I have talked a great deal from time to time in this blog about accountability. Stewardship requires us to be accountable for our actions and to hold others accountable for theirs as well. It is through accountability with each other, that we learn to become more and more responsible, become better stewards of what the Sacred has entrusted to us.
Downton Abbey: Season 4, Episodes 5 and 6
John Pegg is a young man from the village whom Mrs Crawley, at Dr Clarkson's urging, agrees to help find a job as a gardener. Isobel persuades Dowager Countess to let him come on at the Dower House. However, when a valuable letter opener of Dowager Countess goes missing, she is convinced Pegg stole it while watering plants in her study. She threatens to sack him, but Dr Clarkson and Mrs Crawley persuade her not to until an investigation can be conducted.
Things only worsen for Pegg when another possession of the Dowager's goes missing, so she sacks him. But then Spratt, the Dowager’s butler, finds the second missing item.
Mrs Crawley, determined to prove the Dowager wrong, stops by the Dower House when she knows the Dowager is out, fakes feeling faint and asks to take a few moments in the sitting room. When alone, she searches the room and finds the first, which had fallen between the cushion and arm of a chair. She instructs Spratt to alert the Dowager to this incident.
the Call for Accountability
The next day, Mrs Crawley stops by with Dr Clarkson to confront the Dowager for wrongly accusing John Pegg…
Dowager: To what do I owe this treat?
Dr. Clarkson: Lady Grantham, you have already changed for dinner. We will come tomorrow.
Dowager: No, my curiosity would not take such a delay.
Mrs. Crawley: Did Spratt give you the paper knife? (the lost item)
Mrs Crawley: Then it is quite clear that Peg did not steal it. Or are you going to argue now that he sneaked it back in here when he realized what kind of trouble he was in?
(Note: For those who do not watch Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess hates being wrong and rarely admits to misdoings or mistakes. This is a regular play between Mrs Crawley and the Dowager.)
Dowager, as she is ringing her bell to call Spratt: Well, its a thought..
Mrs Crawley: But a despicable one. What can I say to persuade you out of your injustice and stubbornness? Can’t you see the damage you do?
Dr. Clarkson: Now, hold your horses Mrs Crawley. Lady Grantham has a right of reply.
Dowager: Thank you Dr Clarkson…. (after Spratt enters the room) Spratt, has the young gardener Peg brought in the vegetables yet?
Mrs Crawley: What?
Dowager: Please ask him to step in here…
Mrs Crawley: I don’t understand
Dowager: If you wish to understand things you must come out from behind your prejudice and listen… (when Peg enters the room, to Peg) Could you give an account to Mrs Crawley of what transpired between us this afternoon…
Peg explains everything that happened that afternoon, how the Dowager called for him, apologized for being wrong and hired him back.
Dowager to Mrs Crawley: Well?
Mrs. Crawley looks annoyed….
Dr Clarkson: I’d say that is game, set, match to Lady Grantham…
Accountability Strengthens our Stewardship
We are human. Even on our best days, prejudice seeps into our way of being — whether that is sexism, homophobia, racism, ablism, holding onto fixed perspectives on people that does not allow them to grow, etc. Whatever it is, we usually fall short of our expectations for ourselves and others. This is a normal part of what it means to be human.
How does it affect our ability to be good stewards of what we are gifted by Spirit?
Accountable for our actions
In this case, the Dowager allowed physical things (things that she owned and treasured) cloud her judgement around helping someone — around being a good steward of her resources and generosity. When she was brought to accountability, when Mrs Crawley found the mail-opener, she realized her error and came back into alignment with what it means for her to be a good stewards of her resources and position in the community. She corrected her behavior.
Accountable for our fixed perceptions
At the same time, Mrs. Crawley was called to accountability around her actions, her fixed perception of the Dowager. Mrs. Crawley is a tremendously powerful steward in terms of companioning the poor, the underclass, the untouchables, and guiding, mentoring, helping them to better themselves. She has time and time again opened her heart and home to change the lives of people nobody even looks at, let alone thinks or cares about.
Because this is her work, her ministry, her calling, she can be prejudice towards the Dowager. Dowager Lady Grantham holds herself above others in many ways. She does do generous things for people in her community when Mrs Crawley pushes her to. Other times, she does the right thing for the wrong reason — to remove anything controversial from Downton estate. (She helped an ex-prostitute find a new place to be a maid after Mrs Crawley taught her to be a housemaid so that the ex-prostitute would not be connected to Downton in anyway. Right things, wrong reason)
The Dowager calls Mrs Crawley on her fixed perception. Mrs Crawley never gives the Dowager the benefit of the doubt. She assumes that the Dowager will not do the right thing when it is presented to her. This mindset, this fixed perception, prevents the Dowager from really growing and changing. It prevents Mrs Crawley from truly celebrating the growth and expansion of the the Dowager.
By calling Mrs Crawley on her fixed perception, the Dowager reminds us that we need to open ourselves to allow people to grow, change, transform, forgive. This is mercy and grace. Stewardship requires mercy and grace to be gifted generously.
Accountability gifts mercy and grace
By holding each other accountable, Mrs Crawley and the Dowager are gifting one another with the opportunity to generously offer mercy and grace to Peg (the gardener) as well as each other. They are reminding themselves, humbling themselves, aligning themselves once again to what it means to be good stewards of their position and calling.
For Mrs Crawley, being a good steward is about helping Peg keep his job and better himself, not one up the Dowager. For the Dowager, being a good steward is about learning to value a person over objects, learning to give people the benefit of the doubt, learning to trust.
Together over the seasons of Downton Abbey these two women companion each other in strengthening and expanding their ways of being good stewards of their position and resources. Through accountability, the push each other to grow in their skills and abilities as stewards.
We are called to hold each other accountable. Spirit invites us to encourage each other to expand and strengthen our understanding of stewardship in our lives.
Who is pushing you to expand your understanding of stewardship?
What person in your life holds you accountable for your actions?
How do you hold others accountable, offering grace and mercy as you do so?
Pastor Jocelyn Emerson weaves together her training as a Light and Energy worker, Reiki master, spiritual director, and Pastor with her life experience as a mystic and contemplative to offer a space of trust, safety, and honesty to support you on your life's journey.