Monthly Archives: June 2016

Just When You Think . . .

UniverseJust when you think you have the situation under control, the Universe throws a wrench into it.

I was reminded of this today as I indulged in my daily, very guilty pleasure of watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. The episode entitled “The Incredible Sinking Lorelais” ends with Mom and Daughter both crumbling under the weight of the expectations they had set for themselves and what reality actually delivered.

Both business and ministerial situations do that — throw wrenches into our best laid plans. The measure of a good leader is how we respond.

We can let it break us, turning us into blithering idiots who direct the anxiety and stress outward and project it on to others in the form of anger, authoritarianism (pick your favorite form of autocratic behavior.)

Or we can pent up all of that frustration and energy, and inflict needless pain on ourselves in multiple forms of destructive behaviors, the least of which is staying awake for unnecessary hours trying to fix things.

Or my favorite option (in theory, not always in practice) — breathe . . . and let the Universe reveal where that proverbial “wrench” is intended to take us.

If you have ever planned a meeting, only to watch and listen as an agenda topic takes an unanticipated turn, there’s the wrench. Though my preference would be to get the discussion “back on track” (whatever that means!), we can learn a lot from these detours or changes in direction — not usually large things, but small ones.

What new thing did you learn about the perspective of a committee member? What obstacles or issues were named or hinted at that you hadn’t considered before? What paths and options are opened up now that this conversation has taken place?

I admit — this doesn’t work in all situations. But sometimes letting the Universe lead the way — and facilitating that as best you can — can uncover concerns, questions, issues, solutions, directions that had not be considered before.



Love Decides Everything

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. –Rev. Pedro Arrupe, SJ

If you’re like me, you didn’t know what you wanted to be when you grew up. You didn’t know what you wanted to major in in college. And you didn’t have a three- or a five- or a ten-year plan.

And if I am honest, I’m not entirely sure how I got to where I am professionally. The one thing I do know is that I have always tried to be true to the person that God created me, and love myself enough to make choices accordingly.

When I first started out, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. I just wanted a job in the hopes that I would figure that out along the way. So, I took a few jobs to pay the bills, left a couple of jobs that ate away at my soul, and found a job where the people and the work fit. I even fell in love there–with a man and with a direction for my life.

I came down with a bad case of the flu one winter. Spent hours on the couch. During the very brief half hours when I was awake, I decided to update my resume. It took a couple of days, and at the end of one particularly enjoyable nap, I reread what I had constructed, and it hit me. I loved teaching! A huge–unexpected–revelation.

Against the better advice of my co-workers, I got a job teaching high school, and had the four most successful, difficult, fulfilling, frustrating, amazing years of my young career. I had let myself “fall in love” over the course of those four years, and it did decide everything.

When I had the chance to leave my home of 13 years, move to a new city and new job, it was the loving support of my friends and the love that I had found in working with young people that enabled me to say “yes.”

In the professional decisions that followed, the question that has been at the center has always been, “Who am I called to love and how?”

I was privileged to meet Fr. Arrupe once, and was struck by his warmth and humility. His journey as leader of the Jesuits was filled with highs and lows, but it always seemed to come back to the question, “Who am I called to love and how?” It’s probably taken a while, but I think I am finally beginning to understand how to answer the question, “What do I want to be when I grow-up?”

Innovation and Faith

ChurchInnovation is the beating red blood of the American ecosystem. Think about it. In your lifetime, what radical changes have you seen in business and the economy?

The unparalleled success of Apple, first with its user-friendly operating system (true confession: I am a total Windows geek from the days of DOS and the introduction of the personal computer back in 1985) to its i-“anything” devices. Microsoft with Windows and its almost complete hold on the business market. Music moving from vinyl to tape to disc, and back to vinyl even! Electric cars, Airbnb, Uber . . .

Where have you seen innovation in the Church, your parish, your own faith life?

While Vatican II ushered in many changes, many would say that they were not “innovations” because the foundations upon which they were built existed in Scripture and Tradition.

So, where has, does, and can innovation take place? And what is your role as a leader?

One of my fav sources, Harvard Business Review, has a quote in this month’s issue:

The role of leaders is to enable diverse team members to grasp one another’s perspectives and productively share their insights.

Think about the teams that you have assembled. How have you affirmed the diversity of insights and found ways to help them share them?

We’ve probably all sat in too many parish committee meetings, watching ineffective leaders negotiate the battles between different viewpoints, only to see a worthwhile agenda slide into a black hole, never to be retrieved.

My other favorite “wise” source (Real Simple!) gave me a few ideas.

  1. Turn the polar opposite ideas into a brainstorming session. Remember, these are only 2 ideas. Don’t let your team or committee members’ comments become positions that they need to defend. These are only their perspectives, the ideas that they have an interest in, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
  2. Repeat what each committee member has said, then ask each to clarify. Then go back to the subject at hand or to another subject, especially if it is clear that you aren’t going to be able to resolve any differences.
  3. Pause. No! Don’t say anything. Let those who were talking know they were heard, and wait. If silence prevails, continue or go forward.

In the end, you want well-managed and negotiated diversity or you may never break out of the patterns that have led you to the present. If you want to change for the future, then change has to start in the present.

Respect the Power

Yesterday in the middle of a conference call, sticky, ugly, muddy water started gushing around the cracks in the bottom of the outside door into my basement office.

With hands in the air–and reminding myself that I hadn’t muted my phone!–my husband and I scrambled to grab towels (him), dirty or available clothing (me), and the huge stash of Bounty paper towels in the basement storage space.

Imagine the dialogue–“Oh, no, you don’t” as I slapped a tea towel on a pool of water seeping from under a fully soaked bath towel. “No, no, no, no, no,” and a wad of Bounty became whole rolls wedged into the door frame, turned over when one side was soaked, squeezed, and returned to continue the fight.

And just when I thought I had stemmed the tide, I saw it. Rivulets of water at the opposite end of the room, moseying from underneath the now-defeated laminate into the unfinished part of the basement, and into the crawl space where the Christmas decorations live.

With a mad dash to move the Christmas decorations to higher and safer ground, I had to relinquish control. I finally realized that there was little more I could do than clean up and respect the power of the river of water that a fast moving storm had created in my yard and then my basement.

As a sometime liturgist and catechist, I talk a lot about the power of symbols–water, light, fire–and both the good and bad they can do. Hence, their power.

Yesterday was a brief reminder that sometimes the only thing we as leaders can do is respect the power of nature, and not try to control it. At least, not now. Sometimes things are just bigger and more powerful than we are. And that’s okay.

Our basement will live to see another day–probably with a new floor. And so will I, a little worn out, but still here, still ready, still respectful.

The Spiritual Economics of Loss Aversion

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

In his homily this past Sunday, our former pastor used the economic theory of loss aversion to more deeply examine Jesus’ insights into what it will mean for him to be the “Christ” and what each of his followers must do–leave everything behind and take up their own cross.

Christianity flies in the face of this innate human tendency to take few risks and avoid loss at all costs. Well, at least most costs.

But that is what Jesus asks of us. And we see the response to his invitation modeled in both ways, as a “yes” in his disciples at the start of his ministry and as a “no” in the young man who is unable to part with his riches.

One of my members, GIA Publications, has a song from Marty Haugen, called “Look and See the Face of Christ.” If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen.

What hits me like a brick wall in this song is that as much I may try to avoid any part of the invitation to follow Jesus, I can’t. It’s always staring me in the face in the face of someone else.

Why avoid it? The promise of Jesus is everlasting life spent in the presence of the God who is love. I think I get glimpses of that occasionally when I reluctantly let go of something in my life that may cause me initial pain.

Where are the glimpses of that glory in your life–when the pain of loss is overcome by the joy of God’s love?

Identity vs. Issue

This political season can be summed up in three words, to some extent, identity versus issues. For identity to carry the day, the individual must be charismatic, embolden his or her followers to tell others about him or her, and seek to be regarded as the center of attention. Issues often have a charismatic person at the core, but one of humility who doesn’t seek the spotlight. Someone who accepts disagreement with love and compassion, and nurtures the truth in each of us to go forth.

This liturgical season seems to follow suit.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He scolded them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
Luke 9 (New American Bible,

Jesus is the model of leadership par excellence for most of us. This Gospel establishes the framework for that model.

While the disciples recognize him as the Christ, the Messiah, the great spiritual leader that they have been awaiting, Jesus himself knows that true leadership cannot be deeply nurtured, explored, lived through, and sustained through identity leadership.

Think of how many different times and places where you have seen a strong and charismatic leader develop a rich and grace-filled ministry in a parish or school, only to leave at some point and the ministry to die on the vine.

Most great religious orders have dealt with this when their founder died, and they struggled with how and with whom to move on. They knew that there had to be something deeper — a charism — that bound them together, something that went beyond the personality or the identity of the leader.

Take a moment and think about what would have happened had Jesus told his followers to tell everyone who he was. Would the Gospel have gotten past the first century?

Jesus always knew that his life and ministry were about the issues–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, taking in the homeless, setting prisoners free. Even the fights of the early Church were not around these. These were fundamental.

So, in what ways are you a leader through your identity? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that? When and where are you a leader through issues? How do you ensure that you can pass on the baton of leadership to others?

Culture of the Provisional

Catholic News Agency reported today on a response Pope Francis made during a Q&A session at a pastoral Congress in Rome.

“We live in a culture of the provisional,” which causes many couples getting married to say “yes, for the rest of my life!” without knowing what they’re committing to, and for that reason “the great majority of sacramental marriages are null”.

marriageIf we can’t look to Catholic sacramental marriages today for models of grace-filled permanent vocational choices, where can we?

The board in the hallway in the Catholic high school where my husband teaches with photos of all of the veteran teachers and coaches who have been there 10, 15, 25, 35, and even 40 years.

The plaque outside our worship space, dedicating the building to the original pastor of St. John the Evangelist, Columbia, MD, who was there for over 35 years. Or the plaque in the bookcase across the hallway to our pastor emeritus who served and ministered there for 32 years.

In the faces of our children’s teachers, catechists, coaches who have committed so many years to nurturing the faith of our communities. And the parish and diocesan leaders who have quietly, in many cases, brought the faith alive to generations of children and adults.

It seems like we are actually pretty good at this permanent, life-long commitment thing–just not in marriage??

So, what needs to change? What do we need to say or do differently to translate to this generation and the next so that they can live vocation-driven and married lives of grace, and not nullity?

Give and Take

GiveIt’s probably rare that we think about what we do as Catholic leaders as “mergers and acquisitions,” but when I think about all of my attempts at collaboration, I see it all around me.

I spend a lot of time building collaborative relationships to help make our work in publishing and developing Catholic leaders successful. The scary part is that I can see very clearly when I am in “acquisition” mode, e.g., Could you share your mailing list? Will you be a sponsor/partner?

But what is it that I have to give to them?

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review (June 2016) got me thinking.

Companies that focus on what they are going to get from an acquisition are less likely to succeed than those that focus on what they have to give it. (This insight echoes one from Adam Grant, who notes in his book “Give and Take” that people who focus more on giving than on taking in the interpersonal realm do better, in the end, than those who focus on maximizing their own position.

So, what gets in the way of giving more than we take when we collaborate? What is it that needs to change in the way we even start the conversation to ensure that the relationship is fully two-way?


What Makes People Say and Do the Things They Say and Do

downloadThe recent violence in Orlando has sparked many reactions, comments, and reflections on the incident–and many have wondered what makes those most vocal say and do what they have said and done.

As so often happens, the speakers and doers at the center of this past Sunday’s readings jolt us out of the commonness of everyday life to say and do the unexpected. Nathan, a prophet, cuts down the mighty King David with his words of the sin that David has committed. Paul professes his nothingness without his faith in the Son of God and grace from God. And a “sinful woman” (yes, that is the NAB’s translation) takes all that is precious to her to the house of a Pharisee, a man who would berate her and leave her in the dirt for nothing, in order to wash and kiss the feet of Jesus. Then, of course, Jesus does the most unthinkable–he forgives her.

The theme for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress is “Blessed as Living Witnesses.” I thought it all somewhat ironic–waking to the news of this act of terror, listening to these readings at Mass, then reading and hearing the reactions from the media, politicians, commentators, and religious leaders.

What kind of “living witness” are we called to be? What kind of “living witness” do we want to be–and do we expect of others? Do we aspire to be like Nathan, Paul, and the sinful woman? What unexpected words and actions would it take to follow that path?