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Posts Tagged ‘organizational change’

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Chapters 7-10 of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger considers issues of obesity, educational acheivement, teenage pregancy and violence.  In all the cases the authors cite equality as a factor that informs previous and partial explanations.   Below is a snapshot of each chapter.

  1. Obesity: Addressing the epidemic of obesity, the authors invite the readers to consider the matrix of issues involved and to include inequality in the mix.   The World Health Organization performed a study in the 1980s that found obesity has increased as the disparity in the social gradient as increased.  Obesity, as cited in previous chapters of this book is more prevalent among the poor than among the wealthy.  Further they concluded that it “seemed that people in more unequal societies are eating more and exercising less.” (95).   All the the states within the United States have an adult obesity of at least 20 per cent.  Studies in this chapter reveal that despite knowing what produces a healthy body, many people do the contrary.    Knowing that behavioral changes are more possible when we feel positive about our life and have the sense that we can control the changes, Pickett and Wilkinson speculate that lessening inequality could affect the epidemic of obesity.
  2. Education  The drop out rate of children cannot be measured by poverty alone.  “No state has a poverty rate of higher than 17 per cent but drop-out rates are above 20 per cent in sixteen states and dropping out is not confined to the poor.  When unequal situations are revealed in the classrooms, the performance of those in the lower social gradient is affected negatively.  This has been tested internationally in at least the UK, India, and the United States.   Particularly, parental attention and bonding to the children and investment in their education is an indicator of future success.  The more the parents are involved in the first three years of their children’s life and education the more successful the child is likely to be.  Countries that are more equal provide more extended maternity leave (Sweden – 3 months paid and 3 months unpaid).   More unequal countries like the United States provide less (no more than 12 weeks).
  3. Teenage Births  This chapter can be well summarized with the following excerpt from page 121 of the book.  “Teenage birth rates are higher in communities that also have high divorce rates, low levels of trust and low social cohesion, high unemployment, poverty, and high crime rates.  It has been suggested by others that teeange motherhood is a choice that women make when they feel they have no other propsects for achieving the social credentials of adulthood, such as a stable intimate relationship or rewarding employment.  Sociologist, Kristin Luker claims that it is ‘the discouraged disadvantaged’ who become teenage mothers.”   While this is not always the case, this explanation may contribute to a more comprehensive response to the trends.
  4.   Violence  Immediately within this chapter, the authors cite a problem with studies in violence.  Most studies will emphasize an experience with shame or humiliation as a precursor or root to violent behavior.   However, all of us identify with these experiences of shame and humiliation.  “…why is it predominantly among young men that those feelings escalate to violent acts?” (123)   It is as if the authors play connect the dots between significant studies that show violence is not just about poverty but about inequality.  As inequality increases so does violent crime.  When there is less hope that education, material wealth, good employment, esteem from peers will be realized, violence is perceived as an immediate way to maintain respect and honor.

Issues of inequality are at the heart of the Gospel message of the church.  Evidence of inequality could likely be the new mission field of the church in North America.  We know as the church is related to relevant mission, so it is able to experience revitalization.   The history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is an intellectual and pragmatic one.  Considering pragmatic responses to the findings recorded in The Spirit Level may be among the most important responses we could make.  Educating pastors which such information and then encouraging pastors to consider calls in areas that are challenged by inequality is one possibility.   Surely financial support and congregational support will be required to transition churches who have not been as active in the social ministry as they would like to have been. 

In my own ministry, some of the greatest rewards have been the times that the church has allowed people of unequal status in the larger culture to co-mingle in the pews.   It is always interesting to me how folks who are unequal in all other places are fast friends, colleagues and mutual cheerleaders in the church.    As contrasting individuals build relationship, there is the experience of what process theology calls harmony.  Harmony is the reconciliation of constrasting events or circumstances.  The degree of the contrast is congruent to the degree of the harmony experienced.   Jesus is remembered for being most interested in reconciliation of contrasts and discovering anew that we are all children equal in the site of Goid.    The church of today still has the potential to live into the Jesus movement of the ancient days.

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While reading a great book Spirituality and Society: Postmodern Visions, edited by David Ray Griffin, Jr., Griffin notes that “One destructive feature of the modern paradigm was that it made coercive power the basis of all change.” (144).  Even knowing the limitations of coercive power from our own lives (perhaps we can count on one hand how often we were able to make someone do something in a way that empowered them and their future actions – or perhaps we cannot count even one time), we still come with residue to our situations of church leadership.  WE come knowing that relationships are primary and to be honored but we are equally if not more so attached to our best guesses about what the organizational solutions are for our churches.   The dilemma comes when we succomb to the temtpation that we must pick between our relationships with congregational members or our best guess about how to move the church forward.  THis is coercive power poised to encroach upon our methods of leadership.  I think the key is in first recognizing that our egos should not become too attached to our “best guesses” and that there is an essential creativity (Griffin, 149) waiting to be freed as humans interact over situations with different mindsets.   Few would argue for coercive power leadership language is still full of its essence.

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I am considering organizational resistance and church leader’s response to it.  It seems that too often as congregational leaders, we resist those in our congregation who are resisting our “best guess” initiatives for change.  There may be an alternative.  Rather than resisting resisters, could leadership not discipline itself spiritually to attend to and learn from these people who resist and why.  This kind of spiritual discipline would require a stripping of the ego and diminished anxiety about accomplishing the “best guess” change strategy at all cost.  Particularly promising may be Process Theology’s understanding of consequent aims and Martin Buber’s I-Thou (between) philosophy.

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