Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Humility from the front

The man had just finished one of the best colloquium talks of the year. He stood at the bottom of dozens of rows of amphitheater seating with a 40-foot projection screen behind him. His presentation had finished as impressively as the rest of it had been. He had done his job really well! And he was humble.

As much as I enjoyed his presentation, I was struck most by what he said when he was finished. "I would be happy to take questions, if I am allowed." A few speakers in the same situation may not have even been open for questions. Almost every other speaker would have assumed that questions were "allowed" and in fact something to which they were entitled. But this speaker did not take that chance for granted.

In a research office, expressions of humility are not necessarily common. Every once in a while, a colleague may light-heartedly defer credit on a project or insist with a laugh that someone else is "doing the real work." But on the whole, the standard is to assert one's capabilities and accomplishments, even in comparison with another.

The nature itself of the work makes bearing humility all the more difficult. In fact, there may even be practical impediments. In order to be effective as a researcher, one must to an extent exercise a competitive spirit, seeking to find solutions that are better than the solutions that have been uncovered before. But it does not seem that this paradigm excuses an absence of humility.

This speaker, therefore, was all the more inspiring, as he displayed genuine humility. I was challenged to consider: In my office and in my work, how can I too exhibit subtle but genuine humility?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bright and well-placed

More than a year ago, the question arose, "What does it take to be a missionary in a place like an office?"

"I know, I know," I thought, "You have to be the same as everyone else and different from everyone else," and I was please with how profound I sounded.

I meant that there has to be something about you that catches others' attention (hopefully, it is favorable) that makes them quietly wonder, "What makes him different?" Then, when they inquire, you can tell them about the importance of Christ in your life.

But at the same time, you have to be sufficiently similar to others, lest they think, "He is holy and on a pedestal and what he does is nice, but I could never do it myself." They have to be able to see how they are like you and therein how the things about you to which they quietly are attracted (the ways in which you reflect Christ) are things that they could do too.

Then, I thought of a better way to say this. "You have to be both bright and well-placed." Perhaps I was thinking of the line from the Gospel of Matthew, "You are the light of the world.... Let your light shine for the whole world to see." A light that is not both bright and well-placed will not be seen.

In many ways, it is not easy for your light to be bright in an office. By this, I mean that talking about Christ often must be done with great delicacy. Otherwise, others may think, "This is an office. We're not supposed to be doing this Jesus thing here." But your light must nevertheless be shone.

And at the same time, what is lost in brightness may be more than counterbalanced by the great opportunity to be well-placed. A priest cannot be well-placed in an office. A religious sister cannot be well-placed in an office. A theology professor cannot be well-placed in an office. But an undercovery missionary can be right there in the thick, such that even a less bright light can be clearly seen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On my way to work

Another important step for me to having a good day at work is going to Mass on my way to work. For instance, this morning, as I walked from the church to my car, I thought, "I have gone to pray. Now I am going to work." This gave me great satisfaction.

I had prepared myself materially - getting cleaned up, putting on my button-down shirt, packing my lunch. Now, I had also presented myself to be prepared spiritually. "The Lord has given me a job to do. I must do it well."

Then, twenty-five minutes later, as I walked from my car to my office, I still had the taste from Mass in my mouth. "I've got His Blood in my veins and His Flesh on my bones," I thought. By going to Mass and receiving Christ in the Eucharist on my way to work, I had renewed my resolve to be His representative at work.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Bless us, O Lord ... "

It is crucial for me to start my work day with the right mindset. If I begin in a slump, I might not get out until I leave in the evening (or until lunch).

As the clocks hits 8:30 AM (or so) and I march up six flights of stairs to my office, what am I thinking? Do I dread, "How in the world am I going to make it through the next eight hours?" Or can I see broader, "I have been given a job to do. I will be strong. What opportunities await?"

Eating a meal does not usually evoke a similar dilemma. But in the same way that we pray for blessing upon our food, might I not pray for blessing upon my work before I begin?
"Bless me, O Lord, through this, my work, which I am about to undertake, which You have placed before me. May I do well, and bring You glory, and cooperate with the work of the Cross, undertaken by Christ, our Lord. Amen."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The black zippered case

I saw it on the conference table a few feet away from me. The woman in the next chair seemed to not be concerened with it as the PowerPoint presentation moved forward on the screen. It was a black case, about six inches long and two inches high, secured with a zipper. Instinctively, I recognized it as a a Bible. But it took me a few seconds to recognize the significance: Was there really a Bible at a software design project meeting?

It wasn't actually a Bible. After a few more seconds, I remembered seeing this case at a previous meeting. It was just the woman's schedule planner in a fancy case.

But what if I had a similar case and instead of a planner, I had a Bible. Or, I could have both a schedule planner and a Bible in the same case if both were thin enough. Ordinarily, I wouldn't use a planner. But if it was a way to have a Bible with me during meetings, would it be worth it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cooperating with Christ at work, II

St. Jose Maria Escriva also offers encouragement on the great spiritual opportunites included within our work. Even at the office, I can envision my efforts - writing computer code, performing calculations, describing analysis - as "a participation in the creative work of God." (Albeit, this often is not easy!) He continues,

When he created man and blessed him, he said: "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth." And, moreover, since Christ took it into his hands, work has become for us a redeemed and redemptive reality. Not only is it the background of man's life, it is a means and path of holiness. It is something to be sanctified and something which sanctifies. (Christ is Passing By. "In Joseph's Workshop." Number 47.)
When my work seems mundane, how can I sanctify it? How can I allow it to sanctify others? Through my work, how can I point others to sanctification?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cooperating with Christ at work

Can my time at work consist of something more meaningful than just "something to pass the time" or "something to pass the time"? Twenty-nine years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote,

“All work, whether manual or intellectual, is inevitably linked to TOIL…. Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do…. The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ … In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the Resurrection of Christ, we always find a glimmer of new life …” ("On Human Work" 27).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Gift of "Networking"

Earlier today, I attended an event which specifically mentioned "networking" in its agenda. The implication was clear: Suspense thickend. Mystery ensued. Electric sparks and smoke shot from the either side of the word. This was more than a simple, "OK, this is a time when you can talk to other people." For fifteen minutes, I would be able to make "connections" with other people, analyze their resources, and store away ideas of how I might later be able to tap into their knowledge in order to help my own projects.

This would be useful. This would be a practical way to become familiar with others' work. This would be a normal thing to do at work. But I think that there was also a temptation for the process to become self-centered. "How can you help me?" "How might I use this time to get ahead?" "What can I get from others?" This sentiment wasn't an all-encompassing and overpowering. But its potential was present.

How, instead, could I participate in networking with the love of Christ? As I conducted professional conversations, how could I think of others before I think of myself? Rather than emphasizing what I might obtain, how could I concentrate on what I might offer to others (while still fulfilling the responsibilities of my job)? How could the time that I would spend in these exchanges be a gift to the person with whom I was speaking?

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Stop and Smell the Roses"

Happy feast day of St. Therese, young woman who had a missionary spirit but mostly remained within the walls of her Carmelite convent.

Nevertheless, at the bottom of the picture of her that I keep on the wall of my office, it says, "St. Therese of Lisieux, Patroness of the Missions." I assert that she not only prayed for missionaries, but she showed the way to be a missionary among ordinary tasks.

Indeed, her renowned "little way" of seeking to do ordinary tasks with great love gives rise to an appreciation of the simple blessings that allow the Lord's presence to be recognized in unlikely places.

St. Therese is known as the "Little Flower" perhaps because of her desire to "send roses from heaven" once she died. But perhaps this connection with roses also provides a motto which is consistent with her ways. I hand-wrote my own caption for the top of her picture: "Be sure to stop and smell the roses."