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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On Morning Commutes, Job Rewards, and Other Matters ...

Ah, how I've been enjoying the morning drive to work these past few months! Exceptionally blessed are they who get to park in clearings and breath in cool, clean fresh air from the trees that surround them as they climb out of the car, who pull up next to a cardinal perched in a red berry bush and corn blue wildflowers that shyly peek out from their leaves, who travel only country roads and lanes at the edge of town instead of crowded city thru-ways and high-speed four-lane highways, who have only two stop lights to worry about the whole trip, who take only fifteen minutes - more or less - to get to work, who work in sequestered modern office buildings - built of stone and wooden stair rails and big glass windows - in wooded areas off the main drag, and who drive past fields, subdivisions, cemetaries, churches, county schools, and country homes and farmsteads only freshly overtaken by the burgeoning town. And who also must make an easy detour around the train that occasionally crosses the towpath that winds its way through the woods.

Among my work rewards I count the blessings of a good location, and a peaceful morning drive (except for that deer that keeps jumping out in front of me =:o) where I can clear my head and think ahead whilst watching the road.

Switching to another topic that occured to me as I gazed out the office window of my country home this morning and enjoyed waking up to a cup of coffee while watching the sun rise ... you know ... it isn't all bad! As dissatisfied as I have been about the country's swing to the political right in the past several years and (in my view) the subversion of evangelical "popular" Christianity to something I no longer recognize by something I never really trusted, surprisingly there are a few benefits to all of this.

It's just taken me a while to realize it.

For one thing, there's the legitimization of faith-based initiatives. Back in the seventies I worked for an inner city youth ministry. I was considered a home missionary or mission worker. When after three and a half years I decided to relocate closer to my family and find a secular job, there was almost a stigma attached to this work - or at least a reluctance or hesitation to mention it accompanied by a felt need to apologize for its appearance on a resume if the interviewer even quickly brought it up. Even though people who volunteered and lead the ministry were professional, highly educated, and exceptionally dedicated, this entry on a resume wasn’t something that interested prospective employers.

But now it even has a legitimate title. Now I can claim that I worked for 3 and a half years in a not-for-profit faith-based initiative. We have finally been recognized and found a long overdue respectability – and one assumes this is true of a variety of faiths in the US, and not just the Christian faith. So while I lament the present blurring of the lines of separation between church and state, I concede that it is nice to finally live in an environment that is not as marginalizing in this respect as in my teenage and young adult years.

And here I am after all these years, fortunate to be working for another not-for-profit, albeit-this time secular.

So maybe in this post-September-11 era of doors slammed shut (see Georg Zumkley's article below), at least one thing has opened up. However, in my mind this newly found freedom is not merely caused by the inevitable swing of the pendulum from right to left and back again. I also think the paradigms have changed. We now live in a postmodern world. The tensions between Science (positivism) and Faith that characterized most of the 20th Century have been transcended by postmodernism which in effect levels the playing field and renders the whole argument obsolete. In my mind there is no longer a contradiction. That's because now there is a swing away from extreme positivism as one finds in the scientific method, for instance. Postmodernism claims that meaning is socially constructed – which reminds me of that old adage or riddle: if a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it really make a sound ?

Similarly I don’t think postmodernism denies that there is an objective reality (although some philosophers and scholars might disagree) so much as it claims that our way of knowing it, or our access to it, if you will, is subjective and socially negotiated – and that little fact is more significant and important than hitherto imagined. That little fact may even account for the emergence of whole different cultures, languages and societies among humans – because if reality weren’t socially constructed, wouldn’t we all see the same things and arrive at the same conclusions - in short, wouldn't civilization world wide be a lot more homogenized? Mind you I'm not just talking about touchy issues such as good and evil and "absolute truth" here - I'm referring to everything, including language and customs and birds and trees. By the same token, but on its flip side, there must exist enough "common ground" in this world or there would be nothing to negotiate. There would be no language or civilization.

In my mind, postmodernism also doesn’t differentiate as much between "internal reality" and "external reality" as the old views did – or to put it differently, my thoughts and brain patterns are as much a part of "reality" and this world as the road I drove to work on this morning. More transient perhaps, but just as real. And I believe that acknowledging one's total self - even one's thought processes and dreams - as a part of this world instead of somehow separated from it by that boundary we call the body, constitutes a more healthy and holistic view of life.

In the meantime ...

Happy Commuting!


Recommended reading for today ... :)

Leading and Managing the Expressive Dimension: Harnessing the Hidden Power Source of the Nonprofit Sector by David E. Mason
Hardcover: 323 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub; 1st ed edition (December 1995)
Language: English
ISBN: 0787901431


"The Terrorist Attacks in the United States - The End of an Era"

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has left thousands dead. It has left the most famous building in the world in ruins. All over the world, people would recognize the WTC. The WTC was the symbol of New York, shaping the skyline of Manhattan, reaching the skies. That skyline will never be the same again. The picture that millions around the world knew is lost forever.

What does that mean to us? What has been taken from the world with that act of destruction? Why is the shock so tremendous, the worldwide emotional impact of historical dimensions, comparable in recent history only to that experienced at the fall of the Berlin Wall?
The Western world has not simply witnessed a terrorist attack. It has witnessed the end of an era. That "era" lasted from the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 ["Eleven-Nine"], until the attacks on September 11, 2001 ["Nine-Eleven"]. For that short a period of time, the citizens at least of the Western hemisphere were able to live in peace with the world. They were able to believe in the possibility of peaceful co-existence. That is what the end of the Cold War meant to them - the possibility to live in peace, free from constant fear of the conflict erupting. That is what made people all over the world exult, celebrate the Fall of the Wall. The celebration is over.
The Cold War constantly threatened to turn into a devastating atomic war - at least in the minds of the majority of the Western people. People were living under threat, every hour of their existence. They were living under tremendous mental stress. At the beginning of the eighties, being a teenager in Germany meant feeling personally threatened by an imminent war. That concern was an ever-present issue in conversations, meetings and demonstrations. Berlin, a symbol of violent division, of the impossibility to communicate.
Then, the Wall came down. The world opened up. People, for the first time in decades, had a chance to communicate, to get to know each other without feeling that oppressive threat. People from East and West would get together, talking through the night about their experience, being curious to get to know each other.

Now, the towers of the World Trade Center came down. The reaction was immediate: The world closed up. All communication stopped. Further than being a necessary security measure, the closing down of all routes of communication is symbolic of the global psychological impact that the event is having. The threat is back. The mental stress is back People are afraid to get on an airplane, they are afraid of their Arabic-looking neighbours. They have suffered a tremendous personal shock by that threat returning, a situation almost forgotten in the Western world during the nineties. As when we suffer a shock in our personal lives, it will cost a lot of energy to overcome that shock, to adapt to the overwhelming change in living circumstances.
That way, we are facing two major effects: The closure of communications and the loss of that energy for purposes other than overcoming the shock, energy that we cannot dedicate to communcation with others, to creative work.

That is the devastating effect the attacks have had. The reaction can be twofold: Remaining paralysed in shock, closed off in our own spheres. Or actively trying to overcome that shock the world has suffered.

The attacks in the US have left the world in psychological shock. They have taken a lot of what was given to the world when the Iron Curtain went up. But they have not touched the foundations: the belief in the ability of man to communicate with each other. The worldwide communication on the Internet, people sharing their concerns, is proof of that. That is the way out of the state of shock: Recovering the energy to remanin open and compassionate, not wasting it in fears and threats.

It will take time to recover for the world. It took a long time for the world to recover from the confrontation of the blocks closed off from each other. But eventually, the world opened up again."

Georg Schulze Zumkley

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