A Risky Faith

April 20th, 2015

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New research indicates that when God is included in a project or sales pitch, people take risks they might otherwise not. That’s encouraging yet odd, given that Alan Hirsch says the American faith community practices a “risk-averse Christianity.”

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Eight-Year-Olds

April 13th, 2015

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Major League Baseball is speeding up the game to hold fan interest. Speeding up is old news, however. The church is supposed to speed the return of the Lord. But the approach it uses lately seems to yield believers with the attention span of an eight-year-old.

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Backdrops

April 6th, 2015

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Next year’s NCAA Final Four promises plenty of air balls and scoring droughts. The problem is poor backdrops. Poor backdrops create poor depth perceptions—a problem that today extends well beyond basketball.

If you caught this year’s March Madness, you noticed some poor shooting in the South Region. The final games were held at NRG Stadium in Houston, home of the Houston Texans NFL team and site of the 2016 Final Four. The cavernous stadium is known as a black hole for basketball sharpshooters.

NRG has hosted 16 NCAA men’s basketball games. During the 2011 national championship game, Butler shot 18.8 percent from the field in a 53-41 loss to Connecticut. In this year’s Sweet Sixteen matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, the Zags were 3 of 19 while UCLA was 3 of 13 on 3-point tries. Ouch. No team has shot at least 50 percent from the field in a tournament game at NRG Stadium.

The problem is poor backdrops. Black curtains well behind the baskets seem to disrupt shooters’ depth perceptions. Players often feel they are launching jump shots deep into another galaxy. Better backdrops—like those at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of tonight’s game—give shooters better depth perceptions.

In times past, people saw the Christian faith as a backdrop. Take “passion,” a topic I raised last week. Scripture describes it as problematic at best. With this backdrop, the American Founders sought to curb and control the “passions of the people.” The Senate was seen as “the saucer into which the nation’s passions are poured to cool.”

Today, the faith has receded like the curtains well behind the baskets at NRG Stadium. One example is trying to “empower” employees. The idea harkens from the 1920s, when Elton Mayo studied workers at the Hawthorne plant, a sprawling factory just outside Chicago. He conducted various experiments, treating culture as a commodity to increase worker efficiency. Mayo considered workers to be machines that can be “empowered,” just as we power up mechanical devices by inserting batteries.

Mayo’s ideas got traction as he taught management theory at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Harvard Business School. Henry Ford was an early adopter. Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913, viewing workers as machines. They felt dehumanized. Things got so bad that, at the close of 1913, Ford estimated he’d have to replenish the ranks with 100 factory workers. He had to hire 963. The situation stabilized only as workers became habituated to being dehumanized.

In 1947, Daniel Bell criticized Mayo for “adjusting men to machines,” rather than enlarging the human capacity for freedom and responsibility. Few saw what he meant. The Christian faith had receded as a backdrop. Mayo’s influence continues to this day as businesses (and even faith communities) claim to see great value in “empowering” people. Perhaps they’ll pay attention to recent findings from neuroscience.

A few years ago I spoke to David Burnham about “empowering” people. He heads the Burnham Rosen Group, a leader in the neuroscience of superior performance. Their findings indicate that talking about “empowering” people actually decreases performance. Effective leaders see how every individual has a degree of authority, or power. Effective leaders “return authority,” asking questions to determine expertise. You can’t “plug” power into people like you plug in a lamp or batteries in a toy.

This is another instance of science catching up to scripture. The Bible says every individual has a degree of authority, power, or dominion. People are not machines. You can’t “empower” them. Effective leaders return authority to those who rightfully have it. When the faith serves as this kind of backdrop, we gain greater depth perceptions on empowerment. We shoot a higher percentage in terms of developing people.

Science or scripture, or both—you choose. Otherwise, we become accustomed to nonsense such as “empowering people.” At this year’s South Region at NRG Stadium, Duke guard Tyus Jones said the key to winning is adjusting your eyes to whatever backdrop is there—good or poor—so that, “come game time, it feels normal.” “Empowering people” might feel normal, but it actually reveals a lack of depth perceptions and how we’ve become accustomed to some rather poor backdrops.

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Three Hours?

March 30th, 2015

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The Viagra commercial includes a warning. If you experience a certain condition lasting over four hours, call a doctor. The Passion Week suggests it might be closer to three.

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Buying gifts for men is no fun. Underwear and socks—ugh. John Beekman is making gifts fun again. He’s the founder and CEO of Man Crates, an irreverent men’s e-commerce brand. It’s the sort of company that makes for a better brand of Christian apologist.

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How do cultures change? Bottom up? Top down? Neither. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day reminds us how this entire debate is rather left-brained. Not good.

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Ben and Laura Harrison’s first child—Jonas—was born blind. This raises the vexing question of why God allows suffering. The simple answer is, he doesn’t. God requires suffering. Ben and Laura have been elected to top off the tank of Christ’s afflictions.

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“We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” So says President Obama. Graeme Wood disagrees. In the February issue of The Atlantic, he argues that Islamic State is not a death cult that distorts Islam. Rather, it is “very Islamic.” In fact, ISIS gets something right that few Westerners recognize.

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Old Dogs, Old Tricks

February 23rd, 2015

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In the 1990s scientists discovered that the adult mammalian brain is capable of sprouting thousands of new neurons. They allow us to keep learning new things. But most of them don’t stick around long enough to do this. Why is that?

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A Bit More Liberal

February 16th, 2015

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A graduate of a Christian college posted this on Facebook: His education “didn’t prepare one for business in the real world.” Colleagues treat him like a “sweet puppy.” But grads from recognized b-schools are also unprepared. They stumble over purpose. Both traditions would benefit from becoming a bit more liberal.

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Graveyard Shift

February 9th, 2015

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Paradigm shifts can be difficult to see. They’re slow to develop, about a century in the making. But a cemetery can compress a century, so a stroll through a graveyard can highlight century-long shifts. My wife and I were recently reminded of this.

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Incognito

February 2nd, 2015

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Groundhog Day has come to mean two different things. Will there be six more weeks of winter? … or something that is repeated over and over. C. S. Lewis probably would have liked both, as they’re instances of God walking around incognito.

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Gone Canopy

January 26th, 2015

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To figure out who the Academy might select for Best Actress, catch the film Gone Girl. And to get a glimpse what the United States Supreme Court might decide regarding same-sex marriage, watch a 1971 movie that could have been titled Gone Canopy.

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Weeks before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi urged Islamic leaders to look at their faith from another angle. Shortly after the attack, David Brooks urged all religions to do likewise. They’re referring to faith’s fourth estate.

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Not Very Profitable

January 12th, 2015

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Outsiders often see what insiders don’t. Take McKinsey’s recent report on the nonprofit sector. McKinsey works mostly in the for-profit world. As outsiders, their findings in the nonprofit sector should, as they put it, “give us pause.”

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