Monday, January 26, 2015

BookPastor >> "Taking Your Soul to Work" (R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung)

TITLE: Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace
AUTHOR: R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010, (206 pages).

In the past two decades, the topic of faith in the workplace has been talked about in Christian circles. How can we live not only as Sunday Christians but all-day Christians? What can we do to be Christian not only in Church but also be in the office? Is it possible to be a Christian in the workplace? The dichotomy between faith and work has become so sharp that many believers need help on how to bridge the two to avoid becoming Christian only on Sundays and less so on the other days. In this book, Paul Stevens, author of The Other Six Days, and Alvin Ung, author of Barefoot Leadership have come together to speak wisely into the situation. As far as they are concerned, there is no dichotomy between faith, work, Christian living, and worship. With Stevens from the West and Ung from the East, they have tried to make this book as contextually sensitive and culturally relevant to both West and East. Their key concerns:
  • Handling the frustrations, challenges, and ambiguities of the complex workplace
  • Letting work be an opportunity for spiritual growth
  • Allowing work as a way to draw us closer to God
  • Keeping God in mind while working
  • Finding our God's will in our workplace
  • Sensing the presence of God in our ups and downs
  • Seeing the work context as ways to overcome our "hidden compulsions" and "discover new strengths"
  • and many more.
In trying to relate spirituality and work, Stevens and Ung go back to the nine deadly sins, developed first by Evagrius and Cassian, and modified by Gregory the Great in the sixth century. They call these nine deadly sins as "energy sapping." The table below shows us the overall plan for the book. 

(Stevens and Ung, Taking Your Soul to Work, Eerdmans, 2010, p13)

Part One of the book deals with each of the deadly sins in the workplace. Each chapter begins typically with a conversation between the two authors, to set the stage for why the sin is so deadly, where are we in the continuum of that sin in question, and what we can do about it. They begin with pride as the authors consider pride to be the "deadliest" of all, and shows us how we can use Bernard of Clairvaux's twelve steps of pride to identify that. At the same time, we let Dennis Bakke's Joy at Work instruct us on cultivating joy in the workplace. On Greed, Stevens and Ung say it is the "most common" where "non-wants become wants; wants become needs." Countering this, readers can learn how to show goodness, through Thomas Aquinas's Seven Corporeal areas of almsgiving; and Maimonides's Ladder of Charitable Giving. On Lust, we are warned about how sensuality and sexuality get mixed up, resulting in office romances, sexual harassment, and the diminishing of the worth of others as well as the self. We can counter this with love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 and how our relationship with God makes such a big difference. On Gluttony, we are warned about finding satisfaction in compulsive or excessive eating. They provide some very good observations about other forms of gluttony like wanting more; preoccupation with consumption; even desiringfood that are expensive! Self-control can be evident as we study and imitate the life and behaviour of Jesus. Anger is basically the burning desire to control others, resulting in a lack of restraint. Learning from Cassian's four ways of dealing with anger and letting the fruit of gentleness grow in us, we can determine to be the gentle souls we are called to become. On Sloth,  we encounter the problem of laziness and minimal work. At the same time, the authors discuss the pitfalls of workaholism, which is another form of laziness. In countering sloth, we need faithfulness at work with social integrity; financial integrity; directional integrity; sexual integrity; moral integrity; and relational integrity. On Envy, we need to arrest our tendency of feeling the pain when others advance. Calling it a "primal sin," the authors point out the ways in which we exhibit envy: looking around, feeling self-pity, playing "guerrilla warfare" in our actions, leading to full blown actualization of our words. Let kindness smother the tendencies of envy. Then there is Restlessness, which is another way to describe acedia. We need to move not because of running away from something, but to learn to cultivate patience to wait, to persevere, and to turn to God for guidance. Finally on Boredom, Stevens and Ung say that it is not about a lack of activity but the lack or excessive stimulation. We need to cultivate "prayerful waiting," Sabbath keeping, and active contemplating. The fruit of peace will enable us to do all that. 

Part Three works on the desired outcomes of practicing these nine steps that counter the nine deadly sins of the workplace. Like Brother Lawrence, we hope to come toward continuous prayer. Like the missionary, David Gunaratnam, we desire persistent gratitude to discover the rare qualities of a person. Like the prophet Daniel, we develop consistency of word and action to reach beautiful purity. Like Barney, a senior executive of an IT firm, we learn to cultivate a lifestyle of "enough" in joyful relinquishment of material things, especially those that do not really matter. Like the biblical character Ruth, we understand the significance of surrendered contentment. Like Rod Wilson, President of Regent College, we learn to incorporate a rhythm of work, rest, and play. Like Paul Stevens's mother, Gladys, we can demonstrate neighborly love by showing simple hospitality to people in need. Like John in Revelation, we know that life on earth is only temporal. That is why we need to be heavenly minded in all that we do. 

Filled with many examples of workplace challenges, testimonies of Christians both present and in the past, plus the masters of spirituality over the ages, Stevens and Ung have compiled a lot of material into one book. Every chapter is intentionally brief so as to let readers take time to savor the content, without needing to rush through the book. Readers can use this book as a reference according to whatever felt need they have. I would caution readers from becoming too fixated on the nine deadly sins, the nine fruits or the nine outcomes. Each of us will have our unique circumstances to deal with. Some sins or fruits may be most relevant to us at various times. Sometimes, we may not even see any of them applicable. Yet, due to the nature of sin (which is why it is deadly), it is always good to be proactive against them, Moreover, there are many overlaps in this book. It would be a mistake to cut the book apart and to focus on just one or a few of the struggles. After all, love has many faces. Note that in Galatians 5, the word "fruit" is singular. Love being pure is singular, though the manifestations of love are plural. 

Overall, it is a nicely structured book to help us bridge spirituality, work, and faith.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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