Monday, October 19, 2015

Brokenness and Love

Between the searching and the need to work it out
I stop believing everything will be alright
We are broken
I'm walking uphill being turned around and round
Secret in motion when my feet are on the ground
We are broken
In my mind's eye
One little boy anger one little man
Funny how time flies
Tears for Fears

How are we to understand and respond to these recent tragic shootings in our world?  What are we to do to protect ourselves from further and future harm?  Polarized political positions that present themselves as mutually exclusive when democracy depends on compromise only add fuel to a fire that has already burned too long….. and I feel the heat rising.

With each new shooting, both sides use the tragedy as evidence to support their intractable stances in a standoff debate while obscuring the deeper truth that the real problem is not in our having too many or too few guns.

The real problem is us…….

The Bible tells us that “hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.  Yet man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7).  Looking for something or someone outside ourselves to blame, we fail to see that the brokenness out there in the world is nothing more, and nothing less, than the brokenness within us, writ large. 

If we only see the brokenness of the world “out there” without acknowledging the brokenness of the world "in here,” inside ourselves, we can never really understand.  And, in the absence of knowing this brokenness personally, we are doomed to living in the fear of that which we do not understand.

But, when we acknowledge our common human condition, our common capacity for both good and evil, both light and darkness; when we acknowledge that there were 10 tragic losses of life and not 9, embracing our common future and common fate in a world that is unavoidably ours to share, then – and only then – can we see our way forward, see our way out.  For the answer to darkness in not more darkness, nor is the solution to meet violence with more violence.  Instead, the only “force” that can bring light to the darkness and healing to the brokenness that is both within and without, is love.

Not a Pollyannaish Love, not a Hallmark Card Love, but instead……………

A love that holds a person accountable, but more as a son than an enemy

A love that reaches out with friendship so that no one’s thoughts can lead them to a sense of isolation or abandonment

A love that reaches out with generosity so that no one’s poverty can lead them to desperation

A love that reaches out with forgiveness so that no one believes themselves to be beyond help, or hope

A love that reaches out with balm for body and mind because no one is beyond healing

A love given to enemies as if they were friends, a love given to others as we would want to be loved ourselves

Because, when we really know the brokenness, and when we really know the power of love given or withheld, we will at the same time know that the heaven or hell of this world is of our own making.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

At Our Best

So here I am, sitting in a folding chair on the putting green at Mallard Creek Golf Course, writing my monthly President’s Report during my break between my welcome and closing comments while everyone else is playing 18 holes of golf at our LBCC Foundation Annual Golf Tournament.  In front of me are a couple of large lawn tents under which we will have our closing luncheon and program at somewhere around noon, while off to my right is the burned out shell of the lodge that was supposed to be there for us….. but now isn’t.

Stuff happens (there’s another way of saying this that perhaps makes for a more powerful statement but, for my purposes here, the word “Stuff” will suffice).

Buildings burn down, budgets are cut, adversity comes from unexpected places, the sun clouds over and the rains fall.  This is the “Stuff” that happens and, for some, this is the stuff that defeats.  But here I am at a golf tournament fundraiser that feels more like a family event because the challenge of pulling this off has pulled us closer together….. players and sponsors and volunteers and golf course staff all together because it isn’t really about the game or the prizes or the lodge that is a total loss.  Instead, we gather on this beautiful crisp morning because we believe in the difference that a particular community college makes in students’ lives and in the communities that are ours to share. 

Over this summer I finally had the time to read Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, and in it I saw the characteristics that I think contribute to LBCC’s success: the right size for being nimble and quick on our feet, a passionate sense of why we are here, and a willingness to draw together when “things” happen.  Like a golf tournament that rises to the challenge and finds something deeper and wider than just a game, like David who defeats Goliath because he believes in something more than Goliath does, we at LBCC find our success not in our circumstances but in our character.  And it is in this realization that we are at our best.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Outcomes Funding and Mission: How We Can Move the Dial on 40-40-20

In October of 2001, Jim Collins published his most popular book to date, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap….. and Others Don't, describing and demonstrating for us some of the critical ways in which organizations can successfully adapt and advance in a rapidly changing technological, economic, and social environment.  But, with numerous examples of the successful implementation of these principles in corporations across the USA and even across the world, I and many others have nonetheless wondered about their application to the not-for-profit and social sector.

Like most of us, I have read Collin’s book but, more recently, I also had the opportunity to meet and discuss with him some of the principles for great organizations that he presented in his book, and it was on this question of applicability to the social sector – and especially to education – that we focused our conversation.  Collins referred us to his 2005 Monograph, a supplement to his book Good to Great entitled Good to Great and the Social Sectors, wherein he noted a number of ways in which public colleges differ from for-profit businesses, two of which I want to focus on here: Differences in Leadership, and Differences in the Relationship Between Mission and Money.

Differences in Leadership

  • Whereas the CEO of a for-profit business has the power to make and implement any decision she chooses (what Collins calls “Executive Leadership”), the power of a college President is more contingent upon internal ownership and support (“Legislative Leadership”).  For a college to change its direction, sense of purpose, goals, or even the processes by which those goals are pursued, a president must engage in and attempt to steer the formal and informal community convenings and  conversations by which such decisions are given efficacy.  Bargaining, leveraging, and negotiating trade-offs are all part of being a president, but the true power of this role comes in being able to tell stories and form images that capture and then coalesce the emotional energy of those who make up that community, that college.  Always messy, always incomplete, this nonetheless is the work of the effective legislative leader. 

Differences in the Relationship Between Mission and Money

  • Whatever else may be the “mission” of a for-profit business, making money is at the core of this purpose.  Money is “invested” with the explicit expectation that money will be made – Return on Investment (ROI).  But, for the not-for-profit, Mission is almost never connected to money, making the connections between “investment” and “mission attainment” much more difficult to effect, or even discern.  ROI becomes a much more complicated calculation.

So, what does all this have to do with Outcomes Funding?  Well…………

Outcomes Funding is most often presented in terms that reflect a belief in what academics call Resource Dependency Theory – the idea that changing the sources and configurations of financial inputs will result in an organization’s adjustment of external coalitions and internal practices in order to stabilize and maximize these financial inputs.  This makes intuitive sense and, for the most part, seems to hold true when we look at for-profit businesses: Companies DO adapt to maximize profits, ROI.

But, when we try and apply this principle to the not-for-profit/Social/Education sectors, the dynamics of Resource Dependency Theory in general and, I believe, Outcomes Funding in particular, begin to break down.  And here’s why……

Resource Dependency Theory is explicit in its recognition that its impact is limited to BEHAVIORS and not BELIEFS.  Changes in Resources will tend to have the effect of changing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of an organization in order to stabilize and maximize the benefit from these changes in Resources, but it will have little or no effect on the “deeper processes” of an organization, such as its sense of purpose, or Mission.   Of course, for organizations where profit – or ROI – IS the purpose, this does not create any problems, any conflict.  In fact, for these organizations, Resource Dependency Theory actually EXPLAINS the relationship between Mission and organizational behavior.  But for the not-for-profit where Mission has nothing to do with profit (as Collins notes in his 2005 Monograph), such organizational manipulation via changes in resources often creates a tension between Practice and Purpose and, even when  you are successful in changing SOPs, the efficacy of these changes is severely limited by  that tension.  In short, you cannot effectively incentivize an organization to accomplish something that it does not believe in. 

So, what can we do to “move the dial on 40-40-20”?  I believe the answer lies in the work of Simon Sinek, author of the 2011 book Start With Why.  As he suggests, in order to make effective and lasting change in an organization, you have to start by asking – and answering – the question of WHY that organization exists.  What is its Purpose; What is its Mission?  And, as Collin’s work suggests, answering these questions for the not-for-profit organization is NOT accomplished by edict, administrative decision, or legislative mandate.  Instead, it takes the kind of “legislative leadership” that focuses on capturing and then coalescing the emotional energy of those who make up that organization, that tells stories and forms images that make it possible for the organization’s members to gather around a Purpose that they believe in enough to pursue.  (If you doubt the need for this affective approach to organizational change, I’d like to suggest you read some of Jonathan Haidt’s work, especially his most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2013).) This is hard and difficult work.  But I believe that, when given the guidance, support, and time necessary, our college presidents can lead what I refer to as the “Passionate Persistence in the Pursuit of Purpose” that is essential to our collective success.  But we have to “Start with Why” and not with “What” or “How.”

In the end, when we together do the hard work of forming a collective Purpose that reflects a commitment to 40-40-20, then Outcomes Funding becomes not an incentive to do something we might not otherwise do but a resource that enables us to pursue something we already believe.  And this is how we will experience success.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Educational Pathways and Destinations: Journeys that We Share

Let’s be honest…….  As much as we might encourage our students to have a clear sense of purpose and direction as they try and navigate their educational pathway – and we SHOULD encourage this! – we all know that their reality can quite frequently be a meandering route to destinations not yet fully known.   This “wandering” describes two recent community college graduates, and two of my best friends……  Chris, and Chris.

Chris #1 is a graduate of Clatsop Community College; AAS in Historic Preservation and Restoration.  But that’s not where he started.  Chris’ pathway includes a year at Central Oregon Community College with no specific degree in mind, two separate stints at OSU in pursuit of a Forestry degree, and then finally a completion at Clatsop.  Post-graduation, Chris has frequently availed himself to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) services here at LBCC and he now owns his own historic window restoration company here in Albany.  Chris also works as a part-time faculty for the program at Clatsop from which he graduated.

Chris #2 is a graduate of Central Oregon Community College; AGS.  But he started at Clatsop Community College, pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice.  While attending there, Chris was working as a volunteer fireman and so, when the Criminal Justice path didn’t seem to be working out, he changed directions to focus on an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate and a degree in Fire Science.  He completed the EMT and then transferred to Central to pursue his Fire Science degree.  Close to what would have been the final term of his program Chris again changed direction, gathering what he had already completed into an Associates of General Studies and then transferring to an on-line Bible College, from which he will receive his Bachelor’s degree in just a few months.  Chris now works as an Assistant Pastor for a church in Bend.  

Last weekend, these two young men joined me at my place outside Randle, Washington to help me take down a large maple tree that was diseased and dying.  As I spent this time with them, grateful for their help AND for the tree felling skills they have acquired through their firefighting and forestry backgrounds, I became deeply mindful of the powerful bond that has developed between them and me over the past decade.  And I saw in these bonds the role that my life has played in their successful, albeit circuitous, educational journey.  

While Student Success and Completion will and must most certainly involve well-designed pathways, quality instruction and effective guidance & services, all organized around clear and compelling goals, at the core of our students’ success will be the relationships we are willing to share with them.  In our classrooms, in our offices, in the LBCC Courtyard and in the Communities around us, our personal involvement in their lives plays a critical role in their journey, and in their arrival at a destination that makes the difference in their lives that they seek, and we seek for them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Built A Sauna

Over the past couple of months I have finally taken on and completed a project I have thought about and procrastinated on for years….  I built a sauna.  8’ x 10’ with a small porch, wood-fired stove, and an interior complete with cedar benches and tongue-and-groove paneling, it’s pretty much everything I (and my sauna-loving friends!) dreamed of…..

And, in the process of building my sauna, I discovered something that once eluded me but now seems so self-evidently clear…. Saunas are not “built;” they are formed.  Formed out of the collective human labor of those who construct it, formed out of the collective human sweat of those who bathe in its heat.  Formed, because at its very essence, a sauna is not a building or a room but instead, a community.  And, more often than not, a community of men.

I didn’t understand this until my friend Chris and I began to build, and I began to read a book he loaned me, The Sauna, by Rob Roy.  Yes, the book is all about the varieties of construction methods employed to build these peculiar little places made sacred by the Finns.  But, behind all of the details about cord wood, stone, sod, glass and cast iron and heat, the book is really about a relationship that develops between the people and the space of their creation….  and about the relationships that develop out of that created space being shared. 

This understanding was confirmed when I was then introduced to a PBS documentary movie entitled Steam of Life .  A couple of on-line film synopses:
From a land of long, dark winters comes Steam of Life, a moody, comic and moving study of Finnish men as framed by the national obsession with the sauna. There, they come together to sweat out not only the grime of contemporary life, but also their grief, hopes, joys and memories.

Both physically and emotionally naked, the sweaty men talk in detail about their experiences, their ambitions, their failings, their darkest secrets and biggest fears, often with a few drinks handy to keep the conversation flowing. The result is a film that offers a look into a unique side of Finnish culture as well as an insight into the male psyche that's universal.

Could my sauna be a place such as this?  Could such a space help even we American men to reconnect to our common humanity, to our common destiny, and to each other?  Perhaps, with this in mind, one of the film’s viewers posted this comment: “May I suggest that Congress, the Senate, and the Administration might benefit from taking weekly communal saunas.”


You can view the trailer to Steam of Life at

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Power of Rumor

The Power of Rumor

Many of you may know that I spent a year of my undergraduate schooling in Canada, at a small private junior college just outside Vancouver, BC….. It was a year that changed my life direction. It was there that I learned something about the possibility (necessity!) of meaning and purpose beyond myself, about the value of an advisor who was willing to mentor me (priceless!), and it was there that I also learned something about the power of rumor.

While in BC, I developed a deep (but platonic) relationship with another student, a woman whose name I cannot now remember but whose face I can see as clearly as I did 40 years ago. We shared stories of life and love and our dreams yet to be realized, and we were both just “geeky” enough to be able to draw close to each other without it ever turning to romance…. what a privilege to have a true female friend!  Finished with my year there, I returned to the US and she went back to her Canadian home somewhere in Alberta (I think), and that was the end of it…. until I got a letter from another friend telling me that my female friend was pregnant under less than ideal circumstances. Oh, I remember how distressed I felt at thinking about what she must be going through and it didn’t take more than a minute before I was writing a long letter to her, telling her how much I believed in her and would support her in any way I could….. About a week later I received a letter in response to mine, explaining that she wasn’t pregnant, never had any reason for her (or anyone else!) to believe that she was, but nonetheless so very grateful for the support that I had extended to her. Boy, was I embarrassed (and relieved!)

So, what did I learn?
  • I learned that the half-live of a rumor is directly related to the scandal associated with it.  No one even thought to spread a rumor about the platonic nature of the relationship I had with my friend, or about how we were learning so much about ourselves by sharing our thoughts and experiences with each other.  But a rumor about an untimely pregnancy spread like wildfire, even without the aid of social media!
  • I learned that not every rumor is true.  In fact, most of them aren't.  The truth of our lives is seldom as interesting as the stories that can be made up, and reality seldom lends the strength of support that we seek for our purposes.
  • I learned that, as weird and uncomfortable as it might feel, going to the source is the best way to know the truth.  Inquire instead of assume.  Not only do we learn the truth, but we build clearer lines of communication and stronger relationships in the process.  Rumors are the product of “talking about” instead of “talking with” and have a corrosive effect on both relationships and community.  
So, what rumors have we heard lately?  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mentors and Moments

Ronald Ray Hamann
July 24th, 1933 – September 22nd, 2013

It has been said that boys do not grow up to become men on their own, but instead are prodded and guided by people and events that demonstrate to them that the change is worth its while.  Adult male mentors are a key to a boy’s maturation process, as are those critical moments that cause a boy to wonder about things beyond themselves….. things like purpose.   The death of my father brought mentor and moment together.

What did I feel when my dad died?  What thoughts have I had when I think about who he was in my life and the void that is now there in his death?  The best way for me to make sense of my feelings and thoughts is to write about them, so I volunteered to write his Eulogy……
- - - - - - -

Born on July 24th, 1933, Ronald Hamann was the first child of Henry and Loretta Hamann, older than his identical twin brother, Donald, by only a few minutes.  Over the next decade the family grew with the addition of two more sons, Gordon and Arlyn, forming the workforce for the family-run dairy farm in Hardwick, Minnesota that they and the generations after came to see as the Hamann homestead.

It was while still in high school that Ron met Gerri DeVries.  Football player meets pep band trombonist, and the rest is history.  On August 5th, 1952 and at the tender age of 19, Ron and Gerri were wed.  Nine months and three days later their first son, Greg, was born.  Then, following a familiar family pattern, over the next decade Ron and Gerri added three more sons to their family, Bob, Randy, and Rich.

While Ron and Gerri started their life together on the Hamann homestead, they were not destined to be farmers.  Over the years, the growing family moved from Hardwick, to Minneapolis, to Mohall (ND), to Redwood Falls (MN), to Minneapolis again, and then finally – in the spring of 1964 – to Bloomington, while Ron went to school, became a Medical Technologist, went to school again, became a high school teacher, and then went to 3M as a quality control engineer and teacher/trainer.  He retired from 3M after 29 years of service there.

Throughout all the years, all the moves, all the careers, and all the changes, the two constants in Ron and Gerri’s lives have been their love for each other and their love for the Lord.  Always active in church and making a daily practice of family devotions and prayer around the dinner table, they demonstrated to their four sons their firm conviction that God was the anchor and guidepost for their lives.  And, over time, each of the four sons came to accept and acknowledge this for themselves.

There is a long list of people by whom Ron is “survived,” but here’s the short version:
  • Gerri, wife of 61 years who proclaims that “Ron was the only man I ever loved,”  the truth of which has been evident throughout their life together.
  • Greg, who went on to marry Rita, and have been blessed with their adopted son, Mike.
  • Bob, who went on to marry Kathy, and they have been blessed with a son and a daughter, Zach and Erin.
  • Randy, who whet on to marry Peggy, and they have been blessed with four children, Kristi, Mike, Brandon, and Ryan.
  • Rich, who went on to marry Deb, and they have been blessed with two sons, Trevor and Nathan.
  • Nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, brothers Gordon and Arlyn, and a cat named Stash.

Ron is also survived by memories that his wife and sons hold dear:
  • His famous sayings like “If a little is good, a lot is better,” and “Oh, my achin’ back,” and “That’s not good for your gizzard.” (His sons would come to question their dad’s knowledge of human anatomy as they grew older….)
  • Images of him walking around the house in his “tighty-whities” with a hair comb stuck under the elastic band.
  • Wrestling with him and being tickled until we cried……..

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ron is "survived" by more than a list of people.  He is survived by the indelible mark his faith has made on those around him.  His wife, his sons and their families, the family at Oxboro Church, and other friends and neighbors too numerous to count, all saw something of Christ in Ron and, at least in part because of the example of his faith, many chose to join Ron in a journey of life that survives even death.