RESPECT - June 11, 2016. I had these words inscribed onto the backs of two medals, one for my son and one for his cousin. I aligned calendars with my father and brother, and we devised a day full of activities that young men generations prior performed, before video games and mobile devices devoured their attention. The boys, ages five and seven, learned to properly handle and discharge a rifle, open, close, and carry a knife and whittle a stick, use a metal detector, and slide down a 20’ tall water slide (to test their fear of heights, of course, and to assuage my father’s desire to be Ultimate Grandpa).
At each turn, one of the men naturally weaved in a lesson on respect: “How do we respect our rifles, boys?” my brother asked. “By never pointing them at anyone, and by holding them carefully,” replied one of them. “And, how do we respect the earth?” another man followed. “By re-filling the holes we dig looking for metal,” our sons responded. “How do we respect our elders?” I inquired. “By saying, ‘Yes, sir and yes ma’am, and by doing what we’re told,” another correct answer.
Then, after many hours romping around outside, the girls returned from their day out and the kids went swimming. Apparently, my daughter was tickling my son underwater, and when she came up, his five-year-old fist landed a solid blow to her left eye. I didn’t see the incident go down, but her left eye was red, and he was making up excuses right and left.
“How did that show respect? Did you respect her body?” I asked him. “No, sir. I wasn’t respectful. But, she was tickling me…”
There’s a lot of blame-transferring going on these days. Some argue that we need stricter gun laws.* Some assert that we need to make it more difficult for young people to get alcohol and party, because that leads to trouble. I don’t debate any of this. I would only assert that, whatever we legislate, we need more respect—for weapons, for one another, for ourselves—because while laws can regulate the heartless, they cannot legislate the human heart.
“Subdue the earth,” the Lord told that primordial couple, Adam and Eve. Ever since, we’ve been attempting to subdue one another, to gain power and control, failing to heed St. Paul’s wisdom that we are all under the authority of a God who sees all, who is Lord over all. When this happens, when our hearts forget that all is God’s, both people and resources, we lose respect for our things, our friends, ourselves. Then, resources become tools to wield power.
The heart of stewardship is not budgeting, saving, or investing. The heart of stewardship is respect for what you possess, respect for those around you, and respect for God—the proper attitude and application of all things in light of a loving Father.
At the day’s end, my father placed the medals around the boys’ necks. Each of them stood tall, straight-faced with their chests bowed out. As we walked into the house, I overheard my son walk up to his sister, several hours after he socked her in the eye. “I’m sorry I hit you. That wasn’t respectful.”
His heart, not his dad, told him to do that. Respect is the heart of stewardship.
*This post was written prior to learning about the attack on Pulse night club in Orlando, FL this week. My prayers are with the victims' families and loved ones, and all those who feel vulnerable and threatened amidst this senseless and tragic act of violence against the LGBTQ community. We must respect all lives, for all are God-imaged.