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Work in Progress examines life in the workplace through an innovative exploration of both the seven deadly sins and the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. This approach provides a framework to reveal how the Spirit has given Christians powerful gifts ...
Work in Progress examines life in the workplace through an innovative exploration of both the seven deadly sins and the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. This approach provides a framework to reveal how the Spirit has given Christians powerful gifts to overcome struggles the face in the challenges of daily work in a globalized world. The authors interact both with one another and with the wisdom of great spiritual writers of history in order to draw out real-life dilemmas and to suggest practical tips for becoming vibrant disciples in the workplace.
In addition to filling a critical need for a resource on spiritual growth at work, Work in Progress has an intercultural approach — the authors are from Canada and Malaysia — that is particularly dynamic and engaging.
Struggle Fruit Outcome
Pride Joy Continuous Prayer Being imprisoned within Feeling the exhilaration Experiencing continuous your self as No. 1 of having God as No. 1 communion with God
AU It's good to take pride in a job well done. Or to take pride in the accomplishments of someone else. And yet we know that there's a dark side to pride. Paul, how do you see pride negatively affecting people when they work?
PS Pride makes you boast about being a self-made person. When things go well, you think you're the only one who did it. When things go bad, it's someone else's fault. You make extravagant promises. You set high expectations. But when things spiral out of control, you shift the blame elsewhere. You sincerely can't believe that all these people failed you. This happens at work all the time, Alvin.
AU I don't think people set out to be arrogant or blame-shifters. They don't make it a goal in life. And yet they turn out like that. What gives? PS Pride blinds us from seeing the reality of who we are. It inflates our ego, distorts our vision, and walls us off from God. So we lack God's perspective. We do not seek divine help. We try to stand at the center of the universe. We trust only ourselves.
AU So if we cannot trust God, then we think we have to control everything ourselves.
PS It's easy to recognize pride in other people, but much harder to recognize these symptoms in ourselves.
AU Sounds like if we don't admit we're tempted by pride, we may already have fallen into it.
We meet two kinds of proud people in the workplace. The first type, Mr. Solo Flyer, takes all the credit for his accomplishments. His conceit makes him chronically incapable of recognizing how he has received help along the way, especially from the people he thinks of as below him. The second type is Ms. Insufferable, who projects arrogance, treats people with disdain, and makes you feel as if the five minutes she has given you are worth more than the latest stock tip from Warren Buffett. Mr. Solo Flyer and Ms. Insufferable consider themselves "superb" above all, which befits the Latin word for pride, superbia.
Biblical pride has a wide range of meanings. In its positive sense, pride is used to emphasize God's glory, excellence, and beauty. In contrast, when used of humanity, pride becomes distorted. It means attempting to appear above others, feeling conspicuous about one's self, being haughty and puffed up by self-conceit. Pride devises schemes to toy with the weak (Ps. 10:2). Pride makes us deceive ourselves (Obad. 3). The book of Proverbs, a manual for attaining wisdom, associates pride with arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech.
Therefore God opposes the proud (James 4:6). In fact, he detests them (Prov. 16:5). Pride estranges us from God (Ps. 138:6) because it encourages us to make a petty grab for equality with God, instead of attributing glory, excellence, and beauty to God. An attitude of pride is fundamentally opposed to Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Phil. 2:6).
Pride at Work
Pride permeates the modern workplace. Like the air we breathe, pride is absorbed into our celebrity culture, corporations, and self-image. This workplace sin often masquerades as ambition, confidence, and chutzpah. It makes us unwilling to listen to or acknowledge any painful truths about ourselves. We deceive ourselves — though not God, who sees everything. Pride is deadly because it grows so imperceptibly within us. It's killing us but we don't know it.
Bernard of Clairvaux, the remarkable eleventh-century monk, understood the anatomy of pride. As the spiritual leader of the Cistercian monastic order that influenced the commercial, intellectual, and religious life of Europe, he suggested that pride begins innocuously but gradually leads us down a precipitous ladder that results in complete estrangement from God and self.
The Precipitous Ladder into Pride: Where Are You on These Twelve Steps?
1. Being curious: Are you curious about matters that do not concern you? Curiosity seems harmless. But it's the gateway to other ills. Your curiosity about your colleague's salary could lead you to envy her, pity yourself, or strive for more.
2. Unbridled speech: Are you talking about the things you're curious about? You complain, gossip, and make passing remarks about people and affairs that don't directly impact you. You can't keep secrets.
3. Senseless optimism: Are you convincing yourself that things are always okay? The more you talk, the more you're seeking to console yourself. You focus on what you're good at. You laugh about your pain. Trivial things in life entertain you.
4. Boasting: Are you constantly hinting at or telling people about your achievements? Your compulsive need to feel good is now expanding. You've got to tell people how great you are. You enjoy the feeling of people taking each word you say so seriously.
5. Sense of being special: Are you feeling more special than others? Your boasting makes you think you're much better than the average guy. You deserve to stand out. You're the star on your team.
6. Arrogance: Are you believing your own propaganda? You sincerely believe all the praise people are lavishing on you. You're smarter, brighter, and savvier, period. 7. Presumption: Are you thinking that you know what's best -all the time? You butt into meetings, interrupt conversations, change decisions. You don't need to ask people what they think as long as they ask you what you think.
8. Self-justification: Are you constantly explaining away your actions? If people confront you, you reply: (a) I did not do it; (b) I did it, but it was the right thing to do; (c) It was wrong, but I meant well; or (d) Someone else made me do it. 9. Insincere confession: Are you saying you're sorry only if you have to? At this point, more and more people are aware of your prideful behavior. If confronted, you're willing to shed false tears as you confess your wrongdoing. But you're not at fault, really.
10. Rebellion against peers or superiors: Are you willfully ignoring the people who are correcting, rebuking, or challenging you? You feel contempt and scorn for people and things in general. Your disdain extends to God.
11. Feeling free to sin: Are you feeling pretty good about the evil you're doing? Banish shame, fear, and guilt! Forget what moralistic people think of you. You're not governed by that. In your private moments, you may feel a tinge of regret or remorse. But you shrug it off.
12. Habitual sinning: Are you sinning with total abandonment and freedom? You can't stop even if you wanted to (but you don't). The minions of evil — lust, greed, anger, envy, and despair — control you. You have given Satan open access to the door of your heart.
It is easy to hurtle down the many steps into pride but much harder to climb our way out of it. Given the deceitful nature of pride, efforts to extricate ourselves from the crevasse of pride could leave us in greater danger of falling deeper into it. Pride robs us of self-knowledge. For example, we know of bosses, supervisors, or associates who talk a great deal about humility and yet project arrogance in their demeanor. Such arrogance is evident to all except the proud person.
The opposite of pride is humility. Bernard of Clairvaux defines humility as "the virtue by which a man [sic] recognizes his own unworthiness because he really knows himself." Such people are blessed by God with the ability to see themselves the way God sees them. They harbor no illusions about themselves and know that they cannot do anything to impress God. Yet God loves them deeply. God is delighted when such people offer themselves to God — even the broken pieces, such as failure, sorrow, and sin.
But we cannot try to achieve humility ("Friends, I've attained humility!"). Humility is a byproduct of seeking a deeper union with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the model of humility and gentleness; he will shape us into his likeness if we permit him to do so. In the same way, we cannot root out pride through direct means. We cannot work harder at self-improvement. There are, however, indirect means of dealing with pride (see the Exercises below).
Not least, the Spirit equips us with the fruit of joy, which frees us from captivity of self and gives us the exhilaration of being captivated by God and other people.
Review the "Precipitous Ladder into Pride" and reflect on the questions. Ask God to help you determine on which step of the Ladder of Pride you are standing. Michael Casey, a Benedictine monk in Australia, has suggested some exercises that will help you cultivate humility through indirect means, depending on where you are on the ladder.
1. Restrain your speech (practice this if you're anywhere between steps 1 and 3 on the Precipitous Ladder into Pride): Keeping silence doesn't come naturally in a world of noise, hurry, and crowds. Practice verbal restraint by being an intentional listener during lunch conversations this week, speaking fewer words, and asking questions motivated by genuine concern. Stop gossip or unprofitable talk.
2. Become a servant (steps 4-7): Jesus Christ demonstrated lowliness by forgetting himself and showing concern for others. Imitate Jesus as a servant in the workplace by identifying certain types of work that are usually below you (such as photocopying or washing dirty dishes left by colleagues). Do this secretly, faithfully, and with joy for one week or one month (or more).
3. Practice radical self-honesty (steps 8-12): Reflect on some sinful or habitual patterns of behavior that emerge while you work (things like irritability, perfectionism, or not tolerating mistakes). Confide in a trusted friend that you are leading a double life by continuing this behavior. Give your confidant permission to provide tough feedback, if necessary. Pray together, asking for God's help and mercy.
Struggle Fruit Outcome
Greed Goodness Persistent Gratitude Inflaming the passion to Cultivating a character Experiencing the freedom possess more than you that gives rather than of knowing that all you have takes have comes from God
PS It's tempting to regard work purely as the means for gaining more money, more possessions, and more comforts in life. Do you struggle with that temptation, Alvin? AU Thankfully, I don't usually think of work solely as a means for making money. In our career choices, my wife Huey Fern and I have experienced big swings in our income. We have earned far more than we needed when working in finance and investments. We have also chosen voluntary unemployment and part-time jobs. We are learning to trust God in plenty and in want. But I sometimes think, "Wouldn't it be nice to have just a little bit more?"
PS Like you and Huey Fern, my wife Gail and I have led an exciting life over the past five decades. I've counseled students, founded an inner-city church, worked as a carpenter, and taught as a professor of marketplace theology and leadership. Our income has fluctuated like crazy, sometime 50 percent down, and sometimes 100 percent up. Through all this, our lifestyle has not changed much. And now that I am retired I have no regular income.
AU So you're no longer tempted by the desire for more, right, Paul?
PS I wish. I always enjoyed using my Nikon digital SLR camera ... until the day I had lunch with my friend Peter and saw what his newest Nikon model could do! One thing I have learned: it's not about how much money you have or earn, but about what money and possessions mean to you.
AU That sounds great. As a principle. But I'm wondering if it's possible to work in a highly paid job without becoming greedy. Or am I kidding myself?
These days, it seems okay to be greedy, as long as you're not crass, arrogant, or grossly insensitive to other people's feelings. This outlook is spurred by organizations that reward CEOs with excessive compensation packages. Donald Trump, a real-estate mogul and television celebrity, says, "I have mixed feelings about greed being a workplace sin. I believe that you have to be motivated by some sort of insatiability for success."
People usually regard greed as the drive to achieve and acquire more, in the shortest time possible. Ironically, this passion makes us feel discontented with what we have and obsessed with what we do not yet have. The fourth-century Christian monk Evagrius of Pontus, who spent the final decade of his life in prayer and scrutiny of his unruly emotions, wrote that greed is not merely the tendency to accumulate more material things. Greedy people, says Evagrius, are preoccupied with "thinking about what does not yet exist." The Ten Commandments call this variant of addictive thinking "covetousness."
According to the Bible, greed or avarice (Latin: avaritia) is generated when our desire for God is channeled instead toward the things that God has made. At the root of greed lies the inclination to regard bread (or provision) as something distinctly separate from God. We see this dynamic at play within the heart of humanity, in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve found themselves gazing at the fruit of a tree. The fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and it would make them wise, they mused. In the garden of plenty, they were tempted with provision, beauty, and power. They faced an ageless conundrum that confronts us today: would they trust God to provide for their needs (in want or plenty)? Or would they satisfy those desires by whatever means seemed fit to them? Alexander Schmemann, a prominent twentieth-century Orthodox Christian priest and writer, observed that Adam's primal sin was much more than munching on a forbidden fruit: "The sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God."
Greed at Work
Greed is probably the most common workplace sin. It ranges from the innocuous and insidious to the garish and diabolical. Much of unrecognized greed stems from noble intentions to build a safe and secure financial base for loved ones. Even poor people are not exempt from greed.
It's easy to chuckle at the victims who fall for e-mail scams ("I am Mrs. Jewel Howard Taylor. Last year, my husband, Mr. Charles Taylor, entrusted some large quantities of diamonds to me. This is why I need you to travel to Nigeria ..."). It's more difficult to identify how our personal spending habits, credit card purchases, and investment strategies could be motivated by greed.
It's easy to become angry with high-level executives who enrich themselves with bonuses and fat salaries while their employees are paid less than a fair wage for their work. It's also easy to rail against greedy pharmaceutical manufacturers, rapacious credit card companies, and unscrupulous banks in Third World countries. But it's much harder to identify the ways we have been co-opted by a consumer culture that makes it a norm for us to cultivate the "good life." If we're not careful, we can even use our own children as excuses to make more money for family vacations and to finance their college degrees.
The reverse side of greed is being exceedingly thrifty or stingy, hoarding things instead of being generous toward God and other people. In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25: 14-30), the servant who hoarded his one talent did so out of fear and aversion to risk. It's no fun living this way. Worse, the servant wrongly accused the master of greed, of claiming to own what did not belong to him.
Excerpted from Taking Your Soul to Work by R. Paul Stevens Alvin Ung Copyright © 2010 by R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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