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Archive for the ‘work and faith’ Category

The Unbearable Sadness of Adjunct

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The Price of the Life of the Mind

tumblr_mhwfl0rYaL1qmylbao1_500-02192013I’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.


Image credit: BORONDO by Arte urbano Madrid via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

The Etiquettes of Therapy/Religion/Business

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When must we say “No!” to etiquette?

tumblr_mftmigntTK1qdopmvo1_r7_1280-01292013We 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.


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The Tradeoffs in Selling Your Craft

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Make a living while making a life

tumblr_mge24fCN6u1qmvy8zo1_500-01152013Teaching 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.


Image credit: frenchtwist via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

January 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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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?


Written by kirkistan

January 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Please Read Jonathan Sacks “The Dignity of Difference”

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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.9780826468505_p0_v1_s260x420-01082013

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.


On This 1st Day, Consider the 7th

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How can freshly-sliced time call to you?

tumblr_menx8pHQcS1ru2zzso1_1280-12102012It’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.


Image credit: laurabfernandez via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

December 10, 2012 at 7:38 am

Success Looks Like What You Measure Every Day

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Success also looks like what you say in ordinary conversation

What are your gauges of success?

tumblr_mebpn3ITkL1qg39ewo1_500-12052012Does success look like sitting behind the big desk in the corner office? Perhaps it looks like podium in front of a collection of esteemed colleagues. Or maybe success looks like owning your own company or cabin or cabin cruiser or cabinet full of liquor.

We all hold these success images in our brains, even if we’ve never actually explained them to ourselves, let alone anyone else. And yet those images shape where we go.

It’s worthwhile asking where those images lead. Where does your picture of success lead your work or writing or relationships? Keep that question abstract, at a level that cannot be measured and which shows no progress, forward or back, and the image still has power to direct, but more like a mirage.

But when we assign numbers to our image of success, and when we look at those numbers daily, things start to change. Especially when we have taken our big dreams and broken them into day-sized goals. Then our progress (or lack) is obvious. Now we see clearly because the numbers on the scale don’t lie. I’m a numbers person—I measure all sorts of stuff, from writing goals to minutes of exercise (I wish I could write “hours”) to weight (Oy!). Those numbers remain as a cold slap in the ego.

Today I found myself explaining to a new friend one goal for this blog and for the work I do: I’d like to connect work and faith in a way that I’ve not seen before. I’d like to recognize work as much, much more than a platform for verbal persuasion. The old models of integrating work and faith seem more about dropping preachers into the hostile, alien territory of commerce so they can set up a church service. As a boss, I would not welcome such integration (we’re here to work, after all).

Instead, I’d like to convince all of us that the work itself is chock full of rich meaning and is actually part of why we were put on earth. I’d like to connect our work to how we were made to our service to others (in agreement with the inveterate letter writer), which all connects back to the One who put us here.

I’ve just told you my (still abstract) image of what success looks like. I maintain that telling our image of success is another kind of measuring stick. Even if the person we tell never holds us accountable, we have said it aloud and now we know for sure one more dimension of that far off land called success.


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Written by kirkistan

December 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm

“Work is my salvation.”

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Theologically—entirely false. Literally—sorta true.

I heard myself say that headline the other day. My buddy and I were talking about what it means to pursue a craft. For me, the work of pursuing a craft is about the ability to focus. And the ability to get back to focus post-distraction.

Focus and getting back to focus are inherent parts of learning and practicing a craft. I believe that focus on craft builds sanity and humanity. Getting back to focus on my craft of copywriting has pulled me out of many mentally ambiguous places and difficult decisions. Focus on craft—especially as I aim toward usefulness and practical service—allows me to background difficult decisions and gives time for my subconscious to work at them. And after I’ve focused I am able to do productive work on those decisions.

I also think growing in our craft is a way to serve God and people. Bethel Seminary—my alma mater—recently received a $190K grant to pursue a “Work with Purpose” program (Bethel Magazine, Fall 2012, p.8). I’m eager to see how this unfolds because the standard churchy answers for a productive and full life mostly involve using work as verbal platform to persuade others. But the work itself—that’s where I see growth, usefulness and, frankly, the hand of God. This is an old notion from the Reformation that need resurrecting pronto.

Last weekend Mrs. Kirkistan and I watched a documentary called Buck, about a guy from a rough, abused background who had an uncanny way with horses. I’m not a horse guy, and I’m not a fan of cowboy flicks, but this film was mesmerizing from beginning to end. What Buck could tell people about themselves as he watched the way they treated their horse was painfully close to home. The movie is full of notions about collaboration, respecting others and how to work with others without breaking them. One take-away quote from the film was that “horses just need to do something useful. They want work to do.” Maybe Buck was anthropomorphizing horses—maybe not. I do know that the craft we learn and the work we do often places us productively among other people.

And that is a good place to be.


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Written by kirkistan

November 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

What if God Showed Up at Work Today?

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I doubt it would look like church.

It wouldn’t look like a Promise Keepers rally. It wouldn’t look like clouds of incense. Probably there would be no robes involved or collars or big leather-bound Bibles to thump.

There might be preaching, but no pulpit. And no audience. If God showed up, the preacher might be the unknown worker silently speaking with deeds, deep inside a process, attending every detail. The example of some human serving in a hidden way that was not meant to be seen.

If God showed up, someone might float an idea in a meeting, an idea that was not politically motivated or meant to show how smart they were. Just an idea to help the group move forward.

If God showed up, all the gossipy chatter might be silenced—all that vindictive, energy-sapping talk about so-and-so that goes on all day every day.

If God showed up, maybe we’d see why we worked there in the first place. And maybe we’d decide this job costs way more than it pays. And we’d quit.

If God showed up today, what would your work look like?

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Written by kirkistan

November 7, 2012 at 8:36 am

Accent Signage Founder Reuven Rahamim and the High Cost of Repairing the World

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The sadness surrounding last Thursday’s shooting at Accent Signage in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood deepens. As new details emerge, the picture of Mr. Rahamim is even more compelling and plaintive:

Rabbi Alexander Davis said Rahamim saw his work as “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning to repair the world. “He didn’t just make signs, he helped people find their way,” Davis said.

The shooter, Andrew Engeldinger, had sued Accent Signage four years before. But Mr. Rahamim demonstrated compassion for this “loner struggling with mental illness” by keeping him on the payroll and trying to do “right by him.”

The best of our work has a caring element and is powered by a desire to serve others. Mr. Rahamim’s practice demonstrated this in a number of ways. He had compassion on one who would have been an enemy, pulling him close rather than pushing him away. He paid dearly.

The loss of Reuven Rahamim and others at Accent Signage is a deep sadness to our community.


Quote via Joy Powell, Star Tribune. Image Credit: MinnPost

Written by kirkistan

October 1, 2012 at 9:10 am

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