Tag Archives: Meaning

Redirecting Meaning

This is maybe one of the most sadly prophetic Dilbert cartoons I’ve seen.  I love the humor of Dilbert, but I love even more the commentary on life, meaning, and contemporary leadership structures and practices.


The phrase “Can’t you find meaning in your personal life?” is a sadly tragic question.  Who in their right mind would actually ask it?

But some do.

Let me share a few ways in which I have heard the question “Can’t you find meaning in your personal life?” asked in different language.

1.  “We all don’t have to be best friends.” or the more overt “We’re not going to all be best friends.”

This is of course true.  No team has a requirement that everyone is best friends.  It’s not required, not necessary, and is a bonus when it happens.  But why say it?  Well – often it’s a defense mechanism against the feeling like you have to be something emotionally for a teammate that we either don’t want to be or that we don’t feel like we can be for them.  A lot of times it’s a way of saying – “Can’t you go find what’s meaningful to you somewhere else – you know in your personal life?”  I think there’s a kernal of truth there for all of us (we all need outside relationships from our work context), but we have to ask what we’re really saying to people when we have to state in this way that people should expect to have relational meaning primarily or only outside their work context.

2.  “Your expectations are too high.”

Striving, relentless ambition that is driven by narcissism is of course not a helpful or edifying expression of dreams and meaningful work.  However, many get nervous or don’t understand when some want to really inject a lot of themselves into a pursuit.  Maybe there’s a picture of what an event or project should look like and when someone is taking it to another level or aspiring to really invest in something meaningful to all in deeper ways than just tradition or the structures typically facilitate, people get nervous.

Many years ago I once heard from someone when I was leading an event, “Hey, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  This thing (event) will do what it does and this is what it will do for us.”  Total buzzkill for meaning seekers to hear, “It doesn’t really matter what you envision or what you invest – the program or event will do what it needs to do anyway whether or not you invest a lot or not. Just stay the course.”  Sometimes, our expectations can be high or unrealistic – but if the alternative is abandoning the meaning of the moment and the meaning in the process and the meaning in the possibilities – then I’ll take the unrealistic expectations every time.

The cost of abandoning meaning in our work is too high.

3. “Just do the training. It works.”

Whether it’s training, education, or other programs, there’s sometimes an invitation to abandon what’s meaningful in a lot of cases and just do what you’re told to. Training without meaning is indoctrination.  This is slightly connected to #2 above, but relates more to efficiency as opposed to expectation management.

I heard the above quote from a very influential and powerful person when I was young.  We sometimes can invite people into training, programs, or education in ways that don’t allow for what’s meaningful to them or that minimizes meaning.  In effort to get people on board, we may not create space for people to discuss culture, identity, or context and we can lean towards giving people the “principles” and pragmatic steps to success. We can bypass what’s often meaningful to people and focus mostly on what’s meaningful to the organization. We can, through our methods and training, be telling people that they should relegate what’s meaningful to them to their personal time. So training or input that is meaningful must come by way of double duty – having to put twice as much time in to really learn and grow in those things that impact the meaning of what we do.

This isn’t an indictment on anything specific currently.  The Dilbert cartoon I saw last week sparked memories of ways in the past in which I felt like I was being asked, “Can’t you just find meaning in your personal life?”

Wanting to redirect people’s pursuit of meaning to “somewhere else” is more common than you might think and all of us are tempted to do that ourselves sometimes.   The question is whether we will settle to influence and create environments where we are redirecting people’s quest for meaning elsewhere or whether we will embrace the opportunities to invest in meaningful moments and a meaningful future and not take the short cuts of self-protection or mechanical pragmatism.

Are there ways you find yourself being asked to find meaning elsewhere?

Meta-Cognitive Part Two

Following up on my post yesterday I am coming back to another area in which I find great value in pursuing a meta-cognitive approach:  theology.

Jeannine Brown in the book I referenced yesterday Scripture as Communication quotes A. Berkeley Michelsen as warning,

The  very essence of poetry is destroyed if we are absorbed in the mechanics of  it.”
(Kindle Version, 1571)

It’s a similar thought as yesterday – the essence of the meaning and beauty and fullness of that which we are entering into gets lost if we get absorbed in the mechanics.  As my system theory heroes like Friedman and Steinke like to reinforce – you cannot access the whole just through the parts!

But sometimes we bypass meaning for the sake of trying to get a handle on it, for feeling like we’ve got it down.

About a decade ago I read a book that was passed onto me that sought to tackle the subject of what the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is and what it looks like to live life out of that.  A lot of things sounded good, but the book overall felt off.  It felt cognitive.  It felt mechanical.  It felt like emotive passion was substituting for true meaning and beauty. And there were some Scriptures I felt were mishandled for an agenda.  While this book still gets high billing and is frequently recommended – its author not too long ago stepped down amidst significant issues in his leadership that were birthed from a disconnect between his beliefs and the way in which he related to others both under his leadership and around him.  In short – this person has left a trail behind him of control, power leadership, and alienated peers. The essence of ministry and of Christian body life was destroyed for this guy because he got absorbed in the mechanics of them and was disconnected from what is truly meaningful.

I’ve heard many people convey shock and surprise, but I can’t say I’m one of them because from what I read of his approach to the gospel he was missing something despite attempts to have all the right beliefs.  Engaging theology, engaging God and life with him from a primarily cognitive base ultimately leads to a disconnect.  At the very least it opens the door for the dark parts of ourselves to grow behind close doors – in those parts of ourselves in which our cognitive theology has blind spots towards and cannot access.

Meta-cognitive is not a quick fix.  It’s an orientation towards meaning and truth – truth that cannot be accessed just by examining propositions or ideas.  It’s a pursuit to experience and know the whole of the other with the whole of ourselves. It’s what my wife wants from me, it’s what my kids want from me, it’s what some of my friends want from me, and it’s what God wants from me.

So does this Christian leader just need to “get more humble?”  Well yes – but it’s not going to happen until his paradigm changes of what is meaningful and what is true and yes – what the gospel really is for him and for all peoples.

May we not find false treasures in our own minds and strategies to master truth.  Let us study the parts, but seek to know the whole.  And thank you Lord, for the role that art, poetry, literature, music, and quality film play in directing us towards the whole, towards that beauty which we sometimes bypass in favor of the mechanics of life.

Brief Review – Scripture as Communication

Finished recently Scripture as Communication:  Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics.  This was a book written by one of my professors at Bethel Seminary during my long stretch going there part-time between 2004 and 2011.  Jeannine Brown was my Introduction to Hermeneutics as well as one of my Greek profs.  I found her to be a great teacher and an awesome woman.

The book is really good. I had waiting much of the last year to read it because I wanted to read it while at the same time as I was serving as a TA/Coach in the Intro to Hermeneutics course that I’ve been working in the last couple of weeks.

It’s different a bit from most Bible Study Method or Intro to Hermeneutic books in that half of it is dedicated to the theory of Hermeneutics – what shapes meaning and how does one ascertain meaning in written communication shaped many generations ago.  There’s not much out there that seeks to provide an intro to Hermeneutic Theory while there’s plenty that seeks to provide practical help for understanding the Bible.  This book tackles that two as the second half is dedicated to the more practical elements of studying Scripture.

But aside from the strong theory content, there are several chapters dedicated to contextualization and really the practical side of contextualization as well as the ethics of contextualization – which involves discovering original meaning of a text in a different context and discovering and applying that meaning in a different context and era and situation.  I really thought some of this content was fantastic.

Not everyone is into studying the theoretical side, but I find it incredibly valuable and engaging – and dare I say it, exciting! The exciting thing about sound and thick theories is that they bring such great possibilities in understanding and application.  And they help provide good correctives against poor assumptions and approaches.

If you have time and want to explore the issues related to discovering original meaning in the Bible as well as in how to make appropriate parallels and application in contemporary settings, this would be a great book for that purpose.

Integrity: Rethinking Emotional Constipation

I was recently introduced to this phrase (emotional constipation) through the new tv show entitled, “Chuck.” While I’ve found “Chuck” quite entertaining (how could I not? It’s a show based on the Geek Squad at Best Buy!) , this phrase actually connects to a couple of the sessions at the Rethink Conference – particularly by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.Cloud spoke on true integrity, the theme of one of his more recent books, Integrity. He was challenging the audience to “rethink” what integrity really means.

The most common definition you hear in Christian circles of integrity or character is that it “is what you do or who you are when nobody is watching.” I think any definition of integrity or character should include this, but is this enough to be a person or leader of “integrity?” Cloud says no.

He posed a penetrating question for us to consider. He asked if we have ever experienced a leader who wouldn’t cheat, lie, steal, or do anything blatantly wrong and always tried to do the right thing, but when asked if we would choose to serve under that leader for another five years, we would say, “No Way!” He says this gets to the core of integrity in leadership and this is where I see “emotional constipation” fitting in.

Cloud emphasizes that integrity involves wholeness (see origin of the word integrity from the word integer, one…). Logically then, integrity in leadership involves wholeness in one’s leadership and leadership relationships, and that involves emotional connection and emotional maturity that can foster trust, intimacy, and an overall experience of meaning within the team, community, or organization.

More and more people are recognizing that today, more than ever, there is a need for leaders to be meaning makers or at least “facilitators” in their various communities. This doesn’t mean they create their own truths, but that they create environments in which the human experience, the human story is allowed to flourish and find true expression in connecting relationships. The reality is that most leaders today I believe struggle miserably in creating the kind of empowered and meaningful environments that motivate others towards greater accomplishments AS WELL as tap into the human soul in the way that would motivate a volunteer or other free-will employee to re-up for another five years.All this points to the reality that the “bottom line” just isn’t enough.

People want to get after the mission, the objectives, the goals, but if the journey isn’t meaningful and in the context of connected relationships, they’ll leave when the opportunity presents itself and look for a more meaningful opportunity. Leaders who can create these meaningful cultures can only do so if they have the kind of integrity of person and soul that Cloud talks about. You can’t impart what you are unable to experience or participate in. Emotionally constipated leaders have no choice but to over-focus on task, but there’s so much more!

One question that I think is worthy of consideration in light of this discussion is, “What qualifies as a connected relationship?” Everybody would say connected relationships are important, but not all people that see these relationships as important are able to actually have those kind of relationships. Even more frightening is that some believe they have connected relationships, but in reality they have just found others who are just as deluded as they are. I see these as anti-communities, emotionally constipated communities. Christians have long been divided in some key areas on how spiritual maturity is achieved, yet one thing is very, very true – we need to take our call to become whole people very seriously.

CCC Staff Training and Donald Miller

Well our bi-annual 12 day national staff conference started a couple days ago. There’s a lot more people in Fort Collins now than there were last week. It’s a little overwhelming for sure. It’s a little information overload to go from the leadership track to 12 days of conference.

One of the first speakers was one that I was most motivated to hear – Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and a few other books. The point I most resonated with in his message was that truth can only be found in meaning. Or in another way, truth cannot be divorced from meaning. He spent most of his time talking about truth and meaning in the context of story, a narrative approach to life and the Scriptures. It’s a good message for our ministry to be exposed to and to wrestle with.