Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the Face of Flak

My colleague "Jamie" has recently been challenging and subtly belittling me in a variety of areas (my computer programming technique, my data collection methods, my grammar, etc.). There is a great temptation for me to be spiteful towards him. But I instead resolve

(1) I will stand up for myself when it is necessary for the good of the project or to defend my good name. But otherwise, I will accept criticism quietly.

(2) I will be grateful for others' encouragement when they observe Jamie's tactics. But I will not complain about him in their presence.

(3) I will try to keep a light-hearted attitude as I interact with Jamie and other colleagues. But I will not fight scathing or cynical sarcasm with sarcasm of my own.

May all those saints who grew through patience with those around them please pray for us!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Goals for the Day

"Goal: Save one person from a missile every day." I saw this written across the top of one of my old notebooks this week.

When I first started my job, I worked on a project that was related to missile defense. Of course, I didn't have any direct involvement with any of the systems. But I liked to pretend that I did, as though I really could "save" an individual from a missile, in order to make my contribution seem more tangible. It sounded heroic, dramatic, important, and it was broken down into a single day's effort.

A few years later, I switched positions, and now I might write, "Goal: Prevent one person from contracting dengue fever every day," or "Goal: Keep one plane crash from happening every day." Again, I could herein have a tangible and dramatic "aim."

However, I have come to think that a goal with a different tilt might be even better. While I think that the outcome of my work is meaningful and important, the way in which I do my work might also be very important. I want to do a good job technically, but also to do a good job at charity.

Along these lines, I might write in a notebook these days, "Goal: To share the love of Christ with at least one person every day," or "Goal: To be distinctly joyful to at least one person every day." Within a single day's effort, may I pursue this goal as best as I can.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Office of Prayer

At Mass this morning, Fr. Jose Raul asked everyone to remember that a church is a "place of prayer." This inspired me to think of my office as a place of prayer as well.

Of course, an office is not the same as a church. But I think that it has the potential to be a more prayerful place for me. Here are some initial ideas:

(1) I don't need to check my personal email account any more than once or twice during the day. Very seldomly do others need to contact me that suddenly. Ultimately, checking for email may be a way that I seek a connection with others. During these times, perhaps I can seek a deeper connection with God.

(2) I don't need to check the news as often as I do. Some days, I might not need to check it at all. On my way home, I can hear it on the radio. At home, I can read the newspaper. Rather than seeking the moment-to-moment sensation of world events, perhaps I can seek the ignition of the Holy Spirit.

(3) I don't need to eat at work when I'm not hungry. Sometimes, I do this as a way to mentally take a break. If anything, at these times, perhaps I can seek to be fed by the grace of Christ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Imitation Aim: Patience With Others

A meeting ended this morning and this conversation took place:
* "Joey" [to me]: You can ask either me or "Chuck" about X since it seems like we're on the same page.
* Joey [to Chuck, facetiously]: Hey, are you getting tired of that yet? I mean, are you getting tired of us being on the same page? We're usually not.
* Chuck: Oh, oh no, I think that it's great.
Chuck and I have been working a lot together. Joey is overseeing our work. Often, Joey seems to come up with his own ideas and disregard our ideas. Joey generally has sound ideas. But sometimes it is difficult to swallow his eagerness to switch the approach.

If Joey had asked me those questions instead of Chuck, I probably would have glared at Joey and said something like a smart-aleck.

I admire Chuck's patience with Joey, particularly since I know that Chuck has suggested that he is often leery of Joey's ways as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Repugnant Means, Meritorious Acceptance

The other day, I came across another idea from Fr. de Caussade which seemed like a match for my time in the office ("Abandonment to Divine Providence" 48):
[The Lord's] love wishes to unite itself with us ... That is his supreme purpose, and to accomplish it he uses ... the most unpleasant and most delightful of happenings ... The more naturally repugnant to us the chosen means, the more meritorious is our acceptance of them. So every moment of our lives can be a kind of communion with his love.
"Repugnant" is the word that jumped out at me. In long meetings, on uneventful afternoons, with assignments which change repeatedly, would such description ever fit how I regard them? (It's likely.)

Once again, I resolve to face such moments with perseverence ("meritoriously"). After all, they may be my means of growing in love for the Lord.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Surprising Question

"Are you a religious man?" I was asked by "Carl" this afternoon.

(1) "What?" I first thought to myself and, "Oh no!" Were all of my efforts to be a man of faith in the workplace that muted? As an undercover missionary, was I placing too much emphasis on the "undercover" and not enough on the "missionary"? If Carl hadn't been in doubt about whether religion was important to me, why would he have asked?

(2) But then I also thought perhaps his question signaled the opposite. Perhaps in asking if I was religious he was indicating that he had observed enough in me to suggest that I am religious. Perhaps I act in such a way that I made it comfortable for him to ask such a question. Perhaps his question suggested that I am being an undercover missionary just the right amount.

Carl's question arose a question that is still unsettled for me. What is the "right amount" of missionary to be in the office? How obvious should it be that I am a man of faith, a man who loves Christ?

Note: When Carl asked his question, I had been telling him about my audio book about the philosophy of science, and he wanted to tell me about a book that he had read that asserted that there was no inconsistency between science and the Bible. Presumably, it also contained some philosophy about science.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

St. Mary of the Mills, Pray for Us!

This morning, I awoke earlier than expected, and was able to go to 6:30 AM Mass at St. Mary of the Mills Parish on the way to my office.

There are many good aspects about this parish, such as their Tuesday Adoration hours, at which I can stop on my way home from the office. But my favorite of them all is their patroness.

I do not know if "St. Mary of the Mills" is an actual title for the Blessed Mother. An Internet search on this term exclusively yielded pages from the parish website. More likely, the parish name is intended to be "St. Mary" and when it was founded it just happened to be near the mills. (This website gives an interesting recap of the parish's history and includes the picture below.)

Nevertheless, I like to think of the name as part of a special devotion to Our Lady and it will remain "St. Mary of the Mills" all as one for me.

While I do not work in a paper mill or steel mill, I still like to consider my office job in the context of such physical labor. My desk and computer are my "mill" where I put forth my intellectual "sweat."

May Our Lady pray for me and my colleagues as we go about this work.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Parable of the Engineers

Though I studied mathematics and I call myself a "mathematician," a lot of my job is effectively engineering. When I heard this morning's Gospel (Mt 25:1-13), I thought about engineers:
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps....
In the following six verses, the Gospel finishes with the foolish maidens trying to obtain their oil, not being able to obtain any, and ultimately missing the bridegroom. At the same time, the wise maidens went with the bridegroom into the marriage feast.

As I listened to this Gospel, I thought about how the wise maidens' attentiveness and preparation had been very important. Because they prepared, they were able to meet the bridegroom (a parable for being with Christ in Heaven, I think).

On some level, just about all of engineering involves preparation: thinking about how a process should be designed, how interruptions should be handled, how a certain tool might be used and could be made more useful. Intrinsically, engineers must plan ahead.

Faith, on the other hand, can often seem to run contrary to planning. It is not that a faithful person must not or should not plan. However, having faith in the Lord often requires willingness to put aside one's plans.

Consequently, it seems to me that preparation is often looked down upon through the lens of faith - again, not as a necessity, but in practice.

Therefore, when I heard this Gospel, I was happy to make the connection between preparation in Heaven. Of course, "planning" for Heaven and planning an engineering process may often be fairly different. But I like having the parable as a context within which I think about my planning at work.

Can my engineering planning help me to become better at planning ahead for Heaven?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

That To Which Trust Leads

When "Maury" gets excited, he uses all sorts of language and sadly he sometimes uses the Lord's name in vain.

I feel like I don't know him well enough to yet confront him, but I would like to let him know that it makes me feel badly.

In the meantime, I continue to try to do a good job at the work that he assigns me and to generally build trust between us. Maury is someone with whom I'll be working closely for at least several more months.

Eventually, I hope that we can get to a point where the conversation naturally leads to the Lord's name. Here's how it might go:
* Me: Hey Maury, how about that Steelers-Ravens game?
# Maury: Oh come on, don't start that again!
* Me: OK, OK, I'm just kidding. But there is something that I wanted to mention.
# Maury: Oh yeah, what's that?
* Me: The name of the Lord is something that is really important to me. And sometimes, when you get real excited when we're talking about the system, you use the Lord's name almost like you would a curse word. I'm guessing that it's something that you probably don't even think about. But it does throw me off and does make me feel badly....

Friday, November 4, 2011

Another Chance

I've spent all morning in a hurry. I've been a few minutes late to everything that I've tried to do. I've groaned at long red lights. I've sighed heavily when the school bus in front of me put on their blinkers. I've allowed myself to become totally distracted.

But now I am at work, and I have another chance.

I have another chance to undertake the tasks in front of me, one at a time; another chance to be patient; another chance to look beyond myself and see how I could relate to others; another chance to relax, and to rest in the present moment; another chance to move forward, in the Lord's peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Conversations (part I)

Every once in a while, I'll eat lunch with colleagues. Since a few of us spent all day at an off-site meeting, today was one of those days.

Sometimes, my colleagues say things that are interesting. Other times, they say things that are inspiring. Sometimes, though, they say things that are downright appalling.

E.g., from today, the conversation included descriptions of live-in boyfriends, the positive sides of divorce, and jokes about pornography.

If I knew my colleagues better, I would be more confident that speaking up clearly, offering an alternative viewpoint, would be the right thing to do.

But for almost all of them, I don't know them very well. At best, I am still early in a "building a relationship" stage.

Also, I don't usually have too many chances to talk individually with any of them.