Vocations and hairballs

A quick post today as this has been quite a week, but if you’re familiar with the wonderful theologian and author J.I. Packer, he has some very insightful words about the Christian concept of vocation over at Crosswalk.com. You can check it out here. I’ve given this topic some thought over the years and I find that there is the constant need to transcend the tyranny of the moment… it’s nearly impossible to keep a healthy perspective on what we’re really here to do (and whom we’re here to serve) when we get all worked up over the daily and weekly hairballs of corporate life.

Incidentally, I borrow that phrase “hairball” from the wonderful (albeit theologically questionable) book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Graceby the late Gordon MacKenzie. It’s a book about behaving as a creative innovator by orbiting the hairball – you know, the politics, the pettiness, and the inertia of the status quo found at the center of most bureaucracies. He suggests that the key is not launching ourselves in the stratosphere, thereby declaring ourselves immune from relevant daily issues, and not getting ourselves tangled up right in the middle of the hairball. The same principle is true for us as Christians. We need to orbit these hairballs, reminding ourselves of our true vocation and staying close enough to be relevant (salt and light) without becoming entangled in the mess.

Lighten up

Anyone see this article on MSNBC today? It’s about the benefit of humor in the workplace (and the host of issues surrounding offensive jokes). Years ago, when I worked at the School of Management at North Park University, I worked for a wonderful retired Air Force Colonel who, among other things, taught strategic mangement classes and attended a yearly conference put on by the Humor Project. He taught his management courses from a Christian worldview and often remarked that humor should have it’s place among the other sound disciplines of management. I think he was right. The Apostle Paul tells us to avoid “obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes” (Eph 5) but that certainly doesn’t relegate us to become a bunch of humorless relgious stereotypes, does it?  I think not. As an example, if you’ve not seen it yet, one of my favorite funny places for a Christian laugh is the blog Stuff Christians Like. For example, hand raising in church. Enjoy.

Productive Anger

“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” – Winston Churchill

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter

I had the pleasure of catching up with an old coworker this past weekend. While we mostly talked about our personal lives, we also got a chance to catch up on what each other is doing at work and the opportunities and challenges we face. It’s always interesting to me to see that people who really care – those who are really invested in their organization and its future – often go through periods of feeling disenfranchised and even angry with the decisions of their organization. I’m not talking about being angry because one feels personally wronged (although that sometimes happens); I’m talking about feeling frustrated with not having the ability to help your organization make better choices. And while no one can be assured that their way is the right way, we shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes these situations can create a degree of anger wtihin us.

Understandably, we’re taught on some tacit level that  if we disagree with the organization’s decisions, that concern – not anger – is the more appropriate response. That’s probably true behaviorally (I’ve not yet “cleansed” the conference room after a meeting a la Jesus in the temple… yet), but we need not be ashamed when frustration bleeds over into anger. I’ve seen similar situations within the church. No one wants to seem like they’re too sensitive or easily provoked, but when we ask people to heavily invest their time, talents and their heart into an organization, we get the whole heart – not just the fuzzy part.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as holy anger. Simply put, holy anger is that anger which stems from somthing that is justifiably upsetting and that is handled appropriately. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” Jesus and many other people in the Bible grew angry at times without letting their anger lead them to sin. The real test for us, it seems, is to handle it well… to channel it into productive means of improving the organization, and, when those opportunties arise, to seek the campanionship and counsel of our fellow workplace believers to give us some healthy perspective.

Standards of excellence

Today I hopped in the car to travel between buildings for a meeting and caught all of two minutes of Pastor Greg Laurie’s talk about Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel is a really interesting guy, isn’t he? He’s a Jewish exile, but he’s got a killer job, working as a right-hand man for Darius, the King of Babylon. Darius, and for that matter the other high officials that plotted to kill Daniel, found him faultless in his behavior and outstanding in his service to the king. Now this is a guy who cared about integrity and pursued excellence.

In the part of Greg Laurie’s talk that I heard, he was exhorting Christians to raise our personal performance standards. On some level, many of us assume that because we’re Christians that others will want to work with us (or have us work for them). We assume that letting others know we’re Christians will let them know that we value integrity and carry a strong worth ethic. Christian business owners put Jesus fish on their logos and many of us take steps to brand ourselves as workplace believers. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but as Laurie pointed out, we may have the process backwards. If we are Christ-followers, we should do like Daniel did – create a standard of performance and professionalism that is unquestionable. Then, once our reputation is cemented, and people later realize that we’re people of faith, our reputations in the workplace will assist us in representing (“re-presenting”) Christ to an unbelieving world.

To hear the rest of the sermon, go here and choose “Daniel in the Lion’s Den – 7/23/08”

An ambitious week

What comes to your mind when you think of having an ambitious week? Making a huge sale? Taking charge of a major project? Putting in long hours to get ahead of your upcoming work? Applying for a new position that has more responsibility and pays a little more? I don’t know about you, but some weeks I crave the simplicity of something a little less… well, ambitious.

Fortunately, my upcoming ambitious week will consist of putting in 45 hours at the office, mostly staying focused in my project room on tying up some loose ends on a number of projects, and getting home by 5:30 to have dinner with the family. Life has been a little crazy lately, and tonight I got thinking about God’s words to the people of Thessalonica (in 1Thes 4),

“This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you before. As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others to meet your financial needs.”

How awesome is that? Isn’t it great to know that the ultimate boss doesn’t really care that much about us trying to achieve that bigger title or the “Salesperson of the Month” award? What’s really important is working hard, having integrity, and being respectful of others.

That, I can do.

A different take on workaholism

As a die-hard hockey fan, I can’t believe that I’m about to confess this, but I really enjoy watching the show So You Think You Can Dance with my wife. I’m just catching up on last week’s episodes (because, ironically, I’ve been working a lot). Last night, I watched this really interesting routine done to illustrate the odd and unfortunate role that work can play in a relationship. Check it out.

The Nouwen Challenge, pt. 3 (rocks and pebbles)

Howdy. I’ve not gotten a chance to blog since early last week thanks to a crazy, crazy work life at work. I’m afraid that it’s going to be that way for a few months – bummer. For those of you following or participating in the Nouwen challenge, I must admit that it’s had a rocky start for me. I found that I really have enjoyed those moments of silence with God, but if I’m even slightly sleepy (and thanks to work, I’ve been exhausted), I tend to drift into half-sleep unless I’m meditating on some thought… a thought of thanks, a scripture to meditate on, or even just thinking about who God is. Even then, I’ve been a little distracted. Empyting my mind has proven tough, but meditating on something God-related has proven to be more fruitful. The key for me will be to make regular time for this, which I intend to do.

The bigger learning for me relates back to that old story about the rocks in the jar. Heard that one? If not, skip down and check it out. Each of us must ask ourselves, when work takes up more and more of our time – or in other words, when we’re dealt a rock that we can’t easily shove in the jar – how will we fit the rest of what’s important to us in there? I’ve been trying to fit a lot of very large rocks into my jar and the result has been a lack of sleep and lot of harried evenings and weekends. The jar can only get so big without breaking. So, I’ve determined that some God time (in the form of some quiet mediation) and family time are the biggest rocks. Work is a rock that can’t be avoided, and church and other charitable activities are big ones too. Beyond that, my hobbies (including blogging, I’m afraid), the gazillion projects around the house, the stack of books on the night stand, and even the hockey blogs predicting what will happen when free agency starts tomorrow will just need to be fit in where they can. I’ll still be blogging, but probably not every day (but maybe the quality will go up as the quantity goes down!). In the end, my inability to enjoy the Nouwen Challenge helped me to see something bigger (praise God!).

One more thought about that big rock called work. Someone once told me that a good way to order your life is to look at it from the end and work back. What do we really want to accomplish while we’re here? Since work is a rock that we can’t avoid and it will take up a big portion of that jar whether we like it or not, it’s confirmation for me that work isn’t just a way to get the bills paid, it’s part of the ministry that the Lord gives us. We need to treat it as such. Along with our family, “work” contains the details – the who, the what and the where – of how we might bring a little light into the lives of others.

‘Till next time…

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A high school science teacher wanted to demonstrate a concept to his students. He takes a large-mouth jar and places several large rocks in it. He then asks the class, “Is it full?

“Unanimously, the class reply, “Yes!”

The teacher then takes a bucket of gravel and pours it into the jar. The small rocks settle into the spaces between the big rocks.

He then asks the class, “Is it full?”

This time there are some students holding back, but most reply, “Yes!”

The teacher then produces a large can of sand and proceeds to pour it into the jar. The sand fills up the spaces between the gravel.

For the third time, the teacher asks, “Is it full?

“Now most of the students are wary of answering, but again, many reply, “Yes!”

Then the teacher brings out a pitcher of water and pours it into the jar. The water saturates the sand. At this point the teacher asks the class, “What is the point of this demonstration?”

One bright young student raises his hand and then responds, “No matter how full one’s schedule is in life, he can always squeeze in more things!”

“No,” replies the teacher, “The point is that unless you first place the big rocks into the jar, you are never going to get them in. The big rocks are the important things in your life …your family, your friends, your personal growth. If you fill your life with small things, as demonstrated by the gravel, the sand, and the water…you will never have the time for the important things.

So, what are the “Big Rocks” in your life? Spending time with your children, your parents or your spouse? Taking the seminar or class to get the information and perspective you need to succeed? Making the time to set goals, plan or evaluate your progress? When you are hassled because there is no time, remember the story about the Big Rocks and the Jar!

Author Unknown