Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

Unfounded Assumptions

April 13, 2021

I once read a remark by a Christian author I respect (unfortunately, I don’t remember which one) who talked about how the one place that you cannot really confess and be real and seek forgiveness is in church. The level of trust and openness just does not exist there.

While doing some research, I chanced upon the Instagram and Twitter feeds of a fairly well known Christian woman. (No, don’t jump to an unfounded assumption, not Beth Moore.) She had been silent about a family situation and had just acknowledged that she perhaps should have been more forthright.

It’s not that woman that concerns me here. I read the responses to the posts. Seemingly from Christian people. They were accusatory and filled with, dare I say it, hate. I’m thinking, some compassion and understanding are called for. Where is it? In a few responses buried within the feed.

Pictures had appeared on a social media feed about some celebrity. They showed a person physically wasting away. People started posting about how the celebrity was abusing drugs and other negative speculation. Then the real situation was posted–stage four cancer.

Unfounded assumptions–assuming the worst in people–a human condition.

Antidote: daily practice of compassion. Perhaps beginning with ourselves.

Ever-Changing Roles

February 18, 2021

She was a freshman and I a sophomore at university. While we were chatting before an English class, she said, “I’m going to be a lawyer.” This would have probably been in 1967.

She noticed the involuntary look of (probably) disgust on my face and bristled, “You don’t think women should be lawyers?”

“It’s not that,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone should be a lawyer.” I had no problem with her being whatever she wanted to be, as long as it was legal and ethical (neither of which, oh well, you get the point).

Since we have settled into a routine with the pandemic-enforced not going to meetings or Yoga, my wife turns on the TV about 8 pm (as a retired elementary school teacher, her entire life revolved around schedules) every evening. Typically we pick an English murder mystery series and watch the entire series straight through at two hours per night. We currently juggle an older Australian murder mystery series, Miss Fisher, with the currently running on PBS Miss Scarlett plus a different kind of story All Creatures Great and Small.

Miss Scarlett works in Victorian 1880s London. Partly by circumstance, partly by disposition, she becomes a private detective. An old family friend is the local Detective Inspector, and she becomes his unwanted companion solving crimes. 40 years later in Melbourne, Australia, Miss Fisher, an adventurous and wealthy slightly older woman, becomes a private detective and unwanted companion also of the local Detective Chief Inspector. Miss Fisher brought a young woman, Dottie, into her household and into her business. Dottie becomes romantically entangled with Hugh, a police constable working for said DCI.

A significant subplot of both series tells the stories of the three men and how they struggle to accept the changing role of women.

100 years later, it’s today. and men in most of the world are continuing to struggle with the role of women. But it has gotten worse for these men (and many women, too) because the struggle has broadened to having to deal with the once-hidden reality of homosexuality. Lest you think that is an American problem, in the United Methodist Church (becoming dis-United thanks to this issue) the largest anti-homosexual voting bloc is from Africa. And not just sexuality, we are dealing more and more with the realities of acceptance of multiple ethnicities and races. Again, not only an American problem, it’s a human problem.

I was not brought up this way, but somewhere along the line of my maturing, I became pretty completely accepting of all this rich variety of humanity. I think it’s great, actually. One of my most moving meditation experiences was God showing me the family of the human race.

People have always tried to ascribe to the Apostle Paul 20th Century values to a guy brought up in the 1st Century. We miss the revolutionary parts of his remarks. Like the times he says there are no Jews or Greeks, male or female, slave or free, but we are all one in Christ.

Or the time he gave instructions about church services (totally misinterpreted by most) where he says men do not have to cover their heads while praying, but women should cover their heads when praying. What’s revolutionary? My wife still get upset thinking of this instruction. Why do men not have to cover their heads? That’s not the point.

In Jewish synagogue meetings, there were only men in the primary part of the building. They had “prayer shawls” and covered their heads when praying. If you have a mixed group of worshippers as in the early church, the “Greeks” would not have had those head coverings. Paul said, just do away with them so all are the same. And then, pause and let this digest, women were allowed to be in the main part of the worship with the men and they were allowed to pray in the group. Paul just asks for a a certain amount of modesty. I know that women today don’t make personal statements with their hair styling and coloring, but back then… I think Paul was being about as revolutionary as he thought he could get away with.

Recognizing our fear of change of these developing and empowering roles of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, is the first step to being able to deal with it. We can succumb to the fear by abuse and hatred and even killing others not like us. Or we can recognize and begin the hard work of dealing with it. That is something Christian churches were supposed to do–by accepting all these varieties of people into their worship with no second-class memberships.

We Are All One

January 22, 2021

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul writing to the Christ-followers in Galatia.

For Paul writing as a Jew, bringing together “Jew and Greek” essentially meant bringing together all races. Slave and free brings together economic classes. Male and female, of course, genders.

He knew that there were still people of different races, political/economic status, and genders. It is an important part of our spiritual growth that we people who are practicing spiritual formation realize there exist no real boundaries among people. We are to treat and live with all as the same.

A thousand years before Paul spiritual seekers discovered the same truth.

Two thousand years after Paul, we still struggle with bringing that reality into our lives. In America we celebrate (well, some of us) a woman who is also black and south Asian rising to a high political position. And not without some struggle. Why do we need to celebrate? Why is it so unusual.

But not just here. Much of the strife in Africa is tribal. In Asia, it’s religious and ethnic. Europe has its own difficulties.

Treating everyone as simply human seems to be a difficulty for all humans.

We need to break the chain. When you meet someone, try to see what sort of person they are inside not just outside. And treat everyone the same–kindly.

Giving to Others

January 21, 2021

True words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth
does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information
may not know the truth.

One of whole virtue
is not occupied with amassing material goods
Yet, the more he lives for others,
the richer his life becomes.
The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle truth of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.

There may be no better time in America to read Wisdom literature. One of my disciplines for more than 20 years has been to immerse my mind in it every January. What a way to kick off a year.

But as I sit and contemplate the world, not one place on the globe can I see where such thoughts would not be worthwhile.

Those words were written perhaps 2,500 years ago and ascribed to “the ancients.” How long we humans have known what is the true path–and how little we have followed it.

As Jesus told the religious leader who correctly identified the “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, “Go and do likewise.”

Be Kind, Simple, Humble

January 15, 2021

Contemplate upon these ancient words of wisdom

There are three treasures which I embrace and follow closely;

The first is to be kind;

The second is to be simple;

The third is to not put one’s own importance first in the world.

Lao Tzu

Let us think of people we have met who are kind. We love to be around those people. They are not weak. They have inner strength of awareness of the situation of others.

There are people we know, surely, who do not overly complicate things and situations. They grasp the essence without embellishment. They live without ornamentation. They cannot be tempted away by outlandish promises.

Who among us like to be around someone who thinks only of themselves? Those who, when in conversation, seem not to be even aware of our existence while listening for words of praise or criticism of themselves?

Perhaps we have been caught up in the events of the world, no matter where we live. Perhaps we need this reminder today of three treasures—kindness, simplicity, humility.

Practice Compassion

December 9, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Practice?

That implies that I might not get it right the first time. Which means there will be subsequent times. Which means that I show compassion towards someone in this hour, maybe there is someone the next hour to whom I should show compassion. And perhaps I’ll do it better the next time. Practice means doing it over and over until it’s part of our being. And even then, continuing to practice.

But as I heard from a retired Naval pilot discussing his training, “It’s not ‘practice makes perfect’, it’s ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ “

A famous concert pianist was heard sitting at the piano and running through scales. What I should be doing with my guitar daily. What I should be doing with compassion always.

We cannot just practice mindlessly. Just a quick “I’m sorry” and move on. There must be a mindful quality to the practice, an intentional calling upon compassion.

Quick, what’s the shortest verse in the Christian Bible? “Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned with the mourners.

Can we do less?

I was sitting in meditation and the thought visited me–what if, what if we all practiced compassion. What a different world it would be.

Tell The Truth

November 12, 2020

A true master never offends anyone, but she or he is always truthful.

I am amazed and in awe of the Desert Fathers who never used 500 words when 15 would do.

They obviously took their cue from Jesus. He could evidently teach for a long time, yet no teaching was longer than a few sentences.

Yet, they spoke the truth with love and perhaps some went away disappointed or didn’t agree, but they were not offensive.

There is a cartoon from early in the popular Internet era where the wife calls from the bedroom, “It’s time for bed, dear.” The husband replies, “Just a moment, I found another error on the Internet I need to correct.”

How hard it is on social media to speak the truth to someone or point out an error (gasp, yes, they do occur) in 15 words without offending. Lord knows I’ve tried myself–and failed.

I forget which famous person (probably attributed to many) said, “I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

To be truthful without offense in a few words requires thought and compassion. Each is in short supply these days.

When Our Blessings Are Another’s Curse

May 30, 2019

“Those tornados last night were destructive.”

“Yes, we were blessed by the Lord that they didn’t hit us.”

“I don’t think the people who were struck would appreciate hearing that.”

–Conversation overheard at a coffee shop.

We were indeed fortunate that the series of tornados struck 35 miles west of us and others 35 miles south.

But to say we received a special blessing of God implies that those other people, who are every bit as Christian as we, are cursed by God.

Some sensitivity to others before turning everything into “all about me” comes from taking a pause before making an uncaring comment.

We do this so easily in prayers. We pray for God to bless us, or support us, or protect us. But in so doing, we unwittingly are praying the hurt, destruction, and even death of others.

Developmental psychologists can describe for us at what age we should be outgrowing the self-absorption we had at 2 years of age. But we struggle into and through adulthood to broaden our view beyond ourselves.

We, in our location, were quite fortunate not to have destruction visited upon us. Others were not so lucky. We need to reach out in aid. For, the next time the tables may be turned.

Quest for a Moral Life

May 10, 2019

Some people throughout their 30s and 40s are on a quest for individual success. It’s all about them. Many hit their 50s and 60s and seek rather to make a contribution to others, to their community, to a mission beyond themselves.

I noticed as far back as my university days that while some people were oriented toward service, most seemed to be in it for themselves. They had no empathy gene. Of course, I’m a Boomer, and we’re notorious for being the “Me Generation” as Time magazine nailed it back in the day.

David Brooks writes a column in The New York Times. He has a book coming out that I’ve read some excerpts–The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. He researched the observation I’ve had.

We start out as individualists trying to climb the mountain to success and fame. It’s all about us. Being better than everyone else.

Then something happens–a death, a brush with serious illness, an experience that shakes us out of ourselves. And we leave that first mountain and begin to climb the second one.

Then a banker quits and teaches elementary school. A lawyer goes on a mission trip to a destitute country and begins to devote time and expertise to helping the people there. A mother shaken by a child’s suicide becomes strong helping other mothers through the grief.

Bill Campbell, whom I discussed from the book Trillion Dollar Coach, was a successful Silicon Valley executive who coached many of the leading executives of his day–Steve Jobs and the Apple team, Eric Schmidt and the Google team, and more. He was never paid for the coaching. He was contributing back from the many blessings he had received.

When I was an adolescent, I thought moral people were those uptight, judgmental, hypocritical people whom I grew to detest. But actually, these people are far from the ideal.

Moral people have depth in experience and a desire to contribute seeking no glory for themselves. They offer not judgement, but help.

Building Up Women’s Status

October 25, 2018

Certainly the history of the Christian church’s attitude toward women is not so progressive. Even today in the United States there are denominations that teach women are inferior to men. What shocks me is when I meet a strong, yes even domineering, woman who belongs to such a church and seems to agree with it.

They justify this attitude by lifting certain “rules” from the apostle Paul and ignoring the bulk of the New Testament.

I’m reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. He helps explain things I’ve read and could not articulate well. Such as the dichotomy between what Jesus taught and did and some of those “rules” from Paul.

Jesus was a gender revolutionary. For example:

The accused adulteress whom the Pharisees wanted to stone to death. Jesus turned the mob scene into an individual responsibility event and then told the woman he didn’t accuser her and to go and sin no more.

There was Mary “sitting at the feet” of Jesus meaning that she had become a disciple. But women could not be disciples of a rabbi–as Martha tried to point out. Mary’s place was in the kitchen away from the men. Jesus told Martha she was wrong.

There was the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, uncovered and unbound her hair to dry them, and then anointed them with perfume–all to make up for the inhospitable behaviour of Simon who invited Jesus for dinner and then snubbed him. Jesus pointed out that Simon had the wrong attitude toward her.

There was the scandalous behaviour of Jesus permitting women to travel with the group and even fund their travel.

We can read these and miss the significance of the acts at that time in that culture.

Thanks to Phil for recommending the book.