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Personal responsibility

June 25, 2017

These days one of the phrases that is popular these days is “Personal Responsibility”. Often it is used in discussions about health care. For example, this Tweet from Mike Pence:

Before summer’s out, we’ll repeal/replace Obamacare w/ system based on personal responsibility, free-market competition & state-based reform

Now I’m all for personal responsibility. It’s what I tried to teach my kids. It’s something I try to practice personally.

But I think we have been misusing the phrase “personal responsibility”, at least from a Christian point of view. Often, even usually, when we say personal responsibility we mean I am taking care of myself. I get to my job on time. I pay my bills. I take responsibility for my actions. That’s a good thing.

Where we slide into error is when we think personal responsibility has to do only with us. When personal responsibility stops with me and with my family, we have a less than Christian understanding of personal responsibility.

For Christians I am also responsible for you. And you for me. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, he was asking where does my personal responsibility end?

All of scripture -Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, through the law and prophets  and certainly the Gospels -the message of scripture is we are to care about and for each other. We are responsible for each other.

You, as it turns out, are my personal responsibility. As is the person across the state from me in Flint. As is the person in Mexico. As is the person in Iraq and North Korea. And like it or not, I am your responsibility. How we exercise that responsibility is both personal and structural.

I can be responsible for my children’s education. But I can’t educate every child I see. I can, along with you, make sure every child has access to a good education. I can take responsibility for my health- as much as is in my control. But I can’t treat every sick person. I can, along with you make sure everyone one has access to and can afford health care. I can feed myself and my family. But I can’t feed everyone I see. I can, along with you, make sure our food supply is safe and accessible. I can, along with you, make sure people are not hungry.

When personal responsibility stops with me, my heart, as Calvin warned, has curved in on itself.  Which is, in fact,a pretty good way to notice sin. How is my heart? Is it turned inward, focused on myself? Or is it opened up, turned outward? Is my heart facing and loving the world?

Personal responsibility, I’m all for it. But for Christians that includes my neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner, and even my enemy.



Why I am an Ally

June 14, 2017

I was asked to speak at an Equality for All Solidarity March. This is what I said.

My name is Nancy Janisch and I am here as an ally.When I was asked if I would speak today, I had to give it some thought. I’m pretty sure the world really doesn’t need more remarks by straight white people. But I also remembered a conversation I had with someone who asked me “Are you really an ally or are you just here.” I couldn’t shake those words, “Are you really an ally?”. So here I am. And I am here as an ally because of my faith and not in spite of it. As a Christian, as I understand it, I don’t have a choice about being an ally or not. I have to be an ally.

I didn’t grow up in the church-which has it’s pluses and minuses. I didn’t have people “helping” me understand the Bible, and so I “missed” the focus and concern that some have around issues of sexuality. That preoccupation about sex and gender and identity never made much sense to me.

That also was,perhaps in part, because I loved biology and science. Those of you who had middle school biology learned about Mendelian genetics- the red sweet pea and the white sweet pea and the resulting pink sweet peas. Mendel got that right, but it’s also incomplete. Genetics is actually quite complex. Biologists learn that sex and gender, and actually everything else about every living thing are complicated, and affected by a variety of things. Life is complex, complicated and wonderful. People are complex, complicated and wonderful. As a Christian, I think that is a clue about God’s love of complexity and diversity.

As I said, no one helped me read the Bible. So no one explained the seven “clobber” passages and their importance to me. (Now I made other interpretive mistakes, but I dodged that one). So I just looked at things differently. When I read the Bible, I expected rules and the guide to good living. And what I found was a story. Big, complex, messy, odd. But the consistent theme, was God’s unshakable love.

God’s love for us comes first. It’s not dependant on who we are, what we do, what we believe. Not that these things don’t matter, they do, but God’s love is not based on those things. God’s love simply is. As writer Anne Lamott says “God has shockingly low standards” God’s love is. Is for all of us, Is for each of us.

For me the big theological picture, to put it concisely is love. And the question is, what does love look like? What that looks like for me is Jesus. For me I need to to try to do what Jesus would do and to be where Jesus would be. Near as I can tell, that is here, with all of you.

I’ve talked a lot about God, because that’s part of my story.
Now I know not everyone here is Christian. Some of you never were. Some of you left the church, or more likely were pushed out. Some of you left the faith, again likely pushed out by others.

And for for that behavior, words and actions, I am deeply sorry.

I know some Christians have told you are a particularly heinous sort of sinner.
That you’re an abomination, you’re unworthy, that God hates you.
I’m sorry they said that to you. So sorry.

Please believe me when I say this,
those people are wrong.
Myself and a growing number of Christians believe, without a doubt, that you are loved by God. Just as you are. You are loved, beyond measure.

Because I know that and believe that. I am an ally and I am here.

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