My Strange Vocation, Part 9
For me, being a frontline CSR again was the occupational equivalent of wearing a hair shirt: it could either drive me insane or motivate me to pray. My response depended on the day. Some days I prayed every minute, as I described in an earlier post, and I felt very close to God at such times. Other days I rebelled against my situation and drove myself crazy analyzing it: “Why didn’t I stay at Eden and become a minister? Or why didn’t I stay at Western Union as a manager? Anything would’ve been better than this.”
Despite this internal struggle, I did well in the job and was promoted to the Help Desk, a special escalation unit within the call center. The six of us on the Help Desk had great rapport. They called me “Professor” and “Dr. Ron.” Before long I started teaching night courses at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. They had a hiring freeze going on indefinitely, so there was no hope of working full-time for them. But it gave me a chance to teach at night, at least, and that was something.
Through it all, I finally began to make sense out of story. My expulsion from full-time teaching was not something I had seen coming, but it now made a lot of sense. I had spent my life asking God to mold me into someone who could minister to working people in a unique way: by showing them precise points of contact with God in the details of their work. Up until this moment of my life, I had been able to do that only in vague terms. Now—for the first time in my life—I could give a detailed account of how God could be found in one particular work setting: a customer service call center. Yes, I had worked in a call center before (at Western Union), but my thoughts were still scattered in those days. Now they had become focused by doctoral-level study. I now had the skills necessary to analyze what was happening around me, and I had the discipline to pull it all together.
I began writing what I had learned, and this time I didn’t just jot it down in a private notebook—I wrote it for my people. I told them that customer service work offered unique opportunities to help others, but there were also huge obstacles that the general public knew nothing about. It was easy for CSRs to become jaded, and for a number of reasons. The most important of those was the chain of command… one which I had experienced from both sides, as a frontline CSR and as a manager. A call center is a difficult place to work because you rent out your entire personality, and your managers have control over you in a way that isn’t possible in other kinds of work. I explained all of this in my book, and I told how I had learned to overcome the spiritual problems that were inherent in such an environment.
The resulting book was called Customer Service and the Imitation of Christ. That book was a turning point for me. It was the first time I was able to give concrete expression to the idea I had been chasing all my life. Even better, as I was writing it I began to understand how I could apply my findings to other kinds of employment. I drew on my own experience in a number of different jobs, as well as the histories and biographies I had read about people in different fields. Now I just had to get the word out to my people…..
(I will conclude this story in the next post.)