Musings on Networking

March 23, 2015

MUSINGS ON NETWORKING

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The importance of networking in professional life is dramatized in the 1987 film Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s showcasing of the fascinating world of financial investment. The main character is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who reigns over an empire of impressive money market monopolies. the stable of people he knows, privileged information he accesses and continuous communication he engages in add up to a network superstar. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) attempts to emulate Gekko in his competence as a power broker and in the networking skills necessary to guarantee domination in that world.

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NETWORKING AS A FEATURE OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE

In its exposé of stock market realities, Wall Street demonstrates the inescapability of networking as fixed feature of contemporary working life. Indeed, networking is most frequently associated with job and career environments. But it has evolved as a dimension of everyday life beyond the stations of the workplace. In the busy and segmented urban life of most North Americans, networking is required to find friends and to establish a community of connections. With our nostalgic and idealized notions of relationships, we are apt to suspect networking as too formal and utilitarian for our romanticized aspirations. But in the reality of city life, networking becomes the necessary bridge to identify and nurture meaningful relationships. Whether practiced consciously or accidentally, networking is a relational habit for many people. Networks require a measure of intentionality and civility. Networkers are influential precisely because they know what they want and initiate processes to attain their desires and aspirations. People, called players, who vigorously pursue strategic positioning recognize that in a competitive social setting, civility and a measure of concern for others in networking are crucial for any short-term or long-term gains. Because of the pervasiveness of networking, a moral imagination should be employed to appreciate and assess its contribution to contemporary daily life.

NETWORKING IN ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE

The twentieth century has seen the astronomical growth of large institutions. With this organizational trend has come a dramatic increase in professionals to manage and operate these bureaucratic enterprises. Concurrent with these developments has been the globalization of institutional relations in government, business and ecclesiastical sectors. All of these new realities mandate leadership styles that mobilize networking capacities. Networking is the process of creating and maintaining a pattern of informal linkages among individuals and institutions. In a swiftly changing social environment, new and flexible interconnections become necessary. Leaders must be highly skilled in constructing or re-creating the linkages necessary to function effectively (Gardner, p. 62). The recent proliferation of publications dissecting organizational culture and submitting prescriptions for successful leadership of diverse institutions frequently includes discussions of networking. The near-totalitarian presence of organizational life is the catalyst for this saturation of printed and on-line resources to assist leaders and players to operate with confidence. In today’s entrepreneurial and innovative climate, internal networking emerges as a primary ingredient in being productive. The constant moving around of people and processes means that humans rather than formal mechanisms become the principal carriers of information and integrative links between different departments within an organization. Mobility is a key factor as a network-forming vehicle and thus becomes an admission ticket to the power centers. An organization’s opportunity structure – movement to privileged and prestigious positions – is directly related to the power structure (Kanter, p. 164). Networking has become one of the preferred competencies to contribute to a healthy company and to procure advancement possibilities. The wise executive or manager carefully places in strategic positions individuals who are networkers by inclination. The inclusion of networkers enables the establishment of informal cross-boundary working groups that energize the entire corporate culture (Gardner, p. 163).

External networking is also a work of innovative trends in institutional development currently in fashion. The best companies relate even to their competitors. Building alliances enhances communication and mutuality. In a cutthroat approach to organizational relations there tend to be losers all the way around. Healthy alliance building produces mutual benefits for each partner and for society as a whole. Leaders must nurture outside networks of allies in the many other segments of society whose cooperation is desired for a significant result (Gardner, p. 104).

(c) "The Last Supper" by Andy Worhol

(c) “The Last Supper” by Andy Worhol

NETWORKING AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF DAILY LIFE

Networking is an individual and institutional activity. The movement of structures suggests the inevitability of involvement in networks. The globalization and urbanization of contemporary life also mean that institutions are interdependent and are necessarily interfacing as their respective missions and operations pull them into a marketplace of connections. Organizational life is an extension of the created and evolved world – part of what is often called in Christian theology the cultural mandate. According to the Christian tradition, God, is a Trinity who created the world in a relational manner and wired it to be a communicative network. These relational and communicative processes have been distorted and demented as they moved east of Eden. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ have brought the possibility of a more complete reconciliation into the processes. It is now possible to network in a manner that is reconciling in its intent and expression. Networking is one essential dimension of the ministry of reconciliation the apostle Paul speaks of so intently (2 Cor 5:19). The several implications of the ministry of reconciliation for networking are manifested in Jesus, mandated by the Creator and managed by the Spirit. The primary implication is the deliberate communication to the neighbor, including the stranger. The love of neighbor and stranger that Jesus exemplified becomes the starting point for the networking activity associated with a job and civic life. Networking is that public part of daily life in which we recognize our oneness, our unity, our interdependence to one another. Indeed, we are strangers and likely will remain as such, but we inhabit common space, share resources, convene around mutual opportunities and generally must learn to live and work together. The public drama in which we are all participants reveals a life in which strangers inevitably come into daily contact with other, learn to solve problems together, and generously enrich and enlarge each other’s perspectives. We are all part of a web, linked in a network (Palmer, pp. 19-20). Spiritual life is to be a communion of communions. God has called people together from disparate multicultural environments to be witnesses to human flourishing. Networking is a spiritual discipline of the faith community to celebrate our unity in the gospel and affirm the different ministries in the world of the public. Jesus’ vision of a unified and commissioned people necessitates a spirituality that includes networking as part of its habit of ecumenism and mission in the world (Marty, p. 79). A spirituality of daily life recognizes the vitality of networking in the discipleship of the Christian and in the public vocation of the church.

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CONCLUSION

I started this reflective essay on networking with a reference to the movie Wall Street and it’s dramatization of a superstar networker Gordon Gekko. I then proceeded to register the importance and inescapability of networking in the daily life of humans living in the city, working on the job, and participating in all manner of organizational life. The term “networking” is a metaphor borrowed from business vernacular that reeks of an arid instrumentality. I attempted to invest a spiritual vitality into the term by drawing specifically from a Christian framework (other spiritual perspectives and religious traditions could offer similar and alternative interpretations) that yielded a scale and scope of meaning beyond the technical definition. I will end by invoking another visual narrative from the 2005 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Crash. Director Paul Haggis presents a Los Angeles, and by extension all cosmopolitan centers, a city robust in connections and conflicts. Modern urban life is a polyglot of human interaction replete with a dizzying diversity of political perspectives, cultural rituals, and religious practices. Crash captures on celluloid and provokes in audiences the beautiful sights and cacophonous sounds that make Los Angeles a network of networkers. In the horizon of the movie Crash and the metaphor “networking” is the human desire and demand for collaborating, caring, and connecting.

Note: I originally wrote this essay in 1997 for inclusion in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity. I edited it in 2007 for submission as a writing sample for an academic job application. I have made a few minor edits for this blog-posting edition. There is a notorious omission in the piece: No mention of social media networking. This is deliberate for two reasons: 1: There is a plethora of commentary already in circulation. 2: This submission is intended as a prophetic gesture addressing real people in real-time: A preferred way for networking to be experienced as a professional, civic, personal, and spiritual activity.

References and Resources:

W. Baker, Networking Smart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); J.W. Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990); R.S. Kanter, The Change Masters (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1983); M. Marty, The Public Church (New York: Crossword, 1981); P. Palmer, The Company of Strangers (New York: Crossroad, 1981).

2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

February 19, 2015

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2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

The thunderous buzz of film culture has enveloped us yet again. The year-end critic’s top ten lists, the non-stop awards promotions, and the favorite films-of-the-year verdicts of movie-lovers is an annual social ritual that both pleases and annoys. Reviewing, reflecting, rehearsing the good, bad and ugly of cinema is an unavoidable staple of our contemporary culture. This process is pleasing because retrieving the best cinematic experiences is an emotional, intellectual, and moral stimulant. Annoying, because the inflated and outsized importance bestowed on the process is a huge distraction.

This seasonal activity now has the significance of religious holidays—film is one of the world’s great religions. The pilgrimages we make to the theater, video store, Redbox, even the short walk to home entertainment centers are indicators of the religious dimensions of the film- viewing experience. Nurturing the soul and enlightening the mind is more frequently experienced with sights and sounds—the ocular and the auditory—than by printed texts. While the literary arts remain crucial to a vital culture, moving images and rock & roll—film and music—increasingly are where most people connect to things that matter most. The enthusiasm generated during this period approaches the fervor found at a feast, a revival of sorts.

I will join the 2014 ritualistic celebration with my own set of categories and winners. I simply cannot resist the stampede in registering my own preferences and perspectives on the films released and exhibited last year.

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Here are the Best Picture categories with top selections:

1. Films likely to be discussed ten years from now (long shelf life):

  • Goodbye to Language
  • Boyhood
  • Nymphomaniac I & II

2. Films that will likely have cult status:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice

3. Films that will likely show up in revival programming:

  • Nightcrawler
  • Young and Beautiful
  • Gone Girl

4. Films that did not get deserved attention:

  • The Immigrant
  • Two Days, One Night
  • Venus in Fur
  • The Past
  • Missing Picture

5. Films delivering spiritual vitality:

  • Calvary
  • The Normal Heart
  • Trip to Italy
  • Wild
  • A Theory of Everything

6. Awesome retrospective screenings:

  • Alphaville
  • Babel
  • Dead Poets Society

7. My favorite films not mentioned in previous categories:

  • Chef
  • Gloria
  • The Double
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • St. Vincent
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Noah
  • Foxcatcher
  • Interstellar
  • Gore Vidal: The U.S. of America

* Notable films not screened:

  • Selma
  • Leviathan
  • Whiplash
  • The Imitation Game
  • American Sniper

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RELIGION GOES TO THE MOVIES: EATING BEAUTY, WELCOMING THE STRANGER

May 20, 2014

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(Apocalypse Now; 1979)

Culture Connection Executive Director Scott Young, in collaboration with Professor Lowell Gallagher from UCLA English Department, is presenting a class entitled “Religion Goes to the Movies: Eating Beauty, Welcoming the Stranger.” It is being offered as a Fiat Lux course in this Spring 2014 quarter. The class is executed in seminar style, involving viewing entire film in class with student interaction posted on Internet discussion board. “Religion Goes to the Movies” is Interdisciplinary & Interreligious in content & perspective. The films selected for screening are:

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Visitor (2007)

Doubt (2008)

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Critical readings are required in addition to screenings. A sampling of themes to be discussed are: the gaze, hospitality, transcendence, symbol, myth, icons, moving images, the sacred manifested in the secular, and food & spirituality.

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CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF RELIGION IN THE UNIVERSITY

May 20, 2014

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The University Campus, and its educational culture, is in a protracted period of experiencing a rapidly changing landscape. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and administration. These processes are both disruptive, requiring frequent recalibrations, and exhilarating, generating new possibilities. There are several trigger mechanisms for this dynamic time of transition including the resurgence of religion in classrooms, residential life, volunteerism, student organizations, faculty research, governance challenges, and campus public squares. For much of the 20th century, religion retreated to the margins of campus life in most universities and to private and parochial expressions. The last couple of decades have witnessed religion demanding a more public profile, sharing with several other major influencers a critical role in how higher education evolves in the near term and far horizon. The implications of these changes in the campus landscape are just now coming into view. Among the many that could be itemized, let me suggest three that, in my opinion, directly address the future of the campus ministry in the university.

  1. Recent studies have documented that faculty are robustly religious and spiritual. Faculty are an indispensable resource for the Multi-Faith/Interreligious mission on college campuses. Faculty participation is a requirement for a vital future of religious experience in campus life.

  2. The entrenched secularism, that has ruled most of the public research universities, is no longer a monopoly. It is not the case that secularity is in retrenchment or disappearing – it is now learning to be more hospitable to and share power with its neighbor, religion. The common understanding has not yet caught up to the new reality.

  3. The so-called Millenials, who make up most of the current undergraduates, graduate students, and younger faculty, are radically different from previous generations. Their religious perspectives and practices are frequently not connected institutionally and are far less provincial in their attitudes about doctrine and ethics. Interreligious dialogue will need to make considerable adjustments to the new class of discussants. A whole new and expanded invitation list is required for the next iteration of Interfaith expressions and projects.

There is a vast vault of literature documenting these volatile conditions: additionally, an ever greater stockpile of anecdotal evidence exists. Two very recent books on this subject are worthy of mention. The first is The Quest for Meaning and Wholeness: Spiritual and Religious Connections in the Lives of College Faculty by Jennifer A. Lindholm (Mary Ries alerted all of us to this work via email recently). The second: No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education, by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen.

In closing, I would like to read a selection from this second recommendation.

Dealing with Religion in a Time of Transition

Given the pluriformity of religion today, it is no wonder that colleges and university are uncertain about how to talk about it and respond to it. We are living in a time of transition. The old rhetoric of religious privatization no longer works, but new and better ways of addressing religious concerns and questions have not yet been clearly formulated. The challenges are immense. The range of religious views in the contemporary college and university world is simply stunning. Most large campuses have student populations that include conservative Protestant creationists and earth-worshipping Wiccans, spiritually inspired vegans and hijab-wearing Muslims, social-justice religious activists and right-wing religious ideologues, spiritual atheists and “believers” who are longer sure they believe in God, new converts who want to share their faith with everyone, and students who have grown up religious but know practically nothing about their own faiths. And all of that just scratches the surface. Many questions naturally emerge from this scene: What should be allowed in the classroom and what should not? What has the most potential to offend, and how can such offense be avoided? What limits should be put on discussions to keep them from getting out of control? What rules should guide student interactions? How should faculty respond to religious comments by students? Should faculty themselves ever reveal their religious or spiritual convictions?

College and university learning should be useful, but it has always sought to be more than merely pragmatic or economically self-advancing. Our hope is that big questions of meaning and purpose, important questions of social norms and values, factual questions about science and society, and existential questions about how people with different ideas, ideals, and life goals can live and work together for the benefit of everyone will be part of every undergraduate experience. Colleges and universities will engage these religion- infused questions in many ways, but choosing to ignore them or pushing them to the educational margins is patently irresponsible in an age when religion remains such a visible and influential part of public and personal life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of “Thoughtful Creativity”

August 24, 2013

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I shared the  following remarks as Executive Director to the University Religious Conference (URC at UCLA)  Board of Directors. Although expressed specifically in that context, they are posted here with the suspicion that the content of the essay might have some traction and currency with a wider audience that shares in the vision and mission of the URC:

When I am not involved in Program Planning and in developing policies and procedures to improve the office and building operations of the URC, I am paying attention to the how and why of our mandate and mission. The chore of renovating our organizational operations is a collective and collaborative enterprise involving many of you around this conference table. The adventure of probing and explaining why we are here and what we should concern ourselves with is also a group assignment. I would like to sound a siren of the critical importance of thinking together. As we all know, our society coerces us into a preferential option for doing rather than being, even in the university. I would like to propose a subversive activity labeled “thoughtful creativity” as counter-cultural move to improve the intellectual environment and community both local and global. As an association of religious and community service providers it is my strong conviction that we involve ourselves in “thoughtful creativity” as we perform our duties to provide spiritual guidance and resource the under-served.

In my role as Executive Director, I consider as one of my charges to instigate and implement dimensions that are MIA or are severely neglected. Everyone in this room is compassionate, smart, energetic, and functions as an influencer. The invitation is to find ways, over time, to intentionally think together as we act together. What does this look like you ask? Not sure! But if you accept my solicitation, we will design and customize a new habit and ritual that will revitalize and re-enchant our vocation related to the university and students.

The trigger mechanism that catapulted me in this direction is a recent engagement with the writer David Foster Wallace and his novel titled Infinite Jest, published in 1996. Many readers and critics of novels are of the opinion that this was a game-changer in the history and evolution of the novel. Several felt the novel had exhausted its possibilities. Wallace’s “thoughtful creativity” opened up all sorts of new possibilities. My mind then went racing into the world of the arts where, it seems to me, the most robust “thoughtful creativity” is being generated. Here is a random sampling of persons I experience as practitioners of “thoughtful creativity”:

David Lynch Film director T-Bone Burnett Musician,producer
Frank Gehry Architect Madonna Pop culture icon
Johnny Cash Song writer Beyoncé Soloist
Andy Warhol Visual artist Howard Finster Folk painter
Jodie Foster Performance artist Richard Blanco Poet
Pauline Kael Film Critic Versace Fashion designer
Anthony Bourdain Culinary artist Barack Obama Orator
Barbara Ehrenreich Journalist UCLA: Edward Said Public intellectual
Douglas Kellner Philosopher Robert Heinecken Photographer
Paul Shrader Writer/director Charles Burnett Writer/director
Francis Ford Coppola Writer/director

This is a highly selective and partial list; a very personal one to be sure. I identified these representatives because they significantly alter the manner in which their particular art medium and exhibition was and is being practiced and presented. What can we learn from these “thoughtful creators” or others you would prefer on your own list? Is it time for Interfaith practitioners and community service operatives to have a game-changing moment? Where are the future movers and shakers to be observed and interpreted? This kind of genius cannot be manufactured, but discovered and cultivated. I challenge us to be curators of “thoughtful creativity” as well as managers of an organization. Is this too ambitious? Probably! What do we have to lose in being courageous in elevated ambitions and ideals?

Scott D. Young

April 12, 2013

Navigating Political Craziness: Lamentations and Provocations

October 13, 2012

“The Occupy Movement is about unity. People talk, then they think, and then they act.”

–Guitarist Ry Cooder discussing his new album “Election Special

Election seasons, like the 2012 presidential race, give opportunity to reflect on one’s identity and location on the political spectrum. I experience most of life as an exercise in uncertainty, ambiguity, doubt, and fragile conviction. Certainties and absolutes are not available in this life. Yet, the environment in our society currently is full of expressions of ideological rigidity and political sureties. The few of us (minority it would appear) who have modest opinions and considered perspectives but are not inclined to hold them tightly and are forever editing and revising:  how do we describe ourselves and communicate our complicated and complex understandings in such a hostile and toxic situation? I, for example, would self-identify as a progressive who is registered as an independent voter and draws heavily from anarchist, socialist, democratic, and populist political thought. This cocktail of political influences keeps me relentlessly calibrating my positions.

From this point of view, my sensibilities require me to be exasperated at the Republican Party for its domination by right-wing ideology and propaganda. I find myself being frequently frustrated with the Democratic Party for its continual marginalizing of its more progressive members.

I think it a mandate to have a rich variety of political persuasions debating and dialoging about public policy directions and the problem – solving of economic and social issues. I wish there existed a thoughtful conservatism, a vital liberalism, as well as a robust progressivism to engage in political discussions concerning legislative action and organizational governance. The blood-sport partisanship in play, does not allow for a deliberative process inclusive of all voices. I  am not alone in asking for a verbal de-militarized zone for protecting spirited but civil conversation. We are repeating a bad habit in American political history that historian Richard Hofstadter labeled “The Paranoid Style.”

I strongly suggest that those of us who want to be direct-action advocates, but without the rhetorical bile and true-believerism, should generate political imaginations and develop moral improvisations that encourage economic, political, social, cultural, and religious freedom locally and globally. Peace, justice and equality for all.

 The United States today is not a democracy: at best, it is a plutocracy and tempted to oligarchy. It is time to retrieve our democratic dreams and aspirations. Navigating the political craziness demands confessing laments and issuing provocations. We are inescapably in difficult times stumbling to see some better times. Woody Allen once remarked that we have two choices: “One road leads to disillusionment and deep despair; the other to death and total destruction. May we have the wisdom to choose the correct path.” This election presents us such a fork in the road: maybe we should listen to our artists and poets!

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

“A Bridge between Landscapes” a sustained gaze

October 7, 2012

 

I recently visited One Colorado Artist Studio in Pasadena featuring Artist in Residence Gregory Michael Hernandez and his exhibition titled “A Bridge Between Landscapes.” Amidst the impressive and convincing hybrid forms, interactive environment, and beautiful images generating metaphorical flights of fancy sits a ping pong table. Why is this object so arresting and compelling? Is it installation sculpture so ordinary that it triggers queries of a profound nature? Is it simply a playful work station? Is it a respite of recreational distraction from the intensity of the surrounding images requiring viewers to pay critical attention? I wonder if it actually is an alter that summons us to a place of hospitality and generosity? Hernandez’s creations are not devotional or doctrinal in any formal ecclesiastical way. His work is theological in its sublime gesturing toward questions of ultimacy and offering visual gifts to the art lover with a sustained gaze. The ping pong table is a dynamic piece that calls and convenes in its centered placement. It simultaneously encourages return trips to the curated walls that encase it. Sacred Space in a vernacular place!

The Tree of Life – special screening with panel Saturday, January 14, 2012 UCLA

January 5, 2012

The Tree of Life: Panel & Discussion The Landmark, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011


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