Posts

The Myth of Expertise | by Claire Stewart

HOPE-header

As my eyes skim headlines on relief efforts for the thousands of refugees spreading across Europe or development organizations fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or news of violence in the Middle East, my heart breaks for the suffering that plagues our world.

And yet, I rarely speak up about issues of social justice. Too often I fall prey to what I call the “myth of expertise.” I look around and see people who know so much, and I think, “What could I possibly contribute?” So I wait for a big blue genie to arrive and magically prepare me to join the conversation.

Let me tell you a secret: This genie doesn’t exist. And you don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation and engage the issues you care about.

Here are two reasons why you should dispel the myth of expertise and join the conversation before you feel you’re equipped to contribute:

  1. Change is accomplished by those who show up, not only by those who know the most. Possessing expert knowledge of an issue, while important, is only part of the grand scheme of working toward change. The talents God has given you have equipped you to make a contribution. Joining the conversation is the first step in the process of learning where your skills and talents meet the world’s needs.
  2. You’ll learn more from within the conversation than you will as a spectator. You don’t need expertise to successfully participate. Listen. Ask good questions. The first step in engaging with issues you care about is to learn. Join book clubs, travel to different cultures, or attend events. From within the conversation you’ll be better able to see how your own talents can contribute to meaningful change.

Three years ago, I began hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from friends who had experienced firsthand the injustices of the decades-old war. I knew that I cared about the pain experienced daily by Palestinians and Israelis, but didn’t know how I could contribute.

But I did, however, show up. There was a panel on campus, and I asked to help in any way that I could—manning the snack table or making posters. Then I was asked to use my organization skills to coordinate a trip to Bethlehem. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Tel Aviv, headed to a conference on an issue about which I still felt I knew nothing.

Even so, I discovered that I didn’t need to be an expert to join the conversation. By showing up and contributing in ways that I knew how, I learned far more than I ever thought possible.

Don’t fall for the myth of expertise, my friends. You don’t need to be an expert to contribute. If you feel drawn to an issue, show up with a desire to learn. I think you’ll find that there is a place for you and your talents within the conversation.

CStewart 2016 - 1

Claire Stewart serves at HOPE International, where she works with the president and executive team. She is a member of Millennial Voices for Peace, a movement promoting reconciliation and a holistic understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Claire has a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College (IL).

Education and the Debt of Potential | by Dan Cava

Cava-Post

 

As a college educator, I saw firsthand the unmistakable handicapping that occurred in students who mistook their potential for achievement.

I served for a time as an associate professor of digital filmmaking at a college in North Carolina, where degree-seeking students were required to display proficiency in the fundamentals of video production. I’ll never forget Brendan (not his real name) and his wholehearted, even confident reason for failing a class assignment. “Mr. Cava, lighting is not my thing.”

In that moment, I understood that he had made the potentially future-wrecking mistake of conflating his sense of identity with his sense of accomplishment. To this brilliant but unaccomplished young man, “being” superseded “doing.” Being a “not-lighting-guy” was more important to him than doing his course work. One day, he surmised, when someone asked him to do something that aligned with his sense of self, he would thrive. But not a day sooner.

So many of my students emerged from American public schools having attained a diploma without any sense of accomplishment. They had lived past the age of eighteen, which had somehow resulted in their graduation for high school. Their potential was not a propellant, but a great unalleviated weight. These were young men and women of all skin tones and income brackets, listless or angry or both, convinced that the system had failed them, railing against the world with hashtags, slogans, and mildly angry Facebook posts sharing very angry articles.

And they were right, the system had failed them. It had failed them by allowing them to fail themselves. The survival muscles they’d developed in high school — invisibility, complaint, detached compliance, sympathy generation, attrition (taking the same class over and over), even humor — none of these “skills” seemed capable of lifting their college grades, which only confirmed their suspicions that the machine was designed to take their money and time and reward them with futility. Somehow, the link between learned behaviors and their results had been broken. They felt they “should be good at this.” They’d been told “they could be anything.” After all, they had potential.

Indeed, they did have potential. And little else. They had been told to be all they could be, but had never been asked to do all they could do. They had attained, but they had not achieved.

In America, we have extended the amount of time it takes for a potential to incubate, to the extent that we are now in danger of overcooking it. Where other more educationally accomplished nations begin assessing and practicing career development before college, American education has pushed those critical steps into post-secondary education, just in time to be too late.

Aside from the malleable abstraction of “good grades,” we no longer expect students to have achieved anything upon graduation from high school. The hyperventilation around identity issues (“who am I?”) has so fully distracted from achievement (“what can I do?”) that students now consider their intact personhood to be an economic commodity. “I know who I am,” they think, “so why won’t anyone hire me? Don’t they know what I’m capable of?”

Personal potential is often thought of as an asset, but I wonder if we are approaching potential from the wrong end. Think about it: potential is nearly invisible, always intangible, and can appear insolvent without evidence to the contrary. Potential alone has no “currency” in the employment market until it is converted to achievement. Is anything more suspect on a résumé than a skill set that floats untethered to any correlating job experience? (“Susan, how exactly does your expertise in public relations contribute to your current position at McDonald’s?”)

Rather than thinking of potential as an asset, perhaps it should be thought of as a a kind of intra-personal liability. Potential is, in a sense, a loan from God that can only be repaid through personal achievement. The bigger the potential, the greater the need for achievement. Put another way, potential is the size of the hole that needs to be filled with accomplishments. When that hole remains unfilled, when that loan’s interest compounds under the minimum payments of poor education, low standards, false expectations, and generational entitlement, the burden of the “potential debt” gets harder and harder to bear.

The same hot air balloon that lifts the passengers when full of achievement lies heavily upon the ground when empty. And when the drag of potential becomes collective, it can slow down entire communities and even nations, as non-productive economies move away from an achievement-based systems and towards security-based systems. JFK’s “ask not” imperative becomes a quaint relic of the 1960s as people demand what is owed instead of what is earned – not what they made, but what they deserve.

The problem of unmet potential is complex, and it is foolish to downplay the role that socio-economic status, racial inequality, and cultural dynamics play in an individual’s chance at development. But ultimately, the ideal arrangement is one where the individual is given every opportunity to repay their personal “potential debt” with their own achievements.

In Joshua 5 the Israelites, on the very edge of the Promised Land, celebrate Passover on the night before God cuts off their manna supply. I love how this passage echoes the idea of achievement-based education. The Israelites had spent a long time in the wilderness working on being self-sufficient, and God propped them up while they sorted things out. But once they were ready to graduate, God throws them a celebration dinner and kicks them out of the nest. It was almost as if God was saying, “This is what we’ve been working towards, but I can’t give it you because if you don’t earn it, and you won’t be able to keep it.”

And it worked. On “that very day” (v10), the Israelites display an adaptability and culinary quick-thinking that never would have been available to them back in their wilderness or slavery days, whipping up for themselves some nice unleavened bread and roasted grain. Productivity replaced potential. “Today,” says the Lord in Joshua 5:9, “I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

After grading Brendan’s subpar work and listening to his identity-based reasoning, I pulled him aside. “Brendan, we both know you have tremendous potential. For this next assignment, I want you to forget about trying to pass this class. Instead, I want you to only focus on doing great work. Make this next assignment fantastic. Don’t worry about what you think you’re meant for, just hand me a killer video.” And wouldn’t you know it, he did. Brendan labored over the camera placement and the lighting, fine tuned the editing, and carefully mixed the audio. And the best moment for me was not when he got a great grade (which he did) or passed the class with ease (which he also did). It was this moment: On the day the assignment was due, Brendan excitedly ran up to me and said nothing about what he was good at or wasn’t good at, nothing about his likes and dislikes, and nothing about what he thought he would be in five or ten years.  Instead he said, “ Mr. Cava, let me tell you about what I did.

IMG_8798

Dan Cava is a filmmaker, film critic, author, public speaker, and college educator in Charlotte, NC, with degrees in Practical Ministry, International Studies, Directing for Film and Television.  He has over a dozen filmmaking awards and recently won a William Faulkner Literary Award for short fiction.  Dan is currently a full-time producer for a national cable network.

 

From a Life Sentence to a Life of Hope | By David Spickard

This article was originally published by David Spickard at davidspickard.com.

HAPPY main

There are many occasions in my work at Jobs for Life (JfL) when I need to stop and just listen to people’s stories. I had such a moment not long ago when I sat down with Dwight Hunter.

Dwight is a JfL graduate and owns his own cleaning business.  In 1981, he was sentenced to life in prison plus seven years for a crime he committed when he was a young man.  I have known Dwight for three years as he has become an integral part of the JfL family sharing his story to others and helping JfL sites understand the unique challenges facing men and women coming out of prison.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dwight for the JfL Podcast.  He described to me his childhood, what led to his crime, his 28 years in prison, and how the Lord has transformed him into a faithful husband, successful business owner, and committed follower of Christ.

Needless to say, I was blown away as he had never told me some of the deeper details of his story.

To give you a glimpse, I have included below a few excerpts from our conversation. (Listen Here)

Throughout the interview, I could not believe Dwight was describing the man sitting in front of me. I have learned so much from him and am thankful for the way God has used him in my life to teach me the following lessons:

  1. No one is beyond God’s reach – Romans 8 is really true.  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
  2. A simple act of care can change someone’s life forever – Dwight’s change began when he realized people cared for him.  We can not underestimate the transforming power of a thoughtful phone call, a word of encouragement, a genuine hug, or just showing up.
  3. The leaders of tomorrow are sitting behind prison walls today – Men and women in prison are not “those people.”  They are men and women made in the image of God designed with unique gifts, talents and abilities to be used for God’s glory. 98% of people in prison today will walk out of prison just like Dwight. Are we ready to receive them with open arms?  I sure hope so.

Dwight tells his story so that others will never have to face what he has faced in his life. In our interview, he provides tremendous insight for men and women coming out of incarceration as well as for those who want to help people who have returned from prison.  He also describes how he thinks about the mistake he made and reconciling with the family impacted by his crime.

When you have the time, I highly encourage you to listen to his full story here on the JfL Podcast.

Dwight Hunter podcast

Are you hopeless?  Take courage.  We serve a God who has the power to do immeasurably more than we can think or imagine.  If ever you believe your or others’ lives are beyond God’s touch, Dwight’s story will absolutely change your mind.

 

The author, David Spickard, is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Jobs for Life (JfL), a global non-profit organization that engages and equips the local Church to address the impact of joblessness through the dignity of work. He lives in Raleigh, NC with his wife, Alice, and their four children.

 

 

Surprised By a Prayer of Blessing |Isaac Barnes

IMG_4559feature

Inside a simply finished home overlooking Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura, I listened. With my voice recorder between us, I listened to Uvita and Zenon recount their previous struggle to meet their family’s needs. Blessing, the youngest of their six children, played nearby, stopping every few minutes to beam a smile in our direction, clearly aware of his charm. Captivated by this family, an earnest prayer welled up inside me:

Father, would you continue to bless this family. Provide for them above and beyond their wildest dreams. As they flourish, may they be like a river, bringing refreshment to all they meet!

To be honest, this sudden, emotional prayer caught me off guard. Where did THAT come from? Having never faced scarcity, I couldn’t relate to Zenon’s feelings of helplessness as he worked so his family could get by—but the loneliness he described sounded familiar. I remembered a past season when my work and life felt meaningless. And with little hope for change, I had felt trapped and alone. I was getting by, but I wasn’t thriving. So as I reflected further, my prayer began to make sense.

 

Created for good work

IMG_4448

At our core, we all share a common yearning—the inherent desire to not just get by, but to fully exercise our God-given skills and talents as we were created to. And as Christians, we want this flourishing—this state of thriving—not just for ourselves and our families, but for all people.

In Ephesians 2:10, we’re reminded, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Covered in His fingerprints, we most reflect our Creator when we heed His invitation to work alongside Him. But we’re constantly held back by brokenness—poverty, pride, idolatry, greed—that keeps us from fully participating in the good work God has for us. But we’re never alone as the Holy Spirit guides us, encouraging us to reflect our Creator and seek the peace and prosperity of our communities (Jeremiah 29:7).

Becoming a blessing to others

“We were known as poor people,” Zenon told me. But as I listened to their future plans, I saw a family no longer defining themselves by their loneliness or poverty. Through the support and opportunity in their savings group—organized by their church in partnership with HOPE International—both Uvita and Zenon are putting their gifts and talents to good work. Zenon used a loan from his savings group to expand his tailoring business with additional sewing machines, renting them out for more stable income. And Uvita used a loan and savings to invest in their farm, cultivating enough to feed their family and profit from the surplus! The house we sat in was built from their savings. Able to welcome guests and bring an offering to church, Zenon said, “Now I serve God well.”

 

Seeing Uvita and Zenon grow into the people God has called them to be is what I—and my co-workers at HOPE—get excited about. Because when families experience the dignity of putting their God-given skills and creativity to work, they not only provide for their needs—they thrive. Believing work is an integral part of God’s design for us, we invest in families in undeserved communities through discipleship, training, savings, and small loans that restore dignity and help families flourish.

As we work for the Kingdom, I hope we listen as the Holy Spirit prompts our prayers toward the flourishing of others, just as He instructed the priests to pray for the nation of Israel:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Isaac Barnes joined HOPE‘s writing team in 2013. Since then, he’s enjoyed telling the incredible stories of HOPE-network clients and creatively communicating about Christ-centered microenterprise development.