Saturday, August 8, 2015

I've moved!

Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I've decided to switch website editors and domains.  Please hop on over to visit me at http://emilyrowellbrown.com and bookmark the page for the future!

I've got some fun changes in store so I hope you join me.  (This blog will stay up for archival purposes but it will no longer be updated.)


Head to the new site!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A little bit of sabbath


Things have been quiet here on the blog lately.  Anyone who works in the church tends to get a little bit overwhelmed around Eastertime, and I am no exception.  As Dan and I have been preparing for some life changes (my ordination in May, for one!), I have found myself needing to take a breather, and the first thing to go has been the blog.

I'll be back, I hope sooner rather than later.  Until then, I'll be trying to enjoy some rest in between the joy, busyness, and bustle of springtime and the new life it brings.  May you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter (if you celebrate) and a happy spring!

xoxo
Emily

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why routines rule


It's 8 p.m. right now, which means that Dan and I have finished dinner, cleaned the kitchen, and retreated to our offices.  At 9 p.m. we'll head to the couch to watch a show together--The Good Wife or Revenge on a Monday, Scandal on a Friday or Saturday.  More days than not look the same for us.  We eat dinner at the same time unless we need to stay late for work, we each cook on our assigned nights, we do laundry on weekends and fold the clean clothes in front of the TV.

My eyes practically glaze over when I rehearse our schedule.  I wonder: Is there such thing as too much routine?  Can routine become a hindrance more than a help, suffocating rather than life giving?

Routine is in my blood and my bones.  I am an Episcopalian, after all, part of a tradition that prides itself on its highly structured liturgy, where the philosophy is, if it's not mentioned in the prayer book, we don't need it. During my childhood, my family ate regular dinners together and rearranged our furniture around the same way each year when we chose our Christmas tree.  We ate Krispy Kreme donuts the day before school began and bought the exact same kind of vanilla ice cream every time we went to the grocery store.  Familiarity trumped novelty times a million.

So this routine thing is not something new, but the degree to which I live according to routine may have reached an unprecedented level.  I can name plenty of reasons why routines help us, but I wonder at what point there are diminishing returns.  If routines can
  • reduce the number of decisions we have to make each day
  • allow us to structure our time more effectively (by reducing said decisions and combining errands and similar tasks)
  • relieve our anxiety about unknowns
  • provide us with opportunities to anticipate pleasant parts of the future
  • and, most importantly, give meaning to the chaos of our seemingly random lives,
then, is the reverse extreme not also true?  Routines hold the capacity to
  • render us unable to see choice or decision in our day
  • discourage spontaneity and opportunities for refreshment
  • eliminate mystery and surprise
  • provide us with opportunities to fear and dread unpleasant parts of the future
  • and predetermine the meaning of our lives.

It's a thought experiment, overstated for effect, but it raises questions worth asking.  I will not explore those questions here because right now, I simply want to revel in the healing power of routine.

The amount of change Dan and I have experienced in the past five years--deaths of loved ones, deployment, major moves, new jobs, renovations, major illnesses striking important people in our lives--has made routine all the more essential.  Our homes, our cities, our careers, and our families, nearly every one of our sources of stability, may change, but there are some things we can always count on, rituals which tether us to one another and keep us from floating away into a world of complete randomness and chaos.

The Google Calendar-synced grocery list, for me, is not simply about habit or time management or healthy living goals, although I suppose it is all those things.  It is sacred.  It is as sacred as the prayers we read on Sunday at church or the "I love you" my family says before hanging up the phone.


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Monday, March 16, 2015

On my nightstand: March edition

Here's a look at what I've been reading this month. To see more of what I've been reading or to trade book recommendations, follow me on Goodreads. I'd love to hear about any recent literary gems you've found (or books that I shouldn't waste my time reading)!


Quite the tearjerker (and I say that as someone who does not cry easily).  This book follows the unlikely friendship-turned-something-more between a small town girl and a worldly quadriplegic.  Not only is the story good, but the questions and perspectives the author raises on euthanasia and disability make the book a worthwhile read.


I finally read the novel everyone went crazy over the past few summers, and I found it entertaining, but certainly not deserving of the hype (but rarely can a book live up to that level of buildup).  If you want a page-turner and to experience an author play with unreliable narrators, this is your book.

Anne Lamott's stuff is always good, but be forewarned that much of this material is recycled.  If you have read her other work, this may be the one to skip.   But her essay on her dog Sadie gets me every time.  Her writing, as usual, is irreverent and poetic, profound and sweet and true.


I love Nate Berkus's design sense but not his writing.  Partly my issue was with the Kindle version of this book: the book depended heavily on pictures of other people's homes, and the images just did not translate well on my screen.  But mostly, my complaint was with the book's composition.  Each chapter traced a significant actor in Berkus's life, an organizational method that seemed promising, but we learned little about the people or emotions behind the things.


Do you ever wonder what implications technology has for how countries relate to one another, how safe our futures really are, or how close we are to becoming a "Big Brother" state?  That's basically the question of this book, but the authors who answer are not alarmists but informed speculators.  The book is a thought exercise, not exactly a prediction or prescription, but it got my wheels turning about just how deeply and broadly our connectivity affects our world.


I'm linking up to Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit (a monthly book review linkup). To see more book reviews, head over to the site!




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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Creating empty spaces


For Lent, when I was younger, I would give things up: chocolate, soda, ice cream (you have to understand that in my childhood home, where no fewer than six pints of Ben and Jerry's or Haagen Daaz would be in our freezer at any given time, that was a real struggle).  As I grew older, and Lent-motivated renunciations of food groups seemed to have more to do with dieting or body image than spirituality, at least among my peers, I shied away from fasting and abstaining.  I took on practices like reading the Bible or a devotional book, praying more frequently, and meditating.

But lately, I have been coming back around to the idea of removing, of stripping away that which is not essential.  One of my favorite professors at Vanderbilt spoke about Lent as a time of "spring cleaning," clearing clutter.  The parts of the faith that add dead weight--whether the crap that inevitably builds up in the church storage--ahem, I mean "teen"--room, the frenetic, anxious energy of our nightly prayers, the self-hatred accompanying indulgence in sweets--can be shoved away to make room for new life.

The pace at which life now seems to move makes this way of understanding Lent particularly compelling.  Like nearly everyone else I know, I feel pulled in millions of different directions, perpetually distracted, scattered, which does little for my ability to be present in the moment, ready to discern and respond to how God is calling.  So this Lent, I'm trying not to do much of anything.  When I cook dinner, instead of immediately queuing up a podcast, I chop vegetables silently.  At night, as I turn out my bedside lamp, I put down the book I'm reading and remain still before launching into prayer.  In the car, as much as it pains me, I'll spend part of my commute simply staring at the road, not listening to the radio or making a phone call or somehow otherwise multitasking as I always am wont to do.

How is it going so far?  It's hard, it's really hard.

I worry about what the constant opportunities for stimulation do to our creativity--a distraction is only the touch of an electronic device away--and I see how much the wiring of my brain has changed in the years since the smartphone.  Yet even more important than my growing awareness of my diminishing brainpower is the realization that life becomes one-dimensional when I am always splitting my attention.  I miss the sharp smell of the onion as I'm slicing thin ribbons for a pasta dish, the delicate coating of the last remnants of snow on tree branches, the small tremble of my dog Gigi's body as she gingerly ventures into the ice coated pond by our house.  I blast my own noise over the intimate but subtle ways God reaches out by planting seeds in my imagination, pulling on my heartstrings, attuning me to the world's hungers and pains and joys and beauty.  I fill up every empty space so that God can hardly seep in because I have left no room.

God is in the margins.  That's what I'm learning this Lent.


Do you observe Lent?  What have you discovered?  Or, have you found the pull of devices and distractions to be strong in your own life?


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