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Where is God at Work? by William Morris (17-Apr-2015)

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    William Morris(Author)

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  • William Morris(Author)
  • Monarch Books (17 April 2015) (1600)
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  • By Ralph Blumenau on July 27, 2015

    I have to declare an interest: I have read this book because I taught the author when he was at school in the 1970s, and we have been friends ever since; but I do not myself believe in God and so am unable to accept the premise of the title. But I do appreciate many of the insights provided by religions (though not exclusively by religions) in how we ought to live.So I cannot share Morris’ belief that God is always present in the work place, but that it is only where there is best practice that His presence is discovered. In Part I of the book Morris does give good descriptions of what best practice is, rather obvious though this might sometimes be - but then what is equally obvious is that many workplaces fall far short of it. Morris knows whereof he speaks, for he tells us in his Introduction that he is not only a priest but has for the last fifteen years also been working for one of the great multinational companies, General Electric - as a tax lawyer. Knowing the low moral esteem in which the public holds big business tax lawyers, particularly at the present moment, it will be intriguing to see how he holds the two “in tension, in balance” in his life.Some of the best practices he describes include: hierarchies, which are inevitable, enabling everyone in them to develop and fulfil themselves; bosses not treating their employees as slaves, but treating them with consideration and fairness, and setting examples of integrity; genuine team-work and mutual support throughout the organization; a sense of community being fostered by the right kind of open plan office - though there is also the wrong kind, and there should also be some space with a degree of privacy; making new arrivals feel welcome and providing good mentoring; being humble and not judging an annoying colleague, lest you be judged: you might be just as annoying to him, and you should be open to what you could learn about yourself from the very things that annoy you about him.A good workplace is one where people neither can’t wait for their retirement and their pension nor are painfully and abruptly severed at the age of retirement from every role and from the companionship of their fellow-workers. (But even if they are, they can continue to be happily creative in many kinds of voluntary work.)And even in the best workplace, there are occasions when, for the sake of the workplace as a whole, an under-performing member has to be told to leave. That will always be a shock, often one without any upside at all; but in some cases it is good also for the sacked worker if it enables him to move on to other work in which he can use the talents he does have.In Part II Morris examines how the individual should tackle the various ethical dilemmas that might confront him in the workplace - how to do the right thing and - equally important - to do it for the right reasons. This Part is far more thought-provoking than the first, both for the Christian and the non-believer. Some of Morris’ recommendations, especially in the first four chapters of this Part, though firmly grounded in his reading of the Scriptures, will challenge the ways many Christians (and many non-believers) feel they must act to assert their integrity. Even to summarize these chapters in this review would take too long, but he tackles such questions as:When is competition within the workplace healthy and creative and when is it destructive? How do you keep a healthy balance between long hours of hard work and the needs of family relationships and, for that matter, time for reflection? What are the temptations in the workplace (power, hierarchy, money) and how can we “subvert” them by using them to good effect, for our own health and for that of the community in which we live?The most challenging part of the book is Part III. Morris devotes all its five chapters to the meaning of the Parable of the Talents. The parable is both metaphorical and literary. In the latter sense it is clear that it sees nothing wrong about using money to make more money. So there is nothing wrong per se in commerce, in banking, even in “usury” (the translation surprisingly used in the Authorized Version - the New Revised Standard Version which Morris uses throughout uses the less opprobrious “interest”.) In the former sense it is significant that the Master entrusted the talents (five, two and one) to his slaves “according to their ability”. So the unequal distribution of talents is God-given, but we have the obligation to make the most of what has been entrusted to us. Morris strikingly applies the parable to what he has said about the workplace in the earlier parts, and he is particularly ingenious in his discussion of the harsh fate that befell the slave who had buried, rather than used, the one talent with which he had been entrusted. Morris even finds an ingenious defence for what appears to be the cruelty of the Master’s treatment of this slave who had in effect blamed the Master rather than himself for his failure and had cast himself out “into the outer darkness”.In the Epilogue there are some wise words about how Christians should Witness in the workplace, with a sensitivity and gentleness which pervades the whole of this clear and beautifully written book.


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