The Narrow Way

Last month my wife and I spent a few days in Denver. Odd though it may sound, it seemed to me that the Denver area had the narrowest parking spaces I can remember ever encountering. Even if I was parked squarely within the lines of my space, and the car in the next space was as well, I felt cramped. It seemed like we were much too close together, and I had to be very careful when opening my car door not to hit the car next to me. When I mentioned this to a friend who had also been in the Denver area recently she said, “Well, Colorado is supposedly the fittest state in the nation; maybe they don’t think they need the extra space!” She was joking, but at least it is a possible explanation… Of course, it is also possible that I have become used to the area in which I live, where parking lots are as likely as not to have no spaces marked off and people figure it out. I am inclined to doubt that, though, as I do encounter delineated parking spaces often enough. Still, I am not going to blog about narrow parking spaces, which I am sure is a relief to you. You were just about to stop reading, weren’t you?

Instead, I want to write about the Narrow Way. Jesus talks about this concept a number of times in the gospels, most notably in Matthew 7. He said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (verses 13-14). Jesus was making the point that pursuing a life that is pleasing to God, living a life that endeavors to demonstrate Christ to others, will not be easy. It will not be comfortable. Just as I was irritated by the proximity of the cars next to mine while I was parking in Denver, we do not like the feel confined, closed in or restricted. When given the option, most people will choose the wide way, the way with plenty of elbow room, the way that allows them to do their own thing without bumping into anyone else or anything else–anything like walls, fences and boundaries. Of course walls, fences and boundaries, when it comes to life, can mean rules, guidelines and expectations. It can mean putting personal preferences, desires and tendencies aside in order to pursue Christ and live according to His direction. It can mean yielding to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives instead of following self.

It is interesting, I think, that Jesus instruction to take the narrow way comes immediately after His instruction to do to others as we would have them do to us. The Golden Rule is followed immediately by the instruction that taking the wide way will lead to destruction. In fact, if your Bible has section headings, it likely sets verses 12-14 apart, possibly under the heading “The Golden Rule.” Immediately before this section is Jesus’s instruction to ask God for what we need and to trust that God will provide for our needs; immediately after is instruction about false prophets and recognizing trees by their fruit. Taking the narrow way, then, necessarily means doing to others–living proactively in a way that lives out the teachings of Jesus, the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As I have mentioned here before, this was a revolutionary teaching by Jesus. The Jewish leaders had always taught “do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you,” but that is not nearly the same thing as what Jesus said. After all, I can refrain from smacking you across the face without ever being kind to you, without ever considering your needs ahead of my own, without ever helping to bear your burdens.

The truth is, I can refrain from smacking you across the face without being all that uncomfortable. There may well be times when I would like to do it, and when doing so might seem like it would feel really good, but I can probably live a perfectly content and comfortable life while still resisting any temptation to smack someone. Going beyond that, though, can be rather distressing. Showing kindness to you when I do not feel like being kind–or when, frankly, I do not even like you all that much–is not comfortable. Setting aside my preferences in order to make way for yours can be annoying. Forgiving you when you have wronged me unjustly can be, let’s face it, excruciatingly difficult. Still, this is all part of what it means to take the narrow way. As Jesus said, it is hard. It would much easier to take the wide way, to avoid the unpleasant elbow rubbing and shoulder bumping of the narrow way. The wide way, though, leads to destruction. It may be n easier path, but the destination is not worth it. I much prefer life to destruction, even if the path is a bit narrow.

Listening to the Other Side

Back in May Janie B. Cheaney wrote a piece for WORLD entitled “The debate is never over.” I was reminded of it yesterday when I wrote about Amanda Marcotte’s rant against those who hold to the position that unborn babies have a right to life. Cheaney began her column by quoting Barack Obama’s assertion that the debate over the Affordable Care Act “is over.” She went on to explain why that assertion was false and also why the tactic of declaring a debate to be over in the midst of that very debate is a tried-and-true, although entirely un-American, strategy.

I am not going to elaborate on Cheaney’s comments about Obamacare; you can find and read her column if you’re interested. But she made a point near the end of her piece that pertains to Obama’s declaration in the ACA, to Marcotte’s declaration on abortion, to many evolutionists’ declarations on creation and to any other debate in which either side tires of the debate and simply decides to say, “It’s over. I win.” Here is what Cheaney writes…

The nation that began with shouting and guns has–with one notable exception–developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.

Cheaney’s point is that the United States is built around the idea that opinions and beliefs should be freely and passionately argued in the pursuit of law. Those on either side of the political spectrum who would rather just tell the other side to shut up and then declare victory are not only attempting to become philosophical bullies, they are undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. So rarely do we stop to think about what it would be like to be on the other side! Amanda Marcotte would never suggest the debate is over if the law of the land currently prevented abortion. Barack Obama would never have declared the debate to be over if Congress had voted to de-fund Obamacare. Evolutionists would never declare the debate to be over if every school board in the country decided that creation would be taught in the classroom as well as the theory of evolution. That’s the way bullies work, though; as long as they are the biggest, baddest, toughest and meanest it’s their way or the high way. Let someone bigger and badder some along, though, and their position instantly does a one-eighty. So I would ask Mr. Obama, Ms. Marcotte and others to kindly recognize that the debates are not over.

At the same time, though, I would like to ask those of us on the other side of those arguments–myself included–to remember the same thing. We have to be willing to listen to and respect the positions of those who disagree with us if we want them to listen to and respect us. We do not have to agree with them. We do not necessarily even have to be willing to compromise with them. But we do have to be willing to listen and to show respect if we want the same in return. No, we do not have to welcome Ms. Marcotte’s potty-mouthed insults, and certainly we could insist that we will listen only if she is respectful in her speech and tone, but we must all remember that we have to be willing to show respect if we expect to receive it. Mr. Obama and Ms. Marcotte and others may not see it that way but, if anything, that is all the more reason for us to listen and show respect to them. After all, the Golden Rule does not say “do unto others as they do unto you.” No, it says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Quite a difference, isn’t there?

Do Unto Others (Business Edition)

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the Golden Rule and what that looks like lived out in everyday life. Today I’d like to talk about what it looks like in the business world…or should look like, in my opinion. Specifically, I’d like to address what it should look like when dealing with employment inquiries.

I know from firsthand experience that many companies do not in any way acknowledge employment inquiries if they are not interested in pursuing the inquiring individual for a position. More than ten years ago I sent an inquiry to a couple of ministries that I respected and who had needs that my skill set could have matched. In these instances I sent the inquiries via good old fashioned postal mail. In neither instance did either ministry acknowledge my inquiry or follow up with me in any way. Not only is that disheartening but, quite frankly, it caused me to lose some respect for those organizations.

I am not suggesting that such behavior on the part of an organization–secular business or Christian ministry, for-profit or nonprofit–is unusual. I am suggesting, however, that it should be. If someone takes the time to submit a serious, respectful and well-written inquiry regarding employment, it would behoove the receiving organization to politely, respectfully and promptly acknowledge the receipt of that inquiry. Even if there is no position available, it would take at most a few minutes and the cost of a piece of paper, an envelope and a stamp to send a letter acknowledging receipt of the inquiry, thanking the inquirer for his or her interest, and explaining that there is no current opening.

When I reached a position of leadership wherein I was the one responsible for reviewing and deciding on employment inquiries and applications I had the opportunity to put this approach into practice. I still remember looking at an inquiry, deciding that we had no opening for which the inquiring individual was qualified, and then asking my administrative assistant to prepare a letter indicating that we had no opening at that time. She said, “We usually just file the inquiry. We have never sent a letter.” I think she was genuinely just trying to inform me of what established practice had been, but I told her that I would like to send a letter. We did so that time, and every subsequent time. Why? Because I knew from experience the frustration of not having my inquiry even acknowledged, and I wanted to “do unto others….”

The inquiries I referenced above were initiated by me. I did not know if there was an opening or not, but I was interested in working for those ministries because I respected what they stood for and the work that they did. I don’t whether there is an advertised opening or not, however, should make any difference when it comes to responding to legitimate inquiries. An example of how responding can make a positive impression came once several years back. I am a long-suffering fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I say long-suffering because the Orioles haven’t had a winning season since I was in college. Once, in the midst of a particularly lousy season and even more lousy moves by the Orioles front office I went on their web site, found the link for employment inquiries, and submitted an inquiry for the position of General Manager. I knew full well that the position was not open, and even if it was I would not be considered. It was intended as an expression of my dissatisfaction with the organization. Yet, within a few days, I received an response from the Orioles personnel office informing me that the Orioles GM position was not open at that time. Guess what? I was still disgusted with the performance of the team, but the organization gained new respect in my mind.

I found myself exploring employment opportunities again in 2010-11…which opened up a whole new opportunity for learning by experience. I would like to say, first of all, that every inquiry I sent during that go around was in response to an advertised opening. It amazed me how many of my inquiries or even submitted applications received no acknowledgement or response. I kept a list of the organizations I inquired or applied to, the position I applied for, the date I inquired, and the response received, if any. Several organizations grew in my estimation because of polite acknowledgements, updates on their progress in the job search and/or sending me additional information about the organization. One school I applied to, for example, sent me a folder with information about the school, the position, the town, the cost of living in their area, etc. Even just brief acknowledgements to let me know that my information had been received and a human being had seen it, though, went a long way.

Here are a couple of examples of responses that had the opposite impact:

One organization to which I inquired, by submitting a cover letter tailored to their organization, the advertised opening, and my qualifications and experience relevant to the opening; my resume; and another document relevant to the opening received a response from the organization within less than five minutes of the moment I hit “send,” telling me that I did not meet the qualifications they had in mind for the position. First of all, I did meet the qualifications as described in the ad, so if there were other qualifications that were that foundational to the process they should have been included in the ad. Second, it simply is not possible that anyone could have opened and read thoroughly all of the attachments I sent, formulated a realistic evaluation of my qualifications, and responded within 300 seconds or less. And to be honest, even if it somehow had been that obvious, the very act of shooting down a sincere applicant that quickly is probably about as bad as not responding at all.

Another organization sent no acknowledgement of receiving my application and communicated with me in no way…until five months after I had sent it. Then I received a phone call telling me they were now ready to start the process of reviewing candidates and wondered if I was still interested. While I had accepted another opportunity by that point, I would not have been interested even if I had not. There is no excuse for that kind of a lapse, and it spoke volumes about the organization in question.

Lastly, I had two instances of in-person experiences that are great examples of “don’t do unto others.” In the first instance I had submitted my resume, then a completed application, and had completed a phone interview before driving to the school for an interview. During the interview I met with the superintendent, toured the school, met the outgoing principal, toured the town, then went to dinner with the superintendent. At dinner I also met the board chair. Despite it being clearly stated in the school’s handbook, application and during the interview that, as a non-denominational school there were some issues on which the school did not take official stances, the superintendent then proceeded to ask me this question: “As you know, there are some positions on which the school does not take a stance, because our faculty and our students come from various churches and backgrounds. But where are you on Calvinism?” Despite being surprised, I answered his question, only to find that he held a different position than I do. (I am what Norman Geisler calls a “moderate Calvinist,” whereas my questioner was a 5-point Calvinist). He then proceeded to tell me why he was right and I was wrong, and wanted to know if I would be able to work with him and other strict Calvinists. Enough said…I was no longer interested.

In another instance I was again being considered for a high school principal position. I had again submitted a resume, a completed application, and had gone through a phone interview. I then took two flights to fly to an interview several states away, went through questioning with the superintended and with the middle and elementary principals, went to lunch with the superintendent and development director, and then took a flight home…making for a VERY long day. The next morning I literally was not even out of bed yet when the superintendent called and wanted to know when I could return for a second interview to meet with the board. I went through the process of identifying flights that could get me there within the time frame she wanted only to receive an e-mail in response saying she wasn’t so sure after all, because she didn’t know if my skill set was what her staff expected in the new principal, even though she thought I would do a great job and that the two of us would work well together. I thanked her for letting me know and politely informed her that we would, in fact, not work well together if her style of leadership was one in which she substituted her own thoughts regarding what was best for the organization with what she thought the other staff members may or may not prefer, and if she thought it was acceptable business practice to ask someone to return for a second interview and then chicken out. Again, “do unto others….”

Unfortunately, I can also cite other examples of poor business practices from personal experience, from a search committee calling me on a Saturday afternoon (in our first direct contact) and asking if I was available for a phone interview right then (I said no) to a board failing to mention during the phone interview, first in-person interview or second in-person interview that the school was deeply in debt and had no realistic expectation of being able to continue operations while still honoring all outstanding financial obligations.

In closing, I can tell you that, having now been the one “in charge” for the last seven years of professional life, and the one who is involved in the review of employment inquiries and interviews, that I have had several instances when individuals (none of whom I hired, by the way) thanked me for responding to their inquiries, answering their questions, and being honest and thorough in the entire process. Just last month, in fact, I had someone I had been in contact with about an opening at our school send me an e-mail telling me that he had accepted a position at another school. That e-mail also included this statement: “I really am extremely grateful for the opportunity however. It has been eye opening how many schools/districts/teaching councils/etc. do not even contact people who show interest in teaching at their schools.”

I am not writing any of this to pat myself on the back or to hold myself up as an example. Rather, I’m simply trying to point out that the Golden Rule has very real and very powerful implications for business practice, and it is the wise organization/ministry that will put into practice the idea of “do unto others….”

Do Unto Others

I think most people are familiar with the Golden Rule, whether they claim to believe the Bible or not. It is, after all, simply a nice way to live. But the truth is that the Golden Rule, when Jesus first taught it, was rather revolutionary. It took the expectations of how people treated one another to whole new level.

See, the Pharisees and other religious leaders had a rule of their own that went something like this: Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

At first glance it may not seem like there is a lot of difference between those two , but in reality there is a world of difference. I can refrain from doing things to you and still not treat you kindly or even acknowledge you. After all, I don’t think I would have a difficult time going through life not hitting others upside the head, or not shooting people who annoy me, but that still leaves open all kinds of ways in which I could treat or interact with others without doing so in love and kindness.

The Golden Rule that Jesus taught is a proactive approach. It is not enough to sit back and avoid doing things to you that are unpleasant because I wouldn’t want them done to me. Rather, to obey Jesus’ commandment, I need to actively treat others with the kindness and respect that I would want them to extend to me. This takes a lot more effort and intentionality than the old version of the rule for interacting with others.

It’s a good reminder for all of us of how we should interact with those we come in contact with, whether family members, coworkers, neighbors, students, cashiers, or strangers. If we want others to acknowledge us, we must acknowledge them. If we want others to be polite and helpful, we must be. If we want others to speak in a respectful tone and with polite language, we must do that, too.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and it simply does not come naturally…but it is a commandment from the Lord and is a lifestyle choice we should all strive to make.