It is surprisingly, achingly, difficult to push past the transactional in our relationships, and into the transcendent. Yet we must try.
Everyone craves connection.
But so often we exist on the level of the transactional.
What is going on with you?
How was your weekend?
I want to move into the level of transcendent relationships. What is beyond my normal experiences.
How are you. Today? Right Now?
It is surprisingly, achingly, difficult to push past the transactional in our relationships, and into the transcendent. After all, the transactional is a lot of what we do: sleep, eat, wake, talk, do.
There is beauty in the transactional, I won’t lie to you. I want to tell my friends how fun my weekend was, the birthday parties, the beaches. I want to tell the story of how Ethan got stuck on a playground in a playhouse window, like a little monkey, screaming “Mama! Save me!”
But it’s death to leave our relationships in the transactional level, where all of life is a calendar of activities. Where you are stuck looking at the world from the perspective of causality. This happened and this resulted, plain and simple.
I want to live in a world where I talk about the birthday parties, but also the wisdom we’ve gained getting older. I want to talk about the absurdity of parenting, but also the effort I’m putting in trying to shape a moral human being, one who cares about his friends. I want transcendent relationships, rising above the clouds of the mundane.
I want to be able to say “I’m [physically] tired because I work now.” But I do myself a disservice if I don’t also talk about the possibility that I may be existentially tired because I have not learned how to nurture my soul during the soul-sucking 10hr/week commute. I truly believe the answer to tired problem goes beyond “Go to bed earlier.”
I still cannot believe how difficult it is to live in the transcendent, despite the time I spent reflecting in worship at a church service every week, the time I spend journalling, and the blog posts I love reading on lunch breaks about the more of life. After all, this is a world where I may only see true friends once or twice a week, and possibly only for an hour or two at a time, it is hard to get beyond the transactional.
If it’s hard with old friendships, it’s triply hard with the new friendships, where you need to joyfully spend the time in those early conversations with transactional conversation such as “Where do you live,” “What are your hobbies?”
This isn’t a blog post with a tidy solution at the end – I wish it was. For all of my desires to live beyond the everyday, to read about the best questions to draw out friends and family, and my active attempts to practice it, I still catch myself going days without looking under the surface of my experiences, or prying the lid off glib responses of “good” to “how was your day.”
I’m not quite a digital native at 29, but almost. Sometimes it’s a toss-up which of my friends will text, and which won’t. I remember that first cell-phone (at 20), it was a flip phone, and didn’t have a camera. When I first entered college people still brought telephones to their dorm room and plugged in a LAN cable.
I knew from the moment I heard about it that facebook would be a time-suck. Which is why I held out exactly five months after what felt like everyone else at my college had joined. Until November 2005. Then I dove straight in.
Creating groups like “I can only draw stick figures.” Joining groups like “Myspace is for trashy hoes.” In general I was embarrassing myself in ways that only 20-year-olds can do. And it’s preserved for posteriority, which, in my case, now has a name, face, and charming three-year-old sense of humor.
Over the last nine years I’ve used facebook in a lot of ways. To invite others to events. To stalk others. To find babysitters. To find out both local and world news. To congratulate myself with how well I’m doing in life. To feel as though my life is going nowhere.
But, lately I have decided to stop lurking on facebook. The Relevant article makes many points I agree with – that community is a two way street, that facebook takes up real time you can’t get back, and that facebook many create unattainable ideals of faux friendship.
However, I disagree with a few of the possible (but unstated) conclusions – that facebook is a) Generally a negative or neutral use of time. b) You should use it less. The author leaves the conversation without suggesting positive ways of using facebook, of which, I believe there are many.
How to use Facebook to build Community:
1. Stop talking about facebook as a waste of my time. After I did the quick calculation that I spend about 60 – 90 minutes on the site every day (albeit, multitasking) it’s still time spent. If I am intentionally choosing to do something for 90 minutes a day- I make certain to be mindful. No more scrolling through dozens of posts. The recent tweaks to the layout helped me to be more intentional about this.
2. Share memes, blog posts and quizzes with specific friends that will enjoy it, rather than the entire facebook universe as much as possible or as often as you would like.
3. Use facebook for a specific purpose (like those listed above). Double points to if it’s to make real life plans possible.
4. Try to engage multiple people in conversation through messages or tagged posts on topics that spark conversation and invite (polite) discussion. Maybe this one only works for me, but I certainly enjoy using facebook in this way.
5. Remind yourself that the friends who pop up in your newsfeed are not necessarily your closest friends now, but that doesn’t mean in the past they weren’t meaningful people in your life who still deserve attention and care. Use facebook for what it’s good for reconnecting with past friends, as well as present.
6. But… Re-organize the people you want to hear from the most into lists and groups. Although I personally don’t care to “de-friend” people, I also don’t care to see run-of-the-mill memes from people I haven’t seen in person in over two or longer years. I have no qualms about hiding old friends from my regular newsfeed. But I do love to see their babies!…
In general my latest facebook philosophy has been what most of my life is about – living according to my deepest convictions and beliefs – including ways to improve communication, authenticity, and deepen community.
What about you? Is facebook something you are intentional about? Don’t care about? What other social media do you use to stay in touch?
Two years ago I finished Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and received my first Center for a New American Dream‘s newsletter in my email inbox. They both issued clarion calls to Simplify!
Today I realize, I still want urge other to contemplate something more counter-intuitive – instead – Complicate your holidays.
Here’s what I mean.
What both of these speakers want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything else you might buy on Black Friday.
But, they aren’t alone in those types of sentiments. Actually, everyone wants a simplified holiday! That’s the advice on the cover of every single magazine in November and December – how to make your hosting simple, cooking easy, and workouts lightning fast, and still lose five pounds!But the real reason you’re trying to cut down on the stuff? So life can be little more complicated. How so?
Because the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated. Things like:
It starts with giving your time. Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time. In giving time, suddenly we find ourselves committed to drawing closer to that person. By engaging with other deeply by sharing our time – we may find out the truth behind the easy veneer we all often paste over our messy lives. We might be pulled in – and in the process bind ourselves more closely.
Though choosing the perfect holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, so often we don’t think about what we give at the holidays. We just pull what looks good off the shelf, to fulfill an obligation. Spending time with others instead, is a surprisingly one-size-fits-all gift that is tailor-made.
And what about using our time to make gifts, something crafted, baked, or constructed? If we choose to give gifts made of our time and materials we will also need to redefine our values. Especially the ones we’ve received from unceasing advertising. We will no longer be able to stomach slick and (worse still) cheap. We certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines. If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much. No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be. And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride. Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility.
Simplifying Complicating the holidays boils down to community – which is messy, time consuming business.
So, Complicate on folks, it’s only December 5th November 24th and there is one more month filled with plenty of complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating past Epiphany as do my Anglican readers.)
*This post was originally posted on December 5, 2011 – but updated on November 24, 2013.
Like so many heartfelt posts that I’ve wanted to write, this one has been written well over half a dozen times in google drive: testing, feeling, sounding out which phrases resonate with me. I haven’t been sure whether to get really practical – as I usually do – or keep things on the level of musing, theoretical, and abstract. In the end, emotions and ideas won out.
All during September we blogged and thought about Belief at Connect Shore, and so I got curious about what I really truly believed. What makes me tick? I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks.
As always, I found out as I wrote and tested these ideas in ‘real world’ conversation, what I think is most shocking are instead the concepts that I talk about non-stop through my actions and facebook posts. It’s not much of a surprise to others that I believe in these things. But, the process of working through my core beliefs, all in one place, at one time, was very moving and exhilarating for me.
Actually making my beliefs into tangible tokens took those emotions one step further. I literally couldn’t sleep for hours one night because I was so excited that I had made these particular beliefs so clear. And then the next day (figuratively speaking) I was down in the dumps because even though I believe that these are the important things in life… I was worried that my actions don’t always match my beliefs perfectly. This is something, even after making the cards and contemplating everything I still don’t have an answer for too.
Even though my created trump cards don’t live up to everything I imagined… they come close. The idea of trump cards makes perfect sense in my head – Beliefs that supercede and engulf small waves of interpretation – like a Queen gobbling up a lowly Eight. These are abstract principles that unify your life in all it’s seemingly – but not actually – disparate parts. Principles that are called by so many other names like Core Values or in French – Raisons D’Etre. These are my foundations. The undergirding of my actions and wishes to act. They are strings that resonate throughout the symphony of my life; and I hear their tones repeated as point and counterpoint.
As I said, I didn’t want to just write a post about these things I believe, I wanted to illustrate them.
So I created a set of cards detailing six of my very most important beliefs. I think they can be divided into beliefs that affect my inward life, and beliefs that affect my outward actions.
To sort them out I made lists of catchphrases that have resonated with me throughout my emerging adulthood. I edited them for those strains which had lasted the longest and recurred the most times. That is how I got six categories, and many phrases which I have repeated to myself like parables.
Inward Beliefs: Discipline, Wisdom, and Balance
Outward Beliefs: Stewardship, Community, and Hospitality
I realized that these particular beliefs for me are born out of being a Christian, and all of my beliefs spring out of Freedom within a Framework of Faith a phrase I was first introduced to at Gordon College. I felt that I had to incorporate that somehow. In order to represent my faith, I included the first line of the Apostles Creed, the essentials that I hold to be true when it comes to Christianity. They also give me a freedom to practice my other values. (I know that others can reach these values without a Christian background, but that is how I reached them.)
As I’ve been re-reading the wonderful book Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson I’ve been mindful to treat these values as “familiar components in the response to new situations.”
I don’t think they’ll change… but maybe other beliefs will replace them over time. I can only wait and see.
It’s been about two months since I reviewed my New Year’s Resolutions so I feel like we’re due for a re-cap here.
Lose 15 Pounds – total pounds lost so far this year – 13! – I am so close to meeting my goal, and I’m pretty dang proud of myself. I’ve been running three or more times a week and lifting weights at least twice a week. I’ve also got a lot of clothes to go through by the end of the month and decide whether to discard or keep them or give them away.
Be a good friend – I honestly thought summer would be a time of non-stop hanging out with people all the time… and that hasn’t quite been true. But I have been spending more time with a few new friends of mine, and of course, my lovely co-bloggers at Connect Shore. I’ve been trying to teach Ethan how to be a good friend – which for him mostly means, not hitting people in the face, or on the head, or at all. And suddenly, I found myself asking – what does friendship look like in adulthood? I think I should probably spend a little more time defining “friendship” instead of just meandering through life trying to do it better. Yeah, That’s probably a blog post that’ll show up in August.
Read 15 Important Books– I can’t say that I read any of the books I marked as important in July. But I caught up on a great deal of fiction books that I had wanted to read – Gilead, Game of Thrones, Little Women and Me, That Hideous Strength for a few. And reading fiction after quite a bit of statistics readings in June was a welcome change.
Family First – I’m proud to announce that we managed a rough draft of our family mission statement. It’s scribbled into a corner of my notebook, the one that I use as a planner, idea jotter, and list holder. Hopefully as we ease into what will probably be the most relaxing month of the year, I will be able to approximate an appropriately beautiful representation of these idealistic thoughts.
Practice Better Blogging – Ha. Honestly, I thought it was too hot to blog in July. I sat on my couch reading said fiction books and felt only a small bit of guilt about my lack of posts. Hey, it’s the summer, right? Now that it’s been back in the 70’s I find the ideas are coming back, and I’ve been toying with looking into attending a blogging conference sometime in the next six months. (Looking back on last year, the same thing happened. July really IS too hot for blogging.)
Be An Active part of my Communities – What are my communities again? Oh yeah, Church, Blogging, Salem, Moms. Hmm… I think I’m gathering dust here… not sure that’s a good thing.
Improve my Sustainable Living – Got the compost bin. Finally. Eating my weight (well, at least my left leg’s weight) in vegetables from Farmer Dave’s CSA every week. Learning to check Craigslist before buying anything is my goal for august. Also,I’m going to have to sort out my thoughts on Amazon offering used options for almost everything. Is this a good/sustainable thing, even if it’s still shipped from six states away?
Grow Spiritually – I was reminded this month how important journalling is to my spiritual growth. If I can get myself to take a moment to pause and pen some words, I’m well on the way to appreciating God’s hand in my life. I realized I’d never make a good missionary because I have a hard time seeing God’s work when it’s happening and therefore giving credit where credit is due. It’s only in retrospect that I’m able to definitively say “That was an answer to prayer.” Certainly something to ponder and improve upon in the future.
Other Great July Things: Got the assistantship for Salem State, learned to crochet, and saw a beautiful friend get married in Pennsylvania.
In April I wanted to do a money inventory. Budgeting, recording, penny pinching – none of these things are new to me. Over the last five years of my life I’ve gotten fairly good at sticking within budgets I’ve set, so I wasn’t really interested in how much we spent, so much as I was interested in the ways we spent it. After all, you can tell a lot about what a person values by observing their spending habits.
Well, these are some of the things I would say I value that I think money can buy:
Preparedness and Peace of Mind
But, as it turns out, do I spend my money on these things?
When it comes to Peace of Mind – I spent a fair amount of money this month buying up tools for organizing the house. I mentioned that I read some books about organizing, and after doing the types of assessment recommended – such as figuring out problem areas – I purchased some storage containers and made plans to buy a cart to store our “current projects.” It turned out organizing gave me a lot of peace of mind. I had been thinking we needed to move before we could deal with some of my house woes. Actually, some of them were just the result of, to put it one way, bad design.
We spent money on friends when we went out to eat once, and when we took a hike in New Hampshire to celebrate my birthday. But… that was it, and it wasn’t that much. Actually, seeing how few times we spent money buying gifts for others or taking others out to eat (or even inviting them over to eat) made me remember that I want our main family mission to be hospitality – and we’re not living up to it. We can do better – we just have to figure out how.
Healthwise I finally buckled down and made a purchase during the last week of April I’ve been contemplating for about 6 months. I bought the p90x DVDs used on Amazon. This is cheaper than a gym membership and the odds of me doing it are very high. I’m pretty motivated when it comes to doing exercise DVDs, and I’m planning to start the program on May 14th.
But… we didn’t spend much on family memories, community, and education. When Steve and I first got married we joked about eating ice cream every Monday at the ice cream store for the rest of our lives. We had just spent a blissful summer doing that and it is a really good memory. Thinking back on that I really want to bring it back.
We could certainly spend more money in our community – not just by giving to charities but by purchasing more things downtown. In Salem I bought a few things at Scrub, Lifebridge, and of course my weekly coffee break at Jaho, but not too much more. As I’m looking to upgrade my wardrobe this year, I want to make more of an effort to purchase clothes at some of the boutiques downtown. I probably also need to look into some of the other non-tourist non-eatery type businesses downtown as well so I can get an idea of what else I could buy there, instead of at Target or on Amazon. Spending money within the local downtown helps out businesses and the community. If you want to know more about this, I wrote a post about it here.
How do you match up your values with your spending? What areas could you improve on?
This is Part Two of my motivational running and weight loss story: to read Part One go here.
So, there I was, somewhat adrift in college, dissatisfied with my weight, the direction of my life, my whole identity even. I really didn’t know much about what I wanted in life, or about my own self then.. I didn’t start to sort it out until the following summer after I worked another summer at the same Christian summer camp and processed what had happened that first year of college.
What turned me around by the end of that summer as I came back to the school in the fall? A lot of interconnected things like: prayer, making friends, and the safety of both my college and my camp as a place to explore newly emerging identity. It was a complex mix of many factors, but the general result was: I was happy. Deliriously happy sometimes. I started running again, and I ran all year first outside on the trails at college and indoors in the gym. I lost twenty pounds and I felt pretty good about my self-image.
And then, I got sad again. Why? Perhaps the prospect of leaving a safe environment, perhaps the stress of graduation? I gained back five pounds and felt adrift, but not as much as I had three years prior.
During my final semester at college, I lacked any career ideas, so I planned on a trip to New Zealand to work on organic farms through WWOOF. This was a very good choice. Before traveling I had some basic nutritional knowledge gleaned through the process of reading women’s magazines and hearing sound bites from doctors. However while in New Zealand I got to visit people who made their living working with food. They had whole different ways of eating and viewing food than my family and certainly than other college students. Also, with all the time I had on my hands (some of these farms were fifty miles out in the country, no internet access, lots of sheep.) I had plenty of time to process my life experiences up to that point. I came back a changed person with a fairly solid identity.
Over the course of the next year I dropped twenty pounds without much effort, and I maintained this weight for three years, which was something of a novelty to me at the time, having fluctuated for the past eight years, mostly trending upward.
So where does the running pick up again? About two years after returning from New Zealand. I made a semi-conscious effort to find more athletic friends and started hiking, playing soccer, bike commuting, lifting weights, and yes, running. I continued to eat healthily, and had a special place in my heart for farmer’s markets and CSAs. (and growing avocados from pits.)
I ran sporadically (less than 5 miles a week) for about a year, and then got serious. I wanted to improve my soccer game, and I wanted to be f-a-s-t. I applied myself, found a great group of runners, lost the last of the weight I had gained in high school and college, and succeeded in being the fastest runner I’d ever been as well as the best soccer player. At the end of that summer I got married to the man of my dreams and went blissfully into the sunset of another stint at WWOOFing and international travel.
At this point the movie will end, but if you want the psychological analysis stay tuned.
Part of me thinks this crucial turning a year out of college had to do with general maturing of my brain, which psychologists and scientists are saying doesn’t happen till your twenties. As this NPR article puts it – “…insight requires — that’s right — a fully connected frontal lobe.”
With my full connected frontal lobe I figured out a few crucial lessons that made my life a lot better. First, that you can improve yourself beyond your baseline capabilities by setting short and long term goals. Second, that to reach these goals you must practice, and possibly even sacrifice in the present. Third: that a short term setback doesn’t equal long term failure. Fourth that there is great satisfaction in tangible accomplishments, like getting an A in a class, or finishing a race. But there is also a great deal of satisfaction in intangible accomplishments like having good community or doing small steps toward long term goals – like daily eating more fruit.
Another part of me chalks the whole thing up to better communities supporting me. Friends, family and work colleagues, a healthy romantic relationship, and especially a robust spiritual life all allowed me to safely strive for difficult goals, which is turn fed into a sense of self-efficacy and contentment.
Right now I may have returned to the same weight I was five years ago, but I have all the great relationships, friendships, personal goals, wisdom, and nutritional knowledge that I built in the time since then, and because of that, I can wait a little longer to lose the weight.
Looking back on your life do you notice themes? Do you have a great success story? What is the story you tell about yourself?