Wednesday Evening Prayer and Meditation Service

If you are in the Pasadena (California), La Canada, and Glendale area, you might be interested in a Prayer and Meditation Service we are conducting on Wednesday evenings, 6:15 to 7:00pm.  If you are not in the area but might be interested in conducting something like this yourself, please send me an email ( and I will be happy to give you more information.

The series is an opportunity for people to turn their attention towards God and perhaps experience a sense of spiritual renewal and refreshment in the middle of the busy work week. It involves some sacred music, the reading of a passage of scripture, and a chance to enjoy the silence of meditative prayer.  There are no sermons, lectures, or theological arguments.  Attendees are not required to speak and can certainly remain anonymous if they choose to do so.

The series will last through November 18, and then be continued next year.  The location is the Cook Prayer Chapel at the south end of La Canada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Canada, CA 91011.  The time is 6:15 to 7:00 pm, but the room is opened and the music begins at 6:00.

Come as you are, when you are able.

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Leaders in Crisis and the Value of Theological Resources

Photo of leader thinkingNo one can predict the future, but we seem to be moving into a period of crisis that will put unusual burdens on leaders.  Cultural and institutional changes (and in many cases failure) will call for leaders grounded in a broader, deeper perspective.  Our institutions of faith and spirituality could play an important role in helping us prepare for this future.

The reader can pick his or her most likely scenarios for the future. Mine reflect the insolvency of major governments and with it sovereign debt default, currency fluctuation, and the painful end of the entitlement state; social strife, both domestic and foreign; the loss of credibility by many of our cultural elites and institutions; and the results of the corruption of our political class and their cronies and enablers. War, technological breakthroughs, or other unforeseen events could easily create new and greater stresses.

Some readers will reject aspects of my scenarios, but most of us can agree on at least one point — that our organizations, whether public or private, will experience a degree of crisis and restructuring not seen in many decades. The challenge of leadership, and the social cost of ineffective leadership (as we are seeing), will be magnified. This could put all aspects of leadership at risk; to be successful, leaders will need to find a way to act with wisdom and courage in the face of fear and uncertainty, maintain and reinforce moral and relational values despite the temptations to do otherwise, and provide hope and meaning to potentially dispirited organizations.

Resources of Faith and Spirituality

The rich resources of our faith and our faith institutions can help us develop the depth of perspective, character, and equanimity necessary to function effectively in the midst of crisis.  I would include in these resources the following:

  • Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation can help us turn our attention to God and over time develop a deeper sense of mission and purpose.  They can energize and focus our work, help us work with a greater sense of purpose and effectiveness, and in times of crisis calm our anxieties and help us stay focused.   It is important for leaders to develop some sort of regular practice of silence and theological reflection that suits their predispositions and circumstances and helps them connect with the greater reality.
  • Theology can provide a broader, deeper perspective that transcends our current difficulties.  By its nature theology directs our attention towards God and transcendent reality and reminds us of who we really are.  Having a sense that there is indeed a reality beyond the current crisis can play a key role in helping us stay calm and make good decisions.
  • Faith can help us develop what we think of as character.  Contrary to what we might hear sometimes, effectiveness in business and most other fields usually depends heavily on collaboration.  The values usually promoted by the church (and by most other religions) are key to collaborative relationships. Honesty and good will, courage, equanimity and humility are all important in the workplace – especially in times of crisis — and are all virtues promoted and encouraged by our faith and by our faith institutions.
  • Our faith can help us find meaning and purpose in our lives and in the current crisis. Faith and theology are to a large extent a meaning making enterprise; discerning the deeper meaning in a crisis can help us find the strength to persevere and the wisdom to act with clarity.

The Role of Religious Institutions

Churches, seminaries, and other religious entities can obviously help us in this, if they chose to do so.  They can offer opportunities to engage in spiritual practices (especially contemplative practices, in my view) as preparation for action.   They can help us develop a transcendent perspective that supplies meaning to our active work.  And they can help us see the positive, practical value of what we think of as the traditional virtues such as courage, honesty, patience, and compassion.

Religious institutions themselves are not always well led, and religious leaders have certainly offered opinions regarding the direction of society that turned out to be tragically wrong.  Nevertheless, when it comes to their most important function – helping people encounter the sacred, find deeper meaning, act with compassion, and develop character, they can play a uniquely valuable role in developing leaders who act with wisdom and effectiveness.

Lessons from the Bible

Informing and supporting practical leadership is a more natural function for churches and seminaries than might be initially apparent. The Bible after all is full of stories and insights about leadership, many of which were developed during times of extreme crisis. Think of the great Elija in the wilderness finding strength and courage in the face of exhaustion and fear; of the virtuous David becoming a powerful leader, committing great sin, and finally groping his way forward towards redemption; or of Ezra, Nehemiah and the later Isaiah leading their people through the challenges of rebuilding a ruined civilization.

Or think of Jesus facing the ultimate existential crisis and in the process launching his previously fickle followers on a radically new course.

Successfully meeting the oncoming challenges of crisis and uncertainty will require deeply grounded leaders. How our theological institutions respond to this challenge will be important.

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Spiritual Intelligence: Does it exist?

painting of colorful head

spiritual intelligence

I ran across an article written in 2000 by psychologist Robert Emmons that is well worth considering (I wish I had seen it earlier).  Emmons raises the possibility that spirituality might be considered a form of intelligence consisting of five components (I am quoting Emmons):

a)    The capacity for transcendence.

b)   The ability to enter into heightened states of consciousness.

c)    The ability to invest everyday activities, events, and relationships with a sense of the sacred.

d)   The ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in living.

e)    The capacity to engage in virtuous behavior (to show forgiveness, to express gratitude, to be humble, to display compassion).

Emmons makes it clear that he is not implying that spirituality is only for problem solving or for negotiating daily life, or that it can be reduced to nothing more than a “set of cognitive abilities and capacities.”  Nor is he saying that there is not a supernatural or transcendent reality beyond our spiritual intelligence.

Emmons article provoked a debate regarding whether or not spirituality can indeed be considered a form of intelligence (Emmons himself noted that he was proposing the idea for consideration only).  Most of the discussion was technical in nature, revolving around the technical definitions of intelligence and whether Emmons’ spiritual intelligence qualifies.  We can leave that debate for others.

The Value of Spiritual Intelligence

The value of Emmons’ framework, in my view, is that it provides an additional and  very useful lens through which to view spirituality and especially spiritual formation.  There are other useful lenses we can use, of course, but this one might give us a clearer view of the internal changes we would like to bring about as we engage in deliberate spiritual formation activities.  I think the lens can also help us avoid focusing on one aspect spiritual formation to the exclusion of others (virtue as one example, prayer life as another).

Instead of focusing on a program of spiritual formation with very a generalized or abstract goal, Emmons’ list gives us some very specific things to consider.  How might we develop our capacity for transcendence — maybe prayer, worship, contemplative practices? How might we develop our ability to sanctify aspects of our daily life — perhaps scripture combined with small group reflection?   How might we develop our capacity for virtuous behavior?

There is much value in this.  To quote Emmons again:

Spiritual intelligence suggests new domains of intelligent action in the world.  Abilities in the spiritual realm are a significant aspect of what it means to be an intelligent, rational, and purposeful human being, striving to align one’s life with the Ultimate.

I would add that spirituality involves who we are as humans and how we hope to relate to the sacred and to each other.  Emmons’ spiritual intelligence lens has the potential to help us develop our capabilities in both respects.

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Max De Pree and the Art of Leadership

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you.  In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.  That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” (Max De Pree: Leadership Is an Art, Page 11)


As many readers probably know, Max  De Pree is the author of several highly regarded leadership books including Leadership Jazz: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader and Leadership Is an Art, and was the Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., during an especially creative period for the company.  He is also the inspiration and namesake for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, from which I retired as a member of the advisory board a few months ago.   I have recently been reflecting on De Pree’s  approach to leadership, and believe that there is much we can learn from him.

The Key to Leadership

For several years I knew that De Pree stood for a leadership style and philosophy that was very relational and concerned with employees’ well being; Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership comes to mind.

It was not, however, until I saw a presentation by Walter Wright of the De Pree Center that I grasped the power of De Pree’s approach.  As represented by the above quote, I believe it can be summarized as follows:

1) The leader defines reality, or the goals, values, parameters, and situation of the organization.  In other words, the leader frames reality in a way that enables the members of the organization to work creatively and productively, putting their skills, talents, and wisdom to work in pursuit of the organization’s purpose.

2) The leader supports and empowers members of the organization as they work toward organizational goals.

3) The leader thanks them, acknowledging the value of their contribution and the fact that anything accomplished by the organization was the result of their work.

The key point, it seems to me, is to allow people to bring their full talent to their work and to thereby enjoy the status of co-creator.  People have a deep drive to create and to work with competence, effectiveness, and agency.  This drive, I believe, is closely tied to our identity as humans and to whatever fulfillment we are able to derive from our work.

Leadership Insights

At a church retreat several years ago, we watched a video of De Pree as he interacted on the shop floor with some of his employees.  It was obvious that he was encouraging people to bring their ideas and expertise into the discussion and to act on their own initiative.

Afterwards we broke into small groups for discussion.  I asked my group (mostly small business owners) to picture a conventional C.E.O. who talks about maximizing shareholder value and to compare this image with De Pree as portrayed in the video.  I then asked two questions:

1) For whom would you prefer to work?  The response was immediate and unanimous: Max De Pree.

2) Who do you think would be most likely to maximize shareholder value?  Again, unanimous (and enthusiastic): Max De Pree.

The reaction to the question about shareholder value was particularly interesting.  I think it acknowledges what many of us know intuitively — that people are more likely to be productive and engaged if they have a chance to apply more of their talents and insights to their work and to participate in creating and producing valued products and services.  Not all employees will respond positively to this opportunity, of course, but many will — and the ones who do so will drive the organization, its culture, and its production of value.

I recommend Leadership Is an Art and Leadership Jazz.

(For more information, Max De Pree’s books can be found here; the Max De Pree Center for Leadership can be found here.  The Center has recently appointed a new Executive Director, theologian and Biblical scholar Mark D. Roberts; his new series of  daily reflections can be found here.)



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Do We Really Want to Integrate Our Faith and Our Work?


Underlying much of the “faith and work” movement and many of the books on the subject is the assumption that religious people want to connect their faith and their work.  In a recent presentation to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Rice University sociologist Brandon Vaidyanathan questioned this assumption and made some very interesting observations based on his research.

Vaidyanathan studied professionals who work for multinationals in Dubai and Bangalore and who profess a faith (many were Christians from the Phillipines and India, but I think his observations have applicability in the West as well).  His interviews were designed to resolve the issue: why do people leave their faith at the door of their work?

During his presentation, he raised the provocative issue that perhaps people usually see faith and work as two competing spheres with separate devotions and would actually prefer to keep them separate.

I think he is on to something important, but I think the problem is not so much that there is a necessary conflict between faith and work, but rather how we understand (or misunderstand) the nature of one or the other or perhaps both.

How We See Our Work and Our Faith Matters

If we see our work in business primarily as a way to make money, to survive economically, or to achieve or maintain social status, then we might not want to encumber it with our faith.  Or if we see our work as a zero sum game where we benefit only if someone else is diminished, then we are less likely to see the value of faith-based values for building community and productive collaborative relationships.

Likewise, if we see our faith as primarily about endorsing the right beliefs about God, an afterlife, or salvation, or about joining the right religious tribe, then it is not likely to have much constructive application to our work.

On the other hand, if we see our work as our calling and business as a way to help build a better future, then we will probably be more open to the possibility that our faith and our spirituality can legitimately inform and support our work, and to the idea that it can help us build healthy community and productive relationships in pursuit of mutual objectives.

The two keys, it seems to me, are to have an appreciation for our work as a value creating process for ourselves and others, and to view our faith and spirituality as something that is not limited to the religious realm but can inform and support our entire lives, including our work lives.  If we can do these and, of course, behave accordingly, we will be more likely to see how our work and our faith can be connected and mutually supporting.


Note: For those interested in more on this topic, Vaidyanathan is working on a book detailing his research and observations.  Watch for it — it is bound to be good.

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Conflicting Grammars of Life

Different spheres of life have different grammars.  By this I mean that not only do we use different words in different spheres, but that the logical rules and structural relationships between the words can be quite different as well. This can create a problem when we are trying to connect our faith and our work — two domains with two different sets of grammar.  This is especially true when the differences are unconscious.

Compare the grammar of business with that of the “typical” church.  There is overlap; for example, altruistic concerns for others can be found in both, as can a desire for integrity.  But there are also differences.  A typical church grammar will highlight the relationships of concepts such as sin, forgiveness, and charity (roughly defined as giving things to the less fortunate), or perhaps institutional values such as spreading beliefs and expanding the church.  A business grammar might reflect more concern with producing value in the form of products and services, the exchange of goods with others (as opposed to giving them away), and serving customers.

When confronted with the problem of hungry people church grammar highlights donations, business logic looks for ways to produce more food.  Both are necessary, but both are quite different.  I think this is one reason why a business person or entrepreneur can spend decades building a business, producing goods and services, and creating jobs, but receive less affirmation from the church than when he or she spends ten days in Africa painting a mission classroom.

The Problem of Applying Church Grammar to Business

It makes sense to use different language and grammars in different spheres.  The problem comes about when we use exclusively church grammar to discuss our spiritual lives.  If we can only understand prayer, our sense of call or mission, and spirituality in general in terms of church grammar, then it can become very difficult to connect or faith or spirituality with our work.  Our work to create new products and services, to build healthy job creating enterprises, and to weather the storms of the marketplace, can seem to be outside the purview of God and disconnected from the resources of our faith.  How can we pray about our work if our work is outside the realm of spirituality?

Under these circumstances both our work and our faith are likely to be diminished.

The transcendent, all pervasive, fully immanent God is not confined to one sphere of life, even if that sphere is ostensibly religious.  Our spirituality should not be confined either.

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Chaplains in the Workplace

Workplace Chaplains PhotoWorkplace chaplaincy services are receiving increased attention and appear to be a growing phenomena.  An article by Cheryl Hall in the Dallas Morning News (November 25, 2014) reports on the firm Marketplace Ministries, Inc., and its founder Gil Stricklin.

Hall reports that Marketplace Ministries hires chaplains and provides services to businesses and other organizations for a fee; last year the company had 2,755 chaplains on assignment.  The chaplains provide a variety of services, all at the option and initiation of the employee.  These can include counseling, providing a sympathetic ear, and helping the employee find resources for dealing with personal and family problems.  Spirituality can be involved — but only at the invitation of the employee.

Advantages of Workplace Chaplains

One of the apparent advantages of having a workplace chaplain is that an employee with a problem can feel more confident that the problem will not effect their employment since they will not be disclosing it to a company employed human resources person who might also be involved with personnel evaluations and employment decisions.

Another advantage is that some problems are seen by some employees as having a spiritual or religious component.  Dealing with a chaplain allows the employee to consider this aspect with the chaplain, if they chose to do so.

The Church and the Workplace

Workplace chaplaincy sounds like a valuable service but most of us do not have access to a workplace chaplain.  I wonder if the church could provide more of this type of service.

Perhaps pastors could devote more time to visitations in the workplace, and maybe even become familiar with more of the employees in firms owned or managed by members of the congregation.  They could also make it a point to encourage the discussion of workplace issues in church settings.  My guess is that these sorts of interactions would benefit both the lay person who receives the support and the pastor who would see a different side of the member.  Both would develop a better sense of how faith and work might connect.

A problem, of course, is that pastors have very limited time available for new areas of ministry, especially in churches that already  require pastors to spend considerable time managing programs.  The burden for workplace ministry might therefore fall on lay ministers in many churches.  Lay counselors, workplace oriented small groups, and the exchanging of workplace visitations all come to mind and might be useful.

A key place to start, it seems to me, is for the church and its leaders to recognize the workplace as a key area of ministry, to adopt an appreciative attitude toward the work lives and businesses of the members, and to encourage lay ministry in this area.  Members of the congregation need to know that they can bring workplace problems to the church for discussion and support.




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Holy Week Audio Meditations

I am writing this post on the Monday of Holy Week.  While the post does not relate specifically to workplace faith and spirituality, you might nevertheless be interested in a series of daily Holy Week recorded meditations that a group of us have put together.

The drama of Holy Week was not just a struggle between the Jesus and the political and religious authorities of the day, but also a conflict between two very different ways to approach God. The conflict continues today, representing as it does two different religious tendencies that cut across sectarian and cultural lines.

The conflict intensified during the week until it resulted in Jesus’ death.  It is worth meditating on this conflict and what it might mean for us as we go through the week and prepare for Easter.  I recommend taking a break from work for a few minutes each day, and listening to these recorded meditations as a starting point for your own meditations.


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De Pree Center Event: Faith, Leadership, and the Global Marketplace

Recommended: The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary will host a lecture by Lord Brian Griffiths, Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs International, on the relationship between the Christian faith and the global marketplace, on April 10 (7p.m.) in Pasadena , CA.  It will be followed by a panel discussion.  More information is available at

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Nancy Ammerman on Religion in Everyday Life

In her “Paul Henley Furfey” lecture at the annual Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting, Nancy Ammerman offered ideas about how sociologists might find religion in daily life, including the workplace.

Defining “Lived Religion”

Ammerman’s subject is “lived religion”, which she calls the “embodied and enacted forms of spirituality that occur in everyday life”, including the workplace.  Beliefs and religious membership are included in lived religion, but the term goes well beyond these to include everyday practice.  It can also apply to the workplace.

Lived religion can be found within a full range of predominantly secular domains, intermingled with the ordinary:

Just as our research project found that most of life is pretty ordinary, we also found that no social domain is always and utterly devoid of spiritual meaning.

Religion and spirituality helped individuals find meaning throughout their daily lives:

Looked at from one angle, what we found in stories of everyday life was that individuals were cultivating a religious consciousness and weaving a layer of spirituality into the fabric of their individual lives, a warp and woof that extend far beyond the institutional domain designated as “religious”.

Religion and the Workplace: A Social Process

This intermingling of the sacred and the profane frequently occurs during conversation; conversations in the workplace can sometimes be imbued with religious or spiritual significance.

This is especially likely for people who are already religiously committed; individuals are more likely to engage in spiritually significant workplace conversations if their religion has a high degree of salience, if they engage in spiritual practices, and if they attend a church or other religious entity.

These conversations are most likely to take place, and have a higher degree of religious significance, among people who believe they have a similar religious perspective:

People who perceive each other  as spiritually similar were more likely to report having conversations about religious and spiritual topics, and people who have such conversations were more likely to see religious and spiritual dimensions in their working lives.  That is, people find each other, they talk, and out of that conversation religious realities are created.

Churches’ Role In Daily Spirituality

Churches and other religious institutions can play an important role.  According to Ammerman, they can help us develop a language for our spirituality (including, in my view, our spiritual intuitions and experiences), bring the sacred forward in our consciousness, and start conversation threads that can carry over into our daily lives:

. . .the more deeply embedded people are in these organized sites of spiritually infused conversation, the more likely they are to carry strands of that conversation with them.  It is not that they have learned a set of doctrines or subscribed to a set of behavioral prescriptions.  It is that they have learned to “speak religion” as one of their dialects.

If people do not have a place where they can regularly engage in spiritual discourse and can learn a spiritual language, they are less likely to bring these into their understanding of their work lives.

Workplace Implications

It seems evident that Ammerman’s lecture and work have significant implications for the workplace.

One implication is that in the workplace, and elsewhere, the right conversations can help us connect our work with our faith, helping us find more meaning in both.  Our individual insights and perspectives are important; engaging in conversations gives us more opportunity to develop and apply them, potentially enriching the integration of our work and our faith.

Another implication concerns how broadly we define our shared perspective.  If  we limit our willingness to share perspectives to those who use the particular language and doctrines of our particular church, then there will probably be relatively few people with whom we can have spirituality-tinged conversation in the workplace.  On the other hand, if we acknowledge that we all stand before the great mystery of God and of our existence, and if we are open to differing attempts to deal with this mystery, we will likely find that we can expand the range of people with whom we can engage.

Religious institutions  are obviously important, for the reasons Ammerman sites.  In  my view, churches could play a more valuable role if they could learn to express more appreciation for people’s work lives.  They could also use language and stories that help people see sacred connections in their work and their workplace relationships.   This would make it easier and more natural for people to extend the conversation threads and theological perspective into the workplace.

(Nancy Ammerman’s lecture material was based on her “Spiritual Narratives in Everday Life” project, which recorded and analyzed interviews with several hundred people and was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.  The lecture itself was published in the Summer, 2014, issue of The Sociology of Religion, published by Oxford University Press. Unfortunately it is behind a paywall, but her most recent book Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life also includes material from the project.)


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