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A friend posted a link on her facebook page that caught my eye yesterday. The article describes how gamers have helped to solve a puzzle in AIDS research that had stumped scientists for years. As a final (creative) solution to understanding the structure of a retrovirus protein (necessary for creating an effective treatment) "researchers at the  University of Washington turned to Foldit, a program created by the university a few years ago that transforms problems of science into competitive computer games, and challenged players to use their three-dimensional problem-solving skills to build accurate models of the protein.

With(in) days, the gamers generated models good enough for the researchers to refine into an accurate portrayal of the enzyme's structure. What's more, the scientists identified parts of the molecule that are likely targets for drugs to block the enzyme." You can read the full post here.

Don't you love that play succeeded where serious research and investigation failed? And not only did the solution come quickly (after only three weeks), but everyone involved had a blast trying to figure it out.

If you can't make your work be an extension of your play, then you can become playful at work. In a TEDS talk, Tim Brown discusses the  connection between creativity and play. In his, and other innovative companies, creating a culture of play is a necessity. It takes people out of traditional ways of seeing and organizing things and allows for out of the box thinking.

I wonder how many of us remember how to be playful? It's so easy as children, but as we grow, we seem to think of reasons not to play, to be more productive, to take things seriously. Children look for ways to play; they don't have to motivated to spend time
doing things that bring them joy. Maybe the way forward as a culture is to actually take things less seriously. To lighten up, and free ourselves to more creatively engage in the world around us. The reality is, play is actually a really great way facilitate effective problem solving AND creativity, and I'm guessing it produces a lot less stress on our
bodies and relationships. Choosing to play may not be "childish" after all, just childlike - a gift that little children (and adult gamers) can bring to us.

(While looking for a picture illustrating this post, I came across this one of my nieces (and neighborhood child) shucking corn. I was reminded that my mom has always felt that work was play. To her, the camaraderie of being together and getting a task done was a pleasurable thing. This photo illustrates that family value - making "work" fun. Thanks, Mom.)
 
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Dan and I are currently extending our holiday break in Ft Myers, FL. We're experimenting with the idea of adding time south of the border as a way of making peace with living in Pennsylvania. I grew up in the state, so the cold winters aren't anything new, but Dan spent a chunk of time in the Bahamas, and his blood has never thickened (thinned?) enough to make winter bearable. Subbing a few 70 degree days in January for ice and snow the rest of the winter seemed like a good strategy. While here, we're both focusing on writing, which makes this not only our first attempt at "snowbirding" but also our first working vacation.

A working vacation can mean the worst of both worlds, resenting work because you're not relaxing, or not able to rest because the email still needs to be answered. (I've heard of people who go to awesome locations for conferences and never even make it out of the hotel!) But I've been wondering if this combination can't be a helpful way to view life. God is both at rest (Heb 4:10) and at work (John 5:17) which seems to imply that we could manage this seemingly paradoxical way of navigating our days. Perhaps this is what Jesus is getting at when he talks about easy yokes instead of heavy burdens in Matthew 11:29.  If we are able to start from rest, if we are able to embrace the peace that comes from God, then our "work" enters the flow of the Spirit, empowered and directed by the love of God.

Having a vacation mindset about life makes me less anxious, allows me to breathe. Choosing to live in rest expands my soul and my ability to continue with the next task in a spirit of grace. The "working" vacation part helps when the things that are on my docket aren't those I'm particularly pleased about. This isn't just about me, I remind myself. I don't keep peace by removing myself from the good that God is calling me to do. And so I need to stay alert, stay open to acting out of love toward those around me.

It's true. God is here;  His Spirit is both at rest and at work-around me, in me, through me. Wherever I happen to be...

 
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Lately there's been a lot of press about how our food gets to our tables. We're encouraged to think about the life of the chicken or cow before it shows up as lunch or dinner. Was the chicken raised in a crate or the cow confined to a stall all of its life? There's a new connection being made between the quality of life of the animal before its slaughter and our own quality of life, one that's worth some extra cost and even a little inconvenience.

Which makes me wonder about the toys we buy for Christmas presents, or indeed, any of the mass-produced products which fill myriads of shelves during the holiday season. Under what conditions are these items produced? What is the quality of life of the person on the line, looking at day after day of putting the same piece on a doll or tape recorder, and then passing it along?

These aren't earth-breaking thoughts; people have been writing, making movies, protesting, trying to enact legislation around these issues for quite some time. In fact, since the dawn of the age of industrialization there has been a critique of the human cost of mass production. What got me thinking this morning came from more personal reflections.
 
I feel like I am waiting for a certain type of energy to return, the energy that allows me to be the "productive person" that I once used to be. The sort who would have a million projects going at once, pride herself on the amount of things accomplished in a week, love the adrenalin rush of completion under deadlines. The only problem was that I had to become a machine in order to keep up with my self-imposed quota. And I did so at the cost of being a true human being. Like Dr. Faustus, I "sold my soul" to the devil of accomplishment and reaped the reward of the bargain.

Thankfully, my body rebelled. It crashed and burned (an early "hell"), setting me on a course that has been years in the making. I've had to relearn what it means to live a life that's as human as it can be - a life that is full and healthy on all levels, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional, and that has appropriate times of action and reflection. I'm starting to realize that if I live into the fullness of God's tri-fold love: giving-love, enjoying-love and creating-love, my desire for productivity will be appropriately met. God, out of love, desires to create with me. And in the generosity and wisdom of His love, not only will He determine the pace, but He will provide the raw materials for the creativity. Best of all, at the end of the day, He will set aside the time to enjoy the finished product. We'll kick back, put our feet up, grab a cup of whatever brew you prefer, and smile with delight at the fruits of our labor.