Lately I’ve been sketching out an article for a Christian investors’ group. So far the idea looks like this:
What’s the story? How can you find and assess a company’s story about what it does – and what does the nature of that story have to do with the level and quality of its employees’ (and other constituents’) engagement and buy-in, and the way they treat others as they work?
In short, does the company tell a convincing, inspiring, flourishing-centric story about what they are contributing to the world? Or is it something less than that? And does it back up the story with consistent actions?
In this article, I would propose a sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of narratives – from least flourishing-focused (that is, engaging and inspiring) to most. This hierarchy would look something like this:
Further to my piece yesterday – “Readings on the vocations, and challenges, of professors today” – and building on recent experiences of reading several dozen Chronicle of Higher Education articles and convening several groups of professors, here’s a reflection on the “moment” academe seems to be experiencing right now.
Back in March, I had the honor of convening several groups of theological educators (seminary and college faculty) to explore their vocational development needs. One question I asked was about the current vocational challenges faculty are facing. After breaking into small groups, we heard reports from each. One group identified these challenges (rendered here in note format):
Anxiety with changes, transition to virtual work – is this real education? Am I doing it well? Not as satisfying. Missing potential for formation?
Sense of living and working in a time of transition – everyone knows education is ripe for disruptive innovation
Identity: am I simply a professor or also a mentor, coach, something else? – transitions in teaching (and student needs and preferences) lead to questions of identity
The need for rest, with some burnout: schools have tighter budgets, are asking people to do more
As I read these notes, I was getting a strong feeling of déjà vu – where had we seen a combination of factors similar to this before? And it dawned on me: this was reminding me of David Miller’s characterization, in his book God at Work, of the 1980s-90s in the American business world, the rise of the “third wave” of the faith and work movement, and his description of the factors and pressures that led boomers to turn to questions of spirituality (both new age and traditionally religious) related to their work, in search of a revived and restructured identity and a recovered vocational satisfaction.
I went back and re-read the main section of Miller that dealt with this and that made the link between vast changes in the business sector (in particular) and an increased focus on “spiritual” issues related to work. I’m pasting it below, then I want to draw out the parallel with today’s higher ed situation and faculty’s current vocational experience.
The Methodist story gives us a vision for responsible work and broad social action, but we may still wonder today—and this is our third question—(3) how we can work faithfully while also while activelypushing back against those parts of our organizations and sectors that are unjust, or immoral—that is, that harm rather than hurt people? Where are the Christian resources that can help us act redemptively within unredeemed systems?
One Christian leader who armed others for such redemptive action was the late-Victorian American Congregational pastor Charles Sheldon.
It’s a Sunday morning near the end of the 1800s, in the comfortable upper-middle-class “First Church” in the town of Raymond, somewhere in the Midwest. Halfway through the service, a tired, sick homeless man walks into the church, up the aisle to the front, and begins to speak. He wonders aloud why there is so much trouble and misery in the cities when their well-off Christians sing so much about consecrating themselves entirely to God. “It seems to me,” he says, “there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand.” Then he asks, in that now-familiar phrase: “But what would Jesus do?’”
Rae began by examining some of the common criticisms lobbed against business, namely, that it promotes greed, inequality, and consumerism. As Michael Miller often notes, these are human vices, not economic ones, and thus business, properly understood, is not immoral in and of itself.
On the contrary, business has great potential for serving and contributing to the common good. Though some believe profit-seeking enterprises are only valuable insofar as they can “give something back” out of what’s leftover, Rae emphasized how business advances the common good right from the get-go.
Rae offers four primary ways this occurs:
By peaceably providing needed goods and services that allow human beings to flourish and enhance their well being
By providing meaningful work that allows human beings to flourish and enhances their well being
By facilitating wealth creation and economic growth
By enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty
By leveraging business, we not only yield profits that can be used for the glory of God outside of business, we can serve our neighbors in the here and now. “God is not just redeeming individuals,” Rae concluded. “He is redeeming all of creation. He is redeeming the marketplace.”
To listen to Rae’s lecture, you can purchase “Business and the Common Good” here.
I’d like to share part of a fascinating article (thanks to Drew Cleveland of the Kern Family Foundation for bringing this to my attention) on the special “body knowledge” and skills required of the long-haul truck driver. It’s called “Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification” and is by Benjamin H. Snyder. I find it eye-opening, compelling, even moving. It is an excellent specimen of the journalistic species of the “creative nonfiction” genus.
The article sure made me stop and think of the ease with which I hit that “order” button in Amazon.com. I sure don’t think about what the truck driver will quite possibly go through to get that package to me, or indeed the indignities he will suffer as he does so. Here’s a taste of the article, which is from UVA‘s Hedgehog Review. For the whole thing, go here.
3:32 a.m. Over the last hour and a half, we have stopped at three more truck stops and one rest area. They have all been completely full. We pull into another truck stop—a fifth attempt at parking tonight. Yet again, it is full. Alvaro tries to remain optimistic. He turns to me with a wry smile and says, “looks like we’re going to Little Rock, man!” Continue reading →
If you’re interested in the new global movement of “Business as Mission,” Mats Tunehag is your guy. He is Senior Associate on Business as Mission for both the Lausanne Movement and for the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, and founder and co-leader of the first global think tank on Business as Mission (now in its second multi-year session). Recently on his blog, and re-posted on the Bam Think Tank blog, Mats gave us a pithy but penetrating run-down of 12 dimensions of BAM.
Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here’s a fascinating article on a Manhattan network that funds Christian-owned startup companies. And not surprisingly (to me), Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church is involved, providing seed funding to a bunch of startups already.
A couple of snippets, then the link:
The scene at the Faith and Tech meetup group is part of a small subculture of the tech world that supports Christian entrepreneurs. In contrast to the hard-partying, get-rich-fast lifestyle portrayed in a new Bravo reality show on Silicon Valley, these entrepreneurs and investors not only pray together, but also give financial support to faith-based startups and discuss how to build religious companies that are both financially successful and socially responsible.
. . .
In New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian Church has funded 20 startups over the past seven years as part of its annual small business competition. The church sees its investments as an outgrowth of its mission to serve the city, said Calvin Chin, director of entrepreneurship initiatives at Redeemer. To enter the competition, the business founder must be Christian — a rule meant to ensure that each startup operates in line with church values, Chin said. Continue reading →
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