Soft skills, Jesus skills


A few weeks ago, I told the story of a young man named Caleb who had found himself trapped in "Gangsta-ville," desperate to escape. Last Friday I invited Caleb, who had no options and was nearly homeless, to move into my house. In what must have been an incredibly painful experience, Caleb's mother drove seven hours from Michigan to Missouri to leave her son in city he's never seen before.

Upon arrival I discovered that Caleb was 21 years old instead of 19-the years had flown by, or I can't count anymore. Taking him in has been absolutely wonderful and sobering. Given his situation with no car, no real job skills, a tanking economy, the disastrous effects of being socially promoted through high school, a very difficult family situation, and so on, I find myself stunned asking, "OK, he's here, now what?"

The "now what" question puts me to sleep at night and wakes me up in the morning. His situation reminds me of the advantages I take for granted, like the "soft skills" I learned growing up in a success-driven, middle-class neighborhood. Al Duncan explains soft skills as:

"[The] intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that determine a person's ability to excel or at least fit in a particular social structure, such as a project team, a company, or even a jazz quartet. These skills include competencies in areas such as 'Emotional Intelligence,' communication, leadership ability, etiquette, conflict resolution, decision making, self-motivation, self-discipline, persuasion, etc."

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Much of Caleb's dire situation is a result of never being taught the soft skills needed for success, either directly from wisdom like "look to the ant," or indirectly by being surrounded by a community of adults who make careers out of ever-advancing soft skills. The new soft skills that I have introduced him to over the past few days have really challenged me. I've begun to question whether or not I should be doing more of this with young men in desperate need rather than with those I normally teach, whose soft skills are so good that they will receive higher salaries than my own.

The past few days have taught me how hard it is for someone to find and keep a job without a car, job skills, and a questionable past. We simply are going to have to find an employer willing to give him a chance despite his past and find a way to get him back and forth to work.

In addition, Caleb needs more and more spiritual formation with people who will not be taken aback by a black man with tattoos and earrings, and I am not certain where to go for that in St. Louis. Once when I visited a local congregation, it was suggested by a church member that I not return the following Sunday. That hasn't happened to me anywhere else in America. The church was one of the conservative, traditional churches in town, and after the benediction, a Caucasian woman approached me to give me instructions and names of churches that would be better suited for me. I guess my wearing a suit and knowing the hymns was not enough to indicate to her that I would be "OK" there. Whenever I drive past the building or hear the church's name mentioned I am reminded of that shocking conversation.

So Caleb and I are on a quest to develop his soft skills, find employment, and join a community of Jesus followers who are able to love him "as is" and provide the formation needed to help him get back on track. Although my own productivity has taken a nose dive, it has proven more than worth it as I watch the Lord use the various of means of grace to set Caleb free and be the kind of man God created men to be.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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