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A Monk in the Works

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Presentation contrasting the structure of bureaucracy and the perspective of the Rule of Saint Benedict, given to the Benedictine Oblates at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, MN.

Presentation contrasting the structure of bureaucracy and the perspective of the Rule of Saint Benedict, given to the Benedictine Oblates at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, MN.

Published in: Economy & Finance, Spiritual

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  • 1. A Monk in the Works What does The Rule of Benedict teach us about working and living in modern organizations? Presentation by Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B. for the Oblates of Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth MN. 13 April 2008
  • 2. The Unseen Structure
    • Modern life is structured in formal organizations
      • School (even pre-school)
      • Work
      • Church
      • Even our free times takes on this form – sports leagues, book clubs, charity.
    • This structure – bureaucracy – is a modern social invention. We no longer notice it.
  • 3.  
  • 4. The Iron Cage
    • Max Weber – study of organizations*
      • Defined their basic characteristics
      • Designed for making profit
      • Machine is the metaphor
        • Improve productivity
        • Reduce cost
        • Make components work together efficiently
        • People are just one type of component
      • Thought that bureaucracy would become an Iron Cage
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 5.  
  • 6. Bureaucracies
    • Work divided into fixed areas (territories) and authority defined within its territory.*
    • The Rule defines certain areas or roles (gate, cook, cellarer, readers)
      • Monastics rotate through some roles regularly
      • Few areas defined, and all integrated with the life of the monastery (no “divisions” or “departments”)
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 7.  
  • 8. Bureaucracies
    • Graded levels of authority form a system of supervision and subordination.*
    • St. Benedict is allergic to levels of hierarchy (Ch. 65!) but accepts multiple small groups each with a leader to organize its work.
    • The Rule presumes a mutual supervision and mutual subordination.
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 9.  
  • 10. Bureaucracies
    • Management is impersonal, based on “the files” or written records, rather than personal relationship or memory.*
    • The only written record described in The Rule is the record of one’s monastic profession.
    • All decisions are personal – tools are given out personally, infractions are dealt with. Even departures are not permanent.
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 11. Bureaucracies
    • Work is specialized, and presupposes extensive training to become expert.*
    • St. Benedict prescribes training in psalmody.
    • How do we read descriptions for cellarer, porter, reader? The abbot?
      • Prescriptions of the behavior & skills to develop?
      • Descriptions of the traits a person should have?
      • How are these traits developed?
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 12. Bureaucracies
    • Work in a bureaucracy, especially the work of a manager, takes the full-time effort of a person.*
    • The Rule defines seven times of prayer a day. Prayer and lectio are the first job of every monk.
    • St. Benedict speaks of getting help when the work is heavy, or sometimes harvesting. No one seems to be assigned to one job and nothing else.
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 13. Bureaucracies
    • The organization follows rules which are stable and can be learned. Application of these rules is a special skill of management.*
    • This seems to be a similarity.
      • The Rule is written.
      • The abbot is charged with interpreting and applying The Rule
    • The Rule is rarely specific.
    • The application is based on the person, not the situation or the part of The Rule.
    *From Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.
  • 14. Translating The Rule to organizational life
  • 15. Rank: RB Chapter 63
    • Let all keep their places
    • Established by time of their entrance
    • In no place whatever should age decide order
    • Juniors should honor their seniors
    • Seniors should love their juniors
    • In speech and in actions, rank is acknowledged.
    • How can this apply in our organizational lives?
  • 16. Impossible Tasks: Chapter 68
    • “If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a member…”
    • Receive the order in meekness & obedience!
    • “If he sees it…exceeds the limit of strength…”
    • Submit reasons
    • If the superior persists, let him obey out of love, trusting in the help of God.
    • Do such tasks just happen? How does “love” fit?
  • 17. Defending Another: RB Chapter 69
    • No monk may presume on any ground to defend another monk.
    • Nor protect someone
    • Gives rise to scandals.
    • Severely punished.
    • Note Chapter 70: Let no one venture to punish on their own without authority.
    • How can we apply this in our organizations? What changes?
  • 18. Voice: Ch 3, Ch 61, Ch 67
    • Benedict always seeks alternate points of view.
    • Ch 3: Important items
      • Call the whole community
      • Listen to the younger
      • Give advice with deference, not stubbornness
    • Ch 61: A pilgrim monk may have been sent by God to point out something (reasonably)
    • Ch 67: In contrast: monks who travel
      • Do not report what they have seen or heard.
    • How can we apply this? What do we do? Stop?
  • 19. How does The Rule change us inside our organizations? How do we change our organizations as Benedictines?

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