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News That Illustrates for Sunday, September 21st - September 28th

Professor Dumpster, Dumping the Bucket List, and the Upsides of Flunking Exams.

"Professor Dumpster" Speaks Out on the Community Impact of Living Simply
"One professor left his home for a 36-square-foot open-air box, and he is happier for it. How much does a person really need?" asks James Hamblin at The Atlantic. That professor, Jeff Wilson of Huston-Tillotson University, was recently living in a 2500 square foot home in the University's town of Austin, Texas. But after a divorce and other life-downsizing, he found himself contemplating a bit of a research experiment—living in a thoughtfully converted 36 square foot dumpster on University grounds. While many of the takeaways from his new life are predictable (he feels more freedom with fewer possessions, for example, one of his most profound "discoveries" is related to community. Without many of the private facilities that are "musts" in modern American life, Wilson finds himself connected to his community and neighbors in new ways—including at the humble laundromat. "'What if everybody had to go to some sort of laundromat?' Wilson posited. 'How would that shift how we have to, or get to, interact with others? I know I have met a much wider circle of people just from going to laundromats and wandering around outside of the dumpster when I would've been in there if I had a large flat screen and a La-Z Boy.'" Striving for community may be as simple as downsizing a bit, with an open mind to discover the people around us.

PREACHING ANGLES: Consumerism; Lifestyle; Simplicity; Possessions

Steve Jobs, the "Low-Tech Parent"?
A recent New York Times article has a snapshot of a conversation between late Apple founder Steve Jobs and Times writer Nick Bilton: "'So, your kids must love the iPad?' I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company's first tablet was just hitting the shelves. 'They haven't used it,' he told me. 'We limit how much technology our kids use at home.' I'm sure I responded with a gasp and dumbfounded silence. I had imagined the Jobs' household was like a nerd's paradise: that the walls were giant touch screens, the dining table was made from tiles of iPads and that iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow. Nope, Mr. Jobs told me, not even close." The point here isn't a Luddite anti-tech declaration (after all, the iPad and other key innovations are valuable tools), it's simply to remind us that moderation and boundaries, in any area of life, is often necessary for health and well being. So consider—what limits do you need to impose on yourself or your community to promote health and well-being? Even the inventors of new technology recognize the need for moderation.

PREACHING ANGLES: Boundaries; Discernment; Discretion; Family; Moderation; Parenting; Technology

Time to Empty the Bucket List?
President Obama's recent detour to Stonehenge to cross it off his "bucket list" shows the popularity of the concept—a list of things that ought to be seen or experienced before one dies. But what impact does the idea of living out a checklist have on us? While it can be inspirational and motivating, is there a dark side to the bucket? Rebecca Mead writes at The New Yorker that the bucket list, "[P]artakes of a commodification of cultural experience, in which every expedition made, and every artwork encountered, is reduced to an item on a checklist to be got through, rather than being worthy of repeated or extended engagement. Dropping by Stonehenge for ten minutes and then announcing you've crossed it off your bucket list suggests that seeing Stonehenge—or beholding the Taj Mahal, or visiting the Louvre, or observing a pride of lions slumbering under a tree in the Maasai Mara—is something that, having been done, can be considered done with." An alternative? She suggests "enduring wonder"—the acknowledgment that the most powerful things in life require commitment, something bigger than a checkmark on a proverbial list. As we ponder how we steward our lives, how deeply are we living into that enduring wonder? Are we willing to commit to the depth of time and engagement that it takes to live beyond our culture's consumer checklist mentality? God likes that depth—and is waiting for us in that "enduring wonder."

PREACHING ANGLES: Culture; Death; Life; Living; Wonder

More than Rest: Breaks Help Us Focus
Many people often think that taking a break will derail the momentum of your work but the research says otherwise. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review examines a prime benefit of taking breaks: they allow us to take a step back and make sure we're accomplishing the right things in the right way. "Studies show we have a limited capacity for concentrating over extended time periods, and though we may not be practiced at recognizing the symptoms of fatigue, they unavoidably derail our work." Rest plays a key component in how we work, and these breaks give us "goal reactivation." If you needed any more reason to weave Sabbath rest into your rhythms of life, there it is—it's good stewardship of your energy and opportunity.

PREACHING ANGLES: Breaks; Sabbath; Self-care; Rest

Flunking Exams Actually a … Good Thing?
A recent article in The New York Times highlights a new classroom learning technique—the "pre-final" test. Students take their final on the first day of class, obviously before they've learned the material. Although they fail, it positively affects how they learn for the rest of the semester, overcoming what researchers call the "fluency illusion." The article says: "The problem is that we have misjudged the depth of what we know. We are duped by a misperception of 'fluency,' believing that because facts or formulas or arguments are easy to remember right now, they will remain that way tomorrow or the next day." Once we feel like we have a subject down we move on without further study, assuming "that further study won't strengthen our memory of the material." Do we have a "fluency illusion" when it comes to Scripture? Do we think we know it better than we do and therefore put off studying the Bible and reading the Bible? What are some ways that we can overcome this illusion?

PREACHING ANGLES: Bible; Learning; Failure; Scripture; Study; Success

Flunking Exams and "Failing Forward."
According a recent article in the New York Times failing exams leads to better learning. At least when the failure happens on purpose. When a class's final was given at the beginning of the semester (students failed it of course), research revealed that the experience of taking the test altered how students tuned into the course for the rest of the semester. As the article says, "[P]sychologists have found that, in some circumstances, wrong answers on a pretest aren't merely useless guesses. Rather, the attempts themselves change how we think about and store the information contained in the questions. On some kinds of tests … we benefit from answering incorrectly by, in effect, priming our brain for what's coming later. …That is: The (bombed) pretest drives home the information in a way that studying as usual does not. We fail, but we fail forward." Failing forward—what a powerful image. In our lives, failure can play a key role in learning too. No one likes the feeling of failure, but in our weakest moments we often find the most growth, and even closeness to Jesus.

PREACHING ANGLES: Failing; Failure; Learning; Study; Success

Home Depot Hack a Reminder of Where (Not) To Put Your Trust
The Home Depot recently announced that their secure servers were hacked, putting customers' private information—including debit and credit cards—at risk. It's the latest in a series of recent reminders of the vulnerabilities of systems that we too often think of as invulnerable. Most of us don't think twice about the fact that any manmade system—any government, any business, any anything is fallible, prone to failure, and can even be exploited to harm us. So next time you swipe your debit card, take it as an opportunity to consider where you've placed your trust. Some may trust in PIN numbers, some may trust in online firewalls, but we will trust in … what?

PREACHING ANGLES: God; Failure; Faith; Faithfulness; Reliability; Trust; Trustworthiness

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