Sunday, October 21, 2007

277. cowboys and the kingdom of God


Earlier this week I mentioned that I would be adding another installment of the Layman's Theology series. I'm not sure if this entry qualifies because most of it is about a recent situation at work but I do talk a bit about the kingdom of God near the end. Maybe think of this as a practical, real-world application of some of what I've been writing about.

And a word of caution. I've written before about how I made it a point to swear less in my blog (I used to have a potty mouth...see blog 30) but sometimes you just gotta haul out the heavy artillery and drop the almighty f-bomb because no other word will do.


So I haven't said much about what's been going on at work. I've written before about my workplace, - about how dehumanizing it can be and how hard it is to work with a certain coworker (code name: Harold).

These last couple months have been especially busy. I've been working like mad from the moment I start until the moment I leave but I still haven't been able to get on top of things. Thankfully, I've been able to maintain a kind of steady state of chaos (not letting it overwhelm me) but it hasn't been easy. And yeah, there are two of us in the department and so I suppose I should be using the pronoun "we" instead of "I" but you know that thing about eighty percent of the work being done by twenty percent of the workers? In this case, it seems like eighty percent of the work is being done by fifty percent of the workers: me.

Well earlier this week, I'd been noticing that a relatively low priority project (LPP) was really piling up. I asked Harold if he could take care of it. He responded that our boss (let's call him Leroy) had given him a special project (SP) to work on so he was too busy. I knew he was working on SP but it was from another department and I knew I had far too many more pressing matters in our department to get to LPP myself so right before I left for the day, I popped into Leroy's office and told him about the situation. Leroy told me that things in our department come before things in other departments. He said he'd talk to Harold and make sure he set aside his SP to work on LPP.

I've said before that Harold isn't exactly the easiest person to work with - he has a short fuse and he's not exactly what I would call efficient or organized. Now it's not like I walk on eggshells around him, but to be honest, I basically try to stay out of his way (which often isn't hard to do since he spends most of his day at his desk working on...something, don't ask me what because most of the work that needs to be done is out in the racks where the boxes and the files are...where I am).

Anyway, the next day, I knew Leroy was going to talk to Harold and I wasn't sure how he would respond. When I got there in the morning, things were cool and so I figured everything was copacetic. But then in the afternoon, Harold comes back from his lunch break and I see him grab the box that holds the files that have to do with LPP. It's a project that I'd worked on before and I didn't think that Harold had ever done it before so I casually offered to show him what to do but before I could even finish my offer, he brusquely interrupts me saying, "yeah, I know what to do."

Taken aback, I said okay, but there are two parts to this project. I knew the first half was very similar to other things we do on a regular basis but the second half is a bit different and so I went on to ask him to let me know when he was done with the first half so I could tell him about what was different about the second half. Again, before I could finish my offer, he interrupts and says, "hey, I've been doing this for over five years all right? I got it, okay?"

Now before I tell you how I responded, you need to understand something. Like I said before, the reason I wasn't able to get to LPP was because for the past couple months, things have been SUPER busy and no matter how much work I did or how fast I did it, I just couldn't get to the lower priority projects. During this time, Harold was spending the majority of his day working on SP - a project that he can do comfortably while sitting at his desk - while I worked my ass off out in the racks. There were a bunch of times when I'd walk by Harold's desk sweating after finishing yet another kick ass order and I'd see him just sitting at his desk casually working on SP. It didn't seem fair and it didn't seem right and while I just kept doing the best work I knew how, I'd be a bald-faced liar if I told you I wasn't irritated by this situation. But I bit my tongue and kept nose to grindstone.

Well all that latent frustration sprung to the surface upon hearing Harold's blunt/rude/abrasive response to my best attempts at merely offering to help. But while Harold has a short fuse and a loud pop, I have a long fuse and the most aggro response I could muster was to say, "alright, fine. If you got it, you got it." I shook my head, grabbed another order and headed back out into the racks to pull more files.

Of course what I really wanted to say was: "Hey, fuck you, you lazy mutherfucker. It's hard to believe you've worked here for five years seeing as how slow, lazy and unorganized you are. You know, you're so full of shit it's no wonder your breath stinks!"

But I didn't.

Yeah, I'm passive-aggressive. I'm working on it. But you gotta admit, that would have been a sweet response.

Anyway, while I was out pulling my order I calmed down a bit and thought about what I'd written before about trying to spread the kingdom of God at a workplace where I spend most of my time with boxes and files.

And then it hit me.

Yeah, I spend most of my day with inanimate objects but Harold is there as well even though I don't interact with him all that much (and not just because I try to avoid him). How stupid is it for me to be so proud of how I keep those lifeless boxes neat and organized while I secretly harbor gross, nasty thoughts about my living, breathing coworker?

I also thought about the book I've been reading during my lunch breaks, Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. He calls himself an "ordinary radical" but his story is anything but ordinary - among other things, he spent a summer in Calcutta with Mother Theresa and he spent time in Iraq before and during the American shock and awe campaign. He would say that it's a shame that his life is seen as extraordinary because all he did was ask the simple question, "what if Jesus really meant what he said in the Bible," and everything else just followed as a result.

And so that got me thinking. What if Jesus meant what he said when he told us (me) to love our enemies? Now Harold isn't my enemy per se, but that loophole is covered by that bit where Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and there's no weaseling myself out of that one.

And then that got me thinking. What if I include Harold in my little mission to live out the kingdom of God at my workplace? I mean, what if I look past all the shortcomings I see in him and treated him the way I would if he were a kick ass filing and box-shelving machine? Because I really believe that as a christian, the way the kingdom of God gets spread is by living now the way I would if the fall had never happened or the way I will after Jesus comes again to restore the world. If I believe that then why shouldn't I do my best to treat Harold as a peer?

I mean, what if Harold wasn't always this way? What if life has been really shitty to him and that's why he is the way he is now? What if he only does the minimum to get by at work because he's the kind of person Bruce Springsteen was thinking of when he wrote the lines: "end up like a dog that's been beat too much / 'til you spend half your life just covering up." What if he's hyper-defensive because other coworkers in the past have treated him poorly.

And that led to more questions: What if I did my best to treat Harold with respect? What if I tried treating him the way Jesus would if he were working here? What if Matthew 5:46 were translated this way:

"If you only treat hard working coworkers with respect then what reward will you get? Is not your boss already doing that?"

I'm sure there are some who would say that I'm an idiot, that I should bitch and moan to Leroy about the way Harold works, that I shouldn't stand for this kind of injustice.

Maybe they're right to raise those objections but again, what if Jesus meant it when he talked about an entirely new way of living in his Sermon On the Mount - a way of living where love and grace are extended to all, regardless?

According to the rules of this world, it's backwards, upside-down, inside-out, but I'm not a citizen of this world. This week at my Bible study we looked at John 3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus that "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." And one of the things we discussed is the idea that being "born again" means adopting an entirely new way of living which can (should) be different from the normal way of life.

Back when I lived in Hawaii, every once in a while (usually in Waikiki or in other spots frequented by tourists) I'd see someone walking around with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a huge belt buckle. They'd stick out like sore thumbs because the standard dress code in Hawaii is shorts, t-shirt, and slippers (aka flip-flops). But I think that's kind of what it's like to be a christian. I mean, we don't dress different but we live different - we love the unloved, we extend grace where judgement should be, we live now the way we would if the fall had never happened, the way we will in heaven.

I thought all these crazy things our there in the racks, pulling my order, and when I was done, when I went back to my desk to verify my items, I walked over to Harold and apologized to him. I told him that I didn't mean to imply that he didn't know how to do his job and that if I gave him that impression then I was sorry.

He said, "don't worry about it," and I couldn't tell how he took what I said but I figured I'd just take his response at face value and I replied, "cool, thanks."

I don't know.

Maybe he'll never change. Maybe he'll think I'm a schmuck and take advantage of my willingness to put up with his work ethic. Maybe he won't even notice that I'm trying to be nice to him.

Doesn't matter to me...well, that's not entirely true. It's still a huge struggle to not think of Harold as a lazy bum but I'm going to do my best (so help me God) to be Jesus to Harold - to practice preemptive forgiveness and grace. Because just as a cowboy walks through Waikiki with a huge Stetson hat on, I walk through life as a newborn citizen of the kingdom of God.


Linda said...

You've presented some compelling and convicting thoughts. I agree it's extremely difficult to forego the natural response to retort in anger, but next time I am faced with such situations I will ask myself that same question: "What if Jesus really meant what He said in the Bible?"

The_LoneTomato said...

thanks linda,

It's funny. Once I stopped always "judging" Harold - looking askance every time he wasn't working hard - I stopped being so stressed out and frustrated about him.

I think of what Anne Lamott wrote about what someone told her about about harboring unforgiveness. She said it's like taking poison then waiting for the other person to die.

greg said...

Awesome. Thanks for putting your thoughts here. It's amazing to me that someone of your intelligence and thoughtfulness could work at such a mindnumbing (to me) job. Just goes to show me that I can't judge a person by their job.