This weekend I was at the pool with our children. We had the pool to ourselves for a while until a group of kids joined us toward the end of our time. A few minutes after their arrival, the lifeguard called break, in keeping with the regularly scheduled breaks. The new kids were justifiably disappointed, but what happened next was not justifiable. About five minutes into the break, one of the teenagers starts ranting loudly about why a lifeguard should need a break – claiming his job was not all that hard. She then asked the lifeguard directly how much longer the break would be. The lifeguard did not seem to totally understand her question (our lifeguards are usually international students here for the summer), and she spoke to him as if he were a child. I found my anger rising. Her taunting behavior continued after the break, and another teenager joined her in disrespecting the lifeguard with audible side comments, and ignoring his instructions about safety. The lifeguard finally blew the whistle, saying the pool was closed, and everyone would have to leave.
Fortunately, we were on our way out already, as the teenagers’ behavior had angered me so much that I was no longer having fun. The lifeguard apologized profusely on our way out, and I reassured him that I totally supported his decision, given how disrespectful the other guests were being. As we walked home, my children asked me why I was so mad. I explained part of my anger – that we never disrespect others the way those teens did, and their behavior made me mad. But what I didn’t share was I suspected the teens’ behavior was also related to the lifeguard’s ethnicity. With tensions around race and immigration these days, I suspected the teen felt she was superior in some way to this man, and I wondered why.
But mostly, I was mad at myself. As the night wore on, I felt nauseated about the fact I had said nothing to that teenager. Though my body language probably reflected disdain for her behavior, I said nothing to defend the lifeguard. The more I thought about it, the more I wished I had approached the teen and talked to her about her inappropriate behavior. In reflection, I could not figure out why I said nothing to her; I just knew I was ashamed by my inaction – so ashamed, I have felt it for days.
As a country and community, I have heard many conversations about how our government is broken and the other side (whomever we view as the other side) is leading us into evil. This weekend I began to wonder if, instead, we are the ones who are broken. We have lost the very values we claim in our baptismal covenant – to respect the dignity of every human being, to strive for justice, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons. I wholeheartedly support advocacy work and protest movements when we see injustice. But this week, I humbly ask you to join me in the work on ourselves – to shift from being people outraged by injustice and to start doing justice; to shift from being hearers of God’s Word, to being doers of God’s Word; to turn our criticism of others to a constructive criticism of ourselves. Next time you hear me complaining about the degradation of our morals or values, please ask me what I am doing about it. I promise to do the same for you in return. Let’s get started!