Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The Anti-Carnation; in the World of Business
I think that the prophetic message of the Incarnation is more everpresent than we seem content to realize. I think we miss many of the ways in which God is saying that He wants to be closer to us (partially by our willingness to be closer to ourselves). With that in mind, I would like to do a short series of blogs on the various situations in which I see that this has happened. For the most part, the reader probably won't so much see the connection between what I am saying and the Incarnation - but that is the point! I hope to point it out.
Today's situation is the world of business. The world of business seems to be moving further and further from the Incarnation. I would like to use the story of Enron as my operating example for discussion, as I hope to show, Enron is really just the sore thumb that sticks out of the way the hand habitually works. Partially because they happened to have gotten caught - that's the easy part. But also partially because the very way that the system works, the very fabric of the business world in which all business people do their business, IS the fabric that is made of woven strands of the Incarnation. Strands that are coming apart - the fabric is wanting to disappear (but, ultimately, it is not, and cannot - because the life of Christ was a revelation as well as a historical event)!
"I think Jeff Schilling is a fascinating character, because he's really a tragic figure in a sort of classic sense of the word. He's really the guy who's responsible for transforming Enron from this old economy company that puts steel in the ground, had pipelines and built powerplants into this company that was suppsedly built on brain power that could trade anything. And one really real accomplishment was that he really, he really helped mastermind the change in the natural gas industry from an industry built on physical commodity to an industry taht operates very much like money, or soy beans or any thing else that you can trade....He's a guy that believes in theory over reality to a really dangerous extent. Someone at Enron once said there are designers of ditches, and there are diggers of ditches. And Jeff Schilling was a designer of ditches...So he loved to come up with grand ideas. And then the messy details of how these ideas were turned into reality - well that was just for lesser people to do." - from the film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"; A Conversation with Bethany McLean (my italics).
According to Jeff Schilling's theology, Jesus was "a lesser person" because he was one of those "diggers of ditches". Jesus left his "designer" penthouse suite to come down to the ground floor and get all dirty and painful and compassionate. Jesus' company isn't like Enron - it's not built on brain power, but on the very "body of Christ"! Jesus didn't sit up in heaven, the brain of the world, and throw fire and brimstone over the world like how a good theororist would prefer to go about changing it, but he entered this reality and began to act within its limits and ways.
"Peple just made so much money that people thought, 'Well, it has to be coming from somewhere!' I think Jeff Schilling had a desperate need to believe that Enron was a success. I think he identified with Enron, proclaimed at one point, 'I am Enron.' And he had to believe that the company was successful, because to do otherwise would have meant admitting that he himself was a failure, and he just couldn't do that." - Bethany McLean, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room; A Conversation with Bethany McLean".
Jeff Schilling literally created money out of nothing - because he thought of himself as a god! One might tend to think this unusual and localized solely to this situation in which Schilling has been busted for fraud, but our whole country gave up on the gold standard long ago! What else is left for all of us but to "create money out of nothing" and then to be left thinking, "Well, it has to be coming from somewhere!" Problem is, it's not! It's coming from Nowhere (and yet the rest of the world agrees upon its value - so in "reality", the only value money has anymore is the value placed on it by those who agree to place that value on it - it's all a big prop for the world to insure it's own sucess, to relate to istelf in a a more prideful way even than God himself chose to relate to the world). Through Jesus all things were created out of Nothing, and he eventually fulfilled the essence of that originally creative Word by actually being born a child into this world of the Somewhere in order to relate to us on our own terms - to "be coming from somewhere" (rather than Nowhere) in His relating to us. We are no longer tied to any possibly-arbitrary Laws that bear the threat of being random or of coming from Nowhere, but His presence is manifest in us and in our lives, in the way that it (His Presence) was being gestated in the Law.
"It's part of the tragedy of the Enron story that most of the key figures weren't people who were born to great riches or easy opportunity. They were people like Ken Lay who was the son of a dirt-poor baptist minister and didn't even have indoor plumbing until he was eleven years old. Or Jeff Schilling, who worked some fifty hours a week all the way thorugh the high school years. All teh way through the high school years his family was blue collar. Rebecca Mars, who grew up on a farm in Missouri and put herself through college. And these were people who really created themselves, just by sheer force of will really made something out of nothing. And to see their fatal flaws, something they all had - there's something especially tragic about that."
"What really made the Enron story compelling is it was a story about personalities and culture. It wasn't a matter of numbers. It was a matter of figuring out what drives people and makes them tick. What makes them do the thing that are good and the things that are bad?" - from the film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; A Conversation with Peter Elkind"
"You never know a person till you wak a mile in their mockossins."
The intellectual underpinning for what Enron was doing was in Jeff Schilling's head. And it was this: it was that when you develop an idea, it's the idea that really has financial value in a business. And that it's the idea is what's worth something. And that you really should be able to book, and report in your financial statements the value for an idea when you've basically concieved it. So for example, schilling would say, if I've developed an idea - he really believed this - if I've developed an idea, revolutionary idea, I should be able to book the profits for that idea at the moment, or, the momentafter its been concieved, the very next quarter - even though, uuhhh, you haven't built a plan. You haven't built a single car, much less sold a single car. He really thought that the idea was all that mattered. And that was really the intellectual justification for so much of what Enron did. That's the way Schilling thought about the world of business...What was so striking about that is, I mean obviously, you need to execute the idea to acutally realize the prophets. Things may well not pan out the way they are concieved in your head. Reality may interfere. The economy may go bad. The cars may not work. The gas demand might decrease. The prices might go down. The purity of an idea, uuhh, may justify one price, but he real world doesn't justify the price at all, it may not fulfill it. So, that, that's a big problem! And, at Enron, he had enormous contempt for the sort of dirty business of actually running a deal, building a power plant, making it work, and seeing it become profitable. Those were sort of lesser tasks that hea had very littel interest in." - "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Peter Elkind".
Again, Jesus came and related to us, fulfilled his mission, by working through the limits of this reality. The "dirty business of actually running a deal, building a power plant, making it work, seeing it become profitable." Sounds like how God builds up the body of Christ!
"There was an incredible lack of skepticism about the way Enron did business. To the extent that Fortune Magazine, Bethany workon on a story in early 2001 about how the companymade its money. Bethany called up analysts and said, 'What do you guys think about their business model? Aren't you worried about their lack of cash here?' And one of the analysts literally told her, he said, 'If you can figure out how they make money, tell me, because I don't have any idea.' Now this is a guy who had a bi rating in the stock! So these people who were supposed to be paid to analyse are telling everybody to keep buying the stock, and they don't have a clue how the business operates. It's what they call in Wall Street a "trust me story". And obviously, they didn't ned to be trusted. They shouldn't have been trusted." - Peter Elkind, from "Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room; A Conversation with Peter Elkind".
"People just made so much money that people thought, 'Well, it has to be coming from somewhere!..." As I said, I think we often miss just how ever-presently reigns God's desire to fulfill the essence of the Incarnation, His desire to be close to us. And we miss it because we are busy looking "elsewhere", assuming things are coming from somewheres when they are "really" coming from the empty side of Nowhere. Because we are busy looking Nowhere while fooling ourselves into thinking we are looking Somewehre, we miss God's relating to us through Something!
The story of Enron is a clear example of the Incarnation's teaching us that the question of righteousness, of justice, what we typically think of as "morality", is really, at it's root and heart a question of closeness, of intimacy, with both our true selves and with God, the God who created our "true selves". We can tend to think that what they did was wrong because they "broke the law" by committing fraud, but in reality all the law here does is demonstrate its own impoverished incapacity for fulfillment. I hope that the words above express this truth that the closeness and intimacy of the Incarnation is at the root of all "morality", it's the heartbeat of the world. The Incarnation is the prophecy and "judgement" for everything that happens. By that I don't mean that we shift our standard of right and wrong from the Law to the Incarnation, but that the Law completely looses its authority and weight in the face of the ultimate Truth of the Incarnations fulfillment of obth God's heart for us and our longing for God and our "true self".
But the story of Enron is not only an example of the emptiness and poverty of the "rule of law", but it is also, as mentioned at the outset of this blog, simply an expression of a deeper and underlying sickness in the whole of the world, particularly the business world. The world is in darkness, and the One who is God-incarnate is the light. Enron's breaking the law by committing fraud is more than a mere morality story, but, as Peter Elkind pointed out by saying that it's about personalities ("not just about the numbers"), about "getting at what makes people tick", its a story about the world's mission against "becoming fully human". It's a story that centers on a model company's refusal to accept a central part of the whole human being - the body! For Enron, the toil of actually digging the ditch was for "lesser mortals"; it was up to them, "the smartest guys in the room", so simply design the ditches. It was into this toilsome and withering body that God himself incarnated. Interestingly, if you watch the whole film, you discover that Schilling's drive to create himself and Enron out of nothing apparently came out of the social shame associated in his mind with being a nerd growing up in school (the big glasses, the inability to keep up with the styles, ect.), not being accepted! Christ's acceptance of our whole being is what leads us to acceptance of our body (and all the uncertainties that come with its rhythms and calls), with the Incarnation as the prime model for such accpetance. And Christ's acceptance of his own bodily form (what is typically referred to as his "obeying God") is what lead to our being accepted.
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