Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why adult learning matters for management training...

Adult learning operates on a set of principles that the instructional designer and learning facilitator can make rich use of in structuring group learning environments. This YouTube video gives some insight into those principles. The first assumption is that adults need to understand the answer to the question "Why?" In order to learn, adults crave an explanation of how the learning will be useful and to what ends the learning will serve. To be meaningful, a group resolution of this question can help articulate an emergent sense of why the learning is being incorporated into their otherwise busy and productive lives.

In relation to management training and leadership development, a discovery process can point to all of the following reasons, among others, to engage in the learning process:

1. The globalization of the talent pool. Existing managers are no longer competing internally within their own organizations but with the advent of multinational corporations and the spread of Web 2.0 technology, the talent pool can be sourced from around the globe.

2. Many organizations have undertaken restructuring efforts designed to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Many managers are impacted by such decisions and managers who are capable of adaptive and reflective learning can apply their knowledge and skills in new work environments and more readily engage in change processes.

3. There have been ongoing conversations about management become a profession in its own right with the requisite minimum standards, certifications, etc. The vast array of MBA programs certainly points to a vast body of knowledge that can be explored and applied in the workplace.

4. The expanding domain of management warrants additional learning. The complexity of the role of the manager has increased in many cases and encompasses more and more. Even if we consider only the complexity of managing one's talent, we have a vast body of knowledge to add value to the daily interactions with our peers.

5. The drive for innovation and creativity in modern organizations where the need for some competitive advantage is necessary for growth and/or survival of the firm. Learning organizations certainly appear to be better suited for these opportunities.

6. The manager's role in increasing customer loyalty and employee engagement by achieving the organization's results through the best use of human capital.

These points alone provide for a great introduction to help managers self-assess the need for ongoing learning in the workplace.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Career Development and Learning to Learn

Recently, I was able to partner with a business leader in my organization to provide a facilitated management training and leadership development program. I relied upon many of the assumptions about adult learning preferences and structured the course in six modules to be delivered over 2011.

In the needs assessment phase, we utilized a number of talent management tools that were developed based upon the work of Dr. Bradford Smart. One of the tools we call simply a "Talent Assessment." Talent Assessments are a combination of the results of the previous year's performance appraisal information, a history of the manager's employment service and education, their skill rating on the competencies we identified for leadership and for the skills we identified for senior leadership. This information assists the business leader in identifying top players and critical talent and in the identification of any skill gaps. It further assesses individuals for promotability and the time frame for readiness to assume additional leadership or senior leadership responsibilities. This provides a template for succession planning and gives the business leader a tool for staffing plans. When the talent assessments are completed on each individual manager or supervisor, we translate the collective talent interpretation into another tool called the "Talent Review" which is a snapshot of the collective skills and abilities of the current organization. In practice, this information can then be communicated to executive management to assist in the organization's ongoing talent and HR management strategies.

Because of the need to demonstrate the why behind management training and leadership development, there were two pre-course learning or discovery sessions where the participating managers completed individual development plans and then developed learning contracts for 2011. Additionally, we took the time to evaluate each learners preferred learning preferences and styles and explored both individual values, group and organization values to discover the degree of congruence at this point in time. These assessments were facilitated through the use of the book Value Driven Management. Such discovery activities helped to provide the learning context, allowed participants to critically reflect on their career development and personal and team aspirations. This groundwork also helped to form a safe learning environment and moved the team along in terms of the group formation so that when the management and leadership course content is delivered, the group will be at the performing stage.

Through the use of some free courseware, an online component was included to add value to the non-classroom learning process. The site is a wiki environment and is used to store course resources, provide for discussion forums, assignments, class schedule, participant contact information, etc. The delivery format is based upon the 5% rule that our Chief Human Resources Officer articulated years ago. Assuming a 40 hour work week, 2 hours, or 5% of our time at work should be dedicated to learning and professional development. The business unit leader agreed to structure the department calendar to accommodate the training for the entire year. Two weeks a month will have classroom learning and the alternate weeks will consist of the use of the virtual classroom support site and application of the content.

There is a tremendous value add in a group learning environment and the anticipated results of this program are anticipated to be individual learning, group performance improvement and overall improvement of organizational effectiveness. The business unit is a profit center and has regular metrics that can facilitate the actual effectiveness of the learning intervention.

A recent article in Chief Learning Officer magazine shared the discovery of a new category of workplace learners that the authors referred to as super-learners. These super-learners share some common characteristics, two that are well aligned to this course design in that super-learners are self-directed and media savvy. To promote the adoption of social media as a learning tool, the pre-course learning included the requirement for participants to register and set up profiles in LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and internally, they were requested to set up their "talent profile" on the company's Intranet, which is supported by Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint, is to this super-learner, a rich collaborative learning tool and knowledge management application. There was a recent article in Forbes where the title included the notion that the Web 2.0 has found its payday. All this being said, management capabilities will soon require media proficiency to the same degree as computer literacy.  If one has any doubts check out the books by Thomas Friedman!

Learning is an adventure. I always become very excited about beginning a journey. The fact that I genuinely like and care about these participants makes this a very rewarding experience for me. I welcome any feedback from learning professionals so please feel free to comment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Entrainment and Collective Intelligence

Today, I read the Science article about collective intelligence. It seems that their research supports the notion that group intelligence is as predictive as individual intelligence and that collective intelligence is not strongly dependent upon the average intelligence of the group members.

This reminds me a little of entrainment and the notion of resonance.

In a safe group environment, I would imagine this collective intelligence is rather like the characteristics of Katzenbach's high-performing teams. The generative ability of such collective efforts I think can be found in the expansion of the Society of Jesus before the Enlightenment and the growth of Nova Southeastern University in our own times.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let It Be and Magnificat

It did not take long to find songs that would adequately represent my values. While technically my song is two songs, the message is singular. Let It Be by the Beatles is a contemporary version of Mary’s simple response, i.e., fiat. Or, let it be unto me according to your word. Her “let it be” is the historically retold response to the Archangel Gabriel that announced the birth of Jesus and her role in what Christian’s understand as salvation history. Immediately after the annunciation by the angel, Mary sings or prays her Magnificat, the words of which are derived from St. Luke’s gospel.

When I was first drawn to Let It Be, I cannot say with certainty but I was born in 1966 and I’m sure it was in the air (along with other songs of the Beatles) around me at the time. I do recall that my 8th grade graduation class wanted to select Let It Be as our class song, but the authorities at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Grade School heard rumors that the Beatles intention behind the song was the legalization of marijuana and some other song was selected. I cannot remember what the class song was. It might have been equally meaningful but as you see, that is lost on me now.

The Magnificat was first impressed upon my heart from the age of ten and later more significantly around age 16 when I entered the monastery in California. Monks have sung Mary’s song or the Magnificat for centuries, every day, at Vespers or evening prayer. I am partial to the time just before sunset when Vespers is usually sung and the chanting of the Magnificat is the high point of the Vesper service sometimes accompanied with incense and processions. Seven cope Vespers were even more ornate and seven priests in the monastic community would where copes (ornately embroidered floor length capes) for the processions and incensing of the altar. A lavish display was given during the Magnificat in memory of a young woman who referred to herself as a “lowly handmaid.”

Both pieces of music echo in their lyrics a theme of humility and surrender in spite of circumstances that surround us. They both speak of hope, comfort and a gentle way of facing life’s greatest transitions. They both speak of a faith that is certain of a positive outcome in the end.

The values in the song that most resonate for me are humility and perseverance. Monastic life is built on the value of humility and the Rule of St. Benedict addresses how once advances in the degrees of humility. My confirmation name/middle name is Bernard, after St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached and wrote extensively on humility for his monks as well. Although, no longer a monk, having lived under monastic profession for 24 years, I don’t believe that genuine humility can be abandoned which perhaps leads to selecting perseverance or fortitude as values. While the Beatles' Mary speaks wisdom and shines light in personal darkness, Luke’s Mary is overwhelmed by the power of God. A power that in some confessions of Christianity made her the Mother of God. There is a profound relationality in both songs. In Let It Be the relationship is between the individual and Mary and in the Magnificat the relationship is between God and the people of Israel expressed in the individual reflection of a young girl.

In Mary’s song, we hear about the emancipatory aspirations of a people. A deep and critical reflection of everything that Mary knows of life and its blessings and sufferings. This is Mary’s deep education, her paidea (education or instruction in her reflection on the message of the angel). “There will be an answer” implies that it is not yet apparent. Along with generations of monks, I am keeping vigil, watching and waiting for our great transformation foreshadowed by Jesus and many great teachers before and after him, including his mother who first uttered his words in the garden during his passion some 33 years earlier: “Thy will be done.”

So much of what I attribute value to in my life is rooted in this deep appreciation of education, there is an internal pull into the mystery of the light and that wisdom that subverts what we otherwise assume is reality. Is it any wonder that liberation theology grew out of the work of an educator the likes of Paulo Freire?
My experience of misalignment and suffering comes from not being skillful enough in my application of these values. I usually compromise for the pragmatic and the expedient and forego for long periods of time the inner reality from which such lyrics spring. I know on an authentic level (knowledge at the cognitive level of evaluation) that the significance of life is within each of us, far below the operation of daily thought and activity.

Better alignment is possible by recalling that the search for knowledge is an interior quest which may or may not be facilitated by the current environment in which I find myself. The words on the way to the oracle come to mind here, “know thyself.” I really believe that learning happens all the time and that sometimes it is transformational. I keep moving towards enlightenment in the ways I know how. Formal education is one way that always leaves me feeling expanded and open to new outcomes. I think that just learning about learning is creating a catalyst for me to move along this journey onward and upward. “There will be an answer. Let it be.”

Synchronicity and Etymology

The most recent experience I have had with synchronicity involves repeated exposure to the Boston Consulting Group and Harvard Business School involving a little etymology as well. Both synchronicity and etymology make me wonder about our reflective learning capacity and our meaning-making natures.

As part of my degree program in Human Resource Development, we are reading The Essentials of Strategy from the Harvard Business School Press. The introduction to the book starts off in perfect alignment with my personal learning preferences of moving from the simple to the complex, including the definition of terms and some explanation as to their usage. The introduction states that business has long made use of military language in business-talk (that must have been before the growth of sports analogies and the expanded appreciation of teamwork and collaboration). From the command and control perspective, I can see the military language being useful. But my surprise was that the use of the military term, strategy, did not take-off in business until 1971 when Kenneth Andrews wrote the book The Concept of Corporate Strategy. The use of strategy in the business context was further shaped at Harvard by Professor Michael Porter in the 1980s.

Subsequent to the ongoing development of strategy in business language, the Boston Consulting Group's founder, Bill Henderson, linked the notion of competitive advantage. Now it just so happens that my course is entitled Strategic Human Resource Development and the organization where I work recently retained the services of the Boston Consulting Group.

The other day, I got an email from a colleague that contained a link to a Boston Consulting Group report entitled Creating People Advantage 2010 which essentially is an examination of the strategic use of talent, an area of responsibility directly related to Strategic Human Resource Development. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!

The value of the information exceeds my strange fascination with how the associations were laid down in my neural networks but I thought it was worth the telling. Have you experienced a synchronous learning event like this recently? If so, please comment and share.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dunning-Krueger Effect

Today, I was having lunch with some friends and was speaking about someone in a conflictual relationship. Well my friends indicated to me that I had just introduced a new word or rather made up the word. The story was rather like the one described here. I didn't give much thought to it, until after my drive home from work. It then occurred to me that it was probable that I was wrong. My friends both attended prominent schools in the Northeast and are excellent writers and editors. At home, I went to Google to search for the word "conflictual" and found it within the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, in addition to the online dictionaries referenced in the story above.

My early education in the liberal arts has always reinforced the notion that schooling is for life, non pro schola sed pro vita. Then, upon some further reflection, as through some mysterious alignment, I discovered the Dunning-Krueger Effect using StumbleUpon. I liked it, needless to say! Today, I was okay with recognizing my own incompetence and therefore avoided presenting an inflated self-assessment.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Make A Difference Day - October 23, 2010

This year mark's the 20th anniversary of the 1,000 Points of Light program and October 23, 2010 is the national community service day that encourages neighbors helping neighbors through volunteerism. While Volunteers have a special week of recognition in April, honestly speaking can we really do enough to express our gratitude to those who take their time and talents and invest those into their communities? Unlike the national events to recognize our volunteers, Make A Difference Day is about doing something on that day to help out and is sponsored by several organizations and the HandsOn Network.

As I have mentioned before, I work for Bluegreen Corporation, headquartered out of Boca Raton, Florida. Bluegreen has a long history of both charitable giving and volunteerism. Award winning philanthropy in some cases. Bluegreen and its associates have been recognized for helping out by such organizations as ARDA, the American Red Cross and the Soroptimists. Much of the impetus for all of this, in my mind, goes to Christel DeHaan, an industry leader who opened and operates a charitable organization focused on child development called Christel House. Early in the Bluegreen and Christel House relationship, Christel DeHaan provided a video so that Bluegreen could share the mission of Christel House with all of the associates. Group after group of associates filed in and out of the board room and heard Christel's compelling argument for volunteerism and charitable giving: "We have a duty, and an obligation, to leave this world a better place than when we found it."

This year the philanthropic stories from Bluegreen are extending with such velocity that it is difficult to report them all! One of the most exciting recent charitable sponsorships involves Bluegreen's participation in Junior Achievement of South Florida's JA World's BizTown, where Broward County fifth-graders get a one day experience of civic and business life. Bluegreen has taken a lead in the hospitality industry by providing a complete experience for the students of one segment of the vacation and hospitality industry. If you are local to South Florida, I can't begin to tell you how strongly I recommend that you visit BizTown! From an educational standpoint this is the type of active learning that John Dewey dreamed of and that few educators have been able to pull off!

This week our Charitable Giving Committee was presented with the collateral materials for Bluegreen's participation in its sponsorship of JA World and I was overwhelmed with the creativity and collaboration behind our efforts! Our Creative Group has so much talent. If you allow me a moment of critical reflection, I just want to think about how you could possible go wrong when you invest your human capital in community good works and goodwill? I hope that you have this experience of connectedness and warm-hearted appreciation of your co-workers where you are employed.

Make A Difference Day, although celebrated nationally on the fourth Saturday of October, is really an authentic daily commitment for many Bluegreen associates. Personally, this adds to the important and worthwhile work we already perform. If you have similar experiences, please leave your comments as we begin to ramp up for Make A Difference Day. Thanks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vacation Deprivation

A survey reported on Expedia indicated that nearly 50 million people in the US are vacation deprived...I hope you are not one of them! Here at Bluegreen Corporation, we have a commitment to providing great vacation destinations and experiences.

See the details of the Vacation Deprivation report here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Evaluating Performance

Necessity for improvement, has led to numerous forms of evaluations which can largely be summarized in four main categories. First there are comparative evaluations where employees are ranked or measured in relation to one another. Second, there exist a number of attribute scales that measure skills or competencies that employees possess. Third, there are behavioral appraisals to evaluate employee demonstration of certain expected behaviors. Last are measurements based on employee results of which MBO (management by objectives) is a well known and widely utilized example (Milkovich & Newman, 2002).

Regardless of the form an evaluation takes, O’Malley (2003) has identified four best practices recommendations: 1) evaluations should take a multidimensional view of performance using a wide variety of appraisal criteria; 2) use of ratings and measurement by scales providing a point score and not by ranking; 3) standardization of the forms themselves and a demonstration of the measurements reliability and validity; 4) procedural enhancements by holding managers accountable for reviews, striving for consistency by training all managers conducting evaluations and clearly communicating to employees the expectations of the organization.

Numerous factors go into the design and maintenance of a performance review system, however, the underlying objective is for the organization to measure an employee’s contribution to one of its business goals while at the same time providing a fair process for the employee. Much of the difficulty arising from performance appraisal plans remains in the area of procedural justice, as is the case with any compensation related program. Ultimately, an organization’s culture (including its leadership and employee communications) and a history of positive labor relations will make or break a performance measurement system which is otherwise compliant or reasonMain Author:

Milkovich, G.T. and Newman, J. M. (2002). Compensation management (7th edition). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Karen Armstrong makes her TED Prize wish: the Charter for Compassion | Video on

I discovered Karen Armstrong through her early book regarding her time in the convent. Since then, I have listened to a number of her books on Audible to and from work and caught a couple of great TV episodes on PBS. Hope you find her thinking as uplifting and intelligent as I have. Karen Armstrong makes her TED Prize wish: the Charter for Compassion | Video on

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Curiosity - Informal Learning???

Well this blog has to do with recent events at our corporate office in Boca Raton, Florida. For anyone who doesn't know, Bluegreen's offices in Boca are part of the former IBM campus off Yamato Road. The property is now managed through Blackstone/BREA and is called the Boca Corporate Center.

The campus is absolutely stunning and we are fortunate to have many beautiful trees, fountains, a lake and lots of wildlife including foxes, armadillos, opossums, alligators, ducks, squirrels, ibises, etc! So while this is great fun, and I normally would not think to post about it, this week we have been visited by a Banana Spider, aka, a Golden Silk Spider. In one of the many trees (but near an entry way) this spider has made her web. She quite large and the picture is a good representation of her appearance.

Because the appearance of this spider has attracted so much attention, our co-workers started researching her. That is how I learned she was a Banana Spider and that she was female because of her size and that she isn't very aggressive, etc. Now, given that we are all working very hard all the time, curiosity got the better of some folks and they took the time to do some learning about their environment and become knowledgeable about this spider. This type of curiosity is absolutely necessary in today's workplace! These types of informal learning events, especially when related to company or industry happenings, have the potential to create the kind of advantage that business folks are looking for through innovation.

I'm not sure that everyone will agree with me, but I get very excited when I witness collective learning that happens so spontaneously!


Prior: The poor shall eat and have their fill. Those who long for the Lord shall give God praise.

Choir: May their hearts live forever. Let all your people bless you.

Prior: We give you thanks for all your gifts, almighty God, living and reigning now and for ever.

Choir: Amen.

Bishop: Protect us, O Lord our God, and give us the help we need in our frailty. For the sake of your name, O Lord, reward those who have been good to us and give them eternal life.

Choir: Amen.

Prior: Both here

Choir: and in all your churches throughout the whole world, we adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.


Prior: The eyes of all creatures look to you to give them food in due time.

Choir: You give it to them, they gather it up; you open your hand, they have their fill.

Prior: ...For we do not live on bread alone.

Choir: But on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.

Prior: Let us call on the name of the Creator, who always takes care of us.

Choir: For the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to God, now and for ever. Amen.

Bishop: Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts which we are about to receive from your goodness. Through Christ our Lord.

Choir: Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thinking About Conscious Thought

I am drawn to dialectical thinking and the work of Kegan. According to Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007), Kegan’s theory is drawn from “both a psychological and contextual approach, proposes a level-of-consciousness model that incorporates dialectical thinking as part of the highest level of consciousness” (p. 343).

From the work of Illeris, I was readily convinced of the interplay between psychological processes and the environment in the development of learning. I perceive Kegan’s theory consistent with that earlier identification.

The notion of evolving consciousness appeals strongly to me on many levels. My development has progressed from a very parochial worldview to one that is more universally focused. Growing up Catholic, with Democratic Mid-Western, second generation immigrant, lower-middle class, white values, the world was pretty well defined. Expectations were concrete and some realities were perceived to be absolute. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I was increasingly led to more and more discretionary internal processes.

For me, being human or at least being a citizen within a democracy requires dialectical thinking, an “acceptance of alternative truths” (p. 342). Kegan doesn’t know if we post-modern folks have what it takes to meet the demands of our “culture’s curriculum” (p. 344). Using some critical reflection of my own, I can only speak for myself when I share my doubt that I am capable. I read a recent article that also had to do with Kegan’s developmental theory and Mezirow’s transformational learning. In the article, Kegan refers to three levels of the constructed self: (1) the socialized self; (2) the self-authoring self; and (3) the self-transcending self. In terms of personal development, I am aiming towards wisdom and for the self-transcending self and the next tier on the hierarchy above Maslow’s self-actualization. However, having attained middle adulthood in my mid-forties, I wonder about the likelihood of this personal, evolving, cognitive development. Clearly, I have achieved the level of the self-authoring self to a great degree (my developmental resolution of an identity crisis propelled me there much more quickly than some of my friends and family without such a compelling and pervasive ego-conflict).

When tempted to believe that my development is at its appropriate phase, I am reminded of the work of Socrates and even our contemporary scholar, Cornell West, who deals with the most difficult topics in the history of our nation, race and democracy in America. From a systems viewpoint, the national consciousness is still evolving and becoming more tolerant and less absolute. However, I have yet to experience our gains as win-win for most parties involved in the process (myself included). West has a focus on the significance of human life; what it means to be human on a fundamental basis. This, for me, is characteristic of developmental progress into maturity. Unfortunately, many of the research projects based on Kegan’s theory are pointing to the fact that we are not self-authored or self-transcendent. Many adults are still operating from the socialized-self level of consciousness; we are what we have been made to be, albeit personally cooperating with the process through our inner identification with the norms and values of the cultures and subcultures in which we are embedded.

Anecdotally, there is the expression which you may have heard, “Be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” This is almost a prayer for me. I strongly believe that there is a higher consciousness pulling me towards on-going development individually and I assume collectively along with the rest of the natural world. This is where in the head-dominated academic world, I pause and remember the work of Graves and the concept of grace. There is that which operates beyond the level of my cognitive awareness and when engaged in that evolutionary process, I can only breathe in the mystery of mind and beyond mind.

Emancipatory Education

My critical assessment of my own beliefs, assumptions, prejudices and biases began in early adolescence specifically around the area of sexual orientation. To a lesser degree, other forms of personal and social identity brought about on-going critical reflection. Being a Catholic, descendant of Polish immigrants and later as a priest and a monk, I have lived in a largely counter-cultural lifeworld. Being born in 1966, I grew up in a post-civil rights society with its attendant obligations for confronting privilege and being sensitive to the needs of others. Early on I was influenced by organizations such as The Catholic Worker and the birth of Liberation Theology which were both emancipatory movements that helped to shape my frames of reference.

Being educated within the Catholic school system (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) with additional educational experiences further embedded within Catholic monastic education, it is hard to miss the points of what the initial construction of my social responsibility as an educator should be. Every classroom I sat in during those times had a crucifix over the teacher’s desk. The teacher, sometimes priests, nuns or monks, stood as an alter Christus, which is Latin for “another Christ.” Although rarely said out loud except in monastic settings, the teacher took the place of Christ in the classroom and became the way and means through which knowledge and the love of God would be learned. The role of the educator had spiritual, moral, ethical and communal implications. In terms of the social responsibility of the educators, context provided a great many additional obligations, i.e., institutional and ecclesiastical. Educators were in place (commissioned) and had the mandate for each learner to come to the knowledge of God. In fact, the early response of the Baltimore Catechism to the question of why we were made was “to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with God in the next.” An educator or teacher was so by vocational calling and the acceptance of the position was an act of grace in response to an invitation from God to which the individual submitted or obeyed. To what degree I remain influenced by these experiences or my interpretations of them is still an open-ended question. I find some of the postmodern relative perspectives objectionable on many grounds especially where human beings are left disempowered and fragmented, however, I value the benefits of their critical analysis and believe that humanity continues to evolve its own self-understanding on both an individual and collective basis. Each voice and story is embedded in the tapestry and no one has ever been able to contain the on-going and persistent stretching of the collective human mind/spirit/body. In my experience, the continued practice of adult education is an upward and onward journey.

Learning Organization

Organizational learning has become a key item of discussion around many executive conference room tables since Peter Senge's work in the 1990s and the ongoing research through SOL and MIT. As companies vie with one another to maintain or secure competitive advantages, the development and retention of human capital and organizational learning have been an item of keen interest to many of the Fortune 500 companies. Manufacturing businesses and industry have predominated the on-line application of many employee learning and communication systems as well as organizational improvements and adjustments to grapple with the perceived need to sustain on-going value for their customers.

Sohal et al (2002) define a learning organization as one that “creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations.” Further, “learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people, customers, suppliers and competitors.”

The currents flowing in organizational learning today were initiated due to many and varied factors including the advent of relatively new ideologies such as total quality management (TQM) and Six Sigma, the globalization of the economy, the competitiveness of the world market, the advances in technology and the shrinkage of available qualified human capital and the rapidly changing demographics of developed nations.

A. S. Sohal, et al, (2002) summarizes the explanation or assumptions for organizational learning endeavors as follows:

The learning organization creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations . Learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people….Learning organizations also possess the mechanisms which transfer learning from the individual to the group, and have an internal transformation process, a commitment to knowledge and an openness to the outside world. (p. 188)

When we discuss electronic forms of organizational learning (including the new utilization of social media in learning and collaboration), the business problem in need of a solution remains largely the same issue for management as non-electronic initiatives for training and development. What business leaders want to measure is the return on investment (ROI) for training and educational initiatives. Historically, this has been an on-going difficulty for human resource development (HRD) professionals to demonstrate. Management wants to see the “bang for the buck.” Questions routinely focus on whether or not the learning experiences foster real return in business performance and what standards of measurement will be acceptable to those at the helm of each industry or corporation. Strategically it makes sense to spell out the management expectations and willingness of the culture to support learning before undertaking any information systems initiative.

Further, organizational learning in service of the creation and sustained acquisition of value seems a clear prerequisite for any manager. The motivators for such a philosophical shift seems to be tied to many variables including influence from scientific methods, learning theory, organizational psychology and information technology. The computer’s ability to process data to obtain meaningful information can be compared to the use of knowledge for the creation of value. In that modern
organizations are in a constant state of change, the process of assessment or evaluation leads to practices which employees must then evaluate or measure to determine what new pieces of information to feed back into the process.

Sohal, A.S., Morrison, M. & Pratt, T. (2002). Creating a regional learning environment for accelerating company development and growth. Total Quality Management, 13(2), 183-184.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reflections on Adult Learning

Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007) state that both self-directed learning (SDL) and andragogy "are grounded in humanistic theories." (p. 283-284). The assumptions of andragogy do form part of my reflective learning about my experiences as an adult learner and as a practitioner of workplace learning and development. The very fact that so many adult educators utilize andragogical principals in their practice of adult education, reinforces their relevance as a tool for creating the appropriate learning environment. Setting aside arguments as to their comprehensiveness, accuracy or validity, it remains important that a significant number of educators utilize andragogy to inform their practice. If these educators are doing so, there has to be a wide-based recognition of their utility or they would have fallen out of practice.

The outcome of learning, according to Maslow's hierarchy, is self-actualization. One of the alternatives proposed by Maslow was reported to be "the grappling with the critical existential problems of life." This was very insightful to me because Dr. Cornell West of Princeton University has taught on this very point, stating that to be truly human, individuals must focus on the significant and fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Dr. West uses the word paideia to characterize the learning of what it means to be human. According to Wikipedia, the ancient Greek word paideia means instruction or learning related to an individual's realization of their true form, an understanding of what is meant to be genuinely human. This type of education seems to be totally within the humanistic framework, as one of Rogers' characteristics of learning is "essence is meaning" (Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner, 2007, p. 283).

Far from being amorphous, these humanistic learning principles have deep social and political implications. They have fundamentally contributed to the formal institutions of adult learning. The andragogical notion of increasing self-directedness in learning is completely supported in practice. The two most clear examples of which are, in my opinion, the traditional apprenticeship model of instruction (where the apprentice begins with very directed supervision of work by the master, through a journeyman stage with less directedness and greater discretionary learning, through the eventual establishment of self-directed practice at the master level). The second example that I can come up with is American formal educational instruction (where the students at the primary level experience a very directed form of learning, which becomes somewhat less directed in secondary and post-secondary education and culminates in the more or less self-directed activities of the Ph.D. candidate). It was explained to me somewhere along the line in my academic career that the Ph.D. is the terminal degree as by the point at which a learner earns a Ph.D., he or she is capable of independently using the same learning process in which they mastered that subject to any other subject they choose to learn. Both examples are pretty strong indications that our wider educational and social arena have embraced the notion of self-directed learning.

Because humanistic learning is experiential, or rather derivative from our reflection upon and assignment of significance to experience, I also want to relate another example from my experience that is nearly as old as the apprenticeship model that comes from my personal experience in monastic education. In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is an early passage that speaks to the types of monks. In this section, Benedict acknowledges that some monks, after years of monastic practice, may advance to the state of becoming an anchorite or hermit because "they have already learned" and "can cope single-handedly." This is a Western monastic understanding of the progression of learning, however, the self-same thing is recognized in the Eastern monastic understanding (Christian and non-Christian) where each monk selects a master under which he/she learns the way of life and achieves the goal to which his/her life is ordered, whether that is salvation, enlightenment or in our humanistic learning theory language, self-actualization. Thereupon arriving, the monk/nun becomes a master in their own right and begins to accept students themselves.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why school...then and now?

I have had a passion for learning for as far back as I can remember. School attendance was an expectation in my family. My mother was the first in our extended family to receive a master's degree and I suspected that very few in the family would expect less from me.

From very early on, in Catholic grade school, I felt called to the monastic life and knew that solid academic performance was a requirement as well. In addition to high school, I knew that there were eight years of preparation for the priesthood. Nevertheless, I felt pulled to learning and never experienced any difficulties outside of mathematics and physical education. I saw the possibility of formal education going on well into my adult life. With the conscious awareness of "the call" in a Catholic school, you can imagine I did quite well in that environment. It was, for the large part, a very protective and nurturing environment, although some of my greatest psychological handicaps stem from those early years. Who am I in relation to all of this? I wasn't always successful in langing myself on top!

Leaving graduate seminary put a 10 year gap in my formal education but as I was working in social services, I entered an MSW program at Rutgers in Newark. I left it behind when I came to Florida and my career transition to Human Resources took place by coincidence. After my MS in HRM, I felt that a second graduate degree in HRD would help me in my new role as Director of HRD at my company. There is a strong vocational aspect to my preference for schooling because I view education as not only developing in what I do but in who I am. I simply can't conceive that the need of ongoing education will ever leave me, short of a brain trauma or illness. But, I am a fan of informal learning, too! I dream about hitting the lotto so I could enter a life of leisure and study. I do have to confess that I'm simply not disciplined enough to make a serious go at academics. I also can share that nothing I ever learned has come back to haunt me. Simply put for me, there is a greater freedom for me on the path to knowledge than off of it.

School and Society

I just finished a semester long course in educational history here in the United States from the colonial period through today. As a student, with formal schooling of some 22 years, you would think you would gain a little of the history just by osmosis. That wasn't my experience! While this course was limited to public school education, the larger context of understanding history through a lense like educational policy provides insights into so many other realms. I'm grateful that this was part of my curriculum and it does provide a solid basis for understanding existing vocational and adult educational programs (including training and education in the workplace).

The text we used was called School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives by Tozer, Senese and Violas. It should be required reading prior to any public speaking on educational policy or school reform.

Prior to reading the text, I held the opinion that most of my formal schooling involved education. When I arrived at college, from the welcoming convocation onwards, the Benedictines instilled the value of liberal arts education. Not to say that I would exclude experiences of training and schooling co-existing at different periods. My experience of education is personally transformational. I hold a different worldview and am a different person because of the learning experiences I have had inside and outside of formal education. Apparently, there have been many educators and public servants that had a hand to play in my positive experiences. It might be surprising to some that educational goals are very poorly aligned in the history of the United States despite the contemporary nationalization of educational aims.

The system in place today, evolving from the efforts of Jefferson and Mann and the others we encountered this semester, still appears ill equipped to handle the challenge. Every year we are bombarded with reports that American students are far out-ranked in comparison to students from other nations and yet educational reform never seems to address this discrepancy or balance the inequities within our nation. Our educational system is barely able to articulate its own failures in relation to its espoused values and the continuing imbalance in class, race and gender. This inability is partially due to our national political economy and our national ideologies which, in fact, have failed to produce what Jefferson hoped for - the natural aristocracy. In a "free" society, it is truly amazing how difficult it is to report that we don't all experience the same educational opportunities and that all of our interests and freedoms are collectively subjugated to the dominant majority (not even a real majority). So, I continue to wonder if Jefferson's fourth tier of education, life-long learning is, in reality, not much in practice at all. After some 200 years of practice, are we better equipped to take on the educational reform needed today? We are far from being any less divided despite the many advances made.

Until we are better able to articulate our freedoms and our current reality, I am much more comfortable with state and federal involvement with our education. Few parochial minds are globally oriented. Nothing short of the goal of the formation of global citizens who have been educated in what it means to be human is imperative for America and the world. We can't get there until we seriously confront the brutal reality of where we are now.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reflections on Education

Today is the feast of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, an exceptional educator and one of the advocates of wisdom who founded a religious community responsible for the education of many hearts and minds.

It is difficult to imagine where we would be without the devoted teachers in our lives. Early in life, we are very fortunate to attract teachers that inspire our natural curiosity and support us on the climb towards truth. Those who gently push or pull us into deeper levels of understanding and then quietly "presence" with us when wisdom arrives.

I have a deep passion for learning and consider the educational opportunities that were granted to me in my lifetime as the greatest gifts of love that I have known. Each teacher has equipped me with road maps for the ongoing journey to true liberty and gives me pause to appreciate their selflessness in supporting a fellow pilgrim on the way home to Jerusalem.

I am aware that not everyone has had such positive impressions related to their formal schooling and I only wish they had had the opportunities afforded to me through the loving teachers I had provided by the Sisters for Christian Community, the Order of St. Benedict, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and the Sisters of Providence among others.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I lift my lamp...

If the inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Why a lamp beside the golden door? Perhaps, in her great freedom, she chooses to overlook the fact that you are arriving in the darkness of night. Perhaps she realizes that her nation has yet to fulfill its destiny; that you might find a door closed elsewhere by a hardened, selfish heart. Or worse yet, an armed border patrol guard. Liberty keeps watch through the night for the humble pilgrim on the journey home.

You certainly can't believe the lamp is so that she can read your documents?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why School? Then and Now...

I have had a passion for learning for as far back as I can remember. School attendance was an expectation in my family. My mother was the first in our extended family to receive a master's degree and I suspected that very few in the family would expect less from me.

From very early on, in Catholic grade school, I felt called to the monastic life and knew that solid academic performance was a requirement as well. In addition to high school, I knew that there were eight years of preparation for the priesthood. Nevertheless, I felt pulled to learning and never experienced any difficulties outside of mathematics and physical education. I saw the possibility of formal education going on well into my adult life. With the conscious awareness of "the call" in a Catholic school, you can imagine I did quite well in that environment. It was, for the large part, a very protective and nurturing environment, although some of my greatest psychological handicaps stem from those early years. Who am I in relation to all of this? I wasn't always successful in langing myself on top!

Leaving graduate seminary put a 10 year gap in my formal education but as I was working in social services, I entered an MSW program at Rutgers in Newark. I left it behind when I came to Florida and my career transition to Human Resources took place by coincidence. After my MS in HRM, I felt that UIUC's EdM in HRD would help me in my new role as Director of HRD at my company. There is a strong vocational aspect to my preference for schooling because I view education as not only developing in what I do but in who I am. I simply can't conceive that the need of ongoing education will ever leave me, short of a brain trauma or illness. But, I am a fan of informal learning, too! I dream about hitting the lotto so I could enter a life of leisure and study. I do have to confess that I'm simply not disciplined enough to make a serious go at academics. I also can share that nothing I ever learned has come back to haunt me. Simply put for me, there is a greater freedom for me on the path to knowledge than off of it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Your Last Vacation Experience...?

A very good friend of mine took me out to lunch the other day and helped me with my blogging on vacation experiences. I never intended to blog in the form of my personal travel diary so I wanted to keep the conversation going. She suggested that everyday I ask a certain number of people a couple of questions. Questions such as:

When was your last vacation?

Where did you go on vacation?, etc.

My friend thought that I would not run out of content for a long time and I secretly suspect she was right. When our waitress returned to the table, she asked her "When was your last vacation?" The waitress laughed and said it had been too long ago. Without the need to ask any further questions, she volunteered that her last vacation had been on her honeymoon and that she had gone to Orlando. She said they had a great time (as we would all imagine...she was on her honeymoon!). However, she also told us that they had gone to Universal as well and that they really enjoyed the theme park.

My friend and I volunteered that we both worked in the vacation industry but she didn't seem to be in need of an explanation for our question. As I'm not a journalist and usually don't just start talking to strangers, I think this is a great way to start a conversation with someone you are not that familiar with and perhaps do a little good for them by reminding them of how much fun the break in the routine can be.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

St. Bernard on the Love of God

This morning I woke up and in preparing for the day, I listened to a YouTube recording of Thomas Merton talking to the novices about Bernard's De Deligendo Deo. He was relating that to St. Bernard, the monastery was simply a School of Love, which reminded me of the prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict where he stated that his intention was "to establish a school for the Lord's service." As I accept that God is love, this is an easy transition for me from Benedict to Bernard (as I assume it should be). The English version of the text carries the title On the Love of God.

Having spoken to the nuns a day or two before, this was reinforced by that conversation when the nuns referenced the Course in Miracles' affirmation that our human purpose is to listen with our hearts and respond in love. While some may take issue with the Course, it nevertheless summarizes the monastic impulse or at least the version of it that has moved me over the years.

Not being able to exempt myself from the larger cultural experience of alienation, I find that the search for meaning and significance in life is completely dependent upon grace, i.e., namely the graces received in the knowledge and love of God. Like any American, I can easily translate meaningfulness with work or some activity, while the only real significance in life is the realization of the presence of God.

While the nuns and I are not living in a monastic community, the community nature of our spiritual friendship allows for the mutual compassionate acknowledgement that we are here to love God and one another.

A video of the Dali Lama was on this morning, calling all of us as global brothers and sister to the experience of global compassion. A call to the commitment of love and non-violence. Between the nuns, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Dali Lama and myself, the old addage that when the student is ready, the teacher appears seems to hold true. As we prepare to celebrate Easter, I believe that love and compassion are the true power that produced the Resurrection.

Bernard said "the reason for loving God is God himself, and the measure, is to love without measure." Such is the love that is celebrated on Good Friday!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feast of St. Joseph

St. Joseph is the patron saint of social justice, workers and a happy death (and a list of others). While St. Joseph is described as a just man in scripture, I think his life embodied my favorite quote from Albert Einstein, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

As we witness the inequalities within our now global society, the situation is in need of prayer! St. Joseph as father and protector of the Holy Family lived a quiet life of devotion and he earned his living as a carpenter. His patronage of workers is easy to understand in this regard as well. The overlap between the workers and working for social justice has been realized by many religious communities and most prominently perhaps by those in the Catholic Worker.

Coming from the Benedictine tradition, the notion of work takes on spiritual connotations for me. This is the notion of how "what we do" contributes to "who we are".

And when all is said and done, I pray to St. Joseph for a happy death!


O BLESSED JOSEPH, who yielded up thy last breath in the arms
of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me this grace, O holy Joseph,
that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit,
if I am unable to do so in words:

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give Thee my heart and my soul."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The School of the Holy Ghost

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor

I am in my second reading of Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. Beyond the title, which fascinates me on many levels, Mr. Elie has put together both biographical sketches and summaries of work for four American, Catholic writers. He said that collectively, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy were known as "The School of the Holy Ghost." Having had a lifelong admiration of both Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Mr. Elie introduced me to both Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Each of the four embark on very individual path's in life with the apparent hand of God in the background. For the realization of God's amazing grace operationalized in an individual, Mr. Elie gives four terrific examples.

Individual lives are like tapestries that reveal the interplay of form and grace. Life Tapestry is the title of my imagined autobiographical work as a personal spiritual journal of self-understanding. A representation of an individual path to the realization of the presence of God. For many years people have exclaimed, "you should write a book!" With very little notion of how one actually attempts such an endeavor, I thought I might start a blog such as this to at least begin writing and recording stories as I remember them or if they serve some purpose to me at the moment of writing them down.

The title of Life Tapestry is an amalgamation of the various influences at play in the story of my life as experienced from the level of consciousness that I now find myself to live through (and/or have lived through). Consciousness or awareness has a movement to it. Sometimes there is great clarity and piercing vision and other times simply a rememberance of peak religious experiences. Some of my life circumstances that exert their influences upon me are the "shadowy figures that still swing between the trees in the back of my mind". They come through the various themes listed below:

1) My monastic interests and spirituality;
2) My family and friends;
3) My work experiences;
4) My educational experiences;
5) My deep appreciation for the journey as Life reveals it.

One of my favorite movies is Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn plays Queen Eleanor. In a rather despondent moment, she feels exasperated and laments to herself "What a life's work!?" Because of the notion that tapestries are beautifully created artistic pieces produced through the active labor of one or many artisans, I thought this was a great metaphor for my story-telling adventure. The non-similarity, if one exists, is that I may have thought I was following a design or blueprint for the tapestry, when in reality it was grace that produced what what is stretched out today. Because the work is in progress, the awe and mystery of its appearance is as valuable to me as to any other. I have no idea what the final tapestry will look like, or even if it will be completed or abandoned in media res.

I once thought I would call my autobiography The Beloved Gyrovague or The Beloved Vagabond due to my constant shifting both within the church and monastic life and that out again (questing for solid ground or a sure foundation). In my moments of critical self-reflection, the title might change to The Beloved Sarabite. The broad based appeal of any of these titles would be lacking accept among Benedictines as they are terms out of Chapter One of the Rule of Saint Benedict. In any case, neither gyrovagues or sarabites were up to Benedict's standards and I generally fear the worse in any claim I have to Benedictine heritage despite my thirty year attraction.

The use of the word tapestry also picks up the feminine influences on my life and the profound appreciation I have for womens' ways of knowing and relating. The medieval notion of women sitting around (nuns or nobility) and creating tapestries is appealing to me. How their individual reflections and meditations might have been shared in conversations or in collective silences at the loom. Even in an American context I think about the Shakers and Quakers around the quilting frame. I enjoy the company of women but most especially the stories told on these occasions. Stories that have a heart view or an enclosed or protected wisdom, a truth derived from some critical reflection upon life's experiences.

I'm fairly convinced that grace plays a hand in any means we can stomach in our living with the truth. Insights sometimes gently nudge us into flight. "The soul takes flight to a world that is invisible; but there arriving, she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise." -Plato

Like the books of the writers from The School of the Holy Ghost, the tapestry or quilt survives the artisan. What story does it tell?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Resort Vacation with Lifetime Friends

When I was 13, I met two amazing women who would become lifetime friends of mine. They played such a formative role in my adolescence and early adult development and continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance for me as an adult. I generally refer to them as "The Nuns." They were in fact both in the Sisters of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, and had even taught in my home town of Michigan City, Indiana.

We have spent countless vacations together including my many trips home from college and seminary. One of our favorite vacations together was spent at the Bluegreen Resorts property, Orlando Sunshine Resort, in Orlando, Florida. Most folks who go to Orlando are all about the parks and the various forms of family entertainment that are the special attractions of the area. I, myself, have been to all the parks and some of the other minor attractions on separate occassions.

If you have read my earlier post, my experience of a vacation doesn't just consist in what is seen or done while on vacation. The general experience of the vacation is what matters and it helps to use one's liesure time in a way that balances our your health and state of mind. In the midsts of Orlando's hustle and bustle, the three of us managed to create such a unique vacation experience that some people might believe we were not in Orlando at all.

The vacation started off on a very good basis with a warm welcome received by the Front Desk personnel at Orlando Sunshine and my friends were amazed by the room accommodations as they had never stayed at a resort property before. We had a very large and beautifully decorated two bedroom, two bathroom unit with a balcony. Unlike the typical hotel room and much less like convent or retreat house accommodations, the unit has everything you need to feel right at home and comfortable. This is a great benefit of resort accommodations. We made full use of it as we stayed in the unit for a good portion our stay, reading, playing games and talking about life's deeper matters. Hey, on vacation, you actually have time to discuss what is most important in life!

We managed to take some unique excursions in Orlando and found that there was an excellent Italian restaurant in Celebration where we went more than once and enjoyed walking about the lake and the general small town feel of the environment. We also took a boat excursion on this large lake at sunset.  Our guide was terrific and we saw all kinds of native Florida wildlife and some non-native wildlife that was running free as well. We ended up at Universal on one occassion as we were given special discounted tickets from Bluegreen. While on this trip, Terese developed her mild addiction to Starbuck's bottled coffees.

On vacation with good friends, there can be such euphoria that one regrets to leave. We needed to return to our respective homes and leave the temporary home residence created by Bluegreen. We have fond memories of this vacation and a general feeling of gratitude to the resort personnel at Orlando Sunshine for making our stay so valuable.

March is Red Cross Month

I am so fortunate to coordinate my company's involvement with the American Red Cross. Bluegreen's philanthropic efforts have long had a channel of distribution directed towards the American Red Cross and the various relief efforts. The mutual admiration between our two organizations is palpable upon every occasion that we interact.

In recognition of March as Red Cross month, Bluegreen sponsors a special training program in its corporate office for First Aid and CPR training. Given our commitment to associate Wellness and our care and concern for our customers and associates, this is a perfect fit to recognize our reliance upon one another.

For its efforts, Bluegreen has been recognized by the American Red Cross with the Circle of Humanitarians Award and is a member of both the Henry Dunant Society and the Clara Barton Society of the Red Cross.

In light of this weekend's disaster in Chile, again we see our reliance upon the work of the Red Cross to respond to such human tragedies.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Joel Goldsmith and St. Benedict

Anyone who knows me well can vouch for the fact that I have a great number of heroes. The title of this blog post names just two.

A few days ago, I was reading the daily portion of the Rule of St. Benedict on the Benedictine website ( thought to myself, that is exactly the point that Joel Goldsmith made in his works. Joel Goldsmith and St. Benedict are separated by over 1,000 years but we conjecture that some truths are timeless.

The specific reference from the rule was "It is not in speaking much that we are heard" quoting a verse in Proverbs. Joel, on many occasions, points those on the Infinite Way to a practice of repeating a short phrase frequently to bring ourselves into the presence of God. My favorite pointer that Joel recommends is "I and the Father are one," quoting Jesus. Uncanny isn't it. Equally ironic, is that the Catholic Church had the rosary and a host of ejaculations that were aimed at a similar awareness of God's presence and the Orthodox Church had the Jesus Prayer. Outside of Christianity, I would place the mantras of the Bhuddist in the same category. We know that Joel spent years studying spiritual truth, so it really is not all that surprising that at his level of consciousness, we find a unity of thought with other spiritual masters and traditions.

All the same, if you are not acquainted with Joel Goldsmith's body of work, you might find it very helpful.

Vacation Better Website

There is a great website that talks about ways to enjoy a vacation. It is and under the Vacation tab it provides great answers to the question, "Why do I need a vacation?"

Because we are blogging, I welcome comments on your answer to that question!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vacation Quotes

I was searching this evening for some quotes regarding vacations. Google it some time, I think you would be surprised at what you find! Here is one that I could not agree with more. Talk about an endorsement, this anonymous quote is nearly an imperative!

Vacation used to be a luxury, but in today's world it has become a necessity. ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Polycarp of Smyrna

At work today, one of my friends said that when she was in Catholic school, they used to announce the saint of the day over the P.A. system. I told her that today was the feast day of St. Polycarp, an early martyr and bishop of the second century. She said she didn't think they ever announced him. I think maybe she was home sick that day!

PBS is Amazing!

I rarely watch television but this weekend I was entirely exhausted and turned it on for a little down time. Instead of relaxing, I happened to be treated to a biographical piece on Zora Neale Hurston for the PBS commemoration of African-American History Month. A remarkable author with a notable body of work and an interesting way of being in the world.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Appreciation for the Works of Dr. Cornell West

Dr. Cornell West is on the faculty at Princeton University's Center for African American Studies and the Religion Department. I initially learned from him and his work while being a seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, as he was a professor at Union previously. One of his books was also in the Masters of Social Work curriculum at Rutgers University (Newark) when I was a student there.

Union has a podcast library on their website and I strongly recommend that everyone listen to his lecture, available for free and also free within iTunes. In this talk, Dr. West talks about both the prophetic and socratic traditions and specifically calls everyone into a deeper awareness of our own levels of thought about the significance of life and what it means to be human. In relation to the Socratic tradition, he introduces members of the audience to an ancient Greek word, paideia. Paideia is roughly translated as education or instruction at the level of what it means to be human, at the uncovery of the True and the Beautiful.

Dedicate some time to the significance of your life and lend an ear to Dr. West. When we ask the fundamental and universal questions such as, "Why am I here?", "What is my purpose in life?", etc., have the patience to sit back and critically reflect on the answers your mind supplies to you. Pause, and then ask yourself the great Byron Katie question, "Is it really true?" Then, stand back and/or sit down as I know the answers you uncover will be life-altering. Beware of Elijah's "still small voice!"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Convent Purchased on E-bay

Why, you might ask, would someone buy a convent? I felt the hand of providence in it at the time. I was striving for a way to bring together a group of similarly situated folks for a monastic experiment and house of hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition.

The Community of All Angels was an attempt at a monastic foundation to serve former religious and members of the marginalized communities who were not fully embraced by their local churches or religious communities. In 1992, when I made my final vows, I did so as the first (and only) life professed member of the visible community. However, as a collection of hearts and souls and in the communion of the saints and angels, it was, in mind, a great collection of witnesses! I often think of the communion of saints and angels in terms of Napoleon Hill’s master mind alliance.

Believe it or not, new religious communities come into existence every year. Some are eventually elevated to the status of a congregation, order, etc. or some remain unaffiliated with church hierarchies. I was actually in the novitiate twice, once in the Roman Catholic communion and once as an Episcopalian. Although my affinity is for Benedictine spirituality, I received my religious formation from the Society of St. Francis while a resident at St. Elizabeth's Friary in Brooklyn, New York. The Society of St. Francis is a monastic order in the Episcopal Church whose motherhouse is in Mt. Sinai, New York, just outside of Port Jefferson. One of the guardians of the house, Franciscan speak for superior, was once an Anglican Benedictine in England so at least there are some ties to St. Benedict's lineage.

Although my spiritual journey had taken me from Roman Catholicism to the Episcopal church, I was not setting out to create an Episcopal monastic community. At the time, although the Episcopal church had embraced the ordination of women, the church was still in turmoil over the issues surrounding sexuality and from my Roman Catholic background, I had no interest in entering that fray again. Nonetheless, in response to an article in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), I sent in a letter explaining my situation and what I was trying to accomplish and the NCR published my letter and entitled it, "Calling All Angels." After publication, the phone rang off the hook at the friary for a few days and then all that subsided. The pledge of support from these individuals was the basis of why I thought there was sufficient interest for such a monastic experiment. So for many years, I kept at it. My entrance to religious life, at age 16, was on March 9, 1983, the Feast of St. Frances of Rome. I spent the next 22 years trying to reconcile my inner experiences with my perception of the outer realities until 2005 and the loss of the convent, purchased to be the home of The Community of All Angels in Jay, Maine. Perhaps I was trying God's providence in the purchase of the convent. As I waited and watched, I did so alone for the most part. That being the case, I interpreted that my monastic vocation is essentially an internal one and abandoned a notion that the truth of it, for me, was in any outward expression of this calling.

The Nuns

There are a few people in your life that demonstrate the meaning of friendship. Perhaps even more rare is a friendship shared among three people (yes, a blatant Trinitarian reference). I was fortunate to have come across Ange and Terese early in my life while in the 8th grade at St. Mary's Grade School in Michigan City, Indiana. I had gone to live with my grandparents that year and St. Mary's is where my uncle and mother attended grade school and high school next door at Marquette. Sissy and I had also done a semester there earlier when there had been a fire in our apartment building. We had stayed with my grandparents until my mother had completed the apartment renovations.

I think that in 8th grade most students are 12, and that would put us in 1979. I know that I graduated St. Mary's in 1980 so this is as accurate as can be hoped. Of course, I was still interested in the monastic life but had learned to accept the notion that I would not be departing for the monastery in the United States until after high school, at least. About this time in Northern Indiana, the Catholic Charismatic movement was taking place. In Michigan City, the prayer group was known as the Alleluia people and it met at St. Anthony's Hospital in Michigan City run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. In addition to the weekly prayer group, sometimes before school I would get up early and go to the sister's chapel at the hospital and say morning prayer with them and attend Mass. I was only close to one of the sisters at the hospital and her name was Sister Rita Marie. I believe she was Canadian and was working in Pastoral Care at the time. I met her again in 2008 when visiting my Aunt Carol in the hospital. She didn't remember me at all! Too funny. How would you forget a 12 year old boy coming to the hospital chapel to say morning prayers with the sisters at 6:00 a.m. on a school day?

It was at the prayer group, however, that I first met Sister Angeline Benz. She was a very social person, very feminine and petite with a great sense of humor and good-storyteller attributes (she would be great at blogging or because of the quality of her voice, perhaps podcasting). Ange decided that she should introduced me to Terese Fabbri (formerly known as Sister Anita Mary) and set up a meeting for us at St. Mary of the Lake in New Buffalo, MI. Terese was known for her ability to relate to teenagers and a mutual affection was nearly instantaneous. St. Mary’s had a vibrant prayer group known as the People of Joy. Ange introduced me to Terese and we got acquainted sitting on the stage in the basement of the church before the prayer meeting. Such a simple introduction and under very ordinary circumstances, a life-altering and life-sustaining friendship was developed.

Now, 31 years later, there are many additional stories to tell of friendship shared, great vacation experiences and endless hours of really great telephone conversations! I look forward to blogging about some of these as time goes on.

Serving at the Altar

The picture above doesn't exactly portray my experience as these altar boys are serving a Tridentine Mass. As I was born in 1966, I did not become a server until after First Communion which I received in the third grade at St. Patrick's School which would have been about 1974. The mass was now the Mass of Paul VI which was firmly in place in the United States by 1969, sometimes know as the Novus Ordo. However, later in life I did purchase a Tridentine Altar from an old Catholic parish mission for the convent in Jay, Maine. That altar was actually shipped from New England to 27 Canterbury Lane in Florida and then moved via Beltman Movers to Maine.

I do not remember how I learned to serve Mass or exactly how I became an altar boy. I assume we were trained in a group but have no recollection of it. At St. Patrick's, I would have served the Masses said by either Father John Baitens or Monsignor Herbert Winterhalter. In fact, Father Baitens got out the old Catholic Encyclopedia and helped me look up the various monastic communities. I don't have many memories of Monsignor Winterhalter because I believe he was ill at the time. The monastic inquiries into the encyclopedias were great fun for me at the time and still occupy some of my leisure reading in the form of the history of religious life and its great heroes.

Well apparently I was very zealous about serving Mass because although St. Patrick's had plenty of altar servers, apparently other parishes did not and I served at St. Joseph's and St. Benedict's downtown. I do not remember the priests there but I remember they were Franciscans and were quite impressed that I would ride my bike across town so early to serve Mass at their parishes. I remember that I, being a budding Benedictine, was just scandalized that Franciscans were at St. Benedict's Parish. I loved St. Benedict's church the most. It was the largest or at least it seems so from memory. It looked huge to a 9 or 10 year old both outside and in. Inside I was moved by the amount of space which seemed endless and mystical and warm.

Shortly after all my parish altar serving had been established, my mother who was a nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital in Terre Haute told me she was caring for a Carmelite nun who was quite ill at the time. My mother got permission from the Mother Prioress for me to visit and I did. I met my first cloistered contemplative in St. Anthony's Hospital; her name was Sister Marilyn of the Holy Trinity. She was very kind to me and eventually I began to serve Sunday Mass at the Carmelite Convent in Terre Haute with Mr. Lundstrom, the brother of the principal of St. Patrick's, Ms. Lundstrom. Mr. Lundstrom was a member of the Discalced Carmelite Third Order and he would pick me and take me to the convent to serve Mass on Sundays. After Mass, we sometimes went to Denny's for breakfast. I'm not sure as to the reasons behind it, but on many Sundays I rode my bike all the way out on Highway 41 to Allendale road to the convent to serve Mass.

In the fifth grade, our apartment caught fire from a neighbors and my sister and I went to stay with our maternal grandparents in Michigan City, IN. During those months and in eighth grade while I was a student at St. Mary's Grade School, I served Mass at St. Mary's Immaculate Conception parish on 11th Street. I served Mass at St. Mary's for Father Zimmerman and Father Pogozelski.

In high school in New Buffalo, Michigan, I served Mass at St. Mary's of the Lake and was a member of the People of Joy, a charismatic prayer group affiliated with the parish.

Upon entering the monastery and later going into seminary, I served Mass on occasion as the need arose or as it was my turn. The early days of serving in Terre Haute hold the simple joy of being close to something very sacred. I had a sense of a reality that could only be perceived in the quiet of those cold dark churches, in the early mornings, before the lights were on, putting on the server's cassock and surplice, lighting the candles and awaiting the priest's acknowledgement to head out the sacristy door (ringing a small bell on the entrance way from the sacristy, as we did in those days).

On the humorous side, as a seminarian we went home during Passiontide and served the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels back in Gary, Indiana. The Chrism Mass is for each parish pastor to return to the cathedral to obtain the holy oils used in the sacraments for the coming year. It is a very impressive concelebrated event. On this occasion they over consecrated the wine for the service and after Mass it needed to be consumed. Several chalices were shared among the seminarians, who were also employed in filling the Chrismatory sets for each parish. The large cathedral ambries, from which each set are filled, were leaking to a minor extent and given the wine the experience took on a rather non-sacred scene. Picture a slip-and-slide in cassocks!