Spiritual Pornography


Someday, I’ll have a little log cabin in the woods at the edge of the lake. There will be mountains off in the distance and gorgeous sunrises will paint the sky.

I should really take a vacation in the Caribbean. Relaxing oceanside is just what I need. I deserve the break from all the hard work I do.

My workplace is such a drag. I should look for a place where work is fulfilling and all my co-workers get along. 

Sound familiar?

I have become rather skilled at complaining lately. Mostly to myself, but I am sure my friends have noticed. To justify my malcontent, I’ve created a litney of excuses, such as:

I’m just so tired from work,

the weather has just been awful lately,

and I just don’t have time to do the things I enjoy anymore…

However, my excuses don’t get at the root of the issue. The real problem is that I have learned to focus on the often small inconveniences and troubles of everyday experiences while becoming blind to the much more abundant and meaningful good. Our current culture thrives on this attitude, focusing on success and growth as the markers of happiness. The emphasis to always seek bigger and better breeds malcontent and leaves no room for gratitude.

In order to cope with my selective perception and grumbling, I often turn to fantasizing about ideal situations, e.g., the log cabin dream house, where everything is awesome (as in the Lego® movie). But this is spiritual pornography:

“…creating a mental fantasy of a perfect place of people or people and not recognizing the good things around me. This spiritual porn is my nemesis. It’s poison.

-Kevin Rains in Living into Community1

Fantasizing about a trouble-free future negates appreciation of life in the present, minimizing both personal actions and interactions with others right now. This is not the way life should be. But what to do about it? Instead of cultivating a culture of complaints, nurture gratitude. Be thankful for not only for the career advancing, relationship building ‘big’ events in life, but also for the fleeting and fragile moments of grace. Pause and take note when a friend shares their life with you over tea, when you notice an unfolding bud, and when the sun scatters light just so in the sunrise before a busy work day. Recognize the unexpected good in the mundane.

Counter-cultural attitude transformation sounds like a big deal, but I’m hoping to start with the small stuff.


Trying to be thankful – even for snow…

1. Pohl, Christine D. 2012. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 215.

Why get a PhD?

I’m currently writing  job applications, which is surprisingly reminiscent of working on my dissertation. Since I have a full-time position, I’ve been putting in at least 8 hours per day to stay on track, then working on the application materials early in the morning and late at night.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this comic from The Upturned Microscope:


Source link: https://upmic.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/why-do-a-phd

Apparently, not much changes post PhD, though it did take a few years before I wouldn’t wince at the sight of my study species and could restate my ‘passion for science’ without experiencing a sinking feeling in my gut.

Really, though…is there any other reason to do a PhD in the sciences besides having a passion that can be played out through research or teaching? It’s not for the money, it’s not for the prestige, and it requires a Herculean measure of perseverance.

Stay strong, PhDers, the world needs you.

Role models

Being a 4th year postdoc has encouraged me to start looking around and determining what I want to do ‘when I grow up’ – though I also firmly believe that I will never grow up.

Applying for grown-up jobs also has me dwelling on my 32-year old story; what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and how that stacks up against both my reasonable expectations and my wildest dreams.

In just the last two days, I’ve come across social media blurbs about three women (two young, and one amazingly well-preserved elder) whose stories I’ve found particularly compelling and have inspired some ‘what if’ self-reflection and sometimes downright whimsy.

First, Heather Anderson, 34 year old personal trainer from Michigan. This amazing, independent, woodsy rockstar crushed the unassisted through-hike record for the Appalachian trail in 2015. She traversed 2,168 miles in only 54 days – alone and walking to her own food drop sites (that’s 5 weeks, let me repeat that…5 weeks…faster than any other female has done this before. Mind blown. Oh, and she has the same category speed record for the Pacific Crest Trail, too. Miss Anderson fits the bill for a role-model young female athlete (she’s older than I am, yay!) who’s in it for the beauty of the experience and not the fame. You can read some of her story here.

Second, Jen Tinsman, Ph.D. student at Columbia University. Jen’s work is broadly in the areas of speciation and conservation genetics; she’s evaluating how anthropogenic habitat shifts affect population-level adaptation in her focal species. What really impresses me about Jen is that she studies lemurs in Madagascar! For those of you that know me, you’ll get why I think this is really cool. When I was really young (maybe 4-8 years old?) my response to the adult question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was “I want to study lemurs in Madagascar”. Jen, you’re livin’ the dream. Keep up the amazing work. You can read more about Jen and her research here.

Finally, a nun who loves to run captured my attention this evening. Sister Madonna Buder competes in marathons and IRONMAN Triathlons, at the spry young age of 84! I’m so flabbergasted by this humble and devout dear that I’m not sure quite what to say. You can hear her talk about how she sees competing as a near cumpulsory way to use her God-given talent in a short video here. I hope she keeps on inspiring others to do all they can as long as they can…for a very long time.

These three have reminded me that ordinary people really can accomplish extraordinary things and that it’s never too late to pursue a dream.