Dear ones in Jesus,
Responsibility has many sides. It’s an adult concern that needs to be taught to children as they grow. But it requires a working example. It is best taught and learned by having a real life example in front of you that demonstrates just how and what the teaching requires in any one situation. And it’s a duty. It can be a joy, but it can also be a burden. Depends on how you see it. Further, we must always be responsible for clearing up any mess that we create, so that someone else won’t have to deal with it!
Examples on responsibility? They’re all around you. Think of the joy of bringing your children up – they bring such happiness to your life. Then think of how much energy you must expend and how much effort you must make in order to ensure that they grow up healthy, safe, wise, and strong. Responsibility is demanding. It cannot be shirked - because that creates sad results. Every juvenile delinquent we see on the streets is a testimony to failed parenthood. It happens. Folk who are not ready for parental responsibility should not have children. Children don’t grow up by themselves. It might seem that way to some, but that is just not true. All the time they are watching, observing, learning, emulating.
Then look at the other end. Think of your parents. Assuming they were good and caring parents, they would have worked as hard as they could to give you the best that they could. What happens when they age and start to get sick? In humanity’s current mode, this is how we die. Not very rewarding after a life of hard work. You deteriorate bit by bit, you get weaker, sicker, and then, slowly, you die. No fun in it at all. We human beings do not know how to die well, and our religions have taught us nothing about the business of leaving this earth. So your parents will need your supportive presence. It has now come full circle. You need to be there for them, just as they were there for you. Effective Christians must work to build strong families that stay connected and supportive of each member if they are truly to be the salt of the earth. Always.
One of the best ways of defining responsibility and demonstrating it is by showing what happens when responsibility fails. You know of your own experiences of course, so I shall just point to one of the early examples in the Bible, in Exodus 32:1-8. Context? The ten commandments. Remember, when Moses encountered God in the burning bush (which did not burn but was nevertheless on fire) one of his excuses to God to avoid his mission was that he really didn’t have good talking skills. Exodus 4:10-17. For a guy with no talking skills, Moses is doing a pretty good job trying to get out of the mission God tells him to take up. So God appoints Aaron to share in the mission. Aaron is now a partner in it. He knows what it is about, in all that follows. Aaron has God given responsibility. And yet, when Moses has been up on the mountain for quite a while, what happens? The people want an idol, and suddenly Aaron is absolutely democratic! He bows to the people’s wishes. And the golden calf is built, and wild parties are held…and what happens in the end? Death and destruction! Did God plan it that way in order to flush out the “weeds”? Absolutely not. God’s will always allows for the free will of humankind. It is what we intend and execute that creates cause and effect. So it becomes a matter of deciding NOT to be irresponsible. Or of deciding to be responsible. That’s it.
Let’s look at some narratives that demonstrate different types of responsibility….
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Van Helsing and I were shown up to Lucy’s room. If I was shocked when I saw her yesterday, I was horrified when I saw her today. She was ghastly, chalky pale; the red seemed to have gone even from her lips and her gums, the bones of her face stood out prominently; her breathing was painful to see or hear…
My God, he said; this is dreadful. There is no time to be lost. She will die from sheer want of blood to keep the heart’s action as it should be. There must be a transfusion of blood at once. It is you or me.
I am younger and stronger, professor. It must be me.
Then get ready at once. I will bring you my bag. I am prepared.
It is crucial for someone to take responsibility for what is needed in order for a sick person to survive. There is no point in simply being a sympathetic shadow when circumstances call for a dedicated companion and comrade. Responsibility is a state of mind that enables a readiness to step forward as needed, a capacity to make sound preparations for certain and uncertain prospects.
What is faith worth if it is not translated into action? – Gandhi
The weeds that suffocate our capacity for responsible action grow in any soil, and whenever we are in situations for which we can reasonably be expected to bear some responsibility, we have to be responsible. As the following fable shows, responsibility is about understanding how much of what demands responsibility can actually be handled and should be handled by our own hands…..
A Fable, Anon
There was once a wise old man who could answer any question, no matter how difficult. One day, two young people decided they were going to fool the old man. They planned to catch a bird and take it to the old man, saying, Is what we have in our hands alive or dead? If he says ‘dead’, we will turn it loose, and it will fly away; if he says ‘alive’, we will crush it.
So they caught a bird and went with it to the old man. They said, is what we have in our hands alive or dead? The wise old man considered them and smiled. Then he said, It’s in YOUR hands….
Responsibility can only be refused - Just Above My Head, James Baldwin
And when the dream was slaughtered, and all that love and labor seemed to have come to nothing, we scattered: it was not a time to compare notes. We had no notes to compare. We knew where we had been, what we had tried to do, who had cracked, gone mad, died, or been murdered around us. We scattered, each into his or her own silence. It was in the astounded eyes of the children that we realized, had to face, how immensely we had been feared, despised, and betrayed. Each had, with speed, to put himself together again as best he could, and begin again. Everything was gone, but the children: children allow no time for tears. Many of us who were on that road then, may now be lost forever, that is true, but not everything is lost: responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again. The dream was repudiated: so be it.
My father said to me, a long time ago, Son, whatever really gets started never gets stopped. Now, after years watching my children grow, old enough to have some sense of where I’ve been, having suffered enough to be no longer terrified of suffering, and knowing something of joy, too, I know that we must attempt to be responsible for what we know. Only this action moves us, without fear, into what we do not know…and what we do not know is limitless.
But we had no trouble at all on the road the next day, and it was a very bright, beautiful day. The leaves on the trees were turning, like the changing colors in the sky, and, as the miles increased behind us, our apprehensions dropped, and we were very comfortable with each other. We were comfortable with each other, among other reasons, because, whatever was coming now, we were in it together, and we could not turn back: this sense of having crossed a river brings one a certain peace.
Forever the cry has been something like facta non verba – action/deeds not words! Whether or not we act responsibly determines how we are seen – since what we do will determine whether we are worthy of self-respect and the respect of other people. Responsibility is not good intentions, but real time supportive action….let’s look at taking responsibility …
To All My Wars, Yehuda Amichai
….to all my wars, it’s I who have to go!
Isabel, Ogden Nash (adapted)
Isabel once was asleep in a bed, when a horrible dream crawled into her head; it was worse than a dinosaur, worse than a shark, worse than an octopus, oozing in the dark; Boo! said the dream, with a dreadful grin, I am gonna scare you….right out of your skin! But Isabel, Isabel, she did not worry; Isabel, she didn’t scream, nor scurry; for Isabel had a cleverer scheme – she just woke up!...and she fooled that dream….
On the responsibility of helping in time - Not Coming Too Late, Abraham Joshua Heschel
Heschel feared, like many of us, that people of conscience would neither speak nor act in relation to Vietnam until it was too late, and in his speech at the first Clergy and Laity Concerned mobilization in Washington in January 1967, he indicated how this fear of coming too late replicated his boyhood fears when studying Torah at age seven with a Rabbi in Poland. Together they confronted the Akeda, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Heschel reconstructs the scene:
Isaac was on the way to Mount Moriah with his father; then he lay on the altar, bound, waiting to be sacrificed. My heart began to beat even faster; it actually sobbed with pity for Isaac. Behold, Abraham now lifted the knife. And now my heart froze within me with fright. Suddenly the voice of the angel was heard: Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad, for now, I know that thou fearest God. And here I broke into tears and wept aloud. Why are you crying, asked the Rabbi. You know Isaac was not killed. And I said to him, still weeping, but Rabbi, supposing the angel had come a second too late? The Rabbi comforted me, and calmed me by telling me that an angel was never late – could not be late.
And then Heschel, lifting his eyes from his manuscript and looking directly into our eyes, concluded:
An angel cannot come late, my friends, but we, made of flesh and blood, we may come late.
I have never forgotten that it is possible to come too late – when all the responsibility in the world, even if it is present, can no longer make a difference.
On the responsibility of leadership - Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Because of the universal respect the regent enjoyed – from both black and white – and the seemingly untempered power that he wielded, I saw the chieftaincy as being the very center around which life revolved. The power and influence of chieftaincy pervaded every aspect of our lives in Mqhekezweni and was the pre-eminent means through which one could achieve influence and status.
My later notions of leadership were profoundly influenced by observing the Regent and his court. I watched and learned from the tribal meetings that were regularly held at the Great Place…on these occasions, the Regent was surrounded by his amaphakathi, a group of councilors of high rank who functioned as the Regent’s parliament and judiciary. They were wise men who retained the knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinion carried great weight. Guests would gather in the courtyard in front of the Regent’s house, and he would open the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.
Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. Everyone was heard, people spoke without interruption, and the meetings lasted for many hours. All men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens. A great banquet was served during the day and I often gave myself a bellyache by eating too much while listening to speaker after speaker. I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. I grasped how others came to the matter at hand directly, and who made a set of arguments succinctly and cogently. I observed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language and tried to move the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sober and even, and shunned emotion.
At first, I was astonished by the vehemence – and candor – with which people criticized the Regent. He was not above criticism – in fact, he was often the principal target of it. But not matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all.
The meetings would continue until some mind of consensus was reached. They ended in unanimity or not at all. Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was foreign.
Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the Regent speak. His purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on people who disagreed.
As a leader, I have always followed the principles I saw first demonstrated by the Regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my opinion will simply express a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the Regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.
And let’s close with another Bible story – but this one on responsibility. It’s interesting because in this story responsibility is refused, and then, by intentional cause and effect, is thrown in the face of the one who has refused it!
We are looking at Genesis 38:8ff. Judah and his daughter in law Tamar. Judah has a responsibility to fulfill for her, and he abdicates! Read what Tamar does to force his hand, and how he realizes that he cannot run away from his responsibility the 2nd time around!
What is significant about the Christian idea of responsibility is that it has everything to do with one’s personal spiritual growth and cannot be separated from it. The Christian faith is NOT about words and faith – it is about responsible actions. The actions demonstrate integrity. Of what it means to be Christian. You cannot be irresponsible and still claim to be Christian. Of course, folk will say, well, we all make mistakes. But how come?
Those mistakes merely point to an abdication of responsibility. There is some truth that some mistakes are genuine accidents, but even these could have been prevented by proper preparation, forethought, and attention to detail...and ignorance is no excuse. So responsible Christians can always be counted on to do the responsible thing, simply because it is part and parcel of their spiritual makeup. When this does not happen, it is because true spiritual growth is lacking. It is too often excused as one’s being on the road to perfection but not yet there; or of the inherent sinfulness that we have to work to overcome. But the bottom line is that the power of the Holy Spirit in your life is available power. When you are consistent in your walk the Holy Spirit will actually go before you and warn you when a make a wrong turn! It will give you the insight you need when you need it! But you must be listening! When it fails to manifest it is only because we have chosen otherwise. Go carefully. And may every good blessing of the Lord go with you. Dr. Eli.