Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

Christ Abhors Vagueness

June 27, 2022

It is easy enough to write and talk about God while remaining comfortable within the contemporary intellectual climate. Even people who would call themselves unbelievers often use the word gesturally, as a ready-made synonym for mystery. But if nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self.

Christian Wiman

I read this thought and loved a couple of things in it. It’s easy for anyone to use the term God. Christ abhors vagueness.

It reminds me of an old Peanuts cartoon where Linus proclaims, “I love mankind.” But then he adds, “I can’t stand people.”

We can see this in general society. We see it in evangelical churches. Probably other churches as well.

I hope we don’t see it within us.

Jesus taught us that love is specific. His stories told of specific people loving specific people. He healed specific individual people. He taught us to do the same.

When I leave this desk to go out into the community around me, can I show some act, however small, of love toward each person I meet?

That is the test.

Put Your Mask On First

June 23, 2022

In case of sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from above your head. Pull to activate. Put your mask on before helping others.

Have you flown in a commercial airliner in the past 30 years? If you’ve flown at least as much as I have, you may have the entire performance memorized. Whether you are trying to or not.

We live in an era of anxiety and fear and anger (one breeds the next breeding the next). Not just in America where it plays out second by second on social media and TV. This is a global phenomenon. Millions, well billions, of people falling into those despairing emotions. Self-serving politicians also globally are always poised to exploit those emotions in order to gain or maintain power.

What can someone trying to live the life that Jesus pointed to (or Buddha, if you are so oriented) do to survive and help.

Put your mask on first.

The next thing you should do after reading and thinking on this is to pause and reflect. Where am I? How can I be assured of connecting to the source of oxygen (to continue the metaphor)? And I take myself out of the circle of anxiety and fear.

Thich Nhat Hahn told the story of Vietnamese refugee boats in troubled waters. If everyone on the boat was filled with anxiety and fear, all was lost. If even just one person remained calm, that calming influence spread and the boat was saved.

Thus only by putting on our own “mask” of calm can we help those around us. Don’t be a perpetrator of fear. Be a spreader of peace.

Freedom From Anger

April 8, 2022

Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you.

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 8

Anger. Could that be the theme of this era? In America, some white people are angry at people with skins of different colors or with those who are not like them. Leaders of nations worldwide are angry at each other or at their followers. Adherents of one religion or sect within a religion are angry with those not aligned with them.

Humans can easily nurse grievances until the anger bursts into flame causing sometimes irreparable harm.

Are we doomed?

No.

Many find the way through anger. John of the Ladder gives guidance.

The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 8

I heard three great questions on a podcast during my morning walk this morning. Try them.

Does this need to be said?

Does this need to be said now?

Does this need to be said by me?

I wish you calm today. Namaste.

Compassion

October 18, 2021

The word of the day came to me while scanning email newsletters to which I subscribe. Compassion. I thought, when is the last time, if ever, that I have contemplated compassion?

I’m not even positive that I know what it means.

One definition began with pity. But I didn’t think that captured the idea. So, I had to go deeper.

It begins with sensitivity. I think it must begin with us, ourselves. We must have some level of self-awareness as human beings. Then an awareness of other human beings. The breakdown of the word surely contains thoughts of a shared emotional experience.

Thoughts cannot contain the entire concept. Not only must we be aware of others and understand ourselves, but we must show that somehow. We cannot just be in our room wallowing in our feelings. We must do something.

If we are near the other, perhaps we can go and sit with them. If we are far (however defined), we can send expressions of understanding and sympathy. As much as I emphasize the excessive fear, anxiety, and hate spread through social media, I must recognize the times when that is the quickest way to express compassion.

My “newsfeed” within Facebook, for example, regularly has responses containing the emoji of praying hands to someone in distress. Knowing that others express understanding and support at tough times is a help in these times.

I like this, from Wikipedia, Compassion motivates people to put forth a selfless effort in helping the physical, mental , or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion is often regarded as having sensitivity, which is an emotional aspect to suffering.

This may be one of the most underused of the spiritual practices. Praying hands sent on social media once in a while is good. But we must ask ourselves, is this enough?

What have I done this morning to show compassion to myself? How can I be watchful for opportunities to show a little compassion to others? It doesn’t have to be a huge action.

I sit on the outside patio at the local coffee house. There is no handicapped access button on their door (Hint to Mr. Starbucks, it would be great if you added that!). I sometimes see a woman in a wheel chair who can just barely move her arms enough to use the joystick to maneuver her vehicle. Oh, and to hold her coffee, of course. She drives up to the door but can’t get in. I’ll pop up and go open the door. Just a small act, but significant for her. And I’m not the only person. Some people sit and ignore her, but many young and old have helped.

Opportunities to open our souls a little and show even a small act of compassion occur continually. We become sensitive to others and their needs. We act. We are thereby compassionate.

Outsiders or Insiders

August 26, 2021

As a child, youth, and even sometimes as an adult I have felt like an outsider.

How about you? Are you an insider? Or, an outsider?

You could identify as a Christian. You could enter a building and find yourself at a worship gathering. Depending upon the music, activities, dress of participants, you could be an insider or an outsider.

Circumstances can change causing you to change status from insider to outsider. Think about Jesus walking about telling stories with a teaching point. He was talking with insiders–Jewish people. However within the group “Jewish people” there were insiders (Pharisees, priests) and outsiders (everyone else). Forty years after Jesus was executed and then resurrected, the Jewish people in Palestine flipped from insider to outsider after the Romans grew weary of the constant rebellion and attacked.

Jesus told a story about insiders and outsiders. A man (assumed Jewish, but undefined) was beaten by robbers on a lonely road. Twice an insider passed by, avoided the man, and kept going. Then an outsider traveled the road. He saw the injured man and stopped. He cared for the man, took him to a place where he could heal, and paid for his recovery.

Jesus complimented the outsider.

When you are sitting comfortably with your other insiders, what do you feel toward outsiders? To what degree would you help them? That is the question Jesus asks us to ask ourselves. And he offers a suggestion as to how we should act. Hint: transcend that insider/outsider barrier.

Doing What I Can

April 26, 2021

I don’t ignore the news. That is hard to accomplish and probably not wise. However, I don’t immerse myself in it. That, also, would not be wise.

The easy thing for a Christian is to pretend to be an ancient Hebrew prophet and expound on hypocrisy and godlessness and the evil of people who disagree with me.

But that is merely ego-centric.

The news and pictures I’ve seen coming from India regarding the impact of the failure of the government to tackle the Covid crisis with the resulting deaths have moved me to deep sadness. And that is repeated with perhaps less drama in some other populous countries.

As an adolescent student and young man, I harbored a great dislike for the writings of the Apostle Paul. Later, I discovered that it wasn’t Paul himself, but the way people went through his writing and picked out parts they liked and build legal frameworks around them.

So, as a civil rights and anti-war person, I totally misunderstood what Paul wrote in the 13th chapter of Romans. Here, he expounds a view, not that the government is always right (and I wondered what he’d have written had he been living under Nero at the time), but that government is placed here by God to bring order and justice and the like to society.

We can see throughout this pandemic the differences in political leadership and the various impacts upon the societies. Leadership in the government is important. All the leaders made mistakes–just some learned and adjusted and some, well, failed.

But I’m not here to be an ancient Hebrew prophet predicting God’s judgement upon them all.

Instead, what is the response I can make when I learn about all this immense suffering. I cannot write a check with enough zeros to provide vaccines and healthcare for the world. But I can write a check. And I can encourage those I meet. And I can support good leaders.

Living in the dominion of the heavens that Jesus had announced doesn’t mean that I change the whole world. I can change me and influence those around me. And so can you.

It’s kind of like Arlo Guthrie singing at the end of Alice’s Restaurantand it’s a movement, yes the Alice’s Restaurant Massacre movement. We can participate in the share the kingdom of heaven movement and learn from Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. Help where we can.

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.”