The Great Resignation
I first came across this phrase this summer in church leadership circles where people were beginning to name this era we currently live in as the time of “the Great Resignation” that describes both the literal – people resigning from leadership and volunteer positions left and right – to the metaphorical… as people’s capacity for care dried up.
Then I did some reading to learn that the term was credited to Texas A&M Associate Professor Anthony Klotz in 2019 when he predicted a coming mass resignation from the workplace… one that is in full throws right now in the summer of 2021. There are literally hundreds of articles out there now trying to talk about the why of it all. Social upheaval. Loss of meaning in the workplace. Yearning for new ways of doing things. Lack of voice in saying this isn’t working.For further thought on that I will simply convey to you this article with Prof. Anthony Klotz: https://www.theversemedia.com/…/anthony-klotz-defining…
But I want to think more broadly about all of this than employment… to circle back where I started before I knew the terms most popular history to think broadly about this whole sense of a time of “great resignation” which is resonating with me in every room I am in right now from the civic process of our country, to volunteerism on the soccer field and at board meetings, to the dwindling life of the church as a gathered community of faith. I want to think largely about the fact that we are so tired of even talking about being tired that we are left with only the capacity to withdraw and that couples with a constant demand for “hard untrained decision making”. But it also covers over that the problems behind the “great resignation” aren’t simply “COVID” but the way in which COVID acted (as Klotz’s says) as an accelerant to trends that were already happening (again, he predicted its coming in the workforce BEFORE covid).
And then I get theological… I’m preaching with a friend on EXILE this Sunday… exile and wilderness are a favorite subjects of mine. I believe them to be fruitful and essential for all that they are defined as unwanted and cut-off. And I wonder if something of the “great resignation” is actually a run toward, and not away, from exile. Exile is actually the place in which we want to make our home right now. And maybe that is right… and then we get this old gem:”The most remarkable observation one can make about this interface of exilic circumstance and spiritual resources is this: Exile did not lead Jews in the Old Testament to abandon their faith or to settle for abdicating despair, or to retreat to privistic religion. On the contrary, exile evoked the most brilliant literature and the most daring theological articulation in the Old Testament.” (Walter Brueggeman, Cadenences of Home)
(deep breath) (pivot)
The soil in my yard is very, very dry. I haven’t run a sprinkler system in years. I live in a very arid place. And you can’t just water my lawn anymore. It’s baked and dried and become somewhat hydrophobic. Hydrophobic soil actually repels water. And while my yard is not fully hydrophobic it is, at this point, so in need of water that it rejects water. (Do you see where I am going with this?) And I’m aware that at such a point if you want to bring life back to my yard it cannot be achieved by simply watering it. My soil lacks the organic and fungal material that makes soil soak up water. And in order to do that, I have to recondition the soil. I have to do deeper soil work and interrupt the water-repellant layers and create more healthy organic “wettable layers”. There is a temptation to think that if its really dry you need to unleash the firehouse. But all that will do is drowned whats left of life. We need to back off… get more subtle… and break it down even more… before anything new can fill up.
Anthony Klotz studies resignations because he says it the one time the employee gets the power away from the corporation. And he wonders what they will do with that power when they have it. He also argues that it’s taboo to talk about resignations because that taboo helps organizations/corporations to keep the control and power. “We don’t talk about it” so that nothing changes. And one of the things he sees here in mass resignation is a desire to force the conversation. Or.. what I will call… to break open the water-repellent layers so we can unearth and cultivate a healthy and whole organic system again.
Now… deep breath… again…
This reflection has no answers. Simply some observations and random connecting of dots that may be completely unrelated. I do not know what to do to inject vitality back into a congregation, or volunteerism, or the workforce. But I do think I see something of the process we are needing to have across the board:
We need to borrow from Jewish tradition and engage in a radical exilic conversation – and we need to lean into it… letting go of taboos and control and embrace deconstruction and imagination.
We need to admit that we are traumatized and something of a byproduct of that is that we are all more than a little hydrophobic right now. (And we cannot afford to get tired of admitting this.) So these conversations need to be slow, gently invasive, and creative.
We need to foster conversations about meaning and the loss of meaning in our lives… Klotz recommends this very thing: “Organizations can help remind people of how their job contributes to the wellbeing of the world.” We need to find clarity about what we are rejecting and what we are seeking and their overlaps.
We need confession about complicity and honest truth-telling in order to deconstruct all that is at work and to hold on to the clarity of what it is that we really want… and really endorse.
We need to stay very close to the experience of suffering and to those experiencing suffering… we need to lay ourselves bare before each other for isolation, insulation… and the comfort they bring hold exile and its fruit at bay.
We need ambivalence. Deconstruction and new construction is neither all old stuff reordered (deck chairs on the Titanic) or all-new replacements (there are deep and helpful resources we need… like radical exilic conversation).
We need to imagine that this is all possible – actively work on imagining it every day and committing ourselves to be willing to look for it, push it, and respond to it, just plain show up for it… because its all too easy to decide it isn’t my job… after all – I’m living the Great Resignation too.