Archive for the ‘work and faith’ Category
Sunday Story for Monday: the Counter-intuitive Ways of Sheep among Wolves
Can words spoken from a low power position influence others?
This older Harvard Business School article (Power Posing: Fake It Until You Make It) describes how simply snapping your body into a power pose can have a physiologic effect. Read about the small study (N=42) by Cuddy, Carney and Yap here. Striking a pose for two-minutes stimulated higher levels of testosterone (hormone linked to dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (so-called stress hormone) in the study group. People literally felt more powerful and less stressed after their pose.
Every human dreams of more power. More power translates to being respected. Maybe power looks like speaking and being heard as one with authority. And perhaps with more power we’ll become benevolent despots bestowing good unto others as we stride through our own personal kingdoms.
The promise of more power is intimately tied with many of our messages about leadership development. Industries and institutions will always buy more technique about leadership development because, well, who doesn’t want to be perceived as capable and full of power?
In stark contrast, there’s an old story about how Jesus saw the authorities of his day use their power for their own aggrandizement while offering little help to the harassed and helpless crowds. So he organized and commissioned his own set of spiritual paramedics to go to the harassed and helpless.
Just before these spiritual paramedics hit the streets to proclaim and heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, Jesus told them how little personal power they would have. They would not be received well. Despite their hopeful message they would be beaten and tortured, and hauled in front of councils, governors and kings.
And that’s how it played out: powerful messages in powerless packaging.
Was there something in the powerless packaging that actually helped people hear the message? Powerful words and actions delivered by powerless, peripheral people could not be enforced or made into law. There was little outside incentive to listen. And yet what they said and did endures today, these many centuries later.
Tell me again: why is it we all seek power so eagerly?
When Constantine turned Christianity into the law of the land, the message lost much saltiness. Does my lust for power come from wanting to help people or just wanting them to play my game by my rules? Are there any truths I have to deliver today that might be helped by “aggressively empty” versus a pose of power?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Believe: Babies! Bikes!
A few days back I wrote about the transformative power of saying what we believe (versus saying only what we are against). For some time I’ve been following Allan Peters Blog because it is a smart look into the design world and also sheds light on design in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I look forward to seeing his work at ArtCrank Saturday.
And there is something else about Mr. Peter’s blog that pulls me in.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Jesus the Christ and I like hearing people chat about their relationship with this One. So speaking of declarations, check out Mr. Peter’s barking bold birth announcement (which won a Silver at the 2012 Adfed “The Show”). Even if religion gives you the willies (it has the same effect on me), check out the artfulness of this announcement: letterpressed into some ritzy paper: click here and scroll down to get a sense of his process.
As an asker/seeker/knocker, I am constantly sorting through
out how faith fits with the desire to do good work, even persuasive work in a multi-cultural, multi-voiced world. Part of the answer surely has to be finding artful ways to demonstrate (and say) what we believe. Mr. Peters has accomplished this.
Image credit: Allan Peters’ Blog
Here’s a Dancing Boston Traffic Cop Who Digs His Job
Yesterday at a Bethel University “Work Matters Gathering” I heard Tom Nelson speak on why work matters, which also happens to be the title of his new book (Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work). Nelson’s book would seem to invite working people back into the conversation about how faith fits with everyday life. Several things I appreciated about the talk (I’ve not yet read the book, but it is on order) include the theological and historical underpinnings he identified. In particular: the central role of work in the Genesis creation story, the recognition that work is bigger than just getting paid—it has to do with how we contribute to the world, and that at several points in faith history we’ve had a far richer understanding (and praxis) of work than we do here and now in the US of A.
I was also pleased he cited Wendell Berry a good half-dozen times.
There’s much more to say about all that.
But one thing I wonder about: Mr. Nelson discovered that all of the people in his congregation actually spent most of their time at work, not at church. People who work—which is most of us—have known this for forever. People who work and have faith have largely been on their own to sort out how to build meaning into their lives of work and faith.
Pastors are just starting to realize it. I doubt many will realize it in any meaningful way. Here’s why: to equip people for works of service out in the world is to simultaneously detract from building the organization we commonly picture as a successful not-for-profit church. I honestly don’t mean this in a mean-spirited way: it’s just that the religious staff is incented to pull people in, not send them out as thoughtful ambassadors (that is, not just parroting religious words and proselytizing with pat answers but deeply engaged in transformational work).
Personally, I think there is a connection between people who love what they do and the creating/redeeming stuff God wants to accomplish in the world. And I’m starting to think people who love what they do can be far more potent than a year’s worth of sermons delivered to roomfuls of devotees. Not they these are mutually exclusive, though my experience is they typically are.
By the way: is the dancing traffic cop a kind of pastor in his own circular pulpit?
Image credit: thebostonglobe
Teaching is an epistemological playground
Yesterday I posted under the title “The unbearable sadness of adjunct.” I hope you read on to see it was a larger discussion about the price anyone pays to live a thoughtful life. I tried to show the realities of teaching as an adjunct (often agreeing with Burnt-Out Adjunct), especially noting the counterintuitive reality that some advanced degrees still offer jobs that force you to choose between buying groceries or paying the mortgage.
But there are also good reasons to teach. If you can afford it (counting the work you do to earn a living and/or opportunity costs of time spent on teaching), it is work that is full of meaning. Here are a few reasons I continue to seek opportunities to teach as an adjunct:
- There is a thrilling something about developing a coherent idea and presenting it to a class of students. Even more thrilling, when you see that they see the utility of the idea.
- Class times often become incredible conversations. Not always, but often poignant things get said that help move my thinking (and humanity) to a new level
- To teach is to learn. And learning is great fun. There’s nothing like trying to explain something to someone else to show how little you really know. As I explain, synapses fire and brand new stuff happens in my brainpan. Teaching is a kind of epistemological playground.
- Students are amazing. At the college I teach, I remain deeply impressed by the devotion and care and passion many (not all) bring to the work. I often encounter excellent writers and I want more than anything to help those people move forward.
- Faith and work belong together. Every year I teach I see this more clearly and I labor over (and yes, I pray about) how to explain the connection. My own work as a copywriter highlights and dovetails into this connection. I am very pleased to bring with me ancient texts that explicate the meaning of work and life.
Naturally, there is more to say about this. What would you add?
The Price of the Life of the Mind
I’m having a lively conversation with PissPoorProf about the value of a Liberal Arts degree. He maintains that liberal arts should be corollary studies in college while I think they should be central. Others are chiming in. It’s a discussion I welcome because the topic goes well beyond the choice of undergrad studies. As Burnt-Out Adjunct so ably points out (in his many posts) the life of the mind does not come with an income. In fact, it requires an income to satisfy those lower elements in Maslow’s hierarchy, just to get to the point where one can, well, buy time to think/read/write/converse.
Also agreed: the treadmill that is adjunct work, with day and night responsibilities (Honest: preparing lecture/discussions, delivering those educational events, responding to questions and grading take way more time than I would have ever believed when I was a cubicle dweller with a steady paycheck) is relentless and seemingly possible only when you have another income. So when PissPoorProf describes adjunct teaching as “about as soul-sucking as a wage-slave job can get,” I tend to agree.
And yet, we agree that the life of the mind—whether taught or caught or pursued or scrimped and saved for—is a thing of value. Maybe part of our equipping for undergrads, as well as for those later in life who want to think, is to help each other understand we need to pay
your own way to join the larger conversation.
There is so much more to say about this.
When must we say “No!” to etiquette?
We don’t talk in elevators. Many of us avoid taking a cell phone call in a restaurant. We don’t use church language at work. And we don’t use plumbing words at church (those words that come with a pipe wrench in hand and head under a sink—according to Steve Treichler). We observe all sorts of behavior habits and patterns from day to day, all of which we call “etiquette.”
In Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy (Guildford Press, 2002), James and Melissa Griffith attempt to bridge a taboo of talking about God with clients in their psychotherapy practice. As you may or may not know, conversation is key therapeutic tool and Griffith and Griffith believe therapists too easily dismiss a powerful ingredient when they don’t allow for stories of how people’s faith effects whatever is the topic of therapy. The caveat is that Griffith and Griffith have opened themselves to hear all sorts of faith stories—not just those they might have considered orthodox. The two therapists tell of their own journey toward openness to the varieties of ways patients tell personal stories. By the way: let the record show that openness to hear the wide variety of things our conversation partners say is not the same as giving up on our deep-seated beliefs. We too often confuse openness with wishy-washy. Not the same.
I was initially attracted to the Griffith and Griffith book because of the details they reveal about conversations: how to help each other talk, the amazing nature of a simple conversation, and the mechanisms of speaking that prove so healing. Along the way I’ve come to realize they’ve done something substantial by breaking down a Berlin wall between problems and potential solutions (though perhaps psychotherapy practices have changed quite a bit since 2002).
Over the years I’ve found that colleagues at work will talk about all sorts of stuff in the course of a day, from money to sex to faith to the Twins to the boss to marriage and kids—plus everything else. This is to be encouraged—this flow of words is both natural and cathartic. It’s all about encouraging relationships (which are the primary source of joy for many at work) and work talk routinely breaks across walls of etiquette.
Make a living while making a life
Teaching in a college English department, I come in contact with lots of people who want to express themselves. They have things to say and they want to say those things through poetry, fiction and all manner of creative writing. The typical line of thinking goes that the best and highest fulfillment comes from putting words around those things that compel us. The process of searching out those compelling things involves regularly plunging deep inside to pull stories and impressions up to the surface to slice and dice for delivery. This is good and useful work and has, or course, resulted in the poems and works of fiction and symphonies and songs celebrated worldwide.
This work of surfacing our deepest thoughts and emotions and capturing them for delivery is important work in which each of us must continue. I want to do this as well and regularly set aside time for it. But is this highly internal work the only route to fulfillment? Answer “Yes!” and you shortchange the rest of life.
I want to argue in a few posts that we make some of our best and most meaningful contributions when three streams collide:
- Faith: what we believe
- Talents: what we are gifted at
- Service: as we focus on needs outside of us, how can we use our faith and talents and imagination to solve those needs?
I want to argue the junction of craft and faith and need is the locus of true fulfillment. When we plumb our depths for words or impressions that solve a need our organization or community has identified, well then we’ve done a good thing and a highly fulfilling thing. I might further argue that much of our greatest art and literature has come from that junction of craft, faith and need.
Writing ad copy or technical specs is not the route to personal fulfillment. But neither is a self-focus that never reaches out.
There’s lots more to say about this.
Keep an Eye on Your Vision Gauge
A conversation over the weekend reminded me of how vision works in my life. As long as I have vision for the organization and my role in the organization, work moves forward. But if vision quavers, all sorts of rocky stuff starts happening. I get itchy for purpose.
For me vision is like the gas gauge: I can (nearly) see it as it maintains or slowly drops. And if nothing replenishes vision, movement slows to a stop.
But what is vision? For me it is seeing a longer term role or impact. It is also recognizing my organization has a larger purpose and how I fit that purpose. Vision gets personal.
After a couple years at a large industrial company—early in my career—I recognized the growth paths presented by the manager led nowhere I wanted to go. Not long after that pep talk the company’s mission and purpose started seeming pretty stale. In fact, I could not see anything in the organization I wanted to do. So I started knocking on different doors. The doors that eventually opened helped me sort out my direction.
The Clash was singing about romance. But work is also a kind of romance—a dance of loyalty and engagement—far from the purely transactional presentation your HR officer lays out the day you get laid off. And that is true for more than work: any and every company, volunteer opportunity, or gathering that attracts us does so because of purpose and mission. At least that’s true for me.
What does your vision gauge read today?
How to Escape the Orbit of Xenophobia
There is so much good to say about Jonathan Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference: how he welcomes the stranger, how he shows the impact of considering everything as a marketplace endeavor (this approach does not end well: people and relationships don’t fit the calculus of the marketplace), how the work of covenant might well be the glue that binds a global culture together and helps us overcome our stunning differences (just like communities have for centuries).
I like that Sacks grabs texts from the Old Testament to reframe very modern difficulties, like how Abraham honored the stranger, which speaks to our own ambivalence about people different from us. But Sacks also draws on old Jewish wisdom and criticism to help put those stories into context. I like how he pits Plato against Moses and dispels the notion of dualism and the notion of perfect forms. In doing this, he has opened a way from the ivory tower where pure academics lives apart from the rest of life. I appreciate his examples of Jewish scholars who were also workers. Thinking and working should be intertwined, much like Matthew Crawford wrote about so successfully.
You may get the sense this is a wide-ranging book, and it is, though a delightful read at each step. All this material—and he does make it fit together—is in the service of helping the reader reconnect with the wonder of what we can learn from each other. Rabbi Sacks Jewishness is a vital piece of the puzzle: as someone from a tribe that famously wandered for a long time, he thinks his people are uniquely positioned to welcome our world’s current batch of strangers. He may be right about that. In Sack’s view, people of true, deep faith learn to value the faith of others, even as they hold to their own.
My one critique has to do with the other end of the Bible Sacks quotes from freely. I would offer that the mystery of the very Jewish Jesus who was also the Christ greatly enhances the story of tolerance and inquisitive curiosity Sacks seeks to tell. The apostle Paul, in one his letters to his friends in Corinth, talked about being an ambassador to any and all, representing to the any and all the reality of being in relationship with God. My take on Paul, with a nod to Lord Sacks, is that those compelled by the Christ have every reason in the world to both hold firmly to their faith in the Christ while simultaneously listening deeply to those around them.
Many of you will stop here and point out how firm faith is more often used as a battlement from which to sling arrows. I don’t deny that has happened. And I confess we’ve not done well in that approach. But faith in the Christ offers both solid ground and excellent motivation for listening, though this is not the kind of thing you hear from the outposts of conservatism.
If you have opportunity to read The Dignity of Difference—do it. It is challenging and a tasty intellectual meal, and possibly life-changing.
How can freshly-sliced time call to you?
It’s Monday and that is bummer enough. But take a minute and think with me about how time works—it may make a difference for next weekend. We’ll do this by looking at The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Heschel’s The Sabbath feels like an old book though the first printing was only in 1951. (Some of you will say, “Yeah: old.”) But the thoughts, the pacing and even the language mark it as something way older and way more out of sync with our current urgencies. In this case, the medium mirrors well the topic, which is a day set apart—a day out of time. [One note: My understanding is that the Jewish observance of Shabbat extends from Friday sundown to Saturday evening. The Christian observance of Sabbath is a Sunday. It’s not the exact time I want to look at, but the concept.]
There is no end to the mystery Rabbi Heschel presented as he talked about the observance of the seventh day as a day of rest. Many of us innately understand the point of Sabbath though few of us practice it. We get that a day away from work is a good thing. We can be convinced that not working for a time makes us sharper for when we are working. For us—especially in the U.S. around Christmas—the Sabbath is a useful day for practicing our American religion of acquisition. But maybe there was some wisdom in those old out-of-sync rules that forced merchants to close for a day.
The heart of Heschel’s book is a quote from the Torah, where God rested from all his work on the seventh day and called that day “holy.” Many of us associate that word with church and religion and boring sentimental stuff. But Heschel’s first interesting point is that it was a day that was holy. Not a place. Not a thing. Not a people. But a day. And that day recurred. Every week or so. (Well, every week).
That a slice of time would be separate and somehow different is a wildly different way of looking at life. Especially as we push toward always-on-24/7/365 connection. It raises the expectation that something different can/should/will happen in that time slice devoted to rest. Heschel does a heartening job of building out the possibilities—indeed, that is his point: time devoted to, well, transcendence. But with a God-shaped denouement.
The second interesting thing Heschel said is that rather than seeing the day of rest as a reward for a week of hard work, this freshly-sliced time becomes an anticipated climax to the week. All of our thinking, our relating and collaborating, all the working pieces of life somehow move toward this festive laying down of the keyboard/pen/steering wheel/hand truck in rest. So…not a reward for a week’s work but the week’s work serving to outline the great difference of a day set apart to contemplate and celebrate relationships.
There’s lots more to this, of course. And generations of smart people have written volumes on the topic. But just laying a different story arc on this week’s work may make this Monday different.