The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Bob Sitze's Blog

November 25, 2014

Simple enough: Tightly-coupled system

Practical theorists talk about the internal organization of systems with terms like "loosely and tightly coupled." A tightly coupled system is rigid, its parts intricately joined. Loosely coupled systems are also cohesive, but their internal structures are less closely bonded and more flexible. You can imagine the relative advantages of both systems, but here I want to disabuse you of the notion that you can manage or sustain a tightly coupled daily schedule.

How could that kind of scheduling be harmful? Simple: If any piece of your daily schedule is the tiniest bit out of whack (lengthened, delayed, shortened) the rest of your day falls apart. For example, your son's piano teacher keeps him an extra five minutes. Now you have only 10 minutes to get home to prepare supper—that preparation limited to 15 minutes—before you retrieve your infant from day care and pick up your commuter spouse. That lengthened piano lesson throws off the rest of your afternoon/evening schedule, requiring you to speed home, throw together supper or pay late charges for day care.

By other designations—hurried/harried mom; another crazy day—a tightly coupled schedule burrows into the disguise of a normal lifestyle. The truth? Tightly coupled systems fall down and go boom. (For example: Think of your time-use like a brick building in an earthquake.)

Even though it seems efficient, your tightly coupled schedule is dangerous to your mental and physical health. How to solve this problem? Build in flexibility to every event, duty or possibility on your calendar. Allow extra time for traveling; don't make time promises you can't keep; get by on fewer activities inside of any time frame; keep empty space on your calendar and stop pretending you can multitask! (Or you can live your entire life perpetually and apologetically late.)

Your choice, of course .... 

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November 24, 2014

Advent Blogs Coming


Starting on Sunday, Nov. 30th—the First Sunday in Advent (inside, inside of, through, on top of, beneath or of Advent?)—a daily blog, written with the continuing question, "Are you ready to ...?"

Special, just for you!


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November 22, 2014

Simple enough: News flash

News flash: I interrupt my normal blog-plodding with this announcement: I have just been invited to become a Secret Shopper ™. (I am not making this up!) For truly clueless, nonmaterialistic readers: This company performs a valuable marketing and evaluative function by sending incognito shoppers into retail establishments with specific assessment filters in place. The resulting data is fed back to the establishment as a way to improve its services or products.

Although I won't accept the invitation (I have these blogs to write, and I already function as a Secret Spy™ for The Illuminati) my simplicity-seeking fantasies bloomed wildly. Among them:

  1. I would tinge all my responses with a Secretly Simple™ bias.
  2. Any company that promoted over-the-top greed or consumerism would get low scores.
  3. I would single out for special recognition those employees who did not hustle or game me.
  4. When the service or product was simply elegant or environmentally wise, it would warrant lengthy positive analysis.
  5. The ways that an establishment served people quietly and slowly would merit high marks.
  6. I would refuse to accept coupons or other forms of payment, or give them away to my local homeless service agency.
  7. If this was a cruel hoax—as in "marketing ploy"—I would compose a testy letter to the editor to the largest daily newspaper in my locale and send a copy to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

All of my fantasy actions would be based on Bob's Theorem of Personal Utility: Take whatever comes your way. Instead of giving it to Fluffy for a new toy, make it into a tool for what's right, just or secretly beautiful. (My theorems always need editing.)

There you go, a new (non)development in the exciting life of a plodding blog-writer.

Simple enough? 

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November 21, 2014

Special Advent Blogs


Announcing a special series of daily Advent blogs, beginning on Sunday, Nov. 30 and continuing through Sunday, Dec. 21. Advent themes, all circling around he theme: Ready for ...?

I hope they help your Advent musings to soar!

Bob Sitze

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November 19, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity slang

During the many months I've been carving out these blogs, I've noted the fact that simple living language isn't always as approachable as you and I might wish. Too often it's a too-serious subject, which can hobble our ability to communicate what's important about simplicity-seeking.

In an attempt to rectify that problem, I will now invite you to join me in inventing "simplicity slang." (Yes, you heard it first right here at Bob's Blogs.) With "spiffy" and "keeno-snazz" already taken, this can't be just a matter of repurposing already-existing linguistic chestnuts. Some starter thoughts:

  • A good place to begin is the currently popular convention of turning nouns into verb forms. So we could "destuffify" or "re-lifestyle our homes." ("Trash," "hurry" and "fool" have already taken on active verb status.)
  • It might be a good idea to appropriate into simple living some of the argot of sports or techno-speak. Where might "scoring drive," "top of the lineup," "high-sticking" or "flagrant foul" fit? And how could the prefixes, "smart," "e" and "i" be added to simple living expressions?
  • What would happen if we tried the conflation-combination trick with simplicity-related words, ending up with expressions such as "greedshop," "rushsnuffing," "technobloat" or "slowbuy."
  • We could also turn simple living axioms into acronyms that become words. So "find your joy in simplicity" would become "FYJIS" and "give away what isn't necessary" would be shortened to "GAWIN."
  • Then there's the celebrity bump. We could attach the names of world-famous simplicity gurus to our ... (Wait! That would be too hard; they're probably hiding in plain sight.)

I'm sure that the principles of simple living are plain enough, but think of all the rest of the people for whom IWIW (ideas with inestimable worth) could be a slam-dunk worth braining?

Wouldn't that be spiffy?

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November 16, 2014

Simple congregations: Slow is beautiful

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

What drove the writing of my first book, (NOT) Trying Too Hard: New Basics for Sustainable Congregations, was the gnawing realization that too many congregations (and their leaders) were pushing the metaphorical rock up a mythological hill—a futility of the highest order given the likelihood of burnout, failure or both. I tried to offer some ameliorative mindsets and approaches that could help churches get off success/growth treadmills (yes, I know, a different metaphor) in order to live into more manageable congregational ministries.

Turns out there were other folks thinking the same thoughts. Some of them have recently added their voices to a cautionary discourse about the possible perils of contemporary approaches to congregational life. The most recent is Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Their calm voice calls out church leaders to remember Jesus' approach to ministry, Jesus' non-frenetic, patient approach to people's needs, Jesus' way of being prophetic. The subtitle, Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, prepares readers for the authors' caring and authoritative critique of some current ecclesiastical trends, as well as offering doable alternatives for leaders. (There's something refreshing and calming in reading a narrative that doesn't ask you to gird your loins for semi-fabricated reasons and go charging off into the sunset on some new hobby horse!)

Their anecdotes and probing questions tell me that Smith and Pattison practice what they preach. Their writing style reveals the kind of humility that so many simplicity pioneers exemplify—a quiet question or story that brings you back to basic sensibilities that you may have forsaken along life's journey.

The authors use "slow" in the same way as slow-cookers, slow-parents, slow-educators and slow-leaders: as a metaphor for a deeper, grounded wisdom—this time applied to church life and realities. Their gentle pushback is reasonable and reassuring, and chapter-ending discussion questions make the book a wonderful planning or self-reflection tool. (I also noted with gratitude the minimal amount of faddish code-language that renders their writing graceful and grace-filled!)

As you know from these blogs, I'm kind of a slow-guy too. So I can reassure you that you won't be alone when you take this wonderfully simple concept into your next congregational meeting. My imagination soars toward hope when I think how "slow churches" might eventually emerge as the new manifestation of the Spirit's constant presence in the life of God's gathered people.

What a beautiful thought! 

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November 13, 2014

Simple enough: How hard can that be?

From time to time, I have to remind myself that a good share of simplicity-seeking begins with simple actions that aren't rocket science. In order to make good on that self-promise, I will try here to find some examples of "starter deeds" that can cascade into lifestyle changes. See if any of these work for you:

  • Using your lips and other facial musculature, form the necessary mouth position for the word no. Now expel air from your lungs through your larynx and mouth. Once in the air, this word diminishes personal agonies and prohibits mouth-loads of bad decisions.
  • Check the little button on your smartphone that turns off the addictive noises that make you not-so-smart. Absent the plaintive chirpings and pingings, the oh-so-clever ringtones and the insistent lure of its interactivity, your brain will regain its capability for important thoughts.
  • When in motion, look up. Yes, those flying things are birds and those white puffs are clouds. You will eliminate crashing into streetcars or tripping over street litter because of your imbalanced posture.
  • Serve your food on a smaller plate. Absent platter-size portions, your stomach and other internal organs will have a better chance of surviving into maturity.
  • Remove all time-reminder wrist-items from your body. You will soon find that "out-of-time" and "rushing" diminish, even in small ways.
  • Smile for any and every reason. Your zygomatic muscles will tell your brain to be happy. (If smiling is hard for you, fool that muscle group by biting a pencil for a few minutes. Same effect!)

How hard can any of this be? Answer: Easier than reading all the way to the end of this blog! What to do next? Try one of these simple actions and don't be surprised how easily you'll approach the next one.

How hard can that be? 

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November 10, 2014

Simple enough: Getting it

In all my years—in this and the previous century, both inside and outside of the church—I've met countless people who "get it." For those who don't understand the concept, let me explain: "Getting it" is a shorthand way to describe people whose experience and knowledge have come together to make them wise about just about everything. They're not necessarily leaders or experts, but probably intuitive/introverted folks who see over or around the obvious to what's really true, right, beautiful, admirable or actionable. Some of them are older folks—they've been around more trees—but a solid percentage of younger adults and teens also "get it." Some of them have come through adversity, others are well-read and still others have an uncanny knack for seeing what most people too-easily overlook.

A social-cognition theorem that guides me: Simplicity-seekers probably "get it." My reasoning? If you've come to the point of realizing that what's not manageable can't be sustainable, you have already explored entire universes of workable knowledge and wisdom. You get humility and gratitude; you know in your bones what works and what doesn't; you can see over horizons and listen past distractive noise. You know God's will for your life might be hard to find, but is still worth the effort. You have experienced how most everything and everyone is connected—logically or emotionally—to most everything and everyone else. You observe before acting and listen before talking. You continue seeking wisdom. You are satisfied with "enough."

If there are enough folks who "get it"—about life, spiritual truth or the church—there's the possibility that enough of you might coalesce in your congregation. You might even leapfrog over what's futile, shallow or silly to fulfill some part of God's will in a better or more effective way.

Simple enough? 

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November 7, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity fatigue

Some of you have been at simplicity-seeking for years now and perhaps you can answer this personal question. (Actually, it's more like a plea ....) How do you avoid—or get around—simplicity fatigue? How do you keep at what seems so difficult and countercultural for so long? What or who keeps you strong, motivated, clever or creative? How do you avoid the temptations to chuck all your lifestyle principles and start sucking it up like everyone else seems to do? How do you sidestep cynicism about the future of the world or its people? What's at the core of your continuing insistence to think and live simply?

These aren't leading questions (I'm not always the guy with answers, no matter how many blog entries I carve out of words) so I really am more than curious about what I've written above. And I wonder how many of the answers you might give are also tinged with a little bit of your own vulnerability or tenuous caution. (When it comes to simple living, how many of us are really "experts" for the long haul?)

I know about compassion fatigue—it's an ever-present phenomenon in the worlds of social justice and caring ministries. I've seen caregivers and other righteous folks flame or burn out. I know how continual disregard by others can send me into an emotional tailspin. That's maybe why I'm aware how the solitary or lonely identity of simplicity-seeking can make you or me an easy target for the demons of spiritual weariness or worse.

So, some of you pioneers, prophets or poets out there, do you have some workable answers? Or maybe you have better questions? Could you keep them coming our way, the rest of us?

Thanks for doing that, no matter how tired you might be! 

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November 4, 2014

Simple enough: Click here

Take a guess: What's the percentage of folks who actually read all the download-accompanying verbiage before hitting the "I Agree" button? If you guessed 3 percent, you're right! The rest of us blindly trust our digital masters and hit that button without considering what we've just agreed to do or not to do. (To be or not to be?)

When it comes to the "Click Here" button, I'd assume that that percentage is a bit higher, but the phenomenon is probably the same: We're programmed or otherwise habituated to follow online commands or invitations with not too much thought.

The wag in me wonders how this might work if simplicity seekers ruled the digital landscape. What buttons could be embedded in apps, programs and websites, knowing that most folks would agree to—or click on—just about anything we included on their screens. My imagination landed in these places:

  • "I Agree" buttons would be part of all church websites, setting up automatic contributions or volunteer opportunities.
  • When they push the "Click Here" button at retail establishments, folks who overuse their credit cards would automatically send an amount equal to their purchase directly to a savings account in their name.
  • Every time a smartphone user added another app, the "I Agree" button would enroll that person in another app that reduces their allowable text-messages-per-day.
  • Part of the agreement for cellphone use would include a subprogram that flashed "Call Your Mother Next" on any call lasting more than 15 minutes.
  • With a user's initial agreement, digital calendars of overcommitted folks would automatically include downtime between entries.

From what I know about our agreeable digital world, any of these possibilities could help simplify the overly complex lifestyles that we may have mindlessly agreed to or clicked on.

Anyone want to work on this? 

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November 1, 2014

Simple enough: Simplicity saints unknown

What did composer Ralph Vaughn Williams call the music for the favorite hymn "For All the Saints"? If you said, "I don't know," you're close, because the name he chose for the tune is "Sine Nomine" (literally "without a name" in Latin).

"Without a name" might also characterize the millions of simplicity saints, past and present, whose lives and example are inspiring and hopeful as well. All the noteworthy simple living leaders notwithstanding (thank God for their witness too), you are also surrounded at this moment by nearly anonymous heroes of faithful living who could strengthen your resolve for simplicity-seeking.

Let me try on a few of the people whom I have noticed in my life.

  • The refugee families in my locale, who live joyfully and gratefully on food stamps and meager incomes.
  • The "new contemplatives" in evangelical Christianity, many of them also "new urbanites," who live and prosper inside intentional communities in city settings.
  • The pastors who have stepped off fast-track, hyper-discipleship congregational leadership to embrace smaller, slower and more intense ministries.
  • The retirees who don't travel in large "hotelmobiles" or refurbish their mini-mansions, instead opting to help raise their grandchildren in wiser approaches to life.
  • The generous contributors and volunteers at a local Roman Catholic charity that befriends lonely, elderly people.
  • Those same "lonely, elderly people" who leverage what little they have to befriend others around them.
  • You who read this blog. I may not know your name, but I am certain that you, too, are inspiring and exemplary to those around you!

This All Saints Day I'll certainly recall with gratitude the saints whose names I know. But I'm also going to pause during my singing of "Sine Nomine" to remember the inspiring, unnamed saints who live out God's will every day.

Care to join me?

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October 29, 2014

Simple enough: Shifts

If you're like me, you may sometimes yearn for large-scale, wholesale change in your life or personality that would plop you right in the middle of "simple living." You may want to become more than a continual seeker, to have arrived at some kind of simplicity destination. Sometimes you may get impatient with only your small shifts.

At this time of year it may seem like God is calling you to reformation, transformation or even revolution—a "big audacious change" that will go down in your history as the defining moment when you shifted out of a high-gear, high-speed, high-purpose life down to the kind of simplicity you've only imagined up until now.

Lasting change doesn't happen that way most of the time, though. Most shifts are gentle, unobtrusive movements that come together over time to form something new. Sometimes they're voluntary—you choose to read these blogs—and at other times the shifts require you to change—your job (and lifestyle) evaporates in a cloud of downsizing.

Think about Martin Luther's simple idea: An invitation to an academic debate—legendarily involving some nails and a church door. History would record it as a momentous event, but on that particular Oct. 31 it was just another church announcement. No one, not even Luther, could have predicted the ripples of that simple act, a heritage that we inhabit all these centuries later.

When it comes to your yearnings for lifestyle change, perhaps the more important questions might be: What shifts occupy your thoughts and actions today? What habits have you adjusted, what frames of thinking have you discarded? What kind of friends are you seeking?

Don't fret if you're not seeing your lifestyle changes as monumental and noteworthy. Instead, keep up the shifting.

And yes, have a happy, small-shifts Reformation Day! 

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October 26, 2014

Simple congregations: Fledgling care, Part 2

(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 a previous entry, I invited you to play around with the idea that your congregation could think of itself as a place that cared for "fledglings." Today I'd like to hone in on a strategy for making that fledgling-care something tangible, applicable to the way you work together as God's people.

My idea here is simple: You can care for "fledglings"—believers still stretching toward spiritual maturity—by placing them under the wings of the wise ones in your congregation. (Sidebar: "Wise ones" are part of every congregation. Sometimes they're the acknowledged leaders; in other cases they're the people whose lives and thoughts are most always heeded by almost everyone.)

How might the wise ones help your congregation care for its fledglings? These ideas might work where you perch:

  • Informally survey members about who in the congregation they might first turn to for advice or wisdom. Keep track of names and stories that occur over and over.
  • Include wisdom-related thoughts and themes in sermons, newsletter articles, Bible studies, congregational mailings, stewardship emphases. (There's probably enough data, information and knowledge available to your congregation—what you probably want even more is wisdom!)
  • Try some easy, under-the-radar ways to bring together some of the acknowledged wise ones and "fledglings." (Community organizers call these all-important conversations "one-on-ones.") Think "coffee together some time" and appreciative inquiry rather than snazzy new programs with flashy/cutesy titles!
  • Explore the simple idea that the wise ones will visit the fledgling-folks at their place of work or daily identities. Curiosity and affirmation work together here!
  • Don't overlook the possibility that younger members—yes, children and teenagers—may be included in the "wise ones" category. Think student leaders, servant learning participants or peer counselors.
  • Provide a goal or outcome for these relationships, such as "rethinking what we could do to invigorate Bible study" or "capturing the family stories of older members." Think of tasks not already associated with congregational committees or programs.
  • Never identify the people who are wise ones or fledglings by those designations. It's enough that you know which is which and who's who!
  • After a few months of this informal relationship-building, ask these folks to come together and see what they've learned. How they have changed, what they hae done, what questions arise, what could happen next. Keep options open, including the possibility that the pairings can come to an end for now.

However "fledgling care" works as a metaphor in your congregation, remember that the older the ages of your congregation members, the more likely you're blessed with wise ones. Be grateful for their wisdom and willingness to care for those still seeking maturity in Christ.

This could work for you, wise one that you probably already are! 

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October 23, 2014

Simple enough: Writer's demons

Some of you have taken heart from my writing and may now be picking up pens or keyboards to share your thoughts about simple living. Fair warning: Soon enough, "writers' demons" will awake inside your self-concept, trying to dissuade you from this necessary work. To save you the trouble and time of discovering these devilish voices, I will devote today's blog to naming their fiendish pronouncements. Here are the ones I know only too well:

Who do you think you are, anyhow?
When it comes to simplicity, you're a hypocrite, so you're no more of an authority on lifestyle matters than Porky, your pet hamster.

Everyone already knows this stuff.
Several centuries ago, everyone in the civilized world figured out what you hope to name as a new discovery. Your master's degree in obvious is so five-minutes ago!

Is that all the better you can express yourself?
Your tiny vocabulary must come from a thesaurus for babies. Maybe crying or drooling should accompany your word-choices?

This is typing, not writing.
The contents of a paper shredder show a better command of writing mechanics than you.

Your words are venal.
Who knows what that means, but it sounds bad.

No one is paying attention to you.
Why should anyone take time away from their smartphones to give your words more than a passing yawn?

Your writing will accomplish nothing.
Words on a page don't change anyone or anything. If you're after "change," you're already a failure.

Because these self-accusations are partially true, their base-line temptation—"Only a fool would continue"—is strong. Hold on, though, because their insistent voice is mostly wrong so you should keep on writing! One hint: Find someone to be your muse, helping you persevere against your own devilish self-talk.

Simple enough? 

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October 20, 2014

Simple enough: Gut-brained people

Don't look now, but poly-vagal theory is coming your way. And not a moment too soon. (What? You're not following gastronomy or neurobiology that closely since Little Orvey stopped playing on the freeway?) To correct that situation, let's review this burgeoning field of study and consider some matters that might affect your living simply.

Poly-vagal theory revolves around the structure and functions—some of them astounding—of the vagus nerve. Because this large superhighway of nerves runs almost the entire length of your body, it's the key feature of the entire enteric nervous system—esophagus, stomach, pancreas and GI tract. Two other important features: First, at its top end the vagus nerve connects to your brain stem, where critically important brain functions happen nearly automatically. Second, this system uses more dopamine—the brain's feel-good chemical—than the brain in your skull. For these and other reasons, neurobiologists call this system a "second brain (or more colloquially: "The gut brain").

Why pay attention to this developing theory centered on the vagus nerve? There is already significant research suggesting that some forms of intuition and decision-making may involve this second brain. (As in "gut instinct.") It's possible that appetites—both a literal and metaphoric concept—are connected with the work of this system. Stress and other brain-based difficulties may originate in disorders in the GI tract. Depression could be associated with the effects of inflammation in your enteric nervous system.

Where's simple living in here? Think about lifestyle matters that might correlate with any of the ideas in the preceding paragraph. Appetites, dopamine, mood disorders—any of these can undergird faulty decision-making in your life, resulting in habitual behaviors that might be detrimental to the health of the planet, your body or your soul. All because of your gut-brain!

Simple enough?

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October 17, 2014

Simple things: The shovel

(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.)

Although the shovel (or spade) has been around for eons, it's also one of those simple things that's easy to take for granted. You might not have that many reasons to dig holes, transplant bushes, make trenches or move dirt anymore. But if your home includes a yard, a shovel is probably one of the most dependable tools you possess. Think with me for a moment or two about the qualities and blessings that this scoop-and-lever-with-a-long-handle brings.

The shovel's development over the ages has resulted into a rather sophisticated object. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, the shovel holds just about the right amount of stuff—so you don't waste effort and don't hurt your back. The scoop's metal is an alloy that provides strength and flexibility without unnecessary weight. The handle—whether wood, steel or composite materials—is shaped at the right length and diameter to fit your hands and torso for maximum ergonomics. Special kinds of shovels make possible special work—shoveling manure, scooping grain, digging post holes.

You can find satisfaction and delight in using a shovel. Some of my favorites include:

  • Digging household garbage into our compost heap, whose attending odors tell me that waste is turning back into useful dirt.
  • Turning over soil in my garden—putting the ground to sleep for the winter and reawakening it in the spring.
  • Exercising my entire torso in a coordinated process that results in observable outcomes.
  • Reshaping the natural history of my yard toward beauty and functionality.
  • Building trenches and small dams that channel water away from my house toward more useful locations.

I'm happy to have a shovel or two in my possession, and thank all those people who, over the ages, have perfected this tool for my appreciative use.

Simple enough? 

P.S. Everything I know about shovels comes from my father Estel and grandfather Floyd, who knew the business end of a shovel like they knew the Apostles' Creed! 

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October 14, 2014

Simple congregations: Fledgling Care Part 1

(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.)

One way to reimagine your congregation's health and vitality is to frame its identity around some new metaphors. (Because deep spiritual maturity necessarily invites your brain into metaphoric language, it stands to reason that a new metaphor might just yield a new identity.) Let's try that today with a metaphor from the world of birds: The church as a place of fledgling care!

Some background here: One of the most difficult tasks in Christian living is reaching toward spiritual maturity. Whether you're an old or new believer, you can easily remain stuck in the "nest" of belief that's too-easy, too-comfortable, too-protective. Faithful followers of Jesus like you can see the church as a safe place, a refuge from the dangers of the world. And it's probably not too far-fetched to wonder how congregations suffer when their members remain eternal fledglings—newly hatched birds who want to stay in the nest and be fed by their mature parents. You get the picture.

What would happen, though, if you thought of your congregation as a place where "baby birds" in the faith could be gently edged out of the nest to fly on their own. Not dependent on parents/pastors for their safety or sustenance, these feathered friends would understand that their eventual goal would be to leave home and minister in God's world beyond the nest. To take the risks of mature faith and work wherever they were called by God. To take on danger and opportunity with a chirping song in their hearts.

How might this image be played out? You and your congregation might:

• Play with this metaphor a little bit more, asking questions like "In what ways do we behave like birds in a nest?"; "How is God like a protective hen? Like an insistent bird parent?"; or "When does a nest start to be a problem for birds—and for people?"

• Ask an avid birder to detail the process by which fledglings learn to leave the nest and fly! Listen to the language of the answers to see if any more concepts might apply to your congregation's identity or behaviors. (For example, testing one's wings or first flight.)

• Look at Scriptures where birds are described as emblematic of God's working or will. (For example, see Matthew 23:37 or Psalm 8:8.) Use a Bible concordance to note all the references to various species of birds (e.g., eagles, doves, cormorants, pelicans or swallows) and see what you can learn from Bible birds.

• Recast some youth ministry goals with "fledgling care" as their guiding metaphor. Important question: Who, really, are the newly hatched ones, the fledglings or the parent birds in your congregation? (Be careful not to answer too quickly!)

• Think together about how you care for not-yet-ready-to-fly members. Not to make them overly dependent on the congregation, but to ready them for their lives as mature believers!

I hope this little trip into "Metaphor-Land" might be helpful for your imaginative thinking, and that you'll take these few thoughts and expand them into something wonderful and appealing.

Like fledglings ....

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October 11, 2014

Simple enough: Noticing

This past summer I had the great pleasure of hanging out with some natural history folks. They're well-read, thoughtful and honest about putting into practice their precepts about living respectfully in the natural world. One of the things I learned from them is the valuable skill (and its underlying attitudes) of simply noticing. "Simple" because you don't need elaborate equipment or extensive training to become a wondering, wandering observer. At the same time, "noticing" is an exquisitely complex activity of the human spirit and worth pursuing as part of your personal skills.

These naturalists understand what neurobiologists have named as a bedrock principle of brain science: Everything human-related starts with attention. Seeing and observing with appreciation. Noticing. Attention is a commodity—see "marketing strategies" on your browser. In a world that's too noisy and too desperate for attention, "to be noticed" is a precious gift that others can offer to you. It's probably true that those who can notice are among the true prophets and leaders in society.

Simplicity depends on noticing, and noticing depends on simplicity. When you slow down your tendencies to look without seeing, when you pare down your focus to what's important, when you value both the big picture and the tiniest detail—when this happens you can absorb the beauties of nature into your entire self. You can also find in any situation what's truly amazing or worthwhile. You can find in others' eyes the clues to their inner beauty. You can avoid distractions and competing stimuli. You can engage your entire brain in curiosity, imagination and wonder.

Noticing requires time and timing. Surprise starts with noticing. Gratitude and humility find their source in noticing. Discernment rests on noticing. Noticing begets appreciation and admiration.

How to start noticing? Stop. Look. Listen. Repeat as necessary.

Simple enough? 

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October 8, 2014

Simple enough: No time to write

I'm not going to be able to compose a blog now on account of some urgent digital tasks that have been requested from me over the past few days. I am talking, of course, about the need to change my passwords now. So that you can forgive my lack of bloginess, let me detail my work plan for today:

I will follow my bank's instructions and increase the password strength on my online account by adding meaningless emoticons or symbols located under F17 and F23 on this keyboard.

According to my credit card company, I am likely the target of a Shanghai-based hacker, so I'll change my password into coded verbiage unknown to soldiers.

All the Cyrillic characters on my airline rewards password should be eliminated, according to Oleg Trymenshicov, their online security vice president.

I'll need to set up a new online identity with the NSA immediately, on account of having thought that "Oleg" was a real person.

Next I will change the answers to the "Oh-So-Secret Questions Profile" for my HealthNutCo ID access, especially the ones about my mother's high school nickname (Biffy Sue) and the color of my first dog's tail (magenta).

My congregation's contribution system may have been hacked by atheists, so my new online donor password will no longer include Lutheran-only terms, such as "beer," "Katie Luther Rocks" or "space-alien abduction hymns."

For privacy's sake, I'm going to eliminate all the code language I use in these blogs, those words and phrases that I was previously assured would ward off heretical hackers and their unsightly carbuncles. I am thinking of writing with more illiterate obfuscation than usual.

I'm so sorry that my usual 5#$brilliant*& blog#$!!!won't be available(#)$@@today. I'm sure you understand this matter, because you2know the #@value@$#that#43%%comes from living in this @@$))wonderfully@@digitized))(#@@@world!

Simple enough? 

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October 5, 2014

Simple enough: Observing obvious oxymorons

Who was it—Yogi Berra?—who said that you can see a lot just by looking? One of the banes or blessings of simplicity-seeking can be an increased awareness of lifestyle elements that just don't make sense. They're oxymoronic—self-contradictory to the point of being empty-headed. The term can also describe situations, ideas or life elements whose incredibility inspires statements of wisdom! If that's true, perhaps it's a good mental exercise to observe and name some places in contemporary culture whose oxymoronic nature might inspire you to change your behaviors. Try some of these as examples:

• People who feed their lawns with dangerous chemicals that cause the lawn to grow faster so they need to use gas-hogging riding lawnmowers to mow the lawn more frequently.

• The guy in my neighborhood who walks his dog every day, with a cigarette in his hand or mouth. I wonder whether he thinks he's doing the dog a favor, exercising his body or just hiding his habit from his wife. (Probably none of the above!)

• Runners who traipse through verdant landscapes festooned—and isolated—in electronic music machines and earbuds. Yes, they're exercising, but they're also cut off from appreciating the natural world and the people around them.

• People who send little packets of rice off to places in the world where food is scarce, thus cutting off the livelihood of local farmers and vendors, making them dependent on—you guessed it—the food packets.

The point again is not that we should all find, name and ridicule people whose lifestyle behaviors are self-contradictory, circular arguments or worse. The value in careful observation is, instead, to measure our own lives in order to find the places where our behaviors make no apparent sense and to make necessary changes.

I think Yogi Berra would approve. 

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