Tag Archives: formation

Looking for 1% milk

A couple of researchers wanted people to eat healthy. After they looked at all the things they could do, they decided to encourage people in two towns in West Virginia to buy 1% or skim milk instead of whole milk.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, who tell the story in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the two researchers built a media campaign around that simple change. They showed that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon. They showed the amount of fat in other ways. And they said, “Buy lowfat milk.”

Before the campaign, less than one in five gallons of milk people bought was lowfat. After the campaign? More than two in five.

I love that story. But I have to work to understand how it works for me.

These two researchers were working with physical formation, helping people be more healthy physically. My day job is working with spiritual formation, helping people be more healthy spiritually. More particularly, I look at the kind of spiritual health that comes from living alongside Jesus. (It’s what I write about all the time at 300WordsaDay.com).

And I’m wondering what the 1% milk is in spiritual formation?

Every church seems to start at a different place. There are so many places to start, so many questions, so many aspects of spiritual health. Do you start with sin, with confession, with Bible reading, with meditation, with conversion, with evangelism, with prayer, with going to church, with giving, with baptism, with eating, with not eating, with stopping x,y, or z, with starting a,b,or c, with staying away from, with going to?

It all is so complicated. It’s no wonder that people who look at church people and rules and fussiness throw their hands in the air and walk away.

So is there a place to start with spiritual formation that works like 1% milk?

Let’s go back to the milk story for a moment.

If I were a health fanatic, I would get very frustrated with the 1% milk campaign. Changing the milk you buy doesn’t address the lack of exercise in American lives. It doesn’t add vegetables to our plates. It doesn’t talk at all about making good choices or getting plenty of rest.

Those are important concerns. But most people trying to bring about change start with the wholistic, with the massive, with the complete and complex. And in the process, people get confused about which and how many vitamins, about which and how often exercise, about which and how much food groups.

And while we are spending time trying to figure out how to help people understand what it means to be healthy and how to change our lifestyles and all, one fifth of the people in two towns in West Virginia are not putting 5 strips of bacon in every glass of milk.

Rather than starting complicated in spiritual health, what if there were a clear and simple step, one endorsed by Jesus?

Here’s what I’m thinking right now. I’m thinking that the 1% milk for spiritual formation is hanging drywall in Gulfport, Mississippi. (Okay, that and reading 300wordsaday.com.)

Stay tuned.


intentional imperfection

Nancy and I spent some time reliving history this weekend. We lived in Goshen, Indiana, for four years.  Yesterday we visited Shipshewana and Goshen, going back to some of the places we had enjoyed.

In Shipshewana, we went to Forks County Line store, a store with many Amish buggies in the parking lot, and many damaged food boxes on the shelves. Prices are low because the store looks for the externally damaged products that other stores choose not to sell. We spent $20 on groceries that would have cost twice as much elsewhere.

In Goshen, we went to The Old Bag Factory, and spent time at Dick Lehman Pottery. In the display room are works that range in price from $13 to $500 (and more). The workroom is adjacent, allowing you to watch potters working.

When I stopped to watch, I noticed that the jar the potter was working on looked less perfect than I had expected. The top of the jar was a little wavy. The surface was a little rough. There were places that were just, well, not great. I don’t, however, point out details like that. I watch and listen and wait. And as he started working on the next piece, he explained.

These pieces were going to be fired in a wood-fired kiln. Such a kiln has a lot of ash from the wood which is deposited on the surface of the clay. At some point in the process, the temperature is raised and the ash, with mineral deposits that aren’t consumed in the burning process, melts and creates a natural glaze. Imperfections in the creation of the pot catch more of the ash and add to the richness of the finish and end up making each piece strikingly distinctive. It is a process which is slower than usual. Those watching wonder whether it is working, whether the potter is competent. However, the potter knows the process well.

Too often, I’m afraid, people around me are treated like the battered boxes, like generic cans. There is a discount on imperfections. We look to pay less for seconds. And eventually, after we’ve been sent to the damaged goods shelf enough times, we begin to believe anything we are offered for our lives, our attention, our performance is enough.

In contrast, I realized that the imperfections, the things we see as weaknesses, the pain of loss may, at least sometimes, be the surface that allows the grace of God to accumulate, to transform the very blemish into a mark of distinction. I know, of course, the story of the pearl. But the pearl gets taken away from the oyster, leaving it looking for another piece of sand. In contrast, often, we are left with the thing we see as a problem, the hole in our heart, the inadequacy. However, the blending of the spot and the ash yield a life of great value.

Two stores. Two different ways of valuing. A good day.

Good intentions.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about shooting free throws. I talked about how I had shot free throws for the first time in several years. I talked about how my little fingers hurt. I revealed that I had made about 3 of the 25 shots I took.

I’ve been back to the gym several times. I decided that shooting free throws was an important thing to do. It would make me a better person. It would strengthen me. It would help me accomplish something. So I set a goal of shooting 50 free throws a day.

I’ve shot 50 free throws at a time eight times in the past three weeks. That’s pretty good for starting out, right? I mean, I know I should be there every day, but I figure I need to start somewhere.

I’ve ranged from 3 out of fifty to 12 out of fifty. I was doing better early, but for the past two days I’ve been making three. I’m not trying to miss. Every shot I try to hit. But I seem to be doing worse.

I know that I could ask for help. I know that there are tremendous resources available, that there are people around here that I could ask. But there is something about asking for help to do something that I could do when I was ten that just seems, well, humiliating.

Besides, I should be able to just do this. It’s a simple shot (why do you think they call them free?). Oh wait. Even good players have a hard time with this. I mean, Shaq. So why should I bother? If someone really good can’t do well, why should I spend any time on this at all?

But I know that the routine is good for me. I know that I ought to be able to follow through on a commitment. I know that someday this might make sense. Someday I might figure out the right combination of hands and eyes and feet. In fact, if I took notes on what works, if I thought through what happened each time it worked, I might learn something.

But for now, I’ll just keep tossing the ball toward the basket fifty times a day and feeling frustrated.

And someone reading this post will offer me a suggestion of how to understand how that effort can be more effective. And I’ll say, “that’s okay, I’m living out a spiritual metaphor.”