Responsibility: Why You Should Give a Shit

Responsibility. Moral, Legal, or Mental Accountability.

Accountability. An Obligation or Willingness to Accept Responsibility.

I don’t like semantics. Or rather- I like to say that I don’t like semantics. I think what gets under my skin is when groups of folks let words and meanings bog them down or distract them from all the really valuable and important things they could be talking about or (heaven forbid) doing with their time. I recently heard about this guy at a Bible study I used to attend. One day at Bible study he brought up the word responsibility and he wanted to explore what the word meant. I was not an eye witness to this, but I heard he made a big ass of himself and it turns out that he is kind of a selfish douche. Oh and he happens to be a pastor. He is an example of my least favorite person: he is in a position of religious power, he gets caught up in what words mean instead of doing shit, and he is selfish and doing it wrong and making me look bad as a person who likes Jesus and some Jesusy-type things.

I once got into an epic battle with my brother about responsibility. It was epic because it had to do with things that I take very personally and that shit got heated.

We were fighting because I was telling a story about some kids that are very important to me, that I met during a time that changed my life, and my behavior in the story was impacted by my belief system. Needless to say I was locked and loaded for anyone who was gonna say shit to me about responsibility. My brother, always the instigator, could not just let me tell the story. He had to pick at it and put in his two cents.

I used to work this job that had your standard 9-5 hours. I would walk to work and walk home everyday. Almost everyday my roommates and I would see our 2 year old neighbor outside playing by himself when we left the house. When we returned home in the evening, he was still outside by himself, but his diaper would be saggy and full.

Yes, it was heart breaking.

So whoever saw him first (out of all my roommates) would usually play with him for awhile, invite him over to our place to play inside, grab a snack, and get a diaper change. The sort of people I roll with give a shit about things like this.

Did any of us have kids? Nope.
Did my roommate go out of her way to pick up some diapers in his size? Yes.
Did we all take it upon ourselves to care for this kid? Yes.

Why did we do this? Because it is the decent, human, solid thing to do. It was and is the right thing to do.

My brother did not agree that it was anyone’s responsibility to care for this neighbor kid.

And I rained down upon him a storm of rage and wrath about empathy and mercy. I yelled and cried. I am a much better arguer now, but at the time this conversation was emotionally charged for me. I loved that kid. If I had had the resources or the opportunity, I would have adopted him (and I would have had to fight my roommates for him- because they all would have done the same). But I was also disappointed because my brother did not understand why it is important that we care about a lonesome 2 year old.

The fight started because my brother put a sweatshirt on his dog- she was shivering with cold and I happened to mention that lots of dogs get treated better than children (not to say that we should not treat dogs well, I am just saying that all the things need to be treated well).

I yelled and cried because I am sad that I have to explain why it is important to care for small, vulnerable, children that you see with your own eyeballs. I sobbed and hiccuped because I could not put in to words how important this is for all of us to do. I cry because this is a true and sad part of life: there is great need in the world and there are folks that just don’t give a shit about it.

Here is the part in the post where I get all religious and stuff- so feel free to stop reading if you want. I was raised by some folks who love Jesus. Jesus says that we should care because he cares. One story about him is that he is giving this sermon to these people on a hillside. They come to him because they heard rumors that he has done miraculous stuff and that he has talked back to the big wigs of their religion (think Joel Osteen and Billy Graham and all those crazy Focus on the Family people). Jesus made all those guys look bad on the regular by quoting the Bible back to them. He was a BAMF, for sure. I mean- he made them look so bad that they plotted to kill him. It was serious.

Jesus is talking to all these folks on the hillside and Jesus’ inner circle was like, “You gotta send these people home because they have been here for so long and they are tired and hungry and a long way from home.” Jesus was like, “If they are hungry, why don’t you feed them?” And the disciples were like, “That would cost more than a year’s salary. We can’t do that.” And Jesus was like, “You guys don’t get it. I will handle this.” And Jesus fed all the people because he cared. He felt responsible for them. The gospels should be called, “The Books of the New Testament Wherein Jesus Gives a Shit about People- Especially Society’s Cast-Offs.”

That was me paraphrasing a small portion of the Gospel of Mark. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to quote me on it, too. You’re welcome.

So when I talk about Jesus, this is who I am talking about. I am talking about this guy that spat in the face of a religion that was for show. He fed and clothed and helped whoever came his way and asked for help (people that were so weird and gross most people would not even acknowledge they existed), and he even helped a few people that did not ask. He cared about folks. He says in the Gospel of Matthew, “When you give a shit about society’s most vulnerable and oppressed and ignored members, you give a shit about me. If you don’t care about them, then you don’t care about me.” (also paraphrased by me).

I don’t speak this way about the Bible or Jesus to shirk the holiness of it all. This is real to me. This is the way I see the world. I have been living this way for so long that it does not make sense to me when people do not feel responsible for 2 year olds that are all alone.

My brother is ultimately right. I know this and it kills me (it does not kill me necause he is right and I am wrong, but that I know that most people don’t consider themselves responsible for other humans). It is not his responsibility to care for anyone. This life is so hard and resources are so scarce that you should just work to get yours and hoard your resources and call it a day.

But I really want to believe in Jesus. And he may not be real. I am totally ok with that. Yes- I just said that I am fine with the idea that Jesus could be a made up character in some very entertaining literature. My friend says that the Gospels (all the stories of Jesus’ life) could be written by squirrels for all she cares. It is the simple fact that the stories of Jesus tell us to be responsible for others. And when we do this thing, when we are responsible for one anther and we care for one another, magical things happen. Love multiplies when we take responsibility for each other. We create the world that we want to live in when we take responsibility for each other. We become better people when we take responsibility for others. We also help show people that they have value when we take responsibility for them. Paradoxically when we care for other people, those people will return that love in a greater way (happens every time and it is very shocking, trust me).

That 2 year old boy, his name is Calvin, has value. Sometimes the people in his life forgot about that. I made it my responsibility to make sure he was cared for, as did my roommates. We did not do it because we had to. We did not do it to avoid the guilt we would feel if we left him there. We did it because Jesus has completely changed the way we look at the world and we could not stop ourselves from caring for this boy.

A long time ago I decided to start trying to live my life like the stories of Jesus (the ones that may or may not have been written by squirrels). I drank the kool aid, if you will. I told the sky that I would give a shit. I haven’t turned back since. It has impacted my life in the strangest ways. One day, as I was walking home from work, Calvin broke out into a run when he saw me down the street. He had his arms open wide and he ran to me. I scooped him up and we were glad to see each other. As I was carrying him home he puckered up his lips and came at me. What flashed before me was the knowledge that 2 year olds are microbial incubators and his nose already had snot crust on it. But in that same split second I did not turn my head away from him- I puckered up my lips. Toddler kiss.

YOLO.

He then rested his head on my shoulder and I carried him to our place to play.

I said to Jesus, “Why don’t you care for Calvin?” And he said, “Why don’t you?” I don’t regret taking responsibility for Calvin for the small moment that he made a cameo in my life story.

He moved away a few months later with his family, and I hope that whatever people saw him next took up the torch and felt responsible for him, too. Because if they did, he might just make it. And I think that is why Jesus wants us to take responsibility for each other; so that we can all make it.

 

Figuring out Grace

So this happened to me-someone asked, “What is grace?  Tell me what grace means.”

I did not want to tell her, because I was afraid that my definition might be too narrow, too western, or too Christian, or not Christian enough, or maybe too blasphemous (as if blaspheming was a thing I tried not to do), or that it would just not live up to what I feel when I experience grace.

I tried to wriggle my way out of talking about it, but the ball was passed back to me.  I cannot remember all that I said, but I tried to limit my usage of Christianese (few are fluent), and I tried to make it applicable in non-religious contexts.

Since then I have been trying to think of what my definition of grace is.  Writing always helps me to sort through my thoughts, so I will just start writing and see what happens.

The grace issue came up because I have been tossing around ideas of karma and manifestation in my head.  Karma says that what goes around comes around (eventually).  It says that we reap what we sow.  It says: you do good, you get good, and if you do bad, you get bad.  Manifestation is very similar to karma (in my brain).  It sometimes goes by the name “The Secret” and this woman I went to college with bought me the DVD because she thought I was too negative.  Well, the DVD was dumb and I watched half of it and then promptly returned it to her (with a thank you note- I was raised with some manners).  The Secret says that you can dream up things and think up things and you can attract them to yourself with good energy.

I do not believe in any of that noise.  Do not be offended by my soap box rantings, but life is too ambiguous for that to make sense.  As I like to say, “the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous,” as in- sometimes shit happens to good people and sometimes nothing happens to bad people.  And does this ever suck.  I do not believe in karma or manifestation or the secret or laws of attraction because I believe in grace.

My faith might be shattered and fractured into pieces the size of electrons and neutrons or fucking quarks (I just threw science in to my religious speak, because it is all the same to me), but I still believe in grace.  I believe in grace because I need it.  I believe in grace the same way I believe in the sun and gravity and oxygen.  They keep the world working  and they prevent us from dying terrible deaths.  Grace does the same thing in my universe.

I believe in grace.

So what am I talking about when I talk about grace?

Grace is getting good when all I’ve done is put out bad; getting goodness that I could never earn or work hard enough to achieve.  Grace is an unreasonably generous gift.  Grace gives me more room to breathe, it does not make sense, but I greedily take it up because I need it.

Grace is when the Coast Guard shows up after I have been treading water.  My ship sank because I did not know how to use a boat or care for it.  I ran my boat in to a bunch of shit because I did not know how to drive it- so it sank.  And I did not make preparations for a disaster or an emergency.  I have been treading water for some time now and I can hardly breathe and I have choked on so much water.  I want to give up and let myself sink.  I wonder if inhaling water will be a relief to my tired and sore body.  I am in this position because I failed.  And then they come with a rescue boat and they wrap me in warm blankets and they feed me a hot meal and they give me warm things to drink.  But I call the captain nasty names, and I kick a few people in the shins, and I scratch and bite folks who try to feed me.  And then, as if that weren’t too much already, they treat me with kindness and love and dignity.

That is grace.  I believe that this thing exists.  I believe that this thing exists because it has happened to me.

Obviously, it is easy to get on board with this grace idea when I think about myself.  Of course I want grace: sign me up, please and thank you.  But it is harder to accept when I remember that there are some people who I don’t think should get grace.

Grace doesn’t fucking work like that, dammit.  And therein lies grace.

 I don’t make the rules, thank god, because I am a cruel shit when I want to be.  And if I did make the rules, I don’t think grace could exist.  The very nature of grace is disturbing and alarming.  The people who I don’t think should get it, can get it and that is what grace is- getting goodness that you never could have earned.

Boom goes the dynamite.

 I don’t want to convince anyone that grace exists, I am just trying to define the thing.  It is elusive and ever present.  We are given grace, but we want more of it.  See- that is another thing about grace- sometimes it is with me and I just do not care to admit that it is there.  This happens because I want more of it, or because I want it my way.  I want McDonald’s grace (or at least I think I want McD’s grace).  I think this is an aspect of grace as well; those of us who can admit we need it, want it cheaply, and quickly, and our way (see: Dietrich Bonhoeffer), but if that is how it worked it would then suddenly cease being grace.

My least favorite thing about grace (I am rolling my eyes at myself even as I type this) is that it is usually not delivered in the package we want.  I usually want grandiose sweeps of relief (large sums of money, the cancer suddenly disappears, world peace); I usually want the Coast Guard to arrive.  Sometimes they do arrive.  But sometimes grace is when a friend gets in the water with you and they let you hang on to them because they are wearing a life coat.  With that life coat they can swim for a bit and you can just rest for a moment.  Grace might be that they have a cup of fresh water for you because the salty ocean has you parched.  Grace could be that they have a flare gun and they are gonna wait with you until there is a rescue.  Those things are good and those things are grace.

I wish that grace would have taken all the suffering away when my grampa died (his suffering and our suffering).  I wish that grace had that jurisdiction, but it simply does not.  Grace is that he knew I was there at his bedside.  Grace is that I could hold his hand and that he could squeeze it.  Grace is that I could sing to him before he died.  Grace is that my friends were so generous to me as my heart shattered.

Did it hurt?  Yes.

Was it awful?  Yes.

Did God do anything to stop the natural cycles of life and death? No.

Did that make me mad?  Yes.

Did I get what I wanted?  No.

Did I get grace?  Yes.

I have been on the receiving end of grace more times than I can count- thank god.  There are so many people in my life who love me and, no matter how awful I am, they just keep on loving me and doing nice things for me.  I don’t know what is wrong with them- to tell you the truth.  But I need them.  And I am thankful for them.

They are my grace.

PS: blah, blah, blah, God is grace, blah, blah, etc.  You get my drift and I don’t need to bore you.  If you are interested, I think God gives this grace.  And when I say God,  I am referring to the one of Isaac and Jake and Israel.  Yada, yada, yada.  Look it up if you want.  Holla at me in the comments for some verses on grace, if you want.