Thursday, February 7, 2008

Don't eat fish at work.

Don't eat fish at work.

There are a few simple rules we all need to agree to when working in a cubicle or small office type environment. For my money, the most important is “Never bring seafood for lunch.” At no point should you think to yourself, “You know what would be good tomorrow at the office? Grouper.”

Now clearly, I’m not talking about tuna sandwiches. I’m focusing on the guy that has some sort of oyster and clam leftovers that he brings in. He throws it in the break room microwave and then sets the timer like a bomb. It heats up in that small metal box, just getting hotter and hotter, smellier and smellier. Until finally, he opens it up and a blanket of funk just unfolds on the entire office.

That’s not an official rule at the company I work at and occasionally I will see someone with a Tupperware container full of cod. But I once worked at a company that made a rather silly pronouncement about food. Here is what corporate headquarters told my building:

“Employees may no longer have coffee at their desks. Only water and hard candy are permitted in the work environment.”

The management team came up with this rule because the previous summer there had been a fruit fly infestation. The small black bugs had covered everything and before the weather got warm, the guys with pleated pants and ties decided to eliminate the problem. At the time I wasn’t a coffee drinker and I appreciated hard candy, so I didn’t take great offense to the rule.

But a lot of people in the office were bothered. They grumbled about coffee and caffeine and production for a while. And then someone asked the question none of us had considered, “What is hard candy?”

It was a fair query. How would you define hard candy? Is it candy that is hard through and through? What about those little strawberry treats that have a hard shell and a soft middle? What about lollipops that start out hard but have a chocolate center? And above all, what do you even begin to do with nougat?

It was quite a dilemma and eventually they discussed drawing up a memo of inquiry to corporate headquarters. We were a billion dollar company with some ridiculously amazing products and a brand that punched other brands in its category in the face with its awesomeness but we thought maybe corporate should focus on candy definitions.

I sometimes wonder if we do the same thing with God. I wonder if we’re like corporate headquarters, making up rules and regulations to fix the fruit flies of our life, losing sight of what matters. Taking coffee away from 1,000 people on a Monday morning was not a smart thing to do, especially considering that fruit flies prefer tea anyway. But that was part of the fix to the problem.

So management added rules that didn’t really fit real life and didn’t really focus on the problem. It reminds me of something I read in the book of Acts recently. Some of the Jewish Christians wanted the Gentile Christians to get circumcised. Peter steps up and gives this really impassioned speech that convinces the crowd not to force this on their Gentile brothers. (If you’re a Gentile man, this speech is commonly referred to as the “greatest speech ever.”)

Instead of forcing circumcision, they send the Gentiles a pretty simple letter that says at the very end:

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”

So simple, so true, so not focused on rules and regulations. They told them to watch out for idols, blood, strangled animals and sexual immorality. Why? Because they would do well to avoid these things.

I have friends that won’t have a pack of playing cards in their house because it represents gambling, they don’t think girls should wear pants and they consider girls and guys swimming in the same pool at the same time to be “mixed bathing” and immoral.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe God is deeply concerned with ladies in jeans, but sometimes I have to wonder if he’s given us some straightforward rules and we’re trying to figure out what the definition of hard candy is.


Jamon said...

Very nice. Very true. Many times we get bogged down with lists of do's and don'ts and lose sight of the grace and majesty of God.

When I look across the scope of Christianity, I think the "sticklerness" is really denominationally based. I am in the SBC camp, but there are rules and articles in the convention constitution that I just look at and think, "we wasted this much time coming up with rules and legislation on personal responsibility? why couldn't we have focused more effort on helping people begin a relationship with Christ?"

Lists of do's and don'ts doesn't get us any closer to a right standing with God ... he does that Himself through His grace and mercy.

Ally said...

Sometimes I think we spend time trying to carefully define the rules and regulations (and any potential loopholes) as if God is the IRS, and we're trying to figure out a way to cheat Him, missing the fact that in doing so we're cheating ourselves out of the closest and best relationship we could have with Him. And in the process we're missing the point--God wants our hearts and minds, and if we're spending hours defining what hard candy is then our heart and mind is somewhere else (sometimes trying to figure out how close we can get to the candy/cliff without sinning).

Jason said...

My seminary is affiliated with an SBC church, though it is not technically an SBC seminary. Sometimes after being around there for a long time I feel like I could use a drink.

The "fence rules" make sense to a degree. It's easier to tell students not to drink than to be careful not to get drunk. However, sometimes I think that we (Christians) focus more on keeping the rules than on knowing Jesus.

Incidentally, my company has a rule that you can't pop popcorn in the microwaves.

Brendt said...

Time flies like the wind.

Fruit flies like a banana.

Brenda said...

Aah ha ha ha - I used to work in an office that banned micro popcorn as well as fish.

Today your post makes me laugh as well as smile. Since I do ministry/life with those not yet old enough to vote, I know all about resisting rules and regulations. I love what Ally says about looking for loopholes as if God is the IRS. (Oh, I shudder at the thought of THAT audit!)

Student: "Exactly how far can I go and still be considered a virgin?"
Me: "If you have to ask, it's too far."

Caitlin said...

SO FUNNY! I was looking up 'is it rude to cook fish at the office' and i found your site! So funny how god has a way of making you chuckle when you unintentionally run across another Christians blog (i'm guessing you are a christian solely by this post)....great topic...i will have to read the rest of your god and hope to 'think analytically' with you more often!