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

My Sunday Sermon, “Would Jesus Have Said Vagina?”

Photo by joethedork - San Francisco Bay to Breakers, 2005

[Photo By joethedork]

Okay, I am not preaching anywhere this Sunday, but feel free to “liberate” the idea, should you need a sermon starter. That said, I do hope that more than a few preachers out there are going to somehow use the recent Michigan State Legislature vagina kerfuffle as fodder for some good conversations on power, community and discernment.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about but have noticed an increased use of the word “vagina,” you are not imagining things. The increased volume of verbal vagina usage can be attributed to Thursday’s rebuke of Michigan State Representative, Lisa Brown, after her use of the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion the day before. According to the Detroit News, at the close of her argument about an abortion bill she said these words,

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,'”

The result was that she was barred from speaking the next day.

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

This was apparently not out of character for this particular legislative body as Rep. Barb Byrum was also barred from speaking because of what she said during her failed amendment to the abortion bill banning men from getting a vasectomy unless the procedure was necessary to save a man’s life.

“If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies,” Byrum told reporters Thursday.

Wow. Just wow.

While there are many directions one could go with this, I think this situation raises some good questions for bodies of people who strive to engage in debate, discernment and decision-making. There have always been people who seem to cross the lines of appropriateness, decorum and social norms, but in this case we are again reminded that part of the discussion always has to be about who gets to determine those rules and to what end.

I am all for appropriateness in large groups and helping people to avoid unnecessarily over-sharing about their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I still remember during one meeting that I was leading when, during a debate on sexuality, a father shared with the body – and webcasted community – about his daughter’s sexual activity. He was trying to make a point, but I am not sure that it was very effective NOR did it get to the heart of his position. Instead, attention was drawn away from the point he was trying to make and the energy of the whole body was deflected away from debate.

Now some might say that Brown’s and Byurms’s comments did the same thing, but I would disagree. I do not think that their use of “shocking” language drew attention away from the debate, instead, their comments got the heart of the actual debate on abortion AND challenged the enforcement of random rules like “decorum” and “civility” that are meant to stifle voices and preserve power. There are few things about which I agree with the Tea Party, but one thing that I have appreciated is that they have used their place of authority to speak into systems that have lost touch and/or have used sets of unspoken rules to control and maintain power. I rarely agree with the content or tone, but they get it. Sometimes, you just have to call horse manure when you perceive it being unnecessarily spread. There may be repercussions for those actions, but speaking truth to power, by it’s very nature, will illicit reaction and rebuke.

So the burning question for me and I hope for preachers the world world over this Sunday is, “Would Jesus have said, ‘Vagina’?”

Jesus healed in the Sabbath and said to those in power… Mark 3:1-6

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus was a tad bit bold, shocking even, and said to those in power… John 6:25-59

48 I am the bread of life.

Jesus sometimes had enough, got pissed and said to those in power… Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

All of this goes to say that there are times when shocking words that defy decorum and civility are needed in order to hold accountable the very people who have the power to define the rules of decorum and civility. These acts help bodies to reflect on whether the rules and expectations of behavior help move a body forward with a sense of integrity or if they are a means to maintain power, silence the minority and lessen the positive influence of the body.

Jesus was not always about speaking shocking words to power, just as I am sure that not all of the representatives involved in this case are always the inappropriate or uptight caricatures that they are made out to be. But at the same time, just as Jesus called us to prayer, compassion, service and love . . . in order to make a point about an issue and to speak truth to power when needed, he did so with a prophetic and often shocking word.

So yes, Jesus would have said, “Vagina.”