Jack Welch, the vaunted leader of GE for 20 years had many great business insights. Unfortunately he mostly used them to increase profits often resulting massive job loss, earning him the monicker of “Neutron Jack”. One such insight of Welch’s is that of “Delayering”. Welch believed that a business that had too many organizational layers couldn’t relate to their customers. Analogous to how having too many layers of clothing prevents you from being in touch with the real temperature outside. This is not only a useful thought for business but the core idea can also be applied to our personal and spiritual lives. Allow me to explain.
There’s a very cool quote from the theologian Karl Rahner: “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we come to realize that in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished”. While I’m not smart enough to read much of this guy’s work, what he’s saying here is: no matter how many products, services or online “likes” we acquire, we will never be totally fulfilled in this life. It’s God’s perhaps not so subtle plan to call us to oneness with Him and His creation. The more things we have, the greater the obstacles to not only loving God, but also our neighbor.
It’s humorous and maybe even a touch ironic that in our acquisitive culture, businesses have sprung up to help us manage our mess of possessions. We have storage units in every city and town where we can put the stuff we bought that we no longer need (and maybe never needed in the first place). And there are now consultants who will come in to organize and de-clutter your stuff, and charge you money to throw out things you can’t bring yourself to do.
We see in Luke 16, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, that Jesus does not have a problem with the man who is rich because of his wealth. The problem arises because the rich man doesn’t even notice the starving Lazarus at his gate every day. The rich man’s life was too full of other things that prevented him from being aware of the dire need on his doorstep. (Sound familiar?) The bottom line is: it’s impossible to love your neighbor when you don’t even see them.
One of the lasting images in my mind from 9/11, apart from the horror of the collapsing towers, is the millions of pieces of paper blowing down Wall Street. Those sheets of paper no doubt documented people’s investment portfolios, their 401K’s, their savings, their accumulated wealth, and so on. And while what those papers documented is very important to many of us, the events of that day crystalized for me yet again, how all of these things where we look for security and or fulfillment, can quickly disappear. On the good news side, you could see in the firefighters, police, health workers and thousands of volunteers who rushed to the site of the disaster, as the needs of those affected by the disaster, cut through the “outer shells” in which most of us live our daily lives. There were so many acts of self-sacrifice and displays of love and caring; showing very vividly that we are indeed all one family.
In Mark 10, we see where a rich man comes to Jesus for guidance. According to the gospel, “Jesus looks at Him and loves him”. This wording that Jesus “Loves him” is important for what comes next. Namely, that Jesus wants to give the man the best advice (or gift) that He can. So Jesus tells him: “go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor”. It says the man went away sad, and who knows, perhaps looking for more palatable advice elsewhere.
As Christians we have in Jesus, the ultimate de-clutterer. If you want to be happy He teaches, you need to let go not only of some of your possessions, but also of your ego, your prejudices, your pride and so on. And while most of us can’t (won’t?) fully accept His invitation, there is a part of us that knows that this truly is indeed the path to not only loving our neighbor but to our happiness too.