Spiritual legitimacy

I love to read history, particularly about the formation of the U.S. during the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years. I’ve been Reading a book about Hamilton by Ron Chernow that reminded me that winning the war against Britain was just the first step towards creating a legitimately independent country. The second step, which was nearly as challenging, was making the US financially solvent. Only through millions of dollars worth of loans secured from the Dutch by John Adams, combined with the formation of the first federal bank by Hamilton (two men that, ironically, couldn’t trust one another), was our new country truly considered by others to be legitimate. It was weapons that enabled our independence, but currency that gained the trust needed to secure it.

In our modern economy, money doesn’t buy trust. In fact, it’s the opposite. The musical Cabaret got it wrong when Liza Minnelli sang that money makes our world go round. Trust is what makes the world go round. Our world is a highly interdependent ecosystem of relationships and trust is what makes those relationships legitimate. This is true of all relationships: child-parent, customer-salesperson, husband-wife, friend-friend, lender-borrower, coworker-coworker, employee-boss. Trust is the infrastructure upon which each of these relationships is built and if we want to legitimately impact our world, trust must be present in our relationships.

When it comes to faith, we should remember the role of trust in helping others grow closer to God. People come to faith through trust. Paul wrote in Romans 3:22 that, “We are made right in God’s sign when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.” Likewise, others who know that we’re Christian will over time either come to trust that our faith is true or otherwise and most of these impressions are formed on a day-to-day basis. Sure, big life moments can prove our trust, but trust is built daily. Brendan Manning (I first wrote Brendan Morrow – can anyone tell it’s Stanley Cup playoff time?) offered us this fantastic quote,

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  

If we aspire to be positive spiritual influences in our workplace, it starts with first proving our own faith legitimate by making the small, daily decisions that allow us to build the trust of others over time.

(Speaking of trust, I’ve got some big things this week that need my attention – my new team is spending the week together in Grand Rapids, I’m celebrating an anniversary with my wife, and I still need to put the finishing touches on the message for a wedding I’m performing this Saturday… as such, I wanted to give you a head’s up that I’m going to be blogging less frequently this week but I’ll still post occasionally. Trust me.)

Work – life balance

This is an outta-whack week for me. My work schedule is packed, I’ve got two meetings at a nonprofit organization that I work with, and I’ve got three different church meetings/events that I need to be at. A few weeks of this is okay, but if I was this busy for an extended period, I’d certainly have to cut back on the important things (like blogging).

Maintaining a work-life balance is exceptionally important. This is particularly true in new marriages or when you’ve got kids at home that (despite their seemingly complex needs) rely so heavily on quality time with their folks for their development. Back in ancient Israel, new husbands got quite a gift from the Lord in the form of this piece of Hebraic law.

“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (Deut 24:5)

While most employers don’t seem to be particularly interested in honoring this little bit of scripture, most do have a heightened awareness of the high burnout rates among workaholics and the costly toll that can create for an organization. If, like me, you occasionally struggle with striking the right balance, check out this good resource that I found from the Mayo Clinic. It’s quite good, although it dances around the one key thing that we sometimes must do – standing firm and telling an employer “no” when work demands begin to seriously compromise our family lives or our ability to take a Sabbath.

Occupations and preoccupations

Note: we’re continuing this week’s look at the writings of noteworthy theologians and applying their ideas to our work lives.

I took a walk tonight by myself, which being an only child with a few kids of my own, is a rare indulgence. As I walked by a beautiful pond, the song Long December by Counting Crows came on my iPod as I briskly passed some ducks and blooming trees. At that moment, I remembered a sermon that I once preached at a Congregational church in Chicago about the noise in our lives and our inabilty to do what Elijah did – to find God in the silence. The irony hit me. Here I was alone for forty minutes, dashing by God’s creation on a sunny spring day, while listening to some guy sing in my ears about enduring a long December. Maybe that’s why I never made it as a preacher.

Perhaps no one has written so eloquently about solitude (amongst other things) than Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest, originally from Holland, who led a very full life – helping the mentally disabled, writing prolifically, and teaching at Yale, Notre Dame, and Harvard  – before dying from a heart attack in 1996. A great 20th century theologian, he is a favorite among his fellow Catholics and is equally popular amongst Protestants, a testament to his unifying theology.  

About silence, Nouwen once wrote,

“Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and a space to give him our undivided attention. Jesus says, ‘Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in that secret place.’ (Matt 6:6)”

I don’t know about you, but solitude is non-existent in my crazy schedule, and when I do get some quiet time, I can sit still for about six seconds. Nouwen understood this and suggested that we use our highly scheduled workdays to our advantage. He suggested that we, “…write it in black and white in our daily calendars so that nobody else can take away this period of time.” He suggests starting with as little as five minutes each day. Five minutes of being alone, clearing our thoughts, and allowing God to speak into our lives. He suggests that after many attempts, even weeks or months of trying to do so, that we’ll begin to look forward to it, and when that happens, “…we come to know not only with our minds but with our heart that we were never really alone, that God’s Spirit was with us all along.” 

If we are able to find those five minutes alone during the workday in a private location (like the windowless project room I lock myself in to get through my e-mails) then we should try fostering a discipline of silence. As Nouwen wrote,

“The discipine of solitude… is one of the most powerful disciplines in developing a prayerful life. It is a simple, though not easy, way to free us from the slavery of our occupations and preoccupations and to begin to hear the voice that makes all things new.” 

Half-finished lives

I love to read history. I’m not big into reading fiction or other non-fiction books, but I love to learn a little about the past and the people from it. As such, one of my favorite books is a collection of classic devotional works by Christians from throughout history. This week (and maybe next – we’ll see how this goes), I thought I’d share a few ideas from Christians that have changed the world and apply them to the workplace.

I’d like to start with Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard lived in the nineteenth century and spent most of his life in Denmark during the height of the Enlightenment. During this era, when science and reason claimed to leave little room for “outdated” Christian thought, Kierkegaard’s bold writings were a light in the darkness. He understood the gulf that exists between man and our Creator, and knew Jesus to be the bridge that allowed us to be re-connected. Often interspersing prayers into his writings, he put our human accomplishments in perspective,

“Father in Heaven! What are we without You! What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if we do not know You! What is all our striving, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if we do not know You: You the One, who is one thing and who is all!

So may You give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may You grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing.”

As is so often the case in today’s corporate workplace, that which was deemed empirically concrete was assumed to be of superior importance to that which was spiritual, but Kierkegaard knew better. Our accomplishments at work, though vast accumulations they may be, will only result in half-finished lives. Our lives can be full when God brings our intellect, heart and will back to that “one thing” – knowing him.

Our role in the next revolution

Forgive me for getting to this a day late (I had a fundraiser last night), but I thought I’d share a thought or two on Earth Day. It certainly has changed, hasn’t it? In less than a decade, Earth Day has gone from being a day of hairy women and hemp-clad men protesting the industrial monster of their choice, to being a day of companies celebrating recycling and alternative approaches to commuting. Thankfully, the Green Movement has gone mainstream, due in large part to the efforts of environmentally-conscious consumers demanding better solutions, and entrepreneurs in the marketplace that have found ways of making being green profitable.  

Amongst the foremost of these pioneers is architect William McDonough. His organization, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) has pioneered the concept of Cradle-to-Cradle design, and their website offers a fantastic look at what they refer to as the Next Industrial Revolution.  While this page is basically an advertisement for what MBDC does, it offers a view of the future with which I think every businessperson should acquaint themselves. While MBDC is an organization that has expertise in the sciences, their role as a change agent is firmly within the marketplace.

The real question then is this – “What role will Christians play in ushering in the Next Industrial Revolution?” Knowing from Genesis the details of how he created our world, are we behaving as its stewards by becoming change agents within our organizations? Doing so requires both a commitment to his creation and a commitment to smart marketplace strategies. Psalm 42:1 reads, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”It’s up to us, his people, to take care of his world. We can start at home, but we won’t reach our potential as stewards until we extend that commitment into our roles in the marketplace.

 

Rainy reminders

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 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt 5:3-4)

Monday was one of those dark and rainy days when it seemed like a lot better idea to stay in bed all day. There are, of course, lots of days that are literally or metaphorically rainy, and it can be difficult to get through the work day with an uplifted spirit. So allow me to take a break from my typically upbeat posts and soak in the rain for a moment.

I’m continuing this week’s theme of using Christian songs as inspiration for my posts, and today I’d like share a song that a lot of folks haven’t heard – Held by Natalie Grant. My friend Andy once said that he’d heard a criticism of Christian music – that most songs were sung in the key of perpetually happy.  Held is not one of those songs. It’s a song about the lousy things that can happen in the lives of Christians.

I had a chat with a coworker that reminded me of this. A brief moment in the conversation reminded me that while all of us spend hours on end talking about work stuff – project plans, sales strategies, training programs, promotional concepts – there are people sitting among us suffering through the pains of life.  Sometimes those people are us.

Relational problems, cancer, miscarriage, financial turmoil, addiction… the list goes on, and I’m reminded that work is a means, not the end, in our lives. Yet sometimes we’re oblivious to the more meaningful, and sometimes very difficult, sides of our coworkers lives.

This song is a reminder to me that we weren’t made for this world. We weren’t promised heaven on earth, and we weren’t guaranteed that life would become easy when we pursued lives of faith. We can find comfort knowing that our Savior was a suffering one –  that he has experienced this life and the great pain that is unfortunately present in it. He’s given us one another to uplift each other and to walk with each other through the rain. As God’s adopted children, we’re not forsaken or forgotten. We are loved deeply by a heavenly Father who desires to do the same thing that we do when our children are hurting – to hold them until the pain lessens.

Legacies

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Ever stop and wonder what is it that we’re really trying to accomplish as individuals in the workplace? Better jobs? More authority? Nicer titles? More money? Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and evaluate where we’re heading and why.

This week I’d like to use some great Christian songs from recent years as inspiration for my posts. Yesterday, I got listening to Nichole Nordeman’s song Legacy and as a result got thinking about what legacy I’d like to leave through my working years. Without having to think too long, I began to realize that it’s the people, not the position, that make a difference. 

When I think of someone who is creating a wonderful legacy at work, I think of my friend Shirley.  She’s not just my friend; she’s everyone’s friend. She works at our training center and is one of the people who helps new employees get settled into our culture and shepherds them through their training. I’m not really sure what her title is, who she reports to, or all that jazz because none of that stuff really matters once you meet her. She’s nurturing, funny, a fantastic listener, and insatiably optimistic. And best of all, she’s a Christian who cares very deeply about living a life of discipleship and isn’t afraid to say so.  I wish there were more Christians like her in the workplace.  

I can’t help but feel that I spend too much time trying to leave a legacy based on career accomplishments, while forgetting that we’re here to represent (literally, “re-present”) Jesus to a world that has seen too many lousy examples of those who claim to do so.

Nichole Nordeman asked the right question in her song when she asks, “Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things?” I aspire to someday leave my kids something to remember more interesting and important about their dad’s career than my old job titles.

If you’re not familiar with Nichole Nordeman, she’s one of my wife and my favorite artists, and Legacy is one of my favorite songs from her. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen…