21st Century Samaritans

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Are you sitting down? Good.

I don't have shocking news, but I do want to know something about the chair you're sitting on: Who brought your chair into this world?

I'm guessing there was a designer. And an advertiser to promote it. And how about a seamstress to sew the upholstery, and a chemist to mix the colors and another to make the synthetic polymer (plastic). Then a metal stamper and die caster, welder, plastics injector, miner, accountant, ergonomist, assembler, farmer (leather), office supply store clerk, lumberjack, the engineer who designed the lumberjack's chainsaw to cut down the tree, and the captain of the ship who transported the oil to run the chainsaw, and the boiler mechanic who kept the ship running . . .

Okay, it's an endless list. But here's the point: Work is not separate from community.

Thousands of employees helped bring your chair into the world. Most of them probably never thought about being connected to each other in this grand chair-making community, but they are connected. This means they affect each other. This means their jobs are not self-contained personal enterprises. In fact, none of us have jobs that belong to us exclusively.

Let's get practical

In the story of the Good Samaritan, robbers attacked a man and left him for dead. After two passers-by ignored his plight, a third traveler - the Samaritan - stopped to bandage the man and then carried him to town for further medical help and safety. If that weren't enough, the Samaritan also picked up the hospital tab. Most of us lack medical expertise or sufficient funds to pay for someone's lodging and recovery expenses. So this story seems to be about more than helping people in ditches. Jesus is answering a broader question about how to care for others. He is teaching us to employ our skills - our very jobs - to serve the community in a fitting way.

The need to respond to emergencies is apparent. But what if your job description has nothing to do with serving victims of crime? The challenge, then, is figuring out how to jump into this story vocationally.

Ten years ago, I joined the Coalition for Christian Outreach, an organization committed to helping college students face this challenge. In fact, for almost forty years the CCO has partnered with colleges, churches, and other organizations to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life. For me, that "area of life" is advertising. I wonder from time to time how students and practitioners can be faithful to God in this notorious field, but I believe a new breed of advertisers is possible. So I blog about marketing ethics, encourage graphic designers, email art directors, and stand before Consumer Behavior classrooms. I continually pray for all of them to see creativity and sociology and communication as instruments of praise and customers as children of God.

Regardless of the major, students are fairly good at seeing others' needs. Many of them enter service-oriented majors like medicine or counseling. Most of them still fail to see the connection between doing good work and loving their neighbor. Too many of us view work as an obligation or selfish pursuit. We think Good Samaritan behavior is an avocation for Saturday morning volunteerism, mission trips, and the occasional opportunity for heroism.

Try this at home

One of my favorite activities addresses this disconnection. I ask students to imagine how their future jobs connect to the wounded man. First I have them read the story in Luke 10. Then I tell them to draw the basic landscape, without the characters, as they imagine it from the Scriptures. Finally, I ask them to draw the characters in a way that their particular majors can address. Here are a few results:

Foreign Language majors talked about educating the passers-by on cross-cultural differences. They understand how to dismantle social barriers such as fear and stereotyping between people groups. Their work also improves communications and increases the probability for compassion to triumph over neglect in the future.

Urban/Regional Planning majors talked about designing a safety corridor along this dangerous stretch of road. Such a project might involve installing street lights and emergency call boxes. They would collaborate with other engineers to reroute road segments that contain narrow passages and popular criminal hideouts.

PR/Marketer majors said they would develop a campaign to improve public sentiment about the road. Such a campaign would employ flyers, billboards, TV commercials, roadside kiosks and community publicity events to warn evildoers, encourage traveling in pairs, and promote monthly Safe Corridor walks.

It's amazing what you can discover when you connect how your degree trained you with how Jesus calls you. The key is recognizing that your job is not yours exclusively. It belongs to the community. This week, as you sit on your chair, think about the connections your work has with the larger community. Then turn your attention toward the Kingdom. Turn your skills toward the needs of others. And ask how Jesus might retell his parable with you - in your job - as the Good Samaritan.

Image by Thomas Nemcsek. Used under a Creative Commons license. Sourced via Flickr.