Crafting an Interior Ethic of Inclusion: Lessons From the Nativity
I was asked to write about faith in the workplace. It would be easy to write a piece about the importance of personal prayer or about letting your work reflect the love of Jesus. Those things are critical to dealing with ethical questions that are increasingly focused on right vs. right decision-making where you're faced with two valid, ethically positive alternatives.
Though it is now well past Easter, I began writing this during Advent, a time of great anticipation and Holy Spirit-led instruction, especially when gathered around the Nativity, all of which has led me to ponder the personal interior of workplace ethics of diversity and inclusion.
DIVERSITY IN THE NATIVITY
Diversity is a constant topic in the world of workplace ethics. It's built into our Values. We train for it and put words around it in our codes of ethical conduct. Diversity and its inclusion is a valuable commodity in corporate life. But what makes it more than a talent management tool? What moves it beyond a public persona of acceptance, and can the Nativity of Christ teach us anything about it?
For many years I've been a greeter for our corporate Christmas display. The display has been a tradition at our company for more than 70 years. Its centerpiece is a huge Nativity scene with life-sized figures in our company park. People come from all over Central Ohio to walk through the display with their family and friends. On mild December evenings the crowd can easily exceed 700 or 800 people. And each year, there are surprises, like the afternoon the mounted police rode through patrolling the area. More likely or not there will be some folks there you wouldn’t expect. As I walked through the park one evening greeting the large crowd, its individuality stood out more than usual.
I don't know what surprised me more: the homeless man with the digital camera quietly taking pictures of every scene, or the formidably intimidating fellow, easily the most unapproachable person there that night, who, in reply to my “Merry Christmas,” responded, “You too, and have a blessed evening.” And with that, the Nativity night began to teach me that inclusion is about more than the acceptance of others.
I wondered, "What else can the Nativity teach me this evening and how can I practice it in the workplace?" Here are some of the gleanings from that cool December night.
INCLUSION AND TRUST
That night the individuality of the crowd really stood out. There were people of every ethnic, social, and economic background. Just being there made them happy. As I watched, their diversity faded into a common need to see the Nativity again; Jesus meets people where they are and listens until the two are one.
People come, certainly to remember, but also to offer. They offer their trust to the Christ Child; they come offering their hunger to trust. And at the Nativity they find it. The Nativity story is filled with trust. Joseph, Mary, shepherds, and wisemen all trusted God and each other. Trust invites us into the awe of Jesus' birth.
Mutual trust is key to crafting an interior ethic of inclusion. We can rest our fears and judgments in the awe of Jesus’ birth. The Shepherds of the Nativity teach us that and give us courage to offer our fears alongside the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh of the wisemen.
And God gifts our trust with a spirit of gentleness, gentleness that eats away at our fears and judgment, starting with judgment of ourselves. It opens our ears to hear God's prayer within us to listen more deeply. Gentleness to ourselves is the architect of our interior ethic of inclusion and as we judge ourselves we influence trust in others.
O God, who has been gentle with me,
form gentle answers upon my lips that
turn me away from self directed wrath,
that my life might be the learning of joy
and the avoidance of being too quick to judge.
(A prayer from Proverbs 15: 1-2)
MORE TO THE STORY
Workplace ethics understands this and tutors us to simply embrace the social issues of inclusion, but the meaning affirmed in the workplace is never the complete story.
The Nativity reveals a deeper sense of inclusion that comes when we offer to Jesus the meaning of our life as we've defined it or as we believe it has been defined by others for us. Trusting Jesus we come to the Nativity in our own way and Jesus accepts us just as we are, for underneath it all, we are all his precious and beloved.
This past Advent was woven with tears and brokenness that no one wanted, but which came anyway to Sandy Hook Elementary School and our entire nation. The advent season always seems to hide the routine pain. We set it aside for the moment, but not this past year; tears and prayers flowed among us in unison to ears of heaven. And in the words of the old hymn, “we wonder as we wander out under the sky.”
People often feel excluded in the workplace not just because you and I may judge them differently, but because they have come to believe that their story, their brokenness, doesn't matter to anyone—not the church, not at work, nowhere. And their willingness to be gentle with themselves slowly slips away. Our interior ethic must learn to hold every human story as sacred even if we don't understand it. Workplace ethics can only require it, but only in Jesus can our brokenness be truly healed.
Jesus' healing empowers forgiveness. In the Nativity the angel heals the fears of Joseph about Mary's pregnancy, moving him through forgiveness to acceptance and to love. He knew he was part of something holy, something bigger than himself. In this ethic of inclusion, God reminds us of that and is actively crafting our ability to forgive. The Nativity angels teach us to believe in our healing and to pray to Jesus to forgive those who have hurt us and to keep forgiving them until we are able to do so ourselves.
Washed in the waters of Your forgiveness complete the miracle of my birth, O God,
Place your heart upon my heart, and let it beat as yours.
Unclog my ears that I might hear the cries of human life you hear.
Heal me that I might see what Jesus sees among us all,
and let every tear I shed, be as if it came from Thee.
Complete the miracle of my birth, O God and set my Spirit free to be.
And use me to answer another's prayer as you have done for me.
In Jesus Name, I pray to Thee. Amen.
LESSONS FROM THE MANGER
The Nativity this past year widened my definition of exclusion and is still crafting its lessons into a Jesus-centered ethic of inclusion that functions in the workplace and beyond. The Nativity once again brought new birth and taught me a way to receive it. It is still a work in progress and that is as it should be.
This Jesus-centered ethic of inclusion is wider than anything I can create in an ethical workplace. It is wider than what we hear from the world. While it strives to meet some of the same objectives as workplace ethics, it goes deeper and is more personal. It strives to meet people where they are, to trust more in God's ways than our own, it reminds us to be gentle with ourselves and to be careful with our judgments. And, it never loses its sense of awe—awe that it takes Jesus' help to see. And, among its deliverables is thankfulness—thankfulness for the eyes to see it everywhere: in the intimidating guy who offers his blessing, in the homeless fellow with the digital camera, and at the manger of Jesus where all is transformed.