In defense of echo chambers.

Got your attention, huh?

This really isn’t a defense of echo chambers. Perhaps it is, but not the way echo chambers are commonly referenced. After only a week of serious winnowing, I almost immediately recognized a more consistent and prolonged state of peace in my mind and heart.

This is off the cuff, and I’m not going to spend time editing it, so bear with me and use your stellar intellects to fill the things that should go without saying. I know that’s sometimes hard in 2017 America, but just try. Really hard.

It is commonly accepted as a virtue in American life to be willing to have our assumptions challenged and hear other points of view. To the extent that we are willing to do that, no matter how destructive the form in which these challenge and viewpoints are offered, we are considered “reasonable”, “tolerant”, and “open” to other points of view.

In general, I am a big fan of hearing other points of view. I think it’s good to evaluate ourselves, our actions, and our ways of thinking rather than assume that we’re all good all the time or that nothing about us needs to change. This morning, however, I had a light bulb moment and realized that it’s one thing to be open to examining other points of view. That is a good thing.

It’s an altogether different thing to engage in repeated dialogue with people who have starkly different points of view from you, who disdain your perspective and whose perspective you equally disrespect.

So for example, if I want to read a thoughtful critique of another sister’s view point on marriage and family order or birth control, it is best for me to do that with the intent to read it, walk away from it and examine it without engaging in a dialog with her about it. In other words, I can read Christian feminist Rachel Held Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, consider her perspective (with which I still vehemently disagree even after reading the book) and walk away with my soul unscathed by a knock down drag out debate on some Internet forum.

Perhaps I am more cognizant as I am getting older. The husband said last night, “I still can’t believe we have three kids out of college. Where did the time go?” Things like that certainly give one pause about the importance of how she spends her time. I don’t even mind acknowledging that I am getting older because I have not -for the most part anyway- wasted my life.

It is simply healthier to have the lion’s share of our discussions on love, life, and even politics, with those who will encourage us in the values we truly believe are right. Echo chambers -particularly of the Christian variety- serve a distinct purpose.

If and when I engage in dialog with someone whom I disagree for any reason other than to truly understand or offer something to think about for the purpose of trying to help that person from a place of love rather than snobby, smug superiority, I am better off not bothering. To just keep my thoughts- and my fingers- to myself.

Friday Frivolities 8 : Slow to speak edition

I haven’t offered a lot of commentary lately as I’m making a point of listening more than “speaking”. Besides reading a lot of books on various topics, I’ve also listened to some interesting talks from those with much more flare and articulation than I can muster. I thought I’d share a few for my Friday Frivolities post.

Our girls are not terribly active on social media, but they do follow young Christian women who, like them, are bucking the cultural trend by saving sex for marriage and chronicling the challenges that come with it. In this TED talk Yvonne Orji, a successful actress and 33-year-old Christian virgin, relates her journey:

 

Next up, John Crist offers a very funny stand up act about kids these days:

This one sparked lots of thoughts about the difference in how kids are raised with each successive generation. When I was a kid, if we did our chores and homework, we basically ran wild until the street lights came on. Besides dinner conversation, Sundays at Ponderosa, and the occasional day trip to local attractions, our parents felt little compulsion to spend oodles of time watching over and playing with us.

With our older kids,  other neighborhood kids were there to run around with after school. There was a homeschool family whose house was at the corner of our block, and nearly every afternoon around 1 PM, little Luke would knock on our door and ask, “Can the girls come out?” and I would remind him that because they went to school, they wouldn’t be home until 3. After homework, they ran around with those kids as well as other kids from the neighborhood. I spent most of my quality time with them either reading to them or in the kitchen. They played more with their dad, but most of their play time was with other kids.

We still have two younger children and live in the same house as we did with the older three. If Halloween is any indication, there are still plenty of children in this neighborhood. However, if it’s not Halloween, you don’t them. This has increased the burden on parents to provide entertainment and/or play dates.  I think this makes for a generation of less adaptable kids from what I can tell, and that includes mine, despite the fact that they were born to two tough as nails, passionate, opinionated parents.  Moving on…

Pick  all the nits with me in this next one, LOL I may offer my thoughts in the comments but I’d rather first hear what you guys take away from this:

 

This next one is a TED talk by Sarah Knight that I have wrestled with sharing because she uses less than ladylike language. Very less in fact, but when a friend shared it with me it was a light bulb moment, and here’s why.

One of things that hinders us -or me at least- attending with intention to the things that we truly DO care about, is the fact that we offer too much of our time, energy, and in many cases money, to things that, if we stop to think about them, don’t matter to us in the grand scheme of things.

Some people avoid doing the wrong things by focusing hard on the right things. I wish I was one of those people. I need to first take inventory of what to discard, and with the newly cleared space (mental and emotional as well as physical), the things I want to give full intention to have room to flourish and I have fertile soil in which to grow. In other words, when I wasn’t giving my intention to the wrong things, my mind was free to focus on the true, the lovely, the noble, and things of good report.

Anyway, here’s the TED talk, but be warned that she uses the f-word, and repeatedly so. If you’re inclined to clutch your pearls, please just skip it:

*I know ZERO about Sarah Knight or hew views on anything other than this video, nor do I particularly care.

In the spirit of Sarah Knight’s talk, I also saw this post from a fellow bibliophile about the hazards of conflating social media acquaintance with real connections:

The Only People Who Care About You are Your Family- and if you’re lucky- a Friend or Two.

When I lost my father 18 months ago, two Internet friends whom I’ve never met -possibly three in fact as one was anonymous- sent flowers. That meant a great deal, so I won’t summarily dismiss every virtual acquaintance out of hand. However, I would dismiss the lion’s share and Major Styles hits some major points here worth considering. I think it’s something millennials in particular should be wary of.

Edited to add: I forgot to add this video Hearth made me aware of about the decline of religion in the modern West, and why its comeback is a long shot at best. As much as it pains me, I actually agree with this man. I don’t think the Bible’s prophetic trajectory offers a lot of hope for mass genuine revival in the West or anywhere else for that matter. We are to be about reaching souls, not salvaging a culture:

Lastly, but certainly not least by any stretch, is this sermon from Voddie Baucham. In it he reminds us of something powerful about the story of Noah and the Flood and it’s this:

In the flood (an awful display of God’s wrath, quiet as that’s kept), we tend to see ourselves from the perspective of Noah and his family. Bro. Baucham wonders if it occurs to any that plenty -most even!- of the people who drowned in that terrific judgement were not murderers, drunkards, or adulteresses. They were people like you and me, living normal lives and committing “run of the mill” sins.

I love Voddie Baucham’s sermons because they offer me the opportunity to express more gratitude for God’s astonishing grace, and a nice strong vaccination against smug self-righteousness.

Y’all really should really give it a listen.   I can’t think of a better way to set our hearts aright as we prepare for the Sabbath day.

Have a great weekend!

Regroup. Refocus. Reset .

The past week was rough. There were challenges which shall go unnamed, and then I pulled a muscle in my lower back. Just. like. that. My summer of productivity and balance was thrown off track and replaced with stiffness, searing pain, and sitting. I’m much better now, and my man and the kids were amazing, but almost anything that required physical exertion or mental acuity was nigh impossible..

It is quite astonishing really, how easily I fall into the ease of unprofitable habits and routines when I don’t (or as was the case for me recently, simply can’t) keep up forward progress and focus on a plan.To say I let me down would be an understatement, but time to dust off the ol’ behind and get back to it.

I am looking forward to full throttle on Monday, and a return to what I’d started, which was embarking on shunning the negative and putting lots of energy into creative pursuits. In other words, getting back to what really matters and ignoring the things that don’t. The list of things that were sidelined last week included:

  • Sewing and home decorating
  • Party planning for a celebration at the end of this month
  • Gardening and yard work
  • Writing of the non-Internet variety
  • Lesson plan for at least the first half of the fall semester ( for homeschool and outside teaching obligation)
  • (Very slowly) crocheting a big blanket in time for fall
  • Doing some heavier reading and note taking for the aforementioned writing project

What did get done:

  •  A whole lot of mental clutter.
  • An overload of negative Internet news, chatter, and commentary.
  • Too much sugar and grains with four birthdays -each with cake- over 11 days
  • I did manage to make one of the cakes!
  • Cancelled workouts
  • Cancelled ministry obligations

Nature, it’s said, abhors a vacuum and in the absence of filling myself and my time with good things, the space was filled with useless things. Negative things that vex the soul. Not everything I read and heard was negative and/or useless but the scale was certainly tipped too far in the wrong direction. If I had been up and moving, I probably would not have even noticed most of the bad news I’d heard and was distracted by.

I was conversing with an acquaintance recently and she said, ” Makes me glad my give-a-damn broke…”

I had every reason to believe her. Based on the nature of the conversation we were having, all the evidence speaks to the fact that her “give-a-damn” is indeed, broken.

That has stuck with me for the past few days and I questioned whether mine is as broken as I sometimes tell myself. For the most part, I do pretty well with it, since I’ve had some good examples before me, my father and then my man, who lived their lives unapologetically, took their lumps, and made adjustments as needed without a lot of apparent internal angst.

Alas, I am not a man. I am a woman, and women tend towards caring what others are thinking. About us primarily, but also nearly everything else. The Internet exacerbates this tendency because let’s women love juicy tidbits, ego boosts, and gossip. Even the bits that begin with, “I’m just sharing this so you can pray…”

The best and only way to keep ourselves unspotted, unvexxed, and uninfected by the garbage is to not eat the bread of idleness. The lesson here for me, is that the next time I find myself too overwhelmed with pain or grief or challenges to focus my mind in a productive way, I’d be better off binge watching old episodes of Little House on the Prairie. And yes, I read my Bible and prayed for others. Just not 8-10 hours a day as a more spiritual woman may have done.

But I’m back (not here I mean, and I’ll get to that in a minute). I actually got some painting done today. The summer of meeting goals and shattering expectations is back on, and after nearly 10 days of slacker-hood, I think it’s safe to say I’ll not have much time to pontificate. I will however be engaged in more serious reading and creative miscellany. 

Have y’all heard this song? I think many of you will really appreciate it. Listen. Yeah, it’s pop sounding but the lyrics are on point.

Education only prohibits marriage if you overestimate its utility and value.

As of this summer we will be the parents of three college graduate daughters. We are engaged in plenty of the typical graduation rituals and family celebrations that go along with it. A good time will be had by all.

In the case of our oldest who graduated college at the tender age of 20, we already know that specific nature of the degree notwithstanding, it serves as a proxy for all kinds of things from employment to marriage. If what we witness is any indication, this is pretty much the standard operating procedure. Young people who actually finished their degrees, are reasonably articulate, and know how to work the “system” can land decent paying jobs, even outside of their degree fields.

One of the biggest mental hurdles for the millennial woman however, is not falling prey to the cultural memes of “Find yourself!”, “See the world!”, and “Experience life!” We have explained to our daughters that there is never a time-if you’re still breathing-  when you’re not experiencing life.

Thankfully, our daughters see the advantage of saving their money and planning their lives with their as yet nonexistent families in mind. Now. Because life is the sum total of the choices you make today, not something that just happens when and how you desire it.

Why does experiencing life necessarily mean a life free of encumbrance? We were 21 and 23 years old with three children under the age of two. If that wasn’t life, I don’t know what was. Which brings me to the point of this -hopefully short- post.

The shortage of eligible men has left women desperate to preserve their fertility.

Experts said “terrifying” demographic shifts had created a “deficit” of educated men and a growing problem of “leftover” professional women, with female graduates vastly outnumbering males in in many countries.

The study led by Yale University, involved interviews with 150 women undergoing egg freezing at eight clinics.

Researchers found that in more than 90 per cent of cases, the women were attempting to buy extra time because they could not find a partner to settle down with, amid a “dearth of educated men”.

I am college educated. My useless degree is shoved in our filing cabinet somewhere and I probably couldn’t find it if you paid me. My husband is not, but he is well educated in his specific career field and is constantly ensuring that his skill set doesn’t become obsolete.

In reality, he is far more educated than I am and has used what has been an admittedly fortuitous trajectory, considerable talent, and focus into a life that has had him the primary breadwinner for our entire marriage and the sole breadwinner for the last two decades of it.

Suppose when I met him I’d decided that because he wasn’t in college like I was, he wasn’t “worthy” of my time or attention, especially considering his rather edgy way of life at the time. I might have easily been just another statistic like the women in these articles, particularly since I am a black woman. The disparity of educational accomplishment between black men and women is greater than perhaps all other demographics combined.

Last month I had breakfast with a friend who was genuinely shocked when, as we conversed, I noted that my husband didn’t have a college degree. She “never would have thought that”.  Her husband had  met up with mine for the express purpose of picking his brain because he was that impressed and convinced that my husband might be able to provide some insight, even though he is both older and more formally educated than my husband.

It is with this frame of reference in mind that I remind our daughters that they will be making a grave mistake by limiting themselves strictly to suitors who are formally educated, using the acquisition of a college degree as their standard.

There is indeed, even with the stipulations I note, a dearth of marriageable men.

Given that reality, it makes very little sense to dismiss well earning electricians, plumbers, or other such tradesmen out of the sense of snobbery our culture works hard to infuse into women based on the fact that they have a college degree.

America: One big fun house mirror.

President Trump’s latest undignified, poor impulse control theatrics has the media trotting out the “beneath the dignity of the office” line. Indeed, before i heard any news report, I even used the words: “That is so undignified”.

All it took however, was one good cup of coffee and clarity took hold. This is who we are, and by we I mean collective America; undignified, impulse driven, show boating, shameless, and daring anyone to confront our right to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. Of course we elected a president who does exactly the same.

One would certainly hope that by 70 years of age, a bit of maturity would kick in, yet I am reminded of one of my stepmother’s cardinal sayings: “Wisdom done not come from age, wisdom comes from God.”

That a media and corporate complex which relentlessly pushes exactly this type of emotion-driven, flesh-fueled approach to life would start to yell “undignified” when the man the people they service elected behaves in precisely the way they prescribe and reward crystallizes how distorted our self- images are. It’s as if we’re surrounded by fun house mirrors with no sense of how the behavior we condemn is part and parcel of American life.

This is occurring as I am reading books that touch on these themes as well. One of them is very recently published, and I have been dissecting and writing on it chapter by chapter.

The next installment includes a chapter on how unbecoming, unchaste, and embarrassing behavior is the new normal as a direct result of the current technology. The Anthony Weiner incident is used as a prime example, which speaks for itself.

For every person who understands full well that their antics are on display, there are others who find themselves having their naivete and sense of intimacy betrayed by people they thought they could trust. In a sane world, most people would refrain if only for fear of public shame, but that no longer exists either.

The other book, Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch, was published in 1978, and yet somehow, with no knowledge of what life would be like in 2017 he tapped into the pulse of what we see today. America has been headed for this, complete with a nutty, no holds barred, undignified commander in chief for quite some time.

The president’s antics are simply an extension of the way many Americans live their lives and share their thoughts; unfiltered and without reservations for all the world to see. The pause button has been disabled until after the fact and when it’s too late.

So pardon me if once again, I find my outrage meter mysteriously on the fritz at the latest round of American pearl clutching. My ironic humor meter, however, is working just fine and we got a good laugh this morning here at our house.

Thinking about what we think about

That might sound redundant, but it really isn’t. One of the reason I was so animated by the post I reblogged on Saturday is because I read it on the heels of similar thoughts. As is often the case, the spark which ignited this particular train of thoughts started with something my Benevolent Dictator said.

We were riding alone in the car recently, and it was quiet. It’s rather nice to be able to spend time alone without feeling a need to fill the blank space with noise and words just so that one or the other of us can feel *okay*. Sometimes it’s nice to just think. As we approached a red light the man said to me, rather out of the blue (with a disarming smile), “We have had a good life.” I could only agree, and added that we’ve also mostly had a good time, even when things were hard. And the silence returned.

I was not only encouraged but struck and blessed by this living example of one of my favorite verses of Scripture offered as I am working and praying diligently to master my own thoughts. Winnowing my thoughts, if you will. There are at least a few things my man could have used that time as opportunity to correct, admonish, or guide me about  doing them better. Instead he was considering how blessed we are. I wonder how often Christians actually think about what we think about.

Our culture has trained us to think of ourselves primarily in terms of what we do. How much we do, how well we do it, how much better we do it than others. Christian culture does this as well, but we’re mostly conditioned to think in terms of what we don’t do. You know, the *big sins*. Christians don’t steal, cheat, commit adultery, fornicate, drink (I grew up Baptist), dance (I grew up Baptist), or listen to worldly music (I grew up Baptist). I wanted to include lying, but it’s one of those things that get little more than lip service. I think my point is clear either way. To the extent that we meet the requirements of our “good Christians don’t do checklist”, we feel free to rest on our self-righteous laurels.

We give short shrift, however, to things we do that are equally sinful and even more damaging, because they are things which are harder for those on the outside looking in to see and identify. Rather than feeling compassion towards sinner and the struggling we take the position of the Pharisee, smug in our righteousness, good health, prosperity, and comfort, never really stopping to consider what these kinds of thoughts reveal about us, our lack of gratitude and our misunderstanding of grace.

Every moment we spend judging, criticizing, or comparing is a moment we are not spending focusing on the noble, beautiful or true. Crouching criticisms, comparisons and judgements in religious sounding jargon doesn’t change the what they are. Lipstick on pigs, and all that good stuff.

The question of course becomes, “How do we winnow our thoughts, training them and directing them into the place where they produce positive action rather than passive, smug self-satisfaction?”

I’m still working that one out in my own heart, but I wonder if we will ever reach a place where we commiserate and bond over the good, beautiful things rather than the bad*? It seems like a tall order which, at least for me, weighs on the heart a little.

*I have some thoughts about this in the lives of women in particular, but it will take some time to work them out enough to articulate well.

 

 

Winnowing Your Thoughts

Reblogging this because it- amazingly!- it dovetails quite well with something I was hoping to write Monday, but may not have time to do justice. It occurs to me how little attention we pay to the ways we think and the unseen impact our thoughts have on our health, vitality, and ability to extend grace to others.

Annasach

You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are your thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that.

-Marcus Aurelius

Of course, I have written already that it matters what you fill your mind with, but this appeared on one of my feeds and I just had to grab it. The untrained mind will produce an untrained life. Mind training is not easy and probably never perfected, at least for just about everyone, but the benefits are still significant.

The physical act of truly tidying – i.e. discarding first what is unnecessary and burdensome – mirrors the philosopher’s thought quoted above. In fact, I see little difference between the two. They…

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