God at Work
David Batstone on Making a Difference
Anita Sharpe got the discussion rolling earlier this week about God and work. Prepare yourself for a shocking expose: Scores of your colleagues are bringing God to work every day.
That idea might scare some of you given how polarized religion has become in our time. Fear not. The vast majority of spiritual seekers are not out to convert or condemn you. Some of your colleagues are looking to God for wisdom, others turn to God for comfort or courage, and yet others find God in the connections they make with others. The fascinating element here, of course, is that God takes on many different faces. Put more familiarly, God has many names.
Individuals who follow a spiritual path consider their work a vocation, a calling to find personal meaning and make a contribution to the common good. Such an attitude enhances the work environment. Yes, they get sidetracked by the allure of material gain and the elevated status of a career, or even the mundane petty jealousies that arise from competition. The true spiritual seeker treats these pursuits as detours, or maybe even way stations, on a journey that passes to distant destinations.
Spiritual seekers aim to bridge the values of their private lives to the values of the workplace.Â The society of organizations metes out rewards for those people driven by competition and acquisition. Is it any wonder that the deeply spiritual values of compassion, contribution, and cooperation struggle to find roots in the workplace? We are asked to leave so much of ourselves behind at the door when we come to work.
A feature in The New York Times this past week (3/17/06) tracks a surprising trend: An increasing number of individuals are attending theological seminary as a training camp to prepare for their vocational journey. They view theology and ethics as a solid foundation for jobs in business, health care, social work, journalism - you name it, the range is wide. Only half of those completing a Masters in Divinity now join the clergy, according to data cited in the story, down 10 to 15 percentage points in the last five years alone.\n\nI guess I should come clean and reveal that I graduated with a Masters of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion, then later went on to complete a Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. My education profoundly shaped the way I approach financial markets even though I rarely make use of religious language today in my business practice. The concepts of reconciliation and renewal, for instance, find constant application in my work. I believe that revelation is not something seen once upon a time; it opens our eyes to see every day. It is not something only heard; it gives us ears to hear. It is not words spoke merely by a prophet long ago; it gives us a message to speak.\n\nSpeaking the truth in an organization often requires spiritual fortitude. A devoted reader of the WAG, Joe Carson, was featured last year in the Washington Times along with several other 'whistle blowers' in an article entitled, 'Religion Helps Workers Speak Up.' [Ed. Note - hyperlink to: http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20050822-123631-4900r.htm]\nJoe is a nuclear safety engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He unashamedly claims that his religious faith compelled him to blow the whistle 19 times since 1990 on public-safety hazards at the Department of Energy, which is the guardian of the nation's nuclear stockpile. 'Whistleblowers are thinking of what's good for others, not just looking out for number one,' Joe told the Washington Times.\n\nToo much of God-talk around the world has been taken captive by individuals who seek to sanctify their hate and bigotry. The response to bad religion, however, should not be a retreat into soulless materialism. Deep in our being we look to bring together what has been torn apart. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a remarkable writer who illuminated thought in the 20th century expresses our quest:\n\n'There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.' \n\nMay we all find the courage and vision to bring this consciousness to our work.