Many of us spend lots of time and energy trying to get organized. We KonMari our closets, we strive for inbox zero, we tell our kids to clean their rooms, and our politicians to clean up Washington. But Economist Tim Harford says, maybe we should embrace the chaos. His new book is Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.
Uh-oh, should we stop being so fussy about cleaned-up rooms. Just last night I spent 45 minutes cajoling and threatening and begging my five year old to clean an amazing block city he had constructed in the living room. Curiously, the link to the podcast was sent to me by my wife.
There are a lot of good conversations happening around Rachel Held Evans’s latest piece on the CNN Belief Blog, “Why millennials are leaving the church.” One centers on the relationship between Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants. As is often the case, the place of Quakers in this is complicated.
Some historians categorize the original Quaker movement as a “third way” between Catholicism and Protestantantism, combining the mysticism of the former and the search for perfection of the latter. It’s a convenient thesis, as it provides a way to try to explain the oddities of our lack of priests and liturgies.
But Quakers traded much of our peculiarity for a place setting at the Mainline Protestant table a long time ago. The “Quaker values” taught in First-day schools aren’t really all that different than the liberal post-Christian values you’d find posted on the bulletin board in the basement of any progressive Methodist, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian church. We share a focus on the social gospel with other Mainline denominations.
In a follow-up post, Evans re-shares a piece called The Mainline and Me that tries to honestly explain why she finds these churches admirable but boring. The lack of articulation of the why of beliefs is a big reason, as is the the fire-in-the belly of many younger Evangelicals and a culture adverse to stepping on toes.
One of the people she cites in this article is Robert E. Webber, a religious Evangelical of another generation whose spiritual travels brought him back to Mainline Protestantism. I first discovered him ten summers ago. The cross-polination of that book helped me bridge the Quaker movement with the progressive Evangelical subculture that was starting to grow and I wrote about it in the Younger Quakers and the Younger Evangelicals.
I suppose I should find it heartening that many of the threads of GenX loss and rediscovery we were talking about ten years ago are showing up in a popular religion blog today (with the substitution of Millenials). But I wonder if Friends are any more able to welcome in progressive seekers now than we were in 2003? I still see a lot of the kind of leadership that Webber identified with the “pragmatic” 1975 – 2000 generation (see chart at the end of my “Younger Quakers” post).
Webber might not have been right, of course, and Evans may be wrong. But if they’re on to something and there’s a progressive wave just waiting for a Mainline denomination to catch a little of the Evangelical’s fire and articulate a clear message of liberal progressive faith, then Friends still have some internal work to do.
The notion for the “commonplace book” comes from Thomas Jefferson, who used just such a book to capture pretty much anything: passages from books he was reading, notes, sketches, you name it.
Wikipedia takes it further back in its entry on Commonplace books. The name comes from the latin locus communis and the form got its start in a new form of fifteen-century bound journal:
Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator\'s particular interests.
I really like this idea. I\'ve been thinking a lot about workflows recently (and listening to way too many geek podcasts on my commute). I\'ve been muddling my way toward something like this. I\'m currently using Evernote to log a lot of my life but there\'s scraps of interesting tidbits that have no home. An example from half an hour ago: I was listening to Pandora the train when along came an unfamiliar song I wanted to remember for later. A Commonplace book would be a natural place to record this information (First Aid Kit\'sLion\'s Roar if you must know, think Bonnie Raitt steps out with Townes van Zandt for a secret assignation at a Stockholm open mic night.)
Of course, being a twenty-first century digital native, my workflow would be electronic. What I imagine is a single Evernote page that holds a month\'s worth of the bits that come along. I have something similar with a log, a single file with one line entries (lots of Ifttt automations like logged Foursquare check-ins, along with notes-to-self of milestones like issues sent to press, etc.). I\'ll start setting this up.
Six weeks later, and I’m only a quarter of the way through. I’m dropping this book. I won’t say that the book’s first quarter is completely uninteresting. Its picture of a troubled South America country and the way its internationally-focused upper class tries to act as a reform movement drew me in, but only so far. At this point the novel is still just a thinly-cloaked history lesson with broadly-drawn caricatures that have failed to become characters.
Let me be honest: I want some drama. I want someone to betray the emotional expectations of their assigned role. Can’t somebody (anybody?!) kiss the wrong lips, betray the wrong fighter, or at least have a crisis of faith in their God, life’s work, or politics?
I do believe the action gets saucier later on. But I’m too confused by the political actors of Costaguana (“who’s Avellinos again?”) to care. I can check the Wikipedia pages on Venezuela and Colombia to see how the politcal drama plays out. Whatever personal drama there is will have to be Fitzgerald’s.
I began Conrad’s classic tale as a follow-up to last month’s State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Her heroine traveled to the most remote reaches of the Amazon; all stories that make the trip from the blandness of civilization (Minnesota in Patchett’s case) owe a debt to Conrad’s classic tale of a steamboat trip far up the Congo River.
The book certainly has its oddities, starting with the narrative voice: we are listening to a story told aboard a ship on the Thames that is waiting for a change of tide to send it on its way out to sea. The narrator-within-the-story, Marlowe, tells the entire tale in flashback, with Conrad only occasionally coming up for air to the deck of the Thames boat (Heart of Darkness was written as a three-part serial; I assume these narrative breaks are the stitching between installments).
I had heard much about this book over the years so I was curious to see the exact nature of the depravities upon which the infamous Kurtz had indulged himself. But two-thirds of the way through the book I realized we were never to really learn them. We know there’s a remote camp by a lake and an African tribe that regards him as some kind of demi-god, and we hear tell that he’s lawless toward other Europeans and single-minded in his quest for ivory. But these are all barely more than hinted glimpses.
The story turns out to be not so much about Kurtz as it is about Marlows’ imaginings as he gets deeper into the continent and gathers clues about the mystery man at the top of the river. I found this to be a relief, as Conrad seems almost as uninterested in fleshing out the Africans along the way. Kurtz is a brilliant civilized man; in the jungle his savagery is unleashed and he becomes a force unto himself.
I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the n******, to invoke him – himself his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air.
Yes, this is a working definition of a psychopath. If this were a modern Showtime or AMC television show, this would be the start of the action: the producers, writers, and actors would leave little gore or depravity to the imagination. But for Conrad this is the morality tale at the heart of the book. Shortly after being found, Kurtz conveniently dies and our narrator sails back downstream, going (we are helpfully told) twice the speed as before, back out to the ocean and civilization.
"I’m trying to avoid being seduced by Shiny Object Syndrome. It makes nonprofits and individuals to adopt the latest cool social tool based on peer pressure, buzz, or a strange desire to be one of the first. It can also distract you from your priority to do list."
Seems sensible advice.
Google + Nonprofit Brand Pages
Why does Google + launch new stuff when I'm on a book deadline!! The long awaited brand pages on Google + are here. I put a post out on Google +
This passage from Ezekiel struck me this evening:
What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?.. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheeph have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them…
For this is what the Soverign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strenghten the weak. Book of Ezekiel 34.
It seems appropriate for all sorts of reasons. Last week the priest of my wife’s Catholic church shut it down under false pretenses (see savestmarys.net/blog), the culmination of a long plan to close it and ultimately most of the small Catholic churches in South Jersey. There are sheep that will be scattered by these acts. I’m also just so acutely aware of religious of all denominations who are so caught up in the human forms of our church body that we’ve lost sight of those who are wandering in the wilderness, easy prey for the wild animals of our worldly lusts. I take solace in the promise that the Lord’s Shepherd is out looking for us.
Had a good time with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting high school Friends yesterday, two mini-session on the testimonies in the middle of their end-of-summer gathering. The second session was an attempt at a write-your-own testimonies exercise, fueled by my testimonies-as-wiki idea and grounded by passages from an 1843 Book of Discipline and Thomas Clarkson's "Portraiture". My hope was that by reverse-engineering the old testimonies we might get an appreciation for their spiritual focus. The exercise needs a bit of tweaking but I'll try to fix it up and write it out in case others want to try it with local Friends.
The invite came when the program coordinator googled "quaker testimonies" and found the video below (loose transcript is here):