The Trinity – easy as apple pie?

Homily preached on the Feast of Gregory of Nyssa

March 10, 2020

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Matthew 23:4

We might call Matthew 23 a chapter of rebukes in the Bible. Jesus spends a great deal of time addressing the disciples and his followers, educating them on what truly following the law looks like — and it is not the way those in power tend to follow the law. The Pharisees and the scribes claim the very power of the law of Moses for themselves and yet impose it restrictively on those who are less fortunate, othered, whom they have oppressed and who have no possible way to free themselves from it or pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

That story sounds a bit familiar. It sounds like the abuse of power. It sounds like what minority people and those seen as “less than” or “other” have been suffering for centuries. It sounds like deception at work. I’m pretty sure Jesus was opposed to deception and abuse of power.

Today we celebrate the feast of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, born about 334 in Caesarea in modern-day Turkey. Gregory was a great thinker and philosopher, grouped with two others (his brother Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus) to be known as the Cappadocian fathers. The Cappadocians were strong influencers in the development of early Christian theology, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, supporting the Nicene Creed, and they are highly respected in both the East and the West.

I seem to be drawn to bishops who were all but forced into their positions. Martin of Tours is my patron saint and his mentor was Hilary of Poitiers, who I preached about a few weeks ago. Both of them were pretty much dragged into being consecrated by the people because of their spiritual gifts, personalities and leadership skills. Gregory’s brother Basil made him take the call of Bishop of Nyssa to support Basil in his own struggle against the Emperor Valens. Basil was skilled politically in addition to being a strong theologian and wanted to strengthen his position by placing his brother, of like mind, nearby.

Although Gregory had the gifts of a great theologian, he knew he was a terrible administrator and, according to a Great Cloud of Witnesses, describes his ordination day as the most miserable of his life. As if fulfilling his prophecy, he was falsely accused of stealing funds from the Church and exiled for two years until Valens died. Wow, ordination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?

Despite his brother’s dominance of him, Gregory suffered when Basil and then his sister, Saint Macrina, died. As often happens as a result of crisis, Gregory was transformed. Through his loss and deep discussions with his sister in her last days, he became a soulful more philosopher and theologian.

One of his greatest contributions to theology was his writing on the Trinity. He insisted on a law of the universe that the triune God is one in three parts, all three being equally divine but bearing different roles. He was not so focused on the relationship between the roles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but felt the urgency of making it known they were one and of the same substance.

Gregory was a contemplative and somewhat of a mystic. The focus of some of his writing was on the mystical life of Moses, not the law. In the Life of Moses, Gregory speaks of three stages of spiritual growth: ignorance, illumination, and finally a darkness of the mind in mystic contemplation of the God who cannot be comprehended. Gregory was not for using the law to oppress people or impose burdens on them too great to bear. In fact, Gregory was known as a supporter of a philosophy called universalism that to this day is controversial in Christianity (not so much in other world religions).

Unlike the Pharisees’ focus on ego and grandeur, Gregory believed that all would be redeemed in God’s time, that none is sentenced to damnation for eternity. This belief ties into psychologist Carl Jung’s assessment of the Trinity. Jung always felt that the mystery was incomplete based on the importance of numerology in the Bible and in his work with symbols, because it is three and not four, a symbol of completion and transcendence. Jung sometimes spoke of the missing fourth element as the divine feminine and sometimes as the principle of evil, according to Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst John Sanford, in his book, Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John.

Sanford writes of the practical matter behind the Trinity, “How can human nature be changed, renewed, redeemed and brought to its ultimate destination?” He goes on.. “A difficulty with the doctrine of the Trinity is that it involves such abstruse theological arguments that few people indeed are able to understand them.” There was also the idea in the early Church, according to Sanford,  that the archetype of the Trinity was in the human psyche. Gregory “argued that the human being also had a triune nature, embodied in the soul (psyche), word (logos), and mind (nous). He believed that within the human psyche the nature of the triune God could be inferred. Phew, that is getting deep, isn’t it? I feel like most clergy people I know on Trinity Sunday…

Matthew Fox, in his book the Coming of the Cosmic Christ, writes of the importance the Cappadocian fathers’ work. The most important thing I learned from that book and what has followed me in my Jungian studies is what we can do to bring Christ into the world, to bring about the second coming. Our role is critical and that, according to Gregory, is to “mirror forth the presence of the creating logos,” which is Christ. In Jungian terms it would be to do our inner work – to nurture the Christ within, to make ourselves whole in order to make the world whole. Really, Pharisees and scribes, to say getting bogged down in ourselves and oppressing others is missing the mark is the understatement of a lifetime.

The Trinity is a hard concept to grasp, after all. But we are grateful to Gregory and his brother and friend for their great work and insistence on the oneness of the Trinity, for it is indeed our faith’s great life-giving mystery.

Thank you, Gregory, for your contributions to our life-giving theology, that by recognizing the divinity in each of us, all of us, not burdening or oppressing each other, we might transform the world with the force that is love.

So, I thought we’d end with storytime. I stand before a room filled with clergy and deep thinkers and hope to offer you a theology lesson from a children’s book. How many of you know this book? (Picture of God: 3-in-1). It’s really fun to pull out from time to time and rethink the metaphor of the Trinity as an apple. I think every preacher should have a copy. I invite you to close your eyes and meditate on this metaphor. Or if you like, you can keep your eyes open and take in the illustrations… (WARNING: this book contains patriarchal language and substitutionary atonement. It can be adapted in a useful way of teaching the Trinity. My hope is that you will be able to listen and appreciate the metaphor into the framework in which you best understand the Trinity).

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nyssa, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen

Monks in the World

1 John 3:2-3

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 

John 1:13

… to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Today we commemorate John Cassian, who, according to A Great Cloud of Witnesses, struggled with the problems of living the Christian life in a time when the world seemed to be falling apart.

Don’t we know that guy? He goes to my church, right?

No, he doesn’t go to any of our churches, but we do know him.  If he is not me or you, then he is my friend or your father or someone’s neighbor. He could be a priest. The only reason we don’t know John is because he died in the year 435 in Marseilles, France, but we do know him. John spent his life working to find balance in discerning how the human in each of us could help integrate the soul in each of us and prepare to truly know God.

What could be more relevant for us today? How do we live as Christians when the world doesseem to be falling apart? There is a reason the top three priorities of The Episcopal Church under Bishop Curry’s leadership are creation care, racial reconciliation and evangelism. There is a reason our own Bishop Sutton’s priorities include building a community of love, mentoring our city’s youth, and ending gun violence, among others. The world seems to be falling apart… In order to seek wisdom on living the Christian life when the world seemed to be falling apart, John Cassian, born in Romania is the year 365, set out from home for a monastery in Bethlehem and later went to Egypt to seek the wisdom of the desert fathers, the nearly church leaders who withdrew from the world to be closer to God.

With them he learned tradition of asceticism. Ascetics withdraw from the world to live an ascetic life, which includes imposing sometimes sever forms of self-discipline and avoiding all forms of indulgence. What could be more relevant for us today?

So I’m kidding but not kidding. Some ascetics live in solitude and some in community in monasteries, not entirely alone. But there is a form of asceticism called worldly asceticism where people live lives of self-discipline and limited indulgence but do not withdraw from the world. I think that could work.

There has been a concept in the world of spirituality in the past couple of decades described as being a monk in the world or a mystic without a monastery. This concept has fascinated me. I am one of those church nerds that has a part of me with a strong desire to live in a monastery, because I think that life would offer simplicity, intimacy with God, a community of love, and peace. On the other hand, I want to live in the world, know all the people, play live music and eat at restaurants.

John Cassian was a mystic and a monastic and though far more self-disciplined and unindulged than most of us, he believed in the importance of community. He believed that ascetics must at least live in a monastic community to garner mutual love and support for the journey – a community of love. From a Great Cloud of Witnesses – “One should enter a house where other monks are pursuing the same goal, live according to a time-tested rule, and thereby gain the guidance and companionship of the community.” Where is that house for you? What community or communities provide this for you? What are you doing to follow a rule of life?

In 399 John was forced to leave Egypt and the desert fathers due to political unrest. He traveled to Gaul, modern-day France, and in 415 founded a house in Marseilles for monastics. It was important to him to also provide a house for women monastics, which he later did. He took with him what he’d learn from the desert monasticism, the idea that the image of God in each person, tarnished by sin but not destroyed, yearns to and has the capacity to love God with the purity of heart with which God loves us.

John believed in a balance between the thoughts of Pelagius and St. Augustine, Pelagius believing that the Holy Spirit works through us to achieve our salvation through our own will. That essentially, we must do all the work or we are doomed. Augustine believed, in brief, that essentially there was nothing we could do. That we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace – an almost “predestiny” kind of faith.

From a blog called Ancient Faith – St. John “sets forward the basic principle of synergy in the Christian life.  Pelagius was wrong that fallen man can do good and act under his own natural powers.  Likewise, however, St. Augustine was wrong that God acts upon a passive (or actively fighting to fulfill opposite impulse) humanity.  Rather, at the center of St. John’s text, every Christian ought, to quote St. Paul, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’  The Divine Energies are the beginning, end, and basis of salvation, but do not negate, overpower, or snuff out the human.”

Because of its proximity to Pelagius, John’s concept was dubbed “semi-Pelagianism.”

Some years ago, when I was a mentor in the Education for Ministry program out of Sewanee at my church in South Carolina, we had kind of a mini-Pelagian fan club going. JPelagius is also known for teaching the notion of “original goodness,” rather than “original sin.” That were are born innocent and free of sin instead of tainted from the start. We all have the choice that Eve had. We all have the opportunity to accept or reject God, to remain humble or to let our egos get in the way and be tempted by the power of the divinity within us.

We LOVED the original goodness idea in our EfM group. It seemed to jive with God’s love for his children. If God saw it and it was good, how does that not apply to us? We were born with free will, of course, and are therefore more than welcome to make choices that separate us from God, but does that negate the divine spark that resides within us?

But what role does will have to play in salvation?

This – is a huge question. Have you ever thought about it? My guess is that, knowingly or not, you have. In the Western Christian tradition, most especially in America, most of us grew up following an Augustinian theology, whether we knew how to label it or not. We grew up in a dualistic world, one where bad counters good, Christians counter non-Christians, the rich counter the poor, and white counters black and where a woman is the object of hatred and blame because of a choice she made. We grew up in Sunday school tradition of original sin, learning that man is fallen and thereby flawed, not pure. I think the guilt associated with that teaching tells us we’d better have a will of steel if we are ever to be reconciled with God.

I even dare to suggest that we grew up in a world where human counters divine. If we are fallen and flawed and therefore not pure, what are we? Humans without a spark of the divine in us? Are we divine beings whose spark is buried by separation from God – sin? Think about that for just a minute. What is your personal theology or the theology you were taught growing up about the nature of the divine in the human being? Were you taught about the divine in the human or did you see yourself and your fellow humans as separate from God?

Our own presiding bishop has helped develop a modern-day rule of life for Episcopalians called the Way of Love. This speaks to the importance of being a monk in the world, a mystic without a monastery, of taking care of oneself, loving oneself, achieving balance in life in order to have the energy, the wisdom and the spirit to healthily serve the world. As one of my priests once taught me, we are born to be co-creators WITH God. God made us and God wishes for us to choose love, to be completely human and completely divine, like Jesus came to show us.

How we get there is another story altogether. We are all different but I for one am not a very disciplined person. In fact, I dislike routine. I am a P on the Meyers-Briggs and have a circular and symbolic way of thinking that might be most easily described with some language around the traits of a person with ADD. I can benefit from a rule of life in different ways than someone who craves routine. But we can all benefit, no matter our personality structure. What are some ways you curb self-indulgence – a special method of eating? Do you have a daily prayer practice or ritual? Do you religiously attend yoga once a week? Do you take sabbath days on a regular basis? I’ve been working on the food thing for a long time and am getting to a place where I might be getting close to having some self-discipline and a handle on self-indulgence. But that’s just a drop in the bucket.

There is a brokenness in the human psyche that I believe is an inherent part of the human condition. But we have done ourselves no favors in feeding ourselves a negative, unloving self-narrative. That narrative is catching up with us and is wreaking havoc on the world, rising up from the shadow of pretend that we live in to tell ourselves we are ok.

We have to KNOW we are ok. We have to believe that God loves us. We have to forgive ourselves. We have to forgive others. We have to know that God forgives us. Jesus wasn’t kidding about this stuff. And it’s hard. It’s so hard and we are failing. Changing this narrative inside our own lives is the way we can change the world. When we live individually in God’s kingdom, seeing ourselves as God sees us – fully human and fully divine – and a big mess, we are free.

John Cassian provided the western church with a theology to support its preexisting devotion to the spiritual value of asceticism. St. Benedict leaned heavily on John’s writing in developing his form of monasticism and writing his ruled of life.He even recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian, the most famous being his series of Conferences. Benedict’s rule is still followed by BenedictineCistercian, and Trappist monks, and  John Cassian’s thought still exercises influence over the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the WesternChurch.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to heal the world, beginning with ourselves. As some of you know, I’m a big believer in having fun, in enjoying life. What John Cassian brings to me is the understanding that the body plays a critical role in our how close our relationship to God is. It cannot be rejected. It is part of the system. For us in the West, one of the best things we can take from John is try to have a rule of life. Bishop Curry has offered us one. We can create our own, but we cannot leave the body out of that. Body-inclusive practices, such as centering prayer, walking and eating healthy food actually bring us closer to God. They help to connect body, mind, and spirit, the composition in which God made us. Incorporating these elements into our lives requires community, some will, God’s grace, willingness and asking. Taking the first steps toward God, according to Cassian, allows God to enter in. John said that only in community can we “lose sight of earthly things in proportion to the inspiration of its purity so that . . . with the inner gaze of the soul it sees the glorified Jesus coming in the splendor of His majesty.”We have that community here in this diocese.

What will our first steps be today? Let’s heal the world together from the inside out.













A prayer for survival

I preached my first-ever sermon at work on Tuesday. I chose to celebrate the feast day of Thomas Cranmer early. (His true feast day is today, March 21.) Cranmer left Anglicans and Episcopalians the gift of our Book of Common Prayer in somewhat of the same way Jesus left us set prayers by which to orient ourselves to God.

Matthew 6:7–15

Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

“Pray then in this way” — Our Lord’s Prayer

Set prayers. Pre-written with just the right choice of words.

Today we are celebrating the feast day of Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr. Also known as the father of Anglicanism and master of the via media, the middle way our tradition is grounded in. He was a scholar, a wordsmith, and  key player in the English Reformation.

Cranmer edited and crafted many of the set prayers used in the 16th century. They are poetry that has nourished our faith for hundreds of years. One of his goals was to ensure that there wasn’t any hint self-righteousness in our prayers, that we are putting our faith in God alone and not in our egos or our good works.

But if Cranmer was a perfectionist with words, he did not believe that one must be a perfectionist with works. As a young divinity student as Jesus College, Cambridge where he fell and love and married. His scholarship was revoked but later reinstated after his wife died in childbirth. He became a priest and years later, after having become a servant of King Henry VIII, he married again, reportedly having to hide his wife until the Church of England separated from the church in Rome. Cranmer, having been introduced to King Henry VIII became a trusted friend of the king’s and was embroiled in what is known as the “King’s affair.” Cranmer’s proposal, when Henry wanted to divorce his queen, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn, was to take the issue to the scholars at university, which he did.

Thomas Cranmer’s scholarship and craft resulted in our incredible prayer book, our guide for prayer and liturgy. He is the primary creator of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. He later revised it in 1552. Cranmer was very particular with words. Although many traditions in the 16th century and for centuries before used set prayers (just think of the Psalms of David and, of course, the Lord’s prayer), Cranmer seems to have demanded no less than perfection in the wording of prayers. Diarmaid McCulloch, in his ground breaking 1996 biography of Cranmer, suggests that had Cranmer not been martyred, he was on the way to revising the prayer book for a third time…

Cranmer’s revising puts me in mind of the way that we edit our words to take out judgement and self-righteousness as our common life evolves.- the way we say things like “died by suicide”  and note that someone is a “survivor of addiction” are ways that we show our respect to God first, honoring and respecting  – not judging – our brothers and sisters, God’s children.

In our reading today, Jesus is calling the people not to babble on endlessly in prayer, filling the air with possibly empty, not carefully crafted words, but rather, I think he is saying that setting intention is critical for us to put God first in our lives and make our prayer time a sacred space where God can align our wills with his, if we are willing. The key here is alignment. When we are not balanced or are too much in our heads or too much in our bodies and maybe not enough in our souls, we, as channels through which God’s grace can pour, are not open, not clear, and the energy can get stuck. When we get centered, as in our weekly centering prayer practice here, we open ourselves and invite God in.

At this point in the gospel story, Jesus has just come from his time of temptation in the desert where he tells the devil “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, having our earthly needs met is super important, as is helping others to meet their earthly needs, such as having food and shelter. But we live by God’s reasoning and God’s grace – freely given, first and foremost.

Though for Jesus in the desert, temptation is present and strong, Jesus is orienting his compass to God. He goes on to tell the devil that it is written that we are not to put our Lord God to the test. When we rattle off a list of specific wishes as prayers, are we not testing God? Even for those who are asking God for daily bread, literally for something to eat to get through another day, is belief and trust in God’s word the motivation or does survival mode kick in and drive the agenda?

When I was about to give birth to my first child by C-section, I had been in labor for 30 hours and in 36 hours had slept only 30 minutes, eaten nothing and not been allowed to drink water.  I was also anemic from an undiagnosed case of celiac disease, which also caused extreme hunger all day. My profound and lasting memory as I was being rolled down the hall to the operating room was “I am so hungry I don’t think I can do this.” I was numb. But I wasn’t worried about the baby.

I like to think that I intuited that my son was ok. But I probably would have sold my soul to the devil for a cheeseburger at that moment and really, I think I had surrendered. Part of me really didn’t think I could go on any more. I wasn’t praying, I don’t remember asking for God’s help and I wasn’t focusing on God’s grace as I often do when I’ve eaten… I was defeated. If I wasn’t focused on God I was stuck in my head. I can remember thinking in the moment that I was going to have to do some major processing after it was all over. I couldn’t understand the state I’d was in.

It was a fellow pilgrim in my Education for Ministry group, a pediatric nurse, who said to me when I later described my trauma, “You were in survival mode. You couldn’t focus on God like you might have wanted to. You were just trying to keep going.” That was a lightening bolt moment for me. Again, words are important and the words “survival mode” helped me understand.

I am more than fortunate to have never been in such a situation of dire physical straits as that until then, but it was shocking. To think that Jesus was fasting and living in those dire straits for weeks as he faced down all that is human, and being determined to survive on the word of God. It’s no wonder he came out swingin’!

This is a powerful time in Jesus’ ministry. After he vanquishes the temptation of the devil, he is called to a particular place where the spirit seems to have descended, where his message is ready to be heard, a sort of vortex, it seems, being Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, as was prophesied by Isaiah.

Now, if I had to guess, I’d wager that Jesus did not go to Capernaum because he asked God to send him there because it’s a seaside resort or where he’d make a lot of friends but because he listened and heard God call him to a place he could serve. After coming out of the intense and purifying experience in the desert, Jesus’ body, mind, heart and soul were ready to be a channel for God’s grace in a place that was ready to receive it and to learn how to share it. God knew what was in Jesus’ heart, the desire to fulfill God’s will, and he was sent.

His teaching, his healing and his ministry are accepted in this time and place. It is in this powerful time that Jesus lays down a new social order in the form of the beatitudes, lays down the Lord’s prayer…He is going full force in contrast to times when he heals and says, “Go and tell no one….” What is different here? Jesus seems to have found not only individuals with their hearts prepared, but a community at least in part ready to live differently – a community of love…

Because Cranmer had his heart centered on God, God was able to work through him in dangerous and tricky times. By a chance meeting Cranmer gained King Henry VIII’s attention and rose in  his service, eventually being named Archbishop of Canterbury. He didn’t really want power or to be entangled in politics, but to serve God through his gifts of scholarship and writing, theology and liturgy. At the same time, he saw the impractical nature of some of the rules of the Church and sought to reform them. Cranmer was a faithful servant of his King, but set his intention and aligned himself with God first that he might better serve God in the world through his position and place. Cranmer used his position most profoundly to reform the Church after Henry’s death under Edward VI, Henry’s Protestant son. He had plans for continued reformation advocating for Lady Jane Grey to serve as Edward’s successor but the succession failed and Henry’s daughter by Katherine of Aragon, Mary, a staunch Catholic, gained the throne and charged Cranmer with treason and sentenced him to die. As a result of Cranmer’s earthly decisions (helping the king marry Anne Boleyn) our tradition was blessed by the rule of Queen Elizabeth I who did end up perpetuating our Protestant faith, though Cranmer didn’t live to see it.

In the end, it seems Thomas Cranmer overcame survival mode himself.  After being charged by Mary, was held captive in a weakened condition and reportedly signed several recantations of his articles of faith. When he was taken to be burned at the stake, he boldly stated that he stood by everything he had ever learned and taught, that the recantations were false, made under duress, in survival mode. As a testament, he stuck his right hand, the one he had signed with, into the flames first, destroying it for the lies it had told under pressure. He then went bravely to his death in the fire, unraveling Mary’s plans to overcome the Protestant faith in England. Cranmer didn’t change the world do it in as counter-cultural a way as Jesus did. It was more of an inside job. But called upon to serve he infiltrated politics with God as his guide. He was in the middle of things when the Church of England from Rome He then reformed it based on justification by grace, not works. He brought the Bible in English into the churches in England so that scripture could be heard, read and understood in the tongue of the people. He left us a plan of enduring prayer – The Book of Common Prayer.

V0041610 The death of Thomas Cranmer at the stake, burned for heresy
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
The death of Thomas Cranmer at the stake, burned for heresy in 1556. Protestant reformer. Executed during the reign of Mary I. Woodcut.
Published: –
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

In the end, Jesus was faithful and brave, was crucified and left his people an enduring plan for prayer and alignment with the highest good, God’s grace. One key way he did that was with the gift of the Lord’s prayer.

Are we like those in Capernaum? Are we a people ready to hear and receive Jesus’ teaching that we might truly live life through a different lens, where love is the way? Are we ready to  overcome earthly temptation, as Jesus did in the desert, by focusing our intention  and attention on the higher vibration of the divine kingdom? If our answer is yes, we have to practice and we can do that by praying in the way our Lord taught us to pray.

In some Esoteric Christian traditions, the Lord’s prayer is described as one carefully calculated to calibrate our bodies to be fit to keep our eyes on the prize of God’s kingdom. John Philip Newell, a Celtic theologian and prolific author in his book Echo of the Soul: The Sacredness of the Human Body, teaches about seven levels of physical connection with the divine. These can be equated with the seven colors of the rainbow, the manifest vibration of God’s creative energy. Eastern traditions would describe these as the seven dominant chakras.

I invite you to join me in calibrating yourself to highest good before earthly matters, integrating and balancing your temple, your body to be a channel for God’s grace. Let us pray in this way, as Jesus taught us:– close your eyes and breath and just listen, centering yourself with every line.  Imagine the transformation brought on by every word and its meaning. Mediate on the word:

The first line of the prayer set the higher intention. The last line balance the earthly within the context of the heavenly. Let us pray. Slowly…

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, 
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial, 
but rescue us from the evil one.

The doxology, added later, takes us back up to the heavenly, having integrated the earthly. I invite you to take this practice into your own prayer life, to help calibrate you to hear God’s will. Amen.

Monastic eating in the new year

Over the past two years, I’ve done the Whole 30 four times, two of them more completely than others. What I’ve noticed as I continue to go through the program is that it gets easier, more habitual and more instinctual each time. Makes sense. The more you do something the easier and/or better it gets or you get at it. Life coaching is about building habits, not only the super important habit of asking ourselves what next steps we can take each day to more fully live the life we want to live, but putting habits into practice that are forward steps on our journeys.

In this new year, 2019, I want to be healthier and stronger. Who doesn’t, really? But am I committed to it? Tomorrow is the last day of Christmas and Sunday is the feast of the Epiphany. My family has considered having one last celebratory Christmas meal to mark the end of the 12 days. Other than that, it’s a new year and the big holiday season is over. I’ve already jumped back on the paleo bandwagon, not 100%, but probably 80%. What I gained doing Whole 30 last fall was the ability to actually accomplish living an 80/20 lifestyle. Today it occurred to me that I want to call my new style of eating “monastic eating,” not clean eating, not paleo, although those principles mostly apply.

For many years I have dreamed of eating more lightly, maybe in smaller courses, more healthfully. These dreams come from a variety of places. The first is an actual monastic institution – the Convent of St. Helena, formerly located in Augusta, GA, relocated a few years ago to North Augusta, SC. (If you are in the Southeast and need a place to regroup, recoup and gather your thoughts for the new year, the new convent has beautiful facilities on a lovely piece of land.) I visited the convent in Georgia when I was 12 years old, as part of my confirmation class in The Episcopal Church. I never forgot it. The quiet, the peacefulness and the beautiful simplicity of life there made an impression on me. I remember eating simple soup and salad in the dining hall there. The ritual felt like that, a sacred experience.

Years later I traveled to Paris and had the opportunity to eat small courses of incredible food. What struck me is that there is no need to eat large amounts of cheese, pastries or bread in a gluttonous fashion, though I’m not gonna say I didn’t do that – many times. It is easier to fulfill the small course mission when in a restaurant and only presented with so much to eat each course – at the home of a friend in France with a refrigerator and pantry, not so much. Finally, I remember reading, in one of the many health and nutrition magazines I loved, about “spa cuisine.” It seemed to combine small courses with lighter foods, such as soups and salads. I thought, “if only I had someone to cook for me and serve up this cuisine. It would be so much easier to eat well…”

The good news about paleo is that you can eat whenever you are hungry, you can eat more. You just have to eat the right things in reasonable, not paltry, amounts. As someone who always seems to be hungry not matter what I eat, this is a relief. When on Whole 30 or eating partly paleo, I still feel a bit hungry at times, but never like my blood sugar will crash or that I can’t keep going (That will happen without enough healthy fats when eating paleo.)

When I think of monasteries, I think of natural eating, picking herbs from the garden, using doTerra essential oils (essences of healing plants), and staples, such as cheese, beer, eggs and bread, made by the monastics. I don’t drink beer because I have Celiac Disease, but I do drink cider and wine. I don’t eat bread for the same reason, which makes it easier for me to not eat bread much at all. My process is to eat non-paleo carbs (grains, legumes) and dairy at only one meal if at all. When I do, I try not to eat too much of them. This guiding principle worked will for me in the end of 2018, before the holidays and now I want to take this monastic eating through the new year. I’ll still get a big burger with a gluten-free bun at places that offer something delicious. I’ll still eat a few fries from time-to-time, some cheese and yes, cider and wine.

I struggle very much with rules and regulations. I am a free spirit and like to be open to all possibilities moment by moment. What’s clicked for me here is that I can be open to creative, paleo possibilities and any time. Keeping the non-compliant stuff to one meal a day is really clear to me, but simple. I don’t have to think about counting calories, trying to have a meal that’s low calorie at dinner because I ate cheese nachos at lunch. If ate a few of those cheese nachos at lunch, I don’t eat the rice or potatoes we’re making for dinner for the family. Easy! And the near elimination of extra sugar (in the forms of added sugar, processed carbs and dairy) does wonders for weight and inflammation. If I’m still hungry after dinner I eat an apple with almond butter or drink almond milk. I feel really good that I’m eating things my body needs and not giving it a bunch of stuff it doesn’t need.

I want to share with you my monastic meal from lunch today – chicken and broccoli soup with half an avocado. I eat the avocado with Everything but the Bagel Seasoning from Trader Joe’s. This stuff is great on everything! The soup is a recipe I found on the Paleo Running Momma blog. Checking Instagram and googling for paleo recipes is a helpful daily habit to fuel the fire of inspiration. This Creamy Paleo Chicken Soup with Mushrooms and Kale {Whole 30} is truly delicious. Michele, the creator, swears you don’t taste the coconut milk and she’s right! I was relieved. I made a paleo chicken pot pie filling once with only a little coconut milk and it ruined it for me. I love coconut milk, but not in traditional American chicken dishes. Check out Michele’s blog and this recipe. I used broccoli instead of kale, left out the mushrooms and didn’t have any compliant mustard, but I bet it would be good. I also used unseasoned organic rotisserie chicken to speed up the process. Poached chicken is also a great cooked chicken to add in to recipes like this.

Get off to a great start this new year! Stick with your resolutions but be creative in the ways in which you can make them a reality.

Are you collapsing online? How to navigate context collapse for professional success

Today is Wednesday, October 17, and we are here today on this COM 655 podcast to talk about navigating context collapse in the professional world and how doing so is essential to professional success. For resources related to this podcast and its subject matter, see my annotated bibliography here GravesCarrie_Week6_AnnotatedBibliography_100718.

It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens

by danah boyd

a book review

An often overheard comment in conversations about parenting or among those who ponder the state of the world is that social media is bad and dangerous. What is so often missing in subjective articles, news stories and other avenues of pop culture is the notion that social media is good and beneficial. Not that one or the other is absolutely the truth. It’s complicated. Like almost anything in life, author danah boyd – principal researcher at Microsoft Research – says, social media is neither utopian nor dystopian. In her important book, It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens (2014), Boyd encourages the reader to get real with what is truly going on in teens social lives and how that is reflected in their use of social media.

Because technology is the latest, greatest unknown, it is easy to fear it. News stories of cyber bullies and cyber stalkers abound. Kids posting inappropriate content lose scholarships or friends. Well-meaning parents, relatives and adult friends read teens’ comments and assume the worst. The fear of social media makes adults want to shut it down in order to keep their children safe. Yet boyd poses astute questions for reflection and research in her book. What, indeed, is so different about kids in the 80s staying on the telephone for hours in order to chat with their friends versus kids texting and messaging? What is so different about teens hanging out on Facebook versus hanging out at the mall? Why is bullying any more hurtful online than in person?

Interestingly, the answer is – not as different as we might think. boyd’s main point is that teens want their social lives. They crave relationship and if anything are addicted to friends, not to technology itself. boyd goes on to argue that teens today are not as free as teens in decades past. Due to over-scheduling of activities, work and to parents’ fears and prohibitions, teens are not able to run over to friends’ houses whenever they want, or to go to the mall or a public park. But they need to. The place available for teens to be connected and in public with their friends today is on social media. Today’s teen’s social life is a computer mediated one. Even so, boyd argues, it doesn’t mean it cannot be a safe and fulfilling one. boyd’s research shows that unlike the author herself, who came of age in the 80s and 90s and sought online chat rooms as a place to escape and be a new, unknown person, today’s teens seek online relationship with people they know in real life. They also seek a safe space to be themselves.

On the whole, kids today are doing well. boyd’s advice to parents, family, teachers and mentors is give teens the space they need to develop relationships and networks, without excessive imposition of adult priorities and projection of adult fears. Instead, if adults can educate themselves on the realities of this new space that is social media and understand context for teens, they can strike a balance between being protective and helpful and allowing teens the space they need to create and navigate their own publics.

Social media networked publics are different from more traditional publics in several ways. For one, they have a much larger, more global audience than traditional publics. Secondly, worlds can “collide” on social media, increasing networks but at the same time curbing privacy. Friends of friends see friends of friends’ posts. Thought by Facebook to be a benefit and a way to build larger networks, limited privacy creates broader audience, something teens don’t always think about when posting. In the book, boyd describes a young man in her book who is applying to colleges. He aspires to an Ivy League education and has been networking with admissions officers and other education and community leaders in order to build up his reputation. However, this teen lives in a socio-economic area rife with gangs. This students’ social media tells a different story than he projects to colleges. To protect himself, boyd surmises, he has put up posts that show he is into the gang culture of his school and neighborhood. But when college admissions staff searches his profile, they are appalled and shocked that this young man could present such a different face on social media than what he has put forward in his efforts to give himself a better life through education. This situation is a case of what’s called “context collapse” (boyd, 2014, p. 52).

Lastly, the mediated social life means that teens leave traces of their conversations, drama, jokes and more throughout social media networks. There is a trail. This means that moments in time in the form of comments or posts can be accessed asynchronously by multiple and larger audiences that the context in which the comment was made. This access can lead to adults and other teens making assumptions about meaning and interfering in teens’ socializing. For example, as boyd describes, “Interactions that were previously invisible to adults suddenly have traces, prompting parents to fret over conversations that adults deem inappropriate or when teens share ‘TMI’ (too much information)” (boyd, 2014, p. 54). boyd and people of her generation had to argue with parents about a bra showing or a skirt being to short. Today, parents worst nightmares come true when their teens have shared too much of themselves physically, in the form of racy photos, or in words, “in public,” on social media.

And yet, boyd’s research shows that teens still want privacy, just like they always have, as vehemently as they always have. It’s just that the mediated teen social life views privacy in a way that is confusing to adults. Today, teens desire privacy. They just know that the privacy is couched in the context of the public, online. The savvy teen will achieve this privacy in public, but most do not have the skills to do so. That’s where adults come in.

The greatest takeaway from boyd’s book is not to be afraid. We are all living into this new era of technology as those before us have with the advent of each new age. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves, discuss and navigate our way through this new era together. Digital literacy has never been more important than when it comes to understanding the evolving mediated life. We need to know that our kids are all right and that we are in this together. boyd argues that imposing “digital celibacy” (boyd, 2014, p. 93) out of fear and protectiveness will not protect our children. She is spot on in her relaxed but carefully researched position and in her defense of teens’ need for a space to grow up in. Instead of being reactive, adults can be proactive and creative in finding ways for teens to be together, in public, more often. Teens will still be using their phones to Snapchat messages, but in the spirit of sharing fun moments, as one might jokingly stick out one’s tongue to a friend before the advent of Snapchat filters. Adults can be part of the solution to issues concerning teens’ mediated social lives instead of part of the problem. There is a middle way. Social media is not all good or all bad.

One the most difficult issues to reconcile with not being afraid is cyber bullying. Parents are terrified of online abuse. I know I am. The headlines tell a frightful story. boyd argues that much of the problem lies in the way media present cyber bullying, as well as in the definition of bullying. She is astute in her assessment that the word bullying has come to mean much more than it once did. In the 1970s, bullying came to refer to behavior that involved aggression, repetition and imbalance in power. In other words, someone’s repeatedly abusing someone who was not powerful enough to overcome them, either through force or school or parental involvement. boyd demonstrates effectively that bullying now sometimes defines one-time events or reciprocal meanness where imbalance of power is not an issue.

All of the negative things teens say about and do to each other, no matter how much a part of growing up they are, can hit the media as bullying headlines. boyd does not de-emphasize the problem of true bullying but asks that adults focus on finding out what’s at the root, for both parties. This approach would lead to better conflict resolution and healthier life skills for both than just headlining a simple victim versus aggressor narrative. The mediated social life of teens and the trail it leaves behind means we can study what’s going on and who is involved in what capacity. Just in the way that Hannah Baker left a trail through cassette recordings about her suicide in the book 13 Reasons Why, teens today leave bits of their lives in public view. With a balance of not making assumptions, providing space, and careful concern, adults can work together to keep kids safe, monitoring their online lives with respect and appropriate interpersonal distance.


Asher, J. (2017). Thirteen reasons why. London: Penguin Books.

Boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.  London, England: Yale University Press





Top Ten Best Practices for Communicating Organizational Identity and Brand

You need some new athletic shoes, what kind are you dying to get? You’re traveling for work, in a hurry, and need to eat? What’s the national fast food chain you’ll be relieved to see in the airport? I love fizzy drinks, but the only soda I ever really want is Coke. I’m in the process of moving to Baltimore, Maryland and the first place I will go to buy new beds for my sons is IKEA. Our favorite brands are more often than not successful brands, great brands. (Check out the book What Great Brands Do by Denis Lee Yohn). These brands have an identity that transcends aesthetics or functionality, but include both and then some.

Anyone who embarks on a business venture that offers products and/or services presumably want their brands to be successful, long lasting and to become part of the fabric of society. Brand such as Coca-Cola, IKEA and J. Crew have accomplished this sustainability and long life by appealing to the hearts, minds and emotions of consumers. In today’s economy, creating a strong, consistent and coherent identity and brand has many challenges. We want our purchases to make sense, have superior function, aesthetic appeal and to support our lifestyle choices. We like experiences. We like good stories and a brand that masters its commitment to authenticity.

In order to give consumers what they want and, in turn, encourage them to buy products and services, companies must see branding as organizing principle. Why? A company cannot project its values to its consumers without first embracing those values internally. Let’s talk about this as inside out branding. Best practices for communicating organizational branding are a critical component of achieving inside out branding. Following are the top 10 strategies for communication your brand as organization:

  1. Know yourself – Determine your values and passion. Companies like Chic-Fil-A start with their values, literally. Religion is part of the values system of Chic-Fil-A (see What Great Brands Do) and they have stuck to it, being closed on Sundays for religious reasons and founding their mission on scripture. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, stick to your values and you will appeal to the values of the public. Other values of Chic-Fil-A include a passion for delivery high-quality fast food with a dedicated menu, as well as excellent customer service. The customer service we all experience is not a gimmick, it is a value and employees cannot work there without commitment. See the video from Coca-Cola CEO on compliance vs. commitment.

2. Be yourself – If you are the passion behind the brand, live it in all aspects of who you are. Tap into the artist’s passion (See Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work by Austin Kleon). Be who you are is communicating and broadcasting your brand to the wider world.

3. Be in community inside the organization – Once you have established your values and embody them in your daily life, find a way to internalize your identity within the company. This includes hiring like-minded employees who have a personal passion for your mission. When my husband and I owned an independent trade bookstore that embodied the values of the independent bookstore world, we didn’t have much trouble finding employees who loved books and who cared about the experience an independent bookstore provides: hand-selected books, superior customer service, inventory curated for the local market and a shared passion for the written word. On the occasion we had an employee who didn’t share our values, it usually did not work out. Because our employees were “book people,” they took the book-lover archetype into the world and drew friends and acquaintances to our store. We also considered ourselves a family.

4. Be in community in the world – Once you’ve incorporated your values into the internal structure of your brand, it’s time to extend the communication of your identity into the local and possibly national or global community. But before your jump to imaging a rockin’ international website, start with your suppliers, delivery people and other local businesses, churches and schools. Be your brand (supported by your values) to everyone you encounter. Take your brand with you when you go out to eat. If your business highlights excellent customer service, make sure you are an excellent customer to the wait staff you encounter at your local burger joint. Your UPS delivery person visits hundreds of other businesses a week, where he or she might mention you. You want to be in community with the local community. This concept extends to national and global brands, as well. Embody your values when dealing with your suppliers and partners across the globe.

5. Tell your story with pictures – When communicating your brand into the world, you want to engage people where they are. People are on social media. Translation of message through visual and audial medium is becoming more and more the norm and part of our culture. Our social media brains want to see a quick image that captures concepts and the value of a brand. See 17 of the best brands on Instagram right now.

6. Tell your story with video – Telling your story with video is an extension of number 5 (above). YouTube is now the second largest search engine next to Google. Facebook is making a huge push toward encouraging users to post and view video content. No tool can be more effective at communicating your brand to consumers, community or the globe than well-crafted, clever video. The shorter the better. Usually three minutes or fewer. See one of the most-viewed ads on YouTube in 2017. It is a traditional commercial, longer than three minutes, but embodies the values of the company that extend to a customer’s lifestyle. This ad for Samsung incorporates an almost spiritual dedication to the work of fixing a television by 7 pm one evening. The repairman goes to every length to get to the home on faith and is rewarded when he arrives. Check it out. It’s worth the watch. Also check out Kevin Hart’s Nike Apple watch ads for a humorous take on how two brands have made themselves an essential part of life.

7. Use hashtags – There is debate about whether to use hashtags on Facebook now that they are searchable on that platform. They are very effective on Instagram and Twitter, of course. Hashtags are a very effective method with which to point consumers to your project and brand. Think of hashtags that embody your brand but don’t just keep them literal. To localize and globalize your reach, use the hashtag of the name of the town in which your business is located. Use popular hashtags that apply to your brand and simple, broad hashtags. Recently I have been using the hashtags #love, #fire and #royalwedding to connect all of the press regarding The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop’s sermon at the royal wedding to the greater goal of sharing the gospel. One of the hashtag campaigns that has most intrigued me is #forgwinnett. Search it on your favorite platforms and see what you think. How has this hashtag incorporated the mission of the brand into the community?

Below – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry embodies the brand of The Episcopal Church, which is welcome and love for all God’s people.

8. Incorporate excellent versatile design – This is a big one. A simple but clear logo is critical to branding, but as you can see from the first portion of this post, it is not all there is to branding. Slogan’s are equally important. One study (referenced in the list of citations below) found that auditory cues were more effective in English with English speakers and visual cues more effective with Chinese speakers in China. A slogan is an auditory cue. Nike’s famous Just Do It slogan, visually represented by the checkmark (did it!) came about from extensive internal discernment about brand and how it affected the lifestyles of consumers. See What Great Brands Do.

9. Create design that adapts across platforms – When you are in the creative process of developing your design (colors, fonts, logo, slogans, website and more), consider how that design will adapt across all platforms: print, web, T-shirts, bags, flyers, hats social media platforms and any other place you imagine your brand will be seen. Adapting across platforms is critical to the consistency that makes your brand recognizable. Once recognized, if you have followed the above steps, the consumer is taken to the world of your values in their mind. Nike’s checkmark works on all its products from shoes to clothing, as well as online and in print.

10. Use all of the above to become a part of consumers’ lifestyles – As referenced in numbers 6 and 8, incorporation of brand and identity into consumers and employees lifestyles is essential for communicating your brand. If you have communicated your way into a way of life, you have succeeded. We know we can count on Chic-Fil-A to deliver consistent, reliable fast food when we’re in a hurry or on the road in an unfamiliar city. We know Amazon Prime won’t let us down when we’re doing that last minute Christmas shopping or ordering a textbook for a class that starts in two days. We know Nike is there for us, inspiring us to be our best selves and live up to our potential and citizens of a global community. And we can tell you what all of these brands stand for even if we don’t agree with their values. That is powerful branding.

For scholarly references on branding, please see this list of brand references.

Wish me luck!

Applying Goffman to the VW Diesel Crisis of 2015

In preparing the below presentation, Applying Goffman to the VW Diesel Crisis of 2015, I learned that Volkswagen was reluctant to admit their failing at first. Once they did, things got better. What I realized was that if the company would have benefitted from having a strategic communication plan in place before the diesel crises. Had that plan used the four concepts of Goffman’s dramaturgic metaphor, including having the author, animators and principal on the same page, VW would have had the ability to understand how forces within the company were leading it down the wrong path.

Based on my personal experience with Volkswagen and being a business person myself, I would have liked to prevent another blow to my company’s market share in the U.S. In the early 2000s when Volkwagen made a comeback, their reputation tanked at least a little. The new cars were sub-par, often with numerous mechanical problems. I had friends who owned these new wagens and were so excited. And then they broke down. I had a new one and it kept breaking down. Many of us said we’d never buy from Volkwagen again. But we did. And I love my new car. (Wish me luck!)

After seeming improvement in the U.S. market, the last thing VW needed was a scandal like the diesel crisis. The interesting part is that it occurred over a kind of vehichle (diesel) that American’s aren’t very interested in anyway, at least not compared to Europeans. To me, having planned according to Goffman’s concepts could have prevented this crisis and would have helped VW in its true strategic goal of impression management to gain more of the American market share.

What I learned about media production in crafting this presentation ties in to Goffman’s dramaturgic metaphor. Impression management, framing, footing and face are all important in producing an effective product. I began this presentation with a completely different format from that below. It was flat and ineffective. I had to start over. I also had some technical difficulties that I don’t usually encounter with PowerPoint. What I had was sub-par, like my 2002 Jetta Wagen… Starting over caused me to lose time. But it was worth it. I learned a lot and produced a much more effective presentation.

I had to push past my comfort zone with production and learn new skills, primarily iMovie skills. I am used to using Adobe Premier Pro to edit video. When in my initial presentation, a short video clip failed to export from Premier (also unexpected for me), I did some research and decided to use iMovie. After the failure of my first presentation, which contained an audio narrative recorded with Audacity, PowerPoint slides, and a short video, I decided to record the whole thing on video.

That decision caused another set of circumstances. I didn’t have my “real” camera available to record the video. I thought surely I could record the video using my laptop’s camera. In researching that, I came up again with iMovie again. It didn’t work. The camera cut in and out as if I were recording on Skype. I had to give that up. I resorted to my iPhone, creating lighting kits out of lamps in my house for clearer lighting. I used my teleprompter app, which I had never used personally before. In the end, I learned that iMovie is a great substitute for PowerPoint. Although I don’t find it very intuitive and have to Google every move I make, I found that I could easily insert my PowerPoint slides, add different video clips and more. I hope you enjoy the presentation.


American Volkswagen owners angry over diesel emissions scam. (2015, September 27). Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Boudette, N. E. (2017, November 01). Volkswagen Sales in U.S. Rebound After Diesel Scandal. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Hotten, R. (2015, December 10). Volkswagen: The scandal explained. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Ihlen, O., van Ruler, B., & Fredriksson, M. (2009). Public Relations and Social Theory: Key figures and concepts. New York: Routledge.

Joshi, P., & Hakim, D. (2016, February 26). VW’s Public Relations Responses and Flubs. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Painter C, Martins JT. Organisational communication management during the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal: A hermeneutic study in attribution, crisis management, and information orientation. Knowl Process Manag. 2017;24:204–218.

The VW emissions scandal – past, present and future | DW Documentary. (2017, August 15). Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Tom Kelleher on Volkswagen’s response to crisis. (2015, November 05). Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

Yale. (2015, December 18). The Crisis at Volkswagen. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

A tradition worth fighting for

A tradition worth fighting for: applying a consensus-oriented public relations approach to the New Coke incident of 1985. In the case of post-crisis New Coke, Coca-Cola demonstrated its intention to right its strategic communication error – taking away the people’s Coke and replacing with a new product. When the public protested, they took a consensus-oriented public relations approach, following the concepts of Habermas. They took a major misstep in strategic communication and used it as an opportunity to regain the trust of its public. By ensuring intelligibility, truth, truthfulness and legitimacy, they got their public involved and on board and together, Coca-Cola and the people made the decision to bring back a mainstay of the American culture and lifestyle – Coca-Cola.

Please see references for this audio presentation at the bottom of this blog post.

In creating this presentation on New Coke, I learned much more about what went into the marketing decision of 1985 than I knew at the time of its occurrence. Back then, as a 13-year-old, I was simply flabbergasted. I couldn’t understand how a company could take away something the world and I depended on and throw it away for an alternative. Frankly it seemed sacrilegious.

In researching this project, however, I came to understand the reason Coke did what it did. By using scientific data from objective taste tests to try to determine why they were losing market share, Coke decided to change its formula to be competitive in the marketplace. Personally, I see their strategy as fear-based. To change the fundamental being of a company’s product to compete, more that to adapt to changing times, strikes me as inauthentic.

When it was announced that Old Coke was returning in the form of Coca-Cola Classic, I can only say that I felt huge relief. Although I have learned that many preferred New Coke, I did not. There is a theory that Coke planned the whole replacement of Coke with New Coke to hide the fact that the taste of Coca-Cola would be changing due to a switch to high fructose corn syrup as the sweetener for the product. Whether this is true or not, original Coke as it is produced today tastes well enough to satisfy me.

While crafting this project I gained new perspectives and great appreciation for the work of sociologists, such as Jurgen Habermas, whose work is helping to guide postmodern public relations best practices. I was happy to see in my research that not only did the Coca-Cola Company listen to its public, they seemed to take them seriously and engage in discourse that resulted in a collaborative decision for the direction of the company.

Regarding media production and the creation of this post. I learned more about audio editing doing this project and realize that I am beginning to get more comfortable with it. I have gained confidence and skill that a few years ago I would never have thought I could have. I look forward to doing more with audio editing and podcasting. The most complicated part is getting the timing just right. And I have learned there are two ways to edit. One is on paper before recording a presentation, and the other is in the audio app. In this presentation I used a combination, editing in the two media. I have more work to do on timing and much to learn about audio editing.

For this project, however, I did not have to push myself much beyond my previous skills in media production, but since beginning the Master of Communication program at Queens, I have had to challenge my media production skills in numerous ways. I can build websites, blog, even amateurishly produce magazines and edit video, but I could not use PowerPoint proficiently or an audio program, such as Audacity. Now, after several classes at Queens, I have learned, for the sake of being able to produce assignments, to record audio and export it, link it to Power Point, time slides and export as a movie, thereby producing a video presentation, viewable online. This is a great skill to have and I look forward to polishing it and using it in the future to create online presentations and online courses on dream work.


Allen, F. J. (1995). Secret formula: how brilliant marketing and relentless salesmanship made Coca-Cola the best-known product in the world. New York: HarperBusiness.

Burkart, R., (2009). On Habermas: understanding and public relations. In O. Ihlen, B. van Ruler, & M. Fredriksson (Eds.), Public Relations and Social TheoryKey figures and concepts. (pp. 141-165) New York: Routledge.

CBS Evening News [CBS Evening News]. (2015, April 23]. New coke: coca-cola’s 77-day product disaster. Retrieved from

Ihlen, O., van Ruler, B., & Fredriksson, M. (2009). Public Relations and Social Theory: Key figures and concepts. New York: Routledge.

McArthur, J. A. (2014). Planning for strategic communication: a workbook for applying social theory to professional practice. Atascadero, CA: CreateSpace.

Whistler, S. [Today I Found Out]. (2016, December 27). Why coke tried to switch to new coke. Retrieved from

Employees first, customers second

A case of divine reversal? Turning the world of management upside-down.

employee-first BOOKEmployees first, customers second. For anyone coming from a retail background such a phrase is a difficult one to swallow. Particularly for a local business, how could one imagine not doing everything possible to keep customers happy, ensuring every possible penny would come one’s way? But for Vineet Nayar, author of the book Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down by Vineet Nayar, there is a strategy involved for the health and wholeness of both company and client. Nayar posits that the gifts and insights employees have to offer no only serve as catalysts of growth for a company, but that the openness required by management to observe, absorb and listen to those insights, incorporating them into the company ethos, create trusting and secure relationships with clients.

Nayar is the CEO of one of India’s largest IT suppliers, HCL Technologies (HCLT). He started at a smaller, entrepreneurial unit of HCLT (p.3) and was later asked to head the entire $700 million-dollar company because of his enthusiasm and passion for offering the best. If one were to apply the theories of Putnam (2009) to public relations in the case of HCLT, we understand the innovative leadership style of Nayar. Heading a company that was doing well but growing stagnant in a competitive and stressful economy in 2005 and 2008, respectively, Nayar’s vision for growth was a radical one – basing customer relations in trust and transparency.

Anyone who seeks to understand messages and audiences in the realm of strategic communication may have just shuddered at the thought of such transparency. Traditional public relations as a field once consisted of a company’s presenting a message to its publics and working to persuade them that it was true. The post-modern realm of public relations is more dialogical and participatory, understanding that publics help form message as much as do institutions. Nayar, whether or not a student of public relations, has a modern approach to managing companies: in his case a large, international, firm. Yet his theories can be applied to institutions of all sizes. Nayar’s approach is to take the responsibility for change from the office of the CEO to the employees in what he calls the “value zone.”

The definition of audience shifts in Nayar’s description of his four-pronged method for transformation (1. Mirror, mirror; 2. Trust through transparency; 3. Inverting the organizational pyramid and 4. Recasting the role of the CEO). The audience shifts from being the institution’s clients to being made up of its employees. In turn, the CEO becomes the audience of the employees.

Central to Nayar’s book is the redefinition of management, summed up in the Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) concept. Nayar proposes that in order to remain competitive in the modern market, the traditional, hierarchical pyramid of classical management must be turned upside-down. Though he has no one formula, transparency and providing information to employees plays a large role in fostering dialogue and innovation. Nayar describes each institution as an individual that must do what is in its own best interest. And the way to discern what that interest is? – communication, dialogue and conversation with the company’s employees. After being convinced to become CEO of HCLT, Nayar knew he must do it his own way and set out on an unknown path to innovation. Beginning by traveling to the company’s global offices and listening to those involved from the ground up, seeking their insights and inspirations on what was wrong with the company and what deserved celebration.

Nayar’s discovery is that the employees he considers to be in the “value zone,” those not only in a position to see things management can’t see, but those who have the passion to transform and invest themselves in the company, should be the resource valued above all else. Anyone can develop IT products and anyone can offer services. But most companies cannot provide full-service solutions that include hundreds of invested people, willing to provide transparency and offer clients their best talent, care and attention.

Employees First, Customers Second is a resource to be valued by communications strategists in all fields. As communications is understood more and more as the organizing principle of communities, publics, organizations and companies, communications professionals are increasingly sought for leadership positions. If called into such position, Nayar’s book provides a four-fold strategy (with flexibility to add components and cycle through them in an order best adapted to the individual company) from which a leader can enter the scene and begin to understand what makes an institution relevant in today’s public relations climate.

A resource applied in the book that applies to all seeking to build a communications strategy is Nayar’s understanding of the point A, point B continuum. Nayar concedes that most would acknowledge that a straight line exists connecting point A to point B. This line must be traveled to get from one to the other. Many companies and employees of companies think that they understand what point A is, but admit they don’t know where or what point B is. But what if we hold up a mirror in organizations in which we work and realize that not only are we unsure of the definition of point B, but we no longer can define our current point A? Nayar demonstrates that point A is not stationary, not a thing of the past; it is a thing of the present.

To build relationships with others (in this case, our customers) we must first understand ourselves through reflection and contemplation. Hence the notion of holding up the mirror on a regular basis. Holding up mirror and facilitating conversation often can help a strategist discern the ever-shifting point A so that point B might become a thing of clarity. Particularly for institutions with historical precedent (we’ve always done things the way we’ve done them), reevaluating point A is a critical step in creating a communications strategy. It is a form of self-orientation in the fields of competition in which a company finds itself.

Communications strategists, with the help of Nayar’s practices, can try to convince the management of the companies they consult to shift responsibility from the CEO to the company’s most valuable resource – its employees, the transformers with vision and passion. Tapping into this resource may not be an easy process Nayar claims it will allow authenticity to arise, creating bonding capital among teams in the company and bridging capital with the companies’ clients, who were also later invited into conversation. There is risk involved in being vulnerable in dialogue, but the risk is such that a communications professional can embrace. Taking the risk of transparency opens the company to wider inspection, both from the public and from the employees within. Nayar uses the metaphor of large glass windows in Amsterdam (p.68) to illustrate this point. The bigger the window, the cleaner it must be kept to gain credibility, and the more can be seen.

In the end, the collaboration and transparency Nayar proposes, coupled with the credibility trust that builds among employees, builds trust with an organization’s clients. Slowly but surely, for Nayar, HCLT’s clients began to see the benefits of engaged, thinking and contributing employees. HCLT began to win bigger clients and again become competitive in the global market. There is rightly fear of the former status quo returning with success, but because of the cyclical nature of Nayar’s practice, the mirror is discernment is regularly held up, inviting old and new employees into the conversation.

Communications strategists should read Nayar’s book in order to instantly understand where the most valuable resource of a company lies – in its employees. Like Nayar as CEO, communications consultants, as a result of reading his book, can understand a paradigm of listening and dialogue that celebrates communication as an organizing principle and helps a company determine the true publics to which its public relations work should be directed.

Nayar, V. (2010). Employees first, customers second turning conventional management upside down. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

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