Unplug Next Friday!

Originally posted on The Blue Room, my author site.

I’ve written before about the Sabbath Manifesto folks. I love their whimsy and style in promoting a practice that’s deep and ancient, yet ripe for a reboot. Check out their ten principles for Sabbath-keeping:

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undologoNext Friday evening, March 7, begins their annual Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour period in which folks are encouraged to switch off the devices and connect with family and community in a spirit of recreation and joy:

We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.

If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.

The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sunset to sunset – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.

Next Friday and Saturday, the Danas will be in Myrtle Beach as I lead the good folks of First Presbyterian, Sumter SC in their annual church retreat. What a fine place to unplug.

Interested in taking the plunge and signing the unplugging pledge? You’ve got a week to think about what your day of unplugging might look like. Peruse some of the photos on the site for inspiration:

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Photos and images from the Sabbath Manifesto/Day of Unplugging website.

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Busyness is Not a Virtue

Here’s one of the videos I use in group presentations on Sabbath in the Suburbs. (It’s also available as one of the Sabbath Supplementals study materials.)

It’s short, just a couple of minutes, but usually enough to get people talking about the theology of “busy” and what’s at stake when we use that kind of language.

Here’s a resource that came to me today that goes deeper into “busy”—what it means and how we can escape it. It’s an excellent article from the iDoneThis blog, called Busyness is Not a Virtue.

Thanks to my friend Alex Hendrickson for sharing it. Like Alex, I love the transformation from FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, to JOMO—Joy of Missing Out.

I also resonated with the bit about something “not being a priority.” I use that language all the time with my kids, when they ask why we haven’t done something: “It’s just not a priority.” And just as the article says, that phrase serves as a great mirror for how you’re aligning your life:

“Mommy, why is our yard brown?” “It’s not a priority.” Check.
“Mommy, my shoes are getting worn out and tight; why haven’t we gotten new ones?” “Not a priority.” Oops.

What are you tricks for taming and reframing the busy?

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Mindful Parenting: A Book Review

17910356Originally posted at The Blue Room.

I was recently sent a review copy of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World by Kristen Race. A self-proclaimed “brain geek,” Race has a PhD in the “neurology of stress.”

Race speaks as an authority on what’s happening in the brain in today’s high-stress world—and especially what happens in children’s brains when they are overscheduled, short on sleep, and inundated with technology. But she also speaks as a parent and as a classic overachiever, who sadly developed an autoimmune disease in the wake of the stress of working on her doctorate, remodeling their house, caring for a toddler, and gestating a baby. (Oh Kristen, my sister… let’s you and Brené and I have virtual coffee.)

You can view Race’s TEDx talk here:

I appreciated the mix of solid brain research as well as stories and anecdotes about the consequences of what Carrie Newcomer has called our “culture of perpetual motion.” From the book’s description:

Research has shown that mindfulness practices stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Regular stimulation of this part of the brain helps us feel happier, healthier, calmer, less anxious, less stressed, and makes it easier for us to concentrate and think clearly—the very behavior we are hoping our children will display.

Race’s work is informed by folks like Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MD and practitioner/proponent of mindfulness meditation, and includes lots of exercises and practices that you can implement right away with your kids—or by yourself. She points out that if we want our kids to be grounded, centered and free of stress, we have to start with ourselves. I say this all the time to parents who want to incorporate Sabbath into their lives but can’t figure out how to convince children (especially teens) to go for it. Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

The exercises in the book are categorized for different ages of children, which is a nice feature. I liked the sections that model how to talk to small children about this stuff. She also addresses some of the naysayers in effective ways (“But I watched tons of TV as a child and I turned out fine!”)

There is a real spiritual dimension to Race’s work—it would be a good companion for families of any religion, or no religion. For those interested in something more explicitly Christian, though of the monastic flavor, I happen to have recently read and can recommend The Busy Family’s Guide to Spirituality: Practical Lessons for Modern Living From the Monastic Tradition by David Robinson.

I’ve sent some short interview questions to Race’s people and I hope she will respond so I can post her thoughts here.

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But Can I Watch Football on the Sabbath?

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Sabbathing or numbing out?

 

When I speak to groups about Sabbath, I almost always start at the same place:

Turn to the person next to you and tell them one thing that brings you delight. It can’t be work-related (though I hope you are delighted by your work!), and ideally, it isn’t something that requires costly equipment or an exotic locale. This is something you can potentially do without much effort or expense.

After folks have shared with their neighbors, I suggest that their delightful activity might be a place where they’re already practicing Sabbath without calling it that.. and/or it’s an entry point to think about incorporating Sabbath into their lives. Sabbath, as Isaiah reminds us in the Old Testament, is to be kept as a delight, not a chore. The creation story in Genesis has this relentless refrain: it’s good, it’s good, it’s good. This world is good. Our bodies are good, and made for pleasure. In my own tradition, the Westminster Statement of Faith says our primary purpose is to glorify and enjoy God.

That doesn’t mean that every enjoyable activity brings us closer to the Holy, I suppose. And sometimes in my retreats and discussions, people look at me skeptically when I talk about the delight stuff. Shouldn’t we be doing “holy” things on that day? Isn’t Sabbath about prayer and Bible reading and all those religious practices? Can we really do whatever we want?

What about watching football on TV?

I’m never quite sure how to answer. For one thing, I’m not the Sabbath police.

For another thing, while I do find prayer and Bible study to be meaningful and important activities for Christians, and lovely things to do on Sabbath, I’m more of a Barbara Brown Taylor Christian, which means I do not see a big division between sacred and secular activities.

But does that mean anything can be a Sabbath activity?

I’m reading Brené Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, and she’s helped me finally get more concrete with my answer to the football question.

[If you’re not familiar with her work, the best introduction is her crazy-viral TED talk. By the way, she wants to be my big sister, doesn’t she? Of course she does. She can do this, because there aren’t thousands of other recovering perfectionists AND aspiring writers also clamoring to be her kid sister. No siree. Cough.]

Anyway, Brené Brown helps me answer the “football on Sabbath” question when she talks about numbing. She writes:

I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion.

There aren’t any checklists or norms to help you identify shadow comforts or other destructive numbing behavior. This requires self-examination and reflection… Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions that ultimately diminish my spirit?

For me, sitting down to a wonderful meal is nourishment and pleasure. Eating while I’m standing, be it in front of the refrigerator or inside the pantry, is always a red flag.Sitting down to watch one of my favorite shows on television is pleasure. Flipping through channels for an hour is numbing.

This is the key to Sabbath as well. Really, it comes down to intention. I can imagine times when watching football feels immersive and enlivening. Can such an activity also feed us spiritually? Don’t know; I don’t have the spectator sports gene myself. But I can see how getting caught up in a thrilling contest, in which athletes are performing to the best of their abilities and using their “fearfully and wonderfully made” bodies to their utmost, would be grounding and inspiring… and maybe even bring us closer to God. But I can imagine other times in which watching sports on TV feels mindless, when we watch out of habit or boredom, when we’re not really there.

I think that’s why some people see Facebook as such a source of unhappiness. In my opinion, there’s nothing inherently numbing about social media. Used in an intentional and mindful way, it’s a great source of fun and connection.

What makes Facebook a challenge is that, unlike a football game, there’s no end to it. We can start out enjoying the relationships we cultivate there, but when we spend too much time scrolling through people, we start to numb out. I’m a big fan of technology, and as FB friends know, I’m a chatty FBer. I’ve also thought a lot about how to use it in a way that’s good for me. So I’ve put all kinds of boundaries around it, whether it’s using lists or only signing on a couple of times a day (and not at all on most weekends).

What do you think about this numbing stuff? Have you read Daring Greatly?

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I haven’t said this recently: thank you to everyone who has read Sabbath in the Suburbs and recommended it to friends. If you haven’t already, I’d be most thankful for an Amazon review.

photo credit: laverrue via photopin cc

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When Life Is Stressful… Or, When a Chair is Not a Chair

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(Originally posted at The Blue Room.)

We’re experiencing some moderate upheaval in the Dana house.

My husband’s company was recently acquired by a firm in California. This has meant some exciting opportunities in the works, but also a lot of a travel.

Like, Monday-Friday travel.

Like, every week travel.

Like, ten days in Bangalore this spring travel.

We know that things will settle down once the initial process of merging two corporate cultures is complete. There will still be business trips, just not every single week. In the meantime, it’s something we have to make it through as best we can.

I do a fair amount of travel myself, often to lead conferences and retreats and things, and while I absolutely love it, it can be hard to practice self-care while on the road. It’s hard to eat well, find time to exercise, and get good sleep (especially in a different time zone). Then you come home to various chores and responsibilities that have piled up. Over the last few weeks, the home projects (and there are many that need to happen around here) have ground to an utter halt. Not to mention the needs of children who missed you and held it together in your absence but who now want to spend every moment with you. And/or who let loose with all kinds of unpleasant behaviors now that there are two parents to absorb the very big feelings.

It’s a stressful time in general… and then I worry about Robert’s stress level on top of my own. Yes, I feel sympathy stress.

But there’s this funny thing that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that calms my worries and tells me that everything’s going to be OK. You see, Robert recently got a fish tank, after many years of wanting one. He was smart about it—he knows that our life isn’t set up for a fiddly hobby, so he stocked it with fish that are easy to care for, bought a couple of automatic feeders, and so forth. I’ve always been pretty ‘meh’ about fish, but we’ve all enjoyed having these little creatures in our family room/kitchen. Frederica is a pearl gourami and is the queen of the fish tank. We think she’s brilliant. The rasboras have distinct personalities; the scrappy guy is named Joe Pesci and enjoys bugging the other fish. The cory cats are determined to breed, but someone keeps eating the eggs.

Anyway, the image that cheers and comforts me is not the fish tank, exactly. It’s one of the kitchen chairs, pulled out from under the table and sitting facing the fish tank. I will come down in the morning, after Robert’s gone to work or left for an early-morning flight, and I will see that chair facing the fish tank. It makes me smile. The chair means that, before heading out in the morning (or sometimes before coming upstairs to bed), he sat down for a few minutes and watched the fish.

A fish tank is like an organic lava lamp. It’s hard to feel stress when watching fish.

The thing is, I have no idea whether he sat there for ten seconds or ten minutes. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the intention. What matters is taking the time to pull the chair around to the aquarium, to sit, and to watch.

Your life may be stressful right now. Time for rest and recreation may be hard to come by. But I hope you’ve got something like a chair and a fish tank. It can make a big difference.

~

Oh hey… a Blue Room email is going out soon! Are you signed up?

Image: Fish and family room.

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Sabbath Has Consequences… And Free Stuff for Eagle Eyes and Good Grammarians

[Drum roll] It’s a contest!

Sabbath in the Suburbs is going into its second printing, and we’re making a few changes to the front and back matter. We also know there are a few typos in it, despite many, many, many smart people looking it over.

Just for fun, and to make the book better in its second printing, we’re enlisting the wisdom of the crowd. Anyone who finds a typo or small grammatical mistake in the book will receive a set of “To do and to-don’t” post-it notes and will be entered in a drawing for more Sabbath swag.

Typos should be emailed to me by Sunday, February 2 at midnight Eastern time. Please include your mailing address for the post-its and in case you win the bigger prize. I will not share or use your address for any other purpose.

Typos and small mistakes only, please. Clunky writing, we’re stuck with.

With that business out of the way…

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I’ve been trying to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as possible. Recently I saw Philomena, which prompted this reflection.

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's Her

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze’s Her

Yesterday morning I took a look at my week, with several evening meetings, a Saturday event, and teacher workdays on Thursday and Friday, and decided that the opportune moment had arrived. So that’s how I ended up seeing Her, a very interesting Spike Jonze flick, at 11:15 a.m. on a Wednesday. There were four of us in the theater.

I hope to write about the movie itself one of these days, but since then I’ve been reflecting on the experience of a mid-week movie:

I felt the need to justify it. When I posted on Facebook that I was going off to see a movie, I felt an overwhelming urge to post The List. You know what I’m talking about—the litany of meetings, chores and tasks that must be long enough to justify taking any time off. (You may notice I snuck in the list in a previous paragraph when describing my inner monologue.)

I find this attitude to be pretty pervasive. Some of us are driven by the desire to be useful, so when we take some time for Sabbath, or just a movie, we feel guilty. That’s me. (To be honest, part of what gave me “permission” to practice Sabbath so intensely a few years back was knowing that I’d have to write a book about it.)

Others of us have a more easy-going temperament that doesn’t heap guilt on top of leisure. But even those folks recognize we’re living in the remnant of the Protestant work ethic, so they often justify their time off as well.

Until the language of Sabbath takes hold in our larger culture—and frankly, I’m not holding my breath—this will continue to be a struggle. But what’s great about the Sabbath is that it’s a gift of grace, not dependent on our deserving it.

I often laugh with groups over the verse in Genesis in which “God finished all God’s work” and created the Sabbath. Must be nice to finish everything, we all chuckle grimly. We are not so fortunate. Which means Sabbath sometimes comes amid half-folded baskets of laundry and emails abandoned in draft form. And that’s OK.

Another learning: Sabbath has consequences. There are many things I should have done with that time instead of slink off to a movie. The rest of my day didn’t magically fall into place because of my Sabbath gift to myself. Yes, I felt refreshed and renewed by my movie-going experience. But taking time yesterday morning meant going grocery shopping at 9:30 p.m. after an evening meeting. Yuck.

That’s not a reason not to practice Sabbath. But I feel compelled to be honest about this. Life is messy. Sabbath doesn’t make it less messy. Sometimes it increases the chaos. It’s still a life-giving practice in spite of this.

(Maybe because of it? Hmm.)

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Click here for the best of the Sabbath posts on this site.

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Snow Day

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Today is a snow day where I live. We’ve had a lot of weather days this winter, but this one looks to have some actual snow coming with it (4-7 inches if the forecasts are accurate, which I’ll believe when I see).

I have mixed feelings about today. We’ve had a number of snow busts around here. The kids got sleds three Christmases ago that they’ve only used once or twice on some paltry grass-filled snow in our sloping backyard. So the prospect of actual snow is exciting for parent and kid alike.

On the other hand, it’s been a vacation-heavy season. There was winter break, then a family trip to Florida in early January. (Read about the reason for the trip here.) Throw in a couple of sick days and yesterday’s MLK holiday. I love my kids, but honesty time—I’m tired of them. I’m sure they’re tired of me too.

And I treasure my life as a pastor, speaker and writer. I feel responsible to that work. Like all of us with jobs, I’m “on the hook” for it—there are salaries, expectations and deadlines to keep me accountable. But I also love it. It’s my lifeblood.

The literature about Sabbath talks a lot about the one day in seven that’s set aside for rest. But the other side of that is the six days that are designated for work. Vacations are essential for most of us, to help us recharge. But too much rest and leisure can be destructive to our well-being too. I’m feeling lethargic and dunderheaded. I’m ready to get back to work!

The image I have for today is one of oscillation: “to swing back and forth with a steady, uninterrupted rhythm.” That’s my hope, anyway: to tend to the needs of my children, and to enjoy them too, while also moving a few of my vocational responsibilities forward. To practice some holy puttering, discerning what each moment requires and giving myself wholly to it.

Failing that, I hope at least to make it through the day with sanity intact. And with at least one run down a good sledding hill.

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photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc

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