Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tackling the big hairy topic

I'm on an energy high these days, because I've been invited to engage in a lot of important work that I'm passionate about with really great, smart, stimulating, caring people. A young woman I'm serving with asked me how I handle the overload of information that exists for a big topic that impacts society at every level. Here's what I wrote to her:

"What a very, very good question. Yes, of course, we all go into a sense of profound overwhelm, sometimes even frequently. 

Here's what I think and how I handle it.

I remember what Mother Teresa said when asked about all the poverty and ills in the world. She said that she just began with the person in front of her. That's comparable to adages like "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." 

I know that management workshops teach people to prioritize and then go to work, but I sometimes find that I can decrease my sense of inertia and anxiety simply by tackling a few small things that are directly in front of me. It's sort of like clearing a path or trimming the edges before doing the real work that's been assigned. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and refreshes my energy and ability to focus. Then, I can prioritize and be more strategic about the long list of things that I have to do.

Skimming is the only way to tackle the information overload that we face as educated people who utilize Web based resources. I use my judgment about which portions of a document, such as a recent lengthy report on Illiteracy and Innumeracy, to read. A wise female professor of management once said, "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well." Of course, the converse is also true: "Things really worth doing are worth doing well." The trick is for those of us who are perfectionists to know when to stop and move on. I try to project and allocate some range of time for my assignments so that I don't work open-ended, without end.

My purpose in surveying as much online material as I did for our committee, and I didn't list everything I read, was to develop a narrative frame from which to think and talk about our big hairy topic. I've done that in my capacity as co-chair, because I wanted to help our committee members grapple with our big hairy topic with some sense of coherence. One of the problems an entity like a national organization faces is the push and pull of many voices telling us that all their agendas are important. They are right; they're all important to someone. But, not all agendas are priorities when weighed against our limited resources of dollars, people, and time. Thus, a narrative frame becomes essential to help organize and prioritize all those topics. 

An analogy is a jigsaw puzzle, which is not a problem that one solves in a linear fashion. So, too, is tackling something like finding coherence and priorities in a topic as huge as our big hairy one. Am I making sense? A jigsaw puzzle is very frustrating in the beginning, but as the pieces slowly come together, our sense of possibility begins to overtake our sense of frustration, and the puzzle begins to form coherency.

Thank you for inviting me to think out loud with you."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Summer Hiatus is Over

I've had a lovely hiatus between the close of General Convention on July 12 and now. It's Fall, and it's time to gear up again for all the duties and assignments for which I've volunteered. Committee assignments, agenda setting, and planning meetings have begun, and I'm ready! Here's a brief recap of the summer since General Convention.

I've only attended a few church related gatherings. A major focus has been to re-engage in the local parish of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Longmont, Colorado, from which I've been routinely absent as I've traveled to serve the church in other dioceses and communities in Colorado. To that end, I'm co-chairing the stewardship effort for this year and enjoying the immersion into parish ministry. I had been invited earlier in the year to contribute a pew bulletin article for The Episcopal Church's Blessed to Be a Blessing stewardship reflection series, and my article can be downloaded here: Proper 24B: Mark 10:35-45.

(L to R) Husband Herb, son Corin, mother Frances,
grandson #2 Aidan (11), me, and grandson #1 Tristan (13)
Me and newborn grandson
Jameson Justin Stewart O'Connell,
born August 15th.
I've also tried to re-ground myself in my family and home, spending time with my son and his family as they welcomed a new baby into the family and with my husband and the other members of our household, my mother and brother. I've cooked some meals, done some laundry, and even picked some cherry plums from the yard. I know from past experience that such re-grounding doesn't happen without intentionality and follow-through.

Corin and Ashley with Jameson.
There was the overnight trip to North Platte, Nebraska, to celebrate the late Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano, who is revered as a saint in Nebraska and Colorado. Province VI's General Convention resolution to add Fr. Kano to Holy Women, Holy Men has been referred to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for further attention. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached a wonderful sermon about Fr. Kano's extraordinary response to his call to serve the church. Herb and I were joined by my Executive Council colleague from Seattle, Hisako Beasley, on the four hour drive to North Platte, and we saw many Coloradoans there as well as friends from the wider church. The only glitch was my lack of realization that there was a change in time zones from Colorado to North Platte, although much of Western Nebraska is in the Mountain Time Zone. We were consequently a bit late getting to the Eucharist.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori greets
the people after the festive Eucharist.
North Platte's Episcopal Church of Our Savior hosted a gala
banquet after a 4:00 PM festive Eucharist. Their members
folded Japanese origami cranes as symbols of peace and
honor to display along with proclamations from the governor
and other community dignataries.
My Episcopal Asiamerican Ministry colleagues, (L) Hisako Beasley
and (R) Irene Tanabe, both from Seattle.
Province VI colleague Bill Graham from Nebraska and me.
(L to R) Me, John Andrews from Nebraska, Herb, and Hisako.
Some of the Colorado contingent who traveled to
North Platte for the celebration, including
Adeline Kano (Center), daughter of Fr. Kano.
The assurance that the church year, in terms of church attendance which tends to coincide with the academic September to June year, is beginning again, came with the end of the August Standing Committee meeting at which we finalized a 2013 budget for the Diocese of Colorado to be presented to the Diocesan Convention the first weekend in October. There have also been several General Convention briefing meetings at local churches with a more comprehensive briefing scheduled for September 15 at Saint John's Cathedral from 9:00 to 11:00 AM, to which all are invited.

I am always grateful for Herb's consulting work, which provides our family's livelihood, and he had several assignments late this summer. My job is to handle the back office, from editing and formatting reports and bibliographies to time sheets and billings. This summer there was a job that included reviewing corporate financial reports, which definitely meant that I was more engaged and falling back on my financial spreadsheet analysis background. Depending on the job, I have more or less to do, but Herb is always immersed, traveling to sites and writing reports in our home office.

I've spent this week working on Stewardship, the General Convention briefing, and Executive Council committee work. I am delighted to have been appointed by the Presiding Officers to be chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission. Our committee's work encompasses social justice and public policy issues, and we are eager to get started. Executive Council's first meeting of the triennium will be held in Newark, New Jersey, from October 15 to 18, one of two four-day meetings, the first organizing meeting and the budget meeting in October, 2014. I'll be blogging regularly again and Tweeting Executive Council meetings @LelandaLee #ExCoun soon! See you then.