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On Being Church - a blog

It’s hard to believe we have arrived at Holy Week and this series of readings from the book of nature looking at the science of virtues is coming to an end. As we march towards the resurrection hope of Easter morning, we wrap up our series with the science of purpose. In many ways this is a fitting way to end. In case you can’t tell, what we are doing here, helping the church engage science more frequently and in greater depth, is very much my purpose in life. I dream of a day when it is not at all unusual to have a sermon series or Sunday school classes or eNews articles engaging science. We are well on our way to that being the case here at West Raleigh, but I dream of it being normal in many churches across the country.

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After a week on the road and a visit by my parents (and with Ruth home on break from school), I’m finding it hard to sit down and summarize the research on this week’s virtue - grit and resilience. So I’m going to take a cue from the research. Come on, Drew, you can do this. If Iris Murdoch could write 25 novels and Rick Reilly could do weekly columns for Sports Illustrated for 23 years, then Drew Rick-Miller can squeeze out 2 more readings from the book of nature for the WRPC eNews.

So let’s start with those cues in this week’s discussion of grit and resilience. Three ways to improve motivation and gain control of yourself, including those tough to manage emotions, all part of overcoming obstacles to achieve a task are self-talk, speaking about yourself in the third person, and the Batman effect (or for me, the Iris Murdoch/Rick Reilly effect). You see, grit and resilience are really best understood as a set of related cognitive and character traits working together in combination. For grit, they support one’s passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. For resilience, it is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. So self-control (the article I link to here covers a lot of good material), purpose and motivation are all key factors as well as a suite of related concepts like executive function, expertise (but note that there is more to mastery than just 10,000 hours), and coping.

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Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” These are the words of the great poet Maya Angelou. And we do begin so many of our prayers with words like ‘we give thanks for’ or ‘thank you God’. Gratitude is a virtue that is central in our relationship to God – it orients our prayer lives, even our worship and stimulates so much more in living the life of faith. Gratitude has also become one of the most studied virtues. We now have a wealth of information on both its benefits and ways to cultivate it.

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By Drew Rick-Miller

Forgive me (I know that was last week), if I begin this week’s entry regarding the science of humility with a really bad (but also sincere) pun. Preparing to write on the science of humility is humbling, really humbling. And that is because any discussion of humility has to include honest (yes that was our first week) reflection on cognitive bias – the ways our cognitive biases counteract humility. Tired of the know-it-all, snobby, smarty pants acquaintance – simply show them this antidote to arrogance graphic. I’m not going to try to count the number of biases it includes, but it pulls from this list on Wikipedia where you can read more about all the biases that fellow homo sapiens have, but which fortunately, I have managed to avoid or overcome. Actually, that may be the most humbling bias of all – the self-enhancing optimism bias so well described by Talia Sharot in this TED Talk (you will remember that we shared this in week one re: honesty). Obviously, these biases apply not just to honesty or hope, but also to humility – we can’t all be in the top quartile of everything. Who will admit to being in the bottom 10%? I will readily admit so when it comes to dancing, but when it comes to writing on the science of humility, I’m certainly near the top, right?

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By Susan Randolph

As a quilter myself, I was particularly attracted to the Madonna quilt by Karen Ponischil, a full-time fiber artist and quilter in Charlotte, NC. Karen, according to her oral comments, wanted to display a humble Mary and used rich vibrant colors (versus the typical soft muted colors), showing that Mary is still relevant today as she was over 2,000 years ago. As you look at the quilt, notice the rich deep colors of blue and red, with the mosaic of gold, orange, yellow, and red tones in the background.

According to Merriam-Webster, Madonna is defined as an artistic depiction of the Virgin Mary. Madonna, Italian for ma donna meaning ‘my lady,’ is also an icon for both Catholic and Orthodox churches. She is believed to be the greatest of all Christian saints and is known as Mary, the Mother of God; Holy Mother of God; Mary, the Immaculate Conception; Queen of Peace; St Mary the Virgin; and Saint Mary, to name a few. However, the Madonna is also considered our Mother. While she is not our Mother in the physical sense, she is called a spiritual mother for she conceives, gives birth, and nurtures the spiritual lives of grace for each person.

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By Liz Danielian

Anyone who has had the opportunity to see the Sacred Threads quilts hanging in our sanctuary and fellowship hall knows that these are true works of art…images that use fabric and thread instead of paints and brushes, clay, or notes to communicate one of the 7 themes of this exhibit. Art, in all its many forms, has the power of capturing the complex and varied emotions of the human experience and transmitting that to the audience. Art can speak directly to our souls, sometimes in a powerful and unexpected way, without need for interpretation, translation, or explanation. And, this is one of the reasons that art and spirituality go hand in hand. At WRPC, we have a deep understanding of this idea and our community of faith has been enriched by the intentional and varied experiences of creating, learning, listening, and viewing art and having art regularly incorporated into worship and into the life of our church.

Art can communicate emotions, especially ones that we ourselves have not experienced, in a far more powerful and true way then words alone could do. This was my experience in seeing “Despair…and Hope.” Even before reading the artist’s description, I was drawn down into this work--the feeling of being in a dark hole. After reading, I learned this image was the “bottom of the well” of the artist’s chronic depression. The figure posed at the bottom appears small and closed off, then, the vertical lines and trees that directed my eyes up to the crescent of bright light and brilliant green shining far above, but, only a small part and not always accessible to the figure at the bottom. But, days that she is able to climb the tree she finds the light—hope!

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