Friday Assorted Links

1. At virtual Family Chapel, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ find community during pandemic. Eldest is featured, making me even more famous.

2. Why Trump Was Deaf To All The Warnings He Received. Incuriosity and paranoia.

3. Colleges could lose up to 20 percent of students.

“Ten percent of college-bound seniors who had planned to enroll at a four-year college before the COVID-19 outbreak have already made alternative plans. Fourteen percent of college students said they were unlikely to return to their current college or university in the fall, or it was “too soon to tell.” Exactly three weeks later, in mid-April, that figure had gone up to 26 percent. Gap years may be gaining in popularity. While hard to track, there are estimates that 3 percent of freshmen take a gap year. Since the pandemic, internet searches for gap years have skyrocketed. College students do not like the online education they have been receiving. To finish their degrees, 85 percent want to go back to campus, but 15 percent want to finish online.”

4. The Grumpy Economist on University finances, particularly endowments. Sign of the seriousness of things, belt tightening ahead even for the uber wealthy.

“University endowment practices are quite a puzzle. . . . Why are they invested in obscure, illiquid, hard to value, assets, with at least two layers of high fees (university management + asset managers) rather than, say, have one part-time employee and put the whole business into Vanguard total market for about 10 basis points? Why do they leverage with short-term municipal debt which must be rolled over at the most inconvenient times? Why do university presidents seem to glory in great endowment returns in good times, but these occasional liquidity crunches are seen simply as acts of nature, not preventable with a nice pile of liquid assets? Why do donors put up with this — why do donors give money that will be managed in obscure high fee investments, rather than demand low-fee transparent investment, or even set up separate trusts, transparently managed, to benefit their alma maters?”

A flurry of great questions. The short answer to the first question I suspect is because investment managers’ think they’re smart enough to pick stock winners when history suggests otherwise.

An addendum suggests I’ve nailed it:

“Where are the trustees? Well, I speculated to one correspondent, there is a natural selection bias. How do you get to be a university trustee? 1) Make a ton of money as a (lucky) active asset manager, especially on trades and investments that come from college contacts;  2) Collect a lot of fees;  3) Persuade yourself how smart you are and how easy the alpha game is 4) Desire to socialize with the people who run universities. This is hardly likely to produce contrarians, fans of scientifically validated, quantitative, low-fee investment strategies.”

5. The Real Story Behind That Viral Photo of President Johnson During the Vietnam War. In praise of thoroughness and media literacy.

“. . . President Johnson wasn’t crying over thousands of dead American soldiers in the photo. Johnson is actually listening to an audio tape that was created by Captain Charles “Chuck” Robb, his son-in-law. That detail would allow the casual viewer to assume that LBJ was distressed to hear the recording, but it seems that so many of the documentary filmmakers who use this image haven’t bothered to look at the other photos taken during that same time in the White House.”

 

Our Spiritual Malaise

I took a class in college on the history of religion in the United States. About all I can recall from it was being intrigued by the unwieldy, far out nature of one of the “Great Awakenings”.

Here’s how the internet encyclopedia’s entry on The Great Awakening begins:

“The Great Awakening refers to a number of periods of religious revival in American Christian history. Historians and theologians identify three or four waves of increased religious enthusiasm occurring between the early 18th century and the late 20th century. Each of these “Great Awakenings” was characterized by widespread revivals led by evangelical Protestant ministers, a sharp increase of interest in religion, a profound sense of conviction and redemption on the part of those affected, an increase in evangelical church membership, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations. The Awakenings all resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of personal guilt and of their need of salvation by Christ.”

What’s the opposite of religious revival? A secular surrender?

A Secular Surrender is when we talk about public health threats in the context of stock market volatility and don’t think of it as sordid.

A Secular Surrender is when “leaders” ignore religious violence like that perpetrated by Hindu mobs against innocent Muslims in India this week.

The Guardian explains:

“It has been the bloodiest days of protest in India since Modi’s government passed a new citizenship amendment act, which grants citizenship for refugees of every major South Asian religion except Muslims, in December.”

In fairness, Modi did take to his keyboard to tweet an appeal for “brotherhood and peace” (that was sarcasm).

The Guardian describes the violence:

“The death toll from the worst religious violence in Delhi in decades has risen to 24, as Muslims fled from their homes and several mosques in the capital smouldered after being attacked by Hindu mobs.

The deathly clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups that began on Sunday continued into their forth consecutive day, with reports of early morning looting on some Muslim homes which had been abandoned out of fear.

More than 200 people were admitted to hospitals for injuries mainly from gunshot wounds as well as acid burns, stabbings and wounds from beatings and stone pelting. Several of those who died had jumped from high buildings to escape the attacking mobs.”

You would never know it by evangelicals’ enthusiastic embrace of President Trump, but his and Modi’s words and actions contribute to The Secular Surrender.

Wikipedia again on The Great Awakenings:

“The Awakenings all resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of personal guilt and of their need of salvation by Christ.”

I’m uninterested in guilt and my notion of salvation is far more funky than Whitfield’s, Edwards’, and Tennent’s, but I would like to live in a world where we think and talk about public health without any reference to stock market volatility. And in one where political and religious leaders condemn violence perpetrated by Hindu mobs against innocent Muslims.

Is that asking too much?

 

“I Just Gave Her Room To Grow”

Would the last blogger please turn out the lights. All the cool kids are podcasting, fortunately though, some wonderful writers are still sharing hidden gems like this heartwarming essay from an acquaintance of mine to her seventeen year-old daughter.

Sister Golden Hair Surprise.

Marycake CAN flat out write. Her eloquent description of parenting being a steady mix of joy and sadness perfectly described my experience of co-parenting two daughters a decade older than hers.

This excerpt of hers surfaces a dilemma a lot of my friends, especially female ones who parented full-time, have struggled with as their children have reached adulthood and moved out.

“Watching my daughter grow into young womanhood so focused, imaginative and bold, has made me wonder how my life would have been different if I had taken, Dare Greatly, as my motto, or Live Out Loud? Or just Be a Great Girl? But you know, it feels late to change. I am so caught up in observing the unfolding wonder of my daughters’ lives, (and in driving them all over creation) that it’s exhausting to imagine doing much with mine except laundry, or making vague threats about dressing down the boys who come around.”

No one teaches parents who parent full-time for long stretches of time how to balance their selfless care for their children with their own personal growth. In particular, with the best of intentions, parents privileged to stay home with their children sometimes loose themselves in their parenting resulting in a parent-child interdependence that complicates the tough enough already transition to young adulthood.

Sometimes so much that when their young adult children move out the parents miss their children more than the children miss them.

The challenge is how do full-time parents maintain some semblance of autonomy when so enmeshed in their childrens’ lives for a decade or two? Parenting is so time and energy consuming, how do full-time parents in particular maintain outside interests, meaningful relationships with other adults, and a some sense of purpose that extends beyond their child or children?

I wonder, for those of us who are either approaching 50 or older, is the answer not to parent so intensely?

I think so.

“I just gave her room to grow,” Marycake says a few times.

Like every parent, Marycake is nostalgic for her family’s past. Despite that, she seems to be avoiding the psychological and spiritual downsides that tend to accompany long-term, extreme child-centeredness.

 

 

 

The Selfless, Spiritual Nature of Paying Attention

A recent New York Times newsletter chastised “You’re Not Paying Attention, but You Really Should Be.” The subtitle, “How to actually notice the world around you,” promised more than was delivered.

As a sociologist minded academic, I like to think I’m more observant than average. At the same time, close friends and I sometimes poke fun of the Good Wife for often driving right by us oblivious to our pointless honking and waving. She claims it’s because she’s focused straight ahead, but her awful vision probably contributes to the sometimes funny phenomenon as well.

But don’t sell her short. She picks up on things others, like me, often do not. Por exemplar, a few days ago she left this for me on my corner of the kitchen island.

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My dad died 24 years ago. If someone asked me what his favorite bird was, I would reply, “No idea.” But the Gal Pal, who interacted with him 1% of the time I did, knew.

The New York Times newsletter writer unsatisfactorily scrapes the surface when trying to teach others to pay attention.

Paying attention is one of the most concrete ways one person shows another they care for them. My wife knows my dad’s favorite bird because he was important to her. Her default is to care for everyone, but she cared even more than normal for him because he was important to me. She paid extra attention to him, and to my mom, knowing how important they were to me.

She cared for and loved me by paying extra close attention to them. There’s a spiritual component to truly paying attention that the New York Times writer misses. Paying especially close attention to the details of others’ lives is a selfless habit of mind most evident in spiritual people.

Another example. An Olympia friend of mine is visiting his wife’s family in the Midwest. He shared several pictures of her hometown online with explanatory captions. At the end, he wrote, “I was glad I stopped and took the time to find out out more about the town which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers.”

“I stopped and took the time” is the exact advice given by The New York Times writer. To pay closer attention he writes, unplug, slow down, look around. But the second half of my friend’s summary sentence, “. . . which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers,” speaks to the selfless, spiritual nature of truly paying attention.

My wife and friend are two peas in the same paying attention pod. They demonstrate genuine, heartfelt care for their closest family and friends by observing, hearing, and remembering what matters most to them.

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Left to right, less attentive, more attentive.

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Trump flip-flops fly off the shelf. To the creative go the spoils. (thanks DDTM)

2. Best iPhone photos from around the world.

3. Try doing nothing for awhile.

4. The Seattle Mariners lead the league in this every year.

5. I turned 57 a few weeks ago. This reflection on “the spiritual black hole of upper middle age” couldn’t hit much closer to home. (thanks SMW)

6. How to adapt this to upper middle agers?

7. At what level of wealth do you lose your soul?

The Only Constant Is Change

Dig this beautiful essay on selfishness, selflessness, and love titled “Nobody Tells You How Long a Marriage Is” by Lauren Doyle Owens.

At the end, she writes:

“Nobody tells you how long marriage is. When you fall in love, when you have fun with somebody, when you enjoy the way they see the world, nobody ever says, “This person will change. And so you will be married to two, three, four, five or 10 people throughout the course of your life, as you live out your vows.” Nobody warns you.”

Tru ‘dat.

Same as when I married three decades ago, I have no interest in military history, plant nomenclature, or jazz; now though, I am interested in lots of new things like cooking, food, endurance athletics, North Korea, and Stoicism. When I married I was a pauper public school teacher who was oblivious to the stock market. Now I identify in part as an investor. When I married, I was a conventional Christian, today I am more open to and interested in other religious traditions and forms of spirituality. When I married, I used a lot of product in my (amazing) hair; now, not so much.

When I married I was agnostic about the natural world; today, my well-being depends upon it. When I married I was a son; now, I am not. When I married, I was Lauren’s husband, preferring the suburbs; now I’m Lauren, preferring anywhere else.

Life is fragile and mysterious, meaning best case scenario, the Good Wife and I are in the middle of our life together, meaning she’s been married to four or five Rons* with maybe another four or five to go. Here’s hoping she continues adjusting to my continuing evolution.

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*As a result of this recent Janos tweet, I’ve decided my Witness Protection name is going to be Rondo not LeRon. What, you don’t get to pick your WP name?!

Written while the Celts were losing their last game, “we are need rondos.  I am say all day all night for lots time  but is no rondos.  i  am frustrate.”

Blessed Light

Living in the Upper Lefthand Corner of the United States requires a tradeoff that is difficult at times. You must endure dampness and darkness for eight months of the year in exchange for four months of supernatural light and unparalleled beauty. Right now we’re in the sweet spot of the four months meaning there’s no other place on the planet I’d rather be.

During this morning’s run in Priest Point Park I was intermittently blanketed by the sun’s brilliant radiance as I moved steadily through the forest. Shirtless and sweaty at 7a,  I was profoundly appreciative of July. More so than I ever would be if it wasn’t for the damp and dark runs during the eight contrasting months. The contrast is key.

Mid-day, on Mount Rainier with family, the sun ricocheted off the snow surrounding Snow Lake.

Tonight, transfixed by the fading sun on the western horizon, I will sit on the deck eating popcorn and drinking a recovery beer with family. Sunset is at 9:08p.m., but it won’t get dark until 9:45-10p.m. Must store as much Vitamin D as possible.

As a visitor you probably wouldn’t get it, you’d probably say, “Yeah sure, the weather, the trees, the water, they’re all nice, but really, no need to get all worked up about it.” To which I’d say, “I’m selling it short. I can’t do justice to the blessed light that gives me an unspeakable joy and sustains me through the dark.” At which point you’d just slowly back away not knowing what to make of me. Which I would understand and not hold against you. At all.

Addendum: For those keeping score at home, the “find the spelling errors in the initial draft” scorecard currently reads, Cal Lutheran 1, St. Olaf 1, Carleton 0.

 

 

 

Election 2016—Father-Daughter Dialogue 3

Alibaba: My last post was a theoretical exercise. In responding to your question I was not having an actual conversation with a Trump supporter. That – as I said in my answer – would of course include curiosity and listening and learning and new perspective.

But, to answer your question. Yeah, that phrase slipped past me and isn’t good. It didn’t capture a few things that I meant it to. 1. A broad, general sense, of “take a lot of action to make the world a better place, focusing on people who are systemically marginalized.” 2. That “vulnerable” doesn’t mean “people who can’t help themselves,” it means those who are structurally disenfranchised, subjugated, silenced, and that I am also talking about myself, as a woman, when I say “vulnerable people.” I feel like my rights are at risk and want to make sure they are protected. 3. That I think when the issue at hand does not relate to an identity I personally possess, it is important to look for and defer to people who do hold those identities. Cop out it may be, I do not think I have words better than these to describe this: “That is to say if you are able-bodied, if you have money, if you have resources, if you are seen as white, hetero, cis, if you have had the opportunity to develop your politics through theory rather than through forced violations against your body and your people, then take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.” -by Jenny Zhang in “Against Extinction”

And why do I think this is important? Because there are voices that have historically been ignored and there is a responsibility to do what we can to correct history and make them as loud as possible now. Because it would be arrogant and ignorant to think I know more about the lived experiences of someone else than they do, or what they want or need.

Now a few for you. What do you think the most important takeaways from the election are? In other words, what should we pay the most attention to going forward? 

Ron: Thoughtful reply, thank you. I’m sorry you think I don’t give you enough credit for being more savvy some/a lot of the time. When you communicate that frustration, I almost always think about my relationship with my dad. I get your frustration because I never felt like your grandfather gave me enough credit for being a capable, contributing, independent adult until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. Too often, it felt like he was stuck viewing me as my dumbass sixteen year old self. I’m not sharing that for sympathy, or as an excuse not to be more caring, just to say I think some of your frustration is baked into the generation gap. Maybe everything will always be perfectly copacetic with your child(ren) and the pattern will be broken.

One take-away. I’ve written about the problems of the Simple Living movement before. It’s illogical for well-to-do people like me to tell the less well-to do about the limits of material wealth. My multi-layered, multi-facted privilege disqualifies me from commenting on anyone’s economic decision-making and lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wax philosophic about larger, related questions. Which is to say, I interpret the election result as a culmination of a larger trend in the US where more and more people are slighting their health and spiritual well-being in the pursuit of material gain. Put more simply, it’s the triump of a self-regarding consumerism. Way more people than Dems expected put their trust in the candidate they perceived to be a superior businessman. The aformentioned Frontline documentary shows he’s a terrible businessman, but perception becomes reality. In essence, Trumpers said, “He’s such a great businessman, I’ll give him a pass on the hateful anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-everything bullshit.” At the risk of simplifying things, I think Trumpers were saying, “Compared to HC, Trump will improve my job prospects, I’ll make more money, and be able to afford more stuff at my favorite big box store, so who cares about the environment, Muslim-Americans, traditional foreign alliances, or grabbing pussies.” In the battle between self-regarding personal economics and other-regarding American ideals, self-regarding personal economics has won.

The election may have turned on traditional Dems who succumbed to apathy and didn’t vote. Maybe they thought victory was in the bag, and turned off the game midway through the fourth quarter (you have to allow me one sports metaphor per reply) or the Democratic candidate didn’t rally them around the Common Good. HC was like a tennis player sitting well behind the baseline (okay, now I’m borrowing on the future), hitting desperate lobs, defending herself, criticizing her opponent, not rallying enough traditional Dems around the Common Good.

Pay attention to going forward? Short answer, Trump’s ego is such that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Look for him to play fast and lose with Constitutional principles related to the Executive and Supreme Court case law. I anticipate him breaking enough laws that he’ll lose the support of the Republican-controlled Congress. Even money he gets impeached before completing his term. One can hope.

More personally, getting out of the pool the other day, I asked a friend, older and faster than me, “Got any (Masters) meets coming up?” Normally, he’s competiting all the time, but he said, “No, I’m just too down. I’m going to give my meet money to the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood who I know will make the most of it.” Admirable sure, but not my approach. I return to the Stoic notion of “trichotomy of control” in which you focus as much of your time/energy on those things we have some or a lot of control over. Swimming competitions gave my friend joy, so it saddens me he’s letting the Celebrity President rob him of that. I will continue to do the things that bring me joy, watch the sun rise, drink my green tea latte, eat healthily, swim across Ward Lake, run in Priest Point Park, cycle with friends, watch my daughter graduate college, dialogue with you, see independent films at the hippy theatre, and try to be a more attentive and caring educator, husband, father, citizen. I confess, over the last three decades, since I was your age, my strong desire to change the world has ebbed. I’m glad you want to and I do have confidence that your friends and you can, especially if fueled by Zhang’s “humbleness”. I want to change myself, be more kind, listen more patiently. The next election won’t turn on that, but my small sliver of the world—my marriage, my family, my community, will be better for it.

How to Grieve

I don’t know. It’s been almost four months since my mom died. And this week, another gut punch via telephone. This time it was news that my wife’s former campus pastor who through three decades of friendship became a second, spiritual father of sorts to her, had died.

We are especially fortunate to have a foundation of friendship at times like this. After listening to and empathizing with my wife, she asked how I was adjusting to my mom’s death.

I told her I’m failing miserably at striking any kind of balance because it seems like I can either regularly stop and think about the permanence of my loss and be overcome with sadness or succumb to avoidance by filling my day with activities that distract me from thinking about her passing almost entirely. There has to be a large middle ground, I just haven’t found it.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday night I was sitting alone at an outside table at Vic’s Pizza while my wife went to the bathroom and gathered silverware and napkins. A three year-old boy at the table right next to me sized me up and then pointed right at me and said to his mom, “Does he have a mommy?” “Don’t point,” she curtly replied. When my wife joined me a few minutes later, he said to his mom, “He does have a mommy.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson would’ve laughed heartily at that and I love the image of them laughing together even though they didn’t know each other.

Besides a lighthearted story, I have one grief-related insight to share. More accurately, I have one end-of-life-related insight from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. “Death,” Rohr writes, “is largely a threat to those who have not yet lived their life.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson lived full lives. May you and I do the same.

The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.