Archives: Sermons

Jesus, The Beastie Boys, and Emily Post

When I was a teenager, I used to collect etiquette books. 

You could find me hunting them down in thrift shops and used book stores, and I scoured the library for more, books from the 1960s all the way back to the 1890s. 

All of them had rules, and I loved rules.  I’m probably letting you too far into my psyche by revealing this, but I am the original Goody Two-Shoes.  I never met a standard I didn’t love achieving or a rule I didn’t love following.  My older and younger sisters were the rebels and I was the good girl.  And when I finished following all the regular rules of home and school, I wanted more.  I didn’t just read Emily Post, I wanted to be her.

Of course, looking back, what I really wanted was a sense of security. 

As a teenager growing up in a conflicted environment, I wanted some way to make sense of it.  Those etiquette books spoke to me of a beautiful, refined world, where everyone always knew the right thing to say, where there was always an easily defined right thing to do, and people were kind and considerate. 

I imagined myself going to elegant parties in floor-length dresses and knowing the complex codes of when to drop a glove to catch a young man’s attention or flutter my fan to send a message across a crowded room.  When I got caught up in junior high mean girls scenarios, I could always go back to my etiquette books and imagine myself in a world where everyone was kind and everyone was polite.

So imagine my delight to find Jesus dedicating an entire set of teachings to etiquette at parties!  Jesus understands that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things in social interaction. 

But if Jesus wrote in to Emily Post, I’m not sure she would agree with his rules of etiquette. 

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There Is No Law Against Such Things

By now we have had about 48 hours to absorb the news that Roe vs. Wade has been overturned by the Supreme Court, effectively stripping women of the right to abortion in America.  This is very, very big news, even though after the leak from the court in early May, we knew it was probably coming. 

I had a rector who used to say about deaths, “even when it’s not a surprise, it’s still a shock,” and I think that applies here too.

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Think Inside the Box: Discipleship as Creativity By Constraint

In 2019, Harvard Business Review did a comprehensive survey and compilation of 145 empirical studies from academic journals on the conditions that support creativity and innovation.  And they discovered something very counterintuitive.

It turns out that we do our best inventive thinking when we think inside the box. 

The box itself spurs us on to come up with solutions we never would have considered if we had the complete freedom we think we want.  This is the phenomenon of “creative constraints,” and scientists have been finding very consistent results on the positive effects of creative constraints on human innovation.

Why do they work? 

Creative constraints take the focus of our thinking from wide to narrow, and the creative challenge increases our motivation to innovate.  Having endless options both increases our decision fatigue and makes us want to default to the most obvious, path-of-least-resistance answer. 

(Side note: the psychological peril of endless options doesn’t only refer to overwhelm when looking at 5000 Amazon choices for a can opener.  It’s also why online dating can increase alienation.  We do better with fewer choices in a lot of arenas in life.)

Creative constraints drive people to become remix artists, pulling in multiple unexpected sources, methods, and ideas to create solutions that remain within the confined boundaries. 

Now this isn’t an infinite phenomenon–too many or too harsh constraints start to limit creativity.  Companies such as Google and Apple deliberately orchestrate and carefully calibrate constraints to stimulate innovation. 

Think about the famous scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA ground crew literally has to make a square peg fit into a round hole to create a carbon dioxide scrubber using only non-essential equipment already onboard the imperiled spaceship.  They thought they couldn’t do it, but knowing that their colleagues’ lives depended on it, they used those very strict constraints to spur their creativity, using what seemed like a few extra pieces of junk on the rocket to make a life-saving device.

People are more willing to accept and even enjoy working within constraints if they feel supported and feel like they have others to lean on and collaborate with.  There’s a lesson for Christian community in that last point that we probably want to keep in our back pocket as we explore this further.

For us post-modern thinkers, it can be difficult sometimes to understand the value of some if not many of the texts of the Bible. Why do we keep anchoring ourselves in this ancient, outdated text?

Because God has used it to spark creativity within restriction.

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It’s Week 2021 and I’m Running Out of Time

Do you know what week it is? For me it’s 2021.

“No,” you may say, “the year is 2021, not the week. It’s the 2nd week in August. But it’s okay, we’re all stressed out, I’m not surprised you misspoke.”

But I didn’t misspeak. The week is 2021. For me. Today is August 15, 2021, and I was born on November 15, 1982. In a very strange non-coincidence, today marks literally the 2021st week of my life. On August 15, 2021, I have officially been alive for 2021 weeks.

The reason this catches my attention is because of a fascinating new book I’ve just read. It’s called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. He points out if that if you live to be 80 years old, you will have lived 4000 weeks. 4000 weeks—that seems terrifyingly short! Having moved past 2000, I’m already over halfway through!

Most people’s first thought on thinking of their lives as 4000 weeks give or take, is, “Am I making the most of it?”

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