Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Manager

In speaking with many people unhappy at companies I've seen a trend in what has been misinterpreted and perverted as management.  Manager is a term that has been confused with the role of a leader which has causes and causes daily destructive consequences.  In the most practical sense of the word a manager within a company/business context is a supervisor or one in charge of a team.  Whatever that team's job maybe it is the managers job to oversee their success, etc.  What is a manager?  What should a manager be?  What should a manager do?  These are all valid questions, questions that many that are being managed ask, which causes a rift in the culture and tearing of the fabric of a company.  Morale is negatively impacted when these questions are unaddressed or dismissed as insubordinate.  Although the questions are not asked directly you can feel their presence just below the surface of circumstantial dilemmas.  What a manager is defined as and thus what their role and area of expertise is determines the success of a team and ultimately company or business.  

Where are we?  Let's first discuss the context that many of us find ourselves within concerning managers.  Most work for stable companies where managers are promoted from within based on their expertise and experience of that area or subject matter.  But what is it that a manager should be an expert at?  Is it the subject matter itself that a manager is concerned with or is it the people?  If person A is an expert on subject X, is it necessary to be an expert of X to be a manager?  The answer to that question is what separates companies and departments employees thrive in and enjoy from those who promote mediocrity and low morale.  My prescription to this query is absolutely not.  No, a manager doesn't need to be the expert in a certain subject matter in order to be an effective manager.  Managers are simply supposed to be individuals who are skilled at motivating and coaching people.  If that is the definition we use in terms of what a manager should be then it is unnecessary to posses expertise in any area outside of people skills.  

Companies/businesses that select managers based upon their expertise in a subject matter or experience and time with that company fail to realize that just because someone has done something successfully for 30 years does not mean they would make a good manager.  Many talented basketball players would make horrible coaches and there are coaches that are horrible at actually playing the game.  The general premise is pretty simple, managers are supposed to be people oriented, skilled at motivating and serving others as a means of accomplishing a task.  If Jane make widgets really well and Jane is promoted to manager because of that, is it because she makes widgets well or is actually good at managing people? This question should be asked and is necessary to consider.  The assumption that Jane will be a good manager because she has exceeded company standards in widget making and done so for consecutive years is a very flawed and dangerous one.  

Business needs managers, not experts in subject matter that cannot manage people.  Expertise in subject matter outside of people skills for a manager is nothing more than extras.  I'd rather have a manager skilled in people management than skilled at the job in which the people they manage perform.  If companies and businesses thought more so this way we'd see more productive and effective work being done.  What are your thoughts?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where is God (Aching)?


My assumption is that some consideration has been given to the logic that leads to the answer of, “Where is God?”  I’ve discovered a new aspect of God in my life recently, one that is much more emotional in a personal way than I’ve experienced before.  God has always loved poor people and hated war in my eyes.  I’ve understood him from a large sweeping, generalized, universal standpoint.  Was it personal? Well, of course, in a way.  It was personal that Jesus saved me and yada yada, however, I think God is such a big idea that it’s difficult for us to perceive him personally, unless something does actually happen in our lives.  Based on our experiences in life we begin to build a context, for which we place God in, and sometimes that can be unhealthy or even incorrect, but that always leads me back to asking people to consider how they came to those conclusions.  All that to say this, there is a word that plays over in over in my mind and heart recently that describes God, for me, where I am right now, and that word is ache.
Ache.  Such a simple word, but is heavy and deep.  What does it mean to ache?  What does it feel like to be aching from something? 

In the bible there are phrases and imagery used of aching like, moaning and hurting down to the bone marrow or joints.  Bone marrow is the imagery used to express the depths of a person, the deepest parts.  The aching I am referring to is something that eats at you at the deepest level, which some would argue is your soul.  Aching is pain that hurts your being, your soul, a deep pain.  There is nothing you can do about it, no medicine to numb the pain, and nothing big or loud enough to distract you from how painful this thing is that is aching your bones and soul away.  It’d be like a mother losing an infant child to death’s cold grips.  This kind of aching mother is the God I now have become familiar with. Often times we are taught about a God who looks around at all the bad in the world and is angry or impatient.  All too often we personalize that and begin to feel certain things do or don’t happen to us because of God’s disapproval. This leads us down a cynical and dark path though, one where the loving aspect of God as a father is lost and we embrace this distant, unrelated, deity that we cannot touch or even relate to.  This turns the world awfully small and cold.  The kind of aching I’m talking about is when tears stream down your face and you cannot control nor describe why they flow.  The seat you occupy gets deeper and deeper as you sink into this numb feeling of pain.  Logically something may make perfect sense, but just going through it hurts so bad because there was or is a loss so large or deep that it impacts your soul.  I think aching only happens when there is something that impacts you at your depths. 

God aches.  Experiencing a God who is not disappointed or angry or saying you should have tried harder or been better, a God that doesn’t hold you to a standard (unfortunately there is a large population that misunderstands and therefore teaches a particular verse that says we should be perfect), but a God who aches with and for you., experiencing a God like that is, well, relieving.  Knowing that you can cry, you can hurt, and you can moan in agony without any repercussions or judgment is something special.  God aches for us and with us, that’s the God I’ve experienced recently.  While I cannot tell you of any deep prayer time or bible reading I can tell you of the feeling of an aching God’s presence.  So hurt, moan, and ache, it’s something we need to go through.  Jesus wept when a dear friend died whom he had total control and power to bring back to life.  Why did He weep?  I think Jesus wept because he ached for the pain he saw in people he loved.  Jesus wept.  God aches.  There is peace in that.  Shalom.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Purple Math

Part 1
Entertain me for a moment and join me in this psychological exercise.

Imagine for a moment you are a well-dressed, clean-cut, accomplished mathematician.  You work as a professor at an institution highly regarded by the academic world. You are at the pinnacle of arithmetic accomplishment. You begin to hear rumors swirling about of a new, controversial mathematician making their rounds in your industry. They are supposedly a great teacher and wise beyond anything the common understanding has perceived in recent history.

The day has finally come for you to meet this great new teacher. You are excited to possibly gain some new knowledge, but mainly anticipate satisfying your curiosity and seeing if this person is actually as wise as you are. You sit in your office filled with rich mahogany, books, and sip your brandy whilst taking puffs of your Cuban cigar. In walks this teacher, a little late to the agreed upon time, dressed, well, disheveled, at best, and smells terrible. They are younger than you, not as well put together, and carries them self almost diffidently. The first impression is not going well to say the least. Then the moment of truth, they speak, and ask you a simple question, something you almost scoff at.

“What is 1 + 1?”

Offended at such a simple question, nonetheless, you answer, “two.”

Then an unintelligible follow-up question, “What would be an incorrect solution to this equation?”

You think, pause, then confidently respond, “Well, 3, 9, 17, -1, any other numeric variable that is not 2.”

They respond with content and self-assurance that makes them seem mad, “No, the correct answer to 1 + 1 is simply, purple.”

You promptly do a spit take and blast a warm mist of your sweetly aged bourbon all over your rich mahogany desk.  You laugh in utter disbelief as this supposed great teacher provides you with what can only be described as an absurd proposition.

1 + 1 = purple

That’s insane, that is comically incorrect. You kindly escort them out of your office and return to your quarters thinking this teacher is mad.

If this was where the interaction stopped then you would only have a story of a mad mathematician who was a complete joke and not someone close to your composition and elite achievement in the field. 1 + 1 = purple is crazy, or is it?

The entire context of what is right and/or wrong, of who has achieved or not, who is powerful or not, is based around the ideology of numeric values. A number plus another number is the sum of those numbers. We have been taught this from childhood, there is a history of this context. Then along comes this new teacher who says that the entire context we understand is wrong and that a number plus a number is a color. 

As my favorite animated characters say, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?”
This is a parable of Jesus and his relationship to the religious elite in the days of his ministry.

Part 2
During the time of Jesus’ ministry and his arrival on the scene a deeply historical religious society existed. Not only was this a historically religious culture, but they were also under the thumb of the Roman empire. In order to not be total slaves and miserable, the leaders of that time struck up a deal with Rome to operate under them but with some kind of autonomy. They collected their taxes for them and paid Cesar what he was due. They were able to practice their religion as well as benefit financially from this partnership. The who’s-who of that culture were the Pharisees. They were the leaders at that time.  They could read, they could write, they knew the sacred scriptures and laws well. They knew them well enough, to be the overseers of the society in general. There was a system in place from a historical and cultural stand point.  Historically, they had the Jewish back story and laws of Moses. Culturally, they had figured out a happy compromise with Rome. All was well, well, until this revolutionary new rabbi burst onto the scene, his name was Jesus.

If you study the law and the Old Testament you will quickly see there was a system in place that always demanded more. It was this unsustainable system that required from the people what they were ultimately unable to provide. The entire law was a preparation for the messiah to come, the brokenness of that system was to reveal the necessity for a redeemer. This culture was looking for that redeemer and all the power he would bring with him. Under the thumb of Rome, it was natural that the form this redeemer quickly took on in terms of expectations was someone who would become their king and free them from their oppressor. A great and powerful person. Powerful is the word that made Jesus so polarizing. What is power to some may not be power to others. In truth, power to the creator of everything is not power at all to his creation. Creation had come up with its own definition of what power was and Jesus came with a power they did not understand; his power was not what they had defined for themselves.

Here are things Jesus says to these powerful individuals and to those who view them as powerful. Jesus is speaking to a context of people who have this definition of power already established in their psyche. 
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:1-11).

When the disciples asked him who is the greatest in the kingdom, his response was,
Truly I say to you, unless you [c]are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4).

Then he tells this odd story about unfair wages and ends it with the statement, “So the last shall be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:16).

When he rides into Jerusalem in what is now Palm Sunday he doesn’t enter as a triumphant ruler as anticipated, he comes on a colt, or donkey, which was livestock, not a powerful vision they had at all (John 12).

Jesus did not play into or meet any expectations when it came to that cultures ideology of power. As a matter of fact, when the teachers of the law asked Jesus to give them a sign to show them he was who he said he was, meaning, show us you are powerful, he refused and told them they were an evil and adulterous people (Matthew 12:39). Basically, Jesus makes it clear he will not play their game, he will not submit himself to this structure of power they had made. Jesus came to break expectations and change the way everyone thought.

Part 3
I was always confused when I would see those street evangelists in a bar scene or at some drinking festival telling people to repent. Teshuvah is the Hebrew word used in our translation of repent in the Old Testament. It means to return. To the Hebrews it was spoken to it makes total sense, return to your God. But, what are they telling these people who may or may not have roots in the Jewish god? What are they telling them to return to? Words are important. This phrase will probably go on my tombstone because I say it so often. People say things without knowing the full meaning. Unlike the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, the New Testament is written in Greek and the word we translate for repent is metanoia. Metanoi means change your mind basically. So Jesus comes telling people to change the way they think. The way we view power needs to be changed. Jesus offered so many contradictions to the worldview the people of that time had created. Jesus seeks to change our mind and how we view the world.

There is a dichotomy between the ideology of push versus pull or what I am proposing as do versus be. With religion back then and now there is a sense of the need to do to become. Be better, pray more, read more, don’t do certain things, and if you do or do not do these certain items you will be a fill in the blank, better Christian, etc.  Jesus came teaching to be and the actions will follow because of who you are. If we change our thinking, the way we see the world, the way we view power and status, then actions will happen because of that, not the other way around. Jesus told this complex parable that is commonly understood and used as a way to talk about how much Jesus loves sinners and those who are far from him. I’d like to offer this prodigal son parable (Luke 15) up in a different light, from a different perspective.

Both sons are viewing their relationship with their father as linear, as a point system, if you will. If you do good, you gain favor, if you do bad you lose favor. The younger son believed this so much that after he had squandered all the inheritance money away he finally arrived at the idea that he could return to his father as a hired hand. It even says he came to that decision and had a speech prepared for his father stating how unworthy he is, all because of his actions. He thought he lost all favor because of his actions, he lost points. The older brother contrarily believed his good actions had gained him favor and he deserved something. The father does something that blows both of their minds here, he accepts the younger son and celebrates his return, affirming his worth to him. Then he tells the older son, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours (Luke 15:31)” He affirms the worth of his older son while at the same time deflating his pride. The mind-blowing, life-changing power of this parable and Jesus’ message is that there is no earning scale, there is no deserving.

Another parable Jesus teaches is about workers in a field (Matthew 20). The challenge in this story is that workers who worked say 8 out of 10 hours were paid the same as workers who worked 2 out of ten hours. Again, another way Jesus is pointing out that our math is all wrong and he is more interested in colors. When we think 1 + 1 = 2, he is inviting us to see the resolution as purple.
What would it mean if we woke up tomorrow and saw the world from the perspective that God loves us all equally? What would it mean for me to see someone as an equal regardless of their behaviors, abilities, or accomplishments? What would it mean for how I view myself if I were affirmed to be loved no matter what? Would I live more out of love than fear? What kind of life change would this change in mind lead to?