Millennia of Migration Muddles Modernity

For millennia on end, mass migrations have flowed over the face of the earth in trickles, ripples and tsunamis. Recorded history names each wave of migrants as a people, and it names places as the lands of the people who have lived there long enough to establish reasonable stability and control, but the idea of nations of ethnically discrete people and fixed borders is not clear at all.  That’s true even in the time of the Roman Empire.

It’s only within relatively modern times that nation states defined by exclusive ethnic identity living within fixed borders have become the norm.  Consider how long it took for the battling dukedoms and principalities of France, Germany and Italy to become singular nations.  Britain, the last frontier of westward migration is an ethnic dumping ground.  It’s only within the last several centuries that the English have confidently described themselves as Anglo-Saxon.

With that as background, consider the European settlement of what is now the United States. It began with trickles of migration the huge land could easily absorb without seriously affecting the equilibrium of the place.  That soon turned to ripples, then tsunamis of violent conquest.  Out of it came a new nation state of mixed pedigree that the early 19th century had self identified as an Anglo-Saxon nation.  The ideal of civilization itself was defined confidently as Anglo-Saxon with an American twist.  Even the most liberal of thinkers agreed it was so: Emerson and Frederick Douglas for instance.  African Americans had no voice in the matter.  Indigenous American Indians were aliens to be conquered, converted to European ways or killed.  The dominant Mexican culture of the Southwest  was a trinket to adorn the Anglo-Saxon structure.  Asian immigrants were a needed but troubling subset fairly easy to subjugate.  

Anglo-Saxon America was said to be free and open to all. And it was to all who were willing and able to adapt to Anglo-Saxon hegemony.  I don’t think there was any evil intent.  Civilization was a good thing. America should be a civilized country, and civilization was defined as Anglo-Saxon.  That was the plain and obvious way of what made for the common good.  The USA would become a nation state of Americans with a particularity like the particularities of France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, etc. woven seamlessly into the Anglo-Saxon fabric of American civilization.

Times have changed.  The ancient peoples who first settled America many thousands of years ago want a say in what it means to be American.  Millions of African descent, burdened with the history of slavery, want a say in what it means to be American. The same is true for Asians, and of a growing number of Arabic Americans.  The Mexican heritage of the West is no longer willing to be just an adornment or repository for cheap farm labor.

Will these forces destroy the Anglo-Saxon foundation that has defined everything America is and stands for?  Some are afraid it will, especially as they see White America on the way to becoming just another minority among a nation of minorities.  I wonder.  

The Anglo-Saxon foundation of American civilization is not a bad one.  It’s strongly built on high ideals and solid reasoning: exemplified by the Constitution as amended, principles of individual liberty in the interest of the common good, the virtues  of family, self reliance, accountability, etc.  In short, it’s a solid, reliable foundation on which to build.  It’s not going to be destroyed or demeaned.  But as with any foundation, the structures to be added will make improvements in the old while adding things entirely new.

What will that look like?  There are some indicators in the  ethnic  diversity of men and women in high public and private offices who endorse and exemplify the best of American ideals.  There is growing recognition that American history can be told honestly from different points of view without jeopardizing the foundation of American civilization.  There is growing recognition that integration does not require homogenization. “E pluribus unum” can be more than a slogan.

The same pressures are now facing Europe, creating the same concerns.  How can Germany remain German, or France remain French and yet absorb African and Arab immigrants of strange ways and religions?  Can England remain Anglo-Saxon if it’s flooded with peoples from its former colonies?  America is poised to help answer these questions by leading the way.  

There is an alternative.  We could follow China’s path.  China is determined that everyone will be Han Chinese and speak standard Mandarin.   There are to be no exceptions. Re-education, suppression, imprisonment and execution are the tools used to make it so.  There can be only one China, only one way of being Chinese, and that way is Han.  It remains to be seen how that will work out for them, but is it a way we would want for America?  The White Supremacist movement heads in that direction.  Even as they claim to want to save the country and its Constitution, they favor authoritarian rule, the very antithesis of all that America stands for.  

By The Numbers: Is it OK to use violence to “save the country?”

Here are some very rough numbers that might help create context for discussion.

The U.S. population is about 331 million, of which roughly 252 million are of voting age.

Of the voting age population, about 63 million self identify as Republicans (Gallup, Dec. 2021)

Some 24% of them say they are OK with violence as a way to “save the country.”  That’s about 15 million, a huge number to be sure.  But there are are over 230 million who are not OK with that.  

How to interpret it is unclear, but it does raise dozens of questions worthy of discussion.  Don’t get hung up on the math.  The numbers are roughly right and exactly wrong.  They merely point to more important things.

It’s Still Epiphany: Take A New Look

We have entered the odd season of Epiphany that lasts from January 6, to Ash Wednesday, this year on March 2.  What purpose the season serves isn’t entirely clear to many regular church goers.  Is it simply a midwinter break between Christmas and Lent?

No, it’s an important season of the Christian year that prepares us for the spiritual work of Lent.  In what way?  Let’s start at the beginning. Epiphany,  always twelve days after Christmas, falls on January 6 and celebrates not the visit of the magi, but the Light of Christ that drew them to Bethlehem. It’s the light they carried with them into their own lands, far distant and foreign to the people of Judea and Galilee.  

Scripture readings in the weeks that follow explore how the Word of God made known in the Light of Christ extended into the Mediterranean world beyond the domains of Jerusalem and its people.  

The movement of God’s Word into the greater world celebrated in the season of Epiphany has its antecedents in Hebrew Scriptures rich with anticipatory examples.  Ruth from Moab, the Queen of Sheba, the Sidonian widow, Namaan the Syrian general, the City of Nineveh, and the diaspora of Jewish settlements all over the eastern Mediterranean world.  God’s Word was never limited to the land of Israel, nor were other peoples excluded from receiving it. What changed with the birth of Jesus is the light of God’s Word made flesh came to illuminate not some but all in every time and place. The gospels record Jesus engaging with, healing and teaching Roman soldiers, foreigners from Sidon, Samaria and the Decapolis. Each was an example for his disciples to follow as they spread the Light of Christ into the whole of the Roman Empire.  

Readings and sermons that fill the Epiphany season are intended to inspire us to continue the work of carrying the Light of Christ into the world.  But it would be a mistake to think that what was done in the first century Roman world is what we are supposed to copy in our own day. It is holy guidance for reminding us that, as by our baptism we are under holy obligation to carry the Light of Christ according to the needs and conditions of our day. The odd season between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday should be a time of exploration and examination.  In what ways can the Light of Christ be made brighter in our own troubled times?  

It’s a time for creative thinking.   Some old ways no longer work, some need to be restored to usefulness, and some discarded.  Exciting new ways need to be employed with skilled enthusiasm.  Most especially, we cannot presume that we are the only enlightened ones taking the Light of Christ into deepest darkest wherever.  Evangelical fervor has too often assumed that the Light of Christ was to be wrapped in the cultural and social standards of one’s own native land.  It wasn’t subtle:  Europeans were civilized, no one else was, The Light of Christ was subordinated to expanding Western cultural hegemony with all of its prejudices.  Learning to be powerfully humble in the way of Archbishop Tutu may be our biggest challenge.   The second challenge may be the recognition that we are not called to take on burdens added to the ones we already carry.   God is not asking us to do something else, but to do what we are already doing in a new way with the Light of Christ shining more brightly in the process.  

In short, this is a season in which to explore what it means to bear the Light of Christ into the world if we never leave our own backyards or travel the face of the earth.

In a way, Epiphany prepares us for a different kind of Lenten discipline.  What does that mean?  Lent is a time for self examination, confession, and amendment of life.  The usual practice is to give up something, take on something, and attend church more often.  The tone is somber.  It’s very personal.  It’s not bad, but a Lent extending from Epiphany adds something new to it.  In what ways could we remain our authentic selves, yet do better at bearing the Light of Christ in the year ahead?  Is our congregation a beacon of Christ’s light for the community, or is it an exclusive club for members only?  Is our outreach in Christ’s name? Are we true to the call of discipleship to be followers who trust Jesus to lead us, or do we put our primary loyalties somewhere else?

These are difficult questions that are not going to occupy the minds of most church goers, but they are questions that could inspire the minds of pastors and teachers as they lead others through the forty days of Lent.  

Recruiting and Keeping Employees: a new-old way

Recruiting and keeping workforce is much in the news these days. The Great Resignation, Ghosting or whatever, the fact remains that many businesses are finding it very difficult to recruit and retain employees, especially in entry level and lower tier positions. 

There are a few obvious problems that come to mind: a low unemployment rate, a population aging out of the work force, low population growth, and shutdowns of immigration.  But there seems to be more, demographics can’t explain everything.   Something’s wrong with the relationships between employers and employees. Whatever sense of bonding there once was has been dissolved. 

There’s been a lot of speculation about what’s going on.  The answer may lie with a management theory, based on disreputable research, made popular in the early 1960s.  In 1958, Frederick Herzberg published a ground breaking piece based on his work with engineers and accountants at a large GE factory.  He claimed there were two stages to keeping and motivating employees.  

The first stage he called hygiene factors.  These were things like pay, benefits, working conditions, policies and procedures, safety, quality of supervision, and decent relationships with coworkers.   They established the baseline to be met for employees not to be dissatisfied with their jobs.  They were not motivators, but they were necessary to avoid wide spread employee dissatisfaction.  

The second stage Herzberg called motivators.  Motivators included the nature of the work itself, having a sense of purpose worthy of one’s time and effort, the sense of achievement valued by others, recognition from management that workers were valued assets to the company, that there were opportunities for growth and advancement, interesting, challenging work that fed the need adults have to exercise responsibility.

It sounded great, was widely published, and found its way into most management curricula.  The problem was that the research on which it was based didn’t hold up to scrutiny.  It was, in short, an invalid study.

However, things can be invalid and yet true.  In the 64 years that have passed, empirical evidence has piled up to suggest, despite the error of his ways, Herzberg was probably right. 

Good pay and decent benefits are not enough to motivate anyone.  They are necessary baselines.  That’s all.  In fact, no company or boss can motivate anyone, but they can create conditions in which employees find their own motivation.  Establishing those conditions is what Herzberg labeled as motivators.  Sadly, over the last four decades or so, employees have come to be treated as disposable commodities, modern day serfs, especially at the bottom end.  It’s the feudal mentality of work or starve – no one owes you anything more than that.  

Whether it was the pandemic, four years of Trump, demographic changes, new technologies, or some wild and crazy combination of everything, we may never know, but employees appear to have risen up spontaneously to demand that if jobs are to be filled and turnover reduced, employers must provide the needed hygiene factors and the desired motivating conditions.

Hard core conservatives hope this form of foolishness dies out, and soon, so the economy can return to a more servile, less demanding workforce.  Biden’s Build Back Better Plan would throw a monkey wrench into their hopes.  Keeping it from passing might very well help them realize their desires.  If so, it will continue the process of relegating The United States of America to second tier status on the world stage, but it would help keep power and wealth in the hands of a few.

We are unlikely to ever return to the norm of life long employment in one discipline or for one employer.  We do have the possibility of using Herzberg’s ideas as the foundation for a 21st century set of norms opening to   workers a life of opportunity and contentment. It would be a move toward restoring the foundations of loyalty between employer and employee.  It can’t be done if the only measure of success is the quarterly report and bottom line.  It can’t be done if business owners ascribe to themselves all rights and privileges while treating employees as replaceable commodities. 

Look at it this way.  You cannot buy anything these days without getting a customer satisfaction survey in the mail or a request to fill one out online at the bottom of every receipt.  No matter that most surveys are thinly veiled marketing gimmicks, the fact remains that we have been led to expect to be satisfied and to report on it.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that employees are thinking, if customer satisfaction is important, then why not treat my status as employee the same way.  The old ways won’t work.  Coating them with sugar and spice doesn’t make them new ways.  It’s time to move on to a new way of thinking about employment.  The result, I think, will be a better national economy able to lead the world  into a more prosperous future for all.  

Final note:  For several decades I was among those teaching this stuff to managers.  They all loved it, eagerly adopted the vocabulary, and changed their practices not one iota.  The cult of libertarian individualism, to the exclusion of all else, had too great a hold. Let’s hope for a different outcome this time.