Ronald R. Johnson has a PhD in Philosophy from Saint Louis University and teaches at Spring Arbor University in Michigan (USA). He also has extensive experience working in customer service call centers, both as a frontline CSR and as a manager. He has published articles in The Congregationalist, Religious Studies, Philosophy and Rhetoric, The History of Philosophy Quarterly, Philosophy Now, The Way of St. Francis, and Alive Now. He has devoted his life to finding points of contact with God in the secular world. He lives with his wife Nancy and daughter Emily in Portage, Michigan.
We're talking with Dr. Ron Johnson from Spring Arbor University, and we're asking him how he started writing about finding God in the workplace.
When I was in high school, I was surprised to discover that God was interested in more than just religion. I prayed about my homework, and God helped me in concrete ways. I prayed about my extracurricular activities and ended up flourishing in them. At first I didn't want to talk about it because I was afraid of being branded "religious," but some of my experiences were so extraordinary, I just had to tell people. "Listen!" I said, "Did you know that you don't have to spend the rest of your life wondering whether God exists? You can find out. Pray about everything... and watch what happens!"
I went to a state college (Grand Valley State University) and was quite vocal about it there. I know I turned some people off, but I couldn't keep quiet about it. Day after day I found God guiding me in my studies and leading me to people I could help in some way. It was an amazing experience.
After graduation, my denomination sent me out to the Pacific Northwest, and I spent two years telling my stories to congregations in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. Although I was mostly appealing to high school and college students, I also reached out to adults. I said that God could be found not only in the classroom but also in our factories, our high-rise office complexes, our government agencies, and anyplace where people worked. People of all ages found that message compelling. A number of them reported that they tried the experiment and received concrete answers to their prayers. But some adults told me they had tried to pray about their jobs but had not had as much success as I had had. "What am I doing wrong?" they asked. "How can I find what you've found?"
I didn't know how to answer their questions. I prayed for them, and I told them things that should have been obvious (make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life, don't ask for anything that contradicts scripture, watch carefully for unexpected answers), but I found I was unequipped to help most of them. It took me years to figure out why.
What did you discover?
I already knew that this was not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Each individual had his or her own obstacles to overcome in their approach to God in secular life. I also knew that these obstacles could vary greatly. Some people might have to change their attitudes, while others might have to change the way they think. I realized right from the start that I would have to know a lot more about each person in order to help them.
But over the years, I became convinced that there are also some general obstacles that we all face. Contemporary life is structured in certain ways that make it very difficult for people to see what God is doing from day to day. Our upbringing trains us to view the world in certain ways that rarely intersect with religious or theological concerns.
"What role does God play in our lives while we're working?" That's the question that two young professionals, Savannah and Dayton, set out to answer. With the help of a unique discussion group led by Dr. Grizzled Mane, Philosopher-in-Residence at the Cathedral of Our Lord (C.O.O.L.), they begin to view the work world as a web of stories, with God acting as both observer and participant.