Worldwide Available

Hey there friend! I know it is not quite Thursday, but I sent the email today because there is a time-sensitive invitation at the end…

Officers and their families in the US Foreign Service pledge to be “worldwide available.” Where there is a need, an FSO will go.  

And “bidding season” (the time when it is decided where one will serve next) for us is approaching… so this global availability is felt acutely.

As we research possible postings, we look at the different aspects of life in a certain location… pollution, for example.  In the process, it becomes shockingly clear that we would have a very hard time living in some places because of the air quality.  

That is to say, what is not “worldwide available” is air that will not make you sick.  But billions (billions!) of people live in those places every day, unable to choose a different home.

I think the technology that exists to confront this problem is just the coolest thing.

Blessed are those (entrepreneurs, citizens, scientists) who work to make such solutions more widely available.  

(Want to learn more about this sort of thing at a free virtual conference?  Use this link to join virtual programing at the Claircon conference.  The link includes a discount code,TCACC23, to receive free access.  The conference takes place on May 19 & 20.

You’ll have the opportunity to dive into the engaging sessions in cleantech and sustainability, learn and interact with industry experts, network with like-minded people and discover innovative solutions for a greener future.)

How Fascinating!

I once heard of an orchestra conductor who trained all of his musicians to do the following.

Whenever they made a mistake, they were to raise their hands over their heads and proclaim, “How fascinating!”

Is this not a wonderful habit? To engage our mistakes with curiosity and playfulness?

This stance releases us from the compulsion to fabricate (and dig in behind) a self-justifying narrative. (It also skips over the reflex to just give up.)

That is to say, there is more time and energy left for becoming a more loving person.

When we are habituated to this mindset, everything is an opportunity to grow.

The Way We Play

I once heard this story of a student auditioning at a school of music.  

He had exhaustively prepared his audition piece.  During the actual audition, though, the instructor interrupted him almost immediately and asked him to play it differently.

That’s great.  Now, play it at double speed.

Now, play it at half speed.

Now, play it like Adele sings. 

Now play it like Santana.

Now play it like Dylan.

The teacher wanted to see how well the student adapted to the challenge of changing his default mode.

In life, we typically have a default “way we play.”  Call it our personality, or our narrative, or our way of being.  It has helped us survive this long and do some things well.

Crucial to the skill of living artfully, though, is beginning to see this “way we play” as limited, learn to experiment with playing differently, and then watch new doors open wide.

Contribution, the Criterion

Foreign Service families move countries every few years, so that means we have to find a new faith community quite often.

Upon moving to a new country, one FS family we know asks these questions of a new faith community that they enter:  

Is this a place where I can contribute?  Is this a place where I can pour out my love, generosity, and experience? 

If “yes,” they dig in and make it their home.  If “no,” they move on and look for another.

Contribution is their criterion.

So obviously there is more to a strong faith community than that… but I would be willing to bet that this “more” would be there in a community strong enough that it seeks to involve everyone in a robust contribution party. 

I love this family’s mindset and feel appropriately challenged by it.  It is a proper antidote to how many, especially Catholics, have been habituated to engage (or not) in the church.

We are creators of culture, not merely consumers of it.

Jack Sparrow’s Indignation

Remember that moment in Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow finds himself on a different ship with cannons firing on his beloved Black Pearl? 

“Stop blowing holes in my ship!” he wildly protests.

I think that we blow holes in our ship – more than we are aware or would like to admit.

In families, when we harbor the grudge or the old way of being…

In the church, when we cling to “commentary” instead of weaving communities and offering contribution… when we polish a tiny idol rather than pray for the Mystery…

And on the earth, when we do not acknowledge what is happening and imagine a new way forward together.

For Lent, let’s give up blowing holes in our ships.

The Availability of Responsibility

Lots of things in life are scarce.

Opportunities to take responsibility are not among them.

Responsibility for one’s actions or anger or aloofness…

Or for what is happening to the earth…

Or for a languishing ministry at church, a weak workplace culture, that pile of dishes…

Or (and perhaps most importantly) for engaging that person who needs to be seen as they are…

Chances to take responsibility abound.

The opportunity to say “I’m here. How can I help?” is a grace and a gift.

A Scandalous Bargain

A great book is a scandalous bargain.  

To create such a book, an author must assemble a preliminary distillation of ideas, recognize it as worthy enough to continue, overcome waves of fear and inadequacy, show up day after day to the page to write, scrap what was written, and try again.  They then must subject these (as yet unfinished) thoughts to conversations with interlocutors who offer critique.  This feedback in hand, the writer must then undergo the discipline of considering which bits of critique to integrate and which to let go.

(And all of this assumes as a prerequisite that the person has become someone who makes things.  This is no small feat, and a place to which many would-be creators never arrive.)

But when a wise person succeeds in doing all this and offers us a great book, the experience of it is like nothing else.  

Take Consolations, for example.  For me, working through each tiny chapter is like being bowed to by an ancient fighter, then being decisively overpowered, pinned to the mat, and offered a hand back up.  The process teaches me what I was not even cognizant that I needed to learn about the experience of living.

It is scandalous that I have access to this distilled experience for the price of one book.

Dreams, Goals, or Systems

I read the following this week:

“You do not rise to the level of your dreams.  You fall to the level of your systems.” (from chapter 1 of this book)


And, ouch!!

And it might have been “goals” instead of “dreams.” (I was listening to the book while doing dishes, so I didn’t write it down.)  But I think either is true.  

Each moment that we use to simplifying our environment and sharpen our priorities into a habitual system (that gets us where we’ve decided we want to go) is time better spent than waiting for herculean motivation or unimpeachable clarity on the execution of our dreams.

Cathedrals Under Construction

Some years ago, my wife and I spent the day in the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, pictured below.

The original architect, Antoni Gaudí, hoped the basilica to be “the Bible, made of stone.” Of its uniqueness, one art critic said that “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art.”

These superlative statements are entirely deserved.  Its beauty and layers of meaning were exhausting to take in. 

And what about the crane and scaffolding in the picture? Well, they are still completing construction of the building that was consecrated as a basilica in 2010.

Wait, what?  Unfinished and consecrated?

Yes, indeed!

And so I think it is with us.  

We are also cathedrals under construction – in need of grace and good company to help us to grow and already capable of the participating in the love that is God.  When we are able, with that same grace, to hold our cathedral-ness and our under-construction-ness together, we are capable of unique and remarkable beauty.

The Other Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the daily emails I read went from two to three (when I signed up for The Daily Difference, a source of reliable and easily understandable knowledge on climate change.)

A few people asked me about the other two.  Here they are!

The Daily Meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation: Most of the meditations are adapted from the writings of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM.  They translate the depth and challenge of the Christian tradition in a way that is consistently inviting.

Seth Godin’s daily blog: Godin riffs on marketing, empathy, being a human today, and the endurance needed to make a difference.

Most days, I marvel that they give all of this away for free.