Sunday, January 28, 2018

Conflict In the Workplace

This morning, while preaching a sermon a part of a series called, "God on the Job," I addressed the tricky topic of "Conflict in the Workplace."  As a general practice through my 20 years thatI have preaching, I always asked the staff and the session that I am working with to reflect on the passage or the topic at hand.  Perhaps in no other place that I have served as a pastor have I found that people had more practical training in the area and topic of conflict in the workplace.  The following blogpost represents a few of the great ideas that I got this past week, that didn't make the message.  These pieces of advice came from people in the field of law, teaching, business, ministry and therapy: Enjoy!

How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace?

1. Pick Your Battles: Not every fight or argument is worth having, pick wisely before you enter into  conflict.

2.  Remember the Conflict Isn't About You:  Most conflicts, even though they may be directed at you, are actually not about you.  More likely, you are the scapegoat or the presenting problem, but there is often an underlying reason for the conflict that isn't about you.

3.  Sometimes you Don't Know What's Happening In a Person's Life:  Everyone comes to a conflict with a history of something.  Rarely do we ever know what a person's whole story is before we engage with them.

4.  Assume Positive Intent:  The tendency is to demonize anyone who disagrees with us.  "They are trying to bring us down," "They are trying to make me look bad."  However, assuming positive intent, even if there isn't really totally positive intent can help a great deal.

5.  Focus on the Resolution:  Rarely are our conflicts made better by rehashing them.  What has happened, how things went wrong.  Focus on the future, the resolution.

6.  Try to Understand What We Can Learn:  Even unhelpful conflicts can teach us something about life or about ourselves.

7.  Mentors Help:  If you have someone that is a wise counselor in your life that you can talk with about your conflict, a larger picture or lesson can be arrived at.

8.  Try to Get to Know Someone On a Personal Level:  A woman told me recently that her boss was such a difficult person to work with.  The only recourse she had was to get to know her boss better on a personal level, to try to understand him as a person.  She said it helped!

9.  Don't Bite On Every Piece of Bait:  In every conflict there are usually a whole number of issues that a person puts forward that you can engage with.  Choose wisely on what you bite on.  And you don't have to bite on any of it:-)

All For Now,


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Learning How To Learn

Not long ago, I read a op-ed piece from the New York Times, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tom Friedman, that has stuck with me.  And frankly it has also made me petrified.  It involves the question of how people need to learn going forward.

To boil the piece down, which you can access by Google if you type in, "While You Were Sleeping" by Tom Friedman, it involves discussion of a new computer that IBM is building called a "Quantum Computer".  Previous to this new "Quantum Computer" the most artificially intelligent (A.I.) computer built by IBM was called "Watson" (the one that became famous from the show Jeopardy).  This new Quantum Computer can handle 50 quantum bits or qubits (what's a qubit, I hear you asking?).  I have no idea, but it is a super fast and super powerful computer that has the capability of working "100,000 times faster than they do today."  Where the rubber meets the road with this is that this computer will be doing many of the jobs that people do today.  Amazon is now launching a whole chain of grocery stores called "Go" that only use these quantum computers instead of hiring employees to help people with checkouts.  Budweiser beer is now experimenting with transporting its product (beer) using driverless trucks.  Bank of America is now testing three "employee less" branches of its banks.  What this will mean in the near-term is that people will be out of work.

To remain competitive in the modern workforce, according to this article, will mean that we have to not learn the basic methods of commerce and business that we know today, but rather that we learn how to work with computers that will do many of the same tasks.  According to one expert, "100 percent of our jobs" moving forward, "will be augmented by artificial intelligence."  This shift is going to change the way we do education in this country.  Rather than learning the three R's (reading, writing and rithmatic), kids will have to learn how to work with super computers.  And here's the scary thing, as if this is not scary enough, these computer systems will not remain static, but will continue to evolve.  Next year there might be a Quantum/Quantum computer, and so on and so on.

Anyone who has faced the frustration of getting a new smart phone and learning how to use it, only to find that the next year, there is a brand new smart phone that requires a whole different set of skills, knows what I am talking about.

In short, and sorry for the long lead-up to this point, we as a society will have to become better at:

Learning How To Learn...

And this is what has got me thinking about church, as we know it, since that is my field and profession.  I wonder if the same paradigm shift will be applied to our churches in the future.  Rather than simply teaching people in a new member's class basic facts about theology, the Bible, the church, the governance of a church, I wonder if we will need to be teaching people how to use some of the technological advances in Biblical learning.  Rather than hiring people to positions who know how to use certain platforms (Outlook, Excel, Propresenter) perhaps the goal will be hiring people who are able to learn new platforms.  Rather than preaching sermons to people about a certain passage of the Bible, I wonder if we will need to help people find further platforms and avenues of learning beyond just the basic sermon on Sunday.

As someone who is a creature of habit, this new advent and societal paradigm shift, if in fact that is what is occurring, does not make me happy.  I love to do the same things each day, day in and day out.  Every day at the gym I always use the same locker, even though there are 100 other lockers available.  I drive the same way to the places.  I am not a fan of shopping, so I buy the same clothes that I had before, only newer versions.  I eat the same foods and drink the same drinks.  I'm a 45 year old fuddy duddy when it boils down to it.  But I will need to get more comfortable with:

Learning How To Learn...

What Christians in the new epoch may need to hold in tension are the dueling philosophies of "Once Reformed Always Reforming" (The centerpiece of Reformed theology) and also that our God, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8).

All For Now,


Monday, January 15, 2018

Meeting a Member of the King Family

This morning, on Martin Luther King Day, I had an incredible experience while doing service work with Safe Harbor, a homeless shelter in South San Francisco designed to help people who are living in abject poverty and who are dealing with substance abuse.  I met a direct descendent of Martin Luther King Jr!

While getting to know some of the residents who live at Safe Harbor, I got a chance to meet a woman named Barbara (pictured above).  Barbara told me that she had been living at Safe Harbor for about 6 months.  She had recently moved up from Los Angeles.  She told me that one of the things she was struggling with was the extreme expense of living in the Bay Area.  She said that she was paying $900 a month for a one room apartment in LA, but that it would cost at least $1,300 a month in the Bay Area.  She told me that she couldn't afford that.  She then said that her mother, named Geraldine King died about 7 years ago.  She was missing her.  Attempting to make a connection with MLK day and Barbara's story, I said, "King?  Your name is King, like Martin Luther King?"  She said, "Yes, in fact, I am related to him."  "Wait, what?!?!" I said.  Barbara's mother's sister is a daughter of the King family, (I think I have that right) and is directly related to the King family.  She then said, "I met Corretta Scott King, but I don't think I ever met Martin Luther King Jr., even though I was in Memphis at the time he was shot."

Now, of course, when anyone tells you about their personal connection to someone famous, one always wonders if their story is 100% true.  However, my gut tells me that Barbara's story is true.  First, Barbara did not lead off with this connection to King, but the fact made its way through our 10 minute conversation.  Second, Barbara seems incapable of fibbing about anything, she is very honest.  Trust me on that one.  Third, it just seems true.

So, considering the strong possibility that Barbara's story is true, that she is a direct descendant of MLK, then it raises for me a whole slew of related questions?  How did Barbara get to this place in her life?  What was her exact journey?  Why is she in a homeless shelter?  Why is she struggling with addiction?  And perhaps most importantly, on this the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination (April 4, 1968), what is Dr. King's legacy for so many African Americans like Barbara in the United States today?

Sadly, the statistics are not good.  Even though great strides have been made in our country since the day of the Civil Rights Movement, there is still much work to be done in our country for all people of color. According to the website; 

*  While people of color make up 30% of the United States population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned today.

*  According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.

*  Department of Education statistics show that African American students are arrested far more than their white classmates.

*  The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color.

*  Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.

There is clearly still a long way that we need to go in our country if we are to continue to advance the causes which Dr. King began.  And this can only be done with love.  It was MLK, himself, who said; "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

Before leaving the shelter today, Barbara King took me on a tour of the facilities at Safe Harbor.  She escorted me to the room where there are weekly AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) classes.  Pointing to a quote on the wall, Barbara said, "Don't Wish For It, Work For It."  She said, "That quote changed my life.  You can't just wish for things, you have to work for things." Peering into her weathered eyes, I could almost see the eyes of Dr. King himself.  And perhaps it is a good reminder to all of us, that - sadly the work that we all must do is still not done, the fight must go on, the dream must never die...

All For Now,


Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Library Revival

I love the story of the University President who was talking to a graduating class about their imminent bright futures in the world they would be entering.  The President said, "We here at Herringbone [my own made-up name:-)], like to see our University as a storehouse of knowledge.  The reason for this is because students bring so much knowledge in with them when they first arrive, and by the time they graduate, they take so little knowledge out."

The storehouses of knowledge through the centuries have often been called - Libraries.  Europeans often still call libraries by their original Greek name - Bibliotek.  A Greek "Bibliotheca" was simple a "book case".  The greatest libraries in history were in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), and Alexandria (in Egypt).  The picture above is of the famous Trinity College Library in Dublin - one of my favorites!

With the rise of online search engine websites, many of the greatest libraries in the world, including the vaunted Library of Congress, have gone - online.  I am in the final stages of writing my Doctoral Dissertation and I am amazed to say that most of the research that I have done for my paper has been done online.  My father-in-law, a law professor, who is now in the process of writing his seventh major academic work, has told me that he can do all the research he needs for a book in his living room in Tucson, Arizona.  The world is changing fast!

And yet, there is still a lot to be said for more traditional libraries themselves.  For me, there is nothing like the smell of paper, and sometimes leather, and the dust of years, and the joy of dog-earing a page to know where you left off, and visiting a library.

Many libraries in recent years have been experimenting with new ways to get books into people's hands.  The public library near my house has book stalls on the corners of the street where you can check out a book by taking one out, filling out a card, and when you are done reading it, returning it to the same little blue and yellow stall

Most Presbyterian Churches also have libraries as well.  The church that I am serving in Burlingame has a remarkable library of very relevant and important books.  Our incredible church librarian, Anita Kvam, works long and hard hours to try to make sure that the most relevant and important books are available to members of the church.

Starting this week, First Pres. Burlingame will be offering a new service related to our library.  Often times after I preach a sermon, people will come up to me during the Fellowship Time and ask me if there is a book that I could recommend for further reading on the topic that I had just preached on. Starting this week, the answer to this will not only be - "Yes" - but also, "just go to the library cart and find a book that has been collected that is related to the Sunday message."  Anita will be receiving a manuscript of my message each week on Thursday, and finding books for people to dive into that want further study in that particular subject area.

Ultimately, our goal will be to not only have a great library, but to get that great library into people's hands for assistance and renewal.  And perhaps then, libraries will not only become storehouses where people bring knowledge in, but also places where they can take it out!

All For Now,