The Security Blanket of Busy

stop the glorification of busy

Yesterday I shared a picture on Facebook that garnered a number of responses, and it got me thinking about our addiction to busy.

It works something like this: You run into someone and the conversation goes this way:

Hi! I haven’t seen you in a long time! How have you been?”

“Oh, so busy! Life is just so busy right now”.

“Me as well! I don’t know where the time goes!”.

Happy with our self-congratulations we move on to respective areas of the supermarket.

How often has this happened to you in our western world of quick interactions and fly by conversations?

I posted last year on weather as the great western social facilitator and if weather is one social facilitator in the west, “I’ve been so busy” is another. It has become standard response to the question “How are you?”.

Imagine for a minute that instead of the socially mandated busy one upmanship you respond: “We’ve been great! Not too busy, just the right pace so that we are occupied but not overwhelmed.”

You would have broken a cultural code, for in our society we have created a busy badge of honor worn with pride. We are proud that we are busy. So busy that eating meals together for most families is rare except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. So busy that our counters are cluttered with mail that has not been sorted for 3 months and mold covering what used to be food in plastic containers in our refrigerators could be made into penicillin. The amazing thing is the self-satisfied pleasure with which we let people know this. Like it’s some kind of award or gives us higher status.

Busy has become like a security blanket. We wrap it tightly around us so that we can justify our existence. 

Busy is synonymous with important. If you’re not busy it must mean you aren’t useful. Or important. Or contributing anything worthwhile. Or many other things. Not being busy is a bad thing.

As if adults wearing this blanket of busy with pride is not enough, we’ve passed this cultural value on to our children, the future generation. As they hear us say with fake smiles and little laughs how “busy” we are, they hear the other person respond with affirmation – a “hear, hear” sort of compliment.

Does this busy blanket do anything good for us culturally? Is it a value we want to continue? Is it immigrants working late into the night after finishing their day jobs who claim they are “so busy”. I don’t think so. Those words don’t do them justice.

Many have put the blanket on themselves, a burden that can be blamed on nothing and no one.

Tim Kreider writing an Opinionator piece last year in the NY Times calls this The ‘Busy’ Trap. “It is,” he says “pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.” His essay is a much more in depth look at this phenomenon and I encourage you to take a look.

So here’s the challenge – Next time someone asks you how you are – don’t do it! Don’t fall for the trap! Use another adjective. Be creative. And once you do – come back to the blog and let us know what you said. How did you respond instead of saying “I’m so busy”?  We need all the help we can get to break this cycle!

What suggestions do you have that can replace the “I’m so busy” mantra? Would love to hear through the comments!

image credit: http://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/01/05/are-you-sooo-busy/

What to do When You Know You’re Right!

What to do when you know you’re right by Robynn

There are times when I know I’m right. My passion lines up with solid morality. I’m thinking about justice and the poor. I’m convinced about the rights of the underprivileged. I’m concerned about global issues…big things, heart things, just things, right things. I have the answers to many of life’s big questions.

Certainly, there are lots of times I don’t have a clue….but there are other times when I’ve really got this. I’m really right.

I believe strongly in climate change.

I am convinced that war is wrong.

I am absolutely positive that we need to have mercy on the poor.

I know grace is vital to the health of the church.

These are just some of the things I know.

I also know that our definition of “pro-life” is too narrow, the role of women in the church needs to be broadened, the word, “evangelical” has been muddied by culture and politics. People long to have purpose and to be loved. I know it’s good to eat fresh foods. A good book is a great escape. Another person’s insomnia is not something I can solve. There’s nothing better than a good cup of coffee…unless it’s creamy masala chai! And Pakistani food ranks among some of the finest on the globe.

And these are times when I’m right. And I know it.

But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when you’re right and (it seems like) everyone else is wrong. Being right doesn’t amount to much in the bigger scheme of things. If I’m marked by my own rightness I quickly become arrogant and obnoxious. No one likes a know-it-all…even when it’s me that knows it all. How can I be right without slipping into self-righteousness?

Ages ago I was at a women’s retreat. A group of women had come together for a break just outside New Delhi. The retreat included times of teaching and worship, times of laughter and fun, times of intimacy and vulnerability. I remember it fondly. The speaker at the retreat was teaching through one of the epistles from the New Testament. While I agreed with her on the broader themes, I was confounded by her particular emphasis on a few of the minor points. She seemed to major on those minor points though and that exasperated me. And much to my surprise, some of the women attending the retreat really seemed to be moved by her message. I was annoyed. I was distracted. I was right.

I left one of the sessions to walk around the gardens. I was seriously convinced of my own rightness. In the center of the gardens there was a large peepal tree. I walked around and around it, laying out my exasperation to God in prayer. Suddenly mid-way ‘round the tree I was stopped in my tracks. The Holy Spirit welled up in me a conviction of uneasy sin. I wasn’t allowed to be consumed by my own rightness. It was choking me. It was strangling love for my sisters in the other room. It was eroding unity. It was destroying the tree.

It was like I was suddenly shown this picture of a big, big tree, not unlike the one I was madly circling. The tree was the church universal, spread out, stretching, reaching, growing, alive. The massive trunk stood tall and strong. Branches divided and subdivided. Some twisted and turned. Others grew together and then split out again reaching for a different piece of sky. I was reminded of denominations, of Catholics and Protestants, of Orthodox and Calvinists; of Lutherans and Charismatics. The tree was huge. It was multi-ethnic. It crossed cultures and communities. The leaves danced in the breeze: old women, young men, children, the broken, the wounded, the lame whispering in different dialects, laughing in various languages. Instantaneously I knew I was just one small, shaky leaf on a very large, deeply rooted Ancient old Tree. I was pronouncing judgment on parts of the tree that I had no idea about. I was arrogant. I was haughty. I was wrong.

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I might have had insight into my little corner of the wild branches, but I dared not guess at what pruning needed doing on the other side of the tree. I had no idea where fertilizer was needed, where branches needed lopping off, where grafting was going on. I was ignorant and it was not becoming.

There was a Gardener who loved that Old Tree. He knew what He was doing.

I shut my mouth. I apologized to the big tree. I confessed my pretentions and my toploftiness for what they were: sins ugly and horrid. And I returned to the retreat.

Years later, I still struggle often thinking I know what’s right. I still am sometimes so convinced of my own perspective. My opinion feels like gospel truth.

The other night I heard an interview on the radio with author, R.J. Palacio, who wrote the children’s book, Wonder. In the book she quotes author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer who says, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

That stuck. That really is our only option. We aren’t allowed to be consumed by how right we are. We have to push past it. We have to “choose kind”. Love must be our modis operandi, our language of negotiation. Kindness must dictate our humble response.

The apostle Paul understood that if he could speak all the languages of earth and if he understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge but didn’t love others he would be nothing. He went on to say, “Love is….kind. It doesn’t demand it’s own way….Special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever…!”

So what do you do when you know you’re right? You move past it. You love. You choose kind.

I have a long ways to go. I should probably go find a tree to pray around.

Designer Babies

Doctors enlisted to curb "sex-selection&q...

The waiting room has just two couples in it. They are slightly nervous, self-conscious, avoiding eye contact with each other. The room is dimly lit and resembles a sterile, designer living room. Magazines are in carved racks on one wall as well as stacked perfectly, fan style in threes, on a glass-topped side table. A stand in the corner holds a carafe, the card written in black calligraphy tells the couples it’s “lemon and strawberry infused water”.

Nothing in the room suggests that this is where couples go to pick out their babies. Their very own designer babies. The first decision will be on sex– male or female? But then it moves on: Will it be black hair or blonde? Blue eyed or Brown? Tall or short? Art or sports?

Smart or ….no that one’s easy! The couple smiles at each other, their eyes communicating the message — We don’t want any dumb kids!

This is not a brave new world. This is today. Couples are increasingly able to pick what they want, when they want it. Consider this advertisement from the leading fertility group around sex selection:

Recognized by ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, Reuters, and United Press International News Services as among “THE” worldwide leaders in gender selection technology.

By examining the genetic makeup of embryos, we can virtually guarantee* your next child will be the sex of your choice.

  • Leaders in Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
  • Among the most successful gender-selection programs anywhere
  • Screening for over 400 hereditary diseases
  • Critical procedures performed by MD and PhD specialists
  • Available to nearly all patients (not just those with genetic disorders)
  • Now combinable with Microsort sperm sorting at patient request
  • Featured on 60 Minutes, CNN, ABC, NBC, Newsweek, Time and more

In 2009 an article titled “Designer Babies: Ethical? Inevitable?” told of a woman who had applied embryo screening on eleven 3-day old embryos to determine which one would be the most likely to be disease free. She then had that one implanted in her uterus.

At surface this can, perhaps, seem empowering. What parent would ever choose for their children to have a disease? We weep over our children’s minor difficulties, like not being invited to a birthday party, let alone those big things like diabetes and leukemia. One professor claims this is just “Responsible Parenting*”.

But there is a dark side to this. As humans we are prone to extremes – and while many may choose to use this technology just to avoid disease, others would abuse.

Because that’s how we are.

In that same article Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, says this:

“If misapplied, [these technologies] would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination … the development and commercial marketing of human genetic modification would likely spark a techno-eugenic rat-race,….”Even parents opposed to manipulating their children’s genes would feel compelled to participate in this race, lest their offspring be left behind.”

While I’d like to assume the best of this race called ‘Human’, I see too much evidence that we would modify to our own detriment, and face the unforeseen consequences of our choices.

Equally troubling is that the developing world continues to face enormous problems with infant mortality and morbidity as well as child malnutrition, even as this side of the ocean dabbles in extreme technologies to produce a “Super Race”.

My post from yesterday received a variety of comments, and I appreciated all the perspectives brought into the discussion – one of the things that didn’t come into the discussion was our increasing ability to control all of life – from conception to sex selection to gender reveal to when we die.

This discussion goes far beyond designer babies – but designer babies are one more spoke in this wheel of control.

What do you think? And are all these even related or am I off base? Continue the discussion with me through the comments!

The Exhaustion of Reacting

Let me describe the scene:

I’ve just read something controversial on the web. It may be a blog, a news article, an editorial – whatever, the point is it bothers me.  I believe it’s wrong or ignorant or ill-informed or many other adjectives. I begin to read the comments. There are strong reactions on both sides. With each comment I’m either vigorously nodding my head with a silent “yes! exactly!” or shaking it emphatically with a “are you kidding me? are you an idiot?”.

And of course, I have to add my comment, my voice …..so important it is, so compelling, so necessary.

And then there’s a link – to someone else who’s reacted. And I go to that link and read another article and the same thing happens. Whether it’s a link to a good source of information or a not so good source doesn’t matter – what matters is that the link draws me in and now I am fully a part of this viral reaction.

And I know I should get back to work, I know this is a terrible use of time, I know that the “Whatsoever is good, lovely, excellent, pure” thoughts left the first time I called someone an idiot for disagreeing. But no matter – because I am locked into this cycle and I need to see it through.

And see it through I do – to the end of the day and on into the night. Each link a little more compelling, each opinion putting its hooks into my mind.

I’m swept along in this swiftly rushing river of comments and reactions and I can’t find my way to the edge. I don’t realize that I’m heading straight towards a steep waterfall – and when I get there, I will go over the edge. I’ll be beyond saving. 

And night-fall comes and I lay down in bed and I am exhausted – exhausted because all day long I’ve been silently reacting. I’ve wasted valuable time and energy on reacting. I’ve been unfaithful to myself and my God because of reacting.

When is it time to stop the madness, to draw the line and say “No more”.

No more because time is a gift, and I’m wasting it. No more because my reacting is affecting no one but myself. My voice is lost and I’ve read so much I don’t even know what I think anymore – I just react.

This reacting on the internet is our modern-day mob mentality. While we look in horror at televised scenes of the Middle East and other parts of the world where mobs take over and terrible things happen, the same thing is taking place all around us. Seemingly the results aren’t as harmful but they are. Through our reacting, reputations are ruined, friendships broken, and minds made more ignorant.

I want to live above this reacting but it will take discipline and living counter-culture; it will take humility and realizing that my voice isn’t that important. It will take courage and help.

How about you? Are you exhausted from reacting and want to live above the fray? Or is this not your struggle? Let’s talk about this! 

http://xkcd.com/386/

pro-life or Pro-LIFE?

Note from Communicating Across Boundaries: Posts on CAB are rarely political. While they are often passionate and want to bring on different perspectives, I know politics can get ugly – and at CAB We hate ugly dialogue! But this Friday, Robynn brings a challenging post on Life with a capital L. We are pretty sure that wherever you stand you will be challenged; we are also aware that wherever you stand you may have strong feelings about the post. We invite dialogue! We know it’s best done in relationship, and better over tea or coffee, but we urge you to respectfully articulate what Life is to you. Thank you for reading! ~

My husband, Lowell, recently was asked by the Evangelical Environmental Network to write a piece defending their declaration that mercury poisoning of the unborn through the burning of coal is a pro-life issue. It seems an obvious connection to me but one that has come under attack by those who prefer a more tightly defined category of pro-life.

It’s got me thinking.

I worked for a year at our local Life Choice office. This was a distinctly pro-woman place where women in crisis could come. We provided information and counseling so these women could make an informed decision about pregnancy, abortion and adoption. It was a place of healing and hope. I loved seeing the women loved on and prayed with through deeply troubling circumstances.

I am pro-life.

But I’m wondering when the definition of pro- life became so narrow? When did pro-life come to only mean pro-life of the unborn child? It seems to me that if we are really truly pro-life we should be pro-LIFE! We should advocate for all issues surrounding life. Our voice should defend the lives of the immigrant, the migrant worker, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed, the marginalized. We should valiantly love the woman in crisis.  We should cry out against injustice and exploitation. We should actively picket against toxins and pesticides, against mountain top removal and deforestation, against ruthless relentless drilling for oil. We should labour for clean drinking water, and safe agricultural practices.

But are we really pro-life? Am I?

A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a friend. This friend and her husband have themselves adopted a child through that same Life Choice ministry. We have lots in common, including our pro-life convictions. She’s a safe friend to engage life with. I found myself wondering out loud about these things.

I wondered why the conservatives chose this issue to pivot on. What prompted them to decide to cast their vote behind this one concern seemingly sacrificing all other convictions? Why wasn’t it care for the elderly or for the poor? Why not concern for the foreigner or for the stranger?  If the Bible was their source of ethics or morality they easily would have had justifiable scriptural evidence to suggest choosing one of those.

But I also wondered why those on the other side of the political aisle, who seemingly defend the poor, the ostracized, the foreigner–why they seem to have turned a blind eye to the unborn. They hear the cries of the young woman in crisis but choose to ignore the cries of the infant not yet born. How did they decide to define life in terms of choice when it’s clear that the others they advocate for rarely have a choice? Like the illegal immigrant, the Unborn have no defense, no voice, nothing to stand on—they are silenced by choice. They are silenced by ease. They are silenced by personal pain and even worse, by politics. They have no advocate.

There seems to be so much inconsistency.

As we dialogued and debated and discussed I think we happened upon a possible reason.

For the conservative –It is far easier to love a faceless, nameless innocent child than it is to love the homeless man you see every morning pushing his cart full of water bottles and pop cans. It’s easier to stand up for someone you don’t know, someone you’ll never meet, someone who really affects very few of us than it is to stand up for the grumpy, nosy elderly neighbor who’s name you know and who you try to avoid and who you’re pretty sure doesn’t have health insurance.

For the liberal—It’s far easier to ignore the voice of someone who is silent. It’s easy to forget they even exist. They have no voice. It’s easier to ignore someone who can’t talk, who’s never been given that right.

I know that the unborn child is personally entwined in many of our stories. These babies, miscarried or aborted, bring grief and sorrow. They are little people we’ve never met, children we never carried. They do have names and they mean so much to us, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their grandmothers.

But for many it’s not part of our experience.

We’ve limited our definition of pro-life as a convenient way to keep it at arm’s length.

Not only does this slap the grief of our fellow women in the face who’ve personally dealt with this deeply poignant loss, it also requires a different level of personal response or responsibility from those who haven’t.  We don’t have to deal with it. I don’t have to decide whether to give money for gas to the man who knocked on my back door, or to give money to help cover the rent to the two women who rang my front door bell. I don’t have to figure it out.

I guess I’m imploring us all to look again at the broader landscape of scripture and society. I want to see the faces of those that others ignore. I want life for them. I want to stretch my definition of what life and living is. I really do want to be pro-life. I want life for that woman who yet grieves her loss. I want life for the uninsured, for the poor, for the unemployable, for the elderly. I want to care for those that mercury is silently poisoning, for those whose water is now contaminated, for those who live in environmentally devastated regions.

I want life for the born and the not yet born.

Perhaps the pro-life issue really is about choice. I choose to care. I choose to take responsibility. I choose life. I choose to be pro-Life! I’m pro-that –choice!

Hanging Ourselves on Soundbites

We are a society of soundbites. Having little time for the real story we are delighted when we come upon that pithy quote or 140 character twitter feed that keeps us informed.

Or does it?

I recently commented on an article that a friend had posted on a social media site. She responded graciously but pointedly “Marilyn, did you read the article?” Although she could not see me, I had the humility to blush from my toes to my eyebrows. I hadn’t read it. I had skimmed and picked out the one sentence that I disagreed with, the one thing I could become righteous about.

It was embarrassing and it should have been. I hung myself on a soundbite.

The reasons why are many. We’re busy, we’re preoccupied, we multi-task….we also want to sound informed and smart. We want to get on the proverbial band wagon, showing that we are righteously indignant by responding with piercing words through comments.

And that’s fine – except when we haven’t read the full article, we don’t know the full story. Or if we’ve just believed someone who is well-known with a powerful voice on the internet instead of critically thinking through the issue and seeking information that will inform. And then the righteous response we are so proud of is nothing but clamor in an already too loud world.

How do you frame your comments on issues? Do you read the entire story or do you respond to the soundbite? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m serious. How do we in a world so divided learn to respond without getting caught up in misplaced indignation and quick, poorly formed log-in-the-eye responses?

Would love to hear what you choose to respond to and how you respond in the comment section.

When Kids Kill Kids

When our daughter Annie was two years old she saw television for the first time. We were in Islamabad, Pakistan and she was invited to a birthday party of some older children. My husband took her while I stayed home with our brand new baby boy. When they came home he relayed to me her reaction to this first time of watching TV. She was watching a cartoon and the character was hit over the head with something. As often happens with cartoons, there was a bonk, birds flew over the head of the character and then the scene faded out. She began to cry. She thought the character was dead and was inconsolable. In her 2-year-old mind she was unable to distinguish real from imaginary on the screen.

This is huge. Until a child is seven years old, they cannot differentiate between imaginary and real; fantasy and reality. So when young children see television violence, it’s accepted as not only real, but a part of “normal” life.

Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, in an article released in 2000 called “Trained to Kill”, speaks in-depth to this problem. In nature, he says, “Healthy members of most species have a powerful, natural resistance to killing their own kind.” So while rattlesnakes bite others, they wrestle each other; while piranhas use their fangs on others, they fight each other by flicking their tails. So it is true with humans – we don’t naturally want to kill, we are taught to kill.

He talks about three ways of being conditioned to kill – the first is something we would think of when we think of boot camp. Everyone is taken and their heads are shaved, they are shouted at, they get up at unearthly hours and go through relentless discipline and violence. At the end the recruit believes this is normal. This is a perfect segue into a war zone.

The second is “classical conditioning” where violence is associated with pleasure. The author would suggest that “classical conditioning” takes place in kids as they watch violence while eating their favorite foods of popcorn and soda, or smelling a girlfriend’s perfume, all while watching horrific movie violence as “entertainment”.

The third is “operant conditioning” which is a stimulus response. This is where in target practice a target shaped like a man would pop up. If you shoot the target correctly, it will fall, and so on. Contrast this, he says, to video games, where for hours at a time a kid is pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting, getting better and better at hitting the targets and gaining points every time they do so.

The article is well worth looking at and provides irrefutable evidence of the problem: all this is teaching kids how to kill. The evidence is present in the tragedies that read like headlines from newspapers – because they are.

  • Jonestown, Arkansas Massacre 1998 – An 11 and a 13 year-old, camouflaged in the woods kill four kids and a teacher with ten others wounded.
  • Paducah, Kentucky 1999 – A 14-year-old opens fire on a prayer group at school and hits eight kids.
  • Columbine High School, 1999 – Two kids in trench coats terrorize the school ultimately killing twelve students, one teacher. 21 other students are injured and ultimately the kids kill themselves.

There are more but this makes the point. All of these have one thing in common – they are kids killing kids. It begs the question: Why are we shocked when we see child soldiers from the widely seen Kony 2012 video?

So why am I suddenly bringing up violence and kids killing kids? In the newly released movie “The Hunger Games” that is the premise and it has some people disturbed. And that is the very point of the author. My friend Stacy, who blogs at Slowing the Racing Mind, wrote an excellent post on this called “Hunger Games – Disturbing? Indeed” Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, wants us to be disturbed so that we can discuss this and question it, talk with our kids and know that there are times where we must stand up to what is wrong.

I won’t go into The Hunger Games further, as others have done a fine job of doing just that, but I would argue books like these, and movies like these, are not what creates violence in our kids. It’s gratuitous violence in movies and video games that evokes laughter as opposed to tears, mocking as opposed to compassion. That’s what we should be worried about. Crying because a 12-year-old was killed in a society’s sick attempt at control is a human response; laughing when a teacher tells you that a middle schooler ambushed a school, killing kids and a teacher, is a an inhuman response born of inappropriate exposure to violence at young ages.

It’s a big issue – What do you think?

“On June 10th, 1992, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a definitive study on the impact of TV violence. In nations, regions, or cities where television appears there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That’s how long it takes for a brutalized toddler to reach the “prime crime” years. That’s how long it takes before you begin to reap what you sow when you traumatize and desensitize children. (Centerwall, 1992).” (from Teaching Our Kids to Kill)

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