Jeff Haanen

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CultureTheologyWork

Easter is More than a Metaphor (Op-Ed for the Denver Gazette)

When I think of Easter, I think of the pink crabapple trees blossoming in early April along the north side of Caley Avenue in my home town of Littleton. 

I think of Easter egg hunts on budding green church lawns packed with girls in pastel dresses and boys in clip-on ties, carrying baskets filled with eggs, chocolate, and plastic green grass (that ends up on my carpet). I think of Easter brunch: fruit, egg bakes, and mimosas. And I think of leisurely walks through garden centers, smelling fresh soil, fresh seeds and new beginnings. 

Yet for me at least, the metaphor of Easter as a mere symbol is falling short. This year was simply filled with too much pain. 

This last year, I remember looking into a hazy, yellow sky and feeling the ash fall on my face from raging Colorado wildfires. I remember a friend of mine telling me about the piercing anxiety he felt as he watched from his balcony the dumpster fires move closer to home after the George Floyd protests. I remember walking along Civic Center Park and running my fingers along the splintered plywood now covering the windows of the old Denver Post building on 101 West Colfax. I remember the ghostly feeling of walking through an empty 16th Street Mall on a sunny April afternoon. I remember the tears my daughters cried when I told them their summer swim team, the Franklin Fish, had been canceled.

And this week, I remember the 10 lives lost in the Boulder King Soopers shooting, opening yet again the 20-year-old wound of Columbine that casts a shadow over our “best-state-to-live-in” reputation. 

Springtime sentimentality is no match for the harsh finality of death. 

And yet, Easter is not a metaphor. 

American poet and novelist John Updike once wrote:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

It was as His body;

If the cells dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

Reknit, the amino acids rekindle

The Church will fall.

In other words, the Christian church and faith rests on a single, historical event: the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body. 

Updike writes, “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence,” alluding to the categorization of Christian faith as myth. The resurrection was not like a spring garden nor a parable of well wishes. Christians assert, “the same valved heart / that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then / regathered out of enduring Might.” 

The early apostles struggled to believe in an actual, physical resurrection. Thomas famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John the apostle reports Jesus’ reply: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

The New Testament authors were making a clear claim: Jesus was no ghost. He could be touched. He ate food with his disciples. He had a body. Here was no ancient mythology of life, death and rebirth. Death itself was being unraveled by the Author of Life. 

Denver can feel like a polarized place, like the rest of our country. Yet on Easter morning, men and women across the city declare a single truth with a rare unity. 

From the Episcopalians at Saint John’s Cathedral to the evangelicals of Fellowship Denver Church; from the multicultural worshippers at Colorado Community Church to the Pentecostals at Potter’s House; from the Anglicans at Wellspring Church in Englewood to the Wesleyans at Trinity Methodist tucked between skyscrapers at 18th and Broadway; from the professionals at Cherry Creek Presbyterian in the Tech Center to the homeless at Denver Rescue Mission to the online worshippers quarantined in their homes from Northglenn to Castle Pines — for one morning, each echo the words of an angel, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see.” 

So what? What does the resurrection mean for a city still aching with emptiness, loss, and pain?

I believe it means three things. First, it means death is not the end. Second, it means that Christ has come not just to give meaning to life after death, but to bring his life to this world. His bodily resurrection is the beginning point of a new way to be human. And third, it means that the hard work ahead of reopening restaurants, helping students catch up, and rebuilding our economy is indeed work worth doing, because God seems to think this world is worth saving (John 3:16). 

Easter may not be a metaphor, but it is a new beginning. It reminds us that today is a time to plant, to hope, and to begin new projects that can bloom, like a budding crabapple blossom lining the streets of a waiting city. 

Jeff Haanen is the founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship, a nine-month experience in spiritual formation, professional development, and civic engagement for emerging leaders in Denver. This op-ed first appeared in the Denver Gazette.

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Work

How Effective is the 5280 Fellowship?

“How do you measure your results?” It’s usually not the first question I receive from a donor interested in our work, but it is the second or third. And it’s not always easy to answer. 

Measuring impact in the nonprofit sector can be tricky business. In the business world, it’s much more straightforward: profitability is still the standard-bearer for an “effective business.” But in the nonprofit sector, especially educational organizations like Denver Institute, our goal is to shape human lives. How would we know if we were effective at a program like, say, the 5280 Fellowship? 

The Process

In early 2020, we recruited two outside researchers — Stephen Assink (MAR) and Andrew Lynn (PhD), both from the University of Virginia — to help us with that question. As trained social scientists with experience doing research for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Thriving Cities Group, Stephen and Andrew brought both objectivity and expertise to our question. So, how did we tackle this question of impact?

First, we clarified our outcomes, which are all built around our five guiding principles. What do we mean by “effectiveness”? We mean people who think theologically about their work, embrace redemptive relationships, create good work, seek deep spiritual health, and serve others sacrificially in their communities and city. 

Second, we gave them an overview of the 5280 Fellowship program, and the elements we’ve built into the program to bring about real formation. City leader meetings, cohort discussions, mentoring triads, retreats, Saturday sessions, personal formation projects, professional impact projects — each element is carefully chosen to fuel change around our five guiding principles.

From there, Stephen and Andrew conducted both qualitative (interview) surveys and quantitative (online, multiple choice) surveys of pre-program participants (Year 5), and alumni — both recent graduates (Year 4) and our initial cohort (Year 1). 

Between 65 participants and 4,000 unique data points, what did they find?  

Measurable Results

Today we’re publishing 5280 Fellowship Assessment results, which is the first step in a multi-year study measuring the impact of the 5280 Fellowship. 

Here’s a sample of what we learned:

OutcomeIndicatorBefore After
Vocational MissionI view my work as a mission from God. 50%88%
Redemptive WorkI know how my work makes my city or culture better.71%100%
Spiritual GrowthI do weekly spiritual disciplines beyond Bible study or prayer.36%71%
Work RelationshipsMy spiritual disciplines improve my work habits. 78%95%
Civic EngagementI’m active in a nonprofit or civic organization. 29%50%

In the study, we measured the Fellows’ change in five areas: theology, relationships, views about their work, professional leadership, and civic engagement. 

We found strong growth particularly in three areas: theological thinking about their work and our culture, new and lasting relationships between  Fellows and leaders in our city, and adopting spiritual practices that lead to internal wholeness and health. 

One CEO said about the program, “I can’t stress enough how I’ve seen people’s mentality change as a result of the program.” A seminary lecturer commented about the program, “I think the biggest change for [the Fellows] is a shift from … an instrumental versus intrinsic value of work.” They now ask, “Does my work actually contribute toward the mission of God to reconcile all things to himself?”

Assink and Lynn also measured the 5280 Fellows in comparison with a control group of their evangelical peers across the US and found a marked difference in values and practices, especially with respect to weekly church attendance (49% national average compared to 76% for Fellows), participating in monthly in Bible study or prayer group (28% nationally, 80% Fellows), and pursuing excellence in their work because of their faith (78% nationally, 89% Fellows).

What It Means

Here’s what the report means for us and those we serve:

  1. Leading a Commitment to Measurable Change. Our goal is to lead the way in for similar programs across the nation to both measure their impact and to commit to the rigor of testing their hypotheses. Looking to larger studies like D. Michael Lindsay’s study on the White House Fellowship, we believe that early-career fellowship programs can and should be measured — and are critical in an emerging leader’s life. DIFW is a standard-bearer here for other faith-motivated and secular programs. 
  1. We Can Still Improve. The value of outside researchers is that they’re not there just to tell you how great you are. They found areas where we see less growth in our Fellows to date: growth in professional leadership and commitment to civic engagement and community involvement. As we plan and prepare to train leaders in other cities to launch their programs through CityGate, we are seeking to invest in improved processes, curriculum, and training that helps our Fellows truly live “from the inside out” and make a measurable impact on their workplaces, industries, and cities. We also need to do more study over time to see stronger correlations between the program and Fellows’ lives, careers, and civic impact. 
  1. It Works. The 5280 Fellowship — and the forthcoming CityGate Fellowships — really are effective. The educational model is a unique blend of spiritual formation, professional development, theological learning, network-building, leadership growth, and community engagement. Research has found that one’s twenties are an even more important time for career and leadership formation than college or even childhood. The 5280 Fellowship is blazing new ground in shaping men and women to love God, serve their neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel to an unbelieving world

For more information about becoming a Fellow, visit 5280Fellows.com. For information about how to financially support either the 5280 Fellowship or the CityGate initiative, please email [email protected]

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NonprofitWork

List of Colorado Charities and Nonprofits: Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Pueblo

Not sure where to give to or what charities to support?

Here’s a list of nonprofits along the Front Range that are serving the spiritual, economic, and social needs of Coloradans.

Denver

Colorado Springs

Fort Collins

Pueblo

Don’t see your favorite Colorado charity on here? Drop me a line by contacting me and, as able, I’ll add it to the list.

This post first appeared as a part of SharetheStimulus.org, a campaign to encourage widespread generosity to both individuals and causes affected by the recent pandemic.

EconomyEducationWork

How Do We Change? Formation in the 5280 Fellowship

How do we change?

I’m 34 years old, have four kids, and have been in the workforce for 9 years. And for me, there is no more pressing question in my life today than How do I change?

In the past three years, the stress of leading a growing organization, trying to be a good father, and accomplishing my professional goals has exposed, well, cracks in the foundation of my character.  My precious wife has been so patient with me as I stumble, fall, and get up again – only to find myself back where I started.

As I’ve spoken with peers about their lives, careers, and relationships – especially young professionals in Denver and Boulder – I’ve seen common traits among many of us:

  • We’re around people and “social networks” all the time, but we feel lonely, and not deeply known by others. It’s the great irony of a social media age. More noise, but less deep relationships.
  • In our careers we’ve gotten good at a technical skill for which we were trained in school, like drawing construction plans, scheduling conferences or planning lessons. But we wonder: what about the broader city we live in? Who else is out there like me? How can I go from a microscope (knowing lots about a little) to a telescope (seeing a bigger picture)? Might my career or work be a part of something bigger than just my success?
  • In the drive to get things done and accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, I feel like my relationships, my knowledge of myself, and my relationship with God isn’t what I want it to be. I long to live a deep spiritual life, but most days I find this baffling. I need help. Lots of it.
  • Only 33% of Americans are engaged with their work. Most show up, do a job, get a paycheck – and would rather be somewhere else. And even for those third that are “highly engaged,” there’s an uncomfortableness, especially in Colorado, with those who make their careers everything, and forget about family, friends, neighbors, recreation, or the needs of others. Is there a way to be engaged, but not make work an idol?

In the last three years, I’ve felt each of these feeling acutely. Changing any of these seems daunting for me. Yet what’s interesting to me is that in the first year of the Fellows program at Denver Institute, I’ve seen what looks to me like genuine change in the lives of 27 men and women.

  • Grant Stone, a banker, shares about a broadening perspective on the financial industry, and what it means for his future career decisions
  • Candice Whiteley, a vice principal, shares about the value of a community deeply committed to God, a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and our world
  • Banks Benitez, an entrepreneur, shares about a renewed perspective of God that even sees Him at work at a car wash employing autistic men and women
  • Rachel Moran, a law professor, shares about no longer feeling alone as she endeavors to live out her Christian life at a secular university
  • My friend Hunter Beaumont, lead pastor at Fellowship Denver church, has said, “This program is having a transformative impact on the culture of my church.”
  • Paul Frank, who works at a healthcare supply chain management company, said to me recently, “When I started the Fellowship, I hated by job. I had been in a tech company for over a decade – was something wrong with me? But one night, after doing a “vocational power assessment,” somebody in my cohort said: ‘Look, you have incredible vocational power as one of the most senior employees in your company. Maybe God put you there for a reason.’ I now see my work as an incredible opportunity to mentor and serve.”

Why is this? Where is this change coming from?

When I designed the program, to be honest, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about my previous educational experiences. I loved reading and ideas, but I couldn’t stand reading 500 pages of a boring book, writing a paper about an esoteric topic, or listening to professors lecture for hours without ever asking what I thought. I also developed an affinity for older books (and shorter ones!) that had stood the test of time. Better to build my life on the great ideas and traditions of the past than the latest fad that had become popular in the academy.

In my years after graduate school, I also came to value the primacy of learning from people: people who are further along in their careers, people who have had different training than I have, people who are influencing key conversations across different sectors in our city. Jesus wrote nothing, but he instead gave us his church, a group or people. I could now see why. People were just as important “texts” as were books. And through the Holy Spirit, God actually lives in people.  Moreover, as I grew in my career, I saw myself imitating leaders I knew, and putting into practice what they were feeling and doing, far before I understood the concepts behind their actions.

I also began the incredibly hard process of self-knowledge. Only in the past several years have I really started to plunge deeply into how I react in stressful situations, how I come off in front of others, why I feel energized or exhausted, and the impact my own emotions have on everyone around me.

The Fellows program has been designed for those of us in our careers who long for a deeper change that technical training can’t provide. We built in elements into the program that take into consideration the breadth of what human being is. We are relational, social, physical, emotional, intellectual, habitual creatures who are environmentally-shaped, embedded in culture, and designed for work, for others, and for God.

So what does that mean? In the 5280 Fellowship, in means:

  • The relational and emotional context formed by the cohort of Fellows is the core of the program. God is relationship – and we grow only by first opting into a community and commits itself to a set of habits, like spiritual reading, work, discussion, prayer, vulnerability, and learning from others.
  • The community is designed around values of theological thinking, redemptive relationships, creating good work, deep spiritual health and sacrificial service. The unspoken values the community holds at the outset of the program shape the environment even before we’ve begun the formal program.
  • We strive to cultivate a deeper knowledge of God on two levels: (1) his revelation through Scripture and his church through reading great authors on topics like biblical worldview & mission, calling, theology work, Christ and culture. (2) We cultivate a direct knowledge of God, the living Person, through practicing the classical spiritual disciplines.
  • We set the context for a deeper knowledge of ourselves through a coaching process that includes an EQi assessment, 360 interviews, sharing our stories with the cohort, and evaluating our vocational gifting and power.
  • We set the table for a deeper knowledge of our culture by understanding issues through eyes of leaders actually shaping and forming those issues through their work.
  • We intentionally build diverse cohorts and expose our Fellows to a broad network of leaders in the city because we believe learning directly from other’s experiences is deeply transformative on a cognitive, relational, spiritual, professional and civic level. Experiences like the 5280 Fellowship are often catalyst experiences that open new opportunities, new perspectives, and new relationships across churches and sectors.
  • The program also requires a professional project and a personal development project. Leadership development programs that are all about papers and lectures – but don’t have the teeth of real world projects that will influence real people – are not effective. Conversely, applying your theology to real work contexts and serving real needs, from psychiatry to urban planning to corporate management, is both professionally impactful and is good for the workplaces, communities, industries and cultures we live in.

Tough thing about the program: it’s a big commitment over nine months. And it’s only for those who are serious about change. But here’s the truth: technology is fast, but character formation is slow. And we can’t do it alone. We need each other.

As I was interviewing two of our senior leaders last month during a Saturday teaching session, I closed the session, and looked up to our Fellows and said, “I just want to say one thing. Seven months ago you were strangers – but I now call you my friends. I genuinely love being a part of this community. Thank you. I needed it.”

Change seems impossible to me most days. But as we near Easter week and I take a look at the empty cross and the light-filled tomb – and the growing community of faith in the metro area – I’m filled with hope.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 5280 Fellowship, fill out the form at the bottom of the 5280 Fellowship page or reach out to me personally. We accept applications for the Class of 2017-18 through April 30, 2017.

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Architecture and DesignBusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Affordable Housing: What You Need to Know About the Most Critical Issue Facing Colorado Today

 

Imagine with me for a moment.

Imagine you and your new spouse have been outbid on four straight houses in two months. Instead of buying your first home in Denver, you finally decide to work remotely, move back to the Midwest to be closer to family, and leave Colorado.

Now imagine you’re a business owner at lunch with a real estate developer who is fighting off three simultaneous lawsuits from trial lawyers representing a homeowner’s association. He tells you, “I’ll never build condos again. Never.”

Finally, imagine you work construction and rent an apartment near Five Points. In the past eight years, your rent has increased from $900 per month to $1600. Exasperated by rising costs – and stagnant wages – you move to Frederick, 40 minutes from friends, family, and your job site. Dejected you grab a beer with a friend after work. Your friend tells you that back in 2006, his grandma gave him $5,000 for down payment on a $175,000 condo. Today, that condo is worth $265,000 – and your monthly rent is now more expensive than his mortgage.

Colorado is facing an economic and social tsunami centered on a single issue: affordable housing.  

There’s a unique mix of factors at play.

  • Colorado is experiencing a population boom. It’s the second fastest growing state in the union, and population growth has far outstripped available housing for Colorado’s new residents.
  • Cities are becoming more popular places to live. With more people desiring to move into cities, fix ‘n’ flips, remodels, and urban redevelopment has transformed the housing markets in the metro area.
  • Housing costs, particularly in cities, have skyrocketed . Home prices are now a staggering 49.1 percent above the high reached in 2006. To make things worse…
  • Colorado has a labor shortage in the trades and middle skilled jobs. Which means there aren’t nearly enough people to build more houses. Sadly…
  • The rise in housing costs has hit low-income communities the hardest. For example, from 2000-2014, in historically black and Latino Montebello, monthly rent rose 18% to a median cost of $1690. Mayor Hancock says an estimated 38 percent of Denver’s renters can’t afford the rising costs.

The upshot: The state needs far more entry-level housing built to keep up with demand, such as condos. Ten years ago the percentage of new residential construction builds that were condos was 25 percent. In 2015, it had plummeted to 3.4 percent. This means that getting a starter home (either condo or townhouse) has become nearly impossible.

So why not build more condos, even if you have to search harder for labor? The answer: there is one major reason why developers have not built more condos in the last decade: They’re getting sued like crazy. Here’s how it works:

  1. A condo owner has a cracked foundation or leaky window that could be fixed for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  2. A second owner has similar complaint, and the condo’s homeowner’s association turns to a law firm that specializes in “construction defects lawsuits” and the case turns into a class action lawsuit. What started as a complaint over relatively minor problems (that likely could be addressed by paying the right subcontractor to fix the problem) turns into a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, costing the developer enormously (yet handsomely profiting a small group of law firms).
  3. Because of this litigious habit, developers flee from condos, often unable to even get insurance on the development because of exorbitantly expensive lawsuits over construction defects. (One firm boasts 100+ “recoveries” in excess of $1 million.)

The result of all these factors: an affordable housing crisis.

Not all of these issues can be addressed at once. But now is the time to address one of these issues on a statewide level: our state’s “construction defects” law.

Local solutions have been proposed. Cities have passed a patchwork of policy Band-Aids, such as the City of Denver’s new tax which will provide an estimated $15 million per year for new affordable housing developments. But this amount is only a drop in the bucket for a city that needs an estimated 60,000 more affordable units right now. Many have also passed laws addressing construction defects lawsuits their own municipalities.

But what needs to be addressed is how to allow the market to build condos profitably once again throughout the state of Colorado. Apart from a statewide solution, condo builders are “gun shy” on applying for new builds, thinking that an unfavorable statewide bill would trump local efforts.

Today a hodgepodge of bills are being proposed in the state legislature after years of unsuccessful attempts to address the issue. One requires homeowner’s associations to undergo mediation that makes suing developers more difficult; another addresses the cost of insurance; yet another gives builders the ability to repair construction flaws before legal action can proceed.

Most Coloradoans won’t (and shouldn’t) get into the details of the bills. This is the job of our elected officials. But the Colorado public needs to remember three things:

  1. This issue is absolutely critical to the economic future of Colorado. Our economic growth is fundamentally dependent on attracting and keeping talented labor. If talented tech entrepreneurs or skilled craftsman can’t find affordable housing, they’ll leave the state and our growing economy will start to contract.
  1. At the heart, this is an issue of human flourishing. Wealth building for most low-income families begins with an affordable mortgage. To have a home means to have an asset – often times the only major asset they have – that can grow in value. To be stuck in the vortex of rising apartment costs yet stagnating wages fuels the cycle of poverty. Getting a starter home at a reasonable price is key to the well-being of our low and middle-income communities in Colorado.
  1. Now is the time make a change. In the next 3-4 weeks, bills will either get passed to address construction defects, or they’ll get shot down in committee, often influenced by organizations like the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, who have profited enormously from the status quo. Today, both Democrats and Republicans are aligning to say we can retain homeowner’s rights (including their ability to protect their most valuable asset and, in some cases, seek damages in court) yet hinder this rampant practice that is hurting our most vulnerable citizens – and eventually, all of us.

Does shoddy construction exist? Absolutely. We need to praise an ethic of craftsmanship among condo developers, and build quality condos that can last for 100 years (and won’t fall apart in 30 years). But we also need to recognize now is the time to solve one piece of the affordable housing puzzle.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is contact your Colorado state Senator or Representative. They rarely hear from their constituents, so either an email or a phone call will likely be returned.

And instead of getting angry with them (they get a lot of that), tell them how much you care about this issue. Tell them you believe in giving developers the chance to repair their mistakes without costly trials; tell them to find ways for peaceful resolution of disputes between home owners, HOAs and developers; tell them you want to find ways to allow builders to once again build what our state needs the most: high-quality condos.

Tell them how excited you are for them to show political courage and bipartisan cooperation to solve this issue, and that you believe Colorado will benefit for generations to come when they pass the proper bills that address each side of this issue.

And if you can’t remember all of that, just tell them this: “I believe in a vision of a good city where men and women of all backgrounds can live in homes they own, provide for their families, and participate in the flourishing of their communities.”

Photo credit.  Want to print this out? Here’s the PDF

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Work

Guest Column for the Boulder Daily Camera: “Moving west for meaningful work”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Boulder Daily Camera on January 27, 2016. 

Erik Nelson, a former VP with a large financial service company, is on the hunt for meaningful work.

He recently moved from Texas to Colorado to find a job in the nonprofit sector, hoping to discover a career with more than monetary benefits.

But after a few months, his search became a maze. He recently asked me, “Honestly, can work be anything other than mundane, routine,  and pressure packed?” In other words, isn’t there more to life that working a 9-5—and then escaping to the mountains for the weekend?

Like the 19th century gold rush, Erik is one of thousands of people are flocking to Colorado. As the economic center of the United States shiftswestward, cities like Boulder are brimming with new faces – especially millenials. We seem to be following Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic words, “Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go free. This is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen.”

But why come to a city like Boulder? Why did Colorado gain over 100,000 residents last year? Is it our snow-kissed slopes? Our booming craft brewing industry? Dreams of trading the congestion of New York for a leisurely bike ride to work in the Colorado sunshine?

Certainly those perks play a role. But I have a thesis: what we’re really longing for is meaningful work. And for most, that search is riddled with anxiety. 

In generations past, many took jobs merely as a means to a paycheck. Sign on with a large company, stay for 30 years, and find fulfillment on the weekend. But the new norm is to find a job with a social mission.

For example, JJ Oslund of Boulder left his job in human resources at Target to join the Global Accelerator Network, a network of short-term schools for entrepreneurs, because “I was in a system where I couldn’t effect change. I knew I wanted my work to make an impact.”

The American historian and broadcaster Studs Turkel described this longing well,“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday-through-Friday sort of dying.”

If work is just a dollars-for-hours swap, then we’re spending nearly 100,000 hours of our lives like Sisyphus — pushing a rock up hill only to see it roll down again. It’s no wonder 75 percent of young adults want to live a more meaningful life.

The trouble is, most aren’t finding what they’re looking for. The average job tenure for millennials is a staggeringly short 16 months. For the rest of the market, it’s only 4.6 years. The search for meaning in work is elusive; as soon as one opportunity knocks, thoughts creep in of a better job around the corner.

Tech entrepreneurs often have the toughest time finding satisfaction in their work. A recent survey by TINYpulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found only 19% of tech employees say they are happy in their jobs, and only 17% feel valued in their work.

Tensions with work are often hardest for women with children. Jesse Minassian, a mother of two and writer living in Aurora, says, “I love what I do. Yet working from home while homeschooling my kids makes it hard. Between working, housekeeping, mothering, teaching and being a wife, I never feel a sense of being ‘finished’ with my responsibilities.”

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, these are the kinds of tensions we explore. Tensions between faith and work, aimlessness and purpose, family and career, what is and what should be.

Denver founder and city builder John Evans (1814-1897), whose efforts to connect the Denver Pacific railway to Cheyenne saved the metro area from obscurity, once said, “It is the imperative of the Almighty that we shall do all the good we can.” For Evans, his work in medicine, business and higher education, was driven by a deeper meaning than mere personal success.

Evans didn’t just have a career. He had a vocation. A person choosing a career balances financial and psychological benefits with professional advancement. But someone with a vocation obeys a summons, even if it leads to obscurity or suffering. The good of others trumps personal comfort.

Tensions in our work will remain. But hope for the masses moving West for meaningful work won’t be found in self-actualization but instead in the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Jeff Haanen is the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a Colorado based educational nonprofit, and co-founder of the 5280 Fellowship

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CultureTechnology

Questioning the local gods

 

I wonder if each city has its own god.

The idea was rather common in the ancient world. Many first century Jews believed demons ruled entire cities. Pagans too believed in local deities. In Ephesus, the mother goddess Artemis ruled supreme. When she was challenged, it was seen as a challenge to the well-being of the city (Acts 19:26-28).

But local gods reigning over a city? Surely we’ve grown out of such myths, haven’t we?

Two weeks ago it snowed in Denver. The forecasters predicted 8-12 inches (which turned out to be a drastically generous estimation). High winds, close to no visibility. Stores were closing; churches canceled services. Stay home. It’s the obvious choice. But many Denverites did the opposite. SUVs were warmed up, skiis and snowboards were strapped to the top rack, and true Coloradoans braved the weather to shred some fresh powder, blizzard and all. The mountains called. And we answered – dutifully, faithfully, bravely.

It’s no secret that Denver is a city defined by the Rocky Mountains. Our culture has been defined by the outdoors. Everybody does triathlons here. Even me. Biking, camping, skiiing, running. I even have friends who do the “Tough Mudder” – a romp through the mud to show your Spartan spirit. Our 300 days of sun a year shape more than our interests. They shape our very being.

Several friends and I speculate about the culture of Colorado. What is ultimate to these people? The earth? That would be Boulder. The individual? We certainly are a state of cowboys. But what, or who, really reigns here? The purple mountains majesty, of course. We live for recreation – for the weekend.

How does this influence our view of work? Everybody moves to New York to work. But nobody moves to Denver to work; they move here to play. Yes, put in your hours, but ultimately its about finding a villa, a latte, and a black diamond run with some fresh snow.

But how can we determine if something good (ie God’s creation) has become something ultimate? The best definition of a god I’ve found comes from philosopher Neil Postman. In his book The End of Education, he points out how easily teachers are swayed by the “god of Technology.”

“At some point it becomes far from asinine to speak of the god of Technology – in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it , that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that, in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits and their relationships to accommodate it. If this is not a form of religious belief, what is?”

Postman is not only writing for Silicon Valley here. In Denver, to what extent do we rely on nature, stand in awe of it, condemn those who speak against it, marvel in its presence, and alter our “lifestyles, schedules, habits and relationships to accommodate it?” When church planters come to Denver, they learn quickly that they start services on Sunday night, not Sunday morning, because that’s when Denverites return from the mountains.

Questioning loyalty to the local gods is awfully unpopular. Easier to work around them. Far easier yet to believe that we’ve grown out of silly, ancient myths of gods ruling over entire cities.

Discussion question: What are the gods of your city?