Saturday, July 28, 2012

That Entrepreneur/Mystic Thing

"Search" headquarters

"People love that entrepreneur/mystic thing." - Blaise Pabon, Enterprise Sales Manager, Google

Yesterday I began my morning with a visit to Google headquarters.  What a sprawling, fun set of campuses they have!  I walked through a sculpture and organic vegetable/flower gardens; the swimming pool overlooked the volleyball court and the Google colored bicycles were available to anyone who needed a ride - no keys or locks needed.  I remembered the old days of Mountain View when I used to play golf on a course that smelled bad because it was built on the top of a former garbage dump and when the Shoreline Amphitheater was one of the two best places in the Bay Area to see an outdoor concert.  I hardly recognize the place anymore.

Google was incorporated in a garage in Menlo Park in September 1998 and went public in August 2004.  It's hard to remember when we weren't able to google something on the computer.  It's not as hard to believe that I have socks and underwear, ties and shirts older than Google.  Of course, much to the embarrassment of my wife.

I wanted to visit Google mainly because of this wonderful article that was in the New York Times a few months ago that included one of my favorite quotes of all time by Blaise Pabon.  Perhaps the most succinct definition of a calltrepreneur, or at least one of my main goals as a calltrepreneur, is to have that entrepreneur/mystic thing.  The article tells the story of one of Google's most popular classes, SIY - Search Inside Yourself, which was created by an engineer named Chade Meng-Tan.  The course is designed to provide a way for Google employees to integrate their spiritual lives and the crushing demands of working in Silicon Valley.

I loved this article and two things especially stood out for me.  (What about you?)  The first was the exercise where people are asked to write non-stop for seven minutes about what their life will be like in five years.  What a wonderful way to tap into our inner wisdom and open up new possibilities for how to live our life today and tomorrow.  The second insight was SBNRR - Stop, Breath, Notice, Reflect, Respond.  Called by another name it might be called meditation, prayer or namaste.  

Meng-Tan encourages people to do "mindful emailing".  What would that look like?  I imagine putting my laughing Buddha sculpture next to my computer so I'm reminded every time I send an email to SBNRR.  Especially for those emails that have a critique or opinion that makes my blood pressure rise.

When people ask me what is this Assisi/Silicon Valley thing I am working on I like to tell them about this article and about the spiritual practices and values that are a part of many businesses and religious communities and even more so the people who work in those businesses and worship in those religious communities.  St. Francis and St. Clare had that entrepreneur/mystic thing going on; so did Steve Jobs, so does Chade Meng-Tan and, I guess, so do you.  Perhaps with a little more SBNRR we can each own it a little more. Because people love it and more importantly the world needs it.

The bicycles of Google - no locks to be found!
Whimsy amidst workaholism.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Sent You

A statute of St. Clare at the university named after her - 6189 miles from her birthplace in Assisi
David Wolpe, in his book Teaching Your Children About God, tells the following story.  A man stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world, and cried out:  "Dear God, look at all the suffering, anguish and distress in the world.  Why don't you send help!"  God responded, "I did send help.  I sent you."

I thought about this story during my first interview/visit in Silicon Valley.  I met with Dr. James Koch, the William and Jan Terry Professor of Management and Emeritus GSBI Director and Senior Research Fellow at Santa Clara University.  Dr. Koch, or Jim as he insisted I call him, was referred to me as someone who knew some things about something that I am learning more and more about - social entrepreneurship.   Within ten minutes I realized I was in the presence of a calltrepreneur.  Social entrepreneurs are people look at a social problem and use the tools of entrepreneurship, management and organization to do something to bring about change.  They are the people God sent to lead the elimination of the suffering, anguish and distress in the world.

More than ten years ago Jim Koch worked in collaboration with other Silicon Valley and world leaders to create the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) which connects experienced entrepreneurs with fledgling, high-potential social entrepreneurs from around the world.  GSBI is one of the longest running social entrepreneur training and education programs in the country.  In a few weeks the program will celebrate its tenth anniversary with the 20 students from the new class presenting their business plans/models.

The mission of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (which was founded in 1997 and is where the GSBI is based) is to accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to build the capacity of social enterprises around the world."  The stories Jim shared about the differences the 150 past students have made in the world was inspiring.  I encourage you to check out their website to learn more about the program and the people who are working on and, more importantly, doing something about world poverty, micro finance, water, and human rights.  God has sent some wonderful people indeed!

How "ironic" it is to find a program that is an example of the best intersection between business and religious/social values at a university named after the saint who dedicated her life to renouncing all material goods in service to God.  I'm not sure Clare would understand some of the management techniques or issues that are being explored but I know she would understand the need, the call to make a difference in the world.  

Thank you to Jim Koch and the millions of people that are being served and helped by the work of the people in the GBSI.  Thank you to God for keep sending people to do something about the suffering, anguish and distress in the world.   And thank you, most of all, to you for being one of those people.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fribids and Calltrepreneurs

P5 - The recently discovered fifth moon of Pluto
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph W. Emerson

I arrived in Silicon Valley today and will write more about my meetings and discoveries tomorrow.  The Hubble telescope picture of P5  above- the newly discovered fifth moon of Pluto - inspired me to tell you one of my favorite stories from my corporate days and what I hope will happen with calltrepreneurship.  Preachers like to tell stories; I think that's one of the reasons many of us get into ministry.  We get paid to tell stories at least once a week.  Maybe that's why bloggers like to blog - although the pay so far isn't as good.

I digress.  I was working at Pacific Bell in the early 1990's and taking a two-year class on sales and entrepreneurship here in Silicon Valley.  The class was intense.  We studied economics and business; we read books on leadership and biology and we practiced ways to use language more powerfully and precisely.  When we studied language I was taken with the notion that all words are made up and are ways for us to communicate and coordinate action with each other.  Perhaps this seems rather obvious to you but for some reason this blew my mind a bit.

I went to my boss at work, Tom Lehmkuhl, who was also taking the class, and told him I wanted to practice what we were learning.  I was his Tactical Manager (the titles we come up with) and I advised him what he already knew - staff meetings were boring and people weren't too excited about coming to them.  I told him we should stop having them and start having fribids instead.  He asked, what's a fribid?  I told him it was a word I invented that meant "to gather in a mood of wonder and excitement to speculate about the future."   Tom was the best boss and mentor I ever had because he encouraged my creativity and gave me the freedom to try new things and occasionally fail.  As I told him my plans he amazingly said, "go for it."

Here's what we did.  I asked my colleague, Judy Hopkins, to help me design the first fribid.  We began by holding a memorial service for staff meetings (I should have know then ministry was in my future!)  Tom gave a brief eulogy and each of us said a word or two of memory for staff meetings.  We put our thoughts into a shoebox which was a make-shift coffin and did a ritual march around the office singing an appropriate dirge like song.  For the next ten months a different member of our staff designed the monthly fribid.  We took field trips to visit customers and stores like Nordstrom's to learn how we could serve our customers better.  I think everyone looked forward to see what the next fribid would bring; I know I did.

I thought about fribids when I came up with the title for this blog.  As far as I know (and according to Google) calltrepreneurship is a brand new word.  While I don't expect it to join Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" as a new word in Webster's Dictionary, I do think it's important to let you know what it means.  Calltrepreneurship is the process of following a passion or calling, in service to something greater than oneself, and  creating and managing something (a business, a life, an organization) new.  I reserve the right to refine the definition as we go along but I hope to tell the stories of calltrepreneurs, people who listen to the divine whispers of life/God, and do something with them to make the world a better place.  The world is full of calltrepreneurs and the world is in need of the creativity, the craziness, the possibilities that calltrenpreneurship encourages.  

I don't know enough about astronomy or astrophysics to know what kind of trails Pluto's new moon will leave behind.   But I do know that our lives and actions leave trails behind us every day.  Our lives are like new words, new trails that we create ever day.  Trails that have the potential to change our lives and the lives of others in powerful and positive ways.  And we can't let our lack of the right words to get in our way.

Who are the calltrepreneurs who inspire you?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Naked Before God

"For me to be a saint means to be myself." -- Thomas Merton

I have returned home for a week before I head off to Silicon Valley for part two of my July pilgrimage.  I took the picture above on my last day in Assisi.  It represents what I think is the most important and powerful of the 28 frescoes from St. Francis' life which ring the upper church of the basilica built in his honor. The frescoes, believed to be created by Giotto, illustrate the legends and stories from Francis' life including his preaching to the birds, praying before the crucifix at San Damiano and receiving the stigmata.  The fresco shows the day when Francis renounced his worldly possessions, publicly pronounced his commitment to God and stripped naked before his fellow citizens of Assisi and God.

I saw this fresco on my first visit to Assisi three years ago and was transfixed by its beauty and its message.  Naked before God.  That is what I believe our callings as ministers and musicians, software makers and homemakers, entrepreneurs and electricians, or whatever we do that we feel we must do in the world are all about.  Being "naked before God" means giving our life over to something bigger than ourselves.  Something that requires us to be vulnerable, real and authentic to who we truly are.

Francis had a life of privilege and material wealth but there came a time when he realized it wasn't enough.  He prayed and meditated asking God what to do with his life.  He wandered in the fields around Assisi looking for answers.  They came to him from a crucifix telling him to "rebuild my church" and eventually he gave up everything he owned to follow the directions of God.

None of us are St. Francis.  We may or may not have material riches, we may pray in churches or in forests, we may not even believe in God but if we stop and take time to listen we will invited to be more of who we truly are. Having the courage to live a called life is a bit like being naked before our beloved for the first time.  We feel a bit nervous, maybe even afraid, at how we will be perceived, and at the same time we feel the excitement and joy of giving ourselves fully to another.

Francis had the courage, some might call it insanity, to strip himself bare and fully be himself in service to God.  While we may not be saints we can be inspired to do the same; to fully be ourselves.  Sometimes it will be scary, sometimes exhilarating - always it will be an adventure.   May we have the courage and the insanity to answer the call.

The square where Francis was "naked before God"

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Saints of Assisi and Silicon Valley

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" -- Mary Oliver

Let me introduce you to the two saints I'm spending much of my time with this week. You probably know one of them really well and the other maybe not so much. At least that's the way it was for me until a few months ago. The picture on the left above is the place where Francis was born in 1182. The picture below is where Claire was born in 1193. Both were born in Assisi within 400 meters of each other. Who would have known then what they would do with their one wild & precious life?

I first learned about Francis when I was in grammar school. San Francisco, where I was born and raised, is named after St. Francis and so it was a requirement that we had a brief history lesson about him. As I grew up I learned to appreciate him for his love of animals, nature and his prayer that I have kept on my desk for almost 30 years. "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...." I didn't know until recently that he was made the patron saint of the enviroment in the late 70's or much about the details of the order he started in the early 13th century. As with most famous people, his biography is much more interesting than the legends and myths that are told about him. He led a "normal" upper middle class life until he was twenty. After he spending a year in jail following his capture during a war between Assisi and Perugia, he was a changed man. A cruicifix at the church in San Damiano told him, "rebuild the church".  He sold his father's horse and cloth to give money for the repair of the church. His father was livid and demanded he stand trial before the bishop.  He was found "guilty", ripped off his clothes, publicly renounced his father and proclaimed God was his only father. He began to live as he imagined Jesus did, working with the lepers and the poor, committed to a life of poverty and preaching the good news wherever he could. He soon founded an order which grew and grew and when he died at the young age of 45 he left behind a legacy that millions of people travel to Assisi each year to try to touch.

Clare's story is not as well known. She was also born into a upper middle class family but was restless from an early age. She took a class from Francis when she was a teenager and was so captivated she ran away from home so she too could give up all her material possesions and join Francis in his work. Francis and his brothers welcomed her, cut off her hair and pronounced her a sister of the poor. Despite angry attempts by her family to take her back she stayed at San Damiano for over 40 years. She loved Francis and his example with all her heart and founded the order of Poor Ladies, eventually becoming Poor Clares.  She was as committed to a life of poverty and service as Francis was and she too was given credit for many miracles.  One of my favorites was that in her later years she was too sick to leave the convent.  One Christmas Eve she saw a vision of the service with the living creche (which St. Francis was the first to create), the music and the prayers that was being held at St. Francis' church on the wall of her cell.  In 1958 Pope Pious XII named her the patron saint of television since she watched the first "live" broadcast in the mid-13th century. (I will never watch television the same way again!)

The story of Francis and Clare is a love story.  A love story between a man and a woman who saw in each other the embodiment of the life they were called to lead. Two people who inspired and cared for each other throughout their lives. A love story between two people for God, and specificially Jesus Christ, and who gave their every breath in the hopes they could replicate his love for all creatures while renouncing the material goods of the day.  

It seems ironic that two of the busiest and wealthiest cities in Silicon Vally - San Francisco and Santa Clara - are named after these two saints who were committed to such simple lives of poverty and prayer. If you believe that the names we give people and places mean something, as I do, then perhaps it is more than ironic that these two great saints who grew up so close together are immortalized in two cities 50 miles apart. Maybe it is a reminder that we must always pay attention to the poor and the divine in our midst as we create the next innovation that will change the world or preach the sermon that we hope might change a life.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Connecting the Dots

"You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust they will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path." -- Steve Jobs

I didn't grow up wanting to be a minister. The only time I stepped into a church was when my grandmother brought me on Christmas or Easter. I grew up wanting to play baseball, preferably for the San Francisco Giants for whom my idol, Willie Mays, played. But while I hit .350 on my high school team, baseball became one of my avocations and not my vocation.

Some people, I think they are rare, know what they want to do at a very early age and then do it. Most of us have to keep trying different things until we find something that feels right. And when we find it we have to keep paying attention to the stirrings of our spirit because calls aren't fixed and static, they are alive and ever-changing. Our lives are like the connect the dots puzzles I played when I was a kid - we don't know what the picture is until we are finished.

When you look back at your life does it seem like a giant connect the dot puzzle that makes sense or does it feel like you are still in the middle of the puzzle and hoping it will make sense one day? Or maybe a little of both. If I play connect the dots with the jobs I have had in my lifetime it begins with shining shoes at age 9, delivering and then selling newspapers, working in a butcher shop, flipping hamburgers at A&W and then eventually becoming a store manager, working at the phone company in service and sales, in management, marketing and training, getting fired, going to seminary and becoming a minister. As a minister I've worked in membership and administration, three congregations, all very different, and as an Executive Director. So what does it all mean?

The last few months I've been telling people that this journey to Assisi and Silicon Valley seems like a connect the dots puzzle that I've started on and don't know what will come of it. Since I am 50% Italian and grew up in San Francisco and San Jose perhaps it is a journey home. Since I'm passionate about the lessons, wisdom and energy of business and spiritual contemplation it is an exploration into where these practices intersect for the individual and common good. Since I love travel it might just be a good excuse for two great trips.

The greatest gift, and perhaps learning, so far has been asking people to suggest books, people, ideas that come to them when I tell them what I'm doing. This has brought the connect the dots image to a whole new level. Checking out a website, talking to someone I never would have thought of, reading a book or visiting someplace that wasn't in my guidebook, all lead to a different image when the dots are connected. And if you think about it, isn't that the story of each of our lives? We are in the midst of connecting the dots and every person we meet, every place we visit, every job we have, every joy and sorrow, is a new dot that changes who we are and what we will leave behind. Sometimes we know it at the time but usually it takes a little while.

Steve Jobs said the words above in the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005. I have always known about the speech but only listened to it a few weeks ago. It is must watching/listening for anyone who aspires to be a calltrepreneur and wants to live a life following their passion and dreams. In other words it is for everyone. One of the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism asserts that we are all part of an interdpendent web, and so we are. Perhaps it is a more poetic way to say that we are each a dot or two in the giant connect the dots game of life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

La Dolce Vita

"But if a person has had the sense of the Call – the feeling that there’s an adventure for one – and if one doesn’t follow that, but remains in the society because it is safe and secure then life dries up."-- Joseph Campbell

I am a shy traveler. That may surprise some people who know me as an extroverted, talk all the time type of guy but when I get on an airplane or walk through a new city I usually keep to my self. I do smile at virtually everyone I meet but in most places, including Rome, most of my smiles fall on blank faces.

On this trip I am trying to not be quite so shy. It's hard, especially when one doesn't speak the language, but I'm trying. On Saturday I began my morning with the Eating Italy Food Tour. It was a wonderful four hour walk tasting some of the most well known and delicious taste treats in the city.

The tour was wonderful and delicious but one of the biggest joys was getting to meet Luna our Syrian/Australian tour guide and hearing her story. Luna was raised in Australia and worked for the telecommunications company there getting an MBA in the process. She was successful at her work but about ten years ago she knew in her heart she had to move to Rome even though she'd never been here. At an early age - I was too shy or too smart - to ask her how old she is, she took an early "retirement" package, left the company and moved to Rome. She spent 18 months traveling and learning Italian. She had expected her severance to last many years but it was gone before she knew it so she got a job as a tour guide at A Taste of Rome.

She is a wonderful guide whose passion and exuberance for food and Rome is contagious. She isn't sure how long she will be a tour guide or what will come next in her life but she seems ready for whatever that is.

I suppose that I enjoyed Luna's story so much because it compares a bit to mine. In 1994 after my wife got breast cancer for the first time I took an early retirement package from the telecommunications company in California where I worked. Although I was only 35 I knew I had to leave so I could be with my family as Kathleen recovered from cancer. I convinced her that we should use most of my severance package to buy a used RV and see the country with our two children who were 12 and 6 at the time (and our nephew as well.) As first she thought I was crazy - she had cancer, I had no job and it wasn't the most "secure" thing to do. But her friends convinced her it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We traveled for almost three months, traveling 10,000 miles and making memories that have never left us. My wife healed. I visited a seminary for the first time and starting thinking about one day becoming a minister. Our money only lasted about eight months so when we got back home we decided to move to Pacific Grove, California where I got a new job, found Unitarian Universalism and entered seminary within two years.

I read Joseph Campbell's words when I was in my 20's. Safety and security have their place in life but if we have heard the whispers or shouts of a call, of something we know in our hearts we must do, safety and security will never take its place. Thank God for people like Luna who radiate joy and remind us that life must be rich and full of passion. Like much of the food one finds in Roma. La Dolce Vita - to the sweet life, a life of good food, lots of love and work that feeds our spirits every day!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

There's a Little Michelangelo in All of Us

"Every block of granite has a statue in it and the task of the sculptor is to discover it."-- Michelangelo

Michelangelo was someone who discovered his call at an early age. He sculpted the Pieta when he was 24 and David when he was 29 . His work is arguably the most prolific and amazing of all time. But although I have been awed by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel and had my breath taken away by the splendor of David, it's hard to relate to a guy who was such a genius.

Which is why I love the sculpture I was so lucky to see in person yesterday. He was commissioned to do create his main patron's, Pope Julius II, tomb in 1505 but it wasn't completed and installed until 1545 in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (even though the Pope died in 1513 and is buried in St. Peter's.) Michelangelo envisioned creating one of the greatest tombs ever known with 40 ornate statues and three levels. But things like the Sistine Chapel and fewer dollars got in the way and the tomb eventually was reduced in size and scope. He still created an amazing Moses and a better tomb than most have ever seen but it was said that Michelangelo considered the diminshed tomb to be one of his greatest artistic disappointments.

Why do I love this story and this sculpture? Because I can relate to bigger dreams than what I am able to accomplish. I can relate to being disappointed when things don't turn out the way I had planned. I can relate to other things and money getting in the way of living my call, my life as fully and as passionately as I wish I could.

Every block of granite has a statue in it and the task of the sculptor is to discover it. Every human being has a call, a unique purpose and meaning, in them and the task of each one of us, with the the help of the sculptors of life and/or God, is to discover what it is. Sometimes it might even take 40 years...give or take a few masterpieces on the way.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Called Life

“To find our calling is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.  - Rev. Dr. Frederick Buechner

Welcome to my blog, which will explore, wrestle with and celebrate the hows and whys of living a “called life.” The Greek philosophers believed everyone came into life with a calling, an individual daimon or genius, and that our task in life was to fully express and share this genius, this calling with the world.  And so it is.  Hearing and living my call, learning how my deep gladness can help feed the world’s hunger, has been my life’s work, even before I knew what calling was.  I believe that it is everyone’s life work - and we need others to help us discover and express it - which is why I’m starting this blog.
Who am I you might be wondering?  A 54-year old man who was born in San Francisco and adopted at birth.  Who had his first job as a 9 year-old shoe shine boy two blocks from the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco in 1967.   Hippies and sandals were all around me which meant my first small business didn’t succeed.  I have had many different jobs and callings in my life.  I have worked in small companies and large companies.  I spent years in the telecommunications industry in sales, management, marketing and training and I have been an ordained Unitarian Universalism minister since 2000. (Calls have been my life!)  I served 11 years as a parish minister and am now the first Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.  I have been married for more than 26 years, have two adult sons, a dog and a cat.  I love baseball, both fantasy and real, all sports, traveling - especially when I can find a deal - and going for long walks listening to music on my iPhone.  I am passionate about entrepreneurship and religion/spirituality; justice and joy; humor and life and helping others discover and live their calls.
 Since jobs and work are two very important elements of the called life you will hear more about these in the coming days.  But a calling is more than a job; it is about who we are and how we wish to find meaning and purpose in life.   So many people today are striving to live lives of service and joy, passion and possibility, and gladness with the goal of feeding a hungry world.  And that is what this blog will be about.
I’m starting it now because in the past few months I have been on fire looking for the intersections between business and religion, entrepreneurship and spirituality - calltrepreneurship if you will.  More specifically between Silicon Valley and Assisi.  What can we learn from Steve Jobs and St. Francis? You may be surprised at how much they have in common and how their lives, and the lives and practices of men and women in business and religion, can inspire and teach us to live a called life.   Tomorrow I leave on a pilgrimage to Italy and California to learn more about these two magical, spiritual places and what they have to say about joy and hunger.  I will be sharing my learnings and my reflections in the days to come.  I look forward to sharing this journey, this exploration of more fully living lives of joy and purpose with you!

The tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. Credit: Don Southworth (but don’t tell anyone!)