conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘church is not an industry’ Category

“You Should Care” Versus “Why You Should Care”

with 2 comments

Just Say No to this Toxic Assumption

This Sol Stein quote on high-powered facts failing to invite others in reminded me that we are at our best when we express our passion as an invitation. The best teachers are the ones excited about a topic. Their excitement is itself an invitation into the topic. The best salespeople are those humans who use the product and love it—which is why word-of-mouth remains the most sought-after form of advertising. The most persuasive evangelists are those whose lives have been altered by faith or by an Apple product (which is itself a kind of religion).

Flowering-4-02182015

Alternatively, the worst college classes, the worst business meetings, the worst seminars are those where the professor/supervisor/speaker assumes you care as much as she does. That assumption leads immediately down deep into depths of details without painting the larger picture. And many of us are desperate for the larger picture. We want to see how our work or faith makes a difference in the rest of life.

A basic truism of life as an insider is that we stop talking about why we are here (in this company or department or group or church) because we’ve heard other people’s stories and we don’t need to go over that ground again. Pretty soon we assume we are all on the same page with the meaning of our activities together. Every once in a while the boss of your boss may say something about why we are here and why its important. But day-to-day it is largely assumed.

The outsider knows nothing of this.

The outsider comes to a group not with a blank slate so much as a slate marked by other groups he has dealt with. The person on the fringe trying to understand the group wants to hear the big meaning statements, the “Why we are here” stuff. And this is precisely where corporate talk falls flat. Corporate talk about meaning and mission and purpose is often vapid precisely because there is no human behind it.

But when the outsider makes contact with the insider who is properly enthused about the meaning-making activities of the company or group, that is a very different story. Mission and purpose come alive when demonstrated by another life being altered.

So—two things:

  1. Don’t assume the people around you are insiders.
  2. Keep talking about why we are here doing these things together. These orienting, meaning-making discussions help everyone. It is too important to leave to the VP of mission.

 

More takes on “transformation” here.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

English: I still believe in you.

with 5 comments

Get in that job-machine, mister.

More dire news for university English departments: from the University of Maryland, English majors are bailing like mad. And faster and faster.

Exit2--01292015

The humanities have been getting a bad rap for, oh, half a dozen decades or so, because they don’t lead directly to a slot in a job machine. And, as the thinking goes, without the job machine you fail at life. Or at least paying for life’s good things (like a huge TV and plenty of Lean Cuisine) (Or rent and clothing).

We’ve certainly seen this coming. We’ve wondered: Why go into college debt just to be a philosophy-talking barista? We’ve lamented the pitiful conditions of adjuncts. Colleges in my area cut budgets and then cut more, from fat to bone. And now wholesale amputation to accommodate the demands of producing souls for job machines.

True: English departments that focus solely on esoterics need to undergo change. I’ll argue that any academic program (or any institution, frankly) that promotes the inward-gaze as the end-all, top-function of the human condition is currently being rudely awakened.

Smart English departments are tuning in to this—just like businesses have been realizing people don’t really care about their product all that much. Even churches are starting to realize there is a world of people living and working just outside their doors—people not interested in joining the club but crazy-interested in the meaning of life. Speaking of churches, we used to call it “evangelism” when we invited others in. Business evangelists understand all too well the benefit of going where people are and adapting their product to current conditions.

But reaching out to the rest of humanity—that’s where the action is.

It’s because we’ll always need to reach out, to communicate something to someone else, that I’m optimistic about English, if not exactly English departments. Rather than an either-or approach (deep-thinking/creative expression or assembly line training), we need both-and: deep-thinking and creative expression that leads to more conscious assembly line work. And perhaps that thinking will help us move beyond assembly lines entirely.

As I prepare my next set of writing classes for college English majors, I am beefing up the entrepreneurial end. Because the way out of a soulless slot in a job machine is to invent your own job machine.

That’s something we should train writers to do. And some of those writers will be English majors.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How Buzzwords Prey on the Unsuspecting (DGtC#24)

with one comment

Speak up to reclaim your humanity

They’re there. Circling overhead in the hallways between C-suites.

They move in a dense cloud between boardrooms and conference rooms.

They are those words of the moment that seem scalpel-sharp. But when you stop to define them, meaning vanishes. These are the words Dilbert makes fun of most every day.

That is the way of buzzwords and lingo of the moment. Whether you are a business or a church (wait—what’s the difference?) or a university or a think tank: you have a set of words insiders use to show they are insiders. And especially in our early meetings with new clients or the new VP, we trot out these words to show we really, frankly, know our stuff.

The problem with buzzwords is how easily they come to mind. Just like any cliché, buzzwords pop to mind free of conscious thought. And to your conversation partner those words give the appearance of a genuine thoughtful reaction. But any SEO specialist will tell you that tossing a buzzword into a headline ups your clicks. Same with conversations: say the thing you heard the CEO say and, presto, you are in the club.

Do buzzwords make you less human? No. They just make you sound robotic.

Please point us back toward connection

Please point us back toward connection

Frequent talks with clients move toward “dumbing-down” versus “simplifying.” Those are not equivalent concepts. Dumbing-down takes out gradation and difference and nuance to present a black-and-white version of something. Simplifying hints at gradation and difference and nuance to make a piece of the complex easier to grasp. Mark Twain simplified complex stuff and generations talked about it.

Dumbing-down does not respect the audience. Simplifying recognizes that smart people are smart in different disciplines. And smart people can understand all sorts of stuff.

Buzzwords are a kind of dumbing-down that takes concepts off the table by hinting that we all know this so it is beyond discussion. Because of buzzwords many useful conversations never happen.

What if we consciously worked toward vulnerability in our business interactions? It’s scary, this notion of revealing you have no clue what the boss just said, but could she explain it again using words like other humans use?

Be the thorn in the side today, the vulnerable fool who insists on clarity.

It’s a way of ordering the chaos of your workplace.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How To Rip The Top Off Your Club

with 2 comments

Work or church or bowling: It’s easy to mistake why we’re here

First a quiz:

  1. My company exists to give me a job. True or False?
  2. My church exists so I can feel better about myself once a week. True or False?
  3. I’m part of a bowling league so I can practice bowling and maybe get better. True or False?

Lately I find myself using “club” to describe those organizations that have turned so inward they have forgotten their purpose. Sometimes clients forget they got into the business to help customers live better lives. Sometimes they spend their days fixated on managing up. Sometimes pastors think all these people show up to take direction, fill the offering plates and carry out the pastoral vision. Sometimes parishioners show up thinking this hour will medicate me—I’ll be inoculated from the mundane horror of daily life for about a week.

HighRiseSunset-07132014

Of course, none of this we say out loud. We also try not to say these things to ourselves. But our attitude gives us away.

When I teach college writing classes and we talk about finding jobs, we spend a lot of time talking about how work is thing we do together for others. Work is not a thing set up for the sole purpose of getting money. If you think the former (work is about helping others) you’ll have an enduring, meaning-making attitude that will help you accomplish stuff in the real world. If you think the latter (work is for me to get money/fame/prestige), you will never be satisfied. Might as well trade derivatives on Wall Street.

It is true that we each stand at the center of our world. Philosopher Robert Sokolowski calls that stance our “transcendent ego.” And that’s just how we experience all there is to experience in the world. But it takes a maturing person to step away from the giddy, teen-age fiction that all of everything revolves around me for real.

Is it time to call your club back to the central purpose—the purpose that people signed up for in the beginning—making a difference in the world? If it is, you’ll likely have uncomfortable conversations with your friends in the club. You may even cause current programs to jump the tracks. But that’s ok: that’s what happens when we refocus on the bigger purposes of why we are here.

That is a work that helps all of us in the club.

###

 

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

 

Are You In—Or Are You a Loser?

leave a comment »

Is club membership really that critical to you?

Sometimes we observe similarities between work and church. Here’s a way work and church similarly lose momentum with every conversation: making club membership their most important feature.

SaintBehindFence-06252014_edited-1

At work VPs and managers and employees speak in Dilbertesque code. Acronyms are just the beginning. In the medical device world, there are shorthand words for landmark studies, shorthand words for device features and benefits, shorthand words for certain technological functions. Shorthand words for the management focus of the quarter. Unless you’ve been around the team for a time, you wouldn’t understand 60% of the conversation. That’s why advertising agencies routinely hire translators when they get projects with medical device firms—they just don’t get the gibberish these smart people are talking.

At church we put on holy language and use words that make us seem like we are in the know. We deliver these words calmly as if they were on our minds all the time. The language of doubt is mostly unwelcome in this setting—this is where the faithful come for their weekly booster shot. And so language becomes subterfuge.

The problem with insider language at work or church is that it sets up participants for failure again and again. In both settings, many of the folks in the conversation don’t understand the very words they are saying—and don’t even realize they don’t understand. Or maybe they realize it but the insider current is so strong they are afraid to admit their lack.

Plain speech is a subversive force. Not only does plain speech out those not in the know, it actually forces those who think they know to explain or realize they know less than they thought. Plain speech is a force for progress because it breaks down hidden barriers and destroys a primary rhetorical tool for those who want to sit on their knowledge and keep it for themselves and to protect their kingdom.

This is why…again…no question is a dumb question. The simplest questions often carry great power.

As organizations (like work and church) realize they need to evangelize and draw outsiders in as a matter of survival, insider language must die.

Insider language is dead!

Long live language!

###

Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Brian McLaren’s Poke at Orthodoxy

leave a comment »

Our blindness is one thing the emergent church may have right

Syncretism is the melding of different philosophies or religions or schools of thought. The term (“syncretism”) becomes a pejorative that casts some practice in a negative light. My Christian missionary friends will talk about, say, Hindus who have converted to Christianity. And they’ll notice that some of the Hindu practices have found their way into the expression of Christianity—maybe harmless. Maybe not.

Once upon a time fundamentalist preachers would decry drums as a pagan beat that has no place stirring up emotion in a church service (somehow they missed the use of percussion instruments in Old Testament singing—and dancing).OregonLighthouse-06082014

Are those examples of syncretism? Possibly. I doubt there is a black and white standard about such things—there’s no on/off switch for what’s right and what’s wrong. More likely there is a continuum. And at some point along that continuum we decide (that is, someone claiming authority arbitrarily decides based on their understanding) this other person has crossed the line. The convert has gone too far and now that person has mixed the gospel with paganism.

You're doing it wrong?

You’re doing it wrong?

Brian McLaren might say: “Not so fast.”

McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith points out that modern reflections of Christianity (even/especially modern evangelicalism) may themselves owe a lot to this syncretistic impulse. In A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren argued that the reading of the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) and the New Testament have been overtaken by platonic thinking. He describes a six-step formula that many Christians immersed in the Bible would subscribe to—and then he goes on to point out that formula owes much more to Plato than it does to the Torah. Some argue that McLaren’s is a naïve reading of Plato, which may be accurate: whenever we reduce this to that, we lose nuance and insert our own biases.

McLaren’s notion that we are at cross-purposes with the Bible when we read it as a constitutional law document rather than diligently seeking out (and sticking to) the purposes for which the documents were written also rings true for me. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of too many interpretations that conveniently keep the people in power in power. But McLaren’s notion has lots of layers that require extensive teasing out and discussion.

Brian McLaren is a lightning rod. People love him. People hate him. It’s not hard to see why, when he accuses the entire ecclesiology industry of syncretism.

I like McLaren’s book because it is a beginning of trying to strip away our syncretistic impulses. Especially those impulses we are so embedded in that we can’t see them, sort of like the fish who doesn’t understand the concept of water. Sure—McLaren’s book has flaws. It turns reductionistic every so often. It makes huge leaps. Yes.

And yet we need real help to see where we have inserted our own thinking into a holy document and called it God’s word. Because this happens over and over again. And I think God doesn’t dig that tendency on our part. I would guess he would prefer the attitude behind, “I am blind. I would like to see.”

McLaren points out some of our blindness.

###

Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm

The Francis Effect

leave a comment »

Check out The Economist on Francis as turnaround CEO at RC Global:

04202014-20140419_LDP004_1

###

Written by kirkistan

April 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

%d bloggers like this: