ADVENT III (B)
I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” – John 1: 23
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel like I am a voice crying out in the wilderness of our materialistic, commercialized, & secularized society that doesn’t have the time of day for Christian values. It presents a challenge to us all: what sort of person will we be – & raise our children to be – one driven by the bottom line or one with allegiance to the values of our Savior? Is it possible for a business to be profitable & ethical at the same time? The answer seems to be “yes.”
James Collins & Jerry Porras authored a book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. They studied some of the largest & most successful companies in America & why some of these “best of the best” flourished over decades while their nearest competitors did not. They discovered that the philosophy of maximizing profits was NOT a contributing factor. Profit is only one of a group of priorities & it is not necessarily the primary one. Core values & a sense of purpose beyond making money was a common factor among those that endured in the market place. Indeed, these “visionary” companies made more money than the profit-driven ones. The authors point out that these companies’ “core ideology” contained an ethical component – a sense of caring that went beyond the bottom line.
The Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, has published a book entitled A Civilization of Love, in which he makes this observation: “Thus, despite the impressions given by recent scandals in the business world, we should remember that not only is it possible to conduct business from a moral standpoint, but it is also possible to do so in a way that is successful. A strong ethical stance may even further a company’s success.”
Why is it that so few seem to have gotten the message? Let’s take a look at a problem that many complain about today, namely, the lack of civility in modern discourse. Recently the New York Times ran an article entitled “Kids Gone Wild” reflecting a poll that found nearly seventy percent of Americans said they believe that people are ruder now than twenty or thirty years ago & that children who haven’t been taught the basic rudiments of public behavior are among the worst offenders, especially those of young, status-conscious parents. The article cites the figures: Last year, more than one in three teachers told Public Agenda pollsters that they had seriously considered leaving their profession or knew of a colleague who had left because of “intolerable” student behavior, & nearly eight in ten teachers said their students were quick to remind them that they had rights & could sue if they were too harshly disciplined.
The major culprit of such self-centered rudeness, according to the experts, is the idol, the holy grail, of achievement, & its obsessions for the right schools, the right connections, the right clubs, the right job, the right profession, all of which confer status. The pressure on kids to achieve, to do well, is enormous, while the pressure to do good is small by comparison. That doesn’t show up on college applications, you see. Parenting today, continue the experts, is largely about training kids to compete – in school or on the athletic field – & the kind of attributes they need to be competitive are precisely those that break down society’s civility. Children are taught to value & prioritize achievement, & while achievement is praiseworthy, the problem is that it is placed above all else, including respect, love, compassion, & courtesy due to other people.
What does all this have to do with today’s Gospel? The breakdown of civility & the lack of Gospel values point to spiritual foundations, specifically, aberrant spiritual foundations. Do we want to be a people who have not developed a spiritual life or learned how to pray or handle disappointment? Do we want to be, & want our children to be, driven solely by high achievement or by values of community, compassion, & caring as even more important, children who have been taught by their parents that they really are NOT the Messiah, but like John the Baptist, their lives are meant to point to Him?
When I was an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, I remember saying at the time that we were being trained to be highly efficient computers but not given any sense of the value of what we might produce in the world of industry. It was one of the reasons I switched over to a liberal arts program. Being an intellect without a soul is positively dangerous to us individually & collectively. Sometimes it is important to be a voice crying in the wilderness. AMEN!