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Reform and the Orthodox Church in America

In ORI on October 30, 2010 at 7:35 am

I believe that it is necessary for me to include a disclaimer right from the beginning of this blog. My wife and I chose to become Orthodox Christians as adults; therefore, I do not have the experience of growing up in the Orthodox Church as a first-, second- or third-generation immigrant (although I have that experience from a completely different perspective). When we became Orthodox, we did so deliberately, fully understanding the choice that we were making and everything that came with it. What we did not account for was the social aspect, the desire for reform (whether stated specifically as that or not) and the ‘Americanization’ of the Church.

When most American sthink of an ‘Eastern’ religion, they think of Buddhism, mystic religions, maybe even Islam. Very rarely (if ever) do they think about Eastern Christianity, which is manifested primarily through the Orthodox Church but also through other Eastern Churches, such as the Coptic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, etc. For those who do think of the Orthodox Church, they usually think of it in an ethnic aspect — the ‘Greek’ Church, the ‘Russian’ Church, and so on. Then there are the rest of us (who did not grow up as members of the Orthodox Church) who think of the Orthodox Church as the Church as the Church that was create by Jesus Christ through His Apostles and their disciples, the Church Fathers and all those who have followed since. Although I definitely was in one of the former categories prior to my search for a Church to call my own.

Having grown up in a family that occasionally practiced its Roman Catholic faith, I tried to return to this Church when I was older. However, there was not a warm welcome awaiting me. This led me to begin to search for a new ‘home’. I attended many different Protest churches with friends, family members and even by myself. For me, however, there was always something missing. Where was the structure, the tradition, the dogma? While I was studying Russian at the Unviersity of New Hampshire, I became more exposed to the concept of the Orthodox Church. Growing up I had a very limited exposure (but mostly from the ethnic aspect), as we had family friends that were Greek Orthodox. The husband in the family was named Ernie (Anastasios), so we would always be invited to his name day celebration which occurred on Orthodox Easter every year. However, I knew nothing about the Faith at that time. My studies provided me the impetus to learn more, and thus began the true journey.

One of the first books I read was the book Becoming Orthodox by Fr. Peter Gillquist. This book tells the story of Fr. Peter’s and a Protest community’s journey from their Protestant beliefs into the bosom of the Orthodox Church. In many ways, this story sounded like my search and journey (other than the fact that I was Roman Catholic and not Protestant). I read more, and I had the good fortune to speak with an open and accepting Orthodox priest while attending a festival at one of the local Greek Orthodox parishes. This encounter led to my wife and I becoming Orthodox. I even went on to attend seminary to become a Greek Orthodox priest, although I later decided to end my studies and pursue other avenues of ministry within the Church.

Now that I have provided this disclaimer and very basic background. Let’s discuss the issue at hand. Within the Church, there are elements and movements that talk about the need to reform it — from liturgical practices to clergy dress to the administrative structure. The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical and dogmatic Church. It has an established belief system and established administrative structure. Does this mean that the Church cannot change? No. Does this mean that the Church has not changed over time? No. Does this mean that the change will continue to change over time? Yes. But does this mean that there needs to be a concentrated, focused effort to make changes to it to ‘adapt’ it to ‘modern’ society? Absolutely not. The Church is not a democracy that changes based on a major vote nor should it be.

For most of us who have chosen to become Orthodox (especially those of us who did so not simply because we married someone who was already Orthodox), we chose to become Orthodox because of the reasons that I have stated above. The Church is an established Church. It is faithful to the original beliefs of the Church, and it has a clearly defined set of beliefs. (Although this does not mean that everyone always agrees on what this means.) You can read the writings of Church Fathers from the 4th and 5th centuries and still see these beliefs and practices today. You can go to any Orthodox Church in the world, and your experience will be nearly identical (other than the liturgical language and some basic differences in the liturgical tradition).

What I have found in the seminary and many parishes, however, is a desire to ‘Americanize’ the Church. What is being implied is that the Church is too Eastern and does not fit into the American norms of a ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ society. These forces within the Church believe that the Church must be ‘of the world’ and simply ‘in the world’, which is actually contrary to our Faith. Unfortunately, this is also happening among converts to the Church (especially those from Protestant traditions). There is a thought process that these Orthodox Christians became Orthodox because of the dogmas and beliefs and the ‘externalities’ do not matter. There is, for the lack of a better word, a disregard for the brilliant manner in which the Orthodox Church has brought together all the elements of worship over the centuries to create a unique environment where we worship and come to understand the Faith better through hearing (the liturgical music), smelling (the incense), seeing (the icons, the vestments, the liturgical movements) and tasting (the Eucharist). This synergy allows the entire body to worship.

What many of these reformers are saying is that in the American context these things do not matter. The problem is that many of us Americans that have entered into the Orthodox Faith have done so because we were seeking a faith that is ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. There may be some things that would superficially ‘Americanize’ the Church, which I believe could open the Church to more Americans without changing or minimalizing the Church. For example, using English as the liturgical language would create greater access to the Orthdoox Church for Americans while allowing Orthodox Christians who do not understand one of the liturgical languages currently being used to understand better the beauty and message of the hymnography and the dogmas of the Church. Changes such as these are part ofto  the Orthodox Tradition, and they do not require overturning the norms of our Faith.

I challenge those people who grew up as Orthodox Christians or have since become Orthodox that believe that the Church needs to be reformed to begin an open and frank dialogue with other Orthodox Christians that may not share their views. The goal of any advocate for reform should not be to Protestantize the Church so that it fits in better in American society. Changes to the Church will happen naturally, gradually and organically if there is truly a need. Large-scale reforms imposed upon the Church will lead to a fracture, as did the Protest Reformation.

One final though: any reform (whether for a Church, a country or some other type of an organization) should be need-based and not simply opinion-based.

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The Itinerant Worker … an Asset? A Case Study

In Random Thoughts on October 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm

What do you do when you review someone’s resume? The first thing that most people typically do is glance at the experience, the number of jobs and the amount of time in each position. Many times this cursory glance eliminates the candidate if it appears that the candidate has ‘jumped’ from job to job. For our purposes, I will call this the ‘itinerant worker’. Below is a case study to make you think twice about automatically disregarding the ‘itinerant worker’ as someone who can contribute to your company’s success. To make things easy, and to eliminate any conflicts of interest from speaking about some unidentified candidate’s history, I will use myself as the case study, because many would see my resume as that of an ‘itinerant worker’.

I grew up in a generation that bucked the tradition of ‘normal’ (or maybe better said as ‘accepted’) career patterns of our parents and grandparents. The previous generations settled into a job or a career in a company with the intent to work there until their retirement. The decision to change jobs (or, God forbid, change careers) was not one taken lightly, and others usually regarded this change as a daring or foolish undertaking. If you could get a government job, then you had truly found nirvana.

I was born and rasied in southeastern New Hampshire in a blue collar, working-class family. For the most part, my generation would be the first one to graduate from college. It would have been easy to follow the career paths of my parents and grandparents. In addition, growing up in New Hampshire (with a population around 1,000,000 residents at the time), it would have been just as easy to remain isolated and insulated from the rest of the world.

However, this was not to be.

At a relatively early age, I discovered my love for foreign languages and culture. In high school, I studied both French and Spanish. I sought out opportunities to learn and to experience other cultures. Living not too far from Boston facilitated this undertaking. Although I did not realize it at the time, these experiences truly began to shape how I would think about things and understand things. They allowed me to look at every day life and experiences in new ways, even to the degree of comparing and understanding the way that different peoples and cultures speak about themselves and the things around them. For example, in English, we a are a language focused on the words ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. When these words are repeatedly used and emphasized, there is no doubt that this affects how we look at everything in life. I understood that I wanted foreign language and cultures to be a part of my life — the more the better.

It was this love for language that began the path of what some may describe as an ‘itinerant’ professional career. During my senior year in high school, when I was applying to college, my plan was to major in French in conjunction with possibly a second major (such as business). When I made the decision to attend the University of New Hampshire, I had been accepted as a declared French major. However, there was a twist that was soon to be revealed. One day in my senior year, I found myself in the guidance counselor’s office to get a form signed, and he grabbed a packet of material in an envelop and asked, “You’re interested in foreign languages right?” Of course, I responded affirmatively. He then handed me this packet, and this packet would become an agent of change that would continue to change the way I would look at my career and at life.

I went home, opened the packet and began to think about the possibilities that this new opportunity might bring. The packet contained a stack of forms to apply for a scholarship from the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA? Really? The mystery, the intrigue, who could resist? I quickly filled out all the forms and sent it away. The rest is history. I received a scholarship unofficially called the Stokes Fellowship (named for Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes, who sponsored the legislation creating the program). For the foreign language part of the program, I had to choose a language to study that was on the Congressional needs list. Since Russian was the only available language on the list available at UNH, I signed up for Russian. This was the first twist of life events changing my direction in life, including a future career path. After graduation, I would be obliged to work for the CIA for four years. Thanks to the scholarship (which also provided a basic annual salary, paid expenses to live in Washington, DC, in the summer in addition to fully paid tuitition and books), I did not have to spend my college years wondering what I would do when I graduated from college. My future was set.

Alas, this was not to be. At the end of the summer prior to my senior year (just after I had returned from my summer in DC), the Soviet Union fell. These events led the U.S. Government (especially in the Intelligence Community) to reassess the resources that were being focused on the Soviet Union. I received a call from my mentor about six weeks prior to graduation to let me know that my position had been eliminated and that I no longer had any obligations to the CIA.

This sounds good, right? A free education, a great experience, and now I was free to do whatever I wished. However, this was another one of life’s events that made me to look at things in a new way. I now had to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. And for what type of job did a Bachelors degree in Russian language and literature prepare me? Good question.

Thus began the travels of the itinerant worker. Over the years, I worked in a variety of positions typically for no more than 12 months at a time. Only on occasion did I stay longer in a position. I tried many things (in no particular order): waiting tables, working temp jobs, public relations, sales, administrative in a variety of companies: public sector, private sector, high-tech, etc. I even enrolled in a  Masters of Divinity program to study to become a Greek Orthodox priest. None of these endeavors would turn out to be my career path.

What all these experiences did, however, was to allow me to learn about myself and about many professions and industries that I had never considered. In each of these positions, I have learned things that would help to make me a well-rounded person who can look at things in a variety of ways in order to understand the issues better. In some positions, there were no opportunities for me to grow and to contribute. In these cases, I accepted this fact and found new opportunities. In other positions, I realized that the job, company or industry was not the right fit for me. Once again, I accepted this fact and found new opportunities. In some cases, the people that I worked with and/or for realized that I could contribute to the companies success, and I moved into positions for which I was not qualified on paper. If I do not understand how to do something, I spend the time and energy to learn how to do it (whether this means reading books, articles, etc. or attending additional training, I want to learn so that I can continue to grow and also so that I can contribute to the company’s success).

In my experience, I have worked in a variety of positions in a variety of companies. During this time, I have met many people at all levels throughout the organization. It did not take long to understand that just because someone looks good on paper (‘stable’ job history, the ‘right’ education, etc.), it does not mean that that person is the best qualified person for the position or the person who will best contribute to the company’s success.

Although it is more difficult and more time-consuming than a cursory glance at a resume, it is important that hiring managers take the time and try to elicit information, experience and potential from a resume. Just because there is a fresh coat of new paint on the house, it does not mean that the foundation is solid.

On a final thought, I would like the reader to think about the names of successful companies. For many people, Google will come to mind. Google understands what I have highlighted above. They believe in talent acquisition. They will routinely hire someone that they believe will benefit the company even if they do not have an official position/title on the company’s organization chart that meets the candidate’s resume. Hiring policies should not be limited only to matching a certain set of criteria on a checklist.

Just remember … the ‘itinerant worker’ can be one of your company’s most important resources. Take the time, set aside preconceived notions, talk to the candidate and take a chance if you believe that the candidate can make a positive impact on your company.

Is Your Company Ready to Be ‘Social’?

In Marketing, Social Media on October 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

It may sound like a simple question? Many will answer, “Of course.” Or maybe even, “We’re already ‘social.’ We have a Facebook page. What more do you need?” However, it’s not that simple. There are many things to consider when your company enters into the realm of social media. Some of these considerations are obvious; however, many others require careful thought and planning. Once the decision is made to go ‘social,’ then your company must be committed to it and everything that comes with it. Here are some things to consider, and some things to be ready to commit to:

  1. Understand Social Media. There are many social media sites and communities, and the list grows longer every day. The primary sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (professional networking site), Foursquare (a location-based tool that let’s you ‘check in’ to the places that you visit and see where your friends go), YouTube (video sharing), and Flickr (picture sharing). At a minimum, I recommend that your company has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you have the resources for photo and video sharing, then definitely take advantage of YouTube and Flickr. You should create profiles and pages specifically for your company. When updates are generated, the updates will come from the company and not from an individual. Pay attention for new and upcoming sites and tools so that your company stays relevant.
  2. Company Culture. Does your company have a culture that is prepared for social media? What do I mean? A company that will truly benefit from social media must be a company that has an open culture that is focused on the customer and the customer’s experience. If you are not willing to listen to what your customers have to say, take it into consideration and possibly act upon it, then your company is not a good candidate for social media. However, if your company is not willing to listen to the customer, your company may not be able to adapt to continue to meet and/or exceed market requirements, which will lead to decreased sales, lower profits, loss of market share and potentially will even lead to going out of business. You should not enter into the social media space with the expectation that you will just set up a Facebook page, never check it, never create content for it and just ignore it (simply to say that your company has a social media presence). On the other hand, if your company has a culture where the customer is king and you are looking for any and all feedback that you can get, then enter the realm of social media and take advantage of it.
  3. Social Media Strategy. Before you do anything else, create a strategy. You will need to identify your company’s employees who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to all the data and feedback from the social media sites. If you are not using a monitoring tool, this will also require someone who will listen to industry and competitor feedback in addition to what your customers are sayinig in communities and forums that are not specific to your company. This information can be as valuable, if not more valuable, as the feedback that your customers provide in your company’s social media portals. You also need to identify who will be responsible for responding to the feedback. Ideally, you should have as wide a range of individuals in your company who are empowered to respond so that your company can respond to your customers in a timeframe that is acceptable to the audience. The last thing that you want is to have your customers waiting for hours or days for a response while someone in the company is trying to get approval on how to respond. WARNING! When you empower employees to participate in your company’s responses on social media sites, you must ensure that you provide them with clear guidelines and policies on how and how not to respond. In addition, you must be certain that the employees that you designate are capable of writing clear, consistent and grammatically correct responses that reflect your company’s culture and voice. Remember that how your employees respond is a direct reflection of your company.
  4. Listen before Speaking. This aspect of social media was explained extremely well at a conference recently by Jon Ferrara, the founder and CEO of Nimble. When you go to a party and you do not know the people, what do you do? Typically, you find a group of people that you would like to talk to, then you make your way over and start to listen to the conversation. As you listen to what is being said, you wait for an opportunity where you can interject a thought. You do this once or twice, and then you become part of the conversation. You should follow this same approach with social media. Before you start ‘talking,’ you should listen to what’s being said on social media sites about your industry, about your competitors, about your company, etc. Once you understand what is being said and how it is being said, start the conversation. As you continue the conversation and share information and resources that your customers find valuable, you will establish your company as a key source of information. This is how you will begin to create and nurture an engaged community focused on your company and its products.
  5. Consistency. As long as your company is creating valuable content on a regular basis, be consistent. You must have the discipline to continue to create and post content on a regular basis, and you must respond to feedback in a timely manner. If you are not consistent or you do not respond in a timely manner, your customers will notice. In order to be relevant, you must be willing to hold a continual conversation. If you stop speaking, your customers will stop listening to you and start listening to someone else. Don’t let that happen.
  6. Content. Your customers are not interested in learning about your company and your products. Many times this is information that they can find on your website. When creating content, you should focus on trying to create content that will let your customers feel that the information was created for each of them individually. Share industry information, data, tips, etc. Develop thought leaders throughout your company. Let your employeses who have been assigned the task of creating content share their knowledge that will benefit your customers. For example, your Technical Support, Engineering, Sales, Customer Service and Marketing teams can share information that is specific to their disciplines related to your industry that will establish them as thought leaders. By doing this, your employees will be called upon by professional associations and conferences to be speakers, to author articles, etc. In addition, your customers will share this information with their colleagues, friends and family, which will in turn generate more brand awareness and revenue for your company. Develop as much useful content as possible. WARNING! Do not create content just for the sake of creating content. Your customers must see the value in your content, otherwise all the efforts to create the content were done in vain.
  7. Create a Community. You should encourage not just your employees to participate, share content and help customers with their issues. You should encourage your customers to help each other, thereby creating a community. When everyone starts participating on an equal level, then everyone will feel that they are truly part of a community. The best part is that this community is centered around your company and your products.

Now that you have some food for thought, would you answer the question in the same way as you did before reading this? Social media will change the way that many companies do business. Those that adopt it and embrace it will have the opportunity to be highly successful. Those that choose not to integrate social media will likely not be as successful in the future. Social media allows for a more individualized customer experience, which is something that most of us want, and it gives the customer more of a voice in your business.

For those companies that think that they can avoid the negative feedback and control their message better by not adopting a social media strategy, they are only fooling themselves. Your customers are going to have conversations about your products and the experiences (both positive and negative) with or without you. By being part of the conversation, you can let customers know that their feedback is vital to your business. If you take this feedback and act upon it, your customers will feel more invested in your company and you will have a better chance of creating loyal customers that will also become evangelists for your company among their coworkers, friends, family members and other members of the community.

The good news is that you don’t have to undertake this monumental step alone. There are many resources available to you — from blogs to consultants to companies that are providing a variety of tools to help you make the most out of your investment in social media. To get a sense of some of these tools, check out Hootsuite.com (to manage your social media accounts through a single portal), Nimble.com (they will soon be coming out with their public beta for their new social CRM tool) and Parature (they are the leaders in integrating social media into customer service and technical support).

The time for your company to become ‘social’ is now. Give your customers a voice, and hear what they have to say!

Resources:

www.hootsuite.com
www.nimble.com
www.parature.com
www.facebook.com
www.twitter.com
www.linkedin.com
www.foursquare.com

Finding Your Voice

In Random Thoughts on October 9, 2010 at 9:05 pm

The decision to begin blogging was something more than an acknowledgment of my ego or the thought that I have something to say that everyone wants to hear. As far as I am concerned, blogging should be approached with purpose. Unknowingly, I was searching to find my own voice and how it fits into the world. Finding one’s voice may sound simple, or to some it may even seem silly; however, this voice represents what the world of unknown readers will use to make their first (and in many cases lasting) impressions of you and what you have to say. Therefore, I wanted to ensure that I was comfortable with my own voice before sharing it with others.

Through this blog, I hope to share my voice and that whoever reads this blog will find it useful. My voice may not always be the same, and it will largely depend on the topic. This blog will blend my professional and my personal voice, my religious and my secular voice, my pop culture and my classical culture voice. Overall, these voices do blend into a single voice that is my voice.

I am officially starting this undertaking this evening. At this point, I’m not sure how often I will be adding content or even what the nature of the content will be. Whenever it appears and whatever it is, I hope that someone finds it useful and worthwhile.

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