What does it mean to be a responsible global citizen?
Being a responsible global citizen is about being human: being human with other humans. The North American context in which I live constantly tries to shift my attention from humans to issues, from people to products, and from communities to commodities. The individualistic world that I live would happily have me believe that I am the only person that matters and that I should treat myself (and spend on myself) in a way that reflects that. Being a citizen, however, means that I’m one part—albeit one important part—of a greater whole. Being a citizen means that I’m not the lynch pin of the entire operation. Being a citizen means that I have responsibilities and allegiances to something and someone greater than myself.
As a Christian, I believe that my first responsibility and greatest allegiance is to God—the one who created this globe. And as a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ is the incarnate son of God, I take very seriously what the gospel of Matthew (chapter 10) tells us that Jesus said about responsibility, allegiance, and citizenship: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
This mini-sermon comes as Jesus is sending out the first small group of Christ-followers (the ones we call “the disciples”) into the world. They’ve had minimal education—their training has only come by watching and learning from the Master—and now they’re sent out into the world. It’s not exactly the nurturing picture of Jesus that many of us hold onto. Don’t get me wrong; it’s loving—it’s just tough love: “What do you mean, Jesus, I’m not supposed to ‘find myself?’” “Don’t you want me to be happy and fulfilled, God?” Apparently not. But maybe we’re missing something here, too.
Jesus says, if you want to find life—real, true life—you have to lose your life. The way I read this passage, Jesus is saying that I have to give up “my life” or, in other words, living for myself. My life includes my desire to be respected and even adored by others. My life includes my desire to provide for a more-than-comfortable retirement for my wife and I. My life includes, actually, many of the things that our North American culture tells me I should never give up. Jesus, however, simply says that those things are not important—especially compared with the most important thing: finding true life. For me, finding true life and being a responsible global citizen are two sides of the same coin: I’m willing to give up “my life” and become a responsible global citizen (side #2) because Jesus has already given up his life—literally—so that I could have a better one (side #1). So what does being a responsible global citizen look like? Here’s three parts of an undoubtedly larger picture:
1. BE A RESPONSIBLE LOCAL CITIZEN.
The truth, I think, is that we weren’t made just to live generally “in the world”. We live in a specific place, at a specific time, and with specific people around us for a reason. As a Christian, I believe that these specifics are not accidents, but rather intentionally given to us by God. God put me where I am because he has something for me to do here, now, and with those people that have the misfortune of having to be called my neighbors. So before I think about being a global citizen, I have to think about being a local citizen. After all, why would I live “here” (wherever here is), if all my energies are focused over “there”?
This isn’t to say, of course, that local citizens don’t have a role in becoming responsible global citizens; only that our ability to act with integrity on the global stage depends greatly on our past performance on smaller stages. One of the best leadership axioms I’ve heard is this: the best indicator of future performance is past results. If you’re not committed here and now, chances are you’ll lose your drive when something “bigger and better” comes along too. And while I’m at it, whatever global impact you think you might make as an individual, that impact will only be multiplied when you have a local group of friends, supporters, and like-minded “citizens” rallying around the same cause.
2. GATHER ALL THE INTEGRITY YOU CAN.
I’m a white male with a nearly completed Master’s degree and pretty good job prospects in the United States. And I’m preparing for ministry in a church setting. I know that, because of these and other realities, I have unfair privileges, opportunities, and advantages that others in the world could work a lifetime for and never realize. I also recognize, however, that because of a plethora of scandals—even in my own denomination—that I’m not going to have any respect, authority, or integrity merely “handed” to me. And I shouldn’t have those things handed to me, either! However, because I recognize integrity as one of the most important qualities to have when relating to people, I want to do all I can to gather as much of it as I am able to!
People often describe integrity as how you behave when no one’s watching—how you “really” are—and that’s true! But increasingly in our world, integrity first and foremost looks like giving up whatever power you might have in true service to the other. In other words, having integrity means that, in humility, I value others above myself. And this is a biblical idea too! The apostle Paul tells the Christians in Philippi to do that exact thing—the thing, which he says, makes your life look a lot like Jesus’ life: emptying yourself and living among the people you profess to love: loving them, serving them, and living selflessly for them—even living a life that leads to death for you!
So now, being a responsible global citizen means that I have to ask myself, “would you die—not for some cause that you subscribe to, but for the people you love and serve? And do people know who and what I would die for?” Being a responsible global citizen is about integrity; and integrity is about other people. This brings me to my third and final point.
3. WRESTLE SERIOUSLY WITH LAMENT.
Our world tells us that things are supposed to make you happy. Forever. Why? Because it’s obvious to even to best retailers that people simply can’t do the job. People always fall short. That’s why we airbrush pounds off of even the skinniest models; it’s why we self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, food, and violence. People always seem to let us down; we always seem to let others down. But if being a responsible global citizen is about people, not issues or things, where does that leave us?
If you’re happy all the time, you’re lying to yourself. If the messages you see and hear on a regular basis are only from or about happy people, those messages are lies too. The truth is, if you care anything about the world or the people around you, you know that there’s a lot of pain and brokenness in the world. So many things aren’t the way they’re “supposed” to be. We can’t just skip over that reality when looking for a solution. People aren’t interested in whatever solution you might have for them until they understand that you’re actually interested in them. This means that I need to take seriously the pain and longings of others: I need to value them and their feelings with the same weight that I give myself and my feelings. Maybe even more. The book of Psalms, in the Bible, actually gives a lot of helpful (and easily adaptable) examples of laments.
Ultimately, lament means crying out. It means getting angry. It means recognizing that we are not alone—no matter what anyone might say—and looking to a higher power for a solution to the problems that we can’t solve ourselves. And there are so many problems that we cannot solve ourselves! Have you ever had so much pain, so much anger, or so much frustration with the injustice in the world—or in your life—that you simply didn’t know what to do any more? Maybe you lashed out. Maybe you balled it all up inside. Lament—crying out to God—gives me an outlet for all the raw emotion that would be irresponsible for me to let off elsewhere.
After all, that is what this is all about: being a responsible global citizen. There are so many issues in our world—issues that need to be directly addressed and lobbied against (or for!). But the problem never begins with the issue; it begins with the person or people hiding, hurting, and oppressing behind the issue. Therefore, that’s where responsible global citizenship must begin also: behind the issue, but with the people who have become dehumanized through their entanglement in cycles of evil, repression, and pain. Being a responsible global citizen is about becoming human again. I believe that is something that we can’t do without God.