Yesterday I was having a conversation with some of my summer session students about the role of interruptibility in the Kingdom. My fascination with interruptibility began with a conversation with my good friend Mark and I continue to think about it a great deal was well as try to live it out in my own life.
Basically, interruptibility is a form of welcome and hospitality. It is a way of making room for others. This space we create is less a physical space than a temporal space, making room in your To Do list, making space so we can slow down and pay attention to others. In this, interruptibility is a form of slowing down. I'm reminded of a favorite quote from Philip Kenneson who quotes Kosuke Koyama in his book Life on the Vine:
God walks 'slowly' because he is love...Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is 'slow' yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love.Interruptibility is a sign that we are moving at the speed of love.
You see this a lot in Jesus' life and ministry. People frequently call from the margins and Jesus allows himself to be interrupted, to allow the "least of these" to interrupt what he is doing. And by doing so Jesus makes room for others.
But interruptibility is not just a form of hospitality, it is also a form of humility. We tend to become uninterruptible when we think our agenda is the most important. Thus, when you allow someone to interrupt you you are implicitly setting their agenda ahead of your own. You are practicing what Paul taught: "In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Paul isn't talking about self-esteem here. He's talking about priorities. Put other people's interests on your To Do list. Be interruptible.
Because interruptibility is a form of humility it can function as a form of subversion in hierarchies, particularly in workplace interactions. Most workplaces are hierarchical, with superiors on top and subordinates down below. Agendas grow more important as you move upward. Thus, interruptibility flows downward. A superior can interrupt a subordinate but a subordinate shouldn't interrupt a superior. And when a superior interrupts a subordinate the assumption is that the agenda they are about to interrupt with is "more important" than what the subordinate is currently working on.
I'm not saying that superior-to-subordinate interruption is sinful. It's necessary to get the job done. My main concern has to do with how life in hierarchies can form bad habits and can be dehumanizing. Patterns of interruptibility in hierarchies need to be monitored if we'd like to be people of grace and welcome, inside and outside the office. Too often, the patterns of interruptibility created by workplace hierarchies create habits and self-concepts that get imported into other settings, the church in particular. I'm put in mind of the recent incident where a 12 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy was asked to leave church during Easter services (H/T Rachel Held Evans).
The best book I know of about fighting against the poison of hierarchies in workplace settings is Bob Sutton's best-selling management book The No Asshole Rule, which really should be required reading in all churches, let alone workplaces. According to Sutton, the NAR basically boils down to how people behave in hierarchical interactions. Thriving, happy and productive workplaces are places where hierarchies have been "flattened," where superiors work to interact with subordinates in an egalitarian manner. True, most large businesses can't function as a democracy, but what Sutton is after has more to do with the humanity of the workplace, the respect we give to each other. This is why you see places like Starbucks train their managers to give commands to subordinates by making requests. "Mop the floor," becomes "Hey Joe, would you mind mopping the floor?" The superior is interrupting Joe, as well he should, but he's doing so in a way that takes the edge off the hierarchy.
As Sutton summarizes in his book:
The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.And one way we can treat those less powerful than ourselves is to open up space for them in our lives. To become interruptible.
Two stories from Mark 10:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these....Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”