Monday, December 12, 2011

Brand Identity

A friend of mine posted a link to a NY Times article and took issue with the author's comments at the end ..
We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us.
My friend observed that most if not all United Church of Christ congregations would fit this criteria.  From my experience serving a joint UCC/UMC congregation and having worked with other UCC churches in my ministry I would have to agree.  The United Methodist Chuch has also struggled with brand recognition.  For the last ten years the UMC has been trying to increase people's favorable views of our denomination through marketing campaigns and local church efforts.  The results have been favorable as our "positive" recognition continues to rise.

Is this all enough?  I personally believe that both the UCC and the UMC have a lot to offer people looking for a community of faith.  I believe that both of these denominations have churches that fit the requirements from the NYT article.  But I think that we miss the point if we simply shout back that we are here, that we are doing that already.  The genius, in my opinion, of Jobs was not creating something new, it was creating it/marketing it/packaging it in a way people who needed it could get it.  Where our churches often struggle is that we forget that not everyone recognizes how amazing our communities of faith are.  Yes, I really do think they are amazing.  We do not make our opportunities accessible to those on the outside, those who really need it.  Our churches become like archaic mainframes or desktops, failing to realize that the world has moved on to different devices, even though we can provide the same services, if people just knew how to access us.  I think we should see the sentiments of this article as a challenge.  If we really believe we have something great to offer, how do we change so that people can take advantage of it.  How do we adapt to the shifting needs of those who are lacking a spiritual community, who need a life-changing presence?  How do we "think different" and make faith simple to access?  How do we tell people we are here?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Working Hard or Hardly Working

I recently read an article on that talked about how we overly malign the infamous 1% of the OWS protests. The op/ed talks about how instead we should be respecting these 1 percenters and seeing them as positive role-models. The point that seemed to come across strongest was that we did not respect how hard working these people were. "1 percenters generally have the nerve, drive and self-assurance that the rest of us could only dream of. We see where they are or were, but what the envious among us never consider is what they did to get there." This is perhaps the most frustrating line of the piece. I am not trying to say that the top 1 % does not work hard, I am sure they do. I object to the idea that they make more money than me because they work harder than me.

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not the hardest worker in the world. I did not study hard in high school, continued that tradition into college, and only marginally changed my habits in seminary. I certainly admit to lacking self-assurance, and I have no idea how much drive or nerve I have, relative to the average person or 1 percenter. I would question however how much of my lack of drive is a product of my current financial status. I think it actually has more to do with my motivations. I could have worked much harder in college and seminary and the only difference might be how much debt I came out of school with. The churches I serve would not have been able to pay me any more money, and even if they could pay more it would not move me any closer to being a 1 percenter. Even a bishop in The United Methodist Church does not make enough to be in the top 1% of income, so not matter how great my drive and ambition, I cannot be a 1 percenter if I continue in my current line of work. So really my failing is not just not working hard enough it is not working hard enough in the right profession.

The real reason most of the 1% make more than me is not about hard work, it is about what work we value.  In our society labor is not valued, capital is.  This is clearly expressed in the article
Considering the myriad business owners that dot the American landscape, as owners they’re often demonized for their possession of the means of production. What’s left out is the grand deal they’re offering the 99 percenters who work for them.
Basically the owners provide the capital, conceive the business plan, and then if the plan fails, as owners they stand to lose all that they ventured. As for the allegedly exploited laborers, they get paid no matter what. Not a bad deal.
The real risk is not to the laborers but to the owners who might lose all their money.  Now, obviously no one wants to lose their money but I think we forget that this is a lot easier to replace than say the health of the workers.  There is a reason that many professions have 30 and out clauses allowing for early retirement, because the physical stress of the job causes lasting damage to the body.  I even suspect most NFL players, proud members of the 1 percenters would rather lose the money they make while in the NFL than suffer the debilitating and often fatal effects of concussions and other work related injuries.  Instead our society tends to reward those who risk the capital and lead the company much higher than we reward the workers who are doing the "less important" jobs of making the products to be sold.

Do I want us to enter into some sort of socialist/communist state?  Probably not, but I do want us to have a better appreciation for the role that everyone plays in our society.  I think there is a real danger, and this articles seems to back that up, that we forget about the contributions of the many because of the work of the few.  Aaron Rodgers is celebrated for how hard he worked, and paid accordingly, but no mention is made of how hard his high school coach might have also worked with Rodgers to improve him.  In fact the HS coach probably worked just as hard with the next QB after Rodgers graduated who never became a star.

I think my frustration with the entire OWS conversation is it feels like in the end it gets reduced to those who have and those do not have.  I think this is a false dichotomy.  Its not really about who makes money and my problem is that society seems to have forgotten that.  Its really about what each of us is doing to make ourselves, our communities, and our world better; whether that is through invention and running a company or it is through working for that company; whether that is preaching or playing football.  In the end we all need to do our best ... and then we can all be a part of the 1% and the 100%.