Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Healing in a Toxic System

With negativity in the workplace on the rise (according to the authors of Toxic Workplace!) it’s helpful to explore how faithful Christian can manage to survive, and even learn from, these experiences. How do I sometimes exhibit unhealthy and yes, toxic behaviors? How does my community of faith tolerate or enable it? How can we overcome disharmony in relationships, and help others to do the same?

¨ Daily praying for others (such as your enemies) helps you in two ways. First, it will help you see the other as a human being with struggles of their own. Second, it will deepen your compassion.
¨ Using a daily examen, can help guide you to spiritual health. Simply ask yourself what part of your day is most draining and what part was most life-giving?
¨ Another practice that has improved overall mental outlook and specifically attitudes toward work and home life is the practice of a daily gratitude journal. For this, briefly record 3 or more experiences for which you are grateful, including why you are grateful.
¨ Either the examen or the gratitude journal could be combined with a weekly meeting of one or two others who are engaging the same practice.
¨ Seek the regular counsel of a wise and trusted spiritual director who can offer individualized prayer practices.
- Try using one of your God given talents- your own unique signature strengths- in a way that feeds your spirit.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Managing Toxic Personalities

From movies to Office Space to shows like The Office, we have learned to laugh at toxic behaviors at work. However, in Toxic Workplace: Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power, authors Mitchell Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway report on the devastating effects of toxicity on individuals and organizations and argue for a plan to restore respect .

The authors’ research contains leader surveys and interviews from about 400 leaders from profit and non-profit companies.The kind of behavior they target is more subtle than fighting, stealing, or absenteeism. They list all toxic behaviors under three headings: shaming, team sabotage, and passive hostility. Such behaviors in the workplace are on the rise. Due to budgets constraints, there are fewer managers to redirect toxic persons.

Why do workplaces tolerate toxicity in the first place? Some hiring practices still prefer expertise over like-ability. Once hired, toxic people can be successful, so that their co-workers or bosses tend to protect them. In fact bosses are the least likely to see the systemic effects of toxic people because 1) honest feedback is not given from others about the toxic person and 2) their productivity is seen and valued.

If they know that a problem exists at all, most leaders quickly turn to an individual solution like working with the toxic person one-on-one . This may include firing the toxic person, giving the impression that the "bad apple" is gone. For example, researchers have found that teams made up of two emotionally toxic persons performed just as badly as teams made of all unstable people.The authors doggedly recommend beginning with organizational/team values and measurable practices that reinforce respectful engagement.

Many may not have the freedom to think in terms of what their workplace is doing to them or others; after all, having a job that pays the bills in these times is a great blessing. But it’s not lack of gratitude for having an imperfect job that should concern us. What should worry us is how people can be treated in the setting where they spend the majority of their adult lives: the workplace. At the same time, reflective Christians would do well to ask if and how we may contribute to sick systems. For this, Kusy and Hollway argue effectively for a detailed plan for organizational, team, and individual health and healing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Long Is Too Long?

When the football legend of my childhood, Jim Brown, retired from the NFL and the Cleveland Browns at 29, we all were given a prime example of what it means to "go out on top." As stunning as it was, it proved to be, in the end, something that has probably kept Brown's name on top of the record in yards per carry at 5.2. If he had continued for several more years, that number certainly would have diminished.

Football seasons have almost doubled in length since Jim Brown broke in, so many of the records Brown set were bound to be broken. As for as retiring early, Brown is in a small group of Hall of Famers. Most of the greats continued playing a few more seasons and in most cases, with severely diminished skills, even as they tried new teams.

All this, of course, raises the question of the self- chosen limits on our own longevity wherever we serve and ultimately, not only when to move on, but also, when to retire. At what point are we actors and not just reactors? Knowing when to fold 'em is something worth thinking about and not just leaving it to someone else to decide for you. When that happens maybe it has been too long.

The Browns? Life did go on. Leroy Kelly, whose career was less than Brown's (after all, he was the greatest), but who is still enshrined in Canton, Ohio, became the featured back behind his equally talented line (one of which is also at Canton). Kelly was a mainstay for his team the rest of the decade and into the early 1970's.

Most of us will not be the record setters. At the same time, there's a beauty to be able to leave them wanting more, and to know that you gave them everything you had. Life is about taking the next step, in God's love- both for ourselves and the ones we serve.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interesting Formula for Clergy Effectiveness?

A couple of years ago, the seminary president stated his case for measuring clergy effectiveness. He put it simply as something like:

Statistical growth X Personal spirituality = effectiveness
Fruitfulness x Faithfulness = effectiveness

This, he suggested, is how we measure our job success. In this scenario, effectiveness is a multiple of numbers and spirituality.

A good bit of this is the assembly line model of ministry management inherited from the previous century. It leaves me empty and uninspired. And it doesn't seem to hold up to Eugene Peterson's still prophetic attack of the clergy success syndrome in Working the Angles. That was the 1980's. Where are the prophets of clergy spiritual dearth today? The grad-grinds of effectiveness, using their graphs and charts to substantiate numbers, have clearly won the day.

Pastor as spiritual guide or healer takes an easy back seat when I need to prove myself. No surprise that stuff like personal health, well-being, balance, relationships, sanity, and sabbath also take a back seat. The current race to find and equip younger clergy? Younger clergy are cheaper for local churches, and denominations don't have to worry about paying their pensions for many years.

Older clergy, though, can bring a discernment and wisdom and spirituality- all the stuff that the years have taught us, if we let them. That includes seeing the numbers in perspective. But the church that values the ecclesiastical equivalent of assembly-line efficiency, calling it effectiveness, has very limited time and space for a wounded healer, so, no thanks, Henri Nouwen! We need more and younger bodies to feed the process. More food for the fodder.

Such is the problem with the business model. When we have to prove we're doing it, like the state exams for school children, we focus not on true vocation and gifts, but on standardization with all things being equal. But all things are not equal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Completing Denominational Forms

If you're a UMC clergyperson, you will probably be asked to complete an annual "self evaluation." There are lots of forms UMC's complete every year. For example, the year end reports are used for assessment of local church apportionments, which pays for the cost of our general church overhead, stuff we call "connectional" items. But the clergy self evaluation? It's anyone's guess if any denominational or conference exec. ever reads these.

Is the reward the actual exercise of reflective self-examination? Assuming that actual reflection is required, I'd have to conclude that yes, the completing of this most curious form doesn't really "help" cabinets who say they need them. Instead, it can help the clergy by inviting honest self-critique. Again, to the extent that that happens at all, it's worth it.

But being a good grad-grind isn't going to save you- not when you need help in your next move! Like guaranteed appointments, meeting all your deadlines will not come to your rescue if and when you are caught in the happenstance of life or the quirks of one or two antagonists.

Pastors spend much of their time guiding others to accept with grace what cannot be changed, what is out of our control. But when it comes to our own lives, we still think that we can control everything that happens to us. That's an illusion, one from which no amount of record keeping can protect.

So use the self evaluation "due by Advent" as an opportunity to grow this year if you need to. But expect no more.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Had Enough Transformation?

It's fine that we describe ourselves as a transforming congregation, conference, denomination, church, world, etc. It's just that overuse has made that term innocuous and I'm not sure if I know what it means.

"Transformative?" The correct adjective is transformational. But that still doesn't help me. There's a verb somewhere in transforming, the infinitive "to transform."

I know St. Paul uses it in Romans 12: 1-2, but "The Transformers" is also a kid flick. So in using a word with both biblical roots AND one that drips with popular culture, it would be logical to assume that we all benefit, right?

But when I hear the word, I don't think about new creation anymore. Instead I think about denominational statistics, organizational control, and manipulating language, all to create a reality that may or may not correlate with the facts on the ground where we live.

Like the idea of "building the kingdom of God," of a past generation, the market-eers of "transformation" make us sound like something fairly cool: people of action and verve. Really, where is our capacity for transformation? Our resistance to it is in our DNA.

In commenting on the Creeds, Rowan Williams speaks of God's almightiness as God's ability to bring something fresh and new out of any and all situations. So if there's any transformation, God- Father, Son, Holy Spirit is the actor and agent. We are the subjects, the clay, the transformed, willing as well as resistant.

As for the word transformation, in a few years, we will move on to something else, like "extreme middle" or "rethink," or whatever seems to mesh with the current fad or fetish. In the meantime, think and act concretely:
  1. What would receiving God's gift of new creation, recreation mean to you here, now?
  2. How is Holy Spirit, the Guide, with you in that experience?
  3. What are the practices that you, a clergy leader, will engage?
  4. If we are not aware of those changes in our own spirit, how can we, in good faith, offer it?
Like a mustard seed's growth or the action of leaven, God's rule begins almost by stealth and through the smallest of shifts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shame Agents

Unlike guilt that is used for manipulation and control, shame humiliates, isolates, and paralyzes the recipient. Shaming diminishes. Where guilt is about obsessing over my actions and consequences, shame is about my being a bad person.

Christian faith could inoculate us from swallowing the shame-bait. Although a healthy baptismal theology can be a defense against internalizing the toxin, there is still much in our Christian culture that accentuates the sinfulness of humanity not as choice or "bent to sinning," but as bad to the core. Included in this are those of any ilk who make absolute claims of truth and where disagreeing with them is the same as rejecting the Holy Trinity.

Whereas the shame- based leader can use name-calling and hang-dogging all too frequently in private, this may also be done in public depending on who else is present. People with toxic behaviors that border on illegality have learned to survive by hiding them from the right people.

Listening to the accuser makes it almost impossible to hear the Advocate, the Paraclete, at the same time! God's stated description of you is "VERY GOOD." On the wings of those words, we are healed!

Good bye, evil monkey.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Can Guilt Be Good?

Never mind John Wesley's admonition to serve with all due diligence not for wrath's but for conscience's sake. Guilt works, and if it gets the job done, then why not? After all, everyone is motivated differently, and if it's guilt with a dash of shame that keeps me doing my job well, then there has to be some good in it.

Fear of losing his job is what kept Peter Gibbons around in the cult movie Office Space. Even he admitted to the "Bobs" that people will only work hard enough not to get fired. It only goes so far, guilt.

Guilt is tricky because if that's your center, then how do you keep from becoming obsessive and hyper-critical of first yourself and then others. And the nature of guilt is that you will never ever do enough and be enough to please yourself. Assuaging your guilt, whatever ministry offered, quickly becomes about you. My feeling better about myself then becomes the motivation for ministry.

We all cling to various illusions. The question of guilt's saving virtue can be answered by the inner experience of it and whether it is more draining in the long run. Do we really need it in order to serve faithfully from a full cup of God's love and grace in Jesus? When I think of an alternative center of ministry, it would be self- respect, not the self-contempt that guilt breeds.

Oldies but Goodies