Whose Fault Is It?

After running around the past few days, I have a lot of thoughts on the recent typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy for the Filipinos) but I haven’t had the time to synthesize everything. I’ll write about the events some other time. One thing that has been bothering me though is the blame passing going on. It’s the government’s fault. It’s our mayor’s fault. It’s the barangay captain’s fault. It’s the NGO’s fault or the fault of the NGO’s boss. It’s our fault – for our sins as one lady put it. Even to some it’s God’s fault.

So many different opinions on who’s at fault. So much blame going around. But who really is at fault?

I really don’t know. And I really don’t care.

The word FAULT means a DEFECT or a SHORTCOMING. Many times, when someone’s at fault, when someone has a defect or a shortcoming, that person won’t be able to fix things, even if we identify him, because usually that defect or shortcoming that caused the failing is still present. So wasting our time figuring out whom to blame only gives us scapegoats. It doesn’t give us solutions.

And it is SOLUTIONS not SCAPEGOATS that we need.

I think we’re asking the wrong question. Instead we should be asking, “Who will be responsible?”

Who Will Be Responsible?
When I was younger, whenever my parents would put me in charge of certain tasks, I would give excuses and say, “Why should I do that? It doesn’t affect me?” or “Why should I fix that? It’s not my fault that’s broken.” They would give me the same simple answer, “I’m not asking you if you’re affected. I’m not asking you whose fault it is. I’m asking you to be responsible.”

Later on I would understand that being responsible has nothing to do with whose fault it is. It has everything to do with how you RESPOND, which is where the word responsibility comes from. It is not a REACTIVE response that says, “You’re at fault. You messed up. You’re evil. Fix it.” Instead, it is a PROACTIVE one that says, “I may not be at fault, this may not be my problem, but I will make myself accountable and I will fix this. I will find a SOLUTION.”

I like to define SOLUTIONS as ANSWERS with ACTIONS. It’s not just an idea or a thought or a plan, it’s the right idea, the right thought, and the right plan, executed the right way. And we will not get everything right until we have the right person.

And how do we know if a person is the right one?

The right person is simply the one who is willing and able to be responsible.

Watching the response of many of the Victory, Habitat for Humanity, and Real LIFE people, along with many other selfless Filipinos, was so encouraging. A lot of these people have never done anything like this before. No one was ready for how bad the storm turned out to be. Very few, if any, had training in disaster response or Wading in Mud 101, but to see the pastors mobilize, the volunteers form assembly lines, Doc, Lynn, Ariel and scholars wade the flood (For those of you who want a reference it’s worse than stepping inside a used toilet bowl.), being in the Habitat board meeting (Missing the very important contributions of our president, Bert Jugo, who had to have an emergency bypass. Please pray for him.), all of these helped emphasize that it’s more about taking responsibility than readiness. Because when someone decides to be responsible, whether or not he or she is ready, then solutions start forming, and even more powerful is when groups of people who have decided to be responsible work together, combining their strengths and covering for each other’s deficiencies.

Don’t think about who is at fault. Don’t think about whether you’re doing someone else’s job or whether someone is getting off easy. Don’t think about whether you’re ready. Decide in your heart to be responsible, think about how you can respond correctly, and respond accordingly.

HE Who Goes Before You
My father once asked me to take over an ailing business bogged down by large debts, destroyed distribution, falling sales, and almost every problem you could think of. His instructions were simple, “David, you’re responsible now.” I remember walking into my new office, closing the door behind me, and with my hands resting on my U-shaped desk, I bowed my head and prayed, “Father, here we go. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to do. Help me. Help me. Help me.”

And He did come through. He continues to.

Let’s take this past Ketsana and apply this to the rest of our lives. At some point we will all be called to respond to a situation, to a call, to a need, and many times, if not all the time, we won’t be ready. But we can draw strength from Deuteronomy 31:8 that says:

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

He goes before you – before the floods and storms, before needs and concerns, before politicians and crocodiles, before sickness and pain – He goes before you. So rise up and be responsible. Do not be afraid. He goes before you.

A Blind Man Helped Me See

“The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need”
– From Last Night in Lisbon

Life is full of wonderful evenings. Moonlit strolls, with a sketchbook in hand, a stack of books to get lost in, accompanied by a bowl of muesli and a bar of very dark chocolate, times of prayer and reflection, beautiful company, and moments of inspiration on the piano have filled my nights. I have so much to be grateful for.

And then there are times like tonight, when concerns threaten the peace of my heart and restlessness weighs my soul. These evenings seem darker than others and sometimes, I have to admit even lonely, as I bear the cup allotted to me.

But there is wonderful consolation in the darkness. Here we appreciate whatever glow there is, and are reminded to allow even the smallest hope to illuminate our way.

I remember a blind man, led by a boy, who knocked on my window, as I drove to dinner one Sunday evening. I don’t normally like giving money to beggars because I know it encourages all the wrong values, but there was something about this man’s face, his hollow sockets seemed to smile with his lips. There was no pity, or bitterness, or worry, or despair. It was genuinely expectant. It was genuinely hopeful. I found myself questioning God, “Father. How could you deprive him of sight? How could you give someone such a life?” Then I felt a gentle impression – “Renew your mind, David. Renew your mind.”

Then I had a thought: Maybe the man’s blindness, a conventional handicap, was his ticket to an unconventional life. That maybe in the darkness he sees something else, maybe something simpler, maybe something deeper. He will never see what I see. But neither will I see what he does. Though he may never appreciate the tense emotions of Millais’ A Huguenot On St. Bartholomew’s Day, or the vast blue sky from an airplane, or any sky for that matter, maybe, in the absence of the distractions of physical sight, he sees clearer than us all, because maybe he has a better view into the heart.

Renew your mind.

Renew your mind so you can trust. Renew your mind and find purpose in all things, and hope in every situation. Renew your mind so that you will remember that the one who sees a part will never understand as completely as the one who sees all.

So tonight, I am grateful for the darkness. Hoping that in my darkness, I may help someone understand, just as the blind man in his, helped me see.

Last Night in Lisbon


On my last night in Europe, I look out from the roof terrace of the Barrio Alto Hotel in Lisboa, Portugal. In front of me are buildings more than a hundred year old sloping down to meet the coast of what was once the most important port in the world. The yellow glow of the lamps, which still hold their gas predecessor’s form, bounces across stone walls and floors of the narrow alleys. Sometimes shadows break the light, a man old enough to be hunched but strong enough to hike, the conjoined shadows of lovers returning from a date, or those of a family, walking side by side, that remind you of the paper-cut figures from preschool linked at the hands and feet. I wonder why they’re all still out. It’s late.

I look back at the sea, and I remember a conversation I had earlier with a man, full of experience and at least thrice my age, as we walked along the bay, he with his tie loose and his coat flung across his back, and I still in business mode. He said, “Many times, I have come to the sea to get my life back together.” I told him that was one of God’s gifts. He nodded towards a lady who smiled while passing us, “THAT is God’s gift! And you seem to be a gifted man. Stay away from them. They’re trouble.” I answered with a smirk. He then started to talk about his third wife, “We were beautiful once. We are no longer. I look at her in the morning, and I say, ‘Who is this fat cow with skin like marble???’ But I love her. I loved her then and I still do. Because she is the only woman I know who wakes up laughing. Can you imagine? A laughing cow with melting skin??? She is lucky to have a man like me! She seduced me, that temptress, she did!” I asked him how a cow sedduced him. He gave me a look that said, “Don’t be a wiseguy.” I decided to change the subject and asked if he regretted his other wives, he said, “I’ve had expensive losses, but I’ve also had expensive profits. I have no regrets.” Looking back it wasn’t the best subject to change to. Unlike him, I can’t say the same. I do have regrets.

The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need.

In places where everything is foreign to you, and you’re foreign to everything, you learn to feel with your heart and you learn to comprehend with your soul. You find that the world is no longer just brown, black, or white, but also reds, and pinks, and ochre, with cerulean, and light. And in the complexities of what’s happening in today’s world, it’s nice to be able to step back and be reminded that somewhere the accordion still rocks, and the sea still speaks, that sons still dance with their gypsy mothers, and that people say I love you in a million different ways.