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Grazing with the Cows

Perhaps you heard about the civil proceedings to assess whether Michael Ovitz was given too big a bonus (about 120 million dollars) when he had only served as the Disney Company’s President for less than 14 months. The suit was brought to court by some stockholders who believe the money was too much for too little.

In this last year some 250,000 corporate positions were lost to restructurings and re-engineering and whatever other names such things come by today. Lives and families are put in turmoil due to the changes that surround us in the business environment and in daily living.

When Cingular bought AT&T Wireless thereby creating the largest wireless communications company on the planet, it also created with it a huge amount of debt as a byproduct of the purchase. Did you know that accounting for that debt will require that the new company trim its expenditures immediately and severely now that the merger has been completed? Perhaps then youre aware that some 7,000 persons will be loosing their jobs at Cingular within the next few months. After all, someone has to pay the bill when you pay billions out to buy the biggest and the best.

Do you hate your job? Some people do. Do you trust the people who run your company or do you believe they’re only in for what they can get to the bank and the golden parachute? Are there inequities around? Sure there are. And because of these types of things some people react as if they are employed as anarchists or as overhaulers following a fire. They figure they are owed because their boss is a slug, a gold bug, or because of the idiots they work with or for, and they feel entitled to do nothing and still collect a wage. They might simply think that they are due more than their position allows.

Remember World Comm and Enron? Did you read about or see the video recorded excesses of the former officers of Adelphia Cable, and of CEO Dennis Koslowski formerly of TYKO? How many persons lost their jobs to allow the excesses of these men and their cronies? How many families suffered due to bad accounting and the failure of these and any number of other businesses? My point here in this is that corporate business is the business of making money, not the business of godly living or even reason. And by extension, godliness and making huge sums, living sumptuously and hedonistically are mostly exclusive of one another.

The days of watchful growth and care for the development of personnel and making reasonable decisions in the best interest of not only stockholders and also of employees and the business community may be gone or all but lost in a haze of “only profit matters.” The days of personal responsibility seem to draw shorter and shorter.

Big is everywhere. The push is on and there is typically only one view in mind: to make more money each quarter than in the last no matter what; and to make bigger, better and to acquire more. This type of thinking reminds me of those in Babel trying to build a “tower to heaven.” There was a time when most corporate officers had some sense of restraint and would base their decisions on reason and merit, and to be fair some do now. But sometimes it seems that it is only “what can I do to ensure the blotter color stays black and doesnt go red?” After all, some think it matters only as to who has what.

Under these circumstances we as employees may be treated as just another asset. I even favor the notion that those of us who work in mainstream corporate entities are really corporate cows. If so, the way things are going we may all then end up as corporate ground beef one day. You may be a milk cow now, or perhaps breeding stock – but youll end up out to pasture or in the slaughterhouse. Men over the age of 49 seem to know this is true, because chances are, once past that age youll be put out to the back forty to wait there for someone to care. Oh, I know what the law says, and when done correctly there is no violation. If you are a woman you can be sent to the packing house at almost anytime, and the chances increase if you report to another woman on the job. So it seems and so the statisticians say – and maybe it’s all true.

As we know the way it may go, then we should stack things up so that we can come out on top – that’s the ticket. We could call in sick when we aren’t, do next to nothing when there and take stock or supplies or abuse our privileges and misuse our perks because we know the corporate cowboys are just going to herd us all up one day and drive us off to market anyway – right?

Wrong. We didn’t invent the situations and we likely will have nothing to say and not more that a smattering of control over the outcomes; but as Christians we are called to do a little more than to graze dumb and then stampede.

What Mr. Ovitz or Mr. Rigas make or do with their time is none of my business, and whether or not I think the things they do are proper or if I think they are good fellows or not, really has nothing to do with me at all, and not a thing to do with my serving Christ. I may know that all these things are true and that injustice is the kid brother to corporate malfeasance – and so what? What does that have to do with the state of my soul and with the end of all things? What effect will all this have on eternity? Now don’t misunderstand me. It’s perfectly reasonable to ponder things, to try and understand the news and directions in business and government, and to be informed as both good workers and good citizens. By all means try to stay ahead of the curve. God didn’t call us to be blind to the landscape around us. But, regardless of where we may find ourselves and how we may end up at the close of the day – we are to answer first to God as his servants working for him and not just to ourselves. We are at the first the called out, those who are “of Christ” – Christians. And second, we must answer to one another as members of the body of Christ.

My father would take as hard a cut in pay as he gave to his employees when things got tough – and sometimes more, just to ensure that everyone shared not only in the good but also were spared as much of the bad as could be managed. They were treated as friends. But then he never was CEO of a big corporation – it was just a small family business. Aside from that he always remained first a Christian. He never lived in excess. His employees, some of them Christians, acted as if it was their business and treated him respectfully and worked diligently.

I know of a man who labored at a place where they literally didn’t care much whether employees lived or died. The position was on 7 days a week. This place was a terrible place and conditions were Dickensian. People died there as the result of horrible incidents and their deaths apparently only served to inconvenience management due to the required slowdown in production. Sound impossible? Yet even under these conditions, he did the very best he could. In time he became more and more popular to management as he was outspoken about the circumstances that surrounded them and also stood up for those around him. And in all things he did his best and called it straight. I salute those in these types of situations and for their willingness to work – in spite of all things they stand an example to all as good workers. You may know of some who labor before the Lord in similar manner.

Perhaps our own families might reject us or run us off. We might end up in jobs working for folks that dont pay attention or who wont even look after their own things, and who like those above, dont really care. We might be moved from place to place, might get set up by scurrilous sorts and be accused unjustly. We could loose our positions or find our way into terrible personal turmoil to languish in dead end positions or worse. We could be pushed or simply escorted out the door. Conversely, we could end up highly sought out in areas of specialty and could become corporate or government giants second only to a President or CEO with power and prestige due to handling our duties, our time and our affairs correctly. Any and all could occur. Let the wheel of fortune spin.

In all things, what should be our reaction to any change, to the days direction and to any business we have set before us and our part in it? Well, simply put, it is to do the best we can to serve God and his Christ and to perform our duties honorably- just like Joseph who is described above but in modern terms. Even if found as slaves were told to work at if we are the master – a hard showing in any age.

Duty and honor aren’t mere letters stretched together forming words; they are more when said aloud than the sound the vowels make drifting off into the air. These are not antique concepts. We are not called to be just like the rest of the herd – we are called to be godly in both word and deed – no matter which way the herd moves.