Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Spark

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
by John J. Ratey with Eric Hagerman
(Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

We all know exercise makes us more physically fit. Is it possible that exercise also makes us more mentally and emotionally fit?

In Spark, psychiatrist John Ratey makes a bold claim right on the book's cover: that exercise — specifically, aerobic exercise — can "supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen your thinking, lift your mood, boost your memory, and much more."

This big promise brings to mind a favorite movie line:

It seems Elle Woods was right, though it's a little more complicated, and a lot more far-reaching than she thought.

In terms of brain chemistry, exercise gives you much more than endorphins. Exercise also increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine — the neurotransmitters central to thought and emotion — as well as the growth factors that keep our brains healthy and functioning well.

Friday, January 28, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 27

The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


Grad school reference alert! If you're getting sick of these, now's the time to bail. Just skip right to take #2. I won't be offended. Much.

This week, the time and headspace I usually devote to blogwriting has been co-opted by a different kind of writing project. As part of the grad school application process, I've had to write an autobiographical piece about my goals as they relate to the program I'm applying for, and the "life experiences that might be useful in your work as a helping professional."


As I write, I keep thinking, If I were blogging this, it would be a whole lot easier.


A new take on a classic fairy tale:


Several blogs in my regular reading rotation have great things to say this week.

First, my friend R. ponders the topic of masculinity, and wonders why people malign Mr. Rogers.


My friend Suzanne writes eloquently on what it's like to be an atypical woman in the pew.


On a related note... spurred by Amy Chua's controversial piece Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior (and the ensuing reaction), Rachel Held Evans posits a theory:
I suspect that like a lot of things, the tendency to fundamentalize motherhood springs from insecurities. We are blessed to live in a culture where women have a lot of options, but sometimes a lot of options can be paralyzing, and the quickest way to feel better about the decisions you’ve made is to look down your nose at someone else’s.

And just in time for Super Bowl, Her.meneutics talks about the other thing that comes to town for the big game: trafficking. Difficult, but important reading.


And finally, just in case you missed this one:

Happy Friday, friends!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Ode to the Parking Lot at the Y in January

Ode to the Parking Lot at the Y in January

Snow and new resolutions
Crowd the lot.
Only the most determined
Get a spot.


Friday, January 21, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 26

The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.

It's too bad that Controversy Week is over, because I have something really earth-shattering to discuss: the correct number of spaces to type between sentences.

Just kidding, friends. I'm not touching that subject with a ten-foot pole.

(Hint: it's one.)

This weekend, I'll be continuing a project begun last weekend: painting the living room. Groan. Thankfully, I have the help of a dear friend. (Friends automatically become more dear when they go home with your ceiling color in their hair.)

Weekends mean recreation; painting means art... so today's episode of 7 Quick Takes is on the theme of Recreation Meets Art.


This playing field reminds me of Dr. Seuss, but the video in the blog reminds me of Ingmar Bergman (except that people are smiling):

The world's first Puckelball pitch, designed by Johan Strom of Sweden. From the blog Playscapes.

This brings a whole new meaning to "bend it like Beckham."


"Paper art is about so much more than a finely executed paper plane."

A sample from Photo Essay: 20 Amazingly Creative Works of Paper Art:

Artist: Crackpot Papercraft.


A typographic bicycle:

Bicycle Typogram, by Aaron Kuehn.


Crocheted dress guards, blogged by design*sponge:

Ananda crocheted dress guards, from Dutch bicycle ornament company Simeli.


"Join the dark side. They have ice cream."

Lego All-Terrain Ice Cream Transport, by The Brothers Brick

Recreation meats art:

Pacman Burger, from A Hamburger Today


Yes, she's leaping.

from Jordan Matter's series Dancers Among Us, posted at designworklife

Happy Friday, friends! May your weekend be filled with artistic recreation and/or recreational art.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The rock in your hand

Longtime readers and friends know I'm a fan of Jon Acuff. I enjoy his style of malice-free satirical humor and his ability to expose issues through poking gentle fun (mostly at himself). I learn from him every time I read his work.

This week, Jon posted a video blog (a vlog, for those who are way cooler than I) that deals with a couple of topics. The first, he calls "The #1 reason people won't listen to your ideas," and it is brilliant.

Take a look ("The #1 reason..." is from :54 to 1:51; the text is below the video):

"One of the things I've learned is that a lot of times when you share your message, when you talk to somebody about an idea, the person you're talking to has a rock in their hand. And it's a rock built of all the bad experiences they've had with your topic.

"And so for me, if we use faith as an example, it's a time where a pastor was a hypocrite, or a Christian who was a neighbor wasn't kind to you. And so you've got this rock built of all the bad experiences. And the temptation as a communicator is to pretend the rock isn't there, or to talk around it or try to shine it up. But I've found that if we're honest, if we say, 'Hey, you've got a rock in your hand, and some of the things I did as a person helped put it there; you know, I've been a hypocrite before. Can we talk about that rock, and as we talk, can I hold it? Can you put it my hand?' People are often so overwhelmed and so surprised that you'll admit that there's a rock there and take responsibility for it, that they'll give it to you to hold. And when they do, their hands are empty, and they're open, and you get to place new ideas in there."


Monday, January 17, 2011

Letter from a Birmingham Jail: Redux

Media reviews of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tend to focus on his work for civil rights.

Reading and watching the various articles featured in the media, one could easily believe King was completely consumed by this task right up until the day of his assassination in 1968.

I assumed this was an accurate representation. But a 1995 article in FAIR tells a different story:

It's become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King's birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."

The remarkable thing about this annual review of King's life is that several years — his last years — are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.
Read the full article here.

Last year, I wrote about observing King's birthday by reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Today, I'll be reading the document again. I expect King's words will challenge me in new ways this year, as they have the last two years.

Especially now that I've read that article.


Friday, January 14, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 25

The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.

It's Controversy Week on mosaicsynapse — welcome!


"So Pam," you're thinking, "you're an amateur theologian. What do you think of the whole Jesus-returning-on-May-21 thing?"

Well, thank you for asking, though I'm more of an armchair theologian... but close enough. If we were talking face-to-face, be assured there would be a good bit of eye-rolling on my part. I honestly find certain media-hogging factions of Christianity a little embarrassing.

This isn't the first time this has happened, of course. And my standard response is something I learned early on in my faith journey: Jesus told His followers not to try to predict, but to keep watch and be ready at all times.


But Jon Acuff has done a much better job talking about this topic, with a much lighter hand.


And while we're on the subject of controversy, Monday I reviewed a book on a controversial topic.

Despite what some might think, I actually don't like the kind of tension that comes with controversy. (Yes, I post links to some articles from progressive Christian magazines Sojourners and Relevant, both here and on Facebook; I appreciate the way they challenge my thinking. But I am not, as one friend called me, a pot-stirrer. Except when I'm making risotto.)

So when the post garnered a new commenter whose thoughts were expressed in a more adversarial tone than I'm used to, I started to get a little uncomfortable. Which didn't make much sense, really. It's not like I didn't know the topic's ability to draw the ire of people at both extremes.

And that whole line of thinking put me in mind of this clip from a favorite movie (specifically the scene that begins at 2:38):


It's not that I want to keep the blog free of controversy. There are actually several topics I'd like to explore here that can tend to be somewhat polarizing. It's a matter of figuring out how to write about them in a way that's honest, yet welcomes questions and differences of opinion; it's also a matter of figuring out how to respond to comments that are off-topic or ranting or rude.

Also, true confession: I like to be liked, and I don't enjoy thinking that some people might not like me. Evidently the blog brings out my inner insecure 7th grader.

And she's caught between the desire for high pageviews and the reality of harsh comments.


So I like it when people are nice to me. Who doesn't, really?

But there are some difficult subjects to talk about, and it's tough trying to figure out how to discuss them with grace, and not just niceness.

Bill Mounce does a good job of distinguishing the two in this article. (And yes, he quotes some controversial Bible passages. Fair warning.)


Speaking of controversy: Narnia.

Yeah, that word is enough to get me fired up. I love the books, and I'm not happy with the movies. I haven't seen Voyage of the Dawn Treader yet, and I may not. It's my favorite book of the series. I know some key scenes have been changed, and not (in my opinion) for the better.

One of the publishers our area just started a blog, and an early post reviews The Way into Narnia: A Reader's Guide by Peter Schakel. The book looks great, but I was immediately struck by reviewer Rachel Bomberger's position on key Narnia issues (such as the aforementioned movies and the... shudder... series reordering of 1994).

And when I say "struck by," I mean "her opinion is the same as mine." Which means, of course, she's wonderful and right. Doesn't it?


OK, enough controversy. How about something adorable?

I found this video on NPR's All Songs Considered:

Happy Friday, friends! Find a noncontroversial way to bless someone this weekend!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Review — Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality

Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality
by William P. Campbell
(Zondervan, 2010)

Publisher's synopsis:
Contentious debate about homosexuality too often takes the place of actually caring for the needs of people who experience same-sex attraction. This book provides clear scriptural and scientific insight, sound logic, and practical advice to help Christians turn churches into centers of ministry related to the divisive issue of homosexuality.

Also available in audio and ebook formats.


I feel I should begin this review with a confession, so it's clear where I'm coming from on this issue: I have homosexual friends, and have since high school. These friends span the spectrum of faith and unbelief, and they land on both sides of the is-homosexuality-a-sin-or-not question.

So to me, it's not just an abstract issue of politics or public health or morality. When I read books and articles dealing with this, I'm not thinking about some hypothetical person "out there" — I'm thinking about people I know and love.

And that, I think, changes everything.

Friday, January 07, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 24

The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


This was a big week.

On Tuesday, I took the GRE. Since it's a test where you need a good command of a major amount of general knowledge, while studying for it I had moments where this song kept running through my head:

"I'm very well-acquainted too with matters mathematical,
I understand equations both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news...
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!"


Speaking of math and music, Wednesday was the twelfth day of Christmas. You may remember Vi Hart from my post on the beauty of math last week — she did a version of that song that's a whole lot less repetitive (and a whole lot more mathy!) — take a look:

I think Vi is just amazing. Some of the math concepts she talks about are way over my head, but she makes them seem almost accessible. At least, while I was prepping for the test (reviewing concepts by day and being visited by the Ghost of Math Class Past by night), her presence on the internet was a comfort.


Calvin College's January Series began Wednesday. It's a three week long lecture and cultural arts series, with presentations every weekday during the lunch hour. This year there are several speakers and a chamber music group I hope to hear.

(Those outside the area or otherwise unable to attend can listen online, and the lectures are posted for download within a day or two.)


On Thursday, I had a big interview. Fortunately, I had read this comic, so I was prepared:

by Grant Snider of Incidental Comics

Oh, I kid. Though one of my friends suggested that I spike my bangs forward into a unicorn horn. (Thanks, Amy! Everyone seemed really impressed!)


And speaking of my hair (yeah, it's 7 Quick Takes... not necessarily 7 Interesting Takes), I bought a straightening iron, and used it on my bangs for the first time Thursday morning. (In preference to going for the unicorn look.)

This really is a big deal for me. I long ago stopped fighting my curls. After years of trying to blow-dry my hair into submission, I declared a truce with it. (And by "declared a truce," I mean "it does what it wants and I let it.")

That is, until a few months ago when I had my awesome stylist give me a new style with sideswept bangs... and then every morning, there I was, trying to blow-dry my bangs into submission, with limited success, and remembering why I gave this up in the first place.

But now! I run the straightening iron through my bangs, and they're perfectly straight and smooth. It's a New Year's miracle! (My stylist would say the miracle is that I got the tool to begin with. And she's probably right.)


Also on Thursday, I posted my first book review!

The next one is due on Monday — I'm participating in an author's blog tour — so please come back for that!

Oh, what's the book? I'm not telling.

But I will say this: the word controversy is in the title.


A few weeks ago I discovered the art of Makoto Fujimura. Here's an article he posted on TheOOZE about the necessity of the arts, using Matthew 6:25-34 as his text. If you're an artist, writer, dancer, musician, or simply one who appreciates the arts, this is worth the read.

Happy Friday, friends!


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Review: Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis seeks to expound "mere" Christianity, that is, Christian belief independent of denominational distinctions.

Lewis comes to the subject as a convert to Christianity, and a somewhat reluctant one at that. He is sympathetic to the resistant. Perhaps because I was a reluctant convert myself, I find this helps me read his work, picturing him not as harsh schoolmaster but as understanding friend.