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All-hands Belief

How many of y’all have sat through an all-hands meeting? Having spent the greater part of a decade in the Nashville corporate scene, I’ve been in my fair share. For an hour (or more if you’re particularly unlucky) a stream of people come across the stage (or these days your screen) to, nominally, share with you “exciting” news and to “inform” you about all the “good” things on the horizon. But, we all know the reality. It’s spin. A reorganization is going to be announced. Layoffs happened in a part of the org. The company is moving its focus to a new product or industry.

The all-hand exists to make us believe. Believe in the new direction leadership is taking us. Believe that the stresses and complexities of our jobs are worth it because our company is “making a positive impact on the world.” Basically, please believe that you’re part of a happy family and that for 40+ hours a week you’re doing a really good thing. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” (And, please don’t quit or complain.)

Now, I know I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of corporate culture. I’m sure there are places that don’t align with my experience; where all-hands are something different. But, I bring up my experience of all-hands to make a point. It’s a point that many of us, I think, have experienced. It’s that uneasy feeling in knowing there’s things those around us want to us believe in and that deep down we know we don’t. It’s a feeling of despair. A feeling that there’s got to be something more than the spin. There’s got to be something real.

In preparation for my ministry in East Nashville, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the crisis among working-age men in our country. In large numbers men are opting out of the workforce, unable to marry and build a family, and dying by suicide and overdose. I recently ran across an article in the New York Times entitled “When Your Job Fills in for Your Faith, That’s a Problem” that scratches the same itch as my thoughts on the corporate all-hands.

In the article, Dr. Chen at U.C. Berkeley details how for many people in today’s America, work is replacing the structures of community, family, and the Church. Many people now look to their job for identity, fulfillment, meaning, and friendship. For some, when things are going well, this works great. The company provides everything one could need. For one person in the article, he stopped going to church and found all his needs for meaning & friendship supplied by his employer. But, all of this has a dark side. One person in the article rode the wave of corporate meaning, putting in 70+ hours a week, postponing marriage, and building all of her friendships and meaning to the success of a company. When the company failed, she entered a downward dark spiral void of meaning and relationship. It turns out work isn’t exactly a team or a family, because you can’t get fired from your family.

Our world hurts because it knows out there somewhere is something to believe in. But, we’ve been given so many false things to believe in, that many of us are tired and have just given up. That’s what I see when I look at the statistics around poverty; when I see the men who’ve just given up. And, though the reality we live in is dire, I have great hope.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…

Poverty. Racism. Addiction. Gender. Family structures. Economy. Politics. Education.

The troubles of our world are complex and sometimes it is overwhelming to think of the solutions. How do we reach the 22-year-old, porn-addicted man in his parents' basement? How do we call out to the 16-year-old whose father’s been in jail since he was three and is now drawn in to a white-power conspiracy group? How can we convince the 55-year-old man who’s tired of struggling, to get back up and do it again?

I’ll be honest with y’all. The more I study and learn about the problems that surround us, the more nuanced and difficult they seem. Everything’s connected and there are no simple solutions. There are no quick fixes and each movement in one direction seems to bring progress in one area that will negatively impact another. It’s easy to see why a retreat to the basement, drugs, or the simplistic world view offered by conspiracies would make a lot of sense. When you’ve run out of hope, it’s best to forget or numb the pain with anger.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where we come in. Though the world’s problems are many and extremely complex, the Good News we bring is that they aren’t ours to solve. We have a Hope. We have one in whom we can believe. We have a story to tell that fills the emptiness.

In our narcissistic turn to solve all the problems ourselves, we lose sight of that Old Time Gospel. We make things harder than they ought to be. We often turn our noses up at our great-great grand parents' simplistic faith, but they had one thing correct: it really is all about the blood of Jesus.

For God, so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

What the hurting world needs from us most is not solutions, but the Answer to why all-hands belief just doesn’t do it. Time and time again in my ministry, I’ve seen change come to a person not in a meal, not in shoes, not in a bus ticket, not in a training, but only in the working of the Holy Spirit when they’ve come to know the Man, God the Son, who came to save us all.

The world tells us that the answers to our problems are hidden inside us. We just need to let go of the world and look deep within to find answers. We need to believe in ourselves and our truth. Millions and millions are spent each year in meditation apps, retreats with gurus, and now drug-assisted therapy sessions. People are led to believe that if they can just dig deep enough and learn to listen, that their passions and desires will lead them to happiness and fulfillment. This is the lie that’s led us to where we’re at now.

To this, we must say, “no.” The Gospel message remains true: believe in Jesus. Our answers are not within, but without. Our answer is the empty tomb. Our answer is the Risen Lord who reigns on high. In the silence we seek not answers from ourselves, but from the eternal, wise, immortal, invisible God. We cannot change ourselves into the answer by meditation. We reveal ourselves completely and totally to God who sees our many flaws, loves us, and gently leads to right paths.

In all that we do and say, we should point to the Answer, the Cross of Christ where he died for the sins of the whole world. Meals, mentors, jobs, clothes, housing, training all of these are good so far as they are not the solution, but flow out of the treasury of God’s eternal kingdom where Christ sits enthroned. Helping the world really is as simple as declaring that the whole world believe in Jesus and look to his cross for their healing, fulfillment, and meaning.

For God, so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

When I first started working with people in jail and on the streets I would get real stressed because I just couldn’t answer the questions I thought were coming my way. Once I was meeting with a man in jail who’d had a very difficult upbringing, whose wife had left him, and who’d spiraled into depression. He’d got caught with pills he didn’t have a prescription for and now his life was all upside down. I was terrified to meet with him because I had no clear idea for a path to get him out of his current situation.

As it turns out, we didn’t spend a single second talking about solutions. He was simply shocked that I actually showed up to meet with him. He wanted to know why I’d bother to come into the jail and talk to him. He wanted to know if I was getting paid or something. We spent the next thirty minutes talking about the Answer to those questions: about the Man who saved me, about the God who loves me, about the reason why I get up each day. The only answer that man needed that day was Jesus. God didn’t need me to be an expert on post-incarceration career planning, he just needed me to be a Christian and share his story.

God loves us more than we can imagine. Belief in him will sustain us through the trails and tribulations of this life. Adopted in the water of his baptism, standing firm on the rock of his Holy Church, we can face the world firm in our belief. We can step over the spin. Ignore the calls of false beliefs. In Christ, we can have external life.

My brothers and sisters, don’t keep your belief a secret. There’s a lot of people out there who need to see it. Be born again and go out into the world dripping from your baptism. In what you say and what you do proclaim Christ. Be a Christian in the world and don’t stress. God will be with you and he’ll provide the Answer.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.