I feel like the comic ‘Dilbert’ is a description of my day-job. It’s almost scary how realistic the scenarios they play out are. Perhaps my favorite comics are the ones where the dimwitted manager walks in to the cubical space or meeting room and begins spouting off strings of seemingly incoherent buzzwords in an attempt to sound like he’s actually doing work. In the brief animated series, which was discontinued in what I can only assume was UPN trying to cancel their shoddy network as quickly as possible, there is a scene where the boss is almost speaking in tongues, except instead of incoherent jibberish he is speaking in buzzwords. The boss is interrupted by one of the meeting attendees prompting him to say, “Wally, please! I’m trying to communicate here!” Everyone let’s out a sign of realization saying, “So THAT’S what you’re trying to do!”
It’s funny when it’s a comic; not so much when it’s groups of Christians trying to challenge each other and talk through problems they face in their lives, in their church, and in their community.
Dilbert’s boss is sort of like a fictional, clunky Pharisee in the Dilbert world: he is a man in authority who knows all the right words to say but completely misses the point. For example, in Matthew 9:14-15 it is written…
14 One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?”
15 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matt 9:14-15 [NLT], source: Bible Gateway)
The Pharisees knew the law, rituals, and principles of being a good Jew, but they had completely missed the actual point behind what they were doing. They forgot that behind the rhetoric was purpose. As much as the Bible denounces the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, more of us than not are subject to the exact same thing. How many times have we been in Sunday school or church meanings and had all of the right phrases and buzzwords, but forgotten that the purpose behind the rhetoric? As humans, we take comfort in phrases like “God will take care of things” while ignoring the reality that God also blessed mankind with freewill and that freewill unfortunately has consequences. Yes, God’s Will can not be stopped, but there is nothing saying that if a church or organization makes a really, really bad decision that God can’t pursue His Will through other means. Just saying…
A person smarter than I would probably question my criticism of rhetoric by saying, “Joseph, it sounds a lot like you’re just being cynical. If people want to talk in terms of positive terminology, what’s the big deal?” Why, I’m glad you asked! Paul has an answer for that…
For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. (1 Cor 1:17 [NLT], source: Bible Gateway)
When I was at a recent church meeting, the children’s director and I were discussing our struggles at finding motivated and spiritually driven volunteers for children and teens in a society that is, in many respects, numb (that’s a commentary on our culture, not our church). She mentioned that in her communication with potential volunteers, she doesn’t like to make the position sound overly sweet because then you are risking (a) outside observers misunderstanding the dire need for assistance from the church and (b) attracting volunteers who many not be prepared for the challenges of working with children and teens. I was sitting on the other end of the table internally fist-pumping in the air. She nailed it. It’s not that we were advocating being a Debbie-downer or going about ministry with a sense of cynicism; we just wanted to acknowledge that beyond the flowery veneer of “how wonderful and how much of a blessing it is to serve the future of our church community”, it’s also really freaking hard. There is real joy in our service, but sometimes that joy is worn on the inside because on the outside we are physical and emotionally spent.
The upswing is that the work and exhaustion we face is also spiritually rejuvenating. Think about that. Something that emotionally can tear you down and physically work you until you can barely stand can also have you chomping at the bit at what God may have in store for you next. That’s something that the rhetoric doesn’t serve justice towards. Pretty words gloss over the fact that we engage in ministry, service, and discipleship that to the outside world doesn’t appear worth the hassle, but it is the irresistible grace and driving love of Christ that pushes us forward.
Look, I understand the need for uplifting speech. It’s sort of a “catch more flies with honey” type of thing. Those who have known me for a long time will laugh when I say that I have really struggled and come a long way in eliminating the cynicism from my life, but it really is true. My wife approached me once I hit the 6 month mark taking over the student ministry at Bowling Green Baptist and said, “You’ve really changed for the better.” Honestly, I feel better because I feel honest. I recognize that there are problems all over the place. I recognize that some of those problems may never go away because people have freewill to make their own decisions and some of them may never make that decision to truly “buy in” to Christ’s love. At the same time, I recognize that the sole thing that will get me through those problems is the power of Christ which is bigger than an emotionally optimistic outlook and bigger than any earthly problem I will ever face.
As for Dilbert’s manager, I hope he never grows beyond his rhetoric because those comic strips are the cubical gold that get me through the day.