Skip to main content

Personal Responsibility is Non-Transferable, Part 2 of 5

"I know you cannot read my mind, but I hope you feel my vibe; I think it's time I let you know that, I see the God in you."

If we recommit to an ethic of personal responsibility, grounded in love, how do we interact with those around us?

When William Ellery Channing preached the sermon where he named, claimed, and defined Unitarianism, he took as his text a line from the Christian scriptures that should still speak to us: 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Test everything, hold fast to what is good.

But the line that prefaces that verse is this: Do not treat prophecies with contempt.

Or as James Luther Adams put it, one of the core values of our faith is that we don't know everything. We need to be open to considering each other's thoughts.

Religious liberalism depends first on the principle that "revelation is continuous." Meaning has not been finally captured. Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism. Liberalism itself, as an actuality, is patient of this limitation. At best, our symbols of communication are only referents and do not capsule reality.

So I would say ... we begin in love, looking at others with openness and love. Which includes an openness to hear their ideas, critiques, concerns, prophecies.

A concern has been expressed that some of the things I write may be weaponized. That people may think they are being given permission to be nasty and then shrug and say, "Hey, your feelings are your responsibility." Or, "Hey, I can say whatever I want and you need to just heal from your wounds."

One reality is that everything can be weaponized. Scriptures about love, covenants, rules about right relations, democracy, clips from movies that become something misogynists rally around, all of it. I had a pacifist friend who was committed to "no toy weapons" when she had sons. And her toddler took his slice of American cheese and bit it into the shape of a gun.


The other reality ... well, it's the same. Everything can be weaponized. I don't believe it's possible to write in such a way that everything will be explained and made safe -- see quote above about symbols of communication only being referents.

But I want to begin with love. And hold on to love. And that means listening with love, and then measuring the opinions of others against the yardstick of my own guiding principles. I do have a guiding principle about seeking to be clear, authentic, and passionate in what I communicate. So, for the sake of clarity's sake, paraphrasing another source of revelation, Wil Wheaton:

Don't use what I write as an excuse to be a jerk. 

Unitarian Universalism -- in both sides of our historic faith -- has held an ethic of personal responsibility. It was the right and responsibility of each individual to make the ultimate determination of their beliefs, and each individual had the responsibility of honing their own moral agency, rather than responding from a fear of eternal damnation.

It is time to recommit to this ethic. Which begins with the recommitment itself. Your ethic of personal responsibility applies to you. Moreover:

Personal responsibility is non-transferable, non-assignable.

To tell someone else that they must be at a certain level of healing or transformation means that you are stepping into their dance space. You are crossing boundaries.

Your healing, feelings, transformation, wounds ... those are all in your dance space. And theirs' are in theirs.

You are responsible for what you can control. 

Your words. Your actions.

Having an ethic of personal responsibility means diligent and deliberate work to live according to your core values, your guiding principles, rather than reacting out of your anxiety. Rather than acting out of a desire to smooth the waters, or to run away from being in relationship. Rather than responding to your amygdala jangling by going on the attack.

You determine your guiding principles and commit to living out of them.

And friends, that's going to take all your time. All your life. If you ever reach the point where you are perfectly living out of your guiding principles, then maybe you can look over at others and tell them how to do their healing, and in what time.*

*If you think you're perfectly living out of your guiding principles, perhaps you need some new guiding principles. Try one on self-differentiation and honoring the journeys of others.

And seriously ... don't be a jerk. Not even a well-meaning jerk. Stay in your dance space.

Tomorrow: That Whole Guiding Principles Thing. Part 3 of 5

My Love Song to Unitarian Universalism ... and Unitarian Universalists. Part 1 of 5


Popular posts from this blog

Don't Trust Your Instincts, or, "Well-Meaning People Can Exacerbate Big Problems"

My evangelical friends talk about being "convicted." That moment when you hear or read a message and like an arrow, it dives into your heart, and you know that you have been guilty, and you have some growing to do. At the very beginning of my learning about Bowen systems theory, the professor was laying out the basic idea: that we all feel anxiety, and when we do, we act (often in unhealthy ways) in order to lessen our anxiety. And in an unhealthy system with emotionally immature people -- a family, a business, a church -- one person's anxiety can trigger the anxiety of others. Here's a great primer on that. Really great. Like, watch it 20 times in a row. Or every morning as you drink your coffee. (I'm not kidding. I think your life would be better. Consider it a spiritual practice.) So back to my conviction moment. The professor went on to talk about how when we see someone who is "vibrating" with anxiety, our instinct is often to rush over,

The Most Controversial Thing I'll Write All Year

Back when you were a kid, you learned a lesson. It was wrong. And it's time for you to unlearn it. You learned that you were responsible for other people's feelings. Not that you should care about other people's feelings. (You should.) Not just that you should be sensitive to other people's feelings. (You should.) But you were taught that you were actually responsible for other people's feelings. It happens in almost all homes, even the loving ones. In abusive homes, it's more blatant. If Dad is unhappy, you get hit. So you learn that it is actually your responsibility to keep him happy, or there would be consequences. But even in non-abusive homes, it happened. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  You are not responsible for other people's feelings. That's their job. And in fact, you are crossing their boundary if you try to control their feelings. They get to decide how they feel about something, not you. They may decide that you

Me and My Collar

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it's time I let you know what you might see. When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one "collar week," to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes. After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, "How do you manage the power?" In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient's room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff. With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying. I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, to