Be Seen and Then Heard

By Fr. Sean Levine

The very first image/saying that comes to my mind when I hear “Christians in the Workplace” is that quite famous saying attributed to Francis of Assisi when dispatching missionaries: “Everywhere you go, preach the Gospel; if you must, use words.” This rings especially true in the military context where words mean little and actions mean everything.

I reflect upon the role of Christians in the workplace from a dual perspective: first, as an Orthodox Christian among the largely non-Orthodox, non-Christian, non-religious military culture, and, second, as an Orthodox priest serving as an Army Chaplain among a largely Protestant, Evangelical chaplain corps. That is to say, I serve as a priest not in a parish, but side-by-side with non-Orthodox clergy within an increasingly secularized military culture. I am a Christian in a non-Christian workplace, and, thus, I remain familiar with the challenges inherent to such an environment. The most significant characteristic of the milieu in which I work is this: arguments abound and words flow like water from an open fire hydrant. Everyone has something to say. Few people have something (someone) to which (to whom) to listen, so people are always talking and no one (it often seems) is listening. I am suggesting that one of the most powerful things a Christian can do in the workplace is “be seen but not heard.” Shift into “stealth mode” and go about doing the good of the Kingdom without drawing the attention to ourselves that comes as a result of incessant vocalization.

Stealth Mode!

Now, this runs counter to the general philosophy of many who insist that Christians must always be talking: always talking about the faith, always filling people’s ears with truth in order to refute falsehood, always vocalizing a defense for the faith amidst a rapidly growing secular ethos so that truth can eclipse societal lies rather than the opposite. Many see silent Christianity as a “cop out” and an excuse for timid, cowardly Christians who refuse to muster the courage to speak the truth in the face of stiff and relentless opposition.

I beg to differ. It occurs to me, based on many observations, that Christians (Orthodox and not) often become just another voice in an obnoxious cacophony of verbiage. Granted, effective articulation of the faith has its place. Yet far too frequently, Christians in the public sector show a propensity for talking and arguing, but a severe revulsion to doing something practical; as if the world will instantly stop turning on its axis if the Christian opinion is not expressed into the secular verbal vortex, but nothing depends upon simple, quiet, unassuming action. It is far easier to speak than to do, but, I argue, it is the doing that matters long before the speaking. This is the irony that strikes me.

In an over-stimulated world flooded with verbal messages, I would encourage Christians in their places of work to preach the Gospel first with actions; with stellar performance in any field. Let “the world” see us doing the right things at the right times in the right places. Let our co-workers (leaders/bosses, peers, and subordinates alike) watch us live the law of love in an often loveless world. Conserve the energy spent on arguing, convincing, and defending Christianity so that this energy can be expended in living the Gospel right in front of people devoid of any good news. Let us be the Gospel we are called to proclaim. Like an icon, let us speak by being seen.

Be the Icon, not the Argument

From my perspective as a military chaplain, I am fundamentally convinced of this method as the main mode of existence in day-to-day life and work among military service members and their families. A soldier will not come to a chaplain because of his preaching, but they will slowly warm up to the chaplain’s preaching once they witness a chaplain’s genuineness and compassion in that chaplain’s actions. I believe that this extends beyond my own context into other workplaces, and perhaps I should edit my earlier challenge to Christians to “be seen but not heard.” Instead, let us “be seen and then heard.” Let us be seen, in whatever workplace we find ourselves, simply working hard, loving those around us through practical acts of mercy, and living a life worthy of the Kingdom. Then we will develop a truly interested audience, and they will be interested to hear not so much about us and our “views,” but Jesus Christ whose own life is in us and is shining through us. Christians should bear witness to the blessed life in Christ within their places of work; when it becomes necessary (i.e. when our actions have already spoken louder than our words ever could on their own), use words.

Fr. Sean leads paschal services at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

5 Responses to Be Seen and Then Heard

  1. Raphael Shelton says:

    Reminds me of a quote from St John Chrysostom:
    “There would be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagans, if we were true Christians.”

    • Fr. Sean A. Levine says:

      Thanks, Raphael; this is a most helpful addition. Now two sayings will come to mind when I ponder “Christians in the workplace.” I really enjoy the way our Father among the Saints phrases this affirmation.

  2. Fr. Isaiah R. Gillette says:

    Amen to everything in this very thoughtful post! As a fellow Orthodox Army Chaplain, I see the same thing every day; most of my fellow Soldiers could care less about my theology. They care very much about who I am and what kind of work I do. Kindness, compassion, mercy, integrity, and shared suffering: this is the everyday currency of our witness.

    • Fr. Sean A. Levine says:

      Fr. Isaiah, I want to highlight something you mention above: “shared suffering.” One of the blessed pains of Army chaplaincy is the calling/ability to go through all the tough times right beside our troops: the cold days on the rifle range huddled next to burn barrels; the long, hot rides in up-armored vehicles; hours spent waiting in make-shift flight terminals for aircraft; lingering over field meals tellings while eating cold food and warm water.

      To others out there who may not serve in the military but who, nonetheless, make a living out in the world of the secular workplace, you “proclaim the Gospel” the loudest when you enter into the suffering of your co-workers. When everyone else is turning their backs on someone in pain, you become “good news” by choosing instead to be right beside them, and, often, your most memorable “speech” is the gentle, loving silence that you bring into the chaos. You don’t need answers or explanations; just strong, peaceful, loving, accepting silent presence in the midst of your co-workers suffering.

      As Fr. Isaiah states, shared suffering is part of the “currency of our witness.” I could not agree more, and I encourage everyone to keep the eye out for those who are hurting. They are all around, and all they need, most of the time, from you is a willingness to inhabit the space of their pain with them.

      • Fr. Sean A. Levine says:

        My apologies; that’s “telling stories” in the final phrase of the first paragraph of my response to Fr. Isaiah.

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