The Death of Personal Responsibility

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I thought it was just Twitter, but apparently there is nothing you can post on Facebook that isn’t subject to provoking someone’s existential angst. People will make it all about themselves, use it as an opportunity to “educate” you about some non-issue, invite you to check your privilege, suggest you’re not being nice, police your tone, or flat-out tell you you’re wrong. Trolls and gatekeepers don’t care about starting productive dialogues, they just want to be right, even at the expense of making things worse instead of better. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but words have consequences and we need to be aware of just what it is we’re saying, and what kind of messages we are sending to society at large.

I just don’t understand people’s need to shame some of their peers, and choose to die on some random, unimportant hill for others. I’m referring to a rash—no, an epidemic—of people sticking up for virtual strangers no matter what they’ve done. Today, I saw two different posts in local Facebook groups that I follow. In the first, a woman posted a photo of a motor vehicle (no license plate) with the information that the driver had raced right past a school bus that was stopped, with its lights flashing and stop sign fully extended, loading children. She suggested that if anyone knew the driver, they might remind her that her behavior was reckless, dangerous, and selfish. Many people reacted to the post with the angry or sad emojis, but there was more than one person who immediately leaped to the driver’s defense. It’s always the same: you don’t know what that person is going through.

Really? That is a valid and legitimate excuse?

Of course people have issues. People have problems. People have cares and worries and fears, often beyond anything we can imagine. So we try to be understanding. We try to be kind and tolerant. We try to be patient. To have empathy.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for putting the lives of children at risk. You are running late? Leave earlier, or just be late. You’re distracted? Don’t drive. Personal issues don’t trump the law and every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has an obligation and a responsibility to operate it safely.

It’s kind to suggest we should offer grace. It’s wise to suggest we should consider what someone else’s life might be like on any given day. When someone deliberately bumps my cart in the grocery store, or yells at a service provider, or cuts in line, it’s okay to let it go. It’s wonderful to practice grace and assume the best. But when it comes to automobile versus human, there are no do-overs. It’s not okay to say, “whoops,” and move on. The possible outcomes are too severe, and they are permanent.

In the second post, someone related that they had narrowly missed hitting a dog that darted into traffic. Several steps behind the dog, was an owner, leash in hand. The law in our community is that dogs must be leashed. This is for their safety as well as the safety of others. Immediately, other people began to clamor that the original poster did not know the whole story. Maybe the dog slipped out of the house, or jumped a fence, or any number of other, more innocent possibilities. These could all be true. But why the dog was off leash would not change the outcome if the driver had hit the dog. Calling attention to these issues is not necessarily “judgy,” as someone rather judgily suggested. If we are going to continue to push the you don’t know what other people are going through scenario, then we shouldn’t assume we know why a person makes a particular post. ‘The dog was off the leash accidentally’ is believable and true, but the original poster just wanting to call attention to a safety issue is not believable or true? Her only motivation was to shame and judge? Nope. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to insist on extending grace to one person, then you must extend it to all people.

A few months ago, I posted an anecdote where a woman literally shoved past my child on the way to the (one-person, and only) restroom in a store, slamming the door in my child’s face. My only reason for posting the story was that it was so incredible and I thought I might see some solidarity from others who might empathize and believe that it is bad behavior to take advantage of a child that way. Most people agreed that the woman’s actions were in poor taste. But I got plenty of the you don’t know what she’s going through variety of responses. Maybe she had a medical condition. Maybe she really, really had to go. No one considered that my child might have a medical condition (she doesn’t). No one considered that my child really, really had to go. (She did). And she got there first.

All these knee-jerk reactions online are essentially people blaming the victim. We are seeing the death of personal responsibility, not just by the perpetrators who think their time and their feelings and their physical needs are more important than those of others, but a whole group of other people out there who agree with them and their behavior. That is what is most disturbing to me. The person who takes a handicap parking spot may have forgotten to display their permit. The man who parks in the fire lane to drop off library books or dry cleaning might have mobility issues. The woman who darts around a school bus might be running late. The person who takes up two parking spaces at the grocery store might be a teenager learning to drive. I can have empathy for others without being stupid, because none of these things matter. We have rules and laws and yellow lines painted on pavements for a reason.

This problem is even more insidious when it comes to victims of crime. How dare a man operate a motor vehicle while being black? What did that woman do to make her husband hit her? Why didn’t the young man in his own apartment not respond to verbal commands by a police officer? What was that rape victim wearing or drinking? Why was that young woman jogging by herself?

We are asking the wrong questions, and creating sympathy for the wrong parties. We are normalizing bad behavior and blaming victims for things that are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

When everyone blames the victim, and everyone comes up with excuses for the guilty, we have an awful lot of people who begin to believe that any excuse for wrongdoing is a good one, and that no one will be held accountable. Even our president is not being held to any standards of decency or personal responsibility. If he can’t or won’t govern his own words and actions, why would anyone else feel the need to behave appropriately?

God forgives us and calls on us to forgive others. But he has given us commandments to follow, too. No commandment that begins with Thou shalt not continues with the word unless. No caveats, no excuses, no wiggle room.

Empathy is great. Kindness is so important. Trying to understand the struggles of others is a wonderful exercise. But we can do all these things without excusing bad behavior. We live in a civilized society. It is still up to us to say: No. This is wrong. This will not happen here. It’s okay to be annoyed. It’s okay to be angry. And it is vital to speak up. Our safety, security, and well-being depend on it

Job’s Daughters and the Futility of Fear

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Job’s Daughters International is an organization for young women who are related to, or sponsored for membership by, a Master Mason. It offers a fantastic opportunity for girls to learn leadership skills and life lessons that will bolster their confidence and success for the rest of their lives. I was lucky enough to be a member of Job’s Daughters when I was a girl and I am so grateful for the experience. I have been wanting to write something about the organization for a very long time but I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. Finally, I just decided to start writing. I hope there are lessons here for former, current and future members, as well as for those who have never heard of Job’s Daughters. Thank you for reading!

“On the edge of an Arabian desert . . .” So begins the story of Job, as told by the members of Job’s Daughters International. When I hear these words I never fail to imagine some desolate and windswept place; the edge of the desert might as well be the edge of the world. And at the edge of this desert, just on the other side, is a place capable of sustaining life: a man, his wife, their seven sons and three daughters, their servants, their flocks of sheep and beasts of burden, fields and gardens, orchards, perhaps even vineyards. The place at the edge of the desert is hospitable, even beautiful. But the fact that it is on the edge of a desert, a place incapable of sustaining all but the most specialized life forms, gives it a precarious and tenuous feel. It hints at the trials and tribulations to come.

Though we wait upon God’s mercies, though we rely on his protection and redeeming love, we live in an imperfect world where fortunes can change in an instant, where all that we have, all that we have worked for and worried over, can disappear. Life on the edge of a desert, or life on the edge, they are really the same thing. God never promised that life would be easy. He never asserted that pain and suffering would not be part of our earthly journey. Deep unhappiness, disappointment, accidents, injuries, poverty, strife, loss, death, are all inextricable and even necessary parts of the human experience. Learning and accepting these hard truths is, in my opinion, the greatest lesson the Book of Job teaches us. God watches over us and is with us through every trial. He feels our pain and counts every tear. He loves us unconditionally and sends comfort and hope to us in a thousand different ways, both seen and unseen.

That doesn’t make these experiences less painful, it simply gives them meaning.

I am so blessed to have been a member of the wonderful organization that is Job’s Daughters, as my mother was before me, as my sister was alongside me, as I hope my own daughters will be someday. It makes me sad when I hear other women say they will not encourage their daughters to engage in any particular activity, whether it is Job’s Daughters, sports, cheerleading, a spelling bee or math competition, chorus tryouts, band, even summer camp or babysitting, because of bad experiences they had when they were girls. I don’t believe everything is ever all bad, or all good, either. Life isn’t like that. Even moments of deepest happiness can be overshadowed by memories of grief or loss or pain. Even in our darkest hours we can find instances of hope and light. I would never judge another person’s decision or try to quantify the weight or measure of the pain they have felt. But I do know that bad experiences can happen anywhere. At school. On the job. Within one’s own family. At the grocery store. Trying to hide from what we fear might happen, trying to protect ourselves and others from what we worry could happen diminish our lives and our purpose.

I like to think that Job’s Daughters is where we can learn the truest lessons of life: that people can be mean, that not everyone will like you, that some decisions are impossible to make, that sometimes, nothing you can do is right, that this journey is fraught with difficulty. Many, many people learn these lessons in a very hard school and it makes them bitter, cynical, and afraid to reach out to people and for experiences that can ultimately heal and enrich them. It is better, I believe, to learn these lessons sooner rather than later, and to do so surrounded by a network of sisters, adults, and most of all, parents—family, who can guide and advise. To navigate pain and heartache and disappointment with a safety net, as it were.

Job’s Daughters is a wonderful organization. It is not perfect. A Daughter gets out of it what she puts in. Often she gets more than she expects, in ways both good and bad. When something is imperfect, it can feel like the only choice is to walk away. But the best choice is to walk on—to let your way out be your way through. To hold your head high, struggle through the desolate places, and come out on the other side of that desert, into the beautiful garden of God’s perfect love. Just as Job was led to a life “rich in blessings” after his trials and through his unwavering faith in God, so, too, will we be enriched and strengthened, both by what new and joyous experiences we welcome, and by the trials and tribulations we survive, with hope and with His grace.

Husking Corn

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When I was a little girl my family spent every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. By the time I came along my grandfather was retired and had sold his farm, but he still had apple, peach, pear and plum trees, grape arbors, a strawberry patch, and a huge garden. In the summer he would bring in armloads of paper grocery bags bursting with fresh Silver Queen corn, still warm from his field. My brother, sister and I would stand around a big, old-fashioned metal trash can on the back porch under the shelter of the tin roof of the carport and shuck the corn for dinner. There were seven of us back then and we could eat a lot of corn, so this was a major undertaking. The window air conditioning unit blasted its hot air into the sultry summer day, combining with the warmth of the day to create a heat so strong we could even smell the unmistakable scent of the paper bags rising around us. We would talk and shuck and laugh and see who could grab a husk near the top and, with just one tug, reveal the corn underneath. We’d pull silk until our fingers ached. Our forearms would get itchy, our palms sticky and our foreheads and napes of necks would run with sweat. When we were finally done with our task the reward was to go back inside, where my Nana, who was always too warm, kept the temperature icy. The difference between the air conditioned house and the sweltering porch was jarring in the most blessedly beautiful way. I still love fresh corn on the cob and I still enjoy husking it, as the process always takes me back to my grandparents’ porch. But I have never tasted any corn as good as that corn was. No lesson here, just a beautiful memory.

Henry and the Monstrous Din – A Cautionary Tale?

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I am not a political person and I try to avoid controversy. But the state of our great nation and the direction we seem to be heading scare me. To say nothing at all is just as bad as spewing hatred. I don’t hate anyone, but I do question the choices and doctrines of those who may soon be leading us. So, when the dissonant noise of the political campaign trail, the biased reporting of the media, and the hurtful agendas of bigoted and narrow-minded people are applauded and championed, we must stop the noise, and use our own minds and hearts to decide what is right. And so I present, “Henry and the Monstrous Din,” an innocent children’s story written in 1966 with a great deal to say to us in 2016.

Henry and the Monstrous Din is Russell Hoban’s story of an imaginative little boy who, early one morning, begins to make a little noise. Before he knows it, the noise has grown and grown until it takes the form of a monstrous din, a living creature with a bass drum for a body, the twin bells of a traditional alarm clock for eyes, a steam whistle on the top of its head, and many other parts designed for raucous and ultimate noise-making. This monstrous din precedes to take his creator, Henry, for a long ride past his school, much to the principal’s dismay, and off into the countryside for an all-night adventure that includes a double-feature at the drive-in with plenty of popcorn and ice cream. As the monstrous din begins to get tired Henry is eventually able to convince it to take him home, and he subdues it once and for all by repeating the noises that first created it, in reverse, and more and more softly, until the din is gone.

I loved this story so much when I was a child. The idea that I might have the ability within me to create something so powerful, even if it was something I couldn’t at first control, was irresistible. Lillian Hoban’s pictures are so imaginative and fun to look at and her conceptualization of the din’s physical appearance is delightful to see. The language is incredibly detailed and evocative. The descriptions of the din’s noises are wonderfully descriptive, including my favorite: “like fire engines and bulldozers crashing into a piano warehouse.” The most beautiful language of all, though, comes when Henry and the din’s journey is described. “They galloped past fields and farms on faraway roads.” I love this! I was always drawn to assonance in books when I was a child, and this sentence fed that love, while also filling me with a sense of adventure and a longing to see those fields, those farms, to travel those roads.

The reader is never entirely certain whether this event takes place in Henry’s head, or if it is real. By the time he and the din return, it is still the same morning of the same day they left. The hole the din made in the side of the house closes magically and Henry’s parents are completely unaware that anything unusual—aside from a bit of noise—has happened. I like to imagine that Henry and his new friend did indeed go off on a wonderful adventure, and to think that Henry can bring his din back to keep him company whenever he likes.

This book shows us what we already know—that we can create things.

Our words and actions—our noises and even our silences, can have a tremendous impact on the people around us, and on events and the bigger world.

Henry cannot at first control what he has created and although it is just noise, there is the potential for harm. Every time Henry’s din encounters opposition, it drowns out those who would stop it with deafening and appalling noise. Noise can confuse us. It can bewitch us or frighten us. It can drown out our own inner dialogue, and muddle our perceptions of right and wrong. Noise can be distracting. It can be hurtful. And it can sweep us along with a strength that cannot be resisted. Whatever we create, whatever words or actions or noise we put into the world, we should be asking ourselves if we are right, if our creations are worthy, if we are kind, and whether we mean them for good, or for harm. We must always question our purpose and measure the effect we have on others and on the world. Otherwise the noise, the clamor of hatred and intolerance, hurts not only our ears, but our sensibilities and eventually, our very humanity.

Mothers and Daughters

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This week I am visiting my mother. My two children are with me, so they are visiting their grandmother. Essentially we are all currently in a house with two mothers, and two sets of daughters. I find navigating within our different roles difficult. I am my mother’s daughter, but I am also my daughters’ mother. Who are the adults and who are the children? Who makes the rules? Who decides what we will do, and when? Who is in charge and who is not? It’s tricky. I am a guest here, but I am also a grown woman. A grown woman who feels exactly like a child when she is back in her mother’s house. With all of a child’s uncertainty and indecision and fear of doing wrong. But with a grown woman’s responsibility to be a mother to her own children. The uncertainty of how to balance these different roles is paralyzing.

I opened my Bible and found this, in 1 Samuel, 15:17. And Samuel said, Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.

The difficulties of navigating my roles and responsibilities as they relate to the people in this house are still there. They are still real. But my path forward seems more clear now. God has given me my own little tribe to guide, to teach, to raise and to love. And no matter how small my circumstances may make me feel, I have His strength to back me and my kingdom to rule over wisely and well.

 

 

Mending, From Clothes to Hearts

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Here is something that not everyone knows about me. I have a mending basket. Yes, I do, and I use it, too. I also have a sewing box my Nana gave me for Christmas when I was eight years old, full of all sorts of curious notions, needle books that were made before I was born, and spool after wooden spool of thread in every imaginable color. I feel very content, rather feminine and a bit nostalgically, romantically old-fashioned with a mending basket by my side, a holey sock or torn pillowcase or shirt with a missing button in my hands. It feels good when I can fix something. Sewing is a skill and a handy one to have. It makes me feel capable and clever. It is wonderful to patch something up so it can continue to be of use instead of the all too easy alternative of simply throwing it away. I love being able to make my kids’ favorite clothes wearable again. I love to repair a stuffed animal that has been loved a little too hard. And I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

I can’t fix everything. I can refill our car radiator but I can’t change a spark plug. I can replace a light bulb but not a fuse. I can use a screw driver to open the battery compartment of a toy and install those new batteries. I can hang a picture, change a tire, replace the presser foot on my sewing machine and glue broken figurines back together so you can’t tell they were broken in the first place. But I can’t fix everything. I can’t even fix every bit of damage that requires a needle and thread. When my husband’s favorite shirt has gotten so old the fabric is practically disintegrating or my daughter has taken out the knee of her most comfortable pants in a way that just can’t be remedied I often feel sad. Those failures are hard, especially when someone is counting on me. But in the vast scheme of things, these are small matters.

There will be other things I can’t repair. A broken heart, a bruised ego, a dispirited soul. I may be able to offer comfort, wisdom, hope, but a full-on repair—not so much. What a comfort to know that I alone am not responsible for fixing things. I possess a fierce and steadfast belief in God’s goodness. I rely on His mercy and strength to carry me when I can no longer carry myself. And I know that my heavenly Father will be there to help me when I can’t help my family. The rend in the soul, the hole in the heart, the hard-learned lessons—life’s bumps and bruises, are all things I don’t have to address on my own. My mending basket holds many little projects to be tackled. My sewing basket holds the tools. Living in today’s world will cause damage that needs to be repaired. And because I have invited him in, God will give me the tools I need. He will direct my actions and my words. He will guide my heart and my hands. Praise God!