Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

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.

 

 

We do not travel alone

April 23, 2017

 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:1-5a  NRSV

I have an unfortunate tendency to think the call of Abraham only involved Abraham. Periodically the text reminds me that Sarah traveled with him. Less frequently the text reminds me that Lot  and many others also went with Abraham.  But mostly I focus on Abraham.

For modern Americans to focus solely on Abraham is easy to do. Our typical way of thinking and understanding the world concentrates and celebrates the individual. We love stories about the lone person who perseveres, triumphs, saves, or overcomes. We admire and revere the “One”. Many of us secretly want to be the “One”. Or perhaps, we are waiting for the “One” to save us, protect us, love us.

But if we read Abraham’s story carefully, we discover that Abraham doesn’t travel alone. His call affects others. And others participate in his call. And of course others benefit from his calling.

In the ancient world successes and failures, joys and sorrows were communal events. How an individual’s actions affect their family and community were important considerations. The stories in the Bible remind us that our lives are not our own. Our lives and actions affect the lives of people we know and people we don’t know.

From Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, to Moses’ demand  “let my people go”, to the prophets’ insistence that we care for the widow and orphan and stranger, to Jesus’s teaching about caring for the “least of these”- over and over again we are told we must be concerned about the larger community.

That means that my faith cannot be simply or only about my relationship with God. My relationship with God compels me to be concerned about others, in my home, in my city, in my country and around the world.

The way our modern world functions means that my concern is often called “political”. I don’t apologize for that.  It has to be. Reading the Bible seriously means I must take the well being of others seriously and consider their needs before I consider my own. When I vote, I think about which candidate will be best for the poor and excluded, for the food insecure, the sick, the homeless, the children, the aged.  When a millage comes up, I vote for what I think best benefits the entire community, not just me, and not just what keeps my taxes low.  When I march for a just immigration policy, it is not because my immigration status is a risk or is even questioned by anyone. I march because the Gospel compels me to work for a society that care about and for immigrants and refugees.

We are, as children of Abraham, called to be a blessing for others- for all the families of the earth. To be sure, this makes my life more difficult. There are a lot of people I need to think about, people I don’t know, people I will likely never know. As I try to learn and understand all these different people, who live in different places and in different circumstances, I learn wonderful things and terrible things. My heart sings and breaks. So much joy and yet so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Fortunately, God has created a world where I don’t have to do it all and you don’t either. We help each other. We help people we know and they help us. We help people we don’t know and they help us.  And the Spirit is in the middle of all of it- opening our eyes to see, our ear to hear, our heart to love. Nudging us to a bigger, deeper, richer life.

We do not travel alone, Thanks be to God.


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