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Bob Sitze's Blog

September 17, 2014

Simple enough: Dry thoughts, Part 2

"Dry" is an attention-getting metaphor because its real-life analog always deals with life-and-death matters. Today I continue simplicity-oriented meanderings inside the images of drought, dryness and God's precious gifts.

When you don't have a lot of something valuable—let's say a lake filled with pure water—you are more easily satisfied with its slightest manifestation—the trickle of water from under a patch of snow. "Abundance" cuddles inside of just-enough-for-now. Your thirst is slaked, not by burying your face in deep waters but by sipping the precious drops that fall on your tongue. So, too, with any of the gifts of God that you receive—and use—as part of your lifestyle.

If it continues to the end of its natural course, dryness will kill you. Death creeps up on you stealthily, like credit card debt or the emptiness of having too much stuff. Weakened, inured or fooled by what seems to be your continuing survival in the face of no moisture (I'm speaking metaphorically) you may not see death's hands until its grasp is inescapable.

One result of dryness is desiccation—the shriveling of something formerly alive into a small and horrific replica of itself. In the driest conditions, your carcass soon becomes dust. No longer recognizable, you are no longer remembered. Not what you want for your legacy.

You're getting the picture, right? "Dryness" is not just the absence of water in a Western landscape. The concept applies to any aspect of your life where an essential source of life is diminished. Generosity, happiness, spirituality, friendships—all can dry up, leaving you without a lifestyle of any kind except desperate acquisitiveness.

So where's the "water" in your life and how are you going to keep seeking it? Always a good place to start: God's wisdom!

Simple enough? 

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September 14, 2014

Simple enough: Dry thoughts, Part 1

Soon enough, the drought that continues in the Southwest will be described in "biblical proportions"--an allusion that may also elicit a new direction for Bible study! (Elijah as rain-bringer or farmer's friend?) The continuing water shortage also sharpens other kinds of thinking. Based on my personal experiences this summer in the Sierra Nevada, the following observations.

After at least three years of below-average moisture, the West is parched and dry. It's also shriveling toward desolation. Fields and forests, grasslands and croplands, mountains and deserts—each feature of the landscape totters toward slow destruction. It doesn't take much thinking to realize that water-dependent humans also face that same slow death. (Most of our body weight is comprised of water; we die from a lack of water sooner than we die from a lack of food.)

In these settings, the wasting of water—for whatever reasons—may constitute a new level of craven sinfulness. Those who have legal rights to water can hide behind decades-old laws but can't escape the glaring truth that their misappropriation of those rights results in the erosion of others' well-being. Water-selfishness looms large as a cause for civil strife.

Understandably, the simplest uses of water bring enjoyment, as this precious gift of God becomes available for life's necessary tasks. A glass of water becomes something to savor, and a periodic bath/shower accentuates the joy of being clean. The water-endowed taste of vegetables and fruits makes meals into exquisite experiences. Clouds become emblems of almost-miraculous relief.

The simplicity connection? Deprived of life's most necessary elements—in this case, water—you have the choice to grab, hoard or misuse what you name as yours. OR you can renew your commitment to living simply and gratefully, mindful of those around you.

Mindful of God, on whose creation you depend. 

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September 11, 2014

Simplicity's children: Yucky learning

Today I'd like to help you equip your children to handle what's gross, slimy, dirty, odiferous, nauseating or otherwise disgusting in life. My logic is simple: Hermetically sealed, bubble-wrapped lives won't be the norm when your kids grow up, so part of your parenting responsibility is to acquaint your children now with what's physically revolting. Some yucky-learning observations:

  • To introduce "slimy" as an acceptable experience, involve your children in from-scratch cooking or encourage their playing with or in mud.
  • Think carefully before you make every inch of your yard, your children's clothing or your home pristine and antiseptically clean.
  • Introduce your children to the richness of trash by including garbage-related chores as part of their responsibilities. You might want to include cleaning out garbage cans as one facet of the experience.
  • Your public library may have a (secret?) selection of children's books written especially for this purpose. The keywords "yucky," "gross" or even "poop" are good starters.
  • When the need arises, help your children increase their yucky vocabulary past "Gross!" or "Eeeeww!" (What are some acceptable synonyms for unpleasant body functions?)
  • Should your children start to describe everything in yuck-based terms, take the time to show them that inside of what seems revolting are counterbalancing realities such as beauty, function or necessity.
  • If you have a young baby in the house, ask your other children to assist in some of the physically unpleasant tasks of parenting. (Boys and girls, can you say "diaper"?)
  • In your spoken depictions of life around you, be careful not to name as unpleasant or repugnant what may actually be worthy of appreciation.

However you accomplish this task, its rewards are great: Adult humans who, because of you, will be lucky to see past yucky.

Simple enough? 

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September 8, 2014

Simple enough: The well-tethered life

As children return to schools and schoolyards, many of them are looking forward to recess time, when they get to play tetherball. Good for kids' well-being, of course, but have you ever thought about the ball's viewpoint? Pounded by one player, the ball swings wildly in one direction around its anchoring pole, only to quickly reverse its course when struck by an opposing player. Back and forth the ball goes, until the game is won by the child(ren) first able to get it most tightly wound around its tethering pole.

"Pounded back-and-forth, but always tethered." These words might also characterize your lifestyle during this time of year. Beset behind and before, you reverse your directions regularly and are never free from the perhaps-invisible fetters that keep you from living as you might hope. Some examples:

  • You're bound to a soccer parent life, hindered from managing your calendar because of the team's exhaustive (travel?) schedule.
  • Your family is handcuffed to a unsustainable budget because of the cost of maintaining your too-big home.
  • You've given up thinking for yourself spiritually because it's easier to go along with what your church requires.
  • You are chained to a car that always needs repairs but whose current-year model costs too much to purchase.
  • Permanently attached to your hands or clothing, your electronic toys impede your abilities to take in and appreciate the world right in front of you.

If you feel like your life is more tethered than you'd like, perhaps you can remember why or how you originally chose to be chained. Perhaps it's time to think about cutting yourself free from what constrains you from living a manageable life. Maybe you need to re-connect to your spiritual core. To God's calling, to God's freedom.

Perhaps it's time to take a recess?

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September 5, 2014

Simple enough: A noisy quiet

It's amazing how quiet can sometimes be boisterously engaging, how a calming mini-vista can be full of energy and life. (A friend recounts delight in watching the movement of clouds, bats and birds on a quiet summer evening—a scene full of sights and sounds that could have easily passed as ordinary.)

As I move through life, I am captivated by the benefits of quiet. When I experience lingering moments in which noise and motion are stilled, my senses seem to expand to fill my brain to capacity with the fullness of the smallest sounds, the slightest movements, the fewest molecules of an odor. (Today, in the quiet of an early morning, the smell of wet-dog wafted into my nostrils from who-knows-where!)

You and I live in a world in which commotion of any kind is a default attribute of life. But in biological terms, we're probably not hardwired to encounter the din that comes at our senses each day. Our pace of life is probably measured better by our at-rest heartbeats than the needles on our speedometers or exercise machines. Our brains do better when they can process a moderate amount of input than when our fight/flight/freeze stress mechanisms are overwhelmed by uninvited clamor and speed. Like other creatures from God's generative hand, we're built for stillness first and only secondarily for sound-and-fury.

Any broad view of simple living starts with quiet—both a physical and metaphorical reality. Slow living—a descriptor of more than just cooking or eating—probably starts with quiet living. Lingering is probably as valuable as coping. Lying on your back, looking at clouds, is likely more life-giving than staring at a smartphone in a semi-crouched posture.

So here's my blessing for your day: Carve out some quiet, and exult in its joys.

Simple enough? 

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September 2, 2014

Simple enough: On whose terms?

National park rangers and other naturalists get frustrated when people encountering the natural world presume that that environment will conform to their terms (requirements, context, laws, order, realities). As in, "Our dog is part of the family and loves to play in that meadow where all the birds are nesting, so why can't we let Sniffy off her leash to run wild the way God intended?" Clearly these folks don't understand that, when visiting the wild outdoors, humans and their dogs must live within the terms of that setting. Requiring nature to conform to human needs or foibles seems to be a dishonoring of God's creation and an arrogant view of human preeminence.

It occurs to me that any simplicity-seeking might always require answers to the question, "On whose terms ...?" For example, on whose terms:

  • Will your family's monthly budget be decided?
  • Might you seek your children's well-being?
  • Do you engage governmental rules or regulations?
  • Are medical issues defined or dealt with?
  • Might the benefits of your vacation be determined?
  • Should job or career changes be sought?
  • Should your aging parents be cared for?
  • Are lifestyle matters considered to be wrong or sinful?
  • Might your congregation determine its identity?

The answers to any of these questions rest on matters of your presumed authority: In what situations do you have the prerequisite, preeminent right to set the defining parameters for decisions? To say that another way, when do your "terms" start to reek of self-idolatry or worse? Conversely, when does the common good preempt your real or imagined self-interest? How do you know about all the other "terms" that you might consider as you make decisions? These are important questions for you to consider as you make lifestyle decisions.

Sniffy, the birds and the rangers are waiting for your answers.

Simple enough? 

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August 30, 2014

Simple enough: Dusting off

Want an easy way to have fun that could last a while? Consider dusting off some of your former skills, interests or relationships—or if you're younger, adding a little polish and verve to what you've set aside for a while! Here's my thinking on this wonderful possibility.

This may be easier, simpler and less expensive than pursuing the vaunted "bucket list" approach to finding new pleasure in life. Your old clarinet, binoculars or toolbox are probably still in a closet somewhere, your collection of vinyl records or CDs is still waiting to be cataloged, your Spanish-speaking skills are still available somewhere back in the linguistic part of your brain, your address book (excuse me, "contact list") is still filled with the names of folks who would love to reconnect with you. Nothing new to buy, no lessons/courses to complete, no rearrangement of your self-concept or identity. No starting from scratch, no fretting over doubts about unknown capabilities, no embarrassment about possible failure.

Yes, there's work involved. You're sharpening synapses that will need some coaxing to remember what they used to be capable of doing. You're reconnecting to emotions about these former skills, experiences, interests or relationships. And you're playing inside of the tension that comes when your now-older brain and body have to deal with the reality that this dusting-off might not return you to the luster of your younger days.

I speak from experience. Just today I reconnected with my hobby of twig-gathering, amassing several cute little piles of dead mountain willow branches and imagining their use in coming campfires. (OK, OK, you can safeguard your hobbies. I enjoy burning mine!)

One caution: If your former capabilities include either brain surgery, skullduggery, rocket science or world domination, disregard this blog and go frolic inside your bucket list!

Simple enough?

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August 27, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity effigies

Consorting with simplicity miscreants and anarchists as I do, it's only a matter of time before I/we hang someone in effigy. Like voodoo dolls, this ancient practice—in Europe, going back to the 1670s—has weird roots, perhaps in magic or sorcery. The basic idea? If you construct the likeness of something or someone and then hang/burn/harm that replica, those actions may inflict similar pain (at least shame) on that person or thing. While I'm not sure there's any science behind any of this, my fellow radicals and I (you too?) might be on to something if we apply "hanging in effigy" to matters of simplicity. Here's how it might work:

  • We build the crude model of a management structure that sucks employees dry, and we torch it on Administrative Professionals Day.
  • We invent a large-sized logo for "running behind all the time" and hose it down in public.
  • We fashion a huge graphic organizer chart about "necessary stuff," and then write and distribute a ritual that mocks the concept.
  • We construct a large mosaic comprised of advertising slogans that tempt us to buy what we don't need. And then we hold a big rally where we edit each slogan into oblivion.
  • We erect a large paper sculpture comprised of our overstuffed calendars, burn it to a crisp on New Year's Eve and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

And when we've destroyed or expunged all these examples of what's wrong in the world, we will all go home, make little clay effigies of ourselves, weep over our own sinful natures and bury the self-replicas in our yards or cat litter boxes. Only then can we understand that each of us creates some portion of a sad world that remains unmanageable and unsustainable.

You in on this? 

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August 24, 2014

Simple enough: A puzzle

I'm a Jumble® fan and proud of it. Every morning I match wits with the clever and puckish creators of these word-oriented puzzles, sharpening the word-finding capabilities of my brain in an enjoyable way. This daily activity—unscrambling words, then recombining circled letters to form the answer to an illustrated riddle—might also be one way to think of an approach to much of life, especially the simplicity-finding part of it.

Unscrambling, recombining, solving visual riddles—these might comprise a metaphorical construct that describes the metatasks of any of us who attempt to find simplicity in our lives. Let me try to parse the Jumble comparison for you.

Unscrambling: Sometimes all the elements of daily life seem like a mess, hard to decipher and even more difficult to sort or prioritize. One of the jobs you might undertake each day is to tidy up the tangled jumble of tasks that regularly come at you.

Recombining: One possible way to bring order out of the chaos you encounter is to reclassify the components of your daily living into new groupings, new definitions. For example, you might use back-to-school bargain shopping as one of the many ways you plan, converse and celebrate with your child(ren). Recombining calls for creativity, but it also sparks surprise and imagination.

Solving visual riddles: It's possible that many of the brain-teasing matters that you encounter every day may be less "problems" and more like riddles. (By definition, the answers to riddles are usually found inside the puzzling questions themselves!) What would happen if you could approach lifestyle difficulties with that understanding: The way out of a vexing situation could be contained in the problem itself, hiding in plain sight!

Perhaps life's quagmires could be more enjoyable if you thought of them as pleasurable puzzles.

Simple enough? 

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August 21, 2014

Simple enough: A rare species

This summer I have had the good fortune to observe an admirable human subspecies. These sometimes rare beings carry with them enormous loads of gear and dress in camouflaged clothing that doubles as storage for their supplies. Sometimes subjected to the ridicule of other cohorts, this genus can be found throughout the entire U.S.

I am talking here about birders, of course, a remarkable part of the larger fellowship of natural historians. Their behaviors come from their passion for observing the winged ones among us. Too-easily parodied for their commitments to find, photograph, and protect birds and bird habitats, birders go to great lengths to bring you and me deep appreciation for natural beauty.

I have watched birders stand in one spot for hours, their cameras weighted with telephoto lenses the size of eagles, just to capture the sight of a rare woodpecker fledgling emerging into the sunlight. I have seen gaggles of these folks walking silently through meadows just to catch a glimpse of a kestrel patrolling for prey. I have heard them chirp among other flock members about strange and wondrous sounds and sights that they will enter into notebooks or databases.

You can find the results of these folks' commitment in the astounding images of birds that you might encounter in books, smartphone apps or PBS specials. Your appreciation for the simple joys of nature comes as a result of their personal steadfastness to preserve this one wondrous part of the natural world. Your simple pleasure—seeing birds up-close-and-personal—comes because of their unswerving devotion to what they consider a nearly spiritual duty.

So the next time you see people gazing into a tree or bush with awe—and cameras—thank them for their faithfulness to God's created world. They deserve it!

Simple enough? 

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August 18, 2014

Simple enough: The simplicity selfie

(With thanks, today's blog forms itself around a sermon preached by the Rev. Rebecca Watkins of Community Presbyterian Church in Lee Vining, Calif., on July 6, 2014. The sermon set the day's New Testament lesson, Romans 7:15-25, inside an evocative invitation to consider both law and gospel as worthy guides for a Christ-following life.)

The "selfie" — now thoroughly embedded in contemporary techno-jargon — is certainly a way to get your face in front of people. Not just any face, it turns out. Because of the wonders of modern image-capturing, you can manipulate your smartphone camera buttons as many times as you like, until your soon-to-be-shared image is just right. Just the right smile, the right lighting, the right background, the right look in your eyes. Not necessarily the real you — warts and all — but the person you want others to consider as most truly you. Thus the selfie skews your image toward only the most flattering or attractive self-portrayal.

When it comes to knowing — and picturing — yourself honestly, the selfie of face-flattering technology yields to the scrutiny of law and gospel. Seeing deeper than the lens of any camera, the selfie of Scripture serves as a necessary (and perhaps welcome?) personality check. Peering to the core of your faith life, the words and word of God both accuse and assure: Your simplicity-seeking is flawed and comes up short compared to God's will, but this lifework of yours is also blessed by God and powered by the Spirit. By grace.

The good that you want to do? Confounded by the wrong that you don't want to do. Your best work? Stained and smudged by sins and shortcomings. Your lifestyle? Two tacos short of a full plate. The seemingly obvious conclusion? Give up, because you'll never get simple living right.

But as you keep framing and taking snapshots of your life, you'll notice that every selfie always includes someone else besides you: the God who loves you in spite of how you look and act. The God in whose image you were created. The God who keeps looking at your picture and keeps being pleased.

Simple enough? 

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August 15, 2014

Simple enough: Willing partners

Recently it struck me that you might find simplicity partners in your congregation among those who have taken or are about to embark on a "mission trip." For the moment, I'll withhold judgment about what makes a mission trip a worthwhile experience and concentrate instead on the thought processes that occur inside the minds of participants. The short story: These folks are ready to learn from—and teach—you!

In my experience, people who participate in service learning opportunities come back home ready to talk about more than poverty or injustice. Due to their experiences they are hungry for conversations about what's important—specifically, the changes in their lifestyles that now seem to be required as a result of what they have experienced. Some of this seeking can be motivated by guilt ("It's not right that we have so much, and they have so little!") but something deeper also moves within their souls. During the trip these folks (in my congregation they're really savvy teens) have questioned almost everything they've taken for granted. If they've prepped for the time away, they're also able to articulate the dimensions of that searching.

How to engage these traveler-seekers? Ask better questions! For example, "How was Rwanda?" is going to get you a shallow answer, but "What's different about you now that won't change soon?" will help the other person put words to as-yet-unspoken thoughts. You present yourself to the traveler as someone ready to learn. Soon the subject of lifestyle-here-and-now will emerge, and that's when your conversations can lead to even more essential answers.

So look around, and see who in your fellowship has—or soon will—be part of a mission trip. And be ready to find a worthy colleague in your continuing life of simplicity-seeking!

Simple enough? 

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August 12, 2014

Simplicity's children: Out in the wild

Today I'm asking you parents and caregivers to consider this invitation: What would happen if you took your children to a place that's wild? Read on ....

You may be pleased that your children explore local backyards or show interest in birds, rocks or dinosaurs. But think what might accrue to your children's lasting well-being if they spent time in places where they got dirty, where animals ruled, where weather was both lustrous and looming, where they faced nature in its fierce and foreboding forms. What could they learn from exploring parts of the natural world that didn't feature identifying plaques, docents or media presentations? (Nothing wrong with any of these, of course!) And what might happen if your children experienced true darkness, the sounds of the night or the sight of the Milky Way?

Facing untamed elements of the natural world, your children could increase in self-reliance, humility about their place in the world, understanding of both fear and courage, unbridled curiosity and respect for the power of nature. They might learn about predation, beauty, camouflage, interdependence and danger.

You don't have to travel to mountains, deserts or oceans to provide your children this experience. Patches of woodlands, streams, lakes and prairies may be within one day's drive. Federal, state, county and local parks dot the landscape. And most cities and suburbs include overgrown areas where nature has taken back its territory from buildings and asphalt. These settings might offer some of the same benefits as backpacking trips or adventure camps. The key requirement? That the setting be wild. (You define the term from your own adventures growing up!)

As you think about the life-lessons you want to offer your children, consider the benefits that come from them encountering nature by its own terms, with its own rewards.

Simple enough? 

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August 9, 2014

Simple things: Sprinklers

(This entry continues a mini-series within the larger "Simple enough" blog family. The premise: It's important to look appreciatively and gratefully at some of the elements of your lifestyle that may seem ordinary, but are still precious.)

Water sprinklers come in all sizes and shapes, some replete with technological wizardry and others as simple as a pattern of small holes in an end-of-hose mini-dam. Sprinklers are the simplest part of a water-sharing ethic that embraces drip irrigators, hoses, nozzles, ditches and aqueducts. The lifework for sprinklers is straightforward: get water to more places quickly. Evenly.

Before there were sprinklers, water could be carried or channeled to distant locations with great effort. Buckets and hand tools made that possible. But with the advent of the sprinkler — dependent on water pressure coursing through hoses — water could now be distributed equitably over large swaths of the landscape. Plants could flourish far from the source of water and children could enjoy mini-fountains in their yards. (And the concept of "yard" might well be a derivative of sprinkler-ness!)

In the heat or wind of a day, of course, sprinklers are inefficient distributors of water, giving away large percentages of their benefits to the sun or wind. But their intended use is always founded on generosity and sharing — water for all who lie within the sprinklers' range.

Yes, there's a simplicity thought hiding in this, one you can see easily through my writing-mist: However we receive the blessings of God in our lives, it's always good to spread the benefits around generously. To sprinkle others with grace, to scatter smidgeons of hope, to pepper conversations with humor.

For fun, the next time you use a sprinkler of any kind, spend a few moments looking at it. Imagine a strong jet of water being splattered into smaller streams, each with its now-gentler arc through the air, each headed for its specific life-giving mission. Thank God for the ingenuity of sprinkler-inventors and recommit yourself to sharing God's blessings.

Simple enough? 

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August 6, 2014

Simple congregations: The way forward

(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.)

As you may have gathered in reading these "Simple congregations" entries, the way forward for churches can be framed in some simplicity propositions that might seem counterintuitive. Try out some of the following.

MORE doesn't live here anymore
Many "future church" options are based on presumptions of continual growth in membership and contributions, and are subtly based on the false premise that expansion is always possible, that "abundance" is about more. Another shaky proposition: Growth is dependent on the work, skill, personality and spiritual depth of church leaders. What's more likely instead: The world is entering a (new) epoch of limits that have to be reckoned with. This viewpoint is also filled with spiritual depth and biblical precedents or proof.

Living with less still works
Hard work lies ahead, taking what you have — probably a little less than you've been used to — and making something good and godly with it. Many congregation members have discovered  they can live with lowered incomes and fewer possessions, so perhaps leaders have to learn from those who have found joy in living with less.

Surefire techniques might overpromise
Best-practices systems of planning, vision-setting, reorganizing, leadership development, fundraising all may have value, but probably not to the degree they advertise. Matters of change, especially when it comes to the core values and identities of groups of people, don't come with guarantees attached. Core principles probably still apply, even when surefire tactics don't.

Expect and embrace the mess
God's first creative act was to create the primordial clutter (see "the formless void" of Genesis 1:2) that only later God ordered into night and day, etc. It makes sense to honor first that act of creation by taking on chaotic messiness as something normal and even good in congregations. To be patient with the time it takes to slowly sort through the seeming disarray of competing possibilities. To be comfortable with risk and ambiguity. To forgive each other when the hodgepodge of congregational life doesn't present itself well. As with the moments and epochs of God's second creative acts, your formless voids will order themselves. The Spirit still "moves on the face of the waters."

Beware time-wasting tautologies
Self-proving circular arguments and activities can suck up precious time and attention. Be aware that much of what passes as "new-and-improved" congregational structure and programs may be an old/failed way of thinking that's gussied up in a new uniform. (Your congregation's older members can be helpful here.) As you look at the future possibilities for your congregation, be ready to see if propositions find their supposed utility only in self-reinforcing logic. (A likely sign: Use of the words "ought" and "should.")

Pay attention to God's other kingdom
In "two kingdom" doctrinal formulations, God's realm outside the church is also important and truth-revealing. God operates powerfully and effectively there too. As you seek the future, it makes sense for you to spend time parsing out what's happening in so-called secular arenas. Science, business, government and other enterprises are all part of God's working so you might expect to find wisdom, vision and actionable knowledge in those God-blessed arenas as well.

These few examples can help you sort through competing propositions about the future of the church. As you consider your personal knowledge and practice of simplicity, you'll probably find other ideas that fit well with congregational life.

Moving forward, simply — propositions you already know! 

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August 3, 2014

Simple enough: Nixing metaphors

The more I read the more I am convinced that we church people don't do ourselves any favors by much of what we write. To be direct, much of our writing about spiritual matters is overburdened by metaphorical constructs.

Nothing wrong with metaphors — biblical prophets and poets, Jesus and Paul all used them. But it may be true that we churchly writers/speakers fall back on metaphors when we think we can't find other language for expressing matters of faith. What's worse: We think we're communicating directly into the parts of people's brains where faith lives and grows.

The opposite is probably true. Churchly metaphorical constructs (e.g., the realm of God, feasting on eternal manna, discipling or being enfleshed for missional identities) all beg the question, "What in God's name are you talking about?" Or less politely: "Huh?" Among listeners and readers not steeped in churchly language, eyes glaze over, attention wanders, our relevance dissipates and our relationships wither. We slather our communication with mysterious/magical verbal constructs and fail to realize how few people speak, read or write in that fashion.

I'm prone to this communication breakdown, too, and would be less-than-honest if I didn't tell you that it's easier that way. (Just as it was easier for the pastors of my childhood to end all their sermons with a favorite hymn verse, or for some preachers today to gesture in sermon-conclusion toward the altar or baptismal font and murmur something about "these life-giving and hope-fulfilling sacraments.") It feels simpler to rely on metaphorical formularies than it is to grapple with the best-fitting words.

So what seems uncomplicated — piling up the jargon of spiritual/biblical metaphors — actually creates complexity: People who don't know what we're talking about or who we really are. Who God is ...!

Is it time to be quiet yet? 

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July 31, 2014

Simple enough: Impulse control

You probably know hardy parents who are trying to help their children or teens deal with impulse control skills. These good-hearted folks use time-proven parenting methods to help their progeny deal with actions and emotions (such as anger) that arise too quickly from too little mindfulness. The children benefit from their parents' help in engaging their rational and social brains. Eventually they are able to consider possible consequences before they react quickly to events or feelings.

Some children may have missed that life lesson, though. They may have grown up to become only semi-adults, still living with deeply habituated decision-making processes that are unplanned on a good day and imprudent the rest of the time. The brains of these mostly grown-ups may have become used to irresponsible decision-making. They respond to a full range of impulses — drives, wants, fads, pleasures, fun or entertainment — at the drop of any hat. They may even name this semiautomatic reactivity with positive personality descriptors such as "madcap," "creative," "spontaneous" or "living in the moment."

Why think about this subject here? In a culture in which everything moves quickly, speedy decision-making likely leads to the kind of unmanageable lifestyles that none of us can sustain for long. Lacking impulse control, children, teens and adults are easily manipulated by advertisers, peer pressure and their most basic emotions. Not all impulses end well. Impulsive people can also be thoughtless, unwary and reckless, perhaps tarnishing their relationships and placing themselves in physical and emotional danger.

It seems possible that, distilled to its purest form, simplicity-seeking can be described in terms of impulse control. Those who seek simplicity may have found ways to judge the invitations of their impulses in order to sort out consequences and choose from among other options for actions.

Perhaps they should thank their hardy parents .... 

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July 28, 2014

Simplicity's children: Rising up to call you blessed

You may wonder how your years of parenting will turn out. One of the Bible passages I cite in answer to that legitimate question is Proverbs 31:28. This text describes an almost implausibly perfect wife and mother, and ends with this compliment (in the King James Version): "Her children arise up, and call her blessed." That phrase could characterize your greatest hope for your parenting efforts.

Here's how it could feel when your children "rise up and call you blessed." You might:

  • Experience the continuing satisfaction of mutual confession and forgiveness with your children.
  • Hear your advice or counsel in some of your children's conversations with their peers.
  • Watch your children's Mothers' and Fathers' Day card messages evolve into heartfelt descriptions of specific traits or behaviors they deeply appreciate about you.
  • Understand how the family stories and humorous anecdotes your children tell are evidence of their gratitude for your parenting.
  • Notice the moments when your children spontaneously undertake what they know is necessary, right or helpful.
  • Enjoy, later in life, your children's skillful and loving parenting of their offspring.
  • Observe your children naming you as hero, model, mentor, friend or even BFF.
  • Learn secondhand or from their friends about your children's positive and perceptive assessments of your parenting.
  • Relish as your children grow into adulthood their more frequent personal contact with you, no matter their distance from you.

Granted, some of this "blessed-calling" may have to wait until years from now. As your children mature, you will grow surprisingly smarter and wiser in their eyes! There are, of course, no guarantees that this will happen. Whenever it occurs, be ready to accept the praise and gratitude of your kids. Their expressions and deeds of blessing are part of their love for you.

May your children rise up and call you blessed! 

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July 25, 2014

Simple enough: Risky ambiguities

Let me set the record straight on one simple-living matter: Simplicity does not necessarily free you from life's risks or ambiguities. In fact, it's possible that seeking simplicity actually results in increased risk and greater ambiguity than following the crowd or living in splendor surrounded by all the stuff your money bought you. (Yes, I know, those behaviors are ultimately risky too!)

What more can I say? Maybe telling you that risk-adverse outlooks on life don't work out very well? Perhaps pointing out how eliminating ambiguities and avoiding risk could be based on self-idolatry — or some deep-seated fears or doubts about your  capabilities? Maybe showing you how Jesus actually sought out risky situations, that he taught using seemingly ambiguous parables? Or even warning you about trying to eliminate all dangers and vulnerabilities from your children's lives? (Sorry, but that research is pretty consistent: This approach to parenting creates feckless, fearful kids!)

Or maybe I shouldn't say anything more. I might just hug you when you're feeling that the risks are hounding you and life's ambiguities are tempting you to freeze in place — doing nothing. Or perhaps I should send you a thank you note for the courage you give me. It's possible that I could write a book — a field guide, actually — about finding hope. Or I might ask you to come along with me when I get all knotted up in fear about what doesn't make sense or what seems potentially dangerous.

Whether I say anything or not, this much I know: you and I are not going to sidestep risks and ambiguity. What I can assure you, though, is that living simply gives you a realistic framework, a calming set of expectations when the vagaries of life hit you up the side of your head.

Simple enough? 

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July 22, 2014

Simple enough: 'Was ist das?'

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther helped children and their parents understand major portions of Christian doctrine by asking, "Was ist das?" (What is this?) The question preceded his down-to-earth explanations of doctrinal matters, but also carried an implicit invitation to ask (and answer) deeper questions about faith.

This question might be a good way to approach joyful simplicity, asking "What is this? about most everything and everyone we encounter. The question is part of an entire collection of exploratory and meaning-seeking queries, such as:

  • How did this (person, event, item, situation) come to be?
  • What lies under or beyond what I'm experiencing at this moment?
  • What's really going on here?
  • What had to be true for me to experience this now?
  • What might I easily overlook?
  • What's wonderful, astounding, exemplary, beautiful or encouraging here?
  • What large construct or system is this (person, event, item or situation) part of?
  • How important is this to my well-being?
  • What's likely to happen next?

To see if Luther's "Was ist das?" could deepen my appreciation of what/who I encounter every day, I have tried to ask questions like this at the oddest moment in my days. For example, I was mowing my dandelions (my lawn gave up long ago) and I asked "What is this?" appreciatively. Or I was talking to someone looking toward a career change, and out popped the question, "What's really going on here?" When I've come to the end of a day and want to pray in a richer way, the "Was ist das?" family of questions helps me review my thoughts with assurance.

And yes, all this Luther-like questioning is really just another approach to appreciative and grateful mindfulness, another way to think joyfully and hopefully about anything or anyone.

But then, you knew that already, right? 

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