The art of invisibility, the practice of vacancy, define the life of the modern corporate office. If Christians find themselves working there, they are more terrified of revealing their identity as Christians, even to each other, than the early Christians were of being discovered by the Roman authorities. And if you make the mistake of calling them out, they look stunned and are struck with speechlessness. If they hear a particle of the Word of God spoken in their presence, they race to fill its aftermath with mysterious giggling laughter or guffaws and references to some movie they have just watched. Anything to avoid coming into contact with the living Christ, anything to acknowledge the One they say they have given their lives to, or at least been baptized into as infants.
One morning I found myself walking into the lunch area in the upper offices for a cup of coffee. Coming right at me at a furious pace, our new CMO, a young man with typically piercing eyes that nonetheless emit a vacuous look, looked right at me, unsmiling as a corpse, saying nothing. I knew my “good morning” would go unheeded, so this morning for the first time I didn’t say it. The last time I greeted him and he walked past looking right at me and saying nothing, later that day he asked me why I was so grouchy, was I having a difficult day? So, after several attempts, I learned my lesson. Not everyone is looking when they’re seeing, or listening when they’re hearing.
So, I gave my usual cheery ‘good morning’ to my buddy, our in-house salesman, as he sat in his cubicle. No need to worry about him responding. Like me, he’s a born and bred mid-westerner transplanted out here to the land of the uttermost west. Like me, he was brought up a Catholic, but unlike me, he was fortunate enough to accept it as his religious heritage, and he remains so. We often share interesting discussions and reminiscences, and even sometimes a joke or two. He’s almost a generation younger, but sometimes I’m just too ‘out in left field’ for him. He’s a conservative; I have no secular affiliations.
Jokingly, I ragged on how the CMO seems to be robotic and oblivious to me and anyone from whom he does not require something right now. My Catholic co-worker generously defended him, ‘He’s just on a mission,’ and then chuckled, as you see, he had been making a bee-line for the men’s room when I saw him. ‘But surely,’ I responded, ‘people are more important than that. It takes half a second to flash a greeting to someone as you pass them.’ My friend and I then walked over to the coffee machine, for our morning grog.
Continuing my probe, I asked him, ‘If you were heading one way, and you met a funeral procession carrying the dead only son of a widow going the other way, wouldn’t you take a moment to stop and raise the dead?’ (cf. Luke 7:11-17) This is the way I am used to talking, bringing the Word of God into a conversation, whenever it enters my mind to do so—in this case, an extreme example of the willingness to be interrupted, even when you’re ‘on a mission.’ I knew that my friend was knowledgeable in the bible, as he is a faithful church-going Catholic and hears it read at mass, though he rarely reads it himself.
As I was saying this to him, another co-worker came out of his cubicle, sensing the approach of a possible moment of jest. He is a very young man, a twenty-something, and I know by some of his behaviors (he sometimes says grace before eating when we are at a company feed) that he must be a Christian. When I have tried to openly fellowship with him, he shies away. We’ve noticed he does not celebrate birthdays, so we’re sure he belongs to the J/W’s. Anyway, so he came out and heard me alluding to the scripture where Jesus and the disciples meet a funeral procession, and He stops to raise a dead young man.
Suddenly, from both my colleagues, hilarious laughter bellowed and some other little sounds I cannot identify, like hoots or whistles. Confused, I asked, ‘What are you laughing at?’ thinking, it couldn’t possibly be my reference to the bible story. My younger friend responded that it was something from a popular film that they were laughing about, but I’d never heard of it, and the joke was entirely lost on me.
I brought us back to the topic—that people could be friendly and aware of each other, instead of walking around like robots in a vacuum—that I was talking to my Catholic friend about, when the other joined us. ‘Both of you know this scripture. You’re a Catholic, and you’re a Christian, and both of you must have heard this story. Wouldn’t you stop, even if you were on a ‘mission,’ to do an act of kindness for, or even greet, someone coming toward you?’
The laughter subsided, replaced by two faces that looked as if they had just seen or heard something shocking, and then utter silence for the space of four or five seconds. ‘We have to be awake, brothers. We have to be aware of each other. We can’t just let our minds be vacant.’ Then, I filled my coffee cup, and my two friends walked off to finish their common jest, laughing and chortling as they went.
This is office life where I work.