One of the greatest gifts we can give to the next generation is the art of being responsible citizens. Okay…easy enough to say, but in actuality, what does it mean? I guess we could talk about financial independence, but we all know there are times when life happens in spite of our best efforts to plan ahead. We might think the conversation should be about relationships and how to make them work. Unfortunately, it takes more than one person’s behavior for relational success. If we teach our children to get along no matter what, we are setting them up to be doormats. Conversely, if we teach them to always stand up for themselves, we are guiding them into a life filled with frustration or one spent alone simply because they lack the capacity to listen to a perspective foreign to their own.  Maybe a responsible citizen has an amazing job that fulfills their passion in life…until the corporation makes necessary cuts and the job no longer exists. What if we encourage a college degree – or several – and employment for professionals in their field declines faster than the need for slide rules, pocket protectors and 8 track tapes? 

Life doesn’t always happen the way we expect or want it to. That can be a good thing! Surprising events, twists and turns can lead to fabulous adventures we couldn’t begin to imagine. They can also freeze us in a place we never expected to be in and don’t know how to navigate. Yet, as rhythmically as day follows night, we find we must move through the interesting and/or lousy times…with responsibility.

The English language is a crazy thing. Like, who decides when to use an “i” rather than an ‘a’? You know, if the “bile” in responsible just had an “a” instead of the “i” it might be easier to understand. We can wrap our brains around someone being response-able much easier than define what responsible means in general terms. It’s much the same with responsibility and response-ability. The hyphenated words that use the letter “a” call us to recognize when a situation needs our active response. It becomes a statement of “I recognize something needs to be done about a situation”; followed by “What can I to do?” It propels the “response” words into a place where importance is placed on seeing a need and taking action to affect whatever it is that seems to stand in the way of improving said issue.

In all reality, it’s about recognizing when a response is needed and how we decide what that response might look like. This is where a thorough understanding of Christ’s message to us in the Gospels is important. You see, our purely human response to life’s issues can come from a place of frustration, pain, envy, craving for abundance, anger, laziness, and a litany of other less than optimal emotions. Jesus’ days were spent embodying and modeling a response pattern that covered all situations. Everything he did was done out of love, compassion, justice and mercy. 

Let me digress for a moment here. The unfortunate consequence of Bible study and Bible knowledge is that we think there are rules for how to respond, counsel, interact and even party. Some might refer to them as legalisms as defined by the church. But, isn’t it odd that all Christian churches use the same Gospel messages yet they have different rules for living? I mean, some churches ordain women and some won’t even let them pass a plate for the offering; some churches believe the way to control the masses is to excommunicate those who have blatantly ‘sinned’ while others embrace the person as they navigate a difficult time; some have rules about clothing, facial hair, jewelry and entertainment like dancing, movies and gambling while others find these to be unimportant sidebars on the faith walk; and some insist the Eucharist must include a good red wine while others mandate the use of grape juice. There are so many “rules” derived from the same ancient text that it makes scripture messy and difficult to understand. Maybe we are focused on the wrong things.

I attended a conservative seminary. Of course smoking was on the list of “sinful” behaviors. Being an older, somewhat seasoned and irreverent student, I asked one of the young-pups about the smoking rule. No, I don’t smoke, but I was curious why this particular activity was considered sinful. Sin is a pretty big deal in all world religions and we must be careful how we throw the word and concept around.  He carefully explained to me that smoking is bad for your body and, after all, your body is the Lord’s temple. I asked him when he last consumed fast food or denied himself a full night’s sleep. As he walked away with a perplexed expression, I wondered if it was because of my apparent thick headedness or because he suddenly realized sin, like life, doesn’t come in shades of black and white. Legalisms can be followed to the letter and still be the absolute wrong thing to do. We have to think in terms of why we do what we do. What is our intent…or, to use some theological jargon, what is the intention of the heart? Like Jesus, our actions must be framed in love, compassion, justice and mercy. The right-looking thing done for the wrong heartfelt intentions has nothing to do with Christ’s Gospel message just as defiance against church rules is a Christian response when those rules preempt the ability to act out of love, compassion, justice and mercy. 

This brings us back to responsible and responsibility. How we respond will depend on the situation in question. Then, we must determine if we are able to response and what response is right. 

Personally, I would do well with God sending me a text message, a quick email or even a loud directive through a bullhorn when I am compelled to respond to something. Instead, God has given us scripture and the loving and living example of Christ’s walk among us. God’s call to me is to pause, remember who I am and Whose I am as well as remember God created all things and all people – even the ones I erroneously think might have been a big mistake with a capitol “B” – and because God is the creator of all, I am to treat all with love, compassion, justice and mercy. Period. One piece without the other three doesn’t work. They must be in balance. With love, compassion, justice and mercy as our lens we will see that which requires our response, we will determine whether or not we are able to respond and we will respond within our own unique talents and ability.  

In Isaiah 6:8 God asks the question, “Who shall I send. Isaiah’s response was “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” 

I love his response! It’s plain, simple, to the point. What if we were all so willing to respond? Further, imagine what this crazy planet would look like if we used Christ’s model of love, compassion, justice and mercy as our guide while navigating life in God’s world, keeping it at our core as we determine our personal response-ability as a response-able person?