A business leader who runs his company according to the Christian vision “should create an environment where the work is seen as important, enriching and purposeful” according to Kenman Wong and Scott Rae in Business for the Common Good.
“Work that is boring, mindlessly repetitive or fundamentally stultifying can have a deadening effect on a person’s spirit, which is not consistent with seeing people as made in God’s image.”
Put differently, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae believe, as does Miroslav Volf, that Christians should seek to transform dehumanizing work.
Henry Ford, well known for his embracing the use of the assembly line, a quintessential example of division of labor, once asked, “Why is it that I always get the whole person, when all I want is just a pair of hands?” says Kenman Wong and Scott Rae in Business for the Common Good. To Henry Ford, people were instruments for production.
To a Christian leader, people are “not [to be]used but developed and coached to reach their potential and fulfill their callings, while at the same time doing what is required of them.”
Charisma is the New Testament key to understanding calling according to Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit.
Specifically, “the general calling to enter the kingdom of God…becomes for the believer[s]…as they are placed in various situations, the calling to live in accordance with the kingdom…in the multiple gifts [i.e., charismata] of the Spirit….”
Volf provides five quick takes on charisma.
First, we should differentiate between “the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.” The fruit is about “the general character of Christian existence.” The gifts are related to the “specific tasks or functions to which God calls and fits each Christian.”
Second, charisma is not something that is “only [for] ecclesiastical activities.” It is impossible to “consistently [limit] the operation of charisms to the Christian church.” This is the very insight Kenman Wong and Scott Rae appropriated in Business for the Common Good.
Third, “charisms are not the possession of an elite group within the Christian fellowship.” Since there is no Christian without a function in the body of Christ, there is no Christian without a charisma.
Fourth, charisma is a generic term referring to “both the spectacular and ordinary.” (This is in contrast to “widespread pneumatologies in which…’charismatic’ is taken to mean ‘extraordinary’” only.)
Fifth, God imparts charisma to individuals via “interaction.” This means “a person who is shaped by her genetic heritage and social interaction faces the challenge of a new situation as she lives in the presence of God and learns to respond to it in a new way,” and this is what it means to acquire a new spiritual gift. (By contrast, impartation via “addition” assumes the Holy Spirit simply “adds” a new substance or quality to a person.)
In assessing globalization, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae argue that “Christian love of neighbor properly construed translates into a global-citizenship perspective that includes active concerns for those who live beyond our [national] borders” in Business for the Common Good. The stance to be protective solely of “our [American] jobs” which may be lost to “them” (i.e., non-Americans) is “too narrow.”
So, instead of asking “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” they argue, we should be asking “Is Walmart Good for Our Neighbors Across the Globe?”
They quote Eugene Lemcio who likewise challenges how we routinely define “American dream” to mean “my possessing more:”
Why isn’t American dream ever spoken of in terms of justice, equality, freedom and responsibility? Does the very definition of who we are as a people and nation have to boil down to things and owning them — however necessary and desirable?
“I want to run my own company.”
I’ve said that before. One of the attractions of law practice is, at some level, and to some extent, even within a firm of a few hundred lawyers, you are building your own practice.
Kenman Wong and Scott Rae examine whether there’s room for “ambition” of this sort in Business for the Common Good. They believe “ambition to advance God’s rule in the world through business is an appropriate form of ambition, in which title and position come about as a byproduct of a person’s pursuit of excellence.” But the “naked ambition” — seeking title and position “with little regard to service” — is not.
So, if one wants to run a company of one’s own, the question to ask is, why?
If the goal “is to get to run [my] own company” and “what the company does is less important,” then the underlying ambition needs to be checked. That’s because “what the company does and how it does it matter far more than whether a person runs the company.”
In Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae recommend a “whimsical” view of wealth to Christians in business, quoting Richard John Neuhaus:
The point is that wealth — having or producing it — really does not matter that much. This point is missed by both the avaricious, who become captive to their possessions, and by religiously driven ideologues promoting designs for a just economic order. Both take wealth too seriously. A theologically informed appreciation of economic life and the production of wealth should be marked by a sense of whimsy and wonder in the face of the fortuitous, contingent, chancy and unpredictable realities of economic life.
While we talk often about bringing our faith to work, we don’t explore nearly as much how business shapes us positively by forming in us trustworthiness, perseverance, discipline and the like, according to Kenman Wong and Scott Rae in Business for the Common Good.
Business can shape us negatively as well, though: “overwork and overidentification with work.” Here, “work is too closely intertwined with” our entire lives. The antidote is “remembering the sabbath,” “redeeming the time,” and “keeping work in proper perspective.”
With respect to sabbath keeping, Wong and Rae observe that when “God reissued the sabbath commandment” in Deuteronomy 5 (after the initial issuance in Exodus 20), the basis of the commandment is different: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Here, “God is affirming to the Israelites that they are no longer slaves…. Refusal to keep the sabbath meant that people were enslaved to their work.”
This enslavement to work can manifest itself in different ways for different people nowadays.
For me, it’s my obsessively feeling the need to check my “crackberry” away from the office. It’s not being fully present with whoever I’m with — which is often my family or friends — because I’m mulling in my mind over some work-related matter. It’s carrying back home my stressed mind and mood from work. A real point of repentance and growth especially in this Lenten season.