Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Neither One nor the Other

At my company, there is a story told about a vice president of research and development who had been a rather unusual organizational leader. It wasn’t his warmth and enthusiasm at a time when business executives were known for wearing gray flannel suits, although he was certainly warm and certainly enthusiastic.

If he had drawn line at wandering around the R&D labs and blowing his trumpet, it might have been okay. But what did him in, ultimately, was choice of his office furniture. Since he said he did his best thinking in bed, he junked the executive desk and instead used a four-poster bed. For office meetings, visitors would sit by the side of his bed while he sat in the bed. And no, this wasn’t Silicon Valley. This was traditional Midwest, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It would still be considered bizarre today.

This executive was both what C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity calls an Individualist and a Totalitarian. On the one hand, he tended to zig when the rest of the organization would zag. And no one else blew a bugle at the people who worked for him or had a bed for a desk. But he also wanted his organization to think like he did – even of he was creative, innovative and fun, and he wanted everyone else to be just like him too.

Lewis says that Christians are to be neither. We are not supposed to be Totalitarians, and we are not supposed to be Individualists. “Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group, but as organs in a body – different from one another and each contributing what no other could.

God never meant for us to be exactly alike. He made us with different skills, talents, attributes and abilities, but he never intended that we were to be the same. At the same time, contrary to American culture, he didn’t make us to be rugged individualists, either. We are not designed to all be Marlboro Men. Instead, he means us to be in community, also known as the church, and complementing each other as we go about his work.

Over the course of the past century, mankind has gotten itself in all kinds of trouble as it veered from one extreme to the other. So do individual people. We show no signs of letting up, either.

But as for us, the church, for us it’s supposed to be a different matter altogether.

We’ve been discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “Two Notes,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact for the links.


Louise Gallagher said...

Seriously? A four poster bed in his office instead of a desk?

Oh my.

Really good example of creative thinking creating angst and discomfort. I can't imagine sitting beside his bed to meet. Oh my!

Which is why your post is so relevant. We are connected through our human condition -- we must always be conscious of what our creations create; singularly and in community.

Good one Glynn!


Unknown said...

All morning long, I have had a song stuck in my head...

"We are one in the bond of love..."

It's not that we are not different individuals with different approaches and characteristics... It is that we are bound together in God's grace as the Body of Christ.

Anonymous said...

So glad we aren't supposed to be Marlboro Men. I have many objections to that (not least of which being he died of cancer). Besides all that, I'm still reeling that an executive put a bed in his office! Great points and great post, Glynn. Thanks for contributing so much to these discussions.

H. Gillham said...

Community, the word itself, is divine.

Anonymous said...

all matter

Matthew Kreider said...

Yes, community is divine. And mysterious. For some reason, God didn't design His body to fit together like Lego bricks, snapping together in neat, spiritual clicks.

Instead, at the molecular level, we bump and jump in seemingly haphazard directions. We just don't always understand how we fit together or how we're to do life stuff together.

Christians often waste so much time and energy in carving out four poster beds -- with the hope of finding places of rest for our identities.

And yet -- rough, smooth, disjointed or cracked -- His mysteriously framed body still finds a way, together, to inhale -- and exhale -- with a life-sustaining grace.