January 10, 2009 – Excuses, Excuses, Excuses . . and Grace

If you were looking forward to another edition of That Got My Goat last week, and wondered what happened, here’s my excuse – there is no excuse, I just didn’t take the time to sit down and write. It was my choice to drop blogging in priority for the week, my responsibility.

The subject of taking responsibility has been on my mind since last Friday morning, which I spent filing my aunt’s estate for probate at King County Superior Court. The morning was filled with examples of ducking and shifting responsibility, starting with signs prominently posted at every desk warning that court staff cannot provide legal advice or help you fill out forms. In spite of that handicap, let me compliment the staff for efficiently getting me through the process in 3 hours. My mother thought it would easily take 3 days or 3 weeks, given King County’s reputation for red tape.

My stack of various papers had to be turned in to the Clerk of the Court on the 6th floor for processing, then to the 3rd floor for review and signature by a Superior Court Judge, then back to the Clerk’s office on the 6th floor for filing. The Clerk’s staff managed to get the point across when I had something missing by asking carefully emphasized questions, like “are you sure you want to submit this without a signature here?” When I had successfully filed with the Clerk of the Court’s office, paying the extra fee for expedited service, I asked what expedited meant. The Clerk was edgy about giving me a straight answer, saying it meant they would walk the paperwork down to the courtroom immediately but warning they weren’t responsible for it after that, it was the Judge’s responsibility. Finally he told me it could be 30 minutes or they had up to 24 hours to deliver expedited service, and re-emphasized it wasn’t his responsibility. Fair enough, why would I hold him responsible for the Judge’s action or inaction?

I went to the courtroom to see if it looked overwhelmingly busy or if they might get to my paperwork. Two people were just leaving, and there was no one there but the Judge and his Clerk. The Judge left and his Clerk lectured me that there was nothing for me to do in the courtroom, that they would get to the paperwork as soon as they could after receiving it, but then it would go back to the Clerk of the Court’s office and he was not responsible for their actions. Why would I hold him responsible for someone else’s actions? Why is everyone around here so eager to duck?

Back to the Clerk of the Court’s office and a hard bench in the hallway outside the door. I had a good view of the people coming and going. A young woman sat down on the bench next to me, pulled out her laptop and started a cell phone conversation. She had been there as long as I that morning, visiting various counters with papers in hand. I took her to be a junior lawyer, or perhaps even a law student. She was working on a foreclosure case on behalf of an associate named Michael who was at his father’s funeral. In the course of several pleasant conversations she managed to shift blame to Michael (“this is all on Michael’s head if this doesn’t work out) and to the person she was calling for advice (“I’ll have to tell them you told me to sign the affidavit”). Never did I hear her say she would take responsibility for any action she was contemplating.

Perhaps she was right, it wasn’t her responsibility. Perhaps the Clerks were right, they had been relieved of responsibility. Sitting there in the courthouse, a temple of justice, it struck me that the only reason we need courts at all is that we are all so quick to duck responsibility. We do it without even thinking about it, blaming the weather or the traffic or the kids for our lateness. We blame fast food joints for making us fat and easy credit for making us broke. We blame the other driver for making us angry and the other guy for starting the fight. We’ve been shifting blame ever since Adam said “Eve made me do it” and Eve said “the serpent made me do it.” It’s in our souls.

Fortunately for us, God knows that we will fall short, and sent His only Son to carry our sins and the Holy Spirit to bolster our courage. We are still responsible for the consequences of our actions, but it is God’s promise of infinite grace that turns hopelessness into hope.