Two contemporary parables

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by Lt. Colonel Raymond PeacockSeven years from the end of January, Carolyn and I retire. What is all that loud cheering? It can’t be those standing in line wanting to be program secretary. That line is too short.

Will we survive or thrive by grace in our remaining years of active officership? Will we be able to keep our covenant and our commitments until 2008?

A lot of questions, wouldn’t you agree? A friend of mine says the 50s are the age of discontent, the time when you take stock and begin to question your contribution, your place in the pantheon. Maybe there are some others out there experiencing similar divine discontent.

Early on we were challenged by Army leaders to “give your best,” that “anything for Jesus,” just wasn’t enough. So, we hope to finish strong, still committed to maintaining a standard of excellence in our ministry.

It’s not easy though. This dear old Army is rapidly changing. There is a fair amount of doom and gloom round and about. So, we need some help here. We think we found some in two contemporary parables, short stories pregnant with meaning. They are from a crazy book by Gordon Mackenzie called Orbiting the Giant Hairball ­ A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.

The first parable is about how to avoid a chicken’s fate. Gordon tells about his cousin who one day selected a fine white hen, produced a piece of chalk and drew a short line on the porch. He stood the chicken over the chalk line and held her beak to it. After a moment or so, the cousin slowly removed his hands. The chicken stood motionless, beak to the chalk line, hypnotized.

Same thing can happen to us. We can be taken by the back of the neck until our beak is on a line ­ not a chalk line, but a company line. And the company says, “This is our history. This is our philosophy. These are our policies. These are our procedures. These are our politics. This is simply the way we are.”

We can be hypnotized by this line and forget something very important. We can forget that what we each bring into our Army is our own uniqueness. We can contribute what no one else can. Mackenzie reminds:

“But if you are hypnotized by an organizations’ culture, you become separated from your personal magic and cannot tap it to help achieve the goals of the organization…. It is a delicate balance, resisting the hypnotic spell of an organization’s culture and, at the same time, remaining committed from the heart to the personally relevant goals of the organization.”

Retaining heart commitment to relevant goals takes work. Part of thriving and continuing to contribute meaningfully is to remember God not only created the organization, he created each one of us, and no one else can contribute what we can. Our work, our service, our commitment, our creativity, our moments of fruitful friction and creative criticism comprise that contribution.

There is another parable that has encouraged us as well. It’s the parable of the pyramid and the palm tree. Mackenzie was asked to tell his employer, Hallmark Cards, how it might more effectively organize itself. What fun. Something we Salvationists engage in evermore. Remaking the Army, that is. Of course, with our visioning process, we are encouraged to do so.

Anyway, Mackenzie talked about two organizational models, the pyramid and the palm tree, both in the desert. Hmm, the desert of discontent? His childlike drawings of the pyramid show top management at the top, middle management and supervisors in the middle, and the product creators and producers underneath the pyramid. In his second drawing, they talk to one another and top management says, “We must grow or die,” middle management “We must motivate the workers to produce more. You down there! How can we motivate you?” And the creator/producers “Let us out from under this crushing mountain.”

Then, there is the palm tree drawing. The cash crop is at the top, the managers and supervisors are the branches, and top management is the trunk giving central support. Organizational resources flow up from the roots to management and further on up to product creators. A pyramid is a tomb. A palm tree is a living organism.

So, I guess part of our commitment to excellence is to plant trees and not build pyramids in the time that remains. Also, to remember that God not only created the Army, he created each of us to make a unique contribution. I think we have rediscovered two positive ideas to keep us thriving and contributing right up to retirement, and beyond. I hope the cheers we hear will be from those still tending the vineyard.

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