable heat to obscenely pleasant. At the beginning of October, most days are in the mid to high 90s and the whole state watches every thunderstorm that rolls off Cape Verde in fearful anticipation that it will form a hurricane. By the end of the month, we’re putting out pumpkins, and basically moving outdoors to settle in for what I consider to be the BEST time of the year.

Seriously. I spend the summer months fantasizing about moving somewhere, anywhere, less hot. But, if you just wait, the relief of cooler temperatures will come.

The other wonderful thing about Fall in Florida is that it’s a fall/spring hybrid. You get the relief from summer heat, the anticipation of the holidays, fall festivals, pumpkin spice everything, AND it’s planting season. Yes, planting. Like normal places do in spring. Because (from what I can tell) summer in Florida is so hot and rainy that most plants are doing good just survive the summer. But, in the fall, you can plant a garden – or, in my case, purchase the fruit of other people’s gardens at seasons peak in the grocery store! Over the next few months we’ll start enjoying fresh oranges, strawberries and more.

So, yes, fall in Florida is my favorite.

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Another upside: Floridians get the beach all to ourselves in the Fall.

I also have a sense of satisfaction about 2017. I almost hate to say this since I see so much suffering and turmoil in our country and around the world. But, in my little corner of the world, things are going pretty well.

Thanks to the 3:30 Project, I’ve intentionally set about being a little better in various areas of my life this year.

  • I haven’t experienced a total body transformation, but I have exercised at least twice a week all year.
  • My house still falls into disarray, but on the average it’s cleaner than it’s ever been.
  • My marriage is warmer, more loving and more fun than it was at the beginning of the year.
  • I’ve not achieved financial freedom, but I have maintained a sustainable budget for several months.
  • I have done a little better this year at keeping up with friends and family than I have in the past.
  • I’ve also managed to walk my dog sometimes.

In fact, now that my youngest baby is settling into toddlerhood, I feel – for the first time since becoming a parent – a little more like myself. I’m feeling a little more able to successfully make and execute plans. Sure, some of them are foiled when my four-year-old dives face first into a book case. Sure, some of them are executed while my two-year-old cries and cries because she refused to take a nap today. And yes, I spend more time than I’d care to admit watching Super Why, Sesame Street and the PJ Masks.

A season of transition, like fall, is a nice time to assess how the year is going and make any final adjustments as we head into the holiday whirlwind. And, this year, unlike the past several years, I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve had the year I set out to have. I don’t want to say that this year has been free of sadness, worry, heartbreak, outrage, dismay, and writing letters to my elected representatives – because that has also been a part of this year. But, I think – on mornings like this – when there’s the a nip in the air, when my daughters are resting in a room that feels clean-ish, when I’ve done some very grown up things like get life insurance and called a roofer – that I am doing okay. And from that place, I have more. More energy to reach my goals, more compassion for others, and more acceptance for my own and others’ pain.

I think there’s a very real fear when we’re having a happy season in our lives that “If I acknowledge my happiness or take credit for how well things are going right now, if I am too happy – I might jinx everything and my life will fall apart.”

Nevertheless, I am going to acknowledge and enjoy my current happiness. Because another thing this year has taught me is that a hurricane or wildfire can destroy everything you have in a moment. As Master Oogway says in Kung Fu Panda, “Control is an Illusion.”

He also says:

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

(Side Note: Kung Fu Panda is full of little gems like this, and you should probably go watch it…now)

So, rather than trying to protect my happiness by hedging, hiding or holding back, my reflection on this fall is to acknowledge that this is “good times.”

Someday, I will miss the nights where my daughter wanted to set up a little bed in my room so she didn’t have to be alone while she slept. Someday, I’ll miss the days when my two year old could be soothed by me carrying her in my arms. And it’s entirely possible that there will be a day when I miss the PJ Masks theme song, and I might even look back with loving fondness on the day my daughter had a temper tantrum in the Halloween costume aisle at Target because there was no Owlette costume in her size.

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3:30 Thursday, Motivation Monday, Something Swell on Saturday

Falling Forward…

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by life long friends: this month,  Maggie and Mary Margaret muse on the arrival of the autumnal season! This week Mary Margaret admits to being less than thrilled to see summer slip away, but asks herself to confront that attitude. 

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that fall was their favorite season in the city…well, I’d say it might help make a dent in the rent on my Brooklyn apartment. (But who’s passing out these proverbial dimes for common occurrences anyway? Put them in touch with me, please.)

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The love of fall in New York runs deep, and once the conversation begins, inevitably leads to talk of sweaters and boots, crisp, cool air, pumpkin-spiced everything, Halloween and Thanksgiving. While the autumnal season was a different matter altogether when I lived in Georgia, I’m afraid that now I feel twinges of guilt at not sharing completely in everyone else’s harvest exaltations (bring on the cornucopias!). It’s not that I dislike fall, exactly; pears are, after all, my favorite fruit.

Honestly fall, it’s just what you portend that I dread: (Now it’s time for me to make a cultural reference to a wildly popular television show that I don’t watch…)

Winter is coming.

People complain vociferously about the heat and smells of July and August in NYC, but I can’t help but love summer here with long days, sunny parks, free outdoor concerts and yoga classes, languid evenings when I feel like I could walk the city sidewalks forever. As summer winds to its conclusion, though, I find it hard to combat the images I see stretched out before me. I feel in that exquisitely crisp air the air that follows close behind—bitter, sometimes painful, winter winds that leave me seeking the shortest distance between one building and another, scurrying around without peripheral vision, which has been obliterated by my cocoon of hat and scarf and hood. I know that the crunchy dry leaves under my feet signal that soon my skin will get so dry and raw that it will split open constantly at work, threatening to spread scarlet spots onto the costumes I’m working with. I know that each day for many months ahead will allow me fewer and fewer minutes in which to seek out sunlight.

get-prepared-for-winter-in-nyc-2

I fully understand that the world has far more inhospitable winter climates than New York. I recognize the incredible privilege of owning warm clothes and living and working in heated spaces. At the same time that I try to remind myself of these factors, perhaps I am also allowed to concede that winter is just simply more tiring to this heat-loving southern girl.  Maggie and I have talked often about the need to resist the complaining impulse, which is ever close at hand, but I think there is also a space we can hold to acknowledge that something is simply difficult for us. Winter is coming. And winter is not my favorite, taking a greater toll on me physically and emotionally than any other time of year.

I think there could actually be something beneficial in naming this as a personal challenge for me, so that I can do two things in the immediate present…

  1. Not skip over the lovely things of fall by mentally somersaulting into my frigid future.
  2. Rather than wallowing in memories of unpleasant winters past, use those memories to prepare myself for what lies ahead.

Since we all know I love a list, I see no better place to begin than by finding some things I can delight in immediately now that fall has arrived; then, beginning to name some simple reminders of things I can do to have a healthier, more balanced winter…I think sometimes it takes surprisingly little to challenge a sense of dread with a measure of joyful expectation.

  1. Things to love in autumn:

*The brilliant leaves in Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery near my house

*Pumpkin, yes pumpkin-flavored stuff (I admit it, I like it- Sorry! Unoriginal but true!) Also, tiny pumpkins that are suddenly sold everywhere. They are the most adorable of gourds; just admit it.

*Knitting weather (one of my favorite hobbies is so much nicer this time of year)

*Scary Halloween movies on Netflix. I can’t fully explain my love of silly horror movies, but there it is.

*Warm soup, hot coffee

*University of Georgia football- I don’t always get to watch, since I work on Saturdays, but I still enjoy keeping up with the season!

  1. Ways to make this winter more bearable:

*Candles: This is ultra-simple, but the act of lighting a candle in my home is inexplicably warming and soothing to my soul in the dark days of winter

*Yoga, yoga, yoga. Winter makes me tense because of the sheer act of bracing against the cold. By having a regular plan to practice several times a week, I can help myself from becoming a solid mass of nerves and clenched muscle.

*Plan a break: It was very helpful to me last year to know that I would be able to leave New York for a while and visit Georgia in January. Of course it is also winter in Georgia, but it was immensely helpful to have a momentary break from the intensity of New York winter specifically.

*Long novels, more writing, more learning. I want to challenge myself this year to see what I can do when the weather drives me indoors. With less desire to take my long rambling walks, what indoor adventures and pursuits of the mind can I engage with this year?

So there’s somewhere for me to start. When Maggie suggested that we write about the season of fall as a general topic, I knew that I needed to confront head-on the negativity that I felt creeping in these past two weeks as temperatures started to drop. I’m not exactly ready to join the fall-e-lu-jah chorus and make a joyful noise, but even though winter is coming (scarier than Halloween!!), I already feel a little better (by leaning harder into a spirit of thanks-giving, another excellent fall holiday!).

Never underestimate the power of the list, especially lists that help us count our blessing.

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Still Searching for Sunday

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been experiencing an eight year-long crisis of faith.

Maybe faith isn’t the right word. It’s been a crisis of church. I feel a homeless, and I don’t know where to go.

Like basically every Christian I know, one of my favorite writers on Christianity and faith is C.S. Lewis. There is a moment in the fifth The Chronicles of Narnia book The Silver Chair where some of the kids and a Marshwiggle named Puddleglum get trapped under ground, and the Emerald queen is trying to convince them that there is no Narnia, that Aslan is a dream, and that only the darkness of the cave is real.

Puddleglum finally says:

Puddleglum_walking

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones… We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the playworld. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia… and that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull as you say.

Puddleglums statement sums up why, for me, faith isn’t the problem, but church can be hard to come by.

When I think about my faith and my life, I want my faith to be relevant and useful, even if Christianity isn’t “real.” When I look back on my life, I want to know that I treated people with love and kindness, that I remembered “the least of these,” that I practiced forgiveness – because heaven or no heaven, Jesus or no Jesus, Noah’s ark or no Noah’s ark – I have faith that this way of living will make my life richer, happier and more valuable for me.

Does that still count as faith?

I feel out-of-place in church, and it’s been so long since I’ve attended regularly that the mere thought of hunting down service times, getting dressed, and showing up sends my anxiety into a tailspin. What if they find out I believe in global warming? What if they preach a political platform from the pulpit? What if they don’t let gay people be members? What if I go once and it’s not a good fit, but I see someone I know and they’re offended that I don’t like their church?

The few times I’ve had the courage to step into a sanctuary over the last few years, I have felt like a stranger in my own land. I don’t like being the new kid. I don’t like introducing myself to people. I don’t like not knowing where the bathroom is. And, Culture Wars aside, I’m frustrated when I hear sermons that are answering questions I don’t have about my Christian life. I don’t need to know who’s not getting in to heaven. I don’t need to feel superior to non-Christians. I don’t need the Bible to be infallible to be full of many truths. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I shouldn’t have to wrestle with my faith because Jesus has already done that for me. And I really don’t want to wonder if someone is telling my daughters that they are somehow less worthy than men because Eve ate the apple first.

But I still find myself longing for Christian community.

So, when I saw the title of Rachel Held Evan’s book, Searching for Sunday, I thought: “Yes – that.”1423422279150

I can relate to Evans’ desire to intellectualize church – to protect myself from judgement by being judgmental, to evaluate the merits of a church’s doctrine. And I can also relate to Evans’ description of the Evangelical church as “an ex-boyfriend who’s Facebook page you can’t stop checking”

I find myself speaking up for God and the church when I see nay-sayers (most recently, I engaged with a stranger on Facebook about whether or not God was causing hurricanes…). But, on Sunday mornings, I expect a lot from my church. I see a lot of church’s “reaching out” to people my age by having rock concert quality music from their Worship Team, changing their names (examples: The Meet Up, Roots, Cool place that’s not Church but is actually Church), modernizing their logos, having services at some other time, building a coffee shop (okay…I love the coffee shops).

And I believe that God loves our joyful noise (whatever music you play), and that it’s good to update your logo every 500 years or so, but I’m not trying to decide between church and rock concerts (maybe I’m the only one?). I don’t want to go to church and have to pretend I’m doing great all the time or that I don’t have any problems because I have Jesus.

I love this sentiment:

“At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.”

I would like to go to a place like that…I think. But…how do you walk in the door the first time? How do you figure out from a church’s website if it’s more recovery group or “place where we pretend we don’t have problem because we have Jesus?” And…would that mean accepting that other people need something different from their faith than I do?

I want my daughters to know God…but I want them to know God as a loving friend who’s there with you in hard times, who will help you clean up your yard after a hurricane, bring you dinner when you’re overwhelmed, listen to you when your totally confused and don’t know why, and call you out for your bad behavior. I want the voice of God in their head to be a voice of love – not one of judgement, righteous fury, and perfectionism.

But…by being so picky about how other people experience God, and I not being a judgmental perfectionist myself? Reading Searching for Sunday, I felt a sense of comfort. Here is a friend who knows what I’m going through. At least I’m not alone.

And isn’t that we are all ultimately afraid of? And isn’t that what church and community offer us? The ultimate truth that we are not alone. That we are all struggling and wrestling with the challenges of life together.

I am still searching.

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Maggie and Mary Margaret often read books in tandem; we call it our two-person book club. For September, we bring you (in two parts) our thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

Check out Mary Margaret’s thoughts on Searching for Sunday here.

Visit Rachel Held Evans’ website and blog here.

Projects

Two Person Book Club: Searching For Sunday, Part 1

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Maggie and Mary Margaret often read books in tandem; we call it our two-person book club. As summer ends and many people begin new autumn routines, this sometimes involves seeking out a new church, recommitting to church attendance, or maybe simply pondering church in general. For September, we bring you (in two parts) our thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

I learned while researching my own kind (oh, those Millennials!) for our recent topic that my generation is less religious than Gen X, far less churched than the Boomers, and way, way less doctrine-steeped than the Greatest Generation. We appear to be drifting away in droves from our religious institutions, and like Rachel Held Evans describes in her book, instead using Sunday as a chance to roll over, hit the snooze button, and eventually emerge from our covers to a communion table of pancakes and coffee.

I often work Sundays because of theatre matinees, so while this description resonates less with me, I can certainly relate to the fact that when I attend my church in midtown Manhattan, I don’t look around and see an overwhelming number of people in my demographic. Part of this is simply urban life; New York ain’t no Bible-belt, so actually fewer people in any demographic are regular church attendees. In the South it seems like people simply ask what church you go to, but up here, it isn’t infrequent to meet people who grew up in a household without any ties to organized religion. My peers and I are also in a grey zone in terms of life development, you might say—a span between higher education (crisis of faith!! I just took an anthropology class!), marriages and then having children, which is when you see many people seeking to reintroduce church into their lives.

No insult to Ms. Held Evans, but her book wasn’t a mind-blowing revolution to me; mostly because I’ve had so many similar thoughts to the ones she describes. I did not grow up Evangelical, but I grew up Southern in a church-going household, and I too have spent much of life going through small revivals—continuously renegotiating my relationship to my faith and to the church. She organizes her book by the sacraments, exploring these different rites as a means to understand a predominantly Millennial viewpoint on the modern American church. Her book was comforting to read in its familiarity; her descriptions of periods of doubt, frustration with overly political, non-inclusive actions of the church, the constant push and pull on the individual heart and mind by the people and ideals of the church—in how many conversations, journal pages, and soul-searching sessions have I grappled with these same topics?

So why ultimately do I belong to a church? Why do I, a 30-year old single woman without any children feel the desire to engage in a faith community? Why is simply individual prayer or personal faith not enough to sustain me? Why do I, though I see problems and politics and petty grievances in the oh-so-human institutions of the church, still believe it is a worthwhile space to spend time and energy?

For me, this basically all revolves around my non-revolutionary revelation that the church is people. Not a building, not a steeple, not a church council, or diocese. The church is nothing more and nothing less than the living, breathing human souls of people who put their trust in Christ. These bodies, minds, and hearts are the Body of Christ; no building, non-profit organizational structure, website, pamphlet, mission statement—the church is whenever, wherever, however, provided its people are present.

When I think of the church as people, it connects me to people of all denominations from all times in history, from all over the world, speaking in all different tongues, living in dramatically different circumstances. This allows for a radical inclusiveness in what it means to be a Christian, defying our modern American conceptions that being “churched” or “being religious” means buying into some white, middle-class, politically conservative, holier-than-though, heterosexual lifestyle. If my church by definition, though we don’t share a pew on Sunday, includes a Coptic nun in Egypt, a Pentecostal New Zealander, a Malawian Methodist and a gay Episcopal bishop in Sweden, how does this necessarily change my view of what it means to be in the church? How much more expansively can we approach the task of participating in a faith community when we see our inclusion as one small, incomplete aspect of a much larger whole? Can we envision the universal church as something unbounded from the aspects of time, geography, and culture that necessarily affect how individual faith communities worship and act in the world?

When we see the church as people, I think it also allows us to be more forgiving of the failings and missteps of the church, another thing Ms. Held Evans alludes to. The church is made up of flawed sinners, and therefore it will stumble. No individual store-front, brick-and-mortar church, sermon podcast, house-meeting, web-forum group of believers can be everything to it’s believers or “get it all right.” God does not tell us we will find salvation, peace, or life in Church; He tells us through His Church that we will find these things in Him and only Him. Expecting our institutions or even relationships with other believers to fill our Creator-shaped void is a path to disillusionment with participating in a faith community. In my opinion, we must never look to church to complete us; we will always be disappointed. Rather, we go to church to commune, celebrate, and worship that which WILL complete us in the company of others that share this hope.

Another reason I participate in church is because while I make a distinction between organized religion and faith, I believe in the power of church to sustain and support my faith. Confusing the two is wrong, because it leads people to imagine they must agree with everything their pastor or church organization says in order to participate in a faith community, or even be a believer. If our relationship with the church is in fact a relationship, though, this kind of thinking is an unnecessary stumbling block. We don’t agree with everything our friends or spouses say and believe, and yet we have extremely fulfilling relationships with them!

We Millennials are far too often caught up in how we “feel,” and for most of us, we will not constantly feel the presence of Christ, or feel strong and certain in our faith. We will question, we will doubt, and we may feel like the proverbial ship being tossed on the seas. But Ms. Held Evans’ writing about the sacraments was gloriously resonant to me because these are the actions done throughout time by generation after generation that connect Christ’s church across centuries. Since Jesus and His disciples walked this earth, we have in various ways as the church been baptizing, confirming, marrying, confessing, ordaining, anointing the sick, celebrating the Eucharist, and performing last rites. Part of the reason I liked the emphasis on these very specific functions of the church is because sometimes I just need to go to church and behave “as if,” as my mother would say. “As if” I felt confident in my own salvation, or the existence of a loving God, or even “as if” I was truly acknowledging my own errors.

Sometimes I need to participate in the act of kneeling, confessing, communing, reaffirming my Baptism, saying the prayers, and sharing the bread and wine, regardless of where my monkey-brain is on any given day. I need a way to participate in my faith that sometimes doesn’t necessitate feeling or thinking the “right” things, and for this I have long been grateful to the church for keeping these rites and rituals. Christianity is often thought of as more orthodoxy than orthopraxy, with a focus on holding certain beliefs rather than performing certain actions. But for me, I also need that connecting thread of practice binding me to my beliefs and binding me to other believers across time and space. There are times I get so frustrated with my own thoughts and feelings, and I instead need the physical, external encounter with water, oil, wine, bread, and the hands of other believers to sustain me.

I could likely write about this forever, since it’s important to me, and also since my relationship with the church continues to evolve day by day. Essentially, I’m always working on my “it’s complicated” relationship with church because I emphatically believe what Rachel Held Evans and the earliest believers asserted: I am a Christian, and Christianity is not something you do on your own. To walk away from church (meaning the people!) is in essence walking away from my faith. To be a part of Christ is to be a member of His Body—His Church—requiring that no matter how much this imperfect mishmash of people confuse or wound or disappoint me, I must always and ever seek to be in relationship with them.

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Do you watch deleted scenes?

Motivation Monday is back, this week, Maggie shared her Motivation Monday on her other blog, On the Banks

On the Banks

Deleted scenes were usually deleted for a reason.

And for that reason, I usually don’t watch them.

But recently, on a road trip, I purchased the soundtrack to Moana (because I have two children under the age of 5, and it’s one of the best Disney movies I’ve ever seen…but that’s for another day). The soundtrack included a few demo tracks with Lin-Manuel Miranda singing “Shiny,” “You’re Welcome,” and “Where You Are,” which I thought was pretty cool.

But then, I listened to another demo track for a song called “More” and the reprise, neither song appears in the final cut of the film.

There’s no animation to go with the song, but it sounds like the song is an alternate to “How Far I’ll Go.” Which is an AMAZING song, and is obviously the right choice for the film.

But it’s a really good song, too, and the reprise…

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3:30 Thursday, Projects

6 Practices to help you screen less Tech Sabbath Part 2

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Maggie shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. Be sure to check out Mary Margaret’s thoughts and read about our preparation for Screen Free Day!


I approached screen free day as a day long meditation practice. I expected that I would experience a certain amount of tech withdrawal – a strong urge to sit down at my computer or reach for my phone, and I didn’t want to spend the day judging myself. In mindfulness practice, they say that when you come back to your breath (or the object of your practice) from being distracted, your return to the present moment and that feeling of “waking up” is the practice. Screen Free Day felt like many moments of waking up.

Normally, in moments of downtime, I mindlessly start scrolling through pictures, posts and articles on social media. I check my email. I send a quick text message. But on Screen Free Day, with nothing to do with my hands, I worked on a writing project, I sat down at our new-to-us piano (which I found from a stranger on Facebook…) and practiced. Things I’ve been telling myself for months that “I don’t have time for” suddenly got my attention.

Awareness:

One of the things I noticed immediately was how many roles my phone has in my life.

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It is:

  1. A camera
  2. A newspaper
  3. A radio
  4. A bulletin board
  5. A telephone
  6. A telegraph
  7. A television
  8. A post office
  9. A way to connect with friends and family
  10. A marketing tool
  11. A personal organizer
  12. An encyclopedia
  13. A dictionary
  14. A map
  15. A calculator
  16. A way to disengage from the problems or irritations of the moment

A place to let your better angels run wild

Being unplugged from technology for a day reminded me of the Spring of my sophomore year in college. Back then, Facebook was “new” and you had to have a “.edu” email address to get an account. That fall, Facebook caused a lot of unnecessary drama in my life, so I gave it up for what ended up being most of a semester. While I enjoyed not having the distraction and drama, I was a pretty lonely semester. My friends made plans for lunch dates, shared jokes, and communicated on Facebook, so I missed out on those things by being off the grid. I realized that I was willing to risk a little drama to stay involved with my friends and reactivated my account.

smartphones2_persona

I also feel like I bring my best self to my social media accounts in a way that I struggle to bring my best self to the real world. Not just in the “I only share my best moments online, so my life seems way better online than it is in real life” way. In the real world, I stumble over my words, can never think of the right thing to say, and generally – in my fear of seeming weird, being offensive or struggling with my critical inner voice – I hold back. Some people use the anonymity of the screen to say terrible things to others that they’d never say in person. Whereas, I tend to skew in the opposite direction – when I’m hiding behind my screen and have time to chew on my thoughts, think about others feelings, and how best to put something – I tend to be kinder, more thoughtful and more generous in virtual spaces than I am in the real world. Whereas an internet troll may let their demons run wild in the online space, I tend to let my better angels run wild.

It’s a Trap!

Trap 1: I need to hide behind the screen to be my best self

On the other hand…is that a trap? Is that just what the internet wants me to think? Perhaps if I devoted the time I spend curating my online presence volunteering in my community, joining toastmasters to work on my public speaking, or facing real people instead of virtual people, I’d find that I could be my online self in real life.

Trap 2: I only see what I want to see

One of the things my day without screens made me most aware of is how customized my online experience is. It’s nice to have a tailored experience – I see my favorite friend’s posts more frequently; I see news that’s related to other stories I’ve read from sources I find reputable and interesting; I hear music and radio shows that I like and choose whenever it’s convenient for me to listen.

But…what am I not hearing, reading or seeing?

If I got a printed newspaper every day, I would undoubtedly see news or hear stories that the editor of the newspaper thought were important that I might never choose for myself. And that is both good and bad. By choosing my own news, I get what’s interesting to me. But, I think it’s valuable to read, watch and listen to the perspective of people who grate on my nerves, who challenge my preconceived notions, and who don’t always say what I want to hear.

A sense of calm

My kids interrupt me constantly. It’s what they do. I hear “MOM!” at least 100 times a day. And most days, that sound fills me with anger. Usually, it’s pulling me from something I’m working on, reading or doing, and I find that constant interruption of my concentration and the inability to work deeply and focus on something to be infuriating and frustrating. But…on Screen Free Day…I felt focused and even though the interruptions kept coming, I didn’t feel angry.

For several days after Screen Free Day, I felt a residual sense of calm and focus. I also felt less pulled to the virtual world. I made fewer posts, fewer comments, got less carried away on social media or news sites. And…it was kind of amazing. I enjoyed silence and hearing the noise of the world around me.

As I said before, I think there is a lot of good to be found from connecting and staying in touch with friends and family online. It’s how my children know what their grandparents look like. It’s how I’m able to stay in touch with my sisters and friends who live all over the country. It’s how I learn what’s going on in the world, and it’s also how I’m sharing this story with you.

But, in the spirit of mindfulness, I’m going to work on my practice of screening less. Here are the practices I intend to adopt:

 

6 Practices to help you screen less

  1. Have a screen free hour every day
    • Note: obviously, we all have an hour in the day where we probably don’t happen to be looking at a screen. But, I want to take an hour of the day to do this on purpose.
    • Maybe you put the phone down and watch your child’s practice or play with them.
    • Maybe you drive to work without music, radio or podcasts playing.
    • Maybe write out something by hand instead of typing it.
  2. Have a screen free day once a week or month
    • Note: I would like to have a weekly screen free day, but I do a lot of preparation for the week using my computer, and my job requires I work at a computer – at least a little – every day. I had to do a good bit of pre-work and catch up to make screen free day happen. I’m not ready to do it every week, but I know I could do this once a month.
  3. Instead of using the tools on my phone – get some of those specific things: a calculator, a camera, a newspaper instead
  4. Be mindful of your curated experience
    • seek out sources, stories, people and information that are off your beaten path
  5. If you like the person you are online, try to bring that person to the real world.
    • Make a date to meet someone in person
    • Show up to a community event or meeting
    • Volunteer somewhere
    • Go to a live show or concert
    • Try a new restaurant
    • Say something nice to someone’s face.
  6. Have a space in your home or life where there are no screens
    • The main living area of my home does not have a television or computer in it. We did that on purpose because we wanted to avoid the temptation to check out or veg out when we’re together as a family. I find this makes it easier to play board games, pull out a puzzle, have a conversation or do things that help us engage in a face to face way.

 

Projects

Clock Radios and Crickets…Tech Sabbath Part 1

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Mary Margaret shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. 

August 13, 2017: A midnight to midnight fast completed. No phone, no computer, no screens. I unlocked the screen on my phone once for a friend to do a quick baby-check, (which felt oddly like “cheating”) but upon hearing that no one had gone into labor, off went the phone and popped back into my bag.

My conclusion after this measly 24-hour experiment?I present to you the stages of tech withdrawal…

  1. Anxiety, Panic, Bargaining:This was firstly and overwhelmingly related to the alarm clock situation. I was so concerned that something would go awry with the clock radio, I would sleep the morning away, miss work, get fired, and my life would go down in a fireball of ruins. This didn’t happen. I woke up before the alarm even sounded—maybe because I was so anxious about the alarm.  The funny thing was this anxiety prompting a quibbling with myself about the rules of “no-tech-day,” reasoning, well, maybe it’s okay if I use it as an alarm clock, a wristwatch, or a calculator because I don’t carry those things? But I overruled this bargaining, since this was precisely the point!! I was discovering all the things I rely on my phone for, and how it changed things to do without. I adapted; I  made my plans with my friends on Saturday, I looked at wall clocks, I asked strangers for the time, I mused about the weather, I walked over to a store to check their closing time, I pulled out a pocket calculator. I didn’t mind, but it also made me glad that we can do all of these functions with smartphones, because I like simplicity. I’m not a person who wants a kitchen full of appliances that each do one narrowly specific function (oh the apple corer? Yes, just squeeze that in the cabinet between the tree-nut-only food processor and the rice cooker. NOT!) So I’m grateful that I can listen to music, check my email, see the time, make calls, and do calculations without a purse or home full of devices and gadgets. We can discuss later my actual need to DO any of those things on demand, but suffice it to say I like the streamlining a smartphone permits. Obviously when you rely on one thing and it breaks, you’re more temporarily in the lurch, but for me the inconvenience is outweighed by the maintenance and cost of owning and managing everything separately: wristwatch, alarm clock, calculator, music player, landline phone, television, GPS device, etc.
  2. Sweet, sweet relief. And guilt. Once I was headed towards work, past my concerns about the dreaded oversleeping scenario, I felt the freedom of technology sabbath. I’d released myself from the obligation to call anyone, respond to any texts or emails, or engage with news or social media. And full transparency, part of this relief over not having to engage was directly correlated with current events. I wanted to be blissfully ignorant for 24 hours– a free pass from a self-imposed requirement that I stare into the darkness and acknowledge these most recent occurrences of racism and violence in our country. I didn’t want to know what the president was saying or not saying, and I didn’t want to face any further confirmation of the hatred, divisiveness and fear that Trump’s campaign and presidency has allowed to come bubbling up to the surface from malicious undercurrents of our society. Guilt comes into the equation because our accessibility to information has introduced this idea that we are negligent and wrong to NOT engage with this information. My eagerness to escape the influx of bad news from the past week, North Korea to Virginia and everything in between, points to the wearying effect of this burden of information. I wrote at Lent about limiting the number of news sources I was consuming, and Maggie and I have discussed decreasing the number of times we read about the same disheartening event. I don’t think guilt here is a particularly helpful emotion, nor is simply consuming news for the sake of having thoughts or feelings about the events themselves, but I want to maintain sensitivity and awareness to current events if there is a chance for action that promotes love and justice. I certainly wonder if occasional breaks might help me continue to be shocked and motivated, though, rather than merely fatigued by trying to keep informed.
  3. Temptation and Habit: It wasn’t only the news that I was relieved to escape, though. I actually enjoyed not needing to engage with the phone: not digging around in my purse and not having the phone physically in my hand. Of course, though, I am so used to reaching for it, though, I did have to actively stop myself throughout the day. When you put your phone down it leaves you open to notice the ubiquity of tech around you. A time-traveling visitor from the past or alien from a distant planet dropped into a New York City subway car would be forgiven for thinking that humans had an extra metal appendage attached to our hands, so it was interesting to look around the city trying to spot people who weren’t engaged with or simply carrying a device of some kind. Fighting my own habit of phone attachment was good practice. There’s no reason to pull out my phone with the frequency I do, and noticing when I had the impulse to was illuminating. Screens aside, equally strong was the impulse to fill the silence by turning on music, a podcast, or making a phone call. Which leads to my next point…
  4. Openness and Discovery: Disengaging from tech was about decreasing visual and aural stimulation of all kinds, and I truly found myself listening, watching, and observing more throughout the day. Obvious to state, but I was more tuned in to my surroundings and more present with my own thoughts, because I wasn’t listening to or looking at the thoughts and images of others. I realized how habitual my practice of listening to podcasts on my commute home was when I noticed the hum of crickets in Prospect Park as I walked from the train. Even in the middle of the Brooklyn, these creatures chirp, a natural chorus in the midst of the artificial and mechanical buzz of the city. Undoubtedly the best part of tech-free day was this quiet sitting with myself, which is something I typically think I have to leave my “normal” New York City life to engage with. It’s so simple, but I had some nice thinking time, and even mulled over some future writing topics. In releasing myself from the need to engage during the span of a normal day of work and play, without needing to go on a literal vacation, I found a bit of stillness even within that space.

My verdict then as a naturally anxious and somewhat restless soul? I ended tech-free day thinking: so that was tricky. When can we do it again?

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Screen Less?

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret are planning a screen free day or technology sabbath. We wanted to make ourselves more aware of the role technology plays in our life and see how we do for a day without them. However, simply preparing for this day has proven worthy of many laughs, insights and challenges.

Mary Margaret

Once Maggie and I agreed to the idea of doing a “screen-free day” as a blog topic for the month of August, we immediately had to begin preparing ourselves for this epic, challenging feat!

Wait a second… a few years ago I didn’t even have a smart phone.  My first year in New York I didn’t have any internet capability on my phone. A few years before that, I didn’t even send texts. A few years before that I didn’t have a personal cell phone….HOW HAVE WE COME TO THIS?!!

I immediately begin thinking through the potential problems and scenarios presented by the idea of not using the phone or the computer for the day. I can do this pretty handily when I am away from work, on a family vacation or something, but in my working, day to day life, the idea sends me into a mild state of anxiety. I’ve certainly felt the wave of panic and then freedom from suddenly realizing on the train that I’ve left my phone at home, but then typically I can still check in through  email communication once I get to work.

Maggie and I proposed screen-free day precisely for this reason; we want to be mindful about the amount of time and energy spent engaging with these devices. We want to make ourselves aware of our addiction to being connected and plugged in. Here are some major anxieties that started to come up when we started discussing the idea:

1. OVERSLEEPING!

My phone serves as my alarm, so I’ll have to pull out that small clock I have somewhere…hmmm, where is that thing?

2. Work contacting me!

I requested we do the experiment on a  Sunday, because Monday is my day off. Since the nature of my job means I frequently hear last-minute stuff the day or evening before. Or morning of. Basically, this comes down to the fact that people EXPECT to be able to contact you at any time, so I’ll just hope our stage manager isn’t frantically trying to get ahold of me to let me know that we’re putting an understudy on in the Sunday matinee.

3. Letting people know

This goes back to expectations. There’s an awareness that people have their phones with them virtually all the time. We spend actual time with many people that we contact by phone; we see them check their phones! We know they look at their phones!! So if we don’t hear from someone that is typically responsive (and I try to be) we may worry or think something is wrong.

4. Making the plan beforehand

We are so used to being able to make last minute changes to plans, and I am getting together with friends on Sunday night, which is typical for me. Only this time we shall have to plan ahead, and then refer to point #3, which is me telling them not to change plans, since I won’t be reachable for last minute upheavals.

5. What if someone I love has a baby?!?!

The last and most pressing current anxiety is that Maggie and I are both on baby watch! In spite of knowing that in ye olde time days, you might have to wait months for a letter to arrive letting you know about the birth of a baby, now neither of us could imagine not knowing (even hundreds of miles away from these births) the instant when our dear friend Jillian and my sister Emily go into labor. Via phone call, Maggie and I we may have concocted a contingency plan that involves friendly confederates roped into looking at our phones FOR US at spaced intervals to screen for baby-related incoming texts or calls. And then naturally there was the tacit agreement  that if a baby is coming, screen-free day  is henceforth finished and postponed until a later time. Maybe to a day far in the future when no one will potentially be sending us cute baby pictures.

…So the moral of the story is that we haven’t even gotten close to screen-free Sunday (coming to torture a blogger near you on August 13) and we are already hopelessly proving the point  about our modern-day screen addiction.

Yes, where’s that alarm clock? And maybe I should start passing out the extension on my land line at work.


Maggie

I have been gearing myself up for a screen free day for weeks. I don’t like to do things cold turkey, so just like when you’re easing into a swimming pool trying to avoid taking the inevitable plunge, I have been trying to use my screens a little less in preparation for our screen free day.

born-ready1. Deleted Social Media Apps from my phone.

I realized about 9 months ago that Facebook was just way too much temptation for me to have available for viewing at all times, so it’s been off the phone for awhile. But, that meant I started exploring the Twitter-verse. And WOW, there are some fascinating, funny and crazy stuff on that platform. So…it’s gone now, too.  There were a couple of other apps I tried that also tend to suck me in, they’re also gone.

2. Attempted to ‘get ahead’ on work I normally do on Sunday.

I like to think that I take my Sundays totally and completely off from work and reserve that day for my family. But…I own a small business, so there’s a part of me that really wants to be available if someone wants information, has a question or needs something on a Sunday. But…maybe it can wait.

3. Starting bringing awareness to when I want to visit social media

There are a couple of tools to help you stay focused when working on computers. Two that I like are called Block Site and Freedom. Block site is an app that will keep you from visiting certain sites during days/times that you specify. So, for example, if I try to visit Facebook, Twitter, certain new sites, etc. during my “working” hours, my browser will redirect me to a website that is raising funds for a cause that is offensive to me. It’s AMAZING how quickly that will make you realize that you’re typing in the URL for Faceboo… before you’ve even thought about it.

Freedom is an app you can use on your phone (or computer) which also blocks sites and apps that you choose during the days/times of your choosing.

I’ve found that I love/hate using these tools. On the one hand, it’s great to keep myself accountable. But, on the other hand, I’d like to think I could have self-control without the aid of an app. But…I think they’ve designed the apps to be that way, so I don’t blame myself.

4. Recognize what I want from my technology

I do really appreciate the way that my phone connects me with my family and friends. I love listening to podcasts, seeing pictures of my friend’s babies, going on vacations vicariously through my friends, learning tricks to help me be a better parent, business owner, wife, homeowner, etc. But I don’t want to be so involved in those things that I miss my own life – my children, my home, my town, etc.

I also don’t want to fall into the trap of viewing my world through an iPhone camera lens, 140 character quips, and filters. Of course, our own beliefs, values and experience serve as a lens that change what we see in our world and in our lives…but at least it’s a 3D representation rather than a curated bunch of pixels. I want my kids to know how to make eye contact, to listen intently, to know what dirt between their toes feels like. I don’t want to make a false choice and say we should all get rid of all our technology, but I don’t want to use it just because it’s there. I think that my phone, my computer and my television are tools. They work very well as tools, but aren’t great masters. So, I’m hopeful, that Screen Free Sunday will be a kick-start on a journey to a more mindful relationship with the screens in my life.

 

Motivation Monday, Projects

You don’t have to want to do it

I love my job.

Really. It’s a cool job, and I love doing it.

But there are parts of my job – mailing Quarterly 941 Tax Return to the IRS, filing sales tax reports on time, reconciling accounts, keeping track of addresses, remembering the passwords for various websites, answering the phone for telemarketers, renewing my insurance and licenses, catching up when I’ve fallen behind on some of those tasks – that I don’t particularly enjoy doing.

I like working with individuals, having conversations that help people grow, seeing people improving their flexibility, strength and coordination, engaging with people, teaching.

BUT – If I don’t do the things I don’t like doing…I won’t get to do the things I do like doing. (sorry for all the double negatives here)

Does that sound crazy?

What’s even crazier is that I love having done the things I don’t like doing. I love the feeling of relief that comes when a nagging or unpleasant task is over. I love knowing that I haven’t let some large thing slip through the cracks – or if I have let that thing slip through the cracks that I have filled the crack and things will no longer slip through it.

I think it’s useful to keep this in mind because it helps you do the things you don’t love doing. Because they have to get done whether you want to do it or not.

So – for this week – remember, whatever it is for you. You don’t have to like doing it.