Posts in Communication
The Church We Desperately Need
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As the parents of four children, my wife and I have often had to look our kids in the eye and remind them that we are the parents and they are the children. We have the life experience and hopefully the wisdom to make good decisions. I would assume that all parents can relate to this dynamic. Most of the time, our children agree even if their eyes roll.


In the weeks that have passed, a similar dynamic has unfolded in the American Catholic Church except one thing is different. Clerics, embroiled in another sex-abuse scandal and a subsequent set of cover-ups, have assured the faithful that they are indeed sorry for their lack of candid leadership. Most of us read the headlines with sadness but not with surprise. Once you’ve heard a “we deeply regret...” statement, often written by lawyers, you can get dismayed.

 

We’ve heard it before. 


Much of the Church’s messaging is that of a parent, along the lines of, “We’ve got this. We have the wisdom to make good decisions.” Therein lies the problem as the “we” used by many clerics is a limiting pronoun. It actually means we, the leaders of the Church rather than we, the People of God.


This people isn’t uniform. We have different roles, originating in the Early Church and then morphing into Holy Orders as they exist today. The ordained are meant to build up the rest of the Body. The rest of the Body is meant to cleave to Christ, become one with the Lord and then be sent out on mission. The Early Church articulated more formal roles such as teacher and administrator but over time, these got lost. These roles aren’t bad so long as each respects the other.  

 

One response of an American bishop, hailed by many as a firm and comprehensive “plan”, mentioned the role of the laity as a component of the Church’s solution for dealing with sex-abuse. Worth noting is that the laity is mentioned last in a list of three criterion for how the American Church can move forward.


What we have is a faulty ecclesiology in full display for all to see. Maybe faulty isn’t the right word. Incomplete might be better.


I’m convinced that many leaders simply do not value the laity as members of the People of God. They value them but only so much. If you’ve ever heard the old mantra, “pray, pay and obey”, you get the point. As a result, leaders make poor decisions and exercise a “circle the wagons” approach to crisis management. Imagine the decision-making that the Church could enjoy if it fully embraced its dignity as People of God...


Many observers have it right when they say that the absolute crux of the current scandal is a gravitational pull towards clericalism. It sucks the life out of even good priests, enveloping them in a system best described as an “old boys club”.


A good and faithful priest I know put it this way, “Far too many bishops and priests think they are above the laity.” The abuse of children is as much about disrespect as it is about sickness. The sin of pride is alive and well.

 

Clericalism isn’t the only culprit. It’s also a lack of faithfulness. It’s a laxity that, over time, fell out of love with Christ and turn inward towards self-preservation.


Nearly all of the current language used by the Church in its response to the current scandal is reactionary. We are in fixing mode and for now, that is probably the right pose to strike. The building is on fire and we need to put it out. What’s missing is a broader discussion of how best to eradicate clericalism and bring the Church into a fuller understanding of what it means to be the People of God.


What we currently see isn’t merely the fruit of sin and infidelity. The current storm is also produced by an ecclesial system of us vs them. So long as the Church continues to operate as the property of a few, its fruit will be short-lived and the Gospel will be short-changed.


As a layman, I long for a Church that seeks to make decisions together. I don’t want a Church that operates out of consensus or through a vote. What we need, desperately, is a Church that values all of its members to the point of involving them at the level of decision making. No change in Church teaching is needed. No slogan can capture this shift. What is needed is the deep conviction that the Church needs the perspective of the laity and not just when things hit the fan.


I look forward to the day when a Bishop stands on a stage along with a layman and considers him an equal rather than a supporting actor. I envision the next scandal, whenever it comes, being solved by laity and the clergy working together and genuinely learning from one another. 


This is the Church we need. This is the Church that can be Christ’s bride more faithfully present in the world. This is the Church that can bring the Gospel to the lost and hope to those in despair. 

 

This is the Church we so desperately need. 

Faith, CommunicationMike StPierre
How to Pray During a Time of Scandal
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Here in New Jersey, a school superintendent was found to be defecating on a rival school’s athletic track. Meanwhile, a prestigious Catholic school has acknowledged that over a dozen of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse. Nationally, we’ve become accustomed to the President embroiled in legal battles over his own promiscuous behavior.


Scandal. It’s ugly and seemingly everywhere.


No matter who you are, scandal has an effect on you. It can make you negative. It can sap your hope. It can make you sick to your stomach.


The real question isn’t so much about stopping scandal, although that should be on the mind of anyone in a position of authority. Rather, the question I face is more interior: how should you pray in a time of scandal?


The recent flurry of news surrounding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a painful case study. A prominent cleric who climbed the ecclesial ladder of success is being accused of decades of deviant behavior. He apparently led a secret double life and it’s coming to light as he approaches his 90th birthday.


As the stories of McCarrick’s shadow life emerged, I felt sick to my stomach. Having known people who served in McCarrick’s dioceses, the news seemed even more shocking. How could a charming and magnetic person have so much darkness? And, how could my church not have stopped this?


My anger then diffused to the wider church. Having run a Catholic high school for seven years, I knew every good, bad and ugly thing about my institution. Now magnify that kind of an awareness on the church that propelled McCarrick into higher levels of leadership. People knew. A lot of people must have known. Those that didn’t know the specifics at least knew the generalities.


Sickening. Frustrating. Maddening.


Are we that complacent that we didn’t speak up when children were being abused? Was our affection for a charming cleric so great that we lacked care for those who were being abused?


Resolve. That’s where my own prayers have fallen as the McCarrick story has developed.

  1. I am resolved to pray for the church and pray for those abused.
  2. I am resolved to pray for McCarrick’s soul for it’s clear that he is far from being canonized a saint.
  3. I am resolved to pray for our priests and bishops, that they will cast aside clericalism and pursue holiness above all aims.
  4. I am resolved to not get negative when I feel sad and frustrated by the church.
  5. I am resolved to find ways to improve whatever unhealthy structures have contributed to the church’s total failure related to McCarrick.


We’ve failed, yes. We all hurt in a time like this.


The questions we cannot avoid and must accompany our hurt are these: are we praying daily for the church and all of its members? Can our responsibility for the church make it better? Can we avoid negativism and pursue holiness?

 

So how can you pray during a time of scandal? First, remember that, no matter what is going on “out there”, you and I still have work to do on our own prayer lives. Just because McCarrick’s abhorrent behavior is the talking point of the news doesn’t mean that I am off the hook for having a daily quiet time. In addition to our own daily prayer, we can find creative ways to help the church be more whole and holy. Second, in a time of scandal, you can take the brave step of praying for those that are in the trenches. In particular, I’m thinking of our priests. They need not only prayer but a word of encouragement. Imagine how you would feel if your entire industry was marred by a perception of sexual abuse? It must be lonely and for that reason, our priests need our encouragement. 


I’m resolved. Are you?

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Four Signs That You're Full of Yourself
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There's no better example of a person who is full of himself than Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards.  The Netflix series, now in its fifth season, details a man (Underwood) obsessed with himself and his desire for power.  

It's bad enough that Underwood is consumed by a thirst for political office.  What's worse is that he has no compass for anything else in his life- no friendships, no hobbies, no religion, etc.  This makes for a very unhappy man.

I've been thinking of Underwood (yes, in part because I've been binge-watching the newest season of House of Cards) and the times when I might be full of myself.

No, not to the extent that he is but still, let's be honest: each of us has a bit of selfishness inside of us.  

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How can you spot a person who is really full of it?  I suggest four signs:

  1. They refer to themselves in the third person.  This is typically reserved for pro-athletes who almost always are full of themselves.  
  2. They are easily offended.  This is a character flaw and to be avoided at all costs.  Readers would do well to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. 
  3. They over-promise and under-deliver.  This leads to broken commitments and failed projects. 
  4. They publish every thought.  The filter just isn't there for people who are full of themselves.  They love to pontificate.

Take note this week of your vocabulary.  That will often give you clues of your pride-to-humility ratio.

A Boston priest, Fr. Thomas Judge (early 20th century) famously said, "Humility is truth".  I think what he was getting at is that life is full of imperfections and blessings.  It's good to appreciate both and not take yourself too seriously.  

How to Love Your Work

Deep down, each of us wants a job that plays to our strengths.  We want to make a difference and feel valued by the organization.  We seek connections with our coworkers.  We desire to feel good about our work and about contributions to the "greater good".

Still... most of us find it hard to check off all of the boxes just mentioned.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase "love your work".  That's not easy to do, depending on the work you have in front of you but I think we are called to do just that.

Some how, some way, we are called to love our work.

Dan Pink puts it this way, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Source)

When we love our work, we embrace both challenges and opportunities.  In addition:

  • We find the inherent dignity of employment.  
  • We make deep connections with our colleagues.  
  • We practice grit when it would be easier to just quit.  
  • We choose to be positive when others get cynical.  
  • We are surprised by small things that make us smile.

Don't misunderstand me- there are times when it's impossible to love our work.  That's when you know you're ready for a change.  

But if you can stay, here are six things that can be helpful, easing you into greater appreciation of your work:

  1. You have a job.  Many do not.  This most basic truth is powerful to be reminded of.
  2. Your work allows other things to happen.  Health care, new contact lenses and braces for your kids are all possible because of your job.
  3. You are getting clearer as to your strengths and weaknesses.  Work polishes the stone of each of our gifts.
  4. You are being prepared for your next job.  Strange as it sounds, work gets you ready to work- next week, next year, next month.
  5. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  This pushes back on depression, health issues and anxiety.
  6. You have others around you that you can invest in and cherish.

There's one other thing that contributes to us loving what we do and that is often called "mastery".  Again, to quote Pink, “Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” 

Mastery is the idea of getting better and better at something.  This rarely comes through hobby.  It can come through employment and practice.  Work, when seen this way, becomes the vehicle for personal improvement.  

You can actually become an expert by virtue of your job- that's awesome.

Work isn't always fun.  It's not meant to be 100% birthday cakes and balloons.  With that said, it can be thoroughly stimulating and can make you a better human being.  

What delight can you find in your work today?

Is it Ok to Be Insecure About Your Work?

I spent most of my career in a school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to focus in on my students and connect with them to the point that they would learn.  As the saying goes, "it's not so much what you know but how much you care."

When it comes to students, that's so true.

When it comes to adults, it's also the case.  Your colleagues want to know that you're "for them".  Coupled with a deep sense of care for others is the ability to zero in on what's truly important for the organization.  

That's a balance that a good leader can manage.  On one hand is what's best for the company and on the other hand is what's best for each individual.  

Determining what's best for the organization is both an internal process (deciding together what we're about) and keeping an eye on "the market".  It's just smart.

Imagine how much Lyft and Uber study one another's moves.  Or Samsung and Apple.  Or Harvard and Yale.  You get the point.  You've got to be yourself and yet constantly be aware of what the other guy is doing.

This applies to each person in your organization too.  I want my team to play to their strengths, working in a way that gets the very best out of them.  I also want them to be aligned with the values of the team so that we can deliver exceptional results. 

But... what about those times when you lean more towards what the other guy is doing and not enough on being true to yourself?

It can be easy for a member of the team to occasionally experience FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Even with a clearly defined set of values and a healthy self awareness (e.g. I have our team take the Enneagram evaluation), you can wonder if you're "not doing it right".

This can rear its head when any of the following questions come to mind:

  • Am I working hard enough?
  • Am I fast enough?
  • Am I valuable enough to the team?
  • Am I bringing my very best to work each day?
  • Is my email inbox cleaned out?
  • Am I communicating well?
  • Is the other guy better than me?
  • Am I using the rights apps?
  • Am I managing my time well?

I've certainly asked myself these questions many times over.  Once, I had a boss give me some advice that I still carry with me today when I'm ever insecure about my work.  He said, "Mike, the only three persons that matter are God, your wife and your boss.  Other than that, the rest can think what they want about you.  You've got to just do your work and that's that."

Don't worry about FOMO or what the next guy is doing.  Focus instead on bringing your best energy, attention and diligence to work each day.  If you don't have a performance review in place, ask if your supervisor can give you one.  This is another anchor that affirms the quality of your work.

Is it ok to be insecure about your work?  

Yes and no.  It's honest to admit that we all have insecurities.  The key is, when one shows up, to channel it into the right direction and retain confidence in your best work.

7 Signs That Your Workplace is Broken

Just recently, another article was published touting the negative consequences of the famed "open door" policy at work. One feels sort of nostalgic reading this piece as the author defends the return of the traditional door at the entrance to traditional offices.  

Imagine that!

Cal Newport surely believes in the concept of a closed door office as it is more likely a contributor to focused work.  In his book Deep Work, Newport states, 

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.
— Cal Newport

All of this is to defend the commodity of clear thinking and focused labor.  Safe to say, most of us have forgotten how luxurious those states can be since much of the modern workplace is broken. 

There, I said it- broken as in busted and messed up.

I should know and I'm partly guilty of promoting a broken workplace.  Until recently, I spent much of my career in schedules that were chopped up into bits of time that no human could actually enjoy.  The meetings alone were enough to make you insane.  The open spaces?  Mostly a distraction.

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Open spaces don't promote more collaboration.  They promote a lack of focus and more small talk than you can shake a stick at.  

How do you know if your workplace is broken and in need of fixing?  Here are seven telltale signs: 

  1. The open door policy is king.  Getting work done should be king, not access to talk your ear off.  Yes, we should be cordial but most things don't require that you interrupt someone else.
  2. Meetings abound.  Meetings are necessary but probably fewer than most workplaces allow.  Most meetings can be substituted with an email, memo or brief Skype chat.
  3. People come in on the weekend because that's the only time when you can actually get things done.  You know what I'm talking about with this one and it's got to stop.
  4. The most common phrase is, "You got a minute?"  This implies that whatever you were doing is not as important as the conversation that's about to happen. Not a good sign.
  5. No one around reads your verbal cues that you need to get work done.  A closed door, a head bowed in concentration, a focused look on your face- each should tell someone else that you are trying to work.  Sadly, too many people do not read these important physical cues.
  6. Others walk in on you when you're on a call and expect that you talk to them, right then and there.  This may be the most egregious violation of them all.  
  7. People are tired all of the time.  This is where the real danger shows up as your physical health starts to deteriorate as a result of what may be a broken workplace.  This can't be an acceptable outcome of a distraction-rich environment.

This post is not meant to provide seven simple solutions to the signs listed above.  Rather, it's meant to help you take an inventory of what's around you.

Is your workplace totally broken?

Is it partially broken?

Do you have some colleagues who need to be reminded that you actually have work that needs to get done?

The good news is that you can change each of these signs.  In my experience, I was unable to change my entire workplace culture on my own.  I needed allies around me who bought into the idea of focused work.  Only when people got fed up with interruptions and senseless meetings did they realize that deep work was the holy grail of their productivity.