Saturday, May 21, 2016

Corporate Living #13 & #14

#13. Keep up the prayer life and underneath that prayer life keep a surrendered heart.

#14. Keep the power of laughing at yourself.

Jones combined three necessities in the last two Corporate Living Principles. The habit of prayer should be maintained. An attitude of surrender towards God is required in order to get along with others. The ability to not take ourselves too seriously is also called for.

The instruction to keep these three qualities suggests that we already possess these traits. We are already people of prayer. We have already cultivated an attitude of surrender. We already have the capacity to take ourselves with a grain of salt.

If we are already this type of person, then we must be involved with some type of group that encourages these kinds of behaviors. The converse would also be true, if we are not already this type of person, then we have not found a group that cultivates these kinds of kingdom-reflecting traits.

For the sake of your own growth in faith, ask God to direct you to a group of people whose lives show evidence of prayer, surrender, and good humor.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Corporate Living #12

Corporate Living Principle #12 -- "Side with the group against yourself."  

Realizing harmonious relations between group members requires prioritizing. For Jones, the group-claim becomes our priority and that claim is stronger than any personal preference.

Casting a vote that limits my authority and influence in favor of a polity that more broadly shares power between group members would be one example of this principle in action. I would only be willing to do this if I felt 

  • the others could be trusted with more power
  • the needs of the group were greater
  • the mission of the group was more important
Consider Principle #12 as an invitation to reflect on the power dynamic within the group. If you are willing to choose the group's side and forego your own, that's a pretty good indication that you agree with the direction the group is heading, and the group's leading is pulling you in a new direction. The group is transforming you, and you like the results. In such a case, handing over power to the group was the correct decision.

If you find that you are unwilling to side with the group, then let your objection be known. Let God know about it. Let the leadership know about it. Let all the members know that disunity exists within the body. Living well with others depends upon such honesty.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Corporate Living #11

"Refuse to look for slights regarding ourselves."

That's how Jones phrases Corporate Living Principle #11. Living well with others will become easier if we stop searching for personal attacks in what's said and done in the group .

My version of this principle is to remind myself that I can not read minds. Because I am not a mind-reader, there are many things about another that I can not know with any certainty. Such as --

  • how someone feels about me right now
  • what someone's opinion of me is at this moment
  • what someone's intentions towards me will be in the future
  • why someone is behaving a certain way towards me
Regarding this last point in particular, I can never know for certain when someone's behavior might change. An improved attitude can change behavior, and many things that have nothing to do with me can improve a person's disposition --
  • beautiful weather
  • adequate sleep
  • delicious food
  • laughter shared with friends
  • tender moments with a loved one
  • reconciliation of an estrangement
Given all this, I try to maintain an open attitude towards someone who has slighted me.  Just because someone has been dismissive towards me in the past does not mean I should expect more of the same treatment every time we speak.

Rather than being on the defensive, I try to be polite and engaging. At the same time, I am looking for an opening from my former enemy that suggests a willingness to improve our interactions. When I succeed in maintaining a non-anxious presence, the other person usually responds in kind. Not always, but enough that I keep asking for God's help to develop this interpersonal skill because I like the person I am becoming when I treat others this way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Corporate Living #10

Corporate Living Principle #10 -- "Give way in small things that do not involve principles"

This principle assumes that the group can agree on which matters are trivial and which are non-negotiables. So if you find yourself wondering why so much time is being spent debating inconsequentials, the reason may be that you have a different set of priorities than those of the group.

If this is the case, then living well with this group of people may be a challenge for you. Maintaining your patience with the group may require divine intervention. Ask for that divine assist in the patience department.  

This is one way that corporate living can become a means of grace. When we recognize that --

  • willpower alone is not strong enough to keep our attitude positive, and then
  • admit our need for help with interpersonal relationships within the group, and then
  • seek that help from God, and then
  • discern that God has answered our prayer.
then corporate living becomes a spiritual exercise that strengthens our faith. I think of this as the heavy weightlifting spiritual exercise because of the way it builds up my faith muscles.

This is a prayer for patience over small matters, which is different when the disagreement involves a faith principle. When the point of contention is a large matter, then pray for the courage to do God's will. Imagine yourself in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, praying so hard that the sweat pours off of you, and plead "Not my will, but yours be done."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Corporate Living #9

Corporate Living Principle #9: "Be willing to be criticized for our own good."

I have been following the #umcgc twitter feed seeking updates on what is happening at General Conference. I have also been following Facebook links to blog posts on General Conference. I am seeking evidence of someone receiving criticism, reflecting on its content, considering its source, weighing its merits, and only then responding.  

Such a process would be an indication that this person is someone who is willing to receive correction if their behavior and actions need to be improved. It would also reveal that the criticized trusts the person who gave the critique -- Trusts that the critic has their best interest at heart; Trusts that they share with the critic shares a common set of goals and values; Trusts that the critic will hold them to those shared goals and values.

In short, I am looking for a gracious response to constructive criticism that can serve as an example of Corporate Living Principle #9. I'll let you know when I come across one.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Corporate Living #8

This one is a good test of our attitude as a member of a group:  
Corporate Living Principle #8:  If you want to live well with others, then . . . 

"Be more inclined to compliment and encourage than correct."

How about it --  

  • What is your inclination when you get with this group of people?  
  • Think back over your recent interactions with members of the group. Did you spend more time complimenting or criticizing?  
  • When was the last time you complimented someone in the group?  When was the last time someone compliment you?
  • What was the compliment about? Someone's outward appearance or their inward resemblance to Kingdom of God values?
To be healthy, we need to have at least one group of people in our lives that nurtures our inclination to praise more than our tendency to complain. Be thankful that you've found such a group, and let the members know how much you value their positive influence.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Corporate Living #7

The seventh principle that guided the experiment in corporate living founded by Jones was: "Never criticize a member behind his or her back."  

For Jones, criticism should always be open and frank and always redemptive.  To help group members achieve this end, Jones suggested asking three questions before offering a critique --

  1. Is it true? 
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?
I particularly like question two.  Wasted time nitpicking could be avoided if the group is in agreement on its priorities and keeps the debate limited to those points.

Is the criticism you would offer another an observation that the discussion has devolved into trivialities?  Maybe the fault does not lie with that person but with the group.  Debates on low priority tasks could be another indication that the group has lost its kingdom-focus. 

Recovering that sense of purpose will require admitting that the group has lost its way, asking for God's guidance, and trusting that God still has a redemptive purpose for the group.  A sense of hope for the future of the group will be a gift from God.  The means of grace are the spiritual practices that will communicate that gift to the group.

A corporate bible study on the contemporary meaning of Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God might be the means of grace that helps the group find agreement on the purpose of the corporate body, as well as agreement on what is necessary to achieve that purpose.  If I were planning such a bible study, I would start with the Beatitudes.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Corporate Living #6

Corporate Living Principle #6: "Look more to our duties than to our rights."

In order to live well with others as a corporate body, Jones encouraged his readers to value the privilege of being servants more than the privilege of being served. Again, Jones was writing about our membership in a Christian community that orients itself around Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God.  

To get along with the other members of this group requires servanthood. In his writings, Jones gave personal examples of times when he surrendered the perks of being the founder of an organization. He swept the floor, ate a simple meal, or deferred to others because serving the needs of the organization was more important to him than defending his status or position.

Some implications of this principle:
  • When members of General Conference are not free to prioritize servanthood because their rights are being abused, that is a sign that the corporate body has lost its kingdom-focus. This reality should lead to corporate confession, repentance, and resolution.
  • "Respecting the office" is not a duty that should be required of a member of a kingdom-focused group.
  • To encourage affable relations within the group, the members should clarify what their duties and responsibilities are to the group and to the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Corporate Living #5

Corporate Living Principle #5 -- "Rejoice that the strength of any is the strength of all."  

This principle is Jones' remedy for the jealousies that can sometimes arise as members of the group compare their contributions to the group to that of others. If a person feels envious of another's accomplishments or talents, Jones suggested concentrating on this reminder -- "You are striving to get a corporate job done."

Someone with this attitude would have to agree that getting the corporate task done well is the priority and not personal promotion. Achieving the corporate goal might mean that some individuals' skills are more relevant to the job at hand than those that we possess.

Steps to a more positive attitude could include:

  • Consider the task at hand and the skills that will be needed to complete the task.
  • Take an inventory of your strong and weak points within the context of the project, and then look for ways that your weakness can be supplemented by the strength of someone else.
  • Give thanks that someone with the necessary ability is a member of your kingdom-focused group.
  • Contemplate 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, "Moreover, you (plural) are Christ's body, and part of the membership."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Corporate Living #4

Corporate Living Principle #4: "Since life is lived corporately, I should contribute to the whole."

With this point, Jones was trying to shift our focus.  Instead of identifying what the group has to offer us, how it can enhance our status, or create opportunities for our personal gain, Jones argued that Christians should focus on what actions we can take that will improve the group.

Two lines of reflection occur to me based on this principle
  1.  Am I contributing to the group?
    1. If yes, then what is the quality of that contribution?
      1. Does it reflect the Kingdom of God?
      2. Does it reflect the best of my abilities?
    2. If no, then why am I holding back?
      1. Do I feel inadequate?
      2. Am I waiting to be asked to participate?
  2.  What are the needs of the group?
    1. What do I love about this corporate body?  How can I strengthen that attribute?
    2. Where does it lack a kingdom focus?  How can I redirect the body so that the Kingdom of God is its priority in all areas of activity.
Today, I am particularly mindful of the call to divest the UMC pension fund from fossil fuel companies.  Our pensions are one example of a contribution made to the corporate body.  General Conference has the responsibility to direct the investment strategy of the pension board.  That duty includes instructing the board on the values that pension investments should reflect and uphold.  I hope the delegates will send a clear message to the pension board that stewardship of God's creation is a value that should guide our investment strategy.  Earth care is a value that reflects a Kingdom of God priority, and this commitment requires us to stop benefiting from investments in fossil fuels.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Corporate Living #3

The third corporate living principle according to Jones is "Fix your loyalty to the Kingdom of God."  In other words, the group that deserves your greatest support is the group of people that is helping you transform into a person who embodies the values and priorities of Christ.  All lesser loyalties must give way to your loyalty to this kingdom-focused group.

This principle raises some questions for self-reflection.

  • Are we a member of a kingdom-focused group?
  • What does it mean to be loyal to the Kingdom of God?
  • What are the values and priorities of Christ?
  • What does a life look like when it reflects those values and priorities?
The answers to such a line of questioning can lead to different responses.
  • Some will admit that no, they are not a part of such a group, and either
    • wish they were, or
    • realize that they do not want to be involved with such a group
  • Some will feel grateful that they have the support of such a group, and either
    • ask for the grace to persevere in their commitment to the group, or
    • ask for the grace to strengthen a wavering loyalty to the group
In terms of living as the corporate body of General Conference, this principle can serve as a reference point as plans for the future are made.  Delegates can debate whether or not the plan under consideration is one that makes the Kingdom of God a priority and that encourages others to fix their loyalty to the Kingdom.  I imagine delegates will have differences of opinion regarding what it means to be loyal to the vision of human existence that Christ taught us.  Discovering points of consensus around this subject would be worth the effort if that consensus could help General Conference work more efficiently.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Corporate Living #2

Jones' next piece of advice regarding how to live well in a corporate group is based on Matthew 5: 25, "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court."  The focus here is on finishing the most difficult or unpleasant task first.  Do not put off the challenge, or the disagreement will fester between members of the group and strain relationships.

Seems like a sound guiding principle for the legislative committees.  Do not wait until late in the evening to work on the most controversial amendments.  Debate the most contentious issues first while the group is still fresh.

This principle requires honesty because the group has to admit that strong differences of opinion exist.  The principle also requires confession that we are not wise enough to know how to quickly settle every matter.  Finally, the principle requires faith that God is at work in the process and will lead the group past the differences and towards a place of greater unity.