Tag Archives: Blame

Maturity and Personal Responsibility

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds ….”
Ezra 9:13a (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from childhood. I was around ten or eleven years old and was embroiled in a competitive neighborhood game of “kick the can.” I don’t know if it’s even played by kids anymore. An empty coffee can was set up in our backyard. One of the neighbor kids was “It” and tasked with protecting the can and tagging anyone “out” who attempted to successfully kick the can before getting tagged. If anyone actually accomplished kicking the can, then all those who had previously been tagged “out” would be free and the game would continue.

I was one of the last chances for all those who had been tagged. I made my approach around the back of the garage and waited for “It” to turn his back. I made my run for the can. I lunged in desperation, executing a feet-first baseball slide to try and avoid the tag. I fell short and was tagged out by my gloating neighbor.

“GOSH DARN IT!” I exclaimed at the top of my lungs.

Only I didn’t say, “Gosh darn it.” I screamed the actual bad phrase, cussing like a sailor in my anger and frustration. Looking up, I saw my father standing on the patio a few feet away coiling the garden hose.

Busted right in front of the judge, jury, and executioner. I was condemned to spend the rest of that glorious summer evening in my room listening to the rest of the neighborhood kids playing outside my window. Desperate, I pleaded the youngest child’s defense.

“But Dad, I’m only repeating what I heard Tim and Terry say! They say it all the time!”

My appeal was summarily denied. There was no mercy for the innocent waif who had been deceived by his elder siblings and led, unknowingly, down the path of sinful exclamations. I trudged up the stairs to my prison cell and an early bedtime like a dead man walking, sure that I had been wronged.

Wendy and I often find ourselves in the fascinating social position of being in a life stage just ahead of many of our friends. As such, we observe our friends parenting children in various stages of personal development from childhood to young adults; stages we’ve already traversed with our girls. I am constantly amazed to watch children develop and go through various stages of maturity.

One of the most critical lessons in personal development is that of taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s amazing to watch kids in the defensive machinations like my own elder sibling defense (it never works). I have witnessed kids expertly play the excuse, denial, blame, and wrongfully accused strategies with their parents like Grand Master chess players attempting to beat Watson. What’s really interesting to watch is when they finally have to own up to responsibility for their own foolishness, and how they handle it.

In today’s chapter, Ezra and the returning exiles are faced with a social and religious problem. The Hebrews’ faith is unlike any of the local religions practiced by other tribes inhabiting the land. Theirs is a holy, imageless, all-powerful God who seeks obedience, personal responsibility, and moral uprightness. Around them is a plethora of local pagan cults whose worship includes drunkenness, ritual sex and prostitution, child sacrifice, and all sorts of licentious practices. Throughout their history, Hebrew men have intermarried with local women. They soon found themselves participating in the local cults their wives belonged to along with religiously attending to the rituals of their own faith. Eventually, many simply walked away from the faith of their ancestors and assimilated into the local culture

I found Ezra’s prayer of confession and petition is a great example of responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t point blame. He doesn’t try to minimize. He confesses honestly, takes full responsibility, and places himself at the mercy of the Almighty.

In the quiet this morning I find myself doing a little soul searching. Where in my life am I still playing an adult version of the child-like chess match of excuses, blame, obfuscation, and justification? Where do I need to step up, like Ezra, and confess honestly and forthrightly? What are the areas of life that I need to make a change?

The Scapegoat

 Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.
Leviticus 16:21-22

It was a gorgeous summer evening last night. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines as the guest of some fellow Cubs fans for a game between the Iowa Cubs and the Oklahoma City Dodgers. It was one of those nights for our boys of summer. They gave up five runs in the first and then couldn’t manage to get more than a couple of hits the rest of the evening.

As the evening wore on and our defeat became more certain, our section began to find raucous reasons to celebrate little victories. Our friends and ball park neighbors began swapping Cub stories. At some point the conversation turned to the tragic event for all Cubs fans in this generation: the Bartman ball. It was the National League Championship Series and our Cubs were just a few innings away from their first World Series since 1945. A fly ball to left might have been caught by the left fielder but a Cubs fan reached out to catch the ball and the fielder’s attempt at the put out was thwarted. The left fielder went ballistic and cussed out the fan. The crowd turned on the fan as the Florida Marlins scored several runs which turned into a run of victories and the Cubs hopes for a World Series were, once again, tragically thwarted.

The fan in question became the center of ridicule for a nation of Cubs fans. A life-long Cubs fan himself, he was blamed for the team’s tragic end. He had to be escorted from the game and eventually moved away from the region.

In 2011, an ESPN documentary entitle Catching Hell took a long hard look at the incident as a classic example of “scapegoating” in the world of sports. The word “scapegoating” and its legacy come from today’s chapter in Leviticus 16. In the ancient Hebrew sacrificial system, once a year the High Priest would metaphorically place all of the sins of the nation on one goat. That goat was then taken to a barren place in the wilderness and released. The word picture was that the sins, guilt and blame of many was placed on one to be carried away in banishment.

Scapegoating happens in every level of societal systems. There are plenty of examples in the world of sports, and it isn’t just about sports. Children become the scapegoats in families, ceaselessly blamed for everything bad that happens within the system A spouse can be scapegoated within marriage. An employer or employee can become a scapegoat for business woes. A political figure can be scapegoated for the woes of a city, a state, or the nation. It is at the core of fallen humanity. We seek to blame someone else for the ills we experience.

Over a decade later, our discussion of the Bartman ball took on a more civilized and objective tone last night. It wasn’t right. If the left fielder had been strong enough to shrug off the interference and casually return to his position, the game and the season may have ended differently. The discussion turned inward. One of our party admitted that, had they been present, they would very likely have been swept into the sentiment of the crowd. Truth is, we all would.

This morning I’m thinking about my own penchant for scapegoating. I’m pondering ways in which I focus blame on others for painful circumstances in my own life. It’s not fun to admit, but it is, universally, a very human thing to do. Perhaps that’s why God sought to make it part of the Hebrew sacrificial system. We need to be reminded regularly. We need more than a scapegoat. We need a savior. God would address that too…

The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

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featured image from Hartwig HKD via Flickr

 

 

Taking the Blinders Off

If any of you sin without knowing it, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, you have incurred guilt, and are subject to punishment.
Leviticus 5:17 (NRSV)

I received an e-mail from a front-line manager of one of our clients. In a regular report that went to the executive team I had mentioned something that caused an executive Vice-President of the company to question the front-line manager’s handling of one particular circumstance. This caught the manager off guard and caused the manager to feel thrown under the bus. It had never been my intention to do so, and I honestly had not anticipated that my report would create the executive’s concern.

My initial human reaction was defensive. My report was accurate. I said nothing that was untrue. I was only doing my job. I couldn’t have anticipated how the report would be received. Yada, yada, yada…. My excuses did nothing to address the unintended injury. I quickly responded with a sincere apology and I committed to being more aware in the future and to letting the manager know if anything in my future reports might create similar questions.

Along life’s journey, I’ve observed that we often plod along with blinders on, unaware (or unconcerned) how our words and actions may affect others. When confronted, I have noted that our natural human reaction is usually the same as mine in this case: excuse, shift blame, and/or deflect personal responsibility.

Today’s chapter is a list of ways the ancient sacrificial system God established through Moses addressed mistakes we as humans with our blinders on:

  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 2)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 3)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 4)
  • When you realize your guilt… (vs. 5)
  • When any of you commit a trespass and sin unintentionally… (vs. 14)

The message is clear. Just because I am unaware of something I have done does not excuse me from responsibility for my words and actions. Guilt is not excused by ignorance or self-justification.

This morning as I read, I must confess that I found myself mulling over a few things others have recently said and done that pissed me off. Words and actions that created problems for myself and others. I thought of the human blinders we wear and the way these individuals act unaware, excuse their behavior, shift blame, and avoid responsibility. Then, I remembered the e-mail and my initial reaction to it. I have my own blinders. People are people. We are all guilty of unintended injuries, even to those we love most in this world.

Today I’m thinking of ways I can take the blinders off as I journey through the day. I want to be more aware of my words and my actions, and the potential or their unintended effects.

 

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The True Spiritual Test

 

English: Nathan advises King David
English: Nathan advises King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
2 Samuel 12:13a (NIV)

 

When I was five years old, while on a Christmas Eve sleepover at my grandparents’ house,  I stole all of my siblings’ gift envelopes off of the Christmas tree and hid them in my suitcase. I watched in silence on Christmas day as grandma racked her brain to figure out where those envelopes went. Then, I promptly forgot that my mom would be the one unpacking my suitcase when we got home. I was totally busted. My butt cheeks were rosy from the spanking that quickly followed, the cheeks of my face were quickly stained with tears of remorse as I called grandma to confess my heinous crime and to ask her forgiveness.

 

I learned early that your sins find you out. Having said that, let me readily I admit that it didn’t stop me from sinning. I’ve made plenty of tragic choices since then. I make them on a regular basis, in fact. Along the way, however, I’ve come to realize that hiding, concealing, obfuscating, blaming, and excusing my wrongdoing is both delaying the inevitable and stunting my spiritual growth and development. The further I get in the journey the more readily I’ve embraced my fallibility and shortcomings. I might as well cut to the chase, admit I blew it, and allow everyone to move on.

 

In this morning’s chapter, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and his illicit affair with Bathsheba, his conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband, and his attempt to conceal his paternity of Bathsheba’s child is revealed in dramatic fashion. David’s response was to quickly confess his wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. It’s a fascinating contrast to David’s predecessor. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul of his wrongdoing, Saul excused his behavior and refused to repent of his actions.

 

We all make mistakes. We all make selfish choices that hurt others. The true spiritual test is in how we respond to God and others in the ensuing guilty conscience, or when when we are confronted and exposed.

 

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The Collateral Damage of Miscommunication

English: David Attacks the Ammonites (2Sam. 12...
English: David Attacks the Ammonites Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.
2 Samuel 10:1-4 (NIV)

This past week I was witness to an unexpected public confrontation. An intoxicated friend publicly confronted another friend regarding a particular past incident. The former blind-sided and blamed the latter for something after it had been poorly communicated via a third party and created projected misunderstanding of intent and consequence. It was messy and awkward and completely unnecessary.

Almost every conflict I’ve ever encountered can be traced back to miscommunication and/or misunderstanding of intentions. So it was for the Ammonites in today’s chapter. David sent his envoys with the purest of intentions, but his intentions were misunderstood and the resulting escalation and conflict claimed the lives of over 40,000 soldiers.

Today I’m mindful of communication and the importance of both speaking and hearing with clarity and discernment. Miscommunication of both words and intent can carry a high price in collateral damage relationally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically. When it comes to those types of price tags, I prefer to be a cheapskate.

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Trial by Fire

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 2 Timothy 1:15-16 (NIV)

When Paul writes his second letter to his young protege, Timothy, he is in prison for the second time in Rome. The first imprisonment was five years earlier. Paul had used his Roman citizenship to appeal his arrest to Caesar and had been afforded a rather comfortable arrangement in which he was under house arrest in a rented house. He was released in 62 A.D. but was imprisoned again four years later. Now it was a completely different story. The political climate had radically changed.

Two years after Paul’s release from his House Arrest in Rome, the city of Rome was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome. The city burned for days and countless people were dead. Ten of the fourteen Roman districts were destroyed. Many accused Emporer Nero of setting the fire himself in order to clear land for his palatial complex. Rumor spread that Nero himself played his lyre and performed on stage, unconcerned, while the city burned. His approval ratings plummeted, and he did what all politicians do when they don’t want to face up to their own failings: find someone to attack and deflect the blame. In Nero’s case, he blamed Christians. Roman historians say that Nero fed Christians to wild dogs and crucified others. He also had Christian dipped into oil, then burned alive to provide light for his garden at night.

When Paul was imprisoned in Rome once again in 66 A.D., Nero’s persecution of Christians was well underway. The fact that Paul was a Roman citizen no longer provided political protection. Paul was an outspoken follower and proponent of Jesus, and that trumped the clout of citizenship as Rome daily tried to rebuild itself out of the ashes. There would be no comfortable house arrest. This time, Paul was thrown into a deep Roman dungeon to rot and suffer.

Now read the verses above once more. Can you imagine why others were abandoning, Paul? He was a pariah. At best, anyone associated with Paul could likely face being thrown into the dungeon with Paul for being a fellow Christian. At worst, they could be put on the schedule to be a human candle in Nero’s garden. Paul is feeling lonely and abandoned. The only person who appeared willing to associate with Paul was Onesiphorus from Ephesus who sought Paul out in his dungeon on a trip to Rome.

I found it interesting that Paul refers to “shame” multiple times in today’s chapter. He encourages Timothy not to be ashamed of following Jesus. Paul is not ashamed of his chains or suffering for his faith in Jesus, but he obviously feels the shame and abandonment of those he considered friends but abandoned him. He’s thankful that Onesiphorus was not ashamed of associating with him.

Today, I’m thinking about the relative ease with which I can be a follower of Jesus. Yes, there are times of being unfairly labeled, misunderstood, and politically skewered. But seriously, some of that is the direct result of the foolish and misguided words, attitudes and actions of Christians themselves. I can easily forgive that and I’m not really suffering in any tangible way. When your life is on the line, it is a true test of what you really believe. What would I be willing to suffer and die for? Would I have been Hermogenes keeping a comfortable distance, or would I have been Onesiphorus throwing caution to the wind to visit and show a little love to Paul?

I’d like to boast that I would be Onesiphorus, but in my heart I know that I have never been tested like that. My honest answer: I pray I would not be ashamed like Paul and Onesiphorus, but I confess that until my very life is on the line, I’m not sure I can say with certainty. I enter my day grateful to live in peace and freedom with blessing beyond measure.

The Forge of Leadership Mettle

source: flaxton forge
source: flaxton forge

David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God. 1 Samuel 30:6 (NIV)

I just finished directing a community theatre production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Being in charge of a production of any size is a test of a person’s leadership abilities. As a director you have teams of people all working under your leadership in a boilercooker schedule. The results of your  success or failure are up on stage, in front of the public for all to see. I have been involved in many productions over my lifetime and have directed a number of them. I know the feeling of having people so mad they want to stone you. I have also been on the other side of that coin. I have worked with many talented directors, and there have been a few that I have personally wanted to stone.

In today’s chapter we find David continuing in his own boilercooker of leadership development. For years now he has been an outlaw and outcast from his own country, living on the lam with a price on his head. He and his band of 600 fellow outlaws signed up as mercenary free agents with a neighboring country, but they were benched by the king and sent packing from the battle. This was not a small matter. Battle and plunder was how these men made their living and they just got laid off.

David’s approval rating with his men (who were rough individuals living on the fringe to begin with) had taken a serious hit. David’s men were already angry and frustrated with missing out on the battle and plunder of the Philistine battle, but now they return to their base camp to find their own homes burned to the ground. Their posessions had been plundered and their families taken captive. The situation for those six hundred men had gone from bad to worse. First they got laid off from their job and now they find their homes destroyed and everything they own taken from them, including their wives and children. Since the Garden of Eden our human nature responds to crisis by seeking out someone to blame for our troubles. Here are six hundred rough and tumble warriors as angry as stirred up hornets, and there sits David with a huge target on his back.

I believe history has taught us that great leaders are not made in times of peace and prosperity. Great leaders are forged in the heat of tragedy and crisis. God continues to hone and sharpen David’s leadership abilities between the hammer and anvil of dire and difficult circumstances. There is a lesson for all of us in this at every level of leadership whether you are parent of a child, captain of an intramural team, CEO of a corporation, director of a community theatre production, or President of the United States. We will find ourselves in times of crisis whether they be small or great. We will not always be popular with those under our leadership. We will find ourselves unjustly blamed for others’ pain or failure. These things are part and parcel of the mantel of leadership.

The true test of a leader’s mettle is how he or she responds to the challenge.