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.

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.

 

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.

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects

The times, they are a-changin’

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. In August, we’ll be approaching the 3:30 Project a bit differently. Let us explain… 

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

The 3:30 Project has now reached its seventh month, and seen each of its three triangle members hit the anticipated Big 30! We’ve been so grateful for everyone who has read, commented on our writing (both online and in conversation), shared the blog with someone else, and been overall so supportive of our endeavors! We set out to create a habitual practice of writing and sharing ideas with one another, and we’ve seen some lovely things come out of the commitment we made. Not only has writing been a good way to process the events of the year, we’ve been in even more constant contact with one another. On top of that, I’d say we’ve all done some writing to be proud of.

Every season has its own requirements, though, and we’ve come to a moment of transition. With Jillian expecting the imminent arrival of Fox, and so much going on in life and work, we’re embracing a new format moving ahead, more reflective of what the second half of 2017 holds. Maggie and Mary Margaret will each post on a different Thursday during the month on a shared topic. We then may use the last week of the month to respond to one another’s writing or add something new to the conversation. Jillian will be free to post when and if she has time in these early days and months of motherhood. As much as we shall miss her writings, we know she will have more than enough to keep her busy! We have also chosen to go more free-form with our alternative posts like Motivation Monday and Something Swell on Saturday. You may see these, or other additional content throughout the month, but on a less formulaic basis than previously.

Thanks for reading along with us! We sincerely hope we’ve brought new voices and new ideas to you somehow and we also hope you’ll continue reading along with us as we continue in this new direction! Onward and upward, friends!

3:30 Thursday, Motivation Monday, Projects

Let’s just leave God out of this, please.

Earlier today, the President of the United States shared the following sentiment on his social media accounts:

And something in me has officially snapped.

I am done.

If I hear one more statement from a Christian comparing the man who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to a morally questionable leader/king/etc. from the Old Testament and saying that because God used so-and-so, God is also using the 45th President of the United States to bring about his will. I have a few things to say to you.

And, to you, morally superior Christian who has instead identified this man as a portent of the end times, the anti-Christ, and evil incarnate – I have some things to say to you, too.

It’s probably not the end times.

Let’s get some perspective – basically, all Christians since the year 33 A.D. have believe that they were living in the end times. And, let’s be honest, the Christians who lived through the black death in the 14th Century saw 50% or more of Europe’s population die. By 1691, 90-95% of the indigenous peoples of the Americas had died from epidemic disease, war, famine, and other side effects of the “discovery” of the New World. Even in the last few centuries, children died of malaria, small pox, diphtheria, polio and common colds due to malnutrition, lack of medical care, poor sanitation and unfortunate luck. Now, here we are in 2017, and in the United States of America we have an unqualified bully for a President.

A man who admittedly thought it was worth his time today to accuse Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska of “letting Republicans down” by not voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And who also thought it was worth his time and energy to make a statement excluding transgendered Americans from serving in our military.

But even in these dark times, we still have electricity, running water, cable television, Facebook, and an overabundance of cheap processed food available at grocery and convenience stores 24 hours a day. I’m just saying – our claim on the end times is pretty pathetic compared to basically all time before now.

I can appreciate your feeling that our President feels like a bad omen. Nevertheless, I want to challenge that idea. I think we make this mistake over and over again in our country, and in the Christian faith.

Let’s think about Jesus for a second…

The ministry of Jesus Christ was not a political revolution. He confused people constantly in his ministry. He appeared to have infinite power:

ICYMI (In cased you missed it):

  • He could heal the sick just by touching them
  • He used 5 loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people
  • He turn water into wine
  • He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors – usually having meals with them
  • He raised a child from the dead
  • He raised his friend from the dead
  • He called out religious leaders for hypocrisy
  • Also, when faced with the prospect of death, he died. Rather than use his power against his accusers – he died. (Note the distinct contrast with the words of our current President: “When the President gets hit, he’s going to hit back 10 times harder.”) Then (we’re back to Jesus now) he came back to life.

Note some big missing elements: He never endorsed a political candidate or party (not even Ronald Regan). Also, he never mentioned the United States of America, free speech or trickle down economics. In fact, he suggested that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the first would be last and the last would be first (Matthew 20:16).

Thanks for the Sunday school lesson…why are we here again?

Here’s what I believe: Jesus Christ came to restore humanity’s relationship with its creator, not overthrow the Roman empire. I’m just going to put this out there – I don’t believe that God cares one way or another who the President of the United States is. I think God cares how we treat each other, how we treat the poor, how we treat the sick, and how we treat the planet. And, I dare say, we can do better in those areas.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t even believe that God hates Donald Trump. I think this is why Evangelical Christians have “hope” for this man – Donald Trump is not beyond the reach of God’s love…he doesn’t strike me as someone who is searching desperately for the living water that Jesus offers his followers (John 4:14), but who am I to judge another human’s innermost heart?

And that is another revolutionary idea of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ died for Donald Trump, too. I believe that Mr. Trump sees Christians in a transactional way – he likes the ones that voted for him…and that is sad for him. Because if he ever put anyone or anything above himself, he might discover the power of grace, the value of love, and the return on the investment of forgiveness and faith that leads to a truly abundant life.

I don’t believe that Donald Trump should have the power of the Presidency, and I certainly don’t want to give him the power of the antichrist. He is unworthy of both.

Is he a greedy man? Yes.
Is he a shallow man? Yes.
Is he a bully? Yes.
Is he an insult to the position that he holds and the country he represents? Yes.

And YES, he is in a position to do real harm to many people and our country, and that is why, despite my desire to pretend that he does not exist, that I choose to resist.

But please, do not give him the credit for bringing about the end times. And certainly don’t give up on the Paris accords or trying to prevent the destruction that our planet will experience due to Global Warming because you think the World is going to end anyway.

The world has seen bad leaders. evil leaders. and worse – leaders who were bad and evil, but also smart and charismatic. Mr. Trump is clumsy, inarticulate and foul. His lies are transparent and he will fall into the trap he has laid for himself.

In the mean time, let’s give God a break. Christians, can’t we please get back to the work that was important to Jesus Christ? Feeding the hungry? Healing the sick? Loving those who were rejected? Turning the other cheek? Not throwing the first stone? Following the Spirit rather than the letter of the law? Let’s do those things and stop pretending that the man in the White House represents those values right now.

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects, Triangle Tuesday

America the Beautiful…

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Lately America has seemed a little, ummm….ugly? In spite of well-intentioned and idealistic talk, there’s been very little unity building in this country since last November’s election. In honor of Independence Day this week, the 3:30 gals remind ourselves and you that there’s so much to celebrate with some awesome, uniquely American things! 


Mary Margaret

  1. Geography. No seriously, folks. The song about fruited plains, mountains, and shining coastlines is poignantly correct when we consider the vastness of diversity in our country. The Grand Canyon, the Rockies, Appalachia, coastlines, forests, lakes, glaciers, volcanoes; there’s profoundly wondrous natural beauty in this land, which is worth celebrating and protecting!
  2. Bluegrass Music. You’re welcome,  world. Or sorry, world, depending on if you’re       anti-banjo. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but I’m grateful for this uniquely      American sound, born on this soil.
  3. The First Moon Landing. The anniversary of this is also in July, and I’d just like to remark that while I wasn’t even alive when this happened, I still find it        incredibly inspiring that Americans dreamed of, planned, implemented and achieved walking on the moon. Multiple times. Obviously I am not a conspiracy theorist here. Maybe I’m just captured by the sheer capacity of humans to dwell in everyday realities and yet believe in things that seem fantastical!
  4. Regionalism. Diversity is complicated. Diversity is also cool, if you ask me. Technologies may be making us increasingly more homogenized, but I still think it’s cool that you can travel to a different part of your own country, your own town, your own city even and be surprised by what you find in the myriad of religions, languages, cuisines, cultures and subcultures that this nation contains.
  5. Rocket Pops. Enough Said.

Rocket-popsicle


Maggie

  1. The Internet. I recognize that the internet isn’t specifically American, and that internet trolling, cyber bullying, and cyber security are real and challenging issues that come along with the internet. But, thanks to the internet, I also get to see my family on video calls, collaborate with my friends who live far away, and see hilarious videos on youtube. I have the encyclopedia of the whole world available when I want to learn whether cloth or disposable diapers are better, or how to pronounce quinoa. We can all work on our cyber manners, but I’m still going to count the internet as a win for America.
  2. National Parks. We have some amazing National Parks in our country. I get to enjoy the Canaveral National Seashore on a pretty regular basis, but there’s more. The Saguaro National Cactus forest is amazing, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons…and that’s just the few that have made a big impact on me. I have a passport to the National Parks, so I can track all the one’s I’ve been, too. It’s not very full, but maybe something to work on like in Mary Margaret’s Some Suggestions for Saturday.
  3. Musicals. The Musical is a decidedly American art form. And whether your favorite is Oklahoma, Ragtime, Hamilton, West Side Story, Les Miserables, Wicked, Urinetown – or one of the many other wonderful and noteworthy American Musicals. I think they’re delightful. I haven’t taken the opportunity to enjoy live theater in a while, but I still hum show tunes all. the. time.
  4. Libraries. I love libraries so much! I love them! There’s something about being in a building full of books that makes me feel like the world will be well. And mercifully, even in my small community, we have public libraries available for everyone.
  5. Interstate Highway System. I think it’s incredible that I could get in my car right now and drive, for free, on a pretty good road all the way to Tacoma Washington. As long as my car could make it, I could go there. I know from playing Oregon Trail in Elementary School that many people didn’t make that trip. But I can! Why? GPS, interstate highways and gas stations.

Jillian

  1. Satire. America is the land of democracy and free speech – the land of the everyday, ordinary person. So there’s really nothing more American than laughing at the powerful.
  2. Conspiracy Theories. Another wonderful element of free speech – you are allowed to talk shit about your government, you are allowed to call out the ugly things they do, and you are allowed to endlessly postulate about all kinds of outrageous and horrible things they may or may not have done at all. And I love it. I don’t personally believe that they faked the moon landing, or that a crashed alien spacecraft is hidden away at Area 51. But if you do, please tell me because I could listen to you talk for hours. (And I totally do believe that FDR sent Amelia Earhart to spy on the Japanese and that they captured her, that FDR did not even try to save her, and that both governments have covered it up this whole time. This Sunday on the History Channel, 9/8c.)
  3. Generous personal space. I think the abundance of geographic space in America is what makes us inclined to claim a lot of it for ourselves. We have big houses and big cars and we have BIG perimeters of personal space around us at all times. And that is something I profoundly love about being an American. When you’re in America, strangers try to stay about 3 feet away from you, and that is the best way. The American way.
  4. Vegetables. Okay, this one is cheating a little bit, because these things are particular to the New World on the whole, and a lot of them originated in Central or South America. But I think very few Americans realize how special our vegetables are. Ireland had no potatoes before they were brought back from the New World. Italy had no tomatoes. I can’t even list all the things we wouldn’t have without corn. Truthfully we should all be celebrating the Fourth in the produce section at Kroger.
  5. Coca-Cola. I’ve saved the best for last. Coke is hands down the greatest American invention, don’t even @ me. Coke has conquered the world with its delicious, fizzy, tooth-decaying goodness and its gorgeous logo and its amazingly uplifting commercials – how do they even do that?!?! Wherever you are in the world, when you see that beautiful white scroll on that red background, your heart fills with pride. God bless America.
3:30 Thursday, Projects

Should have Gotten a Pedicure…Barefoot Tales!

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Now that summer has officially arrived, the time for kicking off your shoes and feeling the grass between your toes, we bring you stories of going barefoot! 


Jillian

When I look at my bare feet, I think of my mother.

It seems to me that 90% of what it means to be a woman you learn by the time you’re three years old. You learn it from your mother, just from looking at her and watching her move and listening to her tones.

I studied my mother. I watched her curl her hair, I noticed the blackness of her mascara-ed eyelashes and the redness of her lipsticked lips. I touched her smooth, shaved legs. The thing that captivated me perhaps most of all was her bright, colorful, beautiful, perfect toenails. They were different shades of pink and red all the time, from neutral to bold, sometimes flecked with gold. Her toenails were never bare. In my memory, they were never even chipped.

As I grew into a teenager, I realized how much discipline and attention it takes to pull off the consistent, daily performance of femininity – the hair, the hair products, the hair removal, the creams and pumices, the makeup and the nail polish. I realized that my mother has that kind of discipline and attention, and I realized that I will never have that. And I decided it wasn’t something I wanted for myself anyway – I don’t want to fret about a perfect appearance, I want to leave my mind free for other thoughts.

Now, when summertime arrives, I paint my toenails like I’m supposed to and then I forget all about it. I just go about my life, to work or to church or to Fourth of July picnics, with my toes peeking out, blissfully unaware of the weeks-old polish flaking away.

But occasionally I see my toenails with the polish halfway eroded and I think to myself, That is shameful. And then I smile, because it reminds me of something so old and universal. Something about the way a little girl looks at her mother, something about the innumerable things that you learn just from watching her. And something about that part of you that, despite all the growing up and changing and rejecting and discovering, will always wish you could be just a little bit more like her.


Maggie

I have organized a large part of my life around my desire to not wear shoes. As a Martial Arts instructor, I teach all of my classes in bare feet; in my home, I don’t wear shoes; and, in between, I try to wear sandals as much as possible. Since I live in Florida, this is socially and seasonably acceptable.

One side effect of my barefoot lifestyle is that I spend a LOT of time vacuuming and mopping. Every day our training floor must be vacuumed (sometimes twice), and at least once a week we clean and sanitize the mat. A fellow instructor once told my husband and me that “when you clean the mat you clean your soul.”

At the time I thought he had gone off the deep end.

But with time, I have come to appreciate that lifting the dust, dirt and grime off the mat and being constantly vigilant about foot fungus is good for my soul (pun intended).

I find that the daily ritual of vacuuming the mat very soothing. I’ll listen to a podcast, strap one of my daughters on our baby back pack, and the white noise of the vacuum cleaner will lull her to sleep. It’s a peaceful, cuddly weightlifting exercise.

Having grown up in the church, I have heard at least 30 sermons (probably more) on the The Last Supper and particularly the moment when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Most of the sermons emphasize how humbling this was because the disciples probably had disgusting feet – they walked everywhere, lived in a desert climate, had no running water, etc. But it wasn’t until I began my daily practice of cleaning up after other’s people’s feet that these sermon illustrations really hit home, and I have come to appreciate how much dirt people pick up and leave behind with their feet, but also how nice it is to clean away the dirt you pick up every day.

I feel like my feet probably look a lot like the disciples’ feet – calloused ,and by the end of most days, they’re pretty dirty. But they’re also tough – I can walk across most surfaces unprotected by sock or shoe. In my baptism, my head was sprinkled with water, symbolizing the washing away of sin, but nothing feels cleaner to me than having my feet cleaned and clearing away the dust and dirt from the day.

There is so much that comes at us every day. So many stories to hear, so many issues to care about, so many things that taking a few minutes to clear away the the grime and leaving your sole fresh and refreshed can be good for your spirit and your sole.


Mary Margaret

The first thing I do when I walk into my apartment? Take off my shoes. Aside from the sanitary benefits of not wearing New York City pavement-pounders all over my floors, removing my shoes is my signal to myself that I’m home. I instantly feel more comfortable and like myself when I’ve achieved foot freedom- Closest to my natural state of being. If I could safely go barefoot more places, I would. But you know, glass and dog poop, so freedom has its limits.

The human spectrum of reaction to the uncovered foot, ranging from lust to disgust is expansive, but whether you loathe or delight in toes, to me there’s something so visceral and immediate about the uncovered foot’s connection to memories. The physical sense of the ground, temperatures and textures, earthen or manmade, wet or dry, solid or crumbling surfaces—these feelings come yoked to my recollections as if I could feel their matter beneath my toes once more. Being barefoot seems to make my sense of place more immediately and firmly etched into mind. Smell, taste and sound connect more intimately to my emotional memory—how I felt in a moment—but the feel of a place is under my feet. For instance:

The lacquered wooden beams and pebbly mats of every yoga studio I’ve ever entered. No wonder yoga has been my favorite form of physical activity for over a decade, since it’s rather unique in being safely practiced sans footwear. I feel most grounded in my own physical self on my mat, digging my toes down, acknowledging gravity and the connection from toe to ball, to heel, to every other part of my body.

Cool, smooth, richly ornamented carpets of the mosques I visited in the Middle East. As my head was covered, so were my feet uncovered to respect these spaces. Thinking of leaving my shoes in small cubby holes by the door to tiptoe lightly across the rugs, threadbare from the thousands that came before me to visit and pray at these sights, instantly brings me back to the year I spent in East Jerusalem, and traveling in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt.

Cool, hard stone floors of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. I’ve long loved the annual Maundy Thursday practice of foot washing in my congregation. We wash and are washed, literally touching the bare feet of people we only casually know. If you aren’t a pedicurist, you’d probably never do this, and for me, I’ve found it to be a palpable reminder of the kind of humility Jesus calls us to. If he could wash the dust covered feet of His Disciples, surely we can at least bring ourselves to pour some water over the foot of an elderly choir director, finding some holiness in humbleness.

Shorelines: mud, grits, pebbles, sand, stones, debris. Many places I’ve been blessed to visit- in Italy, the Middle East, East and West Coasts– had some body of water, affording the chance to step directly into the soil and water of the land. This can be a perilous pursuit. Jetty rocks are often sharp, creatures in the sand may pinch or sting, icy water may cause your toes to numb, but allowing no barrier between you and Mother Nature invites a fullness of experience impossible with barriers of rubber, leather or canvas blocking the way.

Is this perhaps the heart of what I’m trying to say about going barefoot? I long to get everything out of the way to be more consciously present? In yoga, the “chakras” describe locations where energy flows in, out, and around the body. While I don’t attach spiritual significance to this per se, I enjoy this mental exercise of visualizing energy. I feel corny verbalizing this, but I think I’m so eager to take my shoes off because of my internal sense that it brings authenticity to my experience of that place. I’m ready to kick off my shoes, seeking sensation of the inward and outward flow of energy through my foot chakras, rooted under the balls of each foot. Maybe I’m striving, hoping to soak in the energy and memory of places through my toes and legs, up, up, up, through torso and heart center, all the way to my brain and inner eye where it can lodge and dwell as memories of unique and singular places and moments where my feet once found themselves.

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Try a Podcast!

The 3:30 project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. This week, we’re going to share a recommendation for a favorite podcast that we enjoy listening to!


Maggie

I don’t watch television. I don’t have cable in my house. I don’t even have the bunny ears set up so I can watch the local news when there’s a hurricane. Instead, I occasionally watch The Magic School Bus and animated kids’ movies on Netflix and listen to podcasts.

I am a huge fan of podcasts. In fact, I organize a large portion of my life around listening to my favorite shows and hearing the interesting stories, news, ideas and insights from people I’m interested in and admire.

The first podcast I ever subscribed to, and probably my favorite podcast is by writer, Gretchen Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft. It’s called, “Happier.” 

Each episode has a delightful tip to try at home: make your bed, go on an errand date, plan your summer, keep a one sentence journal. Happiness hacks like how to store your toilet paper in a small bathroom. And interesting conversations about Happiness stumbling blocks that come up for many people.

They aren’t addressing the deeper ills of society, but rather the nagging things that come up day after day that can either boost us up or drag us down. Their conversations are lively, engaging and most of all useful. It’s true – I’m happier when I make my bed every morning; I feel better when I tackle nagging tasks; and it really bugs me when I don’t have a place to keep my toilet paper.

In fact, I think it’s thanks to Gretchen’s inspiration that I was eager to start this blog with Mary Margaret and Jillian – it boosts my happiness to see their words every week and gives me a reason to stay in touch with them!

Coffee Break Podcast
subscribe at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/my-coffee-break-podcast/id1249557075

Also – I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that all of my podcast listening has inspired me to start a podcast, too! My husband and I enjoy drinking coffee and talking to each other. So, we’ve started a podcast, which just like this blog, has given me a big happiness boost. I’ve had to figure out new challenges: how do you submit a podcast to iTunes, what’s an RSS feed, how do I get a logo, is there music I can use without violating copyright laws, and, most of all, how do I get myself to stop saying “um” when we’re recording; and it’s given us something fun to collaborate on together, which I’m sure sounds crazy since we own a business together, but a lot of times we work in parallel rather than together, so this is a nice way to connect.

So, if you’re not a podcast listener, try subscribing to a few and giving them a listen! It’s a delightful medium – kind of like radio, but whenever you want, and you can press pause!


Mary Margaret 

Thank goodness for podcasts. I’ve become extremely addicted to them while doing daywork at Broadway theatres, because those are three to four hour spans of time where I’m basically alone in dressing rooms prepping clothes (ironing, steaming, sewing repairs) for the evening performance of the show. What to do with my mind while I check countless pant hems and ferret out loose buttons? Podcasts are absolutely my friends.

I’ve mentioned several on the blog already that I enjoy, including ‘This American Life’ and ‘Reply All,’ but I’ll also add another new favorite I’ve been enjoying, thanks to my co-blogger Maggie Penton: ‘Pantsuit Politics.’ This is a twice-weekly conversation between two women—a progressive and a conservative—tackling the political topics of the day, striving to introduce “nuance” to each of their conversations. I like listening to these southern ladies, because they are educated, with backgrounds in law, but they aren’t reporters, living in Washington, or ensconced in the bubble of a full-time political career. They are moms and wives, active members of their communities— one of them works in the business world, the other serves as a local City Commissioner. They attempt to provide research, background and context for the issues they discuss, strive for balance, and also authentically express where they land on certain issues. When an issue is asking for more background in order to facilitate discussion, they even put together special episodes called “primers” to help people understand the history of a certain issue. These women push back at one another’s various opinions in a non-confrontational, non-insulting way. It feels like a mutually respectful discussion between friends, but without rambling, (which while completely fine for normal conversation, can be tedious in some other podcast opinion shows I’ve listened to.)

Since most of politics now feels so polarizing and negative, I have found listening to these women to be a very healthy way to consume news. They are real voices, not playing characters or striving for satire (which granted can also be fun and have a place in our public discourse) talking about things that matter to them. Rather than pushing an agenda, they’re earnest and clearly motivated by their personal values. They started the podcast with the worthy goal of inciting dialogue and increasing empathy, which seems like a monumental task in the current climate. But I’d like to travel with them on that journey, and if that sounds appealing to you as well, I think you’d enjoy listening to Sarah from the left and Beth from the right!


Jillian

Maggie and Mary Margaret have shared some really smart, informative podcasts about self-betterment or current events and to all of those I say YAWN.

When it comes to podcasts, it better be about MURDER or ALIENS or I’m not interested.

giphy (12)

Here are the podcasts I listen to, and highly recommend:

King Falls AM: Y’all. Y’ALL. Check out King Falls AM, it is so wonderful. This one is a fictional radio serial (how retro!!) about an urban radio broadcaster who moves to a small town that turns out to be a hotbed of paranormal activity. Before long he finds himself at the center of a weird mystery, and hilarious hijinks and creepy encounters ensue. It’s like the lovechild of the War of the Worlds broadcast, the X-Files, and the Cat Who mysteries. It’s perfection, and the voice acting is delightful. It’s literally the best thing on the internet.

My Favorite Murder: You might have heard of this one – it was featured on Buzzfeed not that long ago. It’s a comedy podcast about true crime – murder in particular – which sounds weird, but if you listen, you’ll find it totally makes sense. For those who love true crime and love to laugh about their weird love of true crime, it’s perfect. Hosted by two hilarious women, it’s also got a humorously empowering vibe, with catchphrases like “f*** politeness,” “stay sexy, don’t get murdered,” and “you’re in a cult, call your dad.”

giphy-downsized

Astonishing Legends: The hosts of Astonishing Legends research and present only the weirdest stories from history, both recent and distant. Some of their series are mainly historical, like the one on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart (give it a listen – it’s much weirder than you probably know!), and others explore stories of the paranormal, such as the haunted Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in Scotland, the Mothman encounters, or Skinwalker Ranch. (Guys, just fyi, you should be at least as concerned about skinwalkers as about supervolcanoes. Which, if you’re me, is very concerned.) Most involve a nice blend of both, such as the Oak Island Money Pit, the ghost ship Mary Celeste and the Dyatlov Pass mystery.

Up and Vanished: If you liked Serial, and you enjoy a good southern drawl, then you’ll love Up and Vanished by novice documentary filmmaker Payne Lindsay. This podcast investigates the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, the largest criminal case file in all of Georgia, which has gone unsolved for more than 10 years. A suspect was indicted mid-season, but the podcast is still continuing to explore a number of strange apparent inconsistencies with the state’s case and with the testimonies of witnesses and townsfolk. The case gets creepier every episode. I’m not sure Lindsay makes an ethically responsible journalist, but he’s definitely a great storyteller.

Happy listening! And remember…

The truth is out there.

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Summer Reading!

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. The three of us have all been life-long readers! This week, we wanted to share a book recommendation from a book we’ve enjoyed in our 30th year!


Maggie

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve struggled to get myself to read fiction. I have found that there are so many things I’ve needed to learn how to do to be an adult and own a business that I feel like all my reading time must be devoted to figuring out how to adult.

But, earlier this year, I picked up The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to read with my four-year-old daughter. I was doubtful about whether or not she would be into a chapter book with so many words and so few pictures, but I was delighted by how engaged she became in the story! She loved Dorothy, the Scare Crow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man! And I was delighted to read this story. I’ve seen the movie (and the play), but I’d never read the book! It was so fun to see how the original book differed from the movie. Also, it reminded me of what I love about fiction: getting to see imaginary worlds, enjoy a story and learn a lesson about how often we have the things we seek, if only we knew how to use what we have.

So, whether it’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or another story, I’d recommend you revisit a classic from your childhood (or perhaps a classic that you missed!). And…if you can, enjoy the book with a young and enthusiastic reading buddy!


Mary Margaret

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

My summer book recommendation is actually a series of 4 novels, translations of works by Italian author, Elena Ferrante, which is actually her pseudonym. To me, these are a perfect series to fall in love with over the summer, since once I met these characters,  I enjoyed following their journey through time and age with each successive novel, so happy that I wasn’t done with their story once I put down the first book! I’ve been thinking back frequently on these books right now, since I’m working on a show with two Italian immigrant characters from Naples- a husband and wife living in Brooklyn in 1960 with their three daughters. Their complicated family dynamics have been more deeply illuminated for me having read the novels, giving me a greater understanding of the relationships and the world that these parents come from. These novels are great for readers who enjoy character/relationship-driven writing, who enjoy reading about times and places that are somewhat unknown to them (in this case, southern Italy in the period following WWII) and who especially enjoy reading about the complexities of the female psyche. Ferrante expertly paints complicated and absorbing portraits of women’s relations to their friends, moms, husbands, lovers, children, friends, and enemies, spanning from childhood to old age. Additionally, the translation is far from stilted or awkward, but often feels poetic, much credit given to translator Ann Goldstein. I’m grateful that my roommate lent me this series to fall in love with, and definitely recommend it to you. Once you put down the fourth book, though, I have little advice on how to work through your own Neapolitan novel withdrawal! Hmmm…I guess I’d suggest reading the books Maggie and Jillian recommend!


Jillian

When the year began I was already pregnant and in the middle of a degree program in Computer Science. So unless you are also pregnant, or also learning Java, I have little to offer in the way of book recommendations.

The one book I’ve been reading this year that has some universal appeal is They F*** You Up by psychologist Oliver James. James examines the “nature vs. nurture” debate and argues that the influence of parenting in the development of personality has been grossly underestimated. In fact, he argues that virtually all an adult’s behavioral and thought patterns are rooted in the way they were parented, even in cases of mental illness (which has been thought – wrongly, in James’s opinion – to be closely linked to genetics).

The book has some great insights into what makes people think and act the way they do. While it could be tempting to read it as a guide to blaming your parents for all your problems, James frequently encourages the reader not to do so. Instead, he hopes that you’ll use the insights from the book to take responsibility for changing those patterns from your childhood that don’t serve you in healthy ways.

The book has one very weird and very obvious flaw, in my view – which is that James interprets the “nature” in “nature vs. nurture” to mean genes. James sets up every single issue as being either a matter of genes or a matter of parenting. He believes that the role of genes has been overblown, and his evidence is compelling. But to propose parenting as the only alternative explanation seems bafflingly short-sighted. Plenty of things are natural without being genetic. Refusing to acknowledge that simple fact leads James to make some downright offensive assertions about sensitive matters like mental illness, sexuality, and working mothers. For instance, he declares that since there is no “gay gene,” that homosexuality is “caused” by abnormal parenting. James’s theories also seem to be wholly critical of working mothers. And when “science” appears to affirm all of society’s already entrenched ideas of sex and gender, that’s an obvious red flag.

If you’re able to dismiss the offensive parts without being too upset by them, there’s some interesting tidbits about family roles, discipline, sibling relationships, etc. It’s sparked some good conversations between my husband and me about the kind of parents we want to be. So if you think your parents might have f***ed you up, or if you’re terrified of f***ing up your children, like I am, then you might get something out of this book.

But as for turning your kid gay? Come on. That’s not a thing.