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The Incarnational Lessons of Undercover Boss

The Incarnational Lessons of Undercover Boss

Undercover Boss is a show where the boss of a major corporation goes to work at the ground level of his/her business. The first episode of Undercover Boss follows President and COO of Waste Management, Larry O’Donnell, as he dons the uniform of an entry-level employee at his own company. Larry, a.k.a. Randy, works five different jobs in five separate areas of his company, from recycling remover and landfill trash collector, to garbage truck ride-along and cleaner of port-a-potties. Along the way, he meets and works for the very same people that work for him. None of them know his true identity. Consequently, his employees hold nothing in reserve in regards to their honest opinions on their jobs and their company.

He meets Sandy, a recycling center employee who gets docked two minutes of pay for every minute she clocks in late. He meets Walter, a tough-as-nails diabetic, who fires him, a first for the President. He meets Jaclyn, a hard-working multi-tasker still on hourly wages, despite the responsibilities piled onto her shoulders. He meets Fred, a man with possibly the crappiest job on the planet, but who still knows how to laugh and smile despite the muck and mire. Finally, he meets Janice, a garbage truck operator who makes her frustrations with the company’s policies quickly known to Larry.

In watching Larry’s interactions with his employees, especially upon the revelation of his true identity to each of his "supervisors," it’s not difficult to see the meaning of incarnation played out to a national audience. What surely has to be a near mythical character to the blue-collar workers profiled in Undercover Boss turns out to be a real human interested in their needs. Not only that, but he takes their form, becomes like them, even subordinates himself to them, in order to empathize with them. 

Additionally, after revealing himself to be their President, Larry commits himself to each one of them in very specific, unique and personal ways. He sees to it that Sandy’s workplace no longer enforces such a hard-nosed rule on tardiness. He helps Walter become a motivating force for health causes within the company. He asks Fred to impart his enthusiasm to the Senior Leadership Team. He works with Janice to ensure that Waste Management becomes more female-friendly. Finally, he moves Jaclyn from hourly wages to a salaried, bonus-eligible position. Larry tells her, "That’s gonna result in a pretty nice pay increase for you." In this story, that’s the modern day equivalent of "Well done, good and faithful servant." Jaclyn begins to cry, unsure of what to do with this sudden appreciation of the many years of her diligent work.

In a telling and convicting sequence, Larry calls in Kevin, Sandy’s manager. "I understand you had somebody working at your recycling facility last week." Kevin responds, "Yes we did." Larry asks, "Did you meet the employee?" "No I did not." "Would it surprise you to hear it was me?" Not to be too harsh, but there are more than likely a good number of "managers" in the Kingdom that have never met the Undercover Boss. Additionally, Kevin is found out to be unduly legalistic and punitive. Larry, like a good President, holds him to a higher standard (see James 3:1) and asks him to make necessary changes.

The show ends with Larry sharing his undercover escapades with his company. His "supervisors" are in attendance, and as he voices his great appreciation of his company and the people he’s met, a projection screen shows clips of the interactions he’s had over the course of the show. 

This is a strange though not unrealistic depiction of heaven. While the argument is easily made that nothing in this life will matter once the next life is here, there has to be something said for seeing the reality of this life for what it really is once we’re on the other side of it. In other words, there might be a projection screen in heaven on which the most brutal and most beautiful moments of our lives are replayed to us, and in every scene we notice someone who we never noticed being there before. We’ll look from the screen to the face before us, back to the screen, and back to the face, trying to ascertain the answer to the question we almost knew all along … 

"That was you!?"

Blake Atwood is a one-time English major still trying to figure out the plotline of his life. He lives and drums and has his being in Texas.

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