Friday, March 4, 2016

the gospel of personal responsibility

I was washing the dishes last night when my daughter put on a Cat Stevens record that my friend Jennifer got me for Christmas.  (I love the fact that my kids know how to operate a record player, even if it means all my records are scratched.)  This tune started playing, and I began reflecting on the events of the day.  Dish-washing is some of my favorite mindless, middle-distance-gazing time.

I thought about the "first cut" for me.  My heart was broken for the first time when I was 14, by Neil.  I loved him as much as I've ever loved any other man.  Funny enough, Neil and I chatted just the other day, and he offered me some words of encouragement and advice that can only come from someone that broke your heart 16 years ago but still cares about you.

I thought about how having your heart broken is one of the truly passive acts of vulnerability.  We never say "I allowed someone to break my heart."  We acknowledge, in the the passive grammar of the phrase, that it is something that is done to us.

For a long time, and mostly through my work in Al-Anon (which is a ridiculously amazing way of managing emotional responses and living life and setting boundaries), I have hewed to the idea that we are responsible for our own emotions.  No one can make me feel anything.  And likewise, I cannot make anyone else feel anything.  Our feelings are our own to manage.  But I'm realizing now that I've been wrong about that.

What's so funny to me about all of this is that I have long known, from a political and economic standpoint, that this narrative of personal responsibility and rugged individualism that Americans love so much - it's just a fallacy.  Especially in light of Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God, in which we are truly responsible for one another.  All this world of bootstraps and self-made men and hard work and determination . . . Sure, it can help.  But some people are born so far behind that this narrative just doesn't even apply to them.  And it only heaps moral judgment and misunderstandings of the nature of poverty onto people.

So, from a material perspective, I have embraced the logic of the Kingdom for many years, and have been working in my ministry and my life to create that Kingdom here on earth, through an economy of grace and sharing.

But somehow, the emotional and inter-relational side of that was just like another country to me.  I still thought that everyone needed to be personally responsible for their feelings and their reactions.  We needed to be differentiated enough that we could see that other people cannot force us to feel anything.

Having your heart broken changes everything.  You see that someone can, indeed, make you feel something without your permission.  And that in the Kingdom, we are truly responsible for the totality of one another - materially and emotionally and every other way.  That is terrifying to me.  And it's messy.  And it's complicated.

Yesterday, my mentor and beloved teacher Doug Meeks said this sentence, and it has been echoing in my mind ever since:  "The gospel of the world is self-sufficiency."  Emotional self-sufficiency has been my gospel, and it's time for me to exchange that for the gospel of Christ, which is inter-relatedness.

No comments: