Jeff Haanen

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BusinessEconomyWork

We All Proselytize

 

“Kelly, what does proselytize mean?”

“Evangelize, but with negative connotations.”

I had to ask my wife last Sunday night because the word came up in a discussion with a local Christian entrepreneur.

I’ll paraphrase what he said: “In my company, we believe in the power of entrepreneurship to create flourishing communities. And I’m very open about my Christian faith with my employees when it comes up. But I would never engage in proselytization.”

When he said it, I mostly agreed. The word just sounds like rude, arm-twisting – or possibly even an illegal activity. Encroaching on other people’s faith makes many of us feel uncomfortable at worst, and often offended. It’s usually a good way to seriously tick off your co-workers.

But what does “proselytize” even mean? I looked it up in the dictionary and here’s what I got: “pros·e·lyt·ize ˈpräs(ə)ləˌtīz/verb: convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.”

Well, that’s interesting. This word simply means trying to change somebody’s beliefs or opinions from one view to another.

When I read this, I had to ask myself: aren’t all of us constantly trying to convert someone from one set of beliefs to another? I mean, if we’re honest, isn’t this what is constantly happening in advertising, media, and even conversations with friends?

For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary Before the Flood is clearly trying to influence people to care deeply about climate change. And he’s not apologizing for that. He believes deeply in the catastrophic consequences of inaction for our planet. And he wants the apathetic or the climate change skeptic to be converted from one belief to another.

Or take actress and activist Emma Watson. She recently went to a train station in England and gave away over 100 copies of Maya Angelou’s “Mom & Me & Mom.” As a “book fairy” for the day, she also included a short note in the book, encouraging readers to pass it on. Her motivation was to get as many people as possible to be reading about inequality. Her campaigns for the UN have advocated for feminism, the protecting of young girls against child marriage, and fighting a rape culture. A noble woman, to be sure. And she’s not apologizing either that she’s attempting to convert you to her views.

Even thinking more broadly than Hollywood stars, isn’t the act of proselytization simply a natural, human act? When you receive an email from Costco, aren’t they trying to convince us to buy their products? Weren’t hundreds of millions of dollars spent on political advertising trying to “convert us” to vote for a particular candidate? Doesn’t my daughter try to change my beliefs when she asks for a cookie before bed?

I’m shooting beyond my pay grade here, but it seems to me that a primary use of all human language is to influence people to adopt your beliefs. Some philosophers have even postulated that in all human relationships we attempt to exert power or influence on others. To Daniel Pink’s point, to sell is human.

But can we at least admit that we’re all trying to convert others to our beliefs? Even those who say it’s wrong to convert others to your beliefs, ironically, are trying to convert you to that belief!

But back to the specific topic at hand: sharing about your Christian beliefs in the workplace. A few things to note for my fellow Christians:

  • We should never try to coerce others. People in positions of leadership need to be careful about sharing their faith with employees simply because it can be construed as “to be accepted around here, you need to be a Christian.” That’s no good. Belief should never be a pre-condition to acceptance. The truth is, God doesn’t coerce us, but is patient with us and allows for us to respond freely to him. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If God gives us free will and time to respond, should we not do the same for others?
  • Let’s not be angry when faith comes up. I’ve seen many Christians get ticked off at the topic of faith in the workplace. They cite their first amendment rights to freedom of religion — while about to bust a vein in their necks. Again, no need for this to become a political fight. If it does, it shows that the real issue at stake is a political issue – not theological.
  • Gentleness and respect should adorn our faith conversations with co-workers. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” says Peter. I’m afraid to say that this has not always been the case for people of Christian faith in the public arena (I’m practicing the art of understatement). Instead humility, openness, and respect – along with a robust adherence to the truth we profess – ought to shape our interactions with those of other faiths.

To be honest, I’ve never liked the word proselytization. I won’t be using it anytime soon. But it is worth admitting that all people proselytize. Including Christians.

“Evangelize,” is a much better word. The word comes from the Greek euaggellion, meaning simply “good news.” The word is equally noxious in our secular culture, but it shouldn’t be. Why not? Let me tell a brief story:

For the past two weeks, as I have been driving to work, I’ve listened to the Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?” After the tears welled up in my eyes for a week straight, I decided to commit the lyrics to memory so I could sing it to my daughters before they go to bed.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the Lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s Perfect Lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am.

This is the message I have believed. And this is the one I unashamedly share – with kids, family, co-workers, neighbors, and anybody else who will listen. And when I share my own most-precious good news with the world, I join the rest of the world world that engages in sharing their stories of good news as well…

Last night, I finished singing it to Sierra, my oldest daughter, before we fell asleep. As we both looked at the Christmas tree night light, she said to me with a little grin as I finished the song, “I like that song, daddy.”

“I do too, my love.”

As we prayed together, I thanked God for that person who first “proselytized” me.

This post first appeared at denverinstitute.org

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BusinessEconomyWork

Nourishing the World: Spending an Evening with Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills

 

As we walked into the kitchen, our senses came alive: the smell of freshly baked bread, the shine of stainless steel appliances, the smile of Chef Daniel Marciani, and the sight of risotto, chocolate quinoa desserts and caramelized spread. We felt like we had just walked into Babette’s Feast.

The food was the unexpected capstone of an evening the 5280 Fellows spent with Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills, the largest flour producer in the country.  Ardent Mills, a new company that was spun off from ConAgra, CHS, and Cargill just over two and a half years ago, has 42 production facilities in the US, over 2,000 employees, and – get this – serves an estimated 100 million per day with their products. Chances are, if you ate any kind of bread product today, you are being nourished by Ardent Mills.

As we gathered around the conference room to hear Dan’s story, he candidly shared about life as the leader of a $4-billion-year company: the advent of his career at Cargill, the transition to leadership over a team of commodities traders in Winnipeg, and the values he uses as guideposts for everything he does.

Values, he said, are at the core of his leadership. Trust. Serving. Simplicity. Safety. For Dye, they’re more than words: they form the heart of the company he leads – and while not explicitly or exclusively Christian, each of them are endowed with deep spiritual value. “Though I don’t always say to people, ‘These are biblical values,’ to me each value is Biblically rooted, and the Bible informs me on how to lead a company, and how I can help best serve both customers and employees,” said Dye.

Dye spoke about discerning his calling and new job opportunities alongside his wife, Alea; how to build a strong leadership team; the challenges of work-life choices as he took different roles throughout his career. He shared about being a strong emotional presence in times of crisis, especially during a time early in his career when, tragically, two employees died during an accident. “It was the hardest time of my career – and one of the hardest times of my life. The value of safety isn’t just a word on the wall – I believe in it with every fiber of my being.”

Developing a strong, values-based culture is central to Dye’s leadership. He believes values allow them to better serve their customers, but they also create a work-environment that blesses his employees. The five principles of leadership at Ardent Mills are:

  • Live Our Values: Trust, Serving, Simplicity, Serving
  • Others Focused vs. Self-Focused
  • Clear the Noise
  • Relentlessly Curious
  • We Will Win – The Right Way

The final value used to be just “We Will Win,” believing that profit is inherently good as it creates the opportunity to serve more customers and hire more employees. But he added “The Right Way” after observing the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015, in which the German automaker intentionally mislead environmental authorities to pass emissions standards. To Dye, doing business “the right way” means profit must be made ethically, upholding the highest standards of integrity.

Banks Benitez, 5280 Fellow and Vice President of Global Expansion at the Unreasonable Institute, shared a brief note with me after the Community & Culture gathering:

“I just wanted to drop you a brief note thanking you for tonight. It broadened my perspective, humanized a big industry that I know nothing about, connected us to a leader who is putting Christ in that center circle, and sparked many ideas for me in my own career and role. One thing that Dan mentioned, which I really liked, was about getting rid of the noise and bringing clarity to people. I know that’s something I struggle with in my role with our team…It was such an amazing night and I kept thinking, “this is way beyond what I expected from the fellowship.”

Dye also shared about the centrality of his faith to his work. “I remember when I was a kid, my dad would take me aside before a basketball game, and give me some clear advice: keep your cool, do your best, honor God. I’ve always kept that advice close to my heart.” Through both his father and early career mentors at Cargill, who encouraged him to keep Christ at the center of his life, role models profoundly impacted Dye’s career trajectory.

The Ardent Mills vision of “Nourishing What’s Next” has special meaning for Dye. Bread is a central metaphor in the Scriptures: Jesus is the bread of life; the kingdom of God is like yeast that works its way through dough; Jesus commands his followers to remember his death through drinking of wine and eating bread.

As Dan Dye leads a company that is nourishing the world – quite literally – he also strives to nourish the spirits of the customers, employees and communities Ardent Mills serves each day.

This article first appeared on the Theology of Business Blog at denverinstitute.org

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EconomyWork

Business Travel Have You Exhausted? Bring a Kid

 

Traveling for business is tough. For most men I speak to, the time away from family and on the road is usually an emotional, spiritual and often physical black hole.

My friend Danny recently came back from a business trip. Bleary-eyed, he shared that the meetings were poorly planned, his flight was delayed – and it took him at least two days to recover from a feeling of exhaustion after getting back to his wife and four kids.  And his family was a mess as a result of his week-long trip.

Another friend, Andrew, sent a group of men an email,

“I’ve been asked to head up a church group specifically for guys whose jobs have them on the road frequently. Those of you who travel regularly know that it can be challenging to get connected with other men while traveling. We also want to help strengthen men in the face of temptations that often present themselves while away from home. Do any of you have recommendations for a small group study that speaks to these challenges?”

Looks like the challenges of life on the road are pretty widespread.

Traveling loses its luster pretty quickly when you’re only between conference rooms, airports, and generic hotel rooms. Though being on a business trip has an air of importance and unhinged freedom that can often puff us up, often we quickly crash back to earth when faced with temptation, long hours, short nights, and missed kid’s soccer games. The biggest challenge most business leaders face is loneliness – and traveling solo doesn’t help.

There has to be a better way.

When meeting with my friend Dave, he shared with me that better way: take a kid with you on the trip. Whenever he travels for speaking engagements, he tells them that a part of his travel fee is that he always travels with a guest: rarely does he say it’s one of his four children.

So, on a recent business trip to visit a foundation, I took my oldest, Sierra, 8, with me on the trip. And it was a total move of genius.  Eating chocolate pancakes, spying night-time pool cleaning machines, putting on cheese heads at a Wisconsin airport – we had a blast.

Here’s why I think traveling with a kid ought to be a regular practice for dads on business trips – and why I think businesses should fund their little traveling companions, too:

  1. Traveling with kids leads to an emotionally and physically healthy trip. Sierra was delighted by the airplane, giddy as we ate spaghetti and meat balls together, and talked about our trip to Chicago for weeks prior – and months afterward. Her delight and wonder rubbed off on me. “Dad, I just can’t help being so excited about the airplane!” We smiled, laughed, and chatted our way from rental car to hotel to meetings because of the joy of my daughter. Moreover, because I had to put my daughter to bed as soon as we arrived to the hotel at 10pm, I went to sleep then as well. And woke up right at 6am. The pull towards destructive behaviors to make myself feel better after a long commute….completely disappeared. I got enough rest, prayed with my daughter, and felt energized for the business meetings I had the next day.
  1. Traveling with kids keeps families healthy. How many families have been crippled by absent dads on the road – or husbands who strayed from their wives while thousands of miles away? Having a kid on the trip draws us immediately back into the commitments and loves of our families, and instead of putting strain on the family, draws families together. For Sierra and I, it was precious one-on-one time that is rare for a family for four kids. One she still treasures – and I treasure, too.
  1. Traveling with kids cultivates spiritual health in employees, thus making them more productive. Is buying the additional plane ticket on the company dollar really worth it? Maybe a better question is: what’s the cost of spiritually unhealthy employees? I’ve spoken to dozens of men who feel an unusual pull toward pornography when away from home – and in the cycle of addiction, no productive work is done. When dads get home, often we find we need to do triage after leaving our wives with 100% of the family responsibilities for a few days. And thus we need to work less because of the additional emotional stress of being gone. (Or our time at the office the next day is tinged with a an additional level familial stress.) An extra plane ticket is indeed an expense – but if we have health incentives programs at our companies to exercise and eat right, why not make an investment in healthy relationships?

I’ve shared my affection for traveling with kids (and my spouse, when we can find a brave babysitter for four kids!) with friends and business leaders, and here are the questions I get:

What do you do with your kids during business meetings? Good question. And I have a pretty simple answer: give them homework to do.  Sierra traveled with a binder of homework – long division, reading, writing, and world geography (which we had a chance to directly experience while on the road). During lay overs and during meetings, I simply gave her work to do. To be practical, I’m not sure if doing business travel with kids before about age 6 can really work that well. But after that, if they can do audio books or iPad math, they can productively use the time to further their education – and not get behind on class work.

Won’t my kids get bored? That’s possible. Conferences of mortgage lenders or pharmaceutical sales aren’t exactly Disney Land. However, when I travel with kids, we make nearly everything an adventure. Exploring hotel hallways, ordering fun meals, exploring new lands on the Illinois toll way. Plus, just before we flew out of Milwaukee, I took Sierra to visit lake Michigan (see picture below). That half hour on the shores of one of America’s Great Lakes has been the topic of her school writing exercises for a full month after our trip.

How do I get this business expense approved? Make the case that healthy men need healthy families, and that being isolated from our families for days or weeks on end isn’t healthy. It may be a first-time conversation with your supervisor, but make the case that employees are not just human ‘doings’ that accomplish tasks, but human beings who need deep spiritual, emotional and physical health to do creative, productive work.

At the hotel in Chicago, the front desk clerk looked at Sierra and I, and she said, “How cute! I wish my dad would have taken me on business trips as a kid. Our home was always so crazy – seemed like he never had time for me.”

Time for new trend in global business travel.

 

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ArtWork

That Eye-On-the-Object Look: Finding Focus in a Distracted World

 

The world is a distracting place.

Email, Facebook, open office spaces, iPhones, and insanity-inducing apps with red pop-up bubbles nagging for my attention. What would the opposite of a distracted work day look like?

Check out this statement by W.H. Auden:

“You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation, you have only to watch his eyes; a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, a clerk completing a bill of lading, wear the same rapt expression, forgetting themselves in a function. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.”

When was the last time you were working and you had that eye-on-the-object look? For me, at least, it’s elusive. So much clutter – mental, and physical. What can be done?

This makes me think about three things:

  1. Find Deep Work. Cal Newport’s book makes the case that unplugging from distraction is rare, meaningful and valuable. He also gives some clear tips on on how to work deeply in a distracted age, like quitting social media, embracing boredom, and “draining the shallows.” It’s the quantity of deep work – not the total hours in your day on your computer – that really matters.
  1. Serve the Work, Not the Customer. In her profound little essay “Why Work?” Dorothy Sayers says “If work is to find its right place in the world, it is the duty of the Church to see to it that the work serves God, and that the worker serves the work.” Here’s what she means: in an age focused on “customer service” we’ve lost a vision for the intrinsic value of the work itself. That is, we ought not to work ultimately for our customers or for our wages, but for God, and in so doing, our work reflects his beauty and creativity alone. Nuts to what others think about it. Do a thing well for its own sake. There’s your daily act of worship.
  1. Recover the Practice of Attention. Matthew Crawford has written a delightful book called “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.” It might be your iPhone’s fault that your distracted, or it may have deeper roots in Western culture. Crawford makes the case that hockey players, chefs and pipe organ makers need hours of undistracted focus – and that like them, collectively we could build public spaces more attentive to focus than frittering away our time.

It is indeed possible to get into a flow, as TED talk all-star Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it. It’s tough, but worth a try.

It’s high time each of us went back to the why of our work, and started to recover our vocation – and that beautiful eye-on-the-object look.

EconomyWorkWorld

Care About Refugees? This Greek Yogurt CEO is Hiring Hundreds of Them

 

Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO of Greek yogurt brand Chobani, is showing the world – including Christians – how to treat refugees. Since 2007, he has hired hundreds of refugees from all over the world, and currently employs over 300 refugees across his company.

In a cultural moment when more refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean than ever before, Ulukaya has, in the words of a recent Global Citizen article, an astonishing amount of moral clarity:

“He understands that refugees are fleeing tremendous hardship and just want to be given a chance to begin or resume a normal, healthy life. His workers have escaped death. They’ve seen family members get killed or have been forever separated from their families. They’ve endured years of uncertainty and fear. Now, they just want to be normal.”

A Kurd from Turkey, Ulukaya knows what’s it like to be oppressed. Despite significant backlash against hiring refugees in the US, he continues to advocate for refugees and give them job opportunities as a way to rebuild their lives.

Ulukaya’s story has a certain allure: born to a family that operated a small sheep, goat and dairy farm in Ilic (Erzincan Province) in Turkey, he came to the US in 1994 to study English and take a few business courses. He started a feta-cheese factory, and then took a big risk in buying a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005. His goal was to produce a yogurt without preservatives, artificial flavors or gelatins – more akin to the quality and natural yogurt he grew up with Turkey as opposed to the sugary and watery yogurts he found in America.

Over the next 5 years, Chobani – from the Turkish word for “shepherd” – would take off. In less than five years, his company would be valued at over $1 billion and is now the leading yogurt brand in the US.

Ulukaya clearly values philanthropy. He’s signed Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, committing to give away over half of his fortune during his lifetime or in his will. But on September 29, 2015, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, he also urged business people to do more than “just write checks” to help alleviate the suffering of refugees.

For example, he believes in paying his employees higher wages, noting that not only is treating employees better for the company, but also states that, “for the sake of our communities and our people, we need to give other companies the ability to create a better life for more people.” He even gave his 2,000 employees an ownership stake in the company. When Chobani is sold or goes public, they’ll receive shares up to 10% of the company’s values. The move could make the employees on his manufacturing floor millionaires.

In an interview with Ernst and Young Global Chairman & CEO Mark Weinberger, he unabashedly said, “Business is still the strongest, most effective way to change the world.”

Here in Denver, James Rudder, CEO of L&R Pallet, has hired hundreds of refugees from Myanmar. Other Christians have followed suit with campaigns for charitable giving to help refugees throughout the world.  But after a conversation yesterday with an investor and business leader in Denver, whom I deeply admire, I can safely say that we Christians have a long way to go to in seeing business – not just charitable giving – as an opportunity to serve the needs of our world. We could learn a lot from Ulukaya and his moral example.

A challenge to all of us in the US: Could we hire more refugees in our companies in the US? Could we intentionally start companies abroad to help the 65.3 million refugees in the world today? More broadly, how could our hiring practices reflect God’s heart of compassion for the poor, the foreigner, the widow and orphan?

One thing’s for sure: after learning about Ulukaya and Chobani, next time I go to the grocery store my wife and I will be stocking up on Greek yogurt.

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EconomyNonprofitWork

The “Culture Hole” in Our Annual Giving

 

So many charities, so many choices. This time of year, year-end fundraising appeals pour into our mailboxes. How are we to decide between the many worthy nonprofit causes that are asking for financial support?

If you’re anything like Kelly (my wife) and me, you have to make this choice carefully. We’ve set aside a certain amount each year in our charitable giving budget, and we want our donor dollars to make an impact.

For us, there are two giving categories that won’t budge anytime soon: the local church and the poor. We believe we have both a duty and a joyful opportunity to support our local church (Littleton Christian Church) as it proclaims the gospel to our community and nonprofits like HOPE International that are serving the poor and marginalized throughout the world. I believe these two categories should be universal priorities for Christians.

But I think many Christians have often overlooked a third category for charitable giving: culture. Actually, I believe the culture category is necessary considering the redemptive scope of the resurrection and what it means to be a follower of Christ in this world. Education, the arts, scientific research, leadership development, even politics (Did I really just write that?). The broader arena in which we work and live needs generous donor support – and without generous culture patrons, our entire civilization is negatively affected. Not a small claim to defend!

Here are three reasons why I think we all need to add “culture” to our annual giving priorities:

  1. Not all good activities our society needs are profitable, and thus, they need charitable support.

Imagine if you had to buy a $20 ticket to go to church each Sunday. Would you be incensed? What if you grew up in a community with no symphony, or you never visited an art museum or arboretum as a kid? Do you feel like other children should have that experience today – even if they can’t pay for it?

We live in the age of philanthrocapitalism – a view that says philanthropists ought to act like angel investors, and nonprofits should cease with this fundraising nonsense and act more like businesses.

Many nonprofits should indeed develop earned revenue streams (book sales, event ticket sales, or fee for service). And many organizations need to vastly improve reporting and metrics. But some valuable human endeavors are simply not profitable. And never will be.

Two examples:

(A) Education. It’s not profitable. It just isn’t. When a Ph.D. student spends five years studying medieval Hebrew manuscripts, or a kid learns a multiplication table for the first time in second grade, there’s no way these activities can – or should – be profitable. Experiments in for-profit higher education, like the University of Phoenix, haven’t gone well. The point is that education is good… and costly. And it will perpetually require donor and/or government support to impact lives and shape an educated citizenry, which our businesses, churches, hospitals and, yes, schools, depend on.

(B) Science. Building the large hadron collider, a massive particle accelerator, is costly. Really costly – to the tune of about $13.25 billion. Now, why on earth would anybody fund this? Because this activity could push all of humanity forward through a new scientific breakthrough. It’s not profitable – but it is valuable. Cancer research, a children’s hospital, the chemistry department at your local university – each need donor support.

I fully understand the need for sustainability in the nonprofit world. Trust me: as the executive director of a nonprofit, I understand this. We actively work on minimizing risk and diversifying our income streams.  But it’s also worth remembering that there are incredibly valuable human endeavors that require generosity and can only flourish with the support of people who think private schools and preserving primate habitats – “culture” – are worth donor support.

  1. Christianity leads us to invest in a broad scope of redemption – and a broad commitment to human flourishing.

Colossians 1:19-20 says, For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” All things, many theologians have pointed out, means the individual soul but also neighborhoods, cities, and entire areas of human endeavor, like art, law, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, and investing.

Or take a less-quoted example: Zephaniah 3. When God judges Israel for her sin, he says, “Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” God is judging not just individuals, but cultural norms that had become unjust. He speaks to government leaders, the media (ancient prophets functioned in many ways like the media of today), and corrupt religious leaders.

God’s law, given through Moses at Sinai, lays down a vision for a just society, not the private salvation of individuals nor isolated acts of charity. As soon as he tells people to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God,” he follows up by mentioning the integrity (or lack thereof) of their business practices (Micah 6:8-11).

God cares about all of his creation, from neurotransmitters to nuclear energy. And because of human sin, each area of the world is distorted due to sin. Syria is crumbling, spiritual emptiness is rampant, caustic partisan division is paralyzing Washington, and refugees are suffering.

Anthony Bradley, a theologian at The King’s College, defines human flourishing as “a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design.” Does our giving reflect this broad view of human flourishing?

We can’t change all that has gone wrong, not give to every cause. But we can do something. Why not pick an area of culture – like spurring on the generosity movement, contributing to the formation of a potential leader, or even giving to a bunch of scholars thinking about culture – and give generously? 

  1. The poor need us to give to “culture.”

Last week I was talking with my friend David, who, through his career, has become personal friends with many high ranking government officials in Africa. One day, he took an emerging leader from the Congo (a lawyer by trade) to visit one of the world’s biggest private equity funds (hundreds of billions in assets). The fund manager said, “We’re interested in investing significantly in the Congo. But we can’t yet. Because of the scope of the investment, we need to see political stability for at least 10 years before we invest.”

The young leader went away encouraged – knowing that this investment could create thousands of jobs for his countrymen – yet knowing he needed to work on building networks of moral integrity in the upper echelon of leadership in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help stabilize a county that’s been torn by civil war.

The point has been well made by documentaries like Poverty, Inc. or books such as Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing that entrepreneurship and business does more to alleviate systemic poverty than charity ever will. But that’s not to say that charity isn’t necessary. On the contrary, what we most need is a certain kind of moral fiber among business leaders that turns wealth creation into societal benefit. Earning more money can mean the chance to buy more whisky and prostitutes, or it can mean the chance to invest in your kid’s education. The formation of ethical leaders, especially in business and government, is critical to poverty alleviation. (Gary Haugen has also made the case that the rule of law and preventing violence from sweeping through countries is also critical to development work.)

In summary, if we care about the poor, we can’t just give to the next natural disaster or emergency fundraising appeal we get in the mail. We need to build up institutions and the people who lead them because it leads to jobs, stability, and cultures of virtue that can put poverty to rest for good.

The Most Generous Country in the World  

Americans are the most generous people in the world. We give away over $1 billion dollars a day. We give away $373 billion a year – and 73 percent of that is from individuals like you and me. (Though we give the most by total contributions, Australia and New Zealand edge us by a greater percent of people who give to charity each year.)

And people of religious faith are the most generous of all Americans. It’s controversial, but true. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute reports that the average annual giving among the religious is $2,210 per year, whereas it is $642 among secular Americans. Christians even give to secular causes more generously than secular people.

Each year, Kelly and I strive to give more generously for the core reason that God has first given generously to us.

It’s makes me excited to give this year to the church, to the poor – and to the cultural endeavors that God so loves (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

Broader, Not Deeper

 

What will allow more pastors to see the importance of work for their church and its mission? How might the faith and work movement help pastors and seminaries to embrace ministry models that equips men and women to serve Christ in the wide array of professions in our culture today? And why is this so difficult?

Last year, I interviewed Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, about his new book View from the Top. One of the lasting highlights from our conversation was about his research on the White House Fellows, a leadership development experience that had shaped a significant majority of the 500+ “platinum” leaders in his study. The vast majority of these leaders had experienced a “broadening education” during their time as White House Fellows. Fellows had candid, off-the-record conversations with everybody from zoologists to members of the President’s cabinet. Through this experience, they developed a taste for seeing issues in society broadly, not only from the perspective of their own field,  but from the perspective of others as well.

The reason, says Lindsay, this is so important for leadership development is that most of our career tracks drive us to becoming technicians, not generalists. We go through school and our early career, perhaps get a professional degree, and then get technically proficient at a single thing – whether that be creating pitch books or operating on a L5 vertebrae. And usually, these jobs are handsomely remunerated. The problem is that we have less and less of an incentive to see the broad world outside of our field, and what those kinds of work mean for building a good society. We may start off with a liberal arts education, but we very rarely cultivate a liberal arts lifestyle.

For example, Lindsay interviewed John Mendelsohn, who just stepped down as the head of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Mendelsohn was a top-flight scientist at a prestigious research institution. When Lindsay interviewed him for View from the Top, he asked Mendelsohn what book was on his nightstand. Surely a book on cancer research, or science more broadly. Right? No. The history of opera. Mendelsohn was reading about the history of opera before falling asleep! Why? Because he wanted to know more about the world he lived in.

This practice of broad learning, not deep, is core, says Lindsay, to a kind of leadership that is good for society in general. I’d also argue that it is core to helping more ministry professionals see the world of work outside the walls of a church.

So often, when we teach about professional growth, we go further and further into our own disciplines. More management theory for executives, or more biblical commentaries for pastors. But more often than not, the deepest growth happens at the intersection between fields and the relationships of people leading in vastly different sectors. (This idea has also influenced the formation of the 5280 Fellowship.)

Within the faith and work movement, we often ask the question: how will more leaders of God’s church start seeing the centrality of work to God’s restoration of his creation? We typically do what most professional development programs do: get more people to see it our way. Ask them to read Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor or Tom Nelson’s Work Matters.  Or come to a conference where Steve Garber or Amy Sherman are speaking. These are all good things to do. Tim, Tom, Steve and Amy are incredible human beings, and we should read more of their work.

But I don’t actually think that an initial step further into theology is the right move. What’s lacking for most is not good theology but good anthropology. Many pastors are wonderful theologians, correctly exegeting Bible passages, expounding gospel-centered ministry, and speaking of God’s kingdom and His redemption coming to all aspects of the world. What we can’t actually see, often, is the world and what human beings are actually doing in that world. We see elders, youth ministry workers, deacons, and volunteers, but it’s hard to see executive coaches, cashiers, community college administrators, nurses, and homeschooling moms filling the pews.

Most men and women need to learn only one other field to grow in the integration of faith and work: theology. Pastors, however, need to not only know theology, but all the fields their people work in: something of finance, K-12 education, health care, retail, manufacturing, agriculture and the social sciences. For starters.

What practices can help church leaders to see the world in which we live, and what Christian faith means for that world? To begin with, I’d say to temporarily put down the Bible commentary, and start to look broader, not deeper.

Here are three places to start:

  1. Broad Reading. Drawn to reading Tim Keller or James K.A. Smith? Read American history or the Wall Street Journal Drawn to Fox News? Flip on MSNBC. Love reading systematic theology? Me too. But just to toss in a curve ball, consider 18th century literature, or classic psychology. If you’re stuck, ask a friend about their work, and try to read one foundational work in that field before the year’s out. This broad reading will allow us to see a bigger view of “the city” we so often like to talk about renewing – and all the thorny, complex, and beautiful issues and industries in that city.
  1. Broad Listening. I’m so guilty here. Generally speaking, when I feel out of my league after the inevitable “What do you do?” question, I steer the question back to a topic I’m a pro in. It’s easier that way, and I don’t feel stupid when my friend is speaking about pharmaceutical sales or loan underwriting. But what if we simply dove further in, and became more curious about the work of others? I’ve experimented with this, and it’s just like learning a foreign language as an adult: you have to concede that you’ll sound like a kindergartner. But when you do, your imagination for what redemption might look like in physics research or ceramics production grows exponentially. This is really a practice in pastoral ministry – the shepherding of God’s flock for their formation in the pastures that God has placed them.
  1. Broad Relationships. We tend to hang out with people just like us. Again, guilty as charged. Most of my friends are white Christians that work in an occupational ministry-related field, many of whom live in suburban Colorado – like me. But what if we all made a commitment to having lunch, coffee, or dinner with people vastly different than us – ethnically, socio-economically, or vocationally? We would be able to see a far wider perspective on the world. Also, many of our biases against “those” people might be put to rest if we simply listened to their stories: where they grew up, the pains they suffer, the longings they harbor. Here we might be able to find common ground even with our enemies, thus making Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” a bit easier to do..

Perhaps these, not another faith and work conference, are the best next step for a broader cultural engagement, and a church that embraces its missionary role in the world.

This post first appeared on The Green Room. Photo credit.

Recommended reading:

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ScienceWork

Seven Quotes from Psychiatrist Curt Thompson on Shame

Yesterday we at Denver Institute for Faith & Work had the privilege of welcoming author and psychiatrist Curt Thompson to Denver. We began with a conversation with pastors on how shame influences our brains, our vocations, and pastoral ministry; we then heard Curt speak at Colorado Community Church to 150 attendees on how to heal shame through retelling a different story about ourselves; he ended his time giving a workshop on shame for therapists in the Denver area.

His combination of neuroscience, psychiatry, interpersonal biology, Christian theology and spiritual formation practices was, well, I’ve never heard anything like it…

The videos of his talks will be available on our vimeo channel in about a month. Until then, here are some of my favorite quotes from his time with us.

Seven Quotes from Curt Thompson on Shame

1. “Shame is directly connected to your ability to do creative, liberating work.”

2. “Shame was operative in the garden of Eden even before Eve ate the fruit; the serpent introduced it before the Fall.”

3. “We are best able to create, as God does, when we are ‘naked and unashamed'” (Gen. 2:25).”

4. “The healing of shame takes place through the process of being known, through vulnerability in community.”

5. “Pastoral ministry is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Where can pastors go to talk about their shame?”

6. “If you were not afraid of being ashamed, what risks would you take in your job?”

7. “Paying attention to the Holy Spirit is first paying attention to your body, and how your body is responding to shame.”

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CulturePoliticsWork

The American Bible

 

How do we restore civility to American public life? This will be the topic of conversation on October 13 at a lunch in Denver “Civility: Becoming People of Peace in an Age of Deep Division.” This book review, originally published on The Gospel Coalition, evaluates religion scholar Stephen Prothero’s attempt to bring civil discourse back to a raucous political culture in Washington DC by looking back at her most sacred, formative texts: what he calls, “The American Bible.” 

America is not just a country; it’s a religion. The faithful sing her praises at baseball games, pay homage to her heroes in Washington, D.C., and recite her pledge of loyalty in schools. They remember the tale of her exodus from England, and fancy themselves as a chosen people. They chide themselves for the original sin of slavery, and praise redeemers like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. who shed their blood in atonement for the sins of a nation. They spread the gospel of freedom, equality, and democracy, and when doubts arise, they return to America’s most hallowed center to define themselves: their holy scriptures.

Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, has done us the favor of compiling these “holy scriptures” of American public life in his latest book, The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. This book is not a translation of the Bible, nor is it even about American religion per se. It is an anthology of classic American texts—legal documents, songs, books, speeches, and letters—that form what Prothero calls “The American Bible.” From the Constitution and “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Atlas Shrugged and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Prothero aims to assemble America’s “canonical works” in order to bring civil conversation back into a Washington characterized by caustic partisan bickering. But as one of America’s leading religion scholars, Prothero has given us much deeper insights than mere political wisdom. In unveiling America’s sacred texts, Prothero sheds light on an uncomfortable truth: America has indeed become a religion.

The American Conversation

A thick volume, as if designed to resemble a family King James Bible, The American Bible gathers the near mythic voices of American history. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense incites a revolutionGeorge Washington’s Farewell Address warns of divisive party politics, and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address defines America as a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Dissenting voices like Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Chief Joseph’s declaration “I will fight no more forever,” and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcom X all find a place in America’s holy writ. From Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” to Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state,” The American Bible is a one-volume cornucopia of America’s most hallowed and fiercely debated texts.

Following the pattern of an “American canon,” the book’s table of contents employs themes from the real Bible to organize its ideas“Genesis” includes texts on America’s founding period, “Chronicles” includes excerpts from classic American novels (Uncle Tom’s Cabin triumphs as most influential), and “Gospels” includes classic speeches from Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. Prothero gives each entry in The American Bible a three-part structure: an introduction written by himself, the primary source text, and an extended commentary of disagreeing voices through the decades, forming a kind of “American Talmud” that embraces spirited disputation in much the same way Jewish rabbis debate the Torah.

For Prothero, the heart of America is not a common creed, but a common conversation. He writes, “The United States is not held together by a common creed. . . . What brings us together is practice—the practice of listening to and arguing about voices from our shared past.” The key to fixing our “obviously dysfunctional” Congress and our common life that has “devolved into a shouting match” lies not so much in finding agreement as in learning how to argue with civility for America, not just for your own party. A return to the sources of American life—figures Jefferson, Lincoln, and King—provides the foundation of American identity, even without coming to an agreement on their meaning. For Prothero, to criticize your country is not to opt out of the American experiment, but to opt in. And in this debate he hopes to unify a creedless people around the Great Conversation of what it means to be an American.

The Good, the Bad, and the Haunting

It’s not difficult to find things to praise about The American Bible. It is a treasure trove for understanding American culture. Far too many Christians try to understand culture by analyzing the latest social media trend or MTV top ten list, forgetting all the while the truly distinct features of American life. If an alien landed in modern America and wanted to know its essential features, Facebook may not help much, but The American Bible would. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry shape the American ethos more than Lady Gaga or Mark Zuckerberg ever will.

Moreover, Prothero’s book offers a clear, even-handed treatment of enduring political debates. His assembled “rabbinic” commentary draws from both the right and the left, giving credence to his aim of bringing civility back to fiery contemporary debates. Written in crisp and concise prose, Prothero also has a knack for selecting only the best sources and making complex issues understandable for the average reader.

However, Prothero’s main thesis that America isn’t defined by creed but by common debate doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. He declares:

It is not un-American to criticize any book in the American Bible. Look Lincoln in the eye and tell him you don’t give a hoot about equality. . . . More power to you. . . . No idea is dogma. But as you criticize Lincoln or King or Bush or Obama, know what you are doing. You are not opting out of America; you are opting in. . . . [Americans] come together to argue. This is our shared practice (489).

For Prothero, the only bond of unity for Americans is the argument itself. But if there is no American creed—even something as broad as “freedom, justice, and equality,” however they’re defined—then why are we arguing at all? Is there no hope for ever arriving at truth? It’s problematic to write a book with the aim of restoring civility to American politics and yet claim that arguing is our most central feature. To declare that there are no American dogmas or doctrines is to disagree with most authors of The American Bible who, judging by their colorful use of language, certainly believed they had arrived at the truth. Taken to its logical extreme, Prothero’s thesis leaves us not with thundering King, brilliant Jefferson, or determined Washington, but the wet noodles of postmodern uncertainty.

But his thesis isn’t what caused me to shudder; it was his metaphors. For example, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington form the “American trinity.” Slavery is the great “original sin,” the Gettysburg Address our American “Sermon on the Mount,” and Noah Webster’s Blue-Back Speller a sort of “federal catechism” for colonial America. Whether portraying Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” as a national psalm or blatantly tagging classic American texts as national scripture, the reader is forced to honestly ask, “To what degree does America function like a religion?”

Although nationalism is nothing new, the idea of “American civil religion” is relatively recent, introduced during the 1960s by sociologist Robert Bellah. American civil religion is generally thought to be a distinctive faith, complete with myths of origin (the Revolution, the Boston Tea Party), a pantheon of saints and martyrs (the Founding Fathers, the fallen Lincoln), a liturgical calendar (the Fourth of July, Memorial Day), and an all-embracing worldview. Prothero’s American Bible falls squarely in this camp. Though he certainly wouldn’t claim this as his own worldview—he’s far to “objective” for that—he makes the case that the real Bible “stands alongside other texts that Americans have long been held as sacred.” Borrowing Christian language for American ideas is not just metaphor for Prothero; it’s an allusion to the nation-state’s ultimate supremacy in all matters of faith and practice.

It’s debatable how widespread American civil religion really is. The line between admiration of national heroes and hero-worship can be blurry. But at bare minimum, ministers must honestly ask, “When does the flag displace the cross on the altar of American Christianity?”

A Better Country

The American story is a good one. For centuries immigrants have flocked to America for liberty, justice, and opportunity. And it’s worth reading the foundational ideas behind the American experiment, even if it means buying a lengthy (and rather heavy) anthology.

But the mystique of America is no match for the eternal kingdom of God, a heavenly country God’s people have desired for centuries (Heb. 11:16). When America tries to make itself the gospel, the great story to which all other worldviews and religions must bow, pastors have the distinct privilege of reminding us that the United States will eventually pass away, but Christ will reign forever and ever (Isa. 9:6).

Photo credit: Capitol

Tickets are available for the luncheon on civility on October 13 by visiting the event website

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EconomyWork

The Missing Piece of Colorado’s Pension Crisis: Rethinking Retirement on Labor Day

 

Labor Day, the federal holiday dedicated to honoring the dignity of work, is a fitting time to take a fresh look at Colorado’s pension problems and offer a new perspective.

This June, news outlets were in an uproar when Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) CEO Gregory Smith praised a paltry 1.5 percent return on 2015 investments as “good” news. With 500,000 Coloradans depending on PERA for their retirement, the $28 billion gap between assets and what is promised to retirees has hard-working men and women simmering.

The fear and frustration is understandable. But to face this challenge, we need more than clever accounting tactics or scapegoating nervous fund managers. We need a better story about ageing, retirement, and the purpose of our work.

Three simple truths can help.

1. We’re not getting any younger, but we are living longer. The Denver Office on Aging forecasts that by 2035 the number of Coloradans older than 60 will swell from one-in-six today to one-in-four. Actually, the entire developed world is aging – and living longer, too. In 1900, most didn’t live past 50. Today, American life expectancy is 78. For the first time in world history, Americans who retire at 65 must think about how they will spend 10-20 years of leisure time.

2. The idea of retiring at age 65 needs retiring. In the late 1800s, Otto Von Bismark established a retirement age of 70 for disabled German workers – even though life expectancy was only 47. During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt feared that unemployment among youth could create conditions like those under Hitler and Mussolini. So his administration offered pensions to older workers to incent retirement and open jobs for younger workers. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and set the retirement age at 65 (when life expectancy was still only 63).

You can see the problem. Today we encourage productive, able, bright citizens in their 60s to stop working and start collecting a pension. This is misaligned with a Boomer generation that’s often more interested in meaningful contribution than sipping piña coladas on a cruise ship – and expensive.

3. We should honor the contributions of public employees at any age. To solve the pension crises, we need to decide between two stories about our work.

One story says work is about toiling for 35-plus years until retirement, when you take it easy, play golf and enjoy long trips to Arizona. After all those disagreeable years of labor, you deserve a vacation—for two decades.

The other story is that work is about creative service and making a satisfying contribution to our world. In the words of English writer Dorothy Sayers, “Work should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction.”

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach medical students, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike 20 miles a day. You’d think the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved, might finally hang it up and retire. When I asked him why, he said with a broad grin, “I believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’m enjoying myself too much to stop.”

What if we stopped encouraging retirement in our 60s, and began to publicly praise the contributions of snow plow drivers, police officers, and educators who serve with excellence well into their 70s, as some do?

It would mean more men and women might “long enjoy the work of their hands,” as the Hebrew prophet Isaiah once said. The desirable side effect is people pay into PERA for longer and draw fewer benefits, thus helping resolve Colorado PERA’s funding crisis.

We could start this Labor Day by finding a public employee at a backyard cookout and thanking her for serving.

Photo Credit: Retire

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