I was surprised to see the sign posted on the software developer’s departmental bulletin board.
“Join the prayer meeting every morning at 7:30 AM.”
One of my fellow developers, Jimmy, was an outwardly pious person and had started this daily meeting. Simply stated, this bothered me. I felt strongly that religion is something personal that should be practiced in your home or place of worship – not in a place of business.
I ran into my buddy Stan on my way back to the cube farm and said, “Did you see what Jimmy put up on the bulletin board?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“It makes me uncomfortable, that’s what.”
Stan plopped down in his chair, started pecking away on his keyboard and said, “You need to lighten up. It isn’t like they are forcing you to join them.”
“That isn’t the point Stan. I think it sends the wrong message and I can’t believe management approved it.”
He looked up from his computer, smiled at me and asked, “And when is the last time you got to work before 9 AM?”
Stan had a point there. As a matter of fact, most of the developers on the team were not early morning types.
I stammered, “I still don’t like it” and headed back to my cube.
Jimmy just happened to sit behind me in the cube farm. He was a solid software developer and a rising star in the department. I would never question his smarts or work ethic.
But man, it sure got under my skin when he would drop little preacher-like tidbits throughout the day.
As I started into reviewing the latest bug report, Jimmy started to softly sing some church hymn. We were not permitted to wear headphones (a story for another article), so I had no choice to listen with him sitting only a few feet away.
Between the prayer meeting notice eating away at me and the evangelical singing, I had enough.
I wheeled around in my chair and said with a terse smile “Jimmy, would you mind keeping it down?”
He responded with a surprised look on his face. “Oh man, I’m sorry. Was I singing out loud?”
Like he didn’t realize it.
“Yes, you were and I can’t concentrate.”
Jimmy smiled and said, “My bad. I’m just feeling so joyous in my life today I couldn’t help myself.”
I felt my face starting to turn red and was afraid I would say something I would regret, so I just said “thanks.” Then I turned around to stare uselessly at the bug report once again.
My mind was racing. I could have cared less what was making Jimmy joyous. Not that there is anything wrong with strong spiritual feelings, but this wasn’t the first time he had dropped these little hints about his wonderful relationship with his religion.
All I was concerned with that day was getting the bug report to the QA team by end of day, yet all I could hear in my head was Jimmy’s dang hymn. And that’s probably exactly what he wanted – to get it stuck in my head so I’d see the light.
Or maybe I was just being paranoid. After all, he stopped when I asked and was always polite.
The Next Level
I was able to refocus until our weekly team status meeting before lunch. A new manager, June, had just started and this was our first meeting with her. The whole team sauntered into the conference room and made small talk while we waited for June to arrive.
I overheard Jimmy ask Stan if he was coming to the prayer meeting. Stan said “no thanks” and changed the subject.
This steamed me. If he asked me, I was going to blow a gasket. Lucky for me June walked in and introduced herself.
She had an impressive background and I was excited to work with a manager that had accomplished so much in the coding trenches.
What she said next, however, made my jaw drop.
“And I wanted to thank Jimmy for referring me. We attend the same church and I’m thrilled to be working with him.”
I just knew what was coming next. And I was right.
She continued, “If anyone wants to join us we started a daily prayer meeting.” She went on to say that she felt that strong religious beliefs made for better people and even better developers.
She laughed and the team responded with mostly uncomfortable laughter.
Stan and I looked at each other and simultaneously rolled our eyes. I couldn’t believe any manager would even go there. As June moved quickly on to the week’s status update, I just stewed in my chair.
The Tebow Effect
I’ll admit that the rise of the controversial Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow made me think back on this story. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware of the success of Tebow in the NFL this past season and how the press has gone crazy over him – some calling it Tebow-mania.
Just like Jimmy and June in my story, Tebow has no problem promoting his religious beliefs in the context of his football success. He frequently references them, even in interviews that were intended to be about football.
When he recently threw for “316” yards in a playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the press had a field day hinting that it must be a sign of the rapture.
In my personal opinion, that’s just silly. It would be the same if Jimmy had stated that his code worked better because he was able to write it in 316 lines.
But I also see that Tebow is good at his craft, a hard worker and seems to be an all-around good guy – similar to Jimmy. Yet it isn’t surprising that when he fails – like he did in the next playoff game – many people will gloat about it.
People look to sports as a recreational escape, just like people want to focus on work at work – not on what religious beliefs they should or shouldn’t have.
That said, I’ll confess that when Jimmy’s code started showing up more on the bug report, I may have inwardly smiled.
In reflection, I’m not proud of my reaction – I should have known better.
I look back with shame for having these feelings about Jimmy’s failures because one doesn’t have to be religious to know the difference between right and wrong. His unwanted overtures were annoying, but he eventually stopped when he realized I was not interested – or, perhaps in his mind, a lost cause.
However, I see what June did as misguided. As our manager, she should never have insinuated that switching to her religious beliefs would have improved the development team’s performance. If I had received a subpar performance review about my coding from her, there would have been a trace of doubt in my mind that not attending the prayer meetings had been a factor.
I didn’t stick around to find out. But Stan did.
Stan and I met for lunch after I had left and he said something that brought another jaw-dropping reaction.
“I joined the prayer meetings,” he said, sheepishly – anticipating my reaction.
“Look, I needed the promotion to team lead and if I was to have a chance against Jimmy, I felt this would help my chances. Besides, I actually found the meetings a calming way to start the day. You never attended one, so you shouldn’t rush to judgment.”
I thought about it and conceded he had a point and said, ”Fair enough.”
Stan then gave me a wry smile and said, “Yeah, and I’m also the new team lead.”
I still don’t agree with his decision. However, my own views have become more tolerant with age. Except I hope I will be forgiven for rooting against Tebow just a little bit. I am a Steeler fan, after all.