Soil, Spirit, and Permission to Leave the Hum

sabbath restShonda Rhimes has one of the most phenomenal TED talks I’ve heard in a long time. In it, she talks about “the hum.” This is that churning force that drives our constant attention to our work. It’s the energy that wakes me up at 2:00am because “THAT’S WHAT I SHOULD’VE PREACHED ON EASTER!” It’s the constant flow of always having to do, make, produce, write, plan, schedule, be better, do better, visit more, check, double check, triple check, be here, now be over there, now be both places simultaneously — anyone know what I’m talking about?

I got stressed out just writing that last sentence.

What if we stopped doing this? What if we refused to participate in the madness of the hustle — even just for a day? What if we put the iPhone down, closed the laptop, shut off the television, and talked with your spouse, your kids, a friend, your mom or dad, your brother(s) or sister(s), the mail carrier, whoever? What if for just a small period of time each week, we pretended like the work was done and we sat back to relax?

Rob Bell has a wonderful podcast about a command from the book of Leviticus, early on in the Hebrew scriptures where there was a command for farmers to work their land for six years and, on the seventh year, to “let the land lie fallow” — to let the land rest for a year. This year of not farming allows the soil to rebuild essential nutrients so that it can be fruitful and productive the next six years. The idea is that even the earth has a rhythm of work, then rest, work, then rest.

In the creation story in the book of Genesis it says that when God created human beings, we were formed out of the soil and dirt and clay. Then God breathed life into us.

We are a combination of soil and breath — soil and Spirit. So if the command from Leviticus is to let the land lie fallow every so often, then the same would hold true for us, as creatures made from soil and breath. It’s the reason that one of the 10 Commandments is about honoring the Sabbath, because by honoring the Sabbath, we’re honoring the gift of our life. We’re honoring the gift of our existence as creatures of soil and Spirit.

This can be a hard thing to initiate, to start from scratch. How do we do this? How do we let ourselves rest in a way that allows us to re-build essential nutrients in our body and soul?

It starts with giving yourself permission to do whatever you have to do to take yourself out of the hum, to let the soil and Spirit that make you who you are lie fallow for a time.

For those of you who would still like a little structure to this rest time, feel free to print out the follow permission slip, or copy/paste to a Word document and use whenever you can feel the hum start to overwhelm you.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Permission Slip

Name: _________________
Date: __________________

In defiant affirmation that my worth is not found in what I produce or accomplish, in
remembering that I am a human being, not a human doing, do hereby give myself
permission to __________________________________________.

Signed: ________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

You can do this. It’s okay. Everything will be here when you get back.

Step out of the hum. Step out of the flow.

And rejoice that God created you to be a human being, not a human doing.

Cheers,
Eric

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Books I Read in 2013

It seems that every time it comes around to write out these year-end book posts, it always gets a little crazier, and I’m always left feeling like I should have spent less time reading and more time being a productive member of society. But I didn’t. And reading is fun.

I set out to read 90 books in 2013, which is admittedly insane. I completed 2/3 of my goal — 60 books!

Presented below is a list of all of the books I read in 2013.  As I finished each book, I added them in. So this is, more or less, chronological throughout the year. Following that is some highlights and favorites. And I finish with some trivial statistics and self-indulgent nerdery. Here we go!

    https://i1.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1339602131l/8442457.jpg  https://ericclapp.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/powell.jpg                          book cover of Ways of Going Home byAlejandro Zambra                                                                    
                  

Now for the superlatives…

Favorite Fiction Book

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an incredible book in all of the ways that every review says it is. Read it with all of the awe and incredulity that’s meant to accompany its reading. Stay up late to finish it. Then later this year, go and see it in the movie theater. But whatever you do: READ. THE. BOOK. FIRST.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is another wonderful book. It’s a story that you can get lost in as it follows a boy from his childhood through adulthood in a bizarre North Korean setting. You yearn with the character as he strives to survive and thrive in the midst of a brutal totalitarian regime. Here’s an interview with Johnson (who won a Pulitzer for this book) from the SF Weekly. Check it out here.

The Circle by Dave Eggers was one of the more recent books I read and got completely lost in. If _Brave New World_ would have been written when Twitter existed, this is what Huxley would have had in mind. Very engaging story that made me question and scrutinize the way I use social media and interact with everyone for a long while after I finished.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Anything by Brené Brown! If you’ve seen some of my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that Brené was my big literary/intellectual/social work crush of 2013. It sounds weird, but I stand by it. If you’ve never read any of her books, she recommends reading The Gifts of Imperfection first, Daring Greatly second, and finish up with I Thought It Was Just Me. Highly recommend all of her stuff. Seriously. Read it. Now.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a must read for anyone who’s worried they screw up too much to be a Christian. It’s a seriously good book that deserves all of the credit it has received. The way Nadia weaves through stories — both from the Bible and from her own life — is flawless. Can’t recommend this book enough.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey is an excellent companion to Nadia’s book. Sarah is an incredibly poetic writer and beautifully explores her own experience as a follower of Jesus with the male-centric messages that are often implicit in popular (read: evangelical) Christianity. She finds that it’s actually Jesus who calls her to be a Feminist. She also writes about feminism in a loving, kind, and compassionate way as well. Again… Just read it. It’s awesome. I promise.

Statistics

Total Pages Read (compiled by using Amazon’s pages numbers for each book): 16,267

Total Pages Read (adjusted for accuracy — subtracted 10% to count for indices, footnotes, and other numbered, but not read pages.): 14,640

Pages Read Per Day: 40.1

Average Number of Days It Took to Read One Completed Book: 6.1

What were some of your favorite books from 2013? What are some that you’re looking forward to in 2014?

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2014!

Cheers,
Eric

When Comparison Kills Your Creativity

It’s been a bit of a weird week. I hadn’t posted anything on here in a few months because I was feeling in a bit of a creative drought. Then I felt pulled to comment on the whole VMA thing and touched on something pretty big. Over 900,000 hits in five days was completely unexpected — mind-blowing, actually. As soon as I started to see that post go crazy on Facebook and Twitter, I had two simultaneous, and equally frightening, questions pop up in my mind: 1) Why is this happening? and 2) What am I going to do next?

I’m sure I’ll go into the first question on many future posts, but for now we’ve arrived at the answer to the second question. What’s next? For me, it’s an exploration of comparison and creativity. I have been fervently reading through some of Brené Brown’s work and was reading up on this very topic.

As I was doing this, I received an e-mail from a woman named Kayleigh who wanted to share an article that brought up similar issues as my VMA post and, with it, she dropped some pretty incredible insight along the way. She said this:

“It is hard to be anyone in these days since comparison and the pursuit of ‘being worthy’ have become a blood sport.”

I’d never thought of comparison and the pursuit of being worthy as a blood sport, but she’s spot on. Comparison and countless attempts to prove our worth can easily draw blood and wound us. And with creative work, this is especially true. But the thing that’s different with creative work is that so many times our struggle is with self-comparison and attempts to prove our own worthiness to ourselves.

I was listening to an episode of the NPR show On Being where Krista Tippet interviews Brené Brown and a lot of this stuff comes up. Brown describes comparison as the thief of creativity. Comparison is the wet blanket that gets thrown over our creative fires — often of our own doing.

Any time we do anything creative, we put ourselves out there in a very tangible way. We write a play. We paint a portrait. We build something new. And we take a risk. Someone might look at it and reject it. And, in doing so, reject us.

How many times have you read a book and thought, “I’d love to write a book someday, but it’ll never be as good as this.”? Or listened to a song and thought, “You know I’d really like to write a song, but there’s no way to top this one.”?

As soon as we start that comparison game, our creativity starts to take a hit. Brown asserts that this is a primary entrance for shame. A lot of times our sense of self-worth can get tied into what we produce.

The adage goes like this: We’re worth something when we produce something. And not just anything, but something good. What we produce has to be worthwhile in order for us to be worthwhile. Sound familiar?

As a pastor, I feel this all the time around the sermons I write. If the sermon was really good, I think “I’m doing really great at this pastor thing.” If it falls flat, those voices of shame and inadequacy are right around the corner. And they get personal.

So how do we get out of this comparison spiral?

Make things. Build things. Create. Do.

Don’t let comparison get in the way of building what you yearn to build.

I posted a video of Ira Glass giving advice to creative people a while back. And it speaks so well to this conversation around creating outside of comparison. Check out the video here.
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[vimeo http://vimeo.com/24715531]
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Ira was particularly speaking to video producers, but it translates into any area of creativity. Build stuff. Do things. Write stories. Paint paintings. Put yourself out there. Create a HUGE volume of work.

Don’t listen to the comparison demons. Remember that creativity is a journey we’re all on in one way or another. Your creativity belongs to you and only you. So let’s get to it!

Oh, and be sure to check out Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection for so much more good stuff. A lot of the ideas in this post are derived from Guidepost #6 of this book. But the whole book is so worthwhile.

Cheers,
Eric

P.S. For those of you who are like me and interested in nerdy studies, check out a paper called The Mindlessness of Social Comparisons and its Effect on Creativity by Harvard professor Ellen Langer, Stanford psychologist Laura Delizonna, and Fordham professor Michael Pirson.

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