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Nets Stylesheet

State of the Union Address

I belong to a labour union. The image I have for the kind of relationship my union has with our company’s management is that we are like a herd of caribou encircled by wolves. We face outward in a defensive circle, protecting our vulnerable backsides and our weakest members with a wall of antlers. If anyone was to break rank, he would lose the protection of the herd and be eaten.

Our identify is forged by what we collectively stand against and by with whom we stand together. What do we all fear? How are we all being taken advantage of? How are we being abused? This the union gospel: in numbers the oppressed become the powerful.

Our union’s strength does not stem from our individuality, our personal choices of integrity, or our own consciences. No, our strength comes from our solidarity. The irony is that our language speaks of freedom from oppression all the while demanding absolute conformity from its members. I am told what to be angry about, how to vote on an issue, and when to sign a grievance whether I am aware of the offenses / issues or not. "…brother, did you know…?" (groan), …here, sign this grievance." And I reply, "Thank you, I didn’t know how angry I should be. Yes, I think the new uniforms with plastic zippers instead of metal ones are an insult. Thank you for letting me know how vulnerable I am. Where do I sign?"

Like a large dysfunctional fundamentalist family, the rules and roles are rigid and unchallenged. We know who the sinners are as we quote chapter and verse from our Holy Book, the Collective Agreement. Without an apparent sense of the absurd, we generously employ the language of family, calling each other brother or sister while using the methods of enmity. "Don’t you know that there is a battle going on, Brother?" We win or nobody wins. Bite off the nose to spite the face.

Interestingly, management takes another tack. They call me "colleague", which subtly appeals to another side. "Won’t you join us, friend? Together we can be the best we can be. We all benefit when our goals are the same." The metaphor of the wolves and elk takes on this spin: " Hey, aren’t we all elk? We’re all moving in the same direction. The real wolves are the competition. We are all such a big success, and you are the main reason for that success. Join us and we all win." Instead of the language of family, it is the language of partnership. They draw a bigger circle around 'us', so we can point an even bigger finger at 'them'. The language is more inclusive but the goals hardly more transcendent.

The easy question I ask myself is this: "As a Christian, have I ever seen Christ in the values of our union?" No, I can’t say that I have. This is what I’ve heard: Don’t work too hard. Save work for tomorrow. Protect your job and your brother’s job by doing as little as possible. Use every sick day. Take every advantage. Push for every right. Trust no one but your brotherhood. Demand every benefit while giving as little as you can. Be a life-long victim. Withhold.

It seems a perpetual version of "My Daddy beat me as a child and now everyone will have to pay." Hardly a working model for Jesus who, being the Son of God, could have pushed for every advantage but instead became a servant of all. The Kingdom of God is apparently not a Union Shop. There is a parable where Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God as a vineyard that pays everyone the same no matter what time of day they’ve started work. If my union was running that vineyard, they’d shut it down. Nobody gets grapes.

Of course neither my union nor management make any pretenses about reflecting Kingdom values. There is some tension in most people’s work life between their highest values and the feelings of compromise at their workplace. Many of us have unconsciously inhaled the culture of our workplace and come back coughing. As a Christian I claim to have my life informed by Christ and scripture. Maybe instead of self-righteously separating myself from my work culture and judging it, I could try to understand how my life fails to reflect the things I claim to value the most. The question I should be asking (but don’t really want to) is a much tougher one and it’s this: Have I ever seen myself and my own relationships in the methods and values of my union? Sadly, altogether way too much. Rhetorically, the questions multiply:

Have I been suspicious and mistrustful of authority? Have I pulled out my arbitrary rule book on friends and family and demanded them to conform? Have I demanded unconditional regard no matter how badly I’ve acted? Have I tried to pull rank instead of trying to come to consensus or understanding? Have I withdrawn and cut off communication when I don’t get what I think I need? Have I received an invitation to give and then seen it as a demand to be resented? Do I see every task as an extraction from me or as an opportunity to serve or learn? Do I actively seek out ego allies who would confirm rather than challenge me in all the above?

I’ve been a victim to bad genes, bad religion, bad parenting, and even bad weather. The spirit has offered me an invitation to abundant life and (if I’m being honest) my response has too often been one of suspicion, mistrust, defensiveness, and protectiveness. And then I’ve sought out and found allies to bolster and confirm that my worst fears and feelings of scarcity are indeed true instead of trusting God.

In Revelation 2:25 John warns the Thyatiran church against a "playing around with the Devil that gets paraded as profundity" (Message Bible). For some in Thyatira their service to Christ was being compromised by giving allegiance to the gods of their guild. My own variation on that is to have claimed to follow Christ but in practice lived in the scarcity and protective mindset of a union boss. Perhaps, with God’s grace, one day I could hear John’s encouragement to them as well in verse 19:

"I see everything you're doing for me. Impressive! The love and the faith, the service and persistence. Yes, very impressive! You get better at it every day."

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