by Rev. Deb Dysert
Clergy on Staff, MCC Detroit
I have had this question posed to me in a number of situations lately. I recently went to the Holocaust Memorial with my middle school class. At the end of the tour we were asked to sit and watch a short video. The question was posed, who was responsible? We saw so many atrocities as we completed the tour, including the framed Detroit Free Press papers with headlines about the horrors that were happening … over there in another country. We as a nation, we as a people did nothing. Who was responsible? Was it just the unimaginable regime of rulers that believed it fair and just to judge people based on the standards they deemed proper? Or do we, who sat by quietly, have some culpability?
I went to see The Reader just before the Oscars. I was mesmerized by the performance that Kate Winslet gave. I heard her in an interview when she was asked about how she could play the part and give this woman a fair portrayal. They showed a clip of the movie that was gripping for me to see. In it, Winslet’s character is being interrogated in court about how she could stand at the doors, keeping the Jews in a room, knowing their fate. Her response, “But it was my job, that is what I was being paid to do!” Are we supposed to do our jobs, watching sometimes as we know something might be illegal, or immoral, or unjust. Should we just keep our mouth shut, doing our job? Was it just the ruling regime that was responsible? Did she have responsibility too? Imagine how her speaking up, or acting out would have changed each life in that room.
A good friend of mine was having a conversation with me about an episode of NCIS that we had watched. In it, the medical examiner, Ducky, was having a very difficult time with his feelings of guilt over a time when he had been abducted and required to keep a man who was being tortured alive, tending to his medical needs while the torture could continue. Ducky ended up letting the man die to put him out of his pain. And again, the question was posed to me, do I think he was responsible for the death of that man?
My friend went on to ask about the crucifixion of Jesus. Who was responsible? Was it just the people that made the decision to hang him? Did the crowds play a part? Did the disciples play a part? Did anyone who did not rise up to stop it play a part? What about us today? Do we stand by and get caught up (or intimidated by) the crowd and stand idly by? If we do, are we responsible for what happens too?
When are we responsible? What are we expected to do to make a difference? In all of these situations, it is not difficult to understand at some level and depending on how you look at it, that silence is certainly an option. After all, I am only one person, one single voice, one very small fish in this great big sea. How can MY little voice make a difference? It is not like my voice crying out would end the persecution of Jews in Germany or fighting on the streets, or the violence against my neighbor, or the friend who is being abused by their partner, or the uncle who is sneaking out to the garage to get a high. Well, maybe that is true, but maybe, just maybe, my voice would be joined with another voice, which might be joined with another voice creating a much bigger voice, which might make a difference to more lives than if I keep my voice quiet. Or, just maybe, my voice would be the one God needs to change a situation.
One thing is for sure, if I never step up, if I never open up, my voice will never have a chance to make a difference. I believe that we are a wildly diverse world for a reason. God needs us to look at things from different vantage points. It is only when we see things from all sides that we can see the whole of a situation. I also believe God lays things on our hearts that if we ignore they will never get addressed. It is a job that God needs me to do.
Every day that I go to school, I push myself to take the risks of saying the things to help plant the seeds that might make a difference. If I do not use my voice to speak up when I see injustices, I know what my answer to the question will need to be. What is yours? May we all find our voices and peace this Holy Season.