**WARNING** More God talk to follow, and I might opine some things about the Church you may not want to hear. It’s a bit dry, too: you will probably experience all the fun you enjoy while selecting a color from a wall of white paint swatches. Feel free to skip the post, but don’t flame the author.
I just read this, from a recent Gallup study:
“just 30% of employees have a best friend at work. Those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher wellbeing, and are less likely to get injured on the job. In sharp contrast, those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged.”
Of course, my mind went immediate to my last, longest workplace. I’ve experienced enough pain, and seen enough people be caused pain, in the name of the Biblical institutions of higher learning, that it could have me choking on my own vomit. I’ve heard any number of ex faculty and staff say they’d never return to that place. Not in a million years. And what makes this condition even more peculiar to me is that I can’t conceive of a community with more best friends: my closest, dearest friends, my family each one, with whom I saw the birth and growth of children, and cried at their spouses’ deaths. And when I left, I had a far lower chance than 1 in 12 of being engaged.
What was missing from the equation?
I have been mulling over this topic for a few years, and this is my first attempt to write anything about it. I’ve heard the same horror stories from people jaded by the Church. I’ve felt identical moments of hurt. In my experience, Christian corporations have a binary switch: they are ministries when it benefits them, and when that’s no longer a useful paradigm, they magically become a business. I jump back and forth, often conflating the College with the Church. They believed themselves to be an extension of the Church, and it was easy for us to do so as well. By the way–I’m not meaning to complain, here. I’m simply wondering why? Don’t Gallup’s numbers add up for Christians?
I have a couple theories on the matter. One is a jurisprudential consideration, and has to do with the nature of corporations. Justice John Marshall said (in Opinion to Dartmouth College v. Woodward, way back in 1819, just in case you care about that sort of thing):
A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it
Justice Marshall is telling us, in essence, that a corporation only has as much power as we give it. If this is so, we need to ask ourselves about our great Church’s “charter of creation.” Do we give all power and glory to God? or to the Church (and the power it has over us)? or to the Bible? Are we, as an institution, sick if the focus of our religion is the Church, rather than its people? I don’t know the answers. I just wonder if we, in our innocence, give too much power to the Church. It is, after all, an “artificial being” — enormously important in our abstractions of thought about our relationship with God and others, but artificial nonetheless.
My second thought has to do with one of expectations. We expect more of family, so when they fail to produce a desired outcome, the pain is that much greater. Perhaps the thought is oversimplified, but there’s substance to it. When everyone at work is your family, everyone at work is held to a higher level of scrutiny. When something happens, the topple from the peak of expectation is that much more painful and the pain is magnified. We are, after all, hard-wired to trust family.
For years, Judi and I worked for the same institution. We would get up in the morning, and discuss work over coffee. We’d maybe eat breakfast in the workplace cafeteria as we walked to our offices. At lunch, we’d discuss our days–the people we contacted overlapped, of course. That evening, if we were too tired, we’d eat dinner in the cafeteria again, the walk home, maybe watch the news, and then talk about work as we fell asleep. It was inescapable. We woke, and there work was. We ate work (quite literally, when I worked for a brief while for the Cafeteria). We slept in housing provided by–you guessed it–work. Work paid our salaries, which we used to pay rent to work, so we could stay in our house. We were so utterly self contained within our environment, that reflection was impossible. Like most couples, so as not to bore one another, we shared the extremely good and extremely bad episodes each day over dinner–not “I checked out a book today,” but “Some stupid trustee tried to shut down the library when he was offended by a magazine we receive.” These are not the reasons our relationship with this Christian organization dissolved; even in our interactions with our best friends, we talked about things related to our jobs. Bethany Bubble indeed.
A problem with all corporations is they magnify the greatest good as well as the worst faults of the people within that organization. An amazing year in the library reflects well across the institution; so does a great year in Financial Aid. A year of struggling to keep the power on in the College brings down the morale of everyone. It’s not unique to the Church and its adjutant organizations, but it does make me wonder, if all this is true, what the world makes us so different in the first place?
A few years ago, I asked my friend Dr. Bobo what makes our Church so different from a beast like WalMart or IBM. In terms of structure, they’re strikingly similar: they operate under hierarches, they have a division and distribution of labor within their structure, they have roles and responsibilities. A church generally functions much as a corporation in the service industry. Why are we different? We’re not, he said. He believes that Christ has bought us, in a sort of a corporate redemption, as the Body of Christ. This alone sets us apart. Despite our corporate faults, God has paid a price, through his son. I guess that if this is true (and I’m not sure I believe it), in the end, it all comes down to faith and forgiveness (like most things in the Christian faith). Sometimes I wonder if I have enough of either to get past the pain of being injured by a Christian corporation.