Tag Archives: Cog

A Small Cog in the Works

Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.
Esther 10:3 (NIV)

I found myself working with a small Inside Sales team that was a small cog in the works of a large business silo of a global corporate empire. The fact that we had this gig was a bit of a minor miracle. You see, the corporation they worked for didn’t care about their customers. The corporation didn’t survey their customers because they didn’t want to know. The corporation made it virtually impossible for customers to reach the right people by virtue of a labyrinthine phone system in which you could get lost for days among vague menu choices, endless loops, ignorant operators, and unempowered employees who long ago ceased to care. The corporate system was set up to serve the system itself. Customers were treated as a necessary nuisance.

So, how in the world did I end up there?

There was one front-line manager in charge of this small Inside Sales team. He couldn’t do anything about the corporate empire, the phone system, or any of the other teams, departments, divisions, or silos of the system. He determined, however, that he could control his little cog buried in the systemic works. He hired me and my team to help his little team to apply what I call Customer Service Rule #1: Do the best you can with what you have.

The sheer size and scope of the corporate system working against their efforts made it feel, at times, like we were Quixote tilting at windmills. Still, I had to admire the manager and his team for their courage to make a small difference and do their best to do the right thing for customers in a corporate environment that would never support their efforts, and would only undermine those efforts time and time again.

Over the past weeks on this chapter-a-day journey, I’ve been making my way through what’s known as the exilic books of God’s Message. It was a period of history when the ancient Israelites had been taken into captivity and were ruled by the Assyrian, Babylonian, Median, and Persian empires. Individuals like Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai were strangers in a strange land. They were despised by many and the odds were stacked against them in a myriad of ways. Yet, their stories tell of God using these small individual cogs to accomplish His work in the foreign empirical machines and the often horrific circumstances in which they found themselves.

Today’s final chapter of Esther is simply a brief epilogue that honors Mordecai for his accomplishments. It’s a literary epitaph of sorts and it leaves us with the reminder that Mordecai rose to power because concerned himself with the needs of all his people and worked tirelessly for the welfare of others.

I find myself reminded of two statements this morning. One from Peter’s letter to the believers who, like the Jewish exiles, were scattered by persecution around the Roman world:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)

The other from the prophet Micah:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.
Micah 6:8 (MSG)

The exiles were like the Inside Sales team that I and my team worked with inside their own corporate empire. In many ways, that Inside Sales team was small, impotent, and relatively insignificant in the grand corporate scheme of things. But, they chose to humbly do the best they could each day to serve as best they could with what little power and influence they had. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that along life’s road I will encounter many situations and circumstances that are out of my control. There are so many times when I’m really powerless to make a significant change to large problems. The exiles provide a good example to follow as they, themselves, heeded Micah’s advice. I can do the same. Humbly, quietly, mercifully, faithfully do the best I can each day, in every circumstance, with what I have.

Chapter-a-Day John 18

Pendulum clock conceived by Galileo Galilei ar...
Pendulum clock conceived by Galileo Galilei around 1637. The earliest known pendulum clock design, it was never completed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time. John 18:12-13 (NLT)

Along the journey I’ve become increasingly aware of how systems work in families, in businesses, in communities, organizations and even churches. Within each system there is  a power source that may, or may not, be clearly identified. Most systems have a labeled decision maker or decision makers, but those decision makers may often be influenced in one way or another by individuals who are power brokers within the system.

In today’s chapter I found it interesting to get a peek at the religious system of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. The high priest, Caiaphas, was obviously the designated leader. So why was Jesus first taken to the house of Annas for questioning and roughing up?  There are a couple of answers to this question.

Annas had been the high priest before Caiaphas and he was Caiaphas’ father-in-law. I can only imagine the political and familial machinations in that family system. The mantel had been passed, but that doesn’t mean that Annas had given up the power behind it. In The Godfather: Part II, Frank Pentangeli may have run his own family and may have been living in the Corleone’s old house, but he still took orders from and answered to Michael. I think Jesus was taken to Annas first because Annas was the power broker and puppet master in the system.

The other reason was that Caiaphas was on a crucial errand while Annas conducted his own personal trial and dished out his own personal punishment with the young upstart Rabbi who had caused the system so much trouble and threatened their lucrative corner of the religious marketplace. Caiaphas was quickly trying to assemble a quorum of the system’s ruling body, the Sanhedrin. He wanted and needed their rubber stamp on the decision to send Jesus to Pilate for execution, and doing so in the middle of the night ensured that the quorum could be handpicked to avoid anyone sympathetic to Jesus’ teaching like Joseph of Arimathea. Of course, holding a trial in the middle of the night was itself against their own law, but power brokers within a system often believe that they are justified in breaking the system rules if they are sure they are protecting the system’s interests. Caiaphas himself said that it would be better to kill Jesus to protect the nation. Of course, killing Jesus and protecting the nation also meant protecting his money, power, and prestige. But, protecting the nation sounds much more altruistic.

As an actor, I often read a story or watch a film and wonder what part I would play. Alternatively, I look at the archetype and ask myself who am I in this scene? Am I the suffering servant or the self-protecting power broker? Am I the betrayer? The denier? The slave? The soldier just doing his job? Today, I’m doing a little soul searching and meditating on the part I play in the various systems in which I am a cog.