Agency is a complicated thing. In Christian ethics and moral philosophy, we use the term "agency" to describe a person's ability to act decisively, or their lack of ability to make decisions. Are we responsible for our state in life? Are we culpable for the decisions which we make both actively and by assent or their consequences?
Today I had the privilege of participating in a ride-along with my brother who works as a firefighter and I bore witness to the good work done by the firefighters who work at his station in Seattle as they strive to serve the people of their city well in moments of crisis throughout the day. We visited people across the city today and it struck me during each visit as we were invited into the homes of people in distress (or in the case of the homeless, public spaces) how easy it is to size up a person's life and their situation based on what strikes your senses. You see pictures of loved ones stacked deeply on a bureau whilst tending to a head wound or you experience the odours of someone who has poor personal hygiene as they writhe under a drug overdose. While most of us wander through life witnessing the most comfortable and affluent layers of our cities, firefighters, social workers, and other first-responders get to witness a more complicated aspect. And as I paused in the presence of each person it became apparent to me what a blessing it is that I get to make decisions about my future without the interference of poverty, abuse, or injustice. After all, these various people I met today - both rich and poor - did not arrive at their situations today through actions which were wholly their own, or even in many cases, even largely their own. Conversely, those who have surmounted addiction or oppression, do not arrive at a place of wholeness without the help of others. It is easy for pundits and politicians to speak about an imagined person who lives off the dole whilst making poor decisions with seemingly "free" agency, but this is a convenient lie which disguises both the culpability that so many others have in the oppression of others and also the debt we owe to others, whether they be teachers, parents, or friends for our successes and stability. May we, foremost see those around us who are suffer, and furthermore may we see them with the eyes of Christ bearing witness to these tangled threads of agency.