On Call and Chemicals
Religion & Liberty Online

On Call and Chemicals

As part of the On Call in Culture community, we are interviewing people in different areas of work to showcase what being On Call in Culture looks like on a daily basis. Today we’re introducing Ed Moodie, an environmental engineer at Stepan, a global manufacturer of specialty and intermediate chemicals used in consumer products and industrial applications.

It’s not often you get a good report about the environment, so when you do, it sticks with you. About 20 years ago, I remember my father, Ed Moodie, standing on one of the few hills in Chicagoland that gives you a bit of perspective. He pointed across Orland Park and beyond, almost 30 miles, to the skyline of downtown Chicago. He said, “You see that? In the 1960s, you couldn’t see those buildings with all the pollution. See how far we’ve come?”

He made that observation after approximately 20 years of determined work by many people to reduce emissions. I’d be interested to go back to that spot today and see the skyline after all these additional years of consistently caring for the environment.

Being On Call in Culture in the world of chemicals has been an interesting journey for Ed, who found his niche in chemical engineering by combining his love of math and science with the joy of getting his hands dirty. He was attracted to engineering because it was an applied science where he could bring together the scientific realm and what he knew about chemicals in order to build systems.

As the field of chemical engineering began to change in the 60s with environmental regulations coming into play, Ed had a role in the discussions about objectives and emerging rules. In this context, he was able to apply his engineering skills in the new environment by applying good science—and balance.

“There was a lot of naivety at the start of the journey. Some would think, SO2 is bad—acid rain. We need to get rid of it. But I would say, ‘Wait a minute, a certain amount of SO2 is found in nature. The world existed with it for a long time. What we need to do is find an acceptable level.’” Sometimes things would look good on paper, but would be impossible to work out in real life. Ed was interested in making sure that the rules and reality matched up, “If you don’t write the rules correctly, you accomplish very little. We wanted to define the objective clearly.”

With chemicals so often being villianized, you might think that the title of environmental engineer in the chemical arena is an oxymoron, but as we talked, we discussed people’s need for chemicals and how the companies Ed worked for focused on benefitting culture. In addition to clean water, clean clothes and clean counters, some of the chemicals can be used in many different ways to benefit life. He says that it is exciting to work on a specialty chemical—to be part of the team that designs a molecule that meets a need in the marketplace and figures out how to get it out there to help people.

Ed has another passion in his life—the Creator of all this science. He sees God in everything he does—in all the systems and order of the world. He told a story of when he was in college studying the 2nd law of thermodynamics which says that everything is going from order to chaos. One day, his professor left them with this question, “It’s like someone wound up this clock and it has been winding down ever since. What you need to do is ask yourself, ‘Who wound the clock?’”

Ed was impressed by what Abraham Kuyper says in Wisdom & Wonder. He says, “What I get out of Kuyper is that as Christians, we see God’s hand in everything. We see God’s hand in creation and in the sciences. But we have to remind ourselves that not everyone sees that. The natural man does not. He sees the creation, but he doesn’t see what’s behind it. That is what the Holy Spirit does for us.

They think this beautiful blue orb was a random occurrence, but they agree that there’s a beauty there. They agree that this planet is a beautiful, fascinating place. With all the dry planets circling the sun, God put us here with the uniqueness and the beauty of it. God planted it in us to appreciate that beauty.”

He referred to what Abraham Kuyper says in Wisdom & Wonder, “Here, then, attention is drawn to a capacity bestowed upon human beings enabling them to pry loose from its shell, as it were, the thought of God that lies embedded and embodied in the creation, and to grasp it in such a way that from the creation they could reflect the thought which God had embodied in that creation when he created it. This capacity of human nature was not added as something extra, but belongs to the foundation of human nature itself.” (pg. 41)

Ed says, “As Christians we recognize that this capacity is bred in us. As scientists we need to give him praise for that. Like the hymn, ‘How Great Thou Art,’ we praise him for the awesomeness of the whole thing. As you get into science and the intracacies, the electromagnetic forces holding the atoms together; we have to remember that not everyone sees the creative hand in it.”

In addition to contributing to culture in the realm of taking care of the environment and providing needed chemicals for society, Ed also contributes on a personal level—developing relationships with the different people he works with in the plant. “Part of your interaction with people is the work. Part of it is the personal things you share and the conversations you have with one another. Your personality shows through and God gives you a love for people.”

Ed is an example of someone On Call in Culture, understanding his need to be a light to the world, but also valuing what he can contribute to the here and now. “The truth in it is that we’re called to be in the world, not of it—but in it, and share our light in that respect. Very few Christians are able to isolate themselves into Christian ministry. Most of them have a secular job. They need to bloom where they are.”

Partway through his career, Ed started a special journey with God that changed the way he dealt with situations at work. “I enjoy engineering. I enjoy the sciences. With any job, there are challenges and victories…Situations came up that I was not capable of dealing with. Then God would reveal to me a spiritual aspect—the way the natural man is opposite to the spiritual man. I found that my natural thoughts were contrary to what God wanted me to do. I needed to swallow my pride and let God work it out. Surrender to Him and accept whatever comes out of this. Then God would work it through.”

Ed gave a couple examples of this. He tells the story of having 5-6 engineers reporting to him when someone verbally attacked one of his engineers. He got upset internally, but the Lord told him to trust Him. He essentially ignored the affront and God moved. The other guy recognized what he was doing and apologized. God used this circumstance to mature him and bring him along; teaching him that his natural way was not the better way.

Another example was the performance reviews he had to give. God brought to his mind Scripture about how Jesus dealt with the disciples. Also, the passages in Revelation about how God dealt with the churches gave him some ideas of how to deal with people and performance reviews.

“A lot of work is structured under godly principles. When you engage in business, your culture or activity, you have a choice. You can be above board and straight up with people or you can decide to try to cheat the system and play it for yourself. You have to accept the consequences for your actions. As Christians, if God wants the best for us, we follow his principles. Eventually the guy who cheats the system is lost. It will catch up with him. Godly principles get respect and in the long run it benefits them. Although he may not be rich.”

Ed wants to encourage new Christian engineers to be excited about their engagement and pursuit. “God is all for it. He wants you to engage and go for it.” As far as being a Christian in science, he says, “Be the best you can be. In that way people will respect you. Let people know where you’re at, but that’s not the full reason for you to be there. You need to live your life and enjoy it. Sometimes a Christian gets so excited about their faith and so interested in making everyone a Christian, they don’t let the Holy Spirit work. They try to pick them when they’re green. What you do have in common is the workplace, love for science and love for math. Show that passion and love and they will engage with you. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel—that you’re a Christian.”

Mindy Hirst

Mindy Hirst is co-founder of Generous Mind, a think tank devoted to helping people be generous with their ideas. She is also a founder of the On Call In Culture community.