“Why tip someone for a job that I’m capable of doing myself?. . .I can deliver food. I can drive a taxi. I can and do cut my own hair. I did, however, tip my urologist because I am not able to pulverize my own kidney stones.”
–Dwight Schrute (from The Office)
The Office portrays the goings on in the Scranton branch office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. The characters are all like normal people, but since it’s television, their personality traits,while real, are exaggerated. So when I watch the show I see people who remind me of people I know.
What sets apart The Office from other shows that feature the personality quirks of the characters (like Seinfeld, for example), is the whole idea that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin are constantly being filmed documentary-style. So not only are they quirky, they are being filmed, and they are aware they are being filmed.
What becomes apparent as you watch the show more than a couple of times is this awareness that all the characters have that they are on camera. Frequently they will say or do something good and then quickly glance at the camera as if to make sure their shining moment was caught on tape. Or, they will forget momentarily that they are being recorded and say or do something that makes them look bad. Then you see them nervously look at the camera as if to say, “Oh yeah, I am being filmed and people are going to think I am a jerk.” They then begin saying and doing things in damage control mode, to make themselves look better.
Everything these Dunder-Mifflin employees do or say becomes a performance in front of the cameras. Rarely do you see their genuine personality come through. They are keenly aware of appearances. They are constantly worried how they look. They are always mindful of what people will think about them. Because the cameras are rolling, they live to impress people.
As I was reading Acts 5 this week the thought occurred to me that Ananias and Sapphira would have been great characters on The Office. After all, when they saw people selling their land and making donations to the church they realized those people were respected for their generosity. Since they wanted people to think highly of them, they “played to the camera,” selling their property and giving the proceeds of the sale to the church.
The only problem was, they lied, claiming they had given all the money to the church when actually they kept back some for themselves. They wanted respect, but for them the way to get respect was not to be worthy of respect by being generous, but to have the appearance of generosity without really making the sacrifice needed to be generous. If you have ever known someone who lived his life this way, you know what a tortured existence it can be. The person can never truly be himself, he is constantly playing to the camera, as it were.
This brings me back to the question I have wrestling with this week — why do I do what I do? Am I always playing to the camera? Do I decide what to do based on what will get me the most attention or admiration? Am I obsessed with my how my actions look to others?
Or is there a deeper, purer motive behind my actions?
Why do I do what I do?
“I have been Michael’s number two guy for about five years, and we make a great team. We’re like one of those classic famous teams. He’s like Mozart and I’m like Mozart’s friend. No, I’m like Butch Cassidy and Michael is like Mozart. You try and hurt Mozart, you’re gonna get a bullet in your head, courtesy of Butch Cassidy.” — Dwight Schrute from The Office
Who but Dwight Shrute could possibly list Butch Cassidy and Mozart as “one of those classic famous teams?” While Dwight has the names all wrong, he’s on to something significant. There are a lot of people who just go together. You don’t think about one without thinking of the other. In the music world there was the team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In cartoons there is Batman and Robin. In television there was the Lone Ranger (a most interesting name considering he really had a partner) and Tonto. In the Old Testament there was Moses and Aaron. In the New Testament there was Paul and Silas.
Sometimes people just work well when they can partner with someone. It’s always better when you can share your hopes and dreams, your victories and struggles, your thoughts and labors. Throughout scripture we see the emphasis on God’s people being in community. From the opening pages of Genesis we realize God recognized the need for companionship.
In Deuteronomy 3:12-20 there’s a great example of the community spirit God’s wants for His people. The Israelites were about to take possession of the promised land. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were given land on one side of the Jordan River, while the other tribes were to cross the Jordan for their share of the promised land. The two and a half tribes would receive their land first. But, they were not to be interested only in what affected them.
In fact, the fighting men from the two and a half tribes were told to go across the river in order to help their fellow Israelites take possession of their land in Canaan. Then they could return home and begin settling in. It would have been easy for them to say, “Hey we’ve got our land, you guys are on your own now!” But they didn’t. There was no attitude of “every-man-for-himself.” The tribes considered what was best for the whole of Israel, not just themselves. They had a sense of solidarity. They were bound together as a people. There was a sense of community. A spirit of interdependence rather than independence.
Jesus could have chosen to be a prophet who operated in isolation. Instead, he went to great lengths to maintain His fellowship with God, often rising early in the morning to spend quiet time with God. And then, of course, there is the community of disciples that Jesus called to follow Him. He was not a loner. Jesus chose to experience community throughout His ministry.
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve–designating them apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
In a mountain setting that reminds us of the time when Israel was legally recognized as the people of God (see Exodus 18-19), Jesus designates His apostles, 12 of them, which again identifies His disciples with the twelve tribes of God’s community of faith. Jesus chooses two, perhaps three, sets of brothers to be apostles. Could this be a deliberate attempt to make the group more of a family? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing I am comfortable affirming is that these apostles provided Jesus with fellowship and support.
Maybe Dwight Schrute isn’t as stupid as we think. After all, some of those chosen by Jesus were about as unlikely to be together as Mozart and Butch. Think about it — fishermen and those that collected their despised taxes. People who worked for the oppressive government and those who worked to overthrow the oppressors, even if it took violent means. What a diverse group.
Jesus did not operate as a loner, and neither should we. God wants us to experience community in the church. He wants us to be supportive partners. He wants us to experience with our fellow believers a sense of together being the family of God. We are living stones rising together into a temple fit for God.
1 Peter 2:4-5
“As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:9-10
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Thank God for the church, the community of faith He has provided for us!
Another great quote from Michael Scott of Dunder-Mifflin Paper (The Office).
“You may look around, and see two groups here. White collar, blue collar. But I don’t see it that way. You know why not? Because I am collar-blind.”
“I.D. badges are long overdue. Security in this office park is a joke. Last year, I came to work with my spud gun in a duffel bag. I sat at my desk all day, with a rifle that shoots potatoes at 60 pounds per square inch. Can you imagine if I was deranged?”
“Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.” Dwight Schrute on The Office
Sometimes our self-centeredness warps our virtues to the point they are but offerings made on the altar of our own self-worship.
God, help us sort out our motives.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 ).
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).