Responsible TO or Responsible FOR?

I used to nearly puke when I was grading papers.  In every class, there are always a few students who just don’t follow directions, and thus end up destroying their grade.

I am a firm teacher.  I write down requirements in the syllabus and expect students to do exactly what I have asked them to do.  But I am also clear.  I go over instructions again and again and again, which of course never stops one or two students in every one of my classes from completely disregarding them.  Students who do this simply cannot get a good grade in my classes.

A while ago I worked through a stack of final papers, and came to “one of those.”  I could tell right away my syllabus had been at the bottom of this student’s reading list.  I could also tell I was probably going to spend longer grading this mess than the student may have spent writing it.  I dutifully graded the paper, slapping a D on it.  But I did not do it happily. In fact, I did it with a sick feeling in my stomach.  I realized this grade would probably cause this student to fail my class, which meant it would have to be repeated, which would mean a few thousand dollars on top of an already expensive education bill.  I worried.  I fretted.  I played it over and over again in my mind.  I looked for ways to grant a few more points without violating my conscience and being unfair to the students who had actually attempted to meet requirements.  I lived under a dark cloud for several weeks, feeling upset and frustrated at this student for putting me in such a terrible position.  Next time I saw this student I struggled to make eye contact, even though I had done nothing wrong.  In the middle of this, I talked to a friend about how sick I was feeling about the whole situation.

“That’s because you are taking responsibility FOR these students, rather than simply being responsible TO them,” she said.

I dismissed her.  “I’m a counselor.  I know the difference.  I’m not bearing this student’s burden, I’m just fretting over whether or not I did right by him.”  A few hours later she shot me an email.

When I FEEL responsible FOR others:

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On the turning…

I will never cease to be a Free Methodist.  I am proud of our background and what our church has always stood for.  But I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit misled by the evangelical tradition in general lately.

The view of Christ, of God, etc., that I was taught is only about 100 years old, and it is taught as if it is the only way a person could ever think of God and be Christian.  It is soaked in American individualism, which is actually in opposition to the gospel, which is rooted in community.  It is formed primarily by enlightenment-era thinking, by modernism and rationalism (which strangely has led to incredibly irrational positions on a lot of things).  It is extremely narrow in the way it is typically taught and practiced in the West.  It tends to see the Devil as being external to ourselves, and sees him/it around most every corner.  It tends to be extremely threatened by people with other points of view, religious or otherwise.  It seeks to control and correct, rather than to care and connect.  It sees not only the devil but even God as outside of us — as remote, as far from us, as “up there,” or “out there.”  In so doing, it encourages the view that I must “find” God somewhere, when Jesus clearly said God is already here, and that God is “within you.”  The use of that phrase reminds me of how quick many evangelicals are to call someone else’s beliefs “New Age,” or otherwise label them as heretics of some kind, as if God cannot be trusted to reveal himself to those who seek him.  Since so many evangelicals are Republicans, this tendency to oppose and label often shows up politically in a knee-jerk readiness to conclude that people are “socialists,” or “communists,” or “anti-capitalists,” or some other label that assumes that someone who disagrees with them must be generally up to something vicious, devious, unAmerican, or sacrilegious.

Evangelicals have been involved for generations in the enterprise of proving this or that from “the Word,” or backing things up scripturally.”  Generally this is a huge waste of time and accomplishes little, except to reinforce the egos of the arguers — to produce a victor and a vanquished.  This need to beat others down theologically, to “win” religious debates with others, does not actually solve any problems.  It is, rather, the root of a much deeper problem, which is the problem of dualistic thinking — having to see everything in terms of winners and losers, victors and vanquished, right and wrong, sacred and secular, and — by extension — loved by God and not loved by God.

I have been fascinated, confused, and shocked by how often I will see professing Christians post paranoid, apocalyptic, doom and gloom pieces of hysterical drivel on Facebook, and then turn around and say that in spite of this their “hope is in Christ.”  Maybe that which we hope in cannot always be seen, but hope itself is easily apparent.  So is its lack.  The whole world view is barely held together by a thread of hope, or logic, or anything else.  It lacks a sense not only of hope, but of history.  It is both shallow and narrow (“shallow, and narrow, there’s a fountain flowing shallow and narrow”).

I think this view loves its apocalyptic visions perhaps even more than it loves God.  People with this view of the world wouldn’t know what to do if the world were to suddenly become a happier place — they would have to look harder for the antichrist.  The world just isn’t an interesting place to be unless it’s two seconds from destruction.  And absolutely everything is a sign of that impending destruction.  People are not simply wrong, they are malevolent.  Situations are not merely problems to be solved, they are signs of the end.

Of course not every evangelical holds these views.  I, after all, am an evangelical and I don’t hold any of the above views and I know that many don’t.  But those who speak the loudest, who attract the most attention and form the popular opinion that many people hold — many of them do hold these views.  And even among those who would read this and say they don’t hold these views, many people still reveal these attitudes in their everyday conversations and take on things.

But God is great, and God is good.  Let us thank him.  Let us turn from paranoia, anger, fear, argument, and triumphalism.  Let us stop using God to avoid God, for He is here now.