It’s the end of
the year, a rather tumultuous year, and people are writing about all of what
happened, the causes, and the implications. Victor Tan Chen, an associate
professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, considers the
modern economy in a spiritual crisis. Pankaj Mishra at The Guardian sees the Age of Anger. A young woman who served with
Rex Tillerson, nominated for Secretary of State, in a horrible jury trial
reminds us to look past superficial reporting and political bias. And Giles
Fraser, the religion columnist at The Guardian, suggests that the only way to
defeat terrorism is true extremism.
interesting stories on art and some exhibitions were posted – art in the
Russian Revolution, the disasters of war, and putting art (back) in its place.
And Tim Good has some some wonderful photographs of koi that look like
explains ad hominem attacks. Aaron Earls issues a plea for stopping the rush
past Christmas. Jake Lee exegetes “O Holy Night.” And some impressive poetry.
Three years ago,
I started keeping a journal. I had been given one as a gift (one done by
Levenger with a beautiful tan leather cover) quite a few years ago. It had been
unused, until, for some forgotten reason, started writing in it. I use it (and
its various successors) for just about everything – notes on interesting books,
draft articles and reviews, sermon notes, draft poems, notes from online
lectures, planning schedules – it’s a real hodgepodge.
entries are actually exercises, such as “write your fears in these boxes,” write
the lyrics to the song your soul is singing, list five things you’re truly
grateful for and five things you’re anxious about. They are meant as prompts,
and you can write as much or as little as you desire.
accompanying each of the approximately 60 exercises are by Teresa of Avila,
Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Francois Fenelon, Thomas a’ Kempis,
Catherine of Siena, and John of the Cross (the book contains multiple
quotations by each). The journal also includes a list of works by them for
and examining each of the quotations within the artworks is an exercise in
stillness and quieting of the soul. All Shall Be Well is a beautiful way to
reflect and record one's journey in faith.
Top illustration: one of the quotations
from All Shall Be Well.
would ask him if he loved working for his company. The question was not
surprising; it was the only place he worked his entire career. He had come as a
young man right out of college, full of hope and ambition and self-assured that
he knew everything worth knowing. Somehow, he had lasted for the next four
decades. The people he’d been hired with were long gone; he wasn’t sure if that
spoke well of them or him.
It wasn’t a
question of whether he had loved the company. He really couldn’t answer it. Instead,
he had engaged with its soul, and it did have a soul, sometimes full of light
and often full of unexpected shadows.
This engagement with
the company’s soul brought him, eventually, to the corporate archives. The
rooms housing the archives smelled like archives – old paper, old books, old
company newsreels and magazines. What he learned there was both a history of
the company and the history of industry, for the company’s rise, fall, and
change mirrored 20th century industrial history.
What he liked
more than the documents were the artifacts, including the silver teething ring
of the founder’s son and heir, the one who had propelled the company to a
zenith of success. And the founder’s roll top desk and chair, which he had
personally ensured were restored after decades of neglect in a back room. That
room was filled with the paintings, statues, and other decorations the founder
has adorned his office with. Looking at them never diminished the sense that
the founder had atrocious taste in art.
included photography files. More than once he had looked through the scenes of
segregated company picnics where white and black employees ate separately and
posed together but separately for the photographer. And advertisements, like
for detergents long off the market and artificial sweeteners that had
flourished, died, and been resurrected when the regulators discovered their
science had been wrong.
Dust, old and
new, was plentiful. Once a month and after business hours, he would oversee the
housekeeping team contracted to clean the archive rooms.
he catalogued, he wrote articles for corporate history magazines, he sent 16mm
films for digital reproduction, he preserved newspaper articles, he entertained
descendants of old company executives and visitors interested in the company’s
history, he responded to inquiries from researchers, professors, reporters, and
even the occasional corporate executive. One CEO had even made a regular
practice of spending time in the archives, reading old annual reports, minutes
of Board meetings, and speeches. The CEO’s research had led to an executive
decision almost fatal for the company, for he had learned too much of the wrong
Through all his
work over four decades, he saw the change coming. The paternal gradually gave
way to the expedient. The good of the long term was often sacrificed for the
gain in the short term. Executives had less interest in stewarding than in
And so he was
not surprised that day when the email arrived from HR, the one that the
archives were being “consolidated with other operations” and that he could
retire with a generous severance package or look for a position in another part
of the company. And the expected last day of work, should he accept the
severance package which included the requirement of not to sue the company.
On that day, he
made sure the archives were left in perfect order, because it was still his
job, on that last day. He locked his desk and the office door, and left his
keys with the security guard. As he walked to the parking lot, he pretended not
to see the men lined up with dollies and boxes, and the special trash dumpsters,