Resources for the Churchless Christian

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important... courage, or any other virtue, would be, this process trains us in habits of the soul, which are more important still. It cures us of our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments; and on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection. 
C . S . L E W I S ,  M E R E  C H R I S T I A N I TY 

Happy Sunday! I've mentioned here and there that my most intense periods of personal transformation have always been accompanied - or rather, catalyzed - by profound spiritual growth. I've struggled a lot with religion my entire life despite spending most of my childhood in some sort of church. But I think that's what often precedes real faith - not certainty, but tides and tides of doubt. My testimony is premature and feels half-baked still, but I swear on all I know that the deepest grief I've ever felt was the shadow of the greatest love I'll ever feel, and I survived both only with God's grace. 

I'm unqualified to share any more than that, except to note that the most intense symptom of change is often nearly unbearable pain. I feel like parts of me - ego, especially - are dying and vehemently resisting death, all at once. There are times when I feel seventeen again, in that horrible, broken place, asked to quite literally destroy parts of myself that have become parasitic: 
The pain that you are feeling cannot compare to the joy that is coming.
R O M A N S  8 : 1 8 

I hope this post doesn't indicate at all that I've become a devout Christian and feel compelled to share the gospel. I haven't. But I am trying so hard to be better, and I've found so much clarity - not yet peace, and certainly not comfort - in the genesis of this "faith journey." This time around, it doesn't feel like the Sunday School I remember. I've been doing this "churchless" -- that is to say, searching for a personal spiritual relationship rather than an institutional one. So what I'm really trying to do is share the resources I've found. Yes, ladies, despite the winding introduction, this is, per LC brand standards, yet another roundup of interesting reads and podcasts. 

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity | C.S. Lewis
This was the book that affirmed I was heading in the right direction because it predicted all of the pain and grief I would feel. Intelligent and empathetic without the frustrating sentimentality I've come to resent in (bad) Christian literature.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves | C.S. Lewis
I read in another book of a character who scorned those who held 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ("Love is patient, love is kind") in highest regard because a Godless love is only superficial love. Anybody who centers the Scripture around this bit of comfort, according to him, was missing the point. "Love" feels easy when we conflate it with desire, with affection, with our raw need to be wanted. When we think the whole point of the verse is to teach others how to love us, how to meet our carnal and emotional needs. But that is so reductive of true, infallible love.
Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: 'We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.' Need-love says of a woman 'I cannot live without her'; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection - if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

At Home in Exile, by Russell Jeung
At Home In Exile: Finding Jesus among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors | Russell Jeung
I read this two years ago when I was feeling particularly agnostic but craving Asian American literature (this was the summer of the Asian American Book Club!). At Home in Exile weaves in narratives of longing and belonging as Jeung retraces the steps of his Chinese-Hakka family and his refugee neighbors. In the face of forced relocation and institutional discrimination, his family and friends resisted time and time again over six generations. This is a testimony that reflects the God and the faith I want to belong to: one sympathetic and wholly loving of refugees, one that protects the humanity of the disenfranchised and marginalized as an essential part of Christian duty.

Transformation Church: Relationship Goals | Pastor Mike Todd
I'm still working through these on an as-needed basis, but the first of the series, "Before the Person," really resonated and provided so much Scriptural clarity on why relationships become parasitic. To summarize, there are things we search for in other people (not just in significant others, but in mentors, advisers, friends) that only God can provide for us. Those things are (1) a sense of place, (2) a purpose, (3) identity and sense of self, (4) provisions, and (5) parameters. If we look for these in people, we inevitably punish them for our own disappointment in never finding them, or being dissatisfied with their lesser versions.

It's not like any of this is unfounded for the secular; Esther Perel writes in The State of Affairs (one of my favorite books on romantic relationships) that our expectations for our partners have expanded to include all that an entire, literal village was once tasked with providing: social status, success, children, companionship, "a best friend and trusted confidant and passionate lover to boot," for an unprecedentedly long lifetime.
Task yourself with the pursuit of purpose-driven personhood, with spiritual wholeness, with unshakable faith. Then find a partner whose only role is to help. Only that is sure to last.

Fiat lux,

The Catalogue: No. 35

Thursday, July 18, 2019

San Francisco, CA, USA

Things that lived in my mind this week: 
An interesting read at the intersection of literally everything - the public and private, the privileged and not, technology and tradition: 
The Messy Reality of Personalized Learning: Untangling the mixed record of the latest big-fix educational trend promoted by Silicon Valley | E. Tammy Kim for The New Yorker
But skeptics warn that underneath the language of “student-centered” pedagogy is a tech-intensive model that undermines communal values, accelerates privatization, and turns public schools into big-data siphons. Rhode Island’s experiment with personalized learning reveals a still more complicated picture: of overworked, undervalued public-school teachers who embrace reforms in order to get what they need.
My favorite source of tension as someone with no-money is that between old-money and new-money and this is everything I wanted and more in a juicy exposé: 
The Battle of Grace Church What happened when Brooklyn’s oldest nursery school decided to become less old-fashioned? A riot among the one percent. | Jessica Pressler for New York Magazine
But not this Brooklyn. “Real Brooklyn,” as Morgano would put it. She’d been born on the border of Canarsie and Flatbush, a world away from Brooklyn Heights, which in its contemporary iteration felt, to Morgano, almost like a parody of an upper-crust enclave. The women on the board — and it was almost all women — reminded her of some of the women she’d encountered at Bank Street, who had taught for a year, then gotten married. The “diamond-ring crowd,” she’d called them. They had names like Courtney and Blake and Hatsy, and their families sounded like they’d come straight off the Mayflower. Among them were Ashley Phyfe, married to a descendant of furniture-maker Duncan Phyfe; Vicky Schippers, whose family had been in the area since land was going for wampum; Christie Coolidge-Totman. As in President Coolidge.
On the hyphenated narratives:
The Stories We Tell, and Don’t Tell, About Asian-American Lives | Hua Hsu for The New Yorker
One isn’t melancholy simply because of the experience of racism, Cheng suggests; melancholy, and its dynamics of loss and recovery, are the foundations for racial identity.
These terms descend, in part, from Freud, who described mourning as a conscious process in which we deal with the grief of losing someone or something we can identify. Melancholy, for Freud, involves a kind of grieving, too, only we are at pains to identify what we have lost. Our inability to comprehend the reason for our melancholia pushes us further into our subconscious depths, and manifests as a kind of permanent mourning. To Eng and Han, this phenomenon seemed akin to the “interminable sadness” of many of their students. Perhaps the dislocations of immigration and assimilation had something to do with their inability to identify what they had lost.
A perfect segue into the next section on podcasts, the most obnoxious and ubiquitous of aspirational class signals: 
Friends of the Pod | n+1 Magazine
The more culture we consume and process alone, on our computers and phones, the more we appreciate the company of others who, in dishing about our common interests, can approximate the collectivity we crave.
Did we actually learn anything useful from these people, or just suffer through for a moment of company? Did we stay for that little high of accruing knowledge, however thin? At least now we’re armed with a collection of blithe anecdotes, prepped for retelling. At the next party we can all just talk about what we heard on this week’s podcasts. It doesn’t matter if we remember what they say, or if it’s all nonsense. This is friendship.
More nerdiness about self-improvement: 
To Be Better at Planning, Get to Know Your Future Self | Lesley Alderman
One strategy involves a visualization trick: Take a moment to imagine yourself 10 and 20 years from now. (The studies involved computer-aged renderings of participants’ faces, but your imagination works, too.) Make that image vivid, positive, and specific: What does this person like? Love? What drives then? What brings them joy?
Try writing a letter to the future you. Tell your new pen pal a bit about yourself now and who you hope to become, and imagine what they might write back.
Practice regularly, and eventually, you’ll start to feel a kinship to that person in your mind. The more you feel connected to that future you, the better able you will be to anticipate what that person will need and desire.
These exercises may feel silly, but they make the hypothetical more concrete. They give you an endpoint, a goal to work toward, a connection to grab onto: Here is the person you will become, and you want to make sure that person is happy when they finally materialize. Suddenly, the ripple effect of your decisions is clear.
It begins with "I'm a self-improvement junkie." Girl, same: 
Surrounding Yourself With Positive People Isn’t Always the Best Choice | Jamie Anderson for Human Parts
At a time when everyone is so hyper-focused on self-improvement (myself included), have we become so preoccupied with helping ourselves that we’re turning away from the people who need us the most, merely because they don’t provide us with any benefits?
Yes, it is obviously important to want to be happier and more successful, and we all deserve to be happier and more successful. But if we’re only surrounding ourselves with happy, positive, smart, thin, successful, beautiful people, where do the rest of us go? What about those of us who need a bit of a boost sometimes? What about those who need a boost from us?

This is not democracy - spreading lies in darkness. It's subversion. And it is not about left or right, or leave or remain, or Trump or not. It's about whether it's actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. As it stands, I don't think it is. 
C A R O L E  C A D W A L L A D R x T E D 

Digital Manipulation | TED Radio Hour
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use.
The hardest thing for people is to give themselves permission to believe that there is no right answer to who they are and who they want to be; but there are many good answers.  
D A V E  E V A N S x T H E  G O O P  P O D C A S T

How to Prototype Your Life | The goop Podcast
Across the board, people tend to be terrible at answering the question “What do I want to do with my life?” Dave Evans, a coauthor of Designing Your Life, is one of the two masterminds behind the popular Stanford program that teaches students how to figure this out. With Bill Burnett, he’s created a playbook that anyone can follow to design a life that’s meaningful to them. Evans reminds us that there isn’t one best version of our life—there are a lot of good versions. He shows us how to prototype and pick from these different realities, and he convinces us not to bother with predictions. He tells us why the current career model is broken, why we sometimes get stuck in jobs we don’t like, and how we can more effectively navigate the hiring process. Get curious, talk to people, try stuff, tell your story, Evans says. And whatever you do: Start where you are.
We're repeating these behaviors despite adverse consequences; and often, we're not even aware of it. It's insidious. 
J U D S ON  B R E W E R x T H E  G O O P  P O D C A S T

Why We Crave | The good Podcast
We’re all addicts, according to Judson Brewer, author of The Craving Mind, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center, and associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University. Consider our everyday habits—scrolling through Instagram, stress-eating, sugar, more sugar. Our habits, Brewer says, run our lives. And we get fooled into thinking we need just a little more willpower to make a change, quit smoking, drop an addiction. But willpower is finite and often not enough. Which is why Brewer is using research-based mindfulness techniques to help people understand and overcome their cravings. Part of this work is learning to bring curiosity to the roots of your cravings—and compassion to yourself.

I know that joy is a revolutionary act because it is how I survive.
B R I T T A N Y  P A C K N E T T x T H E  C U T  O N  T U E S D A Y S 

Brittany Packnett on Speaking the Truth | The Cut on Tuesdays
On this week’s How I Get It Done podcast episode, Stella Bugbee talks to Brittany Packnett, the prominent activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to stop police violence. Brittany became a leader in the fight against police brutality in 2014, following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and was appointed to the Task Force on 21st Century Policing by President Obama, who once said that her voice “is going to make a difference for years to come.” Stella and Brittany discussed the first protest she ever attended, how she deals mentally and physically with death threats, and what role grief has played in her life and work.

I'm trying really hard to focus my OCL posts on personal development/intellectual and spiritual growth and avoid the terrible blogger philosophy of rampant consumerism, buuut here are things on my radar: 

This 15-piece collection of teeny-tiny brushes for teeny-tiny details. You'll see why soon. Maybe. 

This Frederick Douglass print from Obvious State. I intend to cover my firstborn's nursery with their literary art prints (no such child exists or is in the pipeline at all, FYI). 


Imagine every day you wake up to wild commitment. Wild as in not the same place, but the moving place, playing place, changing place. When I write through my happiness, I commit to it again: I commit to feeling, deeply, not what happiness I have but how I came to orbit around it, attract it, cherish it. I fall asleep and wake up. If there's a thing I want to teach me, it's how I live my light. 
Yanyi, The Year of Blue Water

With love always,

The Catalogue: No. 32

Saturday, July 13, 2019

New York, NY, USA

I am super behind on blogging, but have no excuses for myself other than just general burn out from living life. Here are some articles on how to take time for yourself, something I'm still learning since I always turn to TV/sleep/food when stressed and tired. I could definitely learn something from LC do as she suggests in her blog post on taking productive personal days off.

The Case For Doing Nothing | Olga Mecking for The New York Times
Perhaps it’s time to stop all this busyness. Being busy — if we even are busy — is rarely the status indicator we’ve come to believe it is. Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention millennial burnout.
Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time: The Benefits of Mentally Disengaging From Work | Sabine Sonnentag in Association for Psychological Science
Psychological detachment from work during leisure time refers to a state in which people mentally disconnect from work and do not think about job-related issues when they are away from their job. Empirical research has shown that employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain, without being less engaged while at work. Studies have demonstrated that fluctuations in individuals’ psychological detachment from work can explain fluctuations in their affective states, and have identified positive relations between detachment from work during off-hours and job performance. Trait negative affectivity, high involvement in one’s job, job stressors, and poor environmental conditions are negatively related to psychological detachment from work during off-job time. 
The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time | Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz for Harvard Business Review
Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead. […] But cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.
Why Doing Nothing Is One of the Most Important Things You Can Do | Brian O'Connor for Time
If we are lucky enough to accomplish one thing, another seemingly compelling challenge — or even just an after-hours email — steps in to give us a new worry. […] Great philosophers have argued that we have nothing to learn from ways of life that exists outside the busy world of western civilization. But if we have some hunch that the world we have today demands too much effort in return for too little happiness, we could do worse than to see what we can learn from those other forms of living. The potential in idleness for greater freedom seems worth the exploration.
With love and silence,

In Favor of Productive Personal Days Off

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

San Francisco, CA, USA

Sometime in my short professional career, I think my manager and I came to an implicit understanding that I would be the best little worker bee of all time on my days on, granted I'd get to take a millennial-y indulgent number of days off. A couple of luxuries make this possible: a fairly autonomous position; an unlimited/flex PTO corporate policy; an established personal brand that I am absolutely not a slacker and am probably doubly productive when out of office. No indications yet that being OOO so often will stunt my career in the long run, but for now these frequent personal days empower my most well-rounded, well-read, well-examined self.
Below, some snippets of one of my favorite days off ever and some tips on making the most of your days away from your desk.

01. Pregame your personal days

One day, somebody will tell me that pregaming an event does not, in fact, refer to the art of writing a to-do list ahead of time. But my idea of a good time is neurotic personal administrative tasks, so here we are. Whenever I anticipate taking a day off, I write an exhaustive list of everything that might be nice to get done - from my non-profit design work to a reformer Pilates class to writing OCL posts. Then I set deadlines and prioritize accordingly. Only 10% of what *could* get done probably should, so my final to-do list tends to be only 3-4 specific tasks from the dozens of options on my radar. For extra credit, highlight the absolutely-need-to-do tasks, but have a few secondary probably-better-to-do action items in case you're more efficient than you thought.

For me, the key to not wasting my days off napping and eating Hot Pockets is to just have absolutely no excuse to stay/go home. Pack a portable office with everything you'll need, from a gym kit to all of your chargers to snacks to that travel watercolor kit you bought in younger, more optimistic days. Because you never know when you might start bursting with the impulse to paint famous urban architecture, idk.

02. Have a go-to indulgence so that a productive day off still feels like a luxury
I honestly couldn't tell you whether I actually enjoy the taste of cold brew or the intellectual aesthetic of one, but my go-to aphrodisiac is an extremely expensive iced coffee that, for around $6, allows me to enjoy the air conditioning, wi-fi, and general energy of a bright, sunny cafe for a couple hours.

I also take the "personal" part of a "personal day" pretty seriously; as with most things, I'm a little *extra* when it comes to self-development and think that we should all take a proactive approach to sorting out our mental health and spiritual growth. On a good day, my AM cold brew is an opportunity for some earnest journaling (see: 4 Journaling Exercises for Self-Actualization), a bit of work on my faith journey - which is still very new - and some pleasure reading. On a less-good day, I probably order a muffin too and scroll through Reddit, which is honestly an okay alternative.

Today, I read Esmé Weijun Wang's The Collected Schizophrenias and re-studied some Scripture about anger management (lol, long story). I also debated getting a CBD Kombucha from Klatch before realizing I'm frankly not cool or interesting enough for that sort of thing.

The aforementioned to-do list can wait; take a couple hours for yourself, whatever that looks like.

03. Try something out of your comfort zone
I don't do this nearly as often as I'd like, though my comfort zone is honestly so tiny that ordering a latte instead of a cold brew is probably a wild move in and of itself. But once in a while, I try to engage in something that gets me excited about a life beyond the gray toil of the corporate world. Last week, I attempted a solo hike (attempted being the operative word because I have zero physical fortitude). Today, it was my first-ever modern calligraphy class with Brown Fox Calligraphy. And as I sit here, post-class, typing away in a library, I'm reminded that keeping art in my life requires a lot of work, but it's always worthwhile and brings me closer to being someone I'm proud of.
Other creative pursuits: Skillshare classes, urban sketching, reading children's books, volunteering/community service, this blog basically, and the vast world of Pinterest DIYs.

I guess what I'm trying to argue about personal days off is that, when taken intentionally, they've helped me combat a lot of burnout and creative restlessness. They have also been the singularly best thing for my most important project: taking care of myself emotionally so that others don't have to. I turn 23 this week, and my chief concern for this next phase of my life is ownership over my happiness, peace, and development. I'm deeply unhappy when I feel defined by a 9-to-5 career; I also can't live without the stability of one. Personal days feel like a happy compromise that have completely revitalized and enhanced every aspect of my career and life beyond it. I can work on myself so that the version of me that shows up to work is a smarter, more empathetic one. I can explore ancillary and random passions, none of which have ever led me to a dull or dark place. And I can inch towards the person I was meant to become -- arguably the most important of all pursuits.

I'll end with this thought from Rilke that resonated today:
Think of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will; whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning toward your own future – only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you. What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love; you must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people.

With love always,

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