Who’s responsible?

Last Sunday the following illustration was used in the sermon: “You have a family with small children and a new house with nice things. Then you are tempted to control your children to protect your stuff.” I immediately saw little children running around with dolls prams, hitting doorpost, tables and cabinets. I saw drawings on white walls, peanut butter, jelly and banana on the beige carpet and broken favourite vases. I also saw those neat and tidy homes that look like a museum so you hardly dare to move. Where children are not allowed to do anything ‘because my things’.

Both are unwanted scenarios.

An interim scenario is learning your children to be careful and for yourself to accept small accidents as painful but unavoidable. Because emphasising the protection of your things may lead to combat the enemies of your stuff, in this case your children. Every threat has to be undermined at once; “Don’t”, “Go away”.

Being careful teaches your children to pay attention to their surroundings and the value of (other peoples) things. “Be careful”, “watch it”.

I have written in an earlier blog that you need to be wise in these situations. Don’t put valuable items on a place a three year old can reach or a teenager frequently passes. When decorating your house keep in mind who is going to live there.

Ownership can result in older children feeling more responsible so they handle things more carefully. It isn’t very difficult to convince older children your house is their house. Especially the fridge is a piece of cake. Harder is to convince them of the fact they are not alone in this world, so after them there will be another user of the bathroom, for instance. Once I put A4 size notes in the entire house with big lettering saying what was expected of them in that place. Like the signs in some toilets saying “changing the toilet paper roll will not cause brain damage”. But I was too mad to put humour into it. Alas this attempt to get some control over the stampeding herd of teenagers that lived under my roof failed miserably.

How do we do this in church? Is His house also our house? Looking at the behaviour of the average churchgoer I should think so. If this is a positive deduction is yet to be seen. Because in the same way people at home think there are little house elves cleaning up after them, they believe there are angels in church doing the same thing. People who serve coffee often are called angels and the cleaning people too. Those are the ones that collect the empty coffee cups, do the dishes, clean up the church hall afterwards, etc.

People also totally have no problem borrowing things from church or using annex spaces, but sometimes forget to take the cups and cans back to the kitchen of bring back the borrowed things on time and in good order. That’s why in most churches there are small notes everywhere who remind you what is expected of you. I used these church principles at home, but it didn’t help.

So ownership isn’t all ways the answer. Church and family are almost the same in this area. Almost every grown up knows he is not alone in this world, but because of that a lot of people find it hard to look at this world as if they are the ones responsible for it. There always are people who are more responsible, for instance because they are paid for it. You see this in the entire society. In a self-service restaurant there are always plates left on the tables, on the streets there still is dog shit and rubbish and in terms of sustainability a world is yet to be won.

Is improvement possible? Or is there is ‘no one who does good’? Are we en masse shirking our responsibilities?

I think it has more to do with personality than with reluctance, however, there’s always that little voice whispering “don’t become a victim of your own good nature”.

There are people who by nature are neat and organised and there are people who are not. It would help if people who are organised by nature give in to their impulse to tidy up and, being at it, just take care of other people’s mess at the same time. You don’t teach others anything with it and maybe you even reward bad behaviour, but it does clean up nicely.

The slobs among us will have to be conditioned. As a parent I have failed in this area because it means putting a lot of energy into learning patterns, endlessly repeating “put your dish in the dishwasher”, “put your ‘dirty laundry in the washing bin”, “put you coat on the hanger”, etc., etc.. I couldn’t make myself do that. Some kids who came over to play automatically put their glass on the sink after they finished their drink. I deeply admired their parents.

So, if you as a church want a spotless building, you will have to encourage the tidy ones to also clean up after the others and the slobs among your churchgoers will have to be conditioned by bringing the service to a conclusion with an appeal to “please put your empty cup on the bar” or “throw away your empty cup in the right basket”.

As a kid we learned to be careful with other peoples things. As grown ups, lets put into practice what we have learned and be careful with everything that is entrusted to us. Like we are the only ones that are responsible. Lets be the odd ball.