Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Noblesse oblige

I would recommend reading this passage through a few times it takes some working through, I have just tried to share a few of my thoughts culminating with the main theme of this blog post.

Luke 12:34-48 .Watchfulness "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. "The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. …I have been thinking about this verse in Luke's gospel for the past few years in the context of my faith journey: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

I then heard the phrase 'Noblesse oblige', and I was not fully sure what it meant, the definition is; it's a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges". It is the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person with such status to fulfil social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.

I feel that I am someone who has been given much, not because I am anyone special in anyway or in anything I have done. But I was privileged to be born into a loving home, loved and cared for growing up, by an attentive mother and father. Never ever knowing what hunger is, protected from any kind of abuse either physical, mental or sexual. Educated to a good standard, enough to be blessed to qualify as a nurse and midwife. Marrying a loving man, raising a family. Yes I have known ups and downs and felt the pain of loss, but privileged I surely am.This passage in Luke's gospel has the theme of being 'watchful', ready, with our lamps burning, dressed ready to serve the master has he returns from a wedding. The master/Lord then dresses himself to serve, which is a twist in this story paralleled in the passage in John' gospel 13:11-17

'When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."The story continues, the master could come at any hour and if they knew when a thief was coming to steal, they would not have allowed their homes to be broken into. Reminding them again - this must be important to note, the Son of man could come again at the most unexpected time.Peter asks Jesus is this for us personally or for everyone? No answer is given but a statement about the faithful and wise manager who is charged with making sure his servants have sufficient food. The wise manager is then referred to as the servant who when his master finds him doing this will be put in charge of all of the masters possessions. But if this servant stops being watchful for the masters return and he beats his male and female servants and practices gluttony he will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.It seems the master/servant who knows what he is doing but is not caring and careful will be beaten with many blows. Those who equally do these wicked things but do not know to be watchful will equally receive punishment but it will be less than those who know.

So we are then led to this key thought everyone given much- much is required.So this brings me to 'Noblesse oblige' privilege entails responsibility.

"Privilege as defined by the Oxford dictionary is ' A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group

How do I check my privilege and become aware of my responsibility to others?

Short answer I think is to learn treat others well, we are told clearly the way to serve others is to pick up a towel and if not literally ( thank goodness) it is figuratively to wash their feet.

This very action places you in the role of one who is serving without judgement. It is the action of love poured out on the 'other' with the intention of giving and not receiving.

One of my favourite books and thought comes from ― Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'."You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

We need to recognise our privilege and our advantages and then realise this places upon us a responsibility to serve others appropriately.Bill Gates: founder of Microsoft said "My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here-never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: From those to whom much is given, much is expected. - Harvard University, 2007

Recognising privilege is vitally important, just this week I encountered a young man extolling his view of complementarianism at a university conference Missio Dei. I commented firstly on my sadness that this hierarchical view is still a preferences in some churches. When you reach the age of 53 in the year 2014 you really hope and have prayed a lot that equality of men and women would be the order of the day in church. I pointed out his 'white male privilege' to which he mentioned some areas he felt were a disadvantage to him. I raise this here to clarify why we need to see 'our much', it's different for all of us. But it really is essential to know what your advantages are. Being male and white is a clear privilege that holds many advantages. This can be seen in the views held about women and their sexuality by prominent press reporters. Recently in the Washington Post, columnist George Will, wrote about campus rape, claiming that being a victim in college has become "a coveted status that confers privileges", and that "victims proliferate" because of all these so-called benefits. A rebuttal of this from Jessica Valentine who wrote in the Guardian states

"Rape victims get called a lot of things. Sometimes it's "slut". For the 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, it was that she was a "spider" luring men into her web. It's not all bad, though - thanks to anti-violence activists, those who have been attacked also get called "survivors" and "brave". The last word I ever expected to hear to describe a rape victim is "privileged".

Another recent piece I read by Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang has been told repeatedly to "check his privilege" - to be aware of how his socio-economic and cultural background shapes his views - and he was not happy about it. "The phrase," he writes, "handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung."(Weltanschauung means "worldview".

Anthony Zurcher states 'I had to look it up. But then, I didn't go to Princeton') Fortgang in the Time magazine, condemns those who paint him with the "privileged" label for "diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive".

This is an object lesson in really not being aware of privilege. This as the above examples show is clearly not like Harper Lee suggests 'climbing into someone's skin'. I cannot separate privilege from the 'much we have been given'. Our starting point should be to know ourselves to acknowledge, count our blessings. We should then address areas we can find to serve others in from the advantages we have been given. I cannot answer for you what that will look like but certainly writing this bog has challenged me to realise there is so much I need to address in my own life.If we need any other indicators that we may be privileged with much, these 2 links show some shocking statistics in poverty and domestic violence.

Here are some shocking statistics about those who obviously lack privilege


  1. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.
  2. Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  3. Based on enrolment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers
  4. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  5. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  6. Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
  7. Water problems affect half of humanity: Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation

Violence against women

  1. On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner.This constitutes nearly 40% of all female murder victims.
  2. An analysis of 10 separate domestic violence prevalence studies found consistent findings: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year

Check out these very funny photos displaying male privilege not many years ago.

White privilege

Another privilege we see is that of 'White privilege' it is defined by a set of 'societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of colour.The term denotes obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages the white person may not know/ recognise they have.'I was born in 1960 and I find it shocking that the 'Jim Crow laws' on racial segregation lasted from 1876-1965, 5 years after my birth it's premise was 'separate but equal for African Americans'.

When my eldest daughter took Psychology for her A levels she came home and we discussed the incredible "blue-eyes/brown-eyes" lesson in discrimination by a teacher Jane Ellison to her class of third graders.On any normal weekday morning, She looked forward to getting to her classroom at the Riceville, Iowa, Community Elementary School and to the teaching job she loved. It was 'National brotherhood week and she asked her class what this meant? She received replies like 'be kind to your brothers', 'treat others like you would like to be treated'.

She then asks the children is there anyone they do not treat that way, the reply - 'black people,Indians'.There response to seeing them was to think they were dumb and their treatment was to make them feel not part of this world- to make them 'other'.

She then asks, "Do you think you would know how it would feel to be judged by the colour of your skin?"

Children - yes, I don't think you so she replies.She then asks, " Would you like to see how it feels?"

Children - yes, Sounds like fun doesn't it ?

Blue eyes on top first.

Quickly into this - she states blue eyed people are smarter than brown eyed in this room. She starts by challenging Brian who wants to say this isn't true. She mentions the story he had told of his father kicking him- his dad has brown eyes. All the blue eyed dads wouldn't do that.

She then gives the blue eyes treats, extra recess time, but the brown eyes can't use the drinking fountain and she places a blue collar on them to mark them out as 'other, less than'.

The children quickly use 'brown eyes' as a put down, these 2 words as speaking to an inferior person.

Jane Elliot says"I watched what had been marvellous cooperative wonderful thoughtful children turn into nasty vicious discriminating people in the space of 15 minutes.

When the experiment was completed and she asked the children how they felt their response was to explain the 'collars' had labelled them and they Knew they couldn't function under the conditions laid down by the experiment.

So it got me thinking maybe our job is to help remove the marks of slavery- the virtual collars ?

The sometimes very real 'Star of David' placed upon someone marking them out.

This tribalism and the way it leads us to think and act is what we need to learn to overcome in ourselves and then for 'others'. We have no excuse - the passage tells us when we know these things, recognise our 'much' we are accountable for our actions.

The Gospel suggests we are not only to love but called to clothe ourselves with actions.

In John 13:34 Jesus states "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

And in. Matthew 5::9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God"

At the root of the word peacemaker is the verb 'to practice' I would like to suggest that it could be a good thing to go out and do some of that with those we meet.

Our privilege or 'Noblesse oblige', requires that fulfil our social responsibilities, to those we meet, possibly more so to those who are not as privileged.

Just some final thoughts on privilege.

  • You cannot apologise for your privilege or change it but you can and should be aware of it.

  • With this in mind we should be ready to help out of our identified 'much'.

  • The most important thing to note is 'You are not special' there is a price to this much you have received. The parable clearly illustrates this point

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.