Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Another Google Response

August 9, 2017

In the continuing saga of Google controversy over gender – or more specifically, over hiring and promotion practices aimed at promoting diversity – here is the latest salvo.

It tugs on the heart strings in all the right ways, but it fundamentally misses the point of the original memo.  The original memo was not questioning whether some women were just as capable as men in terms of performance in technology related fields as well as in ascending into the upper echelons of management.  The memo did indicate that overall, men and women seek out these sorts of jobs at different rates, and therefore that trying to force diversity and equal percentages of each gender might be fundamentally flawed.

While many people seem to read it as an attack on women, I didn’t see or hear that at all.  Nor did lots of other people undoubtedly smarter than I am.  However it was a stinging criticism of implicit bias’ towards certain ideological assumptions  and the corresponding discrimination against differing points of view which results in people being afraid to speak if they don’t hold with the dominant ideology.  It was a request for more study and data, and not simply a treatise about how women should stay home and not become programmers or CEOs.

But that’s how many people – including this woman – seem to have interpreted it.

I’ve known oodles of women who are way smarter than I am in math and science.  But that’s not what the original memo was trying to address, and it was not the question that this woman’s daughter asked her.  I don’t know how old her daughter is, but her question is a complex one that, when she’s old enough to understand the complexity, deserves a complex answer.

There are always prejudices and stereotypes that can be dangerous and damaging.  That doesn’t mean all stereotypes are, nor does it mean that some stereotypes may not have actual data behind them.  And it’s very unfortunate that this woman has had her abilities and commitment questioned simply because she’s a woman.  It’s unfortunate if she’s been excluded from industry events because of her gender (though, at the risk of beating a dead horse, y’all remember it’s now socially acceptable to discriminate against guys, right?).  Given her status, it’s obvious that she surmounted these challenges, or is continuing to surmount them.  That’s fantastic and a wonderful model to her daughter and other young women.  And young men, I hope.

I didn’t hear the original e-mail trying to discourage women from pursuing computer programming or upper management positions in technology companies. What it was doing was questioning attempts to force companies to have an even distribution of genders when there was credible research and evidence to show that such a goal might not actually be reasonable or sustainable.  What is the “negative stereotype” that Susan Wojicicki accuses James Damore of perpetuating, and who wins when both claim to have data and statistics to back up their perspectives?

In this case, Google and those who agree with Ms. Wojicicki win.  Which is the very environment Mr. Damore was attempting to describe.

I have a daughter as well.  My hopes for her are not specific to the tech industry or science.  Or music or art or literature.  I want her to figure out what makes her happy, what she enjoys doing and is good at.  I want her imagination to fire in directions of her own choosing (by and large).  My hopes and aspirations for her are that she will be happy and fulfilled in whatever vocation she chooses to pursue.  That she won’t be held back from a chosen career path because of the sexism of men around her if she chooses to  enter the workplace, and that she won’t be the object of sexist scorn by feminists is she chooses to commit her life to raising a family and running a household.

Perhaps if we focused a lot more on helping our kids figure out what they’d like to do and how to do it, we’d all be happier, instead of trying to use our children to vindicate our own experiences as adults.   This may require specialized programs and training in companies to ensure that people have equal opportunities.  But that’s a far cry from demanding absolute numerical parity between men and women across all levels and positions.  Maybe we need to quit quantifying equality in that way, and spend more time making sure that if a woman (or a man) wants to enter a particular vocation, they have the ability to do so and be successful at it.

How would I answer my daughter if she asked me the question Ms. Wojicicki’s daughter posed her?  I’d begin by asking her why she wanted to know.  Is she afraid?  Is she worried maybe she shouldn’t consider a future in technology because she’s not as good at it as a boy?  I’d encourage her to explore that for herself.  Not to worry about broad brush-stroke studies of men and women, but simply to see what she likes to do and what she’s good at.  If she’s good at and interested in science and technology or management, then I will encourage her to pursue those things, and find ways to put her skills to good work.  I’ll be honest that there may be people who try to stop her for any number of reasons.  Those will be her battles to fight – I can’t fight them for her. But I can prepare her to face them bravely and competently.

What I don’t want to do is tell her to pursue something in order to make a point, or just because Mom or I have done it (or haven’t done it).  And if necessary, I’ll acknowledge honestly that perhaps her question doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s misleading to pretend that it does.  That we need to talk about a whole lot of things beyond whether she’s good at math or not.  It’s OK for the situation to be complex.  Maybe if we continued to honestly acknowledge this with one another as adults, we’d move further along in figuring out how to make workplaces safer and opportune places for both men and women.

Home

August 6, 2017

I had to ask the last of our happy hour attendees to leave about an hour ago.  One (the one who doesn’t drink!) was falling asleep on the couch with the dogs .  But the wife and kids are getting up early in the morning for a birthday boat ride to and a day of hiking on Santa Cruz Island, so I needed to empty the house and get them to bed.  People started arriving around 6pm this evening.  This isn’t everyone who was there, but it gives you an idea:

Our daughter tells us there were 21 people here tonight (including our five family members).  We didn’t know most of them.  Six are weekly regulars.  Of the rest, one or two have visited once or twice over the past year and a half.  The others were first time visitors.

There were actresses and actors fresh from small indie performances in town and trying to figure out how to position themselves for a Big Break.  Missionary kids from Eritrea the Ukraine.  Aspiring doctors, a sailing captain, a future lawyer, two Swiss exchange students, several talented musicians previewing songs from an upcoming debut album, a future professor and a few undecideds.  All in their early 20’s, all a long way from family.  A cross spectrum of ideologies and personalities, but our friends knew that they would be welcomed and honored in our home, greeted by our kids and our dogs, handed some AMAZING cocktails (thank you to Ruth for the sake!!!), and welcomed to just be.  I probably didn’t converse with a third of them more than to get their drink order.  Talking with everyone every Sunday isn’t always feasible.  But I conversed with one guy on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology.   I planned with another couple I’ll have the privilege of marrying in two weeks.  I received updates on short-term work and travel plans from another person.  I watched my kids help keep the food supplied and deliver drinks.  I heard my oldest son joking and telling stories.  I washed a lot of dishes.  Some of them twice.

I may have misgivings and feel inadequate in describing what happens on Sunday evenings to other people.  I may be exhausted at the end of an 18 hour day.  But it’s a beautiful place to be.  A bit chaotic at times, but that’s sort of the nature of Christ’s love.  We always know what we’re getting with Christ’s love, but we never quite know where that will lead us or how it will change us or who it will connect us with, whether for an evening or a lifetime or, by His grace, an eternity.

 

 

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

Radio Silence

August 2, 2017

I have made a living for most of my life by speaking.

I only paused today to consider the wonder of that as an introvert and someone far more comfortable listening rather than talking.  Yet here I am, after years as a corporate IT trainer, then as adjunct faculty at a private university, and now as pastor.  I’m expected to talk.

But as I sit down this afternoon in front of a microphone and a rudimentary recording setup, I realize how awkward it is to speak when I’m not sure what to say.  Where to begin.  And how, most importantly of all, to draw a complete stranger on the other end of a radio or an iPhone or some other listening device into a conversation.  I’ve made my living off of speaking, but that speaking is enriched and formed by a continual process of listening and interaction.  When I’m staring at a blank wall and a microphone, it’s almost overwhelming.  I want to run away, much as I used to want to run away from social settings and groups of people.

God has an amazing sense of humor.

This radio thing is going to be harder than I thought.  At least to start with!

The Idol of Busy-ness

August 2, 2017

I live in an affluent city on the West Coast.  We home school our children, which puts my wife (mostly) into contact with other families who have made a similar educational choice.  And the reality is that part of the ability to make such a choice depends on a certain level of financial freedom and certain types of financial choices.  Home schooling requires that one of the parents not work (or at least not work full-time), and the only way to do this is a never-ending series of financial choices about what is important.

We’ve met a variety of wonderful people and families in this home-schooling journey.  But the one refrain we’ve heard over and over again, the modern mantra, is the lament of busy-ness.  I’m so tired – we’ve just been running around all over the place!  Taking X to this class and Y to this camp and then music lessons and play dates and camping trips and movies and and and and and

The list never concludes.

A lot of people in this town have money.  Not everyone, but quite a few.  So conspicuous consumption is less about the material, tangible things – those are passé – and more about time.  The status symbol of the day has less to do with the car you drive or the house you live in because everything here is expensive.  So the packed schedule becomes what everyone talks about and strives for.  Multiple classes, camps, lessons, outings.  It’s the current understanding that this is the price we pay for our children’s success.  If we want them to get into Harvard (and everyone is getting into an Ivy League school, right?) then we have to start filling out their future application now, at a younger and younger age.

Everyone is exhausted, so it’s funny that we’re repeatedly asked what camps and outings we’re enrolling our children in this summer.  The pressure is that everyone should be this busy.  Don’t you want to be this busy?  Don’t you want to have to keep your smartphone or Day Planner with you at all times to make sure you’re on top of things?  Don’t you want to join the club and lament about how busy you are, and the financial success that apparently makes such a schedule possible?

Actually, no.

Partly because we can’t afford it.  We live on one income, and while generous, it isn’t enough to fund all the myriad activities that are offered for the comfortable or well-heeled in the area.  We aren’t willing to put ourselves in debt in order to fill our children’s schedule with things to do.  But even if we could afford it, we believe that children shouldn’t have that kind of schedule to begin with.  Not during summer break.  Not during the school year.  They have their activities that we’ve committed ourselves to but those are very limited by both necessity and choice.  We’d rather spend our time making dinner together and playing games together than coming up with another activity to pack the kids off to for an hour a day four times a week.

Our culture is rife with status symbols – fame, fortune, health, eating lifestyles.  Plenty of opportunities to judge and be judged, to conform or to be ruled irrelevant or uneducated or uncultured.  I suspect this is the same for every culture at every time.  There has never been a shortage of edicts or peer pressure trying to get people to bow to the preferred idol of the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) faced coercion to literally bow down.  But earlier in Daniel 1, Daniel and his companions felt compelled to resist a more subtle form of persuasion and coercion, one that promised great rewards for compliance.  What was offered was the best of the best – food and drink from the king’s own table!  But Daniel and his companions realized that in partaking in this food, they would be trading part of who they were – as Hebrews, as children of God even – and decided that the trade wasn’t worth it.  Their steadfastness was rewarded, but oftentimes the rewards of steadfastness aren’t immediately discernible.

We worry like any parent does about the decisions we make for our children.  Are we preparing them well enough for the world they will need to participate in as well as resist?  Are we doing enough to help mold them spiritually and intellectually as well as making sure their bodies are strong and healthy?  The worry is always there – maybe we should be doing more, or doing different.  Everyone else is – how is it that we trust our own judgment over the majority?  Isn’t that foolhardy?  Reckless?

Perhaps.

We don’t think it’s reckless, though.  And we think that what we are doing in and for our and with our children’s lives is already bearing fruit in who they are as people, how they relate to one another and to us and to everyone they come into contact with.  If we refuse to bow to the idol of the overburdened schedule, or the idol of Ivy League education, we substitute it with an emphasis on time together as a family and knowing who we are together and individually in Christ.   It may not get our kids into Harvard, but we pray it will help ground them for the increasingly fragmented and fractured culture and society they’re entering into very soon.

 

Path to Success

July 15, 2017

Thanks to Gene Veith’s always-excellent blog for steering me towards this study and this commentary on it.  The Reader’s Digest summary is this – if you want to avoid poverty, the best thing you can do is complete the following steps.  Complete all of them and complete them in order.  Skipping or rearranging them could be disastrous:

  1. Graduate at least from high school
  2. Start working full-time
  3. Get married
  4. Only after getting married do you have children

Once upon a time this was common sense and it was reinforced culturally.  Nowadays these steps are likely to be dismissed out of hand, but the statistical data presented in the study is pretty impressive.

 

Perspective

July 10, 2017

I struggle for proper perspective.  What is the best use of the limited time, resources, and talents which God has entrusted to me?  How do I balance personal enjoyments with the larger picture of what really matters in life and eternity?

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.

This quote by 17th century Christian Nicolaus Zinzendorf really caught my eye when I first encountered it through Facebook a week or so ago.  It summarizes what my job as a Christian and a pastor is.  But it flies in the face of the culture that affects me daily, a culture of narcissism, where 15 minutes of fame is no longer adequate and insatiable social media technology holds the promise of enduring fame/notoriety.  Along with the accolades and likes and followers and money that we associate with such popularity.

None of this lasts.  We all know it.  Or perhaps what we hope is the fame lasts even after we’re gone.  That we’ll still be the talk of the town, a relevant meme, an inspiring memory even after our death.  Fame becomes a form of immortality.  Unable to conquer death on our own, we seek to at cheat it the only way we can – by hoping our memory lives on after us.

Zinzendorf spoke to missionaries – men and women committing their entire selves to the perpetual sharing of the Gospel.  It wasn’t glorious work.  It never has been and never will be, although we certainly have found ways to make segments of American Christianity more resemble a popularity contest or an American Idol show or a TED presentation.  But what matters isn’t temporary glory.  The stakes are far higher than that, and God’s people need to bear this in mind daily.

I’m not called to pursue fame.  I wasn’t ordained in order to boast about the number of friends I have on Facebook or how many people follow this blog.  I sought – and was granted – the title of minister of religion so that people’s lives might be changed.  And getting a late official start in this vocation, I don’t have the luxury of time to indulge in things that might make me feel better about myself.  Pursuing a doctoral degree.  Writing a book.  Perfecting my 8-ball game.

I hope that it’s not laziness, though.  This gut-feeling that what matters aren’t the letters after or before my name.  The continual struggle of feeling inadequate.  I could spend more time and money to try and work through those issues, but in the meantime I lose precious space and time to actually share the Gospel with people who need to hear it.  Perhaps this is the thorn in my flesh (or at least one of them!) as St. Paul understood (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), whereby our sinful ambitions and the attitudes of the world are set on their head so that we end up only boasting in Christ.

And in doing so, we receive that which we sought on so many other terms and through so many other means and institutions.  We receive eternal life, and the promise that we will never be forgotten.  That we will be known throughout all eternity through the grace and forgiveness of God in which we placed our faith and trust.

Eclectic Community

June 13, 2017

Every Sunday evening for over a year we have opened our home on Sunday evenings to whomever wants to join us.  There is no format or agenda.  We provide simple snacks (homemade popcorn, veggies & homemade ranch, crackers & cheese, etc.) as well as cocktails (all part of my master plan, assuredly).

Over the last year, the group has grown from one or two Westmont grads.  Friends invited friends.  Friends invited roommates, bandmates, volleyball buddies, former roommates.  International students living with us pop in and out.  Our kids look forward to the event, helping to prepare (Our oldest son has gained wide-ranging respect for his popcorn skills.  Our younger two handle the cheese and cracker setup and some of the finger veggies).  Our oldest who just turned 15 has gone from slipping away to play XBox games to sitting in rapt enjoyment of the wide-ranging conversational topics that fill the air.  Economics, politics, education, culture, love, life, music – no two weeks are the same.  We have anywhere from three to a dozen or more people who come and go over a two to six hour period.   We’ve started broadening the scope, inviting home-schooling friends and other folks who don’t fit the post-college, early-20’s landscape that predominates the evening.  But there’s a core of people who clearly indicate that this is a priority for them, week in and week out.

I wish I had a genius explanation for that.

It’s eclectic.  We don’t have much of a community after seven years of living here.  The community we have found at times keeps moving away in search of less expensive living.  Our beloved congregation is mostly post-retired folks well into another stage of life, and we find that the younger folks that gather on Sundays are definitely in yet another stage of life.  We balance in the middle as best we can.  We’ve helped support two wonderful young women through traumatic relationship crashes, and celebrated with one of them as repairs were made and the relationship renewed.  Despite the presence and enjoyment of cocktails, we support and include and encourage a young man celebrating his first full year of sobriety in close to a decade, as well as one young woman who always wants to try what others are drinking despite the fact that she hates the taste of alcohol.  Sometimes people contribute things to the mix like snacks or baked goods or mead.  Often-times music forms a portion of the end of the evening as the guitar or ukuleles scattered around the house or brought in by our guests emerge to coax voices to life.

I feel guilty sometimes that there is no plan or agenda to Sundays.  Our culture – and particularly our culture in the area where we live – defines success in terms of how busy we are.  How many things are we juggling?  How little time do we have for ourselves?  Wow, you must be really successful if you’re that completely overwhelmed!  None of which we buy into – or we purchase as little as we can.  We’re convinced, if for no good reason, that there is a value in simply being that is missing in our culture, and that it is not only possible but actually healthy to just be for a few hours.  That idea has been echoed by those committed core members that come faithfully every week, not because they have to but because at some level they want to.  It’s helpful and important to them in ways we might not be able to articulate, but we can certainly enjoy.

I think that this is our faith at a fundamental level.  Many – but not all – of the people who come Sunday are Christians.  It’s a reality that undergirds the evening without the need to be preachy.  Sometimes the music that is played and sung to is worship music or hymnody.  Sometimes it’s the Beatles.  People who may not call themselves Christian are never made to feel awkward, but they sometimes get to hear us talking about our lives of faith, and I trust the Holy Spirit will use those exposures to his glory.  It isn’t worship, but the idea of worship is never far from who we are in Christ.  It is the echo detectable at times in our words and actions.  The shimmering, mirage-like reality that leads us on from day to day on a journey to eternity, never disappointing but always reminding us what awaits ahead.

We are called less to do than to be.  But not randomly to be, but rather to be His.  Created.  Redeemed.  In the process of being made better and perfect but a long way from that final state.  Which means not to be alone, to be in the presence of others and not just those that are the most like us, so that we all might look and inquire and wonder and test, and that they might find the one who has made them to be and calls them to be his.  Eclectic.  If there’s one word that describes the communion of the saints, I trust and hope and pray that this is it!

Making Choices

June 10, 2017

Sunday mornings have really changed since I was a kid.  There were no school activities and no sports activities on Sunday mornings.  Maybe Saturday, but not Sunday.  But today it’s no big deal to have sports groups out on Sunday mornings practicing and competing.  Many parents make the decision that this is best for their kids.  Many Christian parents seem to make this decision for their families as well, lamenting that they can’t be in worship but claiming that this is really what is best for their kids.  They have such an ability, we can’t deny them the opportunity to do what they really love, some might argue.  It sounds compelling.

I’ve repeatedly stated that it’s going to become more difficult – already is more difficult – for Christians to live out their beliefs in our culture.  Options for professions and careers are going to become more limited.  It has become harder for Christians to live out their lives and their beliefs, and that isn’t going to change.  That’s not just true for bakers or farmers or government employees.  It can even be true for soccer players.

This week it was reported that one of the members of the US women’s national soccer team would be dropping out of the team during a Scandinavian tour this year.  No explanation was given beyond “personal reasons”.  Both the men’s and women’s US teams indicated that they would wear rainbow jerseys in celebration and support of gay pride this month.  Jaelene Hinkle withdrew from the team though she had been on it since 2015.  Speculation is that she has withdrawn because of Christian objection to being used as a public support for homosexuality.

There are lots of times – and they will only continue to grow in frequency – when parents and grandparents will be tempted to set aside their beliefs for what they consider to be the good of their family.  This young woman – if speculation is correct – is a beautiful example of refusing to do that.  By all means encourage your kids and grandkids and family to pursue things that they love and enjoy, but to do so at the expense of their Christian faith, of demonstrating to them what is truly most important about life and existence is foolish and dangerous.  Equipping our kids and grandkids to make difficult decisions like this one should be the primary goal of every Christian family.

More and more frequently, they’re going to be faced with these sorts of choices.  The least we can do is model for them how to make them.

 

 

 

Routines

August 11, 2016

Like most people I’m a creature of habit.  I don’t like that fact and I like to think that I flail against that tendency, but it’s there all the same.  In a vocation with a great deal of flexibility both by choice and necessity, there are still certain routines I prefer to follow.

Thursdays I like to go to my favorite coffee house around 6:30am and spend three hours or so perusing various commentaries.  Then I return to my office to distill their wisdom (and sometimes mine) into notes for my Thursday afternoon in-depth Bible Study.  It takes a long time to read theological material, and it takes time to distill it and spit it out first in written form and then verbally.  I keep my Thursday calendar clear in general because of this.

But it doesn’t always work out that way, despite my preference for routine.  Sometimes, things get in the way.  More accurately, sometimes people get in the way.  And when that happens, what I try to promise myself is that I will always let them.

I’m not here for my routine.  I’m here for people.  I’m here to interact and laugh and love and share with people in a variety of contexts.  Maybe it’s at the jail like Friday mornings.  Maybe it’s with men in recovery from addictions like Thursday afternoons (my one exception to my open schedule on Thursdays!), or women in recovery on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the sweet little old ladies at the retirement center next door on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the guys at the bar on Tuesday nights or the college students on Sunday evening.  And of course it’s my wife and children as well.

Routines can easily eclipse people.  The knowledge that stuff needs to get done sometimes makes me want to set people aside so I can just do what I need to do.  But I try to fight against that as much as possible.  Which means sometimes Bible study won’t be ready on Thursday afternoons because I was needed by various people.  I feel guilty for that but I don’t want to.  Bible study can wait.  At the end of the day I’m pretty sure that the Bible study won’t make the difference between heaven and hell for those assembled 22 or so faithful.  While they enjoy the study and I enjoy doing it, we can’t forget that we are privileged to share the love of Jesus Christ with people.  We know plenty as Christians, on average.  Letting that knowledge impel us towards people is where it’s harder.  It’s a lot safer to stuff my head in a book or a Bible study than to interact with people who may challenge my conceptions of myself and my God and those books.

But sometimes Bible Study is going to have to wait because somebody had a greater need.  When that happens (as it did last week), I count on the forgiveness of my members – which they are very good at giving.   And I need to practice forgiving myself, which I am not so good at doing.  And I need to give thanks to God for putting people in my life in ways that challenge my routines and preferences and keep me alive to his Spirit at work.