The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Bob Sitze's Blog

April 19, 2014

Simple enough: Inestimable esteem

"Esteem" seems so formal, the kind of word that 19th-century landed gentry would use to describe a business colleague or eminent local personage. Someone who had a good reputation, was honored for his or her position in society or had somehow always garnered respect.

On the other hand, I find this quiet adjective useful in reminding me about the value I attach to people around me who deserve my admiration, regard or honor. When I use the word, it's hardly ever formal. It's an adjective — and verb — that feels warm and pleasurable. Somehow the idea of cherishing or highly valuing someone is a word so rare that I apply it only to a rare group of people. Inestimable people are those whom other appreciative adjectives don't stick, for whom other words of admiration just aren't as applicable.

These beyond-all-descriptions people abound in my life. Some are older folks whose experience and wisdom make them worthy of high respect. Many are people younger than me, who are slugging and slogging their way through life in spite of difficulty and deserve my continuing regard. And other esteemed-ones are seemingly "ordinary" folk to whom I defer because their faithfulness to God's will is extraordinary, an example that I can hope to emulate in some small way.

As an activity for simplicity-seekers, "esteeming" seems especially important, if for no other reason than to remind each of us about the wonderful people around us who have value that might not be easily visible. (Just like simplicity itself!) And when we carry a beloved and esteemed person in our minds, we are coaxed toward humility of spirit and joyful gratitude as well.

So, to all the people I greatly esteem, this simple reminder: You deserve my respect, regard and admiration.

I hope you know who you are!

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April 16, 2014

Simple enough: Who does the hard work?

If you've read any of these entries over time, you already know that "living simply" does not necessarily mean "living easily." It's sometimes hard work to engage in a lifestyle that doesn't always take the easy way out.

Recently I found myself asking a connected question: Who actually does the hard work on behalf of the rest of us? I wonder about who these folks are, about their sense of vocation and their willingness to fit themselves into the tough jobs that undergird our way of life.

Let me illustrate this matter with an example. Every Sunday in church, we pray "Deliver us from evil." But when it comes time to do the actual evil-deliverance, who among us is willing or able to do that work or take the associated risks? My thoughts go to law enforcement personnel; men and women in the armed forces; career agents in the FBI, DEA or CIA; social workers in tough environments; firefighters or news reporters. These are the folks who do more than kvetch or yammer about danger, malice, terrorism, law-breaking and other evil-doing or evil-being.

If you look closely, other "hard work" meets your eyes every day: employees at sewage treatment plants; elder care workers; folks who repair or build things; highway workers; garbage collectors; forest rangers; diplomats; food-processing workers and overseas relief and development personnel. People like them carry the freight of our lifestyles in difficult or demanding circumstances. Their work is necessary for our comfort, safety and well-being. Amazingly, they take on that work as a sacred calling. They make our simple living simpler.

So if you're a heavy-lifter of any kind, please accept my continuing admiration and thanks. You do what I could never do. My hat is off to you.

My hard hat ....

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April 13, 2014

Simple congregations: Name that church

(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These slightly longer entries can complement any program or planning process.)

In this entry, I'd like to help you with the task of naming (or renaming) your future or present congregation. The sections that follow offer you a variety of choices, with semi-reasonable explanations for the suggestions. These ideas honor contemporary ecclesiological realities, including some current fads in church life. Most of what follows is rooted in naming processes that have been in place for centuries.

Names of saints
If your congregation isn't all that interested in reclaiming the characteristics of long-forgotten saints (e.g., St. Aldabert), you might consider using the names of contemporary saints to identify your church. So "St. Mandela," "St. Francis" or even "Sts. Bill and Melinda." Hint: Avoid names of semi-saintly sports, political or entertainment figures.

Substitutes for "church"
Some congregational leaders avoid terms suggesting that their gathering place is a church. So you might consider names like "Center for Family Life," "Love Seat," "The Foundation for Life-Learning," "Action Axis" or any title with the word "Place" in it. Hint: Like "church" or "chapel," any place name brings with it invisible connotations about what happens in that place.

Any name with "of" in it
In my home denomination, this tactic works with almost any idea. Start with a place name (e.g., Hub) and an admired or hoped-for characteristic of your church (e.g., hopefulness) and put "of" in the middle. (Hence, "Hub of Hope.") So your church might be renamed "Chapel of Challenges," "The Crux of Salvation," "Tree of Grace" or "The Edge of Joy." Hint: Although the preposition "of" can join almost any ideas, be careful that you can deliver on the promise implied by your church's name.

Obscure biblical names or characters
It may seem that you've run out of names for significant places and characters from Scripture. But on further examination, possibilities abound. Consider places like Beersheba, Engedi, Mt. Ebal, Mt. Ophel or Kidron and people such as Deborah, Issachar, Priscilla, Asaph, Caleb, Gaius, Silas or Naomi. Hint: Carefully research the biblical record about each of these names so their significance is well-established.

Ethnic names
Yes, you can translate "church" to "iglesia," but consider the added possibilities when you take ethnically significant names and apply them to your congregation. (No, you don't have to have an ethnic identity to take advantage of the rich meanings that come from other traditions or languages.) Think, for example, about "Kirchenhaus," "Ubuntu Ministries" or "Shekinah Chapel." Hint: Do your research and imagine who might be attracted or emboldened by these names.

Vaguely biblical or spiritual words
In my neighborhood, we're used to small start-up churches with deliberately tantalizing names that have a elusively biblical or spiritual character to them. For example, "The Branch," "The Plain," "The Working Group," "The Followers," "Epoch" or "Vision." Hint: Enticing names can be so vague they confuse those whom you hope to attract.

Numerals or addresses
Some forward-thinking church-namers are learning from owners of upscale apartment buildings or restaurants, using numerals and street addresses to designate their gatherings. So you might imagine the attractiveness of "Three-Fifty-Six," "41 North Park," "The Meadows," "Straight Street" or "Nine-Nine-Three." Hint: Do not use the name of an already existing enterprise, and be ready to explain what any numerals signify.

Combinations among these possibilities
With some care, you can take bits and pieces of various naming processes to derive even newer and more-attractive names for your fellowship. For example, "The Vision Center at Three-Five-Oh" or "The Basin and Towel Room." Hint: The process of renaming a church results in an identity or focus that the name carries. It also invites new vision and risk, not to mention a new logo, stationery or sign out front.

I invite you to consider these categories of church names, as well as the philosophies that underlie them. However your church is named, remember that God's Spirit lives there with you, and will inspire far more than you could ever imagine.

Count on it! 

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April 10, 2014

Simple things: Electricity

(This entry continues a mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise: It's important to look more deeply, appreciatively and gratefully at some of the elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

Sometime soon, take a mindful walk around your home or neighborhood and tally the number of everyday functions that would be impossible without electricity. Comprised of friction and static — two concepts with sometimes-negative connotations — electricity nonetheless remains a welcome, vital part of your good life. Though this sometimes taken-for-granted quality of comfortable living is dependent on technologies that eventually pollute the air or foul the water, electricity remains absolutely critical to your well-being. Think about it:

  • A small band of workers thousands of miles from your home burns coal, monitors radiation processes or watches water-driven turbines so electricity will hum over mazes of wires, capacitors, switches and fuses — right into your life.
  • Gradually you may be turning over to electricity-driven machines (cooking and home repair tools, cleaning contraptions, toys) actions that used to be powered by hand.
  • Electricity brings you water, heats it and helps you dispose of it when it's dirty.
  • Because of electricity, you can prepare in minutes the meals that used to take hours to assemble and cook.
  • Every one of your digital devices (go ahead, count them) is dependent on ever-present or stored electricity. (Think of the number of batteries you charge each week.)
  • You are entertained for countless hours a day by contrivances that eat up electricity, even when they are "sleeping."
  • Your sleep cycle is shortened each day, mostly because electrical lights forestall the resting requirements of nightfall.
  • In most places in the world right now, "electrical service" occurs only sporadically and at great cost.
  • Without electricity, you and your home would be unbearably hot, cold, dry, humid, dark, moldy or unprotected.

Be thankful for this amazing blessing of science and technology. Use it carefully, shepherding this resource for your own good and for the continuing welfare of people everywhere.

Simple enough? 

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April 7, 2014

Simplicity's children: New career available

OK, boys and girls, gather around. Uncle Bob has a hot new tip about a way-cool new career that you can start working on right now. Yes, I'm talking about your becoming a "pro-gamer," someone who turns hours and hours of online game-playing into a job that pays you actual money. Maybe lots of actual money! Keep reading.

I recently learned that guys (why are they always guys?) not much older than you have found good jobs in the world of competitive video gaming. Some of them have even attracted corporate sponsors (a "sponsor" is someone who pays you to do what you like to do). Really skilled gamers are earning money because less-skilled gamers will pay money — get this — to watch the pro-gamers just practicing online video games! How cool is that?

In case you didn't know it, "e-sports" are planting their feet into the bigger arena of indoor athletics, in tournaments and other events around the world. (Some countries will even give you a travel visa, naming you as "an internationally recognized athlete"!)

Now you don't have to spend endless hours shooting hoops or kicking a soccer ball to make it into the sports big-leagues. You can sit at home in your basement (in your pajamas, if you want) and spend quality time dedicating yourself to a rewarding career in online gaming. You can turn what others might mistakenly call an "addiction" into "career-preparation time," perfecting your image-to-thumb response time, practicing deft hand-eye coordination and learning the intricacies of various games.

Later in life, when outdoor athletes are sitting at home, trying to recover from their injuries, you'll still be sitting at home (in your pajamas, if you want) playing your sport. You'll be rich, famous and injury-free!

All because you paid attention to Uncle Bob! 

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April 4, 2014

Simple enough: Paying taxes

Soon I'll be completing the calculations and forms that will comprise the payment of our household income taxes. The process is always framed by a little anxiety (I'm just a little math-challenged) but also becomes an exercise in civic responsibility and privilege. Let me set some taxation-appreciative observations onto a foundation of simplicity-seeking.

The process of preparing our income tax obligations always offers me a time to evaluate our family's financial situation. Each of the numbered lines on the forms requires my examination of a year's worth of income and expenses, an act that can also be guided by gratitude to God. The forms all include instructions, which I read with others in mind. I ask myself, "Who benefits from this clause, and whose well-being was considered when that part of the tax code was written?" (This is not a question that assumes miscreants at work. Instead, I think of public servants trying to determine how not to lay burdens on a specific class of people or how to reward certain kinds of economic activity.)

There's something even deeper going on, something spiritual and simple: Our family is blessed to have a government that deals with important matters such as justice, charity, care of the earth, defense of liberty and attention to combating evil. Behind complex tax codes are simple principles (hopes, values, imagined good) that can also guide me in the rest of life. Tax-preparation is a reminder of another layer of God's blessings, an invitation to seek those same hopes, values and benefits for others.

Tax preparation time reminds me that very little of what I do should be about myself. In Christ, my life is not my own, and income taxes invite me to heed God's call into the world to do God's will.

With tax payments .... 

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April 1, 2014

Simple enough: Foolish toy justification

One characteristic of acquisitiveness is the skill by which we justify the purchase of toys. Our thoughts shift away from essential honesty ("I like this thing because it brings me toy joy") toward pseudo-logical propositions about the imagined, pervasive usefulness of this object. (For example: On the strength of "needing to prune the trees out back so the branches don't damage the fence," I could easily drop $400 on a spiffy chainsaw!)

I am struck by the ways in which we digerati seem to "justify" — redeem, warrant, declare blameless, validate or de-guilt — our purchase and continuing use of what are essentially just toys. (Yes, I'm talking about smartphones and all their cute digital cousins.) These thoughts:

  • "Toy justification" is something children learn as a negotiating skill while shopping with their parents. It's possible that, thereafter, this infantile proficiency is contextually hardwired into the brains of semi-developed adults.
  • The mental process starts with self-persuasion, and then morphs into a lingering process of convincing others of the high worth and continual usefulness of Items X or Y. (Fooling one's self is the first step in toy justification.)
  • It's hard to say whether the explosion of "apps" — ostensibly adding widespread practicality — enhances the digital toy's value or just adds to this justification process.
  • "New uses for a simple toy" is another part of this artificiality — hiding toyness behind supposedly creative efficacy. (I have read of a pastor who cops to using a smartphone during worship, purportedly as an evangelism and communication tool!)

Hear me correctly: I'm not arguing against playthings — we all need a little pleasure! What I hope instead? That we toy-joy folks would just be honest about our addictions to having fun with shiny objects and our self-absorption about things in place of people.

I think this is called confession. 

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March 29, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity piety

In today's entry I want to spend a few moments thinking about the relationship between simplicity-seeking and "piety," which I define simply as the outward expression of our necessary devotion to God. What I'm wondering is how the two fit with each other.

First, let's agree that "piety" is always "pieties" — several varieties of personal devotion to God that show in behaviors. So I might show my devotion to God in quiet, almost-invisible ways and you might express your devotion in boisterous praise songs or prayers. You might be prone to wordless expression and I might slather my devotional emotions with a surfeit of big words — like surfeit. In either case, you and I understand and agree that — because of our piety — we admit that we are not the center of the universe, not deserving of anything and grateful to God for everything we have. We are both necessarily pious, otherwise we would be prone to self-idolatry.

I've written before that I think basic simple living naturally attaches to invisible, quiet or introverted personalities. But I am reminded by their example that loud, brash or extroverted people can also charge into simple living with the same gusto and determination with which they greet the rest of their spirituality. In both cases, God is praised and thanked. In both expressions — and others as well — piety strengthens itself by its practice. Pious folks are drawn closer to God's desire that we live with a light footprint on the planet, mindful of its cherished resources and cognizant of the rest of the people whom God so dearly loves.

I'm not sure about this matter, but I think it bears consideration as you and I fit simplicity-seeking into our basic temperament, attitudinal preferences and personality types.

Your thoughts? Your pious simplicity thoughts ...? 

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March 27, 2014

Simple enough: How are you?

The polite social convention "How are you?" is usually answered with "Fine. How are you?" When completed, this conversation-starter is followed by more substantive subjects, such as "How about this weather?" In an attempt to redeem courteous pre-conversational exchanges, let me offer you simple ways in which I use these moments to up the ante on the depth of the coming dialogue. This is how I respond to "How are you?":

"Happy to be alive." We cancer-chasing folk offer this reply as a summary statement about our gratitude for continuing health, appreciation for every blessing that comes our way and the intent to live life fully.

"OK!" (Usually followed by, "OK is better than bad, right?") In this way I can admit to mediocre or ordinary feelings/conditions, but put that assessment into perspective within the greater range of possibilities.

"Better." This response elicits the predictable, "Oh, were you sick?" — to which I respond with a formulaic self-help adage, "Every day, in every way, I'm a little bit better." Seemingly silly on the face of it, my response opens the door to explaining how I might really have improved.

"Thanks for asking." Before directly answering someone's semi-curious query, I make sure they understand that I take seriously — and am grateful for — their seemingly ordinary question. (Gratitude is always a good jumping-off place for meaningful conversation!)

Unusual adjectival/adverbial constructs. Some of these responses are better than others: "Tolerable," "joyful," "satisfied," "grateful," "enjoying this day so far" or "glad to see you."

Not recommended. One of my college professors harbored a Teutonic abhorrence to inane exchanges between people, so he would interrupt what he saw as pro forma and mindless conversational gambits. He would torpedo "How are you?" greetings with revelations of his imagined diseases and maladies!

So then, how are you, hmm? 

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March 24, 2014

Simple enough: The giftie

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us." So opined Robert Burns, an 18th-century Scottish poet, in "To a Louse." His Scottish dialect (and the louse) notwithstanding, the sentiment Burns expresses seems universal. Self-awareness, tempered and purified by the insights of others, seems a wonderful gift for any of us. Including you, right?

In these times of continuous self-disclosure, however, you might want to be careful about what you ask for. The truth about today's world: Others do see you. Quite well, in fact. Without your prayer, the technological soup in which you swim every day gives to "ithers" a very accurate picture of your identity, behaviors and likely future decision-making.

Think about what marketers, social media friends and digerati wizards already know about you. Consider how thousands of personal data points come to curious ithers whenever you engage your smartphone, use your credit card or participate in a post-purchase "consumer survey." Count the number of online sites where you visit or shop, the places where you have "protected identities" or the "free apps" that lurk in your computer or phone. Each of them sees you, backed up by the power of big data algorithms.

How do you get to know yourself as these others see you? For starters, look at what comes back to you in the form of banner ads on your handheld devices, the kind of phone solicitations or mass mailings that come to you without your prayer, the online news feeds "tailored to your needs or desires." Any of these return messages  (computational power run amok?) tell you who you are, at least in the minds of those who monitor your behaviors.

Where's your power in all of this? Your self-knowledge?

You'll have to ask some other ithers .... 

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March 22, 2014

Simplicity's children: Children too soon old

Just when you thought that having a chubby child was not all that worrisome, along comes a sobering magazine article that raises the specter that your little butterball may age prematurely. Not good.

In a recent issue of Time magazine (March 3, 2014) writer Alice Park summarizes a disturbing trend in society, in which "runaway obesity is turning a generation of children into biological adults, aging them before their time." (Nothing good in that sentence, except that Time is reporting these facts!)

The article details new research that's showing how overweight children are not only experiencing what used to be thought of as adult maladies (e.g., high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, damaged kidneys, cirrhosis of the liver) but are also at higher risk of experiencing those conditions throughout their shortened lives! Park wrote, "For the first time ever, a generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy at birth than their parents."

The effects of obesity can be mitigated in children though. We already know what can be done: Change to healthy diets and increase physical activity. Park said parents might want to consider lifestyle changes when their children are as young as 2 or 3 years old. Drugs are also a choice, but here the prospect gets grim: Obese children may have to take these drugs for the remainder of their lives!

This matter may have implications for you. Simply stated, you may want to take stock of your family's problems with obesity, and seek help ASAP. Nothing is gained by your overlooking or softening these facts. If this article makes sense, stop reading right now. Pick up the phone and make a call — to someone you love or to your child's doctor. Yes, getting older is inevitable, but not too soon!

Simple enough? 

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March 19, 2014

Simple things: Water treatment

(This entry continues this mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise is simple: From time to time, it's important to look more deeply, appreciatively and gratefully at some of the elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

Quick — without using Google's magic — tell me where your area's water treatment plant is located. Do you have any clue about the location of the facility that ensures  all of your household effluent is cleansed? And if you know the place ("out at the edge of town, by the river") do you know what happens there?

The reason I ask? I want you to appreciate how dependent you are on the expertise of a small number of workers in an obscure location, doing jobs you may not understand. So please consider these observations about the benefits that water treatment offers you:

  • That facility "treats water," a euphemism for the extraordinary processes by which totally polluted and useless wastewater is transformed into potable water that can be used again. This is a kind of miracle of science.
  • The people who do this work are key players in the health and well-being of businesses, homes, churches — and people — in your locale.
  • Their work continues, day-in and day-out, 24/7-365. The plant never goes off-line.
  • When there's a power outage, you can still flush toilets, run washing machines, take baths/showers, cook food, clean dishes and stay hydrated. (The water treatment plant keeps operating because of its emergency backup generators.)
  • Workers at your water treatment plant have to contend with raw sewage, unknown chemicals and strange substances as a part of their daily routine, delivering you clean water no matter what.
  • A maze of underground pipes connects every home, business and enterprise in your locale to health-assuring processes. No one is left out!

Think about the simple wonder of water treatment every time you use water in your home, and thank God for the unsung heroes who operate these facilities for the good of your entire community.

You are fortunate, indeed! 

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March 16, 2014

Simple enough: Why am I still here?

This entry's title frames one of the most plaintive questions I hear as I volunteer at a nearby assisted living facility. Elderly folks — otherwise in good health and spirits — wonder about the reasons why they continue to live. They understand that they remain lively and alert because of the considerable effort (and expense) of people who love and care for them, and this doesn't seem fair or logical. In a world of sometimes-diminishing resources, it's probably a good question for any of us to ask.

Think about it seriously for a moment: By what right or good fortune do you continue to stay alive? What makes your life worthy of all the air, water, space, food, money, attention and natural resources that you use up every day? What's so special about you? And who decided that you could live your current lifestyle, probably at great cost to those who love and care for you?

These questions might seem morbid — or the province of old people who are getting tired of life itself. But at their heart, these queries hold up the existential dilemmas that characterize all of stewardship thinking. (Stewardship is about serving the will of God by putting to use God's manifold gifts toward God's manifold purposes.) Stewards not only "manage," but they also receive and take. Stewards shepherd and invest; they share and conserve; they sow and they reap. Stewards live purposefully, carefully and joyfully.

You're a steward (we've established this in some of the first entries at this site) so you are required to be faithful, to be accountable for how God's useful gifts (assets) accomplish what God has in mind. You're a steward, and so you get to internalize the questions these wonderful elderly folks face every day.

Honestly, then, why are you still here, hmmm? 

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March 13, 2014

Simple congregations: The cost of attention

(This entry is part of a continuing series of occasional blogs that apply simplicity ideals to congregational life. These slightly longer entries can complement any program or planning process.)

Over the past few years I've noticed that an increasing number of church websites feature the logos of social media platforms on which those congregations also post their news and events. Like the rest of society, congregations are fueled by the attention of others — "attention" is the first and most-basic commodity in human enterprise. So congregations hope that known and unknown Curious People will follow their life by visiting these social networks and will add their interactive pizazz to the overall quality and quantity of attention the congregation desires.

Here's the rub: Someone in those congregations (staff or volunteer) has to take the time to keep these sites fresh, to participate in the ongoing dialogue that may occur, and to guard against unwanted or unwarranted attention. To say that in socio-economic terms, congregations pay for others' attention with the time it takes to manage the networks.

This transactional analysis led me to some important questions:

  • Who's doing that kind of work? How much time does it take?
  • What's not getting done so social media platforms can stay current or useful? (Time is a finite commodity.)
  • What's the measurable proof that the time/cost of managing several social network platforms is attracting desired outcomes? Desired attention?
  • What audiences (or niches) are most likely reached by this work, cohorts that are not now paying attention to current methods or media?
  • How does the congregation keep track of the current popularity or status of each of the platforms it uses to garner attention?

I ask these questions because I sense the possibility of a hidden futility in some of this attention-seeking. Let me illustrate: Say a staff member or volunteer spends X hours a week keeping the congregation's presence on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest up to date. Then someone discovers that the attraction of those platforms has been supplanted by YouTube videos and Instagram postings. (Of course, also Qzone and Cloob messages — for those vital connections to Chinese social media followers!) And for heaven's sake, young adults are swarming over to Reddit, and teens are leaving Facebook for the next big thing! What to do now? More staff or volunteer time is required — if only to shift from current platforms to new ones. Perhaps this happens at the cost of Ministry X, Function Y or Vision Z fading because of the glare of the supposed attention-gathering value of new or changing platforms.

Full-disclosure here: I participate only occasionally in one social media platform (none of those noted here) precisely because of the matters I have raised in this entry. My personal time is too precious to get diffused into a plethora of platforms. Perhaps this is also an important consideration for those of you who are hoping to garner attention for your congregation in an efficient and sustainable fashion.

I hope these thoughts warrant your attention .... 

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March 10, 2014

Simple enough: Are you bored yet?

If Buckminster Fuller (an architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist) was right, humans are anti-entropic creatures — forever winding up lifestyle clocks that would otherwise run out of energy and stop. If he was wrong, we're all facing the possibility of being bored out of our skulls about anything, for any reason at any time. (Are you bored yet?)

It seems that boredom is an attitudinal luxury among folks who have too much, for whom a comfortable lifestyle comes perhaps too easily. (People who don't know where their next meal is coming from don't usually describe their lives as boring.) So if I complain about "being bored" — or worse yet, name you and your presence in my life as the source of boredom — I'm probably revealing the telltale truth that I'm ungrateful, unaware or uneasy about a life that's filled with a surfeit of stuff, activity, fun or other excitement. I'm not satisfied with what presents itself to me each day (including you?) and so attach the "Boredom Curse" on whatever or whomever stands in front of me. My basic worldview? It's all about me. (Is this boring you?)

If you know me or care about my well-being, don't let me get away with that kind of sinfulness. Don't ratchet up my surroundings or circumstances in hopes of exciting me to exit ennui. Don't clutter up my mind with more new experiences or thoughts in hope of redeeming my sorry attitude. Don't let me get away with this subtle self-idolatry. Instead, name my boredom as a problem, a useless approach to the future, an insult to the God who created/creates everything. Tell me that I'm wrong, that I should grow up. By your example, show me what it means not to be bored, not to be a boring person.

So, have I bored you about boredom? 

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March 7, 2014

Simplicity's children: Valuable life skills

If you're a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you probably already have a long-standing or nagging urge to provide for the child(ren) you love some valuable skills that will equip her/him/them for life beyond the first years of development. In no special order, some recommendations:

  • Don't rely only on team sports or weekly lessons to provide the necessary socialization skills your child(ren) will need to navigate relationships in the future. (Leadership is built in more places than on a soccer field.)
  • Teach your child(ren) how to use basic tools (yes, starting at appropriate age levels) so she/he/they can successfully encounter the physical contexts of adulthood.
  • By about 8 or 9 years, your child(ren) can learn rudimentary skills necessary for the maintenance of your home. (Yes, children can vacuum, dust, unclutter, wash, cook and remove trash!)
  • With your child(ren), spend some time with elderly folks. Soon enough you will grow old, and your child(ren) will want to love the elderly you with words and actions.
  • Fill your family travel with more than just entertainment or pleasure-seeking. Spend time on a farm, get off the beaten path, and substitute discovery experiences for budget-busting ones.
  • Spend time in nature. Travel to nature reserves, expand the capacities of your yard or walk your neighborhood with the natural world in mind.
  • Think about what might be in short supply in the near- or long-term future. Help your child(ren) get beyond wasteful dependence on plentitude, valuing scarcity as a reality that is expected and natural.
  • Encourage your child(ren) to find shrewd or creative approaches to vexing situations or people.
  • Teach and model contentment — in all things — in the place of unsustainable/unrighteous acquisitiveness or a false sense of deservedness.

Your child(ren) can learn these truly valuable life skills. And you get to be the teacher.


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March 4, 2014

Simple things: Radio

(This entry is part of a new mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise is simple: From time to time, it's important to look more deeply, appreciatively and gratefully at some of the elements of our lifestyle that are wonderfully ordinary, yet startlingly rare in the rest of the world.)

Radio is a strangely enduring technological artifact that pundits thought would disappear with the advent of television and ensuing digital communication tools. Because I remember the advent of FM radio and still listen to an actual radio device that sits here as part of my desk furniture, I'd like to offer a few thoughts about the wonder and value of this time-honored piece of technology. Think along with me:

  • Unless you listen to a robo-station located on a server in western Washington, your radio still provides you an at-ready connection to music, weather, news or commentary.
  • The science of radio transmission allows you to hear at a distance what would otherwise be confined to the voice of your gossipy neighbor.
  • In-car radio transmissions follow you reliably along your way.
  • Radio programs invoke your brain's potential for imagination and meditation. (I listen to quiet music when I want to be mindful or prayerful.) Radio's content can take you to new places, new identities, new possibilities.
  • If you live alone, just the right kind of radio (your choice, right?) can be a better companion than the message-pinging of your smartphone or the blaring of your television.
  • In small towns and rural areas, radio provides the immediacy and connectivity of a local context and familiar people, something that fits the ways you've chosen to live and relate to others.
  • Because it's regulated — by advertisers and federal directives/laws — radio is not as existentially noisy as other forms of mass communication.
  • Radio is not as cynically manipulative of your senses, brain or soul. (So far neuromarketers concentrate their wiles mostly on television and digitized media.)
  • Radio listening comes to you at no cost.

So, consider activating the on button on an ordinary radio, and let its sound benefits surround you.

Simple enough? 

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March 1, 2014

Simple enough: Being alone

Thanks to Chicago Tribune columnist Jennifer Weigel for the foundational insights for this entry, first published on Jan. 6, 2014. Her commentary is derived from How to Be Alone (HarperCollins, 2013), written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman.

For introverts, time alone is energy-giving and part of one's overall well-being. Lingering moments away from the maddening crowd are a cherished part of life. For the rest of us, "being alone" may sound like an echo of childhood, when "time-out" or "go to your room" were meant as punishment. WGN commentator Jennifer Weigel and Canadian author Andrea Dorfman offer these suggestions to help you find and welcome solitude:

  • Embrace your pain. There's something wonderful in acknowledging and accepting the suffering you may imagine embedded within your isolation.
  • Get outdoors. Wherever you live, you can find a place to experience the natural world's calming beauty without being easily disturbed. Being alone in nature takes you outside of yourself into life all around you.
  • If you're not outside, go to a public place. Coffeehouses, libraries, neighborhood restaurants — all can offer you the chance to observe appreciatively the fascinating presence of a variety of people.
  • When interrupted, join in the conversation. Not every conversation has to become a prelude to new friendships. Still, any conversation can be a learning experience, and a way to invite others into the benefits of quiet, thoughtful privacy.

To these insights I'd add these two:

  • Don't overtask or overtax yourself during these times. "Being alone" can also be a sacred time "to do nothing."
  • Aloneness doesn't necessarily mean emotional separation from others. A good way to include both elements: Pray for those around you and those in your heart of hearts.

I commend the thoughts of these women for your consideration, affirmation and action.

Simple enough? 

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February 26, 2014

Simple enough: Smart chickens redux

Hats off to animal cognition researcher Carolynn L. Smith and science writer Sarah L. Zielinski for their February 2014 article in Scientific American, from which this chicken-appreciative entry is derived.

When last you left them, ordinary chickens were presenting you with range-free eggs and meat, and reassuring you (by various "clucks" and "docks") that they were basically as stupid as a walnut, with walnut-sized brains rendering them incapable of anything beyond minimal intelligence. "Reassured" because it's perhaps easier for you to eat something that's stupid (like a sea slug) than something smart (like a pig).

Turns out that you may need to revisit (that's redux for all you Latin-speakers out there) the notion that this variety of protein provider is actually dumb or dumber. Turns out that chickens' beady eyes are a window into a brain that is capable of:

  • Showing empathy, at least toward other chickens.
  • Using "pecking order" to establish more than just a multilayered social network.
  • Tricking each other to gain access to food, mates or safety.
  • Using "tidbitting" (a rooster's head- and wattle-waving) to attract females.
  • Identifying simple geometric patterns.
  • Engaging in "risk compensation" analysis (balancing possible risks with possible rewards).
  • Watching television during experiments focused on their intelligence!

What's this have to do with simple living? Perhaps just another reason to raise questions about what you eat and how well you treat your food sources. Perhaps to be deeply grateful that you can live well in your home on the range because of these somewhat-smart, not-always-home-on-the-range animals.

Yes, "the ethics of eating" comes to mind here, with any number of questions about what and how you consume in order to be healthy and serve God's will. None of this is easy to consider, but always necessary — for simplicity's sake.

Walnuts, anyone ...?

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February 23, 2014

Simple enough: Lingering

(Thanks to Pam Voves, director of family ministries at Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn, Ill., for the thoughts that sparked this entry.)

My simple living lexicon can get a little stale — a fact that plagues the word-finding part of my brain every time I sit down to write one of these pieces. In a recent conversation I learned that "linger" could form the basis for an entire year of someone's prayer thoughts. That got me to thinking how this familiar word could also be helpful in describing basic simplicity precepts. Perhaps linger could frame new ways to characterize living simply. Let me try on these few ideas:

  • When you linger over something, you take time to get to know it well, to enjoy it fully, perhaps even to cherish it.
  • Mindfulness (increasingly valued as a lifestyle attribute) is probably enhanced by lingering.
  • It's hard to linger too quickly.
  • When you linger, you're probably less prone to make the mistakes that come from rushing to describe or decide.
  • Lingering might be a welcome antidote to being distracted or becoming a distraction.
  • Reluctant to say goodbye, those who linger honor each situation or relationship in which they find themselves.
  • The act of lingering can show persistence, courage and loyalty.
  • Lingering feels like a quiet activity.
  • When you linger with another person or in a task, you stay there. You're rooted.
  • Lingering is akin to "accompaniment," a bedrock principle of practiced justice.
  • Even in its pejorative sense — being tardy or procrastinating — the act of lingering is perhaps preferable to an overactive work ethic, a 24/7 lifestyle that robs you of sleep and health.
  • Many valuable human activities (e.g., prayers, conversations, exercises, mealtimes) work better when executed in a lingering fashion.

An invitation to you then: See how lingering might enhance your simplicity-seeking.

Simple enough? 

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