This morning I had to be downtown at 7:30 a.m. to show up for my first summons in Oregon for jury duty. As it turned out a number of cases were settled out of court and by mid-morning half of us were sent home, including myself. I have served on two juries before in California and was mildly disappointed that I didn’t get to serve on another one. I was relieved that most of the day was given back to me when I didn’t expect it, but serving on a jury is a pretty enlightening and awesome experience.
Enough about that. I wanted to share something that the county judge said that was in keeping with what I have also experienced as a pastor. Early in his statements he said, “I don’t think of this so much as jury duty, but as jury service.” The reason I make a point of this is that it seems he is picking up a subtle and dramatic shift in our culture.
I have worked largely with the WWII generation as a pastor and in my hospice work many years ago. A very common value that I heard and felt was this call to duty. “Duty to God and Country.” As I have listened to my elders on this issue I have heard an underlying assumption that, in order for our democracy to work, everyone is obligated to fulfil their duty to serve the larger community–whether in military, religious organizations or non-profits. I don’t disagree with this call to serve one single bit! But, notice that I said call to serve rather than duty to serve.
When I think about my own internal reaction and the comments of my contempories I realize that something subtle and dramatic has taken place. Quite honestly, I don’t feel I have a duty to do anything. Duty and obligation does not motivate me. I don’t do things because I have to. I do them because I want to and I have chosen to do them.
I can hear the refrain already: “The younger generation is all ‘me, me, me!'” I don’t think it is quite that simple and easy. The judge today made a very small shift in his language, but I think he was appealing to the much larger shift that has taken place in our culture. I am not going to say that duty is out, but from my experience the concept of duty has been steadily fading among the generations.
This is both subtle and very dramatic because I don’t think the concept of service is fading–only the reason for serving is fading. What is going on here? I think it is theological or, at the very least, has theological implications. Duty has, as an assumption, that there are greater commitments and more important purposes to life than just serving our own selfish interests–such as duty to God and country. Inherent in this view is what I would call a “low view” of the individual self.
For many of us the concept of duty is a fading institution, not because we selfishly refuse to serve our fellow humans, but because the motivation for service is internally-directed rather than externally-directed. I don’t think we have had a shift from selfLESSness to selfISHness between the WWII generation and those following. What we have had is a shift from a low view to a high view of the human self. We discovered that the good God is not somewhere out there, but right here in our human psyches and souls. Therefore we serve not out of a sense of duty, but as an expression of our deepest best selves.
The church is a place for compassion, service, healing, grace, justice, peace, and love. Some may commit to those values out of a sense of duty to the God they serve. Others may commit to those same values because they appeal to the deeper impulses of God’s spirit in their own life. One may deny the “low view of self” in order to serve the common good. The other may serve the common good as a fulfillment of their “high view of self”.
The judge asked us to think of this morning as jury service rather than jury duty. Either way, the voice of the common good called. And we all responded for our own reasons ( and it wasn’t for the coffee and mileage check!).