Listening: Hidden Brain episode 53, “Embrace the Chaos”

From the NPR descrip­tion:

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.

gregorycityUh-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.

 

Mix up a little Evangelical fire and liberal progressivism and you get?

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.

A modern-day Commonplace Book?

From a post by Jamie Todd Rubin, \"Going Paperless: How Penultimate and Evernote Have Replaced My Pocket Notebook,\" I\'ve learned the concept of the \"Commonplace Book,\" which he attributes it to Jefferson:

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\'s Lion\'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.

“Nostromo” by Joseph Conrad

After Heart of Dark­ness I thought I’d try anoth­er book by Con­rad. The choice was made easy by the Wikipedia entry for Nos­tro­mo, which quotes F. Scott Fitzger­ald as say­ing “I’d rather have writ­ten Nos­tro­mo than any oth­er nov­el.”

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.

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, 1902

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.

More: 

Beth Kantor on the G+ Nonprofit Brand pages:

"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.

Embedded Link

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 +

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Easy Prey

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 savest​marys​.net/​b​log), 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.

St Marys

Hanging with the high schoolers

At the PYM High School Friends retreat, Fall 2009Had 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):