Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Library Bag Favorite: Adventurous Alphabet

Just wanted to get up a quick post about an adorable ABC picture book, LMNO Peas, by Keith Baker. We checked this out at our local library last week, and I'm considering buying it because of the whimsical painted illustrations, clever and quick-paced rhymes and unconventional approach of using actions rather than things to demonstrate each letter sound. The peas in this book pursue many adventurous and interesting occupations, from underwater diving to zoology. I liked that many of the words promoted exploring and creating- two activities I hope to champion in my household!

My five-year-old and my two-year-old both requested this book several times.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Purpose-driven simplicity: Some thoughts on "Organized Simplicity"

So the book I was trying to find when I found Richard Foster's "Freedom of Simplicity," was Tsh Oxenreider's Organized Simplicity, which I've borrowed from the library and am reading now.

Despite the shared keyword "simplicity," these two books are worlds apart: one written by a theologian, the other by a homeschooling homemaking maven and blogger. Yet, if I were to draw up a Venn diagram, there is actually quite a bit of overlap between the two books. Both authors are Christian, both advocate not buying in to the materialistic, debt-inducing culture of "more," both argue that busyness isn't a sign of success, and both urge a single, unified purpose in all we do. Oxenreider views this purpose as something a married couple should determine together for their entire family, and to even draw up a formal family purpose statement to serve as a reminder of that "true north."  While Foster's book is written for hungry, "meat"-eating Christians, Oxenreider tries to appeal to a broader audience by leaving life's ultimate purpose open ended. 

While my husband initially chaffed against the idea of writing up a mission statement, I liked the idea of pondering what kind of memories I want my three boys to have of their childhoods. I want to consider what traits, values and even culture I want to leave them as a legacy. Figuring out what should make our little Parrino clan unique goes a long way toward actually making deliberate decisions and actions toward becoming what we envision. And that leads to a simpler life as we shed obligations, time commitments, and material possessions that run counter to our purpose. So, I decided to try my hand at jotting down some dreams for my family. I have not arrived at the concise mission statement stage yet-- and to be honest, I might not ever if I can't bring Joe around to the idea of it-- but at least my scattered wishful thought are starting to take shape as a more complete vision for how our family should operate. 

Just for fun, I'll share my hopes with the blogosphere:

I want to...
  • Cook with my boys once a week
  • Send them outside to play every day that's dry and above freezing
  • Cultivate daily journaling once they're able to write
  • Read Bible and pray before bed
  • Go on monthly daddy-son or mommy-son dates with each boy
  • As soon as Stephen can drive, pay for he and Rockam to grab dinner together
  • As soon as Rockam can drive, do the same for Oliver
  • World travel, possibly alternating years with Joe and each boy
  • Create a culture of giving over getting or wanting
  • Weekly evening unplugged to read or create
  • Each son can have one extracurricular of his choice at a time
  • We'll appreciate nature and art
  • We'll delve into history and geography
  • We'll appreciate and accept other Christian traditions, taking note of the true, lovely and noble in other believers
  • We prize creativity, humility and sincerity 
  • Holidays will center on meaningful, historically accurate, spiritual and fun activities-- not on consumerism or excessive gluttony.
  • We'll all learn to budget and give away money
  • We'll champion the oppressed
  • We'll respect and honor women
  • We'll nurture a servant heart and love our neighbors
  • We'll entertain dinner guests weekly and treat them generously and ask them lots of questions 
  • We'll try new foods and value healthy eating
  • We'll fast and find ways to experience solidarity with oppressed people groups
  • We'll get comfortable praying together
  • We'll hike, picnic, explore and camp
  • We'll live abroad for a season

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feedom of Simplicity: A Money Experiment

As I mentioned Sunday, I wanted to take some time to mention some of Foster's specific proposals for living a simpler, more God-centered life. I was surprised how specific he got in the second half of the book. Indeed, Foster himself cautions readers not to seize on any of his proposals as rules by which to judge or control others. He warns against "our tendency to turn any expression of our simplicity into a new legalism. How quickly we calcify what should always remain alive and changing." Yet, in his defense, the author says that to resist laying down any practical guidelines means we reinforce the legalism of the status quo. New Testament writers like the apostle Peter felt the liberty to address issues of their time and culture (braided hair and fancy robes anyone?) as excesses unbecoming for a Christian. Just as Peter spoke to particulars of his day, "our task is to discern what constitute ostentatious elitism today, and speak to that situation" and to "walk the narrow path of precision without legalism."

I thought I could just clack out a round up of practical tips I gleaned from this book, but I've been working on this post for a couple of hours now (with numerous interruptions from the littles) and I think I might just have to digest this book more gradually over several posts. Foster launches a discussion of specific financial steps we can take toward simplicity with the topic of voluntary poverty. This was a little jarring, even from where I sat reading in my modest starter home and stained decade-old sofa. Foster said that choosing to live with nothing was akin to pulling off the Band-Aid all at once. It hurts, but then once you're free of possessions, you don't really have to think about what to keep or give away. Simplicity, right? Of course, this lifestyle, adopted by Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, needs to be born out of a specific calling from God. So, for the rest of us, Foster proposes:

A tiny experiment in voluntary poverty that many of us could do with genuine profit as God prompts us. We can go through our home, find one possession that we value, and consider, "Am I growing too attached to this object? Is it becoming a treasure to me?" Having examined our hearts before the Lord, let us give it away. We must not rationalize by saying, "But after searching my heart I know that it is clearly not a treasure to me, and so I don't need to give it away." If it is truly not our treasure, we will not mind in the least giving it away; and if it has become our treasure, we will want to give it away for our soul's sake. Also we will pray for the person who receives our little gift, that it will be a blessing, and not a hindrance, to his or her walk with God.

So, my immediate thought is that this little experiment, if applied to everything we own, would ultimately lead to voluntary poverty as every item we own is either a treasure to be severed or not a treasure and therefore easy to give a way! But I decided to try it anyway.

 A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a review of Becoming, the magazine Bible for women, and mentioned that I planned to give it away. Well, I'm ashamed to say it has sat on a little table in my living room ever since. It is clearly not a treasure to me, and yet, I never took deliberate steps to give it away, as I felt moved to do! Happily, my good friend, Tracey, is coming over after work to pick up the bible and bring it to jail with her, where she ministers to women hungry for God. I'm praying that this magazine, thick with simple articles and scripture, will feed one or many women-- I believe that the Spartan environment in the jail makes many of them hungry to read.

So, my next tiny "experiment" is a little different. I've decided to forgo buying Stephen's kindergarten pictures. I take tons of photos of all three of my sons, many of which can be seen on one of my other blogs, The Daily Munchie. I was filling out the envelope for the photos, due today no less, when I realized that I don't have to purchase a photo package. It's not a sign I don't love my son or want to capture memories of him at each milestone. And my relatives won't love me any less if I give them candid shots of my sons instead of the posed, somewhat awkward portrait the professional took. Now, don't get me wrong, I like to support local businesses and believe that artists, like portrait photographers, do important work. But I decided to listen this time and to get into the "divine Center," and I found out I don't need to possess those photos after all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Link Likes:11/11/13

I'm still getting into the swing of things on this blog, but here's a few interesting reads that caught my eye from the last two weeks.

Comparisons Kill
Some lovely, heartening imagery Ann Voskamp, with How the Hidden Dangers of Comparison are Killing Us (and Our Daughters): The Measuring Stick Principle

"The world isn’t a forest of measuring sticks. The world is a forest of burning bushes. Everything isn’t a marker to make you feel behind or ahead; everything is a flame to make you see GOD is here. That God is working through this person’s life, that God is redeeming that person’s life, that God is igniting this work, that God is present here in this mess, that God is using even this."

History of Sleep
This post from the Slumber Wise blog made me feel like my nursing momma schedule of reading or praying at 2 a.m. isn't so awful after all.  The most interesting part of this post is the comment section, where hundreds of readers confirm they still sleep like their ancestors.:
Your Ancestors Didn't Sleep Like You - from the Slumber Wise blog

We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.
Church without God
I found the photos that accompany this article require a chilling double-take. Reading this should spur some serious reflection on the true reasons we attend church and how we "do" church:
The Rise of Atheist "Mega-Churches" - An AP article by Gillian Flaccus.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of "Lean on Me," ''Here Comes the Sun" and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.
Backpack Culture
And something lighter-hearted for my fellow late-Gen Xers/early-Millennials:
Forrest Wickman's  When Did Two-Strapping Get Cooler Than One-Strapping?
(For the record, I remember switching from one strap to two when I entered college in 1996)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Refections on "Freedom of Simplicity" (Part 1)

I've mentioned in previous posts my interest in simplicity. Lately, I've been pondering how I can simplify my life, pare down my possessions and live more purposefully. Over the last year or so, I've also been grappling with social justice and how to live a good life without diminishing the lives of others.

I stumbled upon Richard J. Foster's Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World while searching my library's ebook catalog for another book with "simplicity" in its title. I devoured this book in three days and feel like God must have arranged it that way!

"Freedom of Simplicity," despite being originally penned in the late 80s, felt so current and resonant to me. Foster spends the first portion of the book putting the idea of simplicity within the context of discipleship and seeking the kingdom of God first. He emphasizes the need for having a single eye for Christ (Matt 6:22) and striving to find ourselves in Him, or in obedience to the "Divine Center," as he puts it. The author takes readers on a whirlwind tour of Christians through out history who practiced the spiritual discipline of simplicity to show that intentional living and Christian minimalism aren't new concepts. I found myself highlighting the names of theses saints who went before, eager to learn and read more about their lives.

After a rather lengthy disclaimer that simplicity will look different for each individual based on the specific place, time and ministry in which God has placed them, Foster takes a risk and opens up a world of specific examples of what simplicity might look like in our lives. He touches on the culture of consumerism, materialism, busyness in order to be approved by others, unsustainable habits, exaggerated speech, social injustice and environmental destruction, all of which prevent Christians from a simple, single, effective walk with Christ.

I won't lie, some of his proposals made me squirm... especially the chapter on finances, but through it all, I felt my heart nodding slowly in agreement. I want to unpack some of the things Foster writes in my next post and some of my own ideas spurred by the practical suggestions he offers for living blamelessly in the world, but not of it. I would love to get together with some good friends and digest this book in community... anyone interested?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Living Artfully: Reflections on "A Million Little Ways"

I just finished Emily P. Freeman's new book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, which intrigued me because I've been going through a season of trying to live with a more purposeful, deliberate mindset. Freeman's premise is that just as God is the Master Artist who created the universe and you and I from the dust of the ground, we are made in His image as both his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and as his co-laborers that create the art of declaring His glory when we live full, abundant lives in Him. She also briefly points out the original Greek for "masterpiece" is "poiema," the root of the modern English word "poem." This is not a scripture heavy read, but her thoughts flow from this biblical insight in a way that could inspire readers out of a ho-hum, hum-drum existence into a freedom to pursue the skills and creative endeavors that make them feel "fully alive." The book is broken into three parts, with the first part explaining how she defines the artist and artwork, the second part offering exercises to uncover your inner artist and preferred medium, and the third gently nudging you toward unselfishly making art regardless of your misgivings.

What exactly is Art?
While "art" is in the tagline of the book, Freeman tries to be inclusive by stretching the definition to include things like calculating, doctoring, train building, mothering and other skills that don't necessarily seem very artsy. I appreciate that the author wanted to inspire even those who never liked art class, but I don't think she needed to try to convince such a broad audience. The majority of readers interested in this book probably already have some aspirations to traditional artistry- be it cooking, woodworking, storytelling or crafting. I also found that trying to apply the artist metaphor too broadly made it harder for me to really uncover my own God-destined artwork. As a mom of three, when I read that mothering is included in valid artistic endeavors, I initially felt a little deflated and discouraged from pursuing my lofty, crazy ideas (currently, to write and illustrate one children's book each year and to get this blog up and running enough that people will start sending me free books to honestly review :). I'm passionate about my kids, but should mothering be enough for me? However, further reading found me nodding my head in agreement with Freeman once again.

In particular, Freeman proposes on p. 40 that there isn't necessarily One Big Thing you or I were put on this earth to do, other than to glorify the One whose image we bear, and we do this in many ways, if not millions of little ways each day throughout our lives. I love this concept. It takes the pressure off me to produce something for my own glory and it helps me see each task as an important opportunity to live fully in the moment and fully for God.

Freedom to Find Your Art
As I mentioned earlier, the book's second section suggests various ways of discovering one's hidden artist potential. Freeman uses examples from her own journey as a writer to show how we can find clues in our childhood dreams and preferences, remember our source in God, face our inner and external critics and take our craziest ideas seriously to ultimately uncover the art bubbling beneath the surface of our lives.

Two decades ago, when I was a teenager falling in love with Jesus, I would have never imagined that I was supposed to stir up those inner longings to create. My Christian upbringing was of the variety that discouraged introspection and cultivating one's identity apart from Christ. Even as a grade-schooler, I knew I was good at writing and enjoyed art, but I chose to pursue a college degree in biology because it seemed so much more practical and less likely to seduce my soul away from my First Love. Though I eventually ended up a writer (via an extremely circuitous route that took me to Asia and back), I often wonder what would have happened if I had felt the freedom to cultivate and cherish my God-given identity and skills from the get-go. I wish a book like "A Million Little Ways" had existed for me back then.

Overcome the Barriers to Releasing Your Art
In the third part of her book, Freeman discusses the many distractions opposing our newfound decision to take a go at making art.

When we finally admit there is something within us worth offering, when we finally recognize we have the ability, privilege, and calling to influence our families, our workmates, our neighbors, and our world in a way only we can, there still may be one statement that comes heavy with question: I don't feel qualified for the job. (124)

In addition to issues with self-confidence that might preclude us from saying "yes" to the task God's laid out before us, Freeman discusses the problem of not being able to say "no" to obligations that force us to put off more creative endeavors. Furthermore, Freeman argues we should view limitations, such as time or finances, not as signs to hold off on creating, but as challenges to fuel creativity. After all, didn't God limit Himself in a human body in order to do His great work on the cross?

Finally, the author reminds her readers that releasing art is not for self-glory.  I love this quote from page 152, where Freeman describes how the finished product-- a book, in her case--is not actually the most important creation happening:

The real art is the invisible work happening in the depths of my soul as I uncover, sink, see, listen, and wait. The book is just the souvenir. There is hope within you too, a desire longing for completion. It may not be a tangible work you can hold and point to. Your souvenir may be a relationship, an education, an investment, a charitable cause. As you stare at the stone of the hoped-for souvenir, remember the deeper work happening within you, where your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Having this view makes the pursuit of art not for art's sake seem more than worthwhile-- it seems to be what we were all made for and commissioned to do.

At the conclusion, Freeman encourages readers not to just strive to discover their art and share it with others, but to also encourage fellow artist-friends. I highlighted this passage as a hint of what such a artist community might look like:

If you are a surgeon or a dentist, we want your bag of skills. Use your training and your technique on me, I've got a cavity. But if you are a friend, leave your bag at the door. I don't need an expert. I need an artist. I need someone who will be willing to show up and let me be a mystery, someone who will appreciate me as a fellow image bearer, someone who looks to Jesus as their ultimate security and doesn't need me to be okay so they'll feel better.

I long for someone to be willing to ask me questions, not for the sake of knowing the answer, but for the delight of knowing me.

I echo Freeman's longing in my own creative journey and aspire to be such a generous friend to others so we can all express the little sparkling facet of God we were made to reflect.

Who Should Get This Book?
I heartily recommend this book for someone who feels a little aimless in their Christian walk or who might be pent up and discouraged in a church setting that looks down on non-conformity. The book is written in a meandering style, which despite being organized into several sections, chapters and subheadings, might feel a little disorganized to those looking for a clear how-to-be-the-artist-you-never-dreamed-you-could-be manual. But, if you're like me, and you appreciate an author who humbly shows vulnerability in her writing and don't mind mining through slightly rambling prose on a hunt for gems of wisdom, then you'll be rewarded with plenty of nuggets to encourage, enlighten and inspire you.