Hank Paulson on Prayer

Henry_Paulson_official_Treasury_photo,_2006Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson wrote a spell binding memoir of his experience during the financial crisis of 2008.  Much of it deals with the day to day effort to prevent a complete financial system meltdown, but one passage in particular deals with the role of prayer.  After weeks of exhausting work and little sleep, there came a point where Paulson and his colleagues had done everything they could and still faced the possibility of catastrophe triggered by the impending failure of Lehman Brothers.

And then, as told in the middle of a book about the financial system, Paulson telephones his wife and has this exchange:

“What if the system collapses?” I asked her. “Everybody is looking to me, and I don’t have the answer. I am really scared.”

“You needn’t be afraid,” Wendy said. “Your job is to reflect God, infinite  Mind, and you can rely on Him.”

I asked her to pray for me, and for the country, and to help me cope with this sudden onslaught of fear. She immediately quoted from the Second Book of Timothy, verse 1:7—“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

The verse was a favorite of both of ours. I found it comforting and felt my strength come back with this reassurance. With great gratitude, I was able to return to the business at hand. I called Josh Bolten and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to alert them that Lehman would file for bankruptcy that evening.

(Paulson, Henry M. (2010-01-14). On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System (Kindle Locations 3407-3413). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

At some point the act of letting go and accepting whatever comes can be liberating and refreshing.

People can agree or disagree with the actions Paulson took to resolve the crisis.  But here we have a lesson that I think transcends the policy issue — at times we have to turn to God for strength, wisdom, and renewal.  It is not so much that God fixes the problem for us, at least in my opinion, but rather that the act of recognizing and perhaps connecting with the greater reality of God can provide us with the renewed strength and resilience needed to do our best.

Reading between the lines, I suspect we should be very grateful for Wendy Paulson’s role as spiritual advisor.


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Spirituality and the State of Flow

As we think about healthy, productive, and fulfilling work, Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s concept of flow comes to mind.  Flow (sometimes referred to as “being in the zone”) is not often thought of as spiritual but there is a potential relationship that is worth exploring, and in any case the concept has a lot to say about human flourishing and growth.

State of Flow -- Sailing Imagery

Csikszentmihali described the concept of flow as:

“. . . a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. Everyone experiences flow from time to time and will recognize its characteristics: people typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.”[i]

Characteristics of Flow

When we are in a state of flow, we are fully engaged with the task, working at peak effectiveness, and not coincidentally experiencing something of a feeling of joy.  According to Csikszentmihali such experiences typically involve most, and sometimes all, of the following characteristics:[ii]

  • The individual believes that the task is worth doing (i.e. it has meaning and significance).
  • There is a good fit between the challenges of the task and the skills of the individual; there needs to be enough challenge to require the full attention of the participant and to allow the development of a sense of mastery, but not so much that the person becomes frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • Full attention is given to the task, resulting in a temporary merging of action and awareness; no attention is available for distractions such as anxieties about job performance or security.
  • The task has clear goals and feedback that provide a structure and a basis for knowing whether or not one has succeeded in performing the task.
  • The sense of time can be altered.
  • The subject experiences a sense of joy as self consciousness recedes and he or she becomes absorbed in the task.

Ordered Consciousness

The key to attaining a state of flow is the control of attention:

“They are situations in which attention can be freely invested to achieve a person’s goals, because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat for the self to defend itself against.”[iii] 

Csikszentmihalyi speaks of disordered versus ordered consciousness.  A disordered consciousness is one in which the mind is pulled involuntarily in unwanted directions, often by fears, anxieties, resentments, and other forms of painful dysphoria.  An ordered consciousness on the other hand involves developing the capability to focus attention on the most appropriate areas while letting go of the various dysfunctional distractions.  Csikszentmihalyi believes that ordered consciousness is more likely to result in human happiness.

Imagine, then, if we could spend much more of our work time in a state of flow.  We would be fully engaged, focused, energized, free of distractions, operating at peak effectiveness, and would probably be experiencing a sense of joy and satisfaction in our work.  We would also be completing our work in less time, giving us extra time for our spiritual practices and other activities.

Is there a spiritual or religious connection?

And so what is the relationship of flow to our faith and spirituality?  As a practical matter I think there are several possible points of contact:

1)   Spiritual practices can help us move in the direction of the state of flow.  Being able to focus on the task at hand, letting go of distractions, and working in a more relaxed state (or at least less tense) are all possible benefits from spiritual practices.  To develop a deeper sense of mission through our prayer and meditation, and then to execute this mission as we move outward into the world – has to enhance our abilities in this regard.

2)   To the extent that our faith helps us develop virtues that apply in the workplace (n particular patience, humility, compassion, equanimity, transparency), we are less likely to be burdened by the distractions of resentment, anger, fear, pride, and excessive self concern, thereby helping us to engage in the task at hand.

3)   Knowing and accepting who we are in a deeper sense also helps us to eliminate the distractions; faith helps provide this meaning.

I wonder also if the state of flow might be inherently spiritual.  It seems to represent a state of being fully engaged, fully conscious.  And it is an engagement that is neither obsessive nor enslaving; Csikszentmihali observes that people who are able to enter a state of flow are also better able to leave their work behind when it is time to stop.  Does this have spiritual implications?  I think maybe it does.

[i]. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. http://www.psy-flow.com/sites/psy-flow/files/docs/flow.pdf . Global LearningCommunities (2000).

[ii]. Csikszentmihalyi  (2008/1990). Pp. 48ff.

[iii]. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008/1990). P. 40.

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Recorded Meditations for Advent

picture of dawnWe have issued a new set of audio meditations designed to be a springboard for you own meditations. They are available at our sister site: sacred experience.org. One will be issued for each week of advent. If you would like to receive an email notification when a new recording is posted, please subscribe at that site.

We believe that Advent should be a time of waiting. It is too easy to get caught up in the Christmas celebrations, including those at our churches, in a way that encourages us to miss the significance and spiritual value of the season of Advent waiting. It might not be practical to ignore all the seasonal activity, but we can at least take a few minutes out each day to remind ourselves of the meaning of Advent as a time of preparation. These recordings are designed to help us do this.

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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 (rtribken@faithandenterprise.org) 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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