My Interview with MaryAnn McKibben Dana about “Sabbath in the Suburbs”

I am a firm believer in building community by helping good folks get the word about projects that they are working on. Today, I want to help spread the word about MaryAnn McKibben Dana and her new book, Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time. I have met MaryAnn a handful of times in person, but, like many relationships these days I know her mostly through online interaction and many mutual friends. I have not yet read the book, but I am intrigued even more knowing MaryAnn a little better.

Here is my “interview” with MaryAnn McKibben Dana.

Who is MaryAnn McKibben Dana?

I’m a writer, mother of three, haphazard knitter, and a slow but determined runner. I like to make lists, and muffins, and lists of muffins.

I lead workshops and retreats on various topics, and I blog at The Blue Room, which is still my favorite venue writing-wise. I’m also a Presbyterian pastor, but I think my inner child is Quaker. I’m married to a preacher’s kid, which means I’m the only person in my house who isn’t a PK.

Elevator speech time . . . what is Sabbath in the Suburbs about?

Part memoir, part spiritual reflection, part practical guide, Sabbath in the Suburbs is about our family’s experience of taking a day-long Sabbath every week—a time when we stopped all work, striving, hurrying and producing and focused on play and rest. It’s about our family’s cobbled-together successes and our flat-on-our-face failures. It’s a book for people who sense the dysfunction in our 24-7 world but need some inspiration and some realistic help to do something about it.

I’m also told it’s funny.

What inspired you to write Sabbath in the Suburbs?

Like many writers, I wrote the book that I wanted to read. There are plenty of books out there [herehere and here] about Sabbath-keeping and “finding balance.” But most of them address the why rather than the how. I was fully convinced of the need for rest and play; I just couldn’t figure out how to do it, what with careers and kids and errands and homework and housework, and… and… and. Not to mention the ever-buzzing smartphones, constantly demanding our attention.

What were some of the most difficult parts about writing Sabbath in the Suburbs? Exciting? Surprising?

I remember a friend saying that when you’re in graduate school, guilt is an inherent part of any leisure time. Writing a book can be like that. It’s always hanging over your head as something you should work on. This was especially hard for me, because I was writing a book about Sabbath and yet the writing was eating into my Sabbath time!

The most exciting and surprising thing about the process was that I actually got it done. I’ve been writing blogs and short non-fiction for so long that I wasn’t sure whether I could pull off a project like this.

The most gratifying part is not the positive reviews, though I’ve gotten them [Publishers WeeklyEnglewood], nor the sales figures, which are encouraging and fun to track, but the individual folks who’ve told me that Sabbath in the Suburbs inspired them to make actual changes in their lives. I heard recently from a woman whose husband is gravely ill. They have young children and the book helped them focus on making memories and living a life that matters for whatever time is left. Wow. If I don’t sell another book, I will consider the project a success.

Knowing that they may be one in the same, who do you think your book will have the most impact upon and who might it make uncomfortable?

I have heard from many people that the book makes them squirm because it shines a light on their own dysfunctions and anxieties around how they spend their time.

It’s also very real. If you like your religious leaders on a pedestal, this isn’t the book for you. (My neighbor read it and said, “I had no idea you were so sarcastic!” To which I replied, “Duh…”)

Might be a good book, a writing discipline or helpful snack, but could you give a quick word of advice to help aspiring writers reach their goals of actually writing a book.

I highly, highly recommend a writers’ group. I can say without exaggeration that my book would not exist without the Writing Revs, with whom I’ve been meeting for six years. It also wouldn’t be as good without their sharp eyes and wisdom.

I am as prone to monkey-mind as anyone, so I recommend the Pomodoro Technique  as a way to focus. I wrote most of the book that way. And my favorite book on writing is still Anne Lamott’s classic Bird by Bird. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is also great.

If you could have people connect with you on ONE of your social media platforms, what would it be?

I do tweet [@revmamd] and I’m on Pinterest [maryanndana] and GoodReads [MaryAnn_McKibben_Dana], but I’m really a Facebook gal at heart and would be overjoyed to have folks subscribe to my page[mdana].

If you know of any other projects: books, video, art, etc. that could use some social media umph, please let me know.

Originally posted on

The Importance of Making Memories With Our Children

One of the reasons that I am so committed to community: church, family, school, etc. is because I don’t believe we can move forward in healthy ways unless we understand our past. No, this is not a new concept, but it seems that many conversations about innovation, creativity and growth are void of and understanding of and grappling with our shared past. In our instant-gratification, speed-obsessed and conflict-avoiding culture we too easily skip over important parts of building and being community and fail to build foundations that will sustain us into the future. Still, as frustrating and difficult that it often is to build these stories in church, family, school, etc. it’s really the only way that we can all grow.

I have found this need to remember the stories nowhere more important than in the raising and parenting of our children. Next year we will have one daughter in all three levels of our public school system: elementary, middle school and high school so are dealing with multiple stages of life and development. While our conversations about high school and college play a role in building expectations for their growth and help develop some life-disciplines, we don’t do this at the expense of creating space for and acknowledging the glue that holds together all of life’s grand aspirations, thrilling successes and disheartening failures, the “Do you remember when . . .” moment/s.

I was reminded of this again this week as my youngest and I had a couple of those, “Do you remember when . . .” moments. The first was at a baseball game that she and I went to. In full Oakland A’s regalia we walked through the importance of a pitch count, worked on the nuances of boo’ing and ate cotton candy without having to share. In itself, there was nothing all that mind-blowing about the evening, but as the third of three daughters, she so rarely gets Dad-only time that this will def be one of our “Do you remember when . . .” moments.

And then again, after getting tangled up with a park jungle gym during while on a school field trip, her chin was left a little worse for the wear. We had ALMOST made it an entire school-year without having to take a child to the Emergency Room . . . almost.  She ended up not requiring anything more that rest and a pain reliever, but the novelty of laying in a hospital bed, getting a personalized bracelet and grossing people out with her black and blue chin filled her with joy. I can hear it now, in ten years, “Dad, do you remember that time when we had to go to the emergency room because my chin was black and blue?”

As I look back on my own childhood, those “Do you remember when . . . ” moments free me to think about my own upbringing and how I may make good choices in shaping the personhood of my own children.

Do you remember when we used to catch crawdads in the creek?
Do you remember that time you busted me for lying about where I was?
Do you remember when you would scream your heads off at my little league games?
Do you remember that night when you taught me the correct way to pack a car trunk?
Do you remember your reaction when I told you I was getting married?

Obviously, not every “Do you remember when . . .” moment was joyful or planned. Some memories were easy to spot in the distance and others just happened to us, but they are all part of what has shaped and formed my being. Being able to look back on those times, hold them for what they were and allow them to shape my future is a gift that I cherish and a gift that am committed to give to my children so they too can build a future that best reflects and honors the strengths of their past.

So what are your “Do you remember when . . .” moments?