Thursday, 23 April 2009

Balancing Work and Life

My recent post that posed the question "Are bloggers robbing their our employers?" by blogging at work (here) led to some comments that touched on the nature of work and its relationship to life. So I thought it might be helpful to point readers of the blog to the latest edition of Case magazine that has the theme ‘City Life’. In this issue Tim Chester offers a short article titled ‘The Busy Christian’s Introduction to Busyness’. As the name suggests, it offers an introduction to his book with a similar name 'The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness' The article and his book offer some helpful advice to those of us who struggle to maintain a right balance between work and the rest of life.

The main focus of Chester's article is the need for a balance between work and rest. He argues, that the Bible teaches “that work is good and rest is good”, and points out that in our modern world we have two dominant and competing ethics, a work-centred ethic and a leisure-centred ethic.

The work-centred ethic says work is good and leisure is bad or work is central and leisure is peripheral. The leisure-centred ethic says that leisure is good and work is bad or leisure is central and work is peripheral.

Chester suggests that both ethics are exploitative.

“The work ethic is the ideology of capitalism. It’s designed to create a willing workforce to enrich the owners of the means of production. It not only justifies overwork, it makes it a moral good! …….But the idyllic life advocated in the leisure ethic is equally exploitative. It’s only really possible at the expense of other people’s servitude. Greek and Roman leisure was built on the backs of slaves. And the new leisure ethic feeds of other people in the same way – whether it is the state or the family or exploited workers.”

He points out that in contrast to the work-centred ethic and the leisure-centred ethic, that the Bible presents us with a liberating God-centred ethic in which we work for the glory of God and we rest for the glory of God.

The goal is more than a balance between the two. The goal for both is the glory of God. Neither work nor rest is ultimate. some people rest to work, others work to rest. But in the biblical worldview God is ultimate. He gives value to both work and rest. Both are to be relished, enjoyed and used for God’s glory. ‘Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).

He concludes his Case article by suggesting that defining work-life balance may not be as complicated as we imagine. The Bible gives us a clear pattern and that pattern is six days of work and one day of rest. Rather that a yearly (or even life) pattern of work and binge rest, he argues that we would be better to ensure that we adopt a weekly pattern to life, and to build opportunities for work and rest on a regular basis.

You can view an excellent 2 minute video from Tim Chester on the main ideas in his book below.

Upcoming Seminar on ‘City Life’

CASE will be running a discussion session on the latest edition of Case on Thursday 30th April at the New College Village in Sydney. Roberta Kwan and I will offer some brief comments on our own contributions to Case #18 and then we will invite discussion on the theme and papers in the magazine. You can find more details here.

You can download my introduction to Case #18 here.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Are bloggers robbing their employers?

Paul Grimmond has just written a post on the Sola panel 'The Long and the Short of It' in which he responds to a recent criticism that the posts on the Matthias Media blog are too long. I was struck by one comment that fed a concern I've had for a long time. The commenter was suggesting that comments needed to be short because people are often reading blogs at work. Now to be fair, maybe he was talking about lunch-time, or perhaps he works a 10 hour day that he breaks up with some blogging. But his simple comment prompted me to think again about something I've pondered for some time.

A new Cyber water cooler?

When do people find the time to read 40-50 blogs and to write regular comments on many of them? Could it sometimes be at work? Could this be a new web-based form of theft? Could Christian workers be robbing their employers of time? Certainly, it appears from research that robbing employers of time is a common activity. In an online survey of 2,057 employees, a compensation company found that about 60% of workers admitted to wasting time at work, with the average employee wasting 1.7 hours of a typical 8.5 hour working day (here). Now I know that employers robbing workers of out-of-work time is also a big problem, which should be of concern to Christian bosses as well. But has the availability of new forms of social networking provided a new type of virtual water cooler that has potential to affect one's work? And is this a serious ethical consideration for Christian workers?

As Christians can we justify ethically and biblically the reading of blogs (or any other type of social networking) at work? If you are a pastor reading Christian blogs at Church, then maybe. If you're an engineer, reading theological blogs in work time, is this okay? Or are you stealing time from your employer? How many Christian employees check Facebook at work? Perish the thought, how many people are wasting their life telling people when they sneeze using Twitter (see a previous post of mine on another blog here)? Is work the main place you now read the newspaper?

The need for a Christian work ethic

Does the Bible speak directly to this topic? No, but there is good guidance that should help us to develop a sound Christian work ethic that will help. For example, Paul's words to the Ephesians:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28)

In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul is speaking to believers in Christ and is challenging them to live new and changed lives that are different to the lives of non-believers. We are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to neighbours. We are to avoid the sin of anger and lead honest lives. One who has been a thief is not to steal any longer, but instead needs to work (toil!), doing useful things that we might share with others in need. We are also to avoid unwholesome talk, bitterness and rage, slander, malice, and we are to be kind and compassionate to one another. Paul lists doing honest work as an important part of the new life of the believer; one of the ways that the believer is to demonstrate that they are new creations. While some might say, “but he's talking to someone who was once a common thief”, and he might even have had in mind someone who was once a thief, I don’t think we can avoid the point. He is writing all these things for the benefit of all Ephesian believers. Paul sees fit to mention doing honest work as opposed to stealing (or taking that which we aren't entitled to take). We are to "put away" (Eph 4:25) such things and instead "walk as children of light" (Eph 5:8).

Three simple questions

We could also look at Paul's comments on slaves and masters that would also help (e.g. 1 Timothy 6), but in the interests of a shorter post (!) I won't. I'd suggest that there is enough clear biblical teaching about the nature of honesty and godliness that would allow each of us to ask ourselves three simple questions:

Is my blogging at work related to my job description?
Is the content of my blogging, facebook checking, online shopping, newspaper reading, twittering [add your own] relevant or helpful to what I'm paid to do?
Does my online reading distract me from the things I'm paid to do, or reduce my effectiveness in any way?

If the answer to either of the first two questions is no, or if you an write 'yes' to the third question, then the course of action for the Christian is simple, stop doing it. It is stealing time from your employer.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Celebrating God's Grace & Mercy Every Day!

As I wrote last year (here) Easter is always a wonderful reminder to me of how remarkable is the love, grace and mercy of God. The inexplicable wonder that he would save a 'wretch like me' from my sin and rebelliousness. John Newton's famous song 'Amazing Grace' always speaks to repentant sinners like me. The same sense of overwhelming gratitude, humility and thankfulness that flooded the heart of the former slave trader flooded me when I first came to faith some 27 years ago; a young happily married 31 year-old father of two who seemingly had no need of God. My conversion was dramatic and life changing. And yet, every day is a battle to remember that I am nothing but repackaged dust given life for just a moment on this earth. From dust I came and to dust I will return. Life ended in a wink and a blink, but for the mercy and grace of our God.

For me the ongoing challenge is always to grasp and hold on to the fact that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. It was MY rebellion, MY pride, MY vanity, MY self sufficiency, MY arrogance, MY hatred, MY ungraciousness, MY lies, MY deceit....! With Paul who persecuted Christians, and Newton who traded human lives, I stand condemned but for the grace of God. I need to recognise each day in my 21st century middle-class comfort that I lie prostrate with all other sinners at the foot of the cross in shame - a wretch! And yet, with fear and trembling I can wake each morning knowing that in some amazing way I have been granted freedom from such shame and forgiveness. A life of filthy rags is forgiven for no other reason than that God has chosen to extend to me his grace, mercy, love, kindness and forgiveness.

My God has given me just a little less than 10,000 mornings (since that day I came to faith) to wake in the knowledge that Jesus paid the price for my sins at Golgotha some 2,000 years ago. I don't know how many more mornings he will give me. But for those who know me please pray that the troubles of the previous day and the challenges of the next might never push aside the overwhelming sense of gratitude and thankfulness I have when I remember that Christ died for me.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Amazing Grace sung by Judy Collins and the Harlem Boys' Choir

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Judge who can’t justify himself

This post has been written by the Associate Editor of Case,
Roberta Kwan

He’s been the subject of countless news stories, but his lasting legacy will be encapsulated in the recent headlines:

A Man Without Honour
I lied, but I'm basically honest, says Einfeld
Marcus Einfeld jailed for perjury

It would be hard to live in Australia and not have an opinion on the fate of Marcus Einfeld – the former federal court judge and National Trust ‘living treasure’ who has just received a three-year jail term for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. This blog entry isn’t an attempt to rehash the details of Einfeld’s ignominious fall. Rather, it is a brief reflection on what may appear to be the incomprehensible disparities between Einfield’s long record of human rights activism, his actions that led to his criminal convictions last week and his own beliefs about his character.

The ABC TV show Four Corners screened an exclusive interview with Einfeld two weeks ago. It recounted his many years of public service, including his role as the Founding President of the Human Rights’ Commission, his work to help asylum seekers and his most memorable contribution – his 1987 enquiry into the living conditions of Indigenous people in Toomelah in northern NSW.

This record was juxtaposed with Einfeld’s behavior that culminated in the infamy of being the first superior court judge to be jailed in Australia. Einfeld knew he had perjured himself.

Four Corners: “There can have been no doubt in your mind that you did not lend your car to Teresa Brennan and that is what you said.”
Einfeld: “Yes”
Four Corners: “Now that was just a straight-out lie.”
Einfeld: “It was. …”

Towards the end of the programme it was revealed that police had conducted enquiries that span back for over a decade and that these enquiries revealed a pattern of Einfeld using statutory declarations/sworn statements naming overseas friends as drivers to get out of traffic offenses. In each case the person was not in Australia at the time, and in one case (in May 2003) the person was already dead. That person was, once again, Teresa Brennan. And so, if Einfeld’s case had gone to trial, this evidence of a pattern of dishonest behavior would have been aired in court.

This being the case, the most jarring and obvious disjunction revealed in the programme was not between Einfeld’s good record and what he claimed to be an isolated ‘mad’ incident. Rather, the most jarring and obvious disjunction was between what Einfeld did and his assertions about his character. He continued to maintain that he is fundamentally a ‘good person’.

Four Corners: “Do you have a habit of dishonesty?”
Einfeld: “No, I’m not a dishonest … no … I don’t think I’m in the slightest bit dishonest, I just made a mistake.”

Einfeld: “They’re [the character witnesses] going to prove that this matter, these offenses of mine were out of character, that I’m a good person, a person of integrity and honour, who’s given his life to working for people ...”

I’m not pointing out this profound discrepancy in order that I or you can pour scorn on Einfeld or adopt a sense of smug superiority. Instead, the point I’m trying to make is that a humanistic world view, such as Einfeld’s, cannot account for the incongruity. It is not possible to marry together the statements ‘I don’t think I’m in the slightest bit dishonest’ and ‘It was [a straight-out lie]’. This impossibility is echoed in the ironic headline in The Sydney Morning Herald from the 23rd March: ‘I lied, but I'm basically honest, says Einfeld’.

Moreover, it is clear that Einfeld’s attempts to justify his lies by recourse to his good deeds are hollow and inadequate, as reflected in the decision of the sentencing Judge. He could not appeal to anything that could result in him personally atoning for his criminal behaviour.

I think that the poignantly sad case of Marcus Einfeld should be a cause for self-reflection. Because, according to the Bible, what has become obvious about Einfeld is no less true of any person. As Romans 3:10 boldly states, ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one …’ A Christian world view can makes sense of a seemingly ‘good person’ and the lies told by this good person because it presents a true view of human nature. People can do good things but are equally prone to doing bad things because of the pervasiveness of our sinful nature, a sinful nature that means we can never justify ourselves, never atone for our own wrong-doing. If we reflect honestly upon our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, we will have to admit that these discredit any belief in ourselves as a ‘good person’. If I tell one lie (and I’m sure we’ve all told more than one), I cannot say ‘I am not dishonest’. If I slander one person (and I’m sure we’ve all slandered more than one person), then I cannot say ‘I am not a slanderer’.

Early in the Four Corners programme Einfeld said:
“I’m forever trying to atone for what I did. But, you know, whether God will hear me I don’t know, but I hope people hear me at least. …”

The Bible is clear that Einfeld’s fervent attempts at self-atonement will not be efficacious before God. But, the incredible news is that God has provided the means of atonement. He sent his perfect Son – the only one who could honestly accept the title of ‘good person’ – to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. It is through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, through him taking on the punishment for our sin, that anyone can be justified before God. The liar is declared honest. The unrighteous declared righteous. There IS one Judge who can justify. May the Marcus Einfeld case remind us of his amazing grace.

Related links

This piece has also posted on the Anglican Media website (here)