Authenticity, Brevity, and Challenge

Authentic faith might be defined as a faith which is lived. Practical theology deals with orthopraxis. (This is also a very Moravian emphasis, by the way. In The Paradise of the Heart, Comenius translated praxis Christianismi as "the truth of Christianity". I suggested to my class that this seemed so natural to his writing that he may not have even considered any alternative translation. Of course, he was translating into Czech.) Let me suggest the following theological points as being particularly instructive for practical theology in the workplace.

Jesus is Lord.
To affirm the Lordship of Christ in the workplace is to deny the lordship of the employer. You do not need to be secularly employed to understand the influence of overseers, superintendents, and custom; institutionalized ministry is full of them. Many employees are unable to make the distinction clearly; if questioned, they reply that we have no choice. I do sometimes challenge that directly, and when I'm working with highly intelligent analysts I can sometimes perhaps make the theoretical point, but even then moving to the practice of denying the lordship of the employer is extremely difficult. Many people cope by compartmentalizing, allowing the employer to set the agenda and define the boundaries of attention during work hours. We need to recognize that this "follower" behavior is something which God has given to us. It does no good simply to condemn it; the requirement for practical theology is to set this gift in its right order.
God is Truth.
The modern workplace is rife with illusion even when it escapes deliberate falsehood. I've said, "Trying to be objective while working in the 21st century is a little bit like enjoying the performance of a juggler while serving as one of the balls the juggler is keeping in the air."† Right living demands an ultimate loyalty to Truth which precludes fomenting illusion and deceit. A few jobs are built directly on deception. (Telemarketing to entice the elderly, for example, may fall into this category even if not deceptive within the legal definition.) Most jobs are not built on deception but may still involve some adjustment to the truth: tipping uncertainty toward certainty, not persuing doubts, using weasel language so as to not quite lie, or simply selecting the truths to be presented. God, however, is Truth. The requirement for practical theology is to help us see how we can be loyal to the truth.
God is Love.
In terms of the workplace, love, truth, and lordship are intricately intertwined. No for-profit corporation is in the business of loving anyone, but by and large it is not opposed to love being acted out – provided, of course, that the corporate agenda is not compromised in the process. The nature of the modern company leads us to divide the problem into acting out love for customers, with whom we may or may not have direct contact, and acting out love for our fellow workers. Consider CVS Pharmacy's current advertising campaign which is attempting to use the caring acts of individual employees to drive corporate image, brand loyalty, and eventually profits. Again, a company like Medco is consistently willing to allow some of its internal resources to be diverted to acts of compassion for employees suffering unusual illness or other tragedies. From the legal and corporate point of view, however, these are necessarily subordinated to the requirements of the profit-making business. The justification sounds not unlike that used to justify wars and other violence by governments: We have to make money or the company will cease to exist, and then where would you get the resources to divert to acts of love? The problem for practical theology is to allow social order to exist without granting the institutions of that social order sovereignity over the demands of Love.

Temptation is ever present. The worker who recognizes and accepts these points will then be tempted toward self-will, cynicism, and self-help books.

Brevity is the soul of wit, but not of theology. The modern workplace, however, is not an appropriate (or effective) setting for exhaustive theological debate. Practical theology needs to offer sufficient clarity and simplicity so that the worker can make an appropriate response to the demands of custom and of social order within the context of actual daily experience.

Challenge comes every day. You asked for examples of care, encouragement, support, perhaps even "timely chastisement" and I give you a few of those, but I also wonder if memorable examples are not quite at the heart of living out faith in the workplace. The issue of living faith authentically also arises in the everyday tasks of the workplace.

  1. One person in the workplace falsely accuses another of a socially suspect political position, such as being a Communist. (Well, actually, exactly like that. A third person - who was planning to join the army - responded by clarifying, "He's not a Communist; he's a pacifist.")
  2. A school administrator instructs a new teacher who is starting a new program to attend a multi-day seminar away from the district. (I refused on the grounds that I needed to be in the classroom, especially at this time. The next week, the administrator called a staff meeting and told all the teachers that no further travel to outside seminars would be approved because he had read an article in a journal which advocated teachers spending more time in the classrooms with their students.)
  3. An experienced employee, who is not a convinced Christian, expresses unhappiness with the direction of her life and some despair about the future. (I summarized the Good News in a sentence, secularly expressed. And when she requested - perhaps at least partly tongue in cheek - that I pray for her, I was able to assure her, "I do.")
  4. A manager seeks a new report to use in employee evaluations, but the programmer doubts that the nature of the data to be reported would support any comparison between employees. (I wrote the program under protest and advised the manager, the subordinate manager, and some of the key employees about what I understood the limitations of the information to be.)
  5. A conservative Roman Catholic employee is thrown into doubt and confusion when another employee dismisses his positions as being "liberal". Subsequent self-examination increases his confusion by showing that his actual positions do not fit neatly into either of the current political ideologies. (I pointed out that he was neither conservative nor liberal, but Christian and Catholic. He paid for lunch.)
  6. A coworker who exhibits all the overt signs of Christian commitment, such as church attendance, leading a youth group, keeping a Bible at his desk, and (of course) dismissing 99.9% of all biological science, sends an email requesting support for his proposal on the grounds that (a) God had convicted him of being too controlling and (b) God had instructed him particularly to pursue the very course he had been set on previously. (Still unresolved.)
  7. Management mandates reporting work hours … the report has nothing to do with being paid … and the managers require that the hours entered be allocated to fit the management plan rather than reflecting reality? (I make up the numbers; I believe that even the best effort at reporting actual hours would still be misleading and this helps the managers deal with their colleagues.)
  8. Procedures are mandated with the stated intent of improving the quality of programming projects, but the employee doubts the efficacy of the new procedures to achieve that end and both that employee and many coworkers think following the mandates will distract them from meeting the needs of the business. (I created revised procedures informed by substantially the same goals, and my boss got management support to implement them instead of the original mandates.)

In looking at my 8 examples in the C section, it seems that the resolutions were often as problematic as the original conundrums.

† Actual Reality Game from September 28. Compare October 1.