Asking “Why” Is The Most Important Question

winnerThe WHY of whatever you’re doing is such an important question to ask.  I read recently Simon Sinek’s book titled, “Start with Why.” The premise is that anything and everything you do should have a Why behind it. I recently attended a virtual meeting with people who get prepared for the GED exam via online prep courses. What they lack is a motivation, they are smart and open-minded but for some reason didn’t finish their high school education.

Why do you do the work you do?  Why do you help others?   Why?  We all know WHAT we do and HOW we do it.  Think about your job.  You work for a living most likely (this is the WHAT).  You go to work everyday and do your job (the HOW).

The Typical Why: You most likely do it for the money you earn to support yourself and/or your family, improve your lifestyle etc.

The question is, is this the real WHY you want to embody?

Work-Life Balance – Is it Myth or Reality?

Since my wife is vacationing in Europe with family, the whole concept of ‘work/life’ balance has been occupying my thoughts of late.

I often wonder if my work/life scale is in balance or in a state of constant flux. Sometimes I feel like I am back in 9th grade science class, trying to balance one of those metric scales with strange substances on each side (one of which was sure to cause a chemical burn).

How do we ever really know if we are balancing our businesses or careers with the other aspect of life?

When I worked in corporate America, it was widely assumed that anyone who had a ‘work/life’ balance was not serious about their career and they were doomed to the droves of mediocrity. I remember having lunch with about 7 or 8 co-workers one day and the subject came up. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

Should You Brand Yourself?

Several bloggers have aspirations of making money at some point.  In order to make any money people have to identify you.  You have to take the motive to build your reputation online and off.  Make people know what brand you represent.  When I walk into a room you better believe you’re going to know who I am.  If you don’t, I will most certainly let it be known.

Here are 3 cool ways you can strongly brand yourself and business online and off.

Being Yourself

To act like the person God created would be the easiest way to go.  In my opinion, it’s really the only way to go.  You’re wasting your time copying another person.  A copy can be spotted a mile away.  You need to know your strong points, you need to know what is your personality, what is your fits you the best? Are you thinker or doer? Here is an awesome career aptitude quiz so it’s easy to find out.

I swear you will make it much sooner doing what you love.  You probably won’t make it anywhere doing anything else.  People might call you strange, crazy, & different.  All they really are is a bunch of haters.  Be sturdy and never let another person’s slugs lower your inspiration.  I despise when a person tries to tell you what you can and can’t do.

A Believing Reader

I have been back in the Midwest for Christmas, which is where I normally spend this time of year. By now, some of my old friends and relatives have read Faith, and some have liked it quite a lot. Others aren’t sure what to make of me, the Catholic atheist. Still others, including some people very close to me, worry that I’m doomed. It is in that context – at home, worried about this book, surrounded by friends and family – that I reflect on growing up as a reader, and significantly, a believing reader.

Looking back, I see now that my belief in God, like a great many of my beliefs, was shaped by the fact that important people in my life, most notably my father, died when I was young. Once they’d died, God provided them a place to live forever. And from the Catholic services that accompanied these deaths, to the consolation dished out by friends and relatives – often literally by way of endless casseroles – everyone had told me that I could join them some day if I was good. So growing up I was good. I was well behaved. I prayed hard in church. I did my chores. And, perhaps most importantly, I did well in school. I lived believing that God had my life, and eventually my death, safely under his control.

Belief Unbracketed

Scott starts teaching this week, a course similiar to one that I taught for many years at Simmons College; a freshman expository writing course that uses texts relating to religion and cultural studies. One of the challenges that I faced in the classroom was how to not only be objective and allow all the students their own beliefs , but also how to not let my own beliefs bleed through in my teaching. And yet, I still struggle with whether or not this is an appropriate response in a religion class.

When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, there was very little discussion in the classroom about individual belief, which is as it should be in a scholarly discussion of religion. And yet, at the same time, there was always a sense of something lacking. There was a point at which engagement with texts and ideas had to hit a wall, as we were all afraid to let our own religious views actually come to the surface.

Our Dorothy Days

In this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Darcey Steinke reviews Mary Gordon’s Circling My Mother: A Memoir, what seems like another really excellent book by a really excellent Catholic writer. In the review, Steinke, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, reminisces about the days when priests were not just respected, but revered. A time, frankly, when American Catholicism seemed to have something to offer to America. In literature, AC gave us Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy; in politics, the Kennedys; in Hollywood, the convert Gary Cooper; and in the world of service, reform, and activism, two more converts, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.

Peter’s Blessing

While we talk basically every day, Peter and I don’t see each other very often. He lives in Cambridge, Mass.; I live in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Once the book arrives in November, though, we’ll be traveling together a lot for promotional readings and talks. We’ll keep you posted on those events.)

He and his wife, Amy, invited me for Rosh Hashanah on Thursday, and so, I made the trip. Amtrak was terrible, and I arrived to the new year’s dinner a little later than I’d hoped — right into the middle of a party. They’d invited several other friends, most of whom have kids, so I was tackled at the door (this was Peter’s son, Sam), and welcomed with my first ever bite of filter fish.

Why I am a Catholic

I’ve just finished reading Garry Wills’s forthcoming book What the Gospels Meant, part of a series that includes What Paul Meant and What Jesus Meant. I’ve only seen the latest one. Wills marches through the four Christian Gospels, holding the hand of the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, who, like several of my favorite theologians, taught at Union Theological Seminary, although years before I ever arrived there. (I should say, though, that the professors whose classes I took at Union were mainly excellent. The book owes a lot to what they taught me.)

A Catholic himself, Wills introduces his meditation — a quick, enjoyable read — by reinforcing a concept about the Gospels that can’t be repeated enough: “They are not historically true as that term would be understood today. They are not history at all, as our history is practiced. They do not draw on firsthand testimony or documents. They do not use archives — for instance, court records for the trial of Jesus, birth records for his genealogy, or chronological markers for his time line” (emphasis mine).

Wills does his own translations from the Greek, and from his mouth, the Gospels sound less familiar than I was expecting. Here’s the Lord’s Prayer from Luke, for instance:

Faith in Public

We had our first events for the book this weekend, the first at my church, St. Francis Xavier, where several parishioners and a few students of mine listened to me read the introduction to Faith. We end that piece — the only dual-authored section of the book — with this thought about the conversation that the book creates as we alternate stories back and forth:

“Our hope is that in sharing this conversation, in appearing in public as faithful friends, we might also begin to hear other stories and participate in other conversations of belief, disbelief, hope, doubt, and the eternal desire to learn and do the will of God. We still long to find and please God. And we know were better off trying to do this together.”

In that spirit, one guy from Xavier asked a few questions after I finished reading, wondering whether the age-old conflicts between Jews and Christians come up in the book (no, they don’t), and how we deal with atheists. Peter and I have come down pretty hard on who in the book we call “vehemently secular atheists,” but the fact of the matter is that, as I’ve said before, I am one, which is just what I told the guy. My priest nodded approvingly from the back.

Faith in Chicago

I returned home last night from a trip to Chicago’s Ebenezer Lutheran Church, where I presented a chapter from Faith about how, as a seventeen-year-old, I wanted to be a Catholic priest. My parents talked me out of it: “It’s such a lonely life,” they said. That was all it took.

I was warmly received at Ebenezer, to say the least. The church itself is labyrinthine, and a different parishioner led me from place to place to place. (That I mentioned this hospitality made the pastor, Rev. Carla Thompson Powell, very pleased.) Worship was led by a jazz band. The first lesson was read in Swahili. The church, like mine, welcomes believers of all stripes: young, old, black, white, gay, straight. Etc. Etc. Many thanks to them for the invitation and for trying to claim me as one of their own. For my part, I responded to a question about my ambivalence regarding Catholicism by once again quoting Karen Armstrong, calling myself a “Freelance Monotheist.” Both Peter and I look forward to returning to Ebenezer at the end of January.