Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On OR In Which We Explore the Utterly Perplexing Art of Decluttering With Joy

I have a lot of ordained and theologically trained colleagues, which is a wonderful blessing. Our staff and board functions tend to start with a meditation/devotion/prayer, and in the "old days" when I first started I was part of a rotation, so I only had to prepare one or two per year. A combination of a smaller staff and my role as a Vice President means I can't really duck the responsibility any longer. This past weekend the staff came together, and I was asked to give one of the closing devotions. When it came time I thought my boss had forgotten, but no... So I gave the caveat that I was nervous mainly because I had combined two very separate resources into one devotion (when really I was freaked out because the people around the table are MUCH MORE qualified) to speak on such topics. Since it was well-received and because perhaps other people need help in keeping calm, I share my devotion with you:

Excerpts from Kristin van Ogtrop’s article which appears in the April 04, 2016 issue of TIME and Max Lucado, God Will Carry YouThrough

In the days leading up to the war with Germany, the British government commissioned a series of posters. The idea was to capture encouraging slogans on paper and distribute them about the country. Capital letters in a distinct typeface were used, and a simple two-color format was selected. The only graphic was the crown of King George VI.

The first poster was distributed in September of 1939:

Soon thereafter a second poster was produced:
These two posters appeared up and down the British countryside. On railroad platforms and in pubs, stores, and restaurants. They were everywhere. A third poster was created yet never distributed. More than 2.5 million copies were printed yet never seen until sixty years later when a bookstore owner in Northeast England discovered one in a box of old books he had purchased at an auction. It read:
The poster bore the same crown and style of the first two posters. It was never released to the public, however, but was held in reserve for an extreme crisis, such as invasion by Germany. The bookstore owner framed it and hung it on the wall.  It became so popular that the bookstore began producing identical images of the original design on coffee mugs, postcards, and posters.

[Personally I am having trouble keeping calm. I have also been trying] to understand Japanese supernova Marie Kondo, who approaches organizing as a painstaking, solemn process of finding joy in every corner of your house.

I am the editor of a magazine with organizing at its core, and I happen to know that many Americans, in fact many of you reading this column, are complete slobs. The best part of it is that you don’t really care that much; your slobby nature bothers you the way your hair bothers you. As in: Eh, that’s just the way it is. And this is fantastic, because it means you have a sense of humor.
You know that mess is just mess, not a metaphor for the lack of control you have over your mental health, intelligence level or chances of getting into heaven.

Kondo recently published a new book, her second, called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Even though the book has charming little illustrations, this is a very serious volume for very serious people who don’t think it’s weird to throw out a screwdriver because it doesn’t spark joy and then try to use a ruler to tighten a screw instead. That’s what Marie Kondo did, and the ruler broke. And then Kondo was really sad, not because she recognized the stupidity of trying to tighten a screw with a ruler, but because the ruler had sparked joy.

Does anyone besides me think this is completely bananas?

Trying to follow Kondo’s advice is like, oh, I don’t know, listening to dolphins communicate or watching Star Wars in Farsi. I know something extremely important is happening, and I can almost understand it. But just almost. And it makes me wonder: Are all the people buying her best-selling books doing it … ironically? It reminds me of watching the March presidential debate when Donald Trump crowed about his manhood. I kept waiting to hear a voice say, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”

I’ve been to Japan only once, and one of my favorite things about the trip was going into a store to buy a little inexpensive something and watching the clerk take 15 minutes to wrap it, like it cost $3,000. It was amazing, magical, perfect. I mean, I don’t take that kind of care in wrapping Christmas presents, even the expensive ones. So maybe the difference between me and Kondo is the difference between a slobby American with mediocre gift presentation and an elegant Japanese shopkeeper who will wrap any item carefully, even if it’s worth only $7.50.

Although I do spend much of my work life thinking about organizing, I am never ever everevereverever going to fold my underwear like origami, as Kondo instructs. I am also not going through my house (don’t even get me started on the garage) to hold each object firmly in both hands and wait to see if it sparks joy. Needless to say, Kondo did that, and now she uses a skillet to pound in nails (picture it, people) because she threw out her un-joyful hammer.

However, Kondo has given me an idea. Any organizing expert–including Kondo–knows the goal is not managing physical stuff but managing the stuff swirling around inside your head.

And so I’ve decided to eliminate a few things from my head that don’t spark joy.

[Or perhaps you can appreciate] the reminder from another generation to keep calm and carry on. You can do the same. You can’t control the weather. You aren’t in charge of the economy [or the upcoming Presidential election, which] I have started to think is just one long Kabuki performance, and I can no longer muster any joy. You can’t undo the tsunami [or the inexplicable bombings in Brussels or Pakistan] or un-wreck the car, but you can map out a strategy.

Remember, God is in this crisis [and the clutter]. Ask Him to give you an index card-sized plan, two or three steps you can take today.


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