Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

Overcoming Our Own Ignorance

March 10, 2017

“Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.” John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been on my “to read again” bookshelf for a long time. John is so perceptive. It’s an education in psychology as well as spiritual development to read his work.

It is easy to see ignorance everywhere–everywhere but in ourselves, of course. Does your heart ever ache at those times when someone seems ignorant on purpose? Proud of it? The answer is right there in front of them, and they stubbornly cling to an idea completely different?

I actually took a couple of years to study brain science to figure that out. But, I digress.

Have you ever stared at a passage of Scripture and then exclaim, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying???”

Happens to me often.

I try to be open to new ideas. New interpretations. Open to God breaking through and going “Open your eyes, dummy, and learn this.”

Two things help. One is to read a lot. I watch about 3-4 hours of TV a week (well, plus another 4-5 hours of soccer, but that’s s different story). Otherwise I read.

The other is meeting people. Not just seeing people. Meeting them. Christian fundamentalists. Ordinary Christians. Atheists. Pagans. Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. And having conversations. And listening. And seeing people as people–God’s children.

Know what? People are different from what you see in the news. Some people like to see their names in the news. Most people try to live a moral life as best they can. Most Christians I meet no matter what flavor of theology are just trying to live a spiritual life an hour at a time. Quietly. No headlines. No anger. No hate. Just people.

We have to watch our minds. Root out our ignorance through continual learning. Listen to someone today.

Are You Prejudiced?

March 3, 2017

Remember how Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Recently I saw one of my many friends from India. “Are you prejudiced?” he asked me. Three times.

I don’t feel any, I thought. But I was raised in the rural Midwest. I know I was raised with prejudices. Some were taught outright–never marry a Lutheran, my mom often said. They are almost as bad as Catholics. (Whatever that meant.)

My first date, when I was a senior in high school by the way, was a Lutheran. Go figure. But I married a Baptist–who was born in Kentucky. Oops. A family of outsiders had moved into town when I was little. All the old women whispered about “hillbillies.”

Except my wife was raised in Michigan. Oops. Everyone around is an Ohio State University fanatic. Hate Michigan.

Prejudiced? I don’t know. Nothing came to mind quickly. It’s hard to get past your roots. I’ll admit it takes me maybe a minute or so to get past piercings and tattoos to see the person underneath the rebellion.

There are behaviors I don’t like. Strong opinions not backed up by facts. Hate. Injustice. Am I prejudiced against the people? I don’t know. Maybe.

The first time I talked with a person of another race was when I was a freshman in college. Never had a problem with that. Gay people? Doesn’t bother me. People are people.

Even when I look at my Teacher. Jesus had no trouble with the Samaritan woman. But he did have quite the discussion with the SyroPhoenician woman about prejudice of Jews toward other tribes. “Even the dogs get table scraps,” she told him.

So I am still watching. Where are my prejudices? I must have some. You must have some. The way to get past them is to first recognize them. And then realize that all humans are created by a God who loves them.

Travel Is Fatal To Prejudice, Bigotry

February 23, 2017

Found this article on “Big Think.” This confirms observations that I have made over the years. It’s often said that there’s safety in numbers, and unfortunately, the bromide applies equally to people with hateful attitudes when they operate in groups. Racism, for example, is easy to maintain when surrounded by other haters, but a different matter altogether when a racist is alone with his or her intended victim. At that moment, it’s much harder to ignore the fact that the object of hatred is just another vulnerable human being with the right to be treated respectfully and decently. 

Author Daryl Davis knows this, and as a black man has been disarming members of the Ku Klux Klan, one by one, since the 1980s by asking each one he meets, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” he tells the Daily Mail. He says he’s gotten over 200 KKK members to quit.

Davis is about to release an updated version of his memoir, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, which describes his experiences. 

Davis cites Mark Twain in explaining how all the traveling his family did when he was young gave him a different view of racism, and an unusual patience with the ignorance underlying it: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I hear so many blanket statements about groups of people. In today’s immigration argument, it’s a frequent topic. But, I think, they just don’t know any. It’s all theory. And theory is a killer. This man is a genius. I have none of his courage (or the social skills to pull it off).

Recently a message came my way–visit new places, meet new people, read new things. Good idea. Deal with people in the particular, not in the general. 

Now, to go forth and practice my own preaching…

Let’s Pick The Scripture / Teaching We Want

February 20, 2017

It’s like a buffet. You get in the queue. All the dishes are laid out in front of you. Looking through the sneeze guard, you pick the things you want.

A guy I knew who was firmly and proudly in the Religious Right preferred to black out inconvenient teaching in the text. And often blacked out the context, too.

I’m teaching a class focusing on one of Paul’s letters. “I never liked Paul. He said such mean things about women.”

It is so inconvenient. Reading thoroughly for meaning within context, that is. It is so easy to pick out the things I agree with and ignore the rest. 

And when we do that, we hurt people. Deeply.

I even know of people who have deeply held “religious” and “Christian” views that aren’t even in the Bible. Or even in any reputable Christian writing from the early Church fathers to Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen.

And they deeply hurt people. And drive them away from the church.

Can I ask an existential question? What happens to both people when a self-proclaimed Christian person separates another person from God? Are there any winners? Are there any losers? Who?

I have only one faith–that God raised Jesus from death to life.

And two commandments that I follow quite poorly (geek that I am), namely Love God thoroughly and Love other people as myself.

So there are two responses, peace and justice.

And where lie peace and justice in a world where we draw lines based on buffet-line-style religion? And a world where self-centeredness rules?

How about instead of a buffet line reading of the Scripture we try a wine tasting way? We try some and learn to savor the different flavors and aromas. Discerning the nuances of each grape and fermentation process. And then try some more.

Spiritual writing is to be savored with discernment, not picked over and swallowed without tasting.

I Have A Dream

January 16, 2017

Is there an American who does not know what follows that phrase, “I have a dream”?

I hope not.

I remember taking a lot of grief from pretty much everyone in my home town back in the day for agreeing with that dream.

But I still have the dream–that every person will be judged by the strength of their character and not the color of their skin–or any of the other ways we have of dividing people into groups “like us” and “not like us”.

Jesus did not have difficulties crossing the very strict racial boundaries of his day (Jew v non-Jew).

I’m leading a small group studying from Romans right now. Paul is devoting much time to bridging the divide between the significant racial divide of his day–Jew v non-Jew.

It was painful to me in the last presidential election to watch one marketing message very clearly playing on the racial fears or prejudices of a group of Americans while the other candidate failed to come out strongly as one who would bridge the gap.

The same attitudes are springing up world-wide. Look at the unrest in Europe right now.

Where is the next Martin Luther King, Jr. who can raise a powerful voice in a non-violent way to unify people instead of dividing them?

What Have The Years Wrought With You

November 29, 2016

I knew a woman who was kind and funny. She got a job as a police dispatcher. Within a couple of years she became negative, cynical, joyless.

She dealt daily with criminals, people with stories about how they wound up  on the wrong side of the law, drug dealers, drug users. She seldom saw beauty and truth. There were no random acts of kindness.

I felt so sad.

When I reflect on the last year, one thing stands out–how many people have lost their kindness, their grace toward others, their joy.


I came across this thought while reading through my eclectic information gathering.

How have circumstances affected us?

Have we become more hardened, resentful, afraid?

These actually go together. Fear is at the root of many negative emotions. Fear of loss. Fear of the future. Fear of someone taking my job. Fear of others whom I do not know. Fear of the future.

However, we all know people (I hope) who have grown wise and understanding as they age. They no longer have anything to prove. They see that others have struggles, too. They see evil or foolishness and avoid it. They walk with God.

The Dalai Lama points to a wisdom that we also find throughout the Proverbs. It is our choice.

Every day we arise and we begin making choices. We can fill our minds with words of wisdom. We can fill our minds with the news headlines. Our choice.

We can choose how we react to the news. Do we allow our emotions to go crazy and get all worked up? Do we take a breath and allow the perspective of God to let us see beyond the news.

It’s not that I wish to ignore bad news and act as if it didn’t exist. That is a sign of mental illness. It’s just that I choose what I focus on.

We become what we think about.

Facing Doubts, Uncertainties, Fears

October 19, 2016

It is impossible for me to know the depths the struggles, fears, uncertainties of being a woman in today’s climate.

Even though I am by nature empathetic with others, I cannot completely step outside my experience shell to know at a deep level.

Even a simple a thing as running in the park just after dawn where I just run, but women have told me they fear going too far back or even being alone. I said once that I had never seen anything. She said, “I have.”

I first heard about Allison Fallon through Donald Miller’s blog (the author turned marketing consultant). She writes from her deep struggles. She opens eyes to people can perceive (see yesterday’s post). She wrote yesterday On Being a Woman In the World Today.

2,100 years after Jesus showed us men how to treat women and after Paul taught the mutually submissive lifestyle, there remains the struggle. The struggle to feel good in the face of a presidential candidate who rates women on a scale of attractiveness. The uncertainties facing a world where men can violate a woman in America and get off with a slap on the wrist.

Menlo Church where John Ortberg is the Senior Pastor has been teaching “It’s OK to Not Be OK.” Last Sunday Scott Scruggs taught on the book of Lamentations. That book begins by questioning God and ends by questioning God. He looked at “Doubting” Thomas, and how even guys who had lived with Jesus had trouble believing.

It seemed an appropriate teaching after reading Allison. Sometimes we have questions and just cannot comprehend where God is in all that. But then we meet people or find a worship experience where God shows through. Maybe it’s still a struggle. But there is some hope.

The other experience I cannot relate to is on the men’s side–the ones who abuse women and children. How can they do that?

Yesterday I talked about the condition of the heart. Today, it’s more of the same. If only we could reach out and help perform the Jesus type of heart surgery. That would be cool.

Imagine What A Wonderful World

September 23, 2016
I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue,
And clouds of white.
The bright blessed day,
The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.
The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying,
“I love you.”
–Louis Armstrong
Bill Hybels, Sr. Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, once talked about a staff retreat they held a few years ago. They told him that he should be teaching more. He said, “Oh, no, not that. Teaching is so hard for me.”
Well one reason it is so hard is that he tackles difficult topics. He doesn’t go for the easy softballs. And he does it with depth and sensitivity even while knowing that it will be a challenging message for many listeners.
So listening to him talking during his Sept. 18 taking on the topic of hate, I wasn’t surprised.
The amount of hate I see and hear just tears up my heart. People we might suppose to be good people post some of the most hateful things on social media. Even in casual conversations with people I may meet I hear hateful comments.
Much of the time, I think that the people posting such things or uttering such things would be shocked to be told that they are being hateful. Many think it is merely funny. Some think it is only descriptive.
Alongside that emotion is that of anger. Turn on many of the so-called “news channels” and you hear people screaming at each other—all in the name of raising emotions among enough listeners that the ratings are sufficient to attract advertisers.
Hybels opened the Bible to find an example of hate. He found it in Jonah. You know, the fish guy.
God told Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh sharing God’s love for them and the right response to that love. He wanted the people of the city to repent so that he didn’t have to destroy it and all the people in it.
Jonah, hated Nineveh. With good reason. The leaders of the city were cruel, warlike people. They sparked fear in all the area. Kind of like an ISIS. Jonah hated it so much that rather than obey God, he ran away in the opposite direction.
We know the story—a big storm out of character for that season on the Mediterranean came upon them; they discovered the reason was Jonah, they threw him overboard; the storm stopped; a fish came and rescued Jonah; took him back to Palestine and deposited him. So Jonah says, “OK God, you win. I’ll go. But I don’t like it.”
So he goes to the city and preaches. Repent and change your ways, follow the ways of the Lord or you will perish. They did. Was Jonah happy? No. He hated them. He went off and sulked. He said to God, I knew this would happen. I knew you would save them. But I’d rather that they were destroyed.
There is the story of God versus hate.
Hybels didn’t leave there. He offered help for avoiding hate. I’ve written about some of these before. Good tips.
  • Fill yourself with the love of God daily.
  • Steer clear of places that are full of hate: Websites, Talk TV, violent movies, cage fighting.
  • Hang out with radically loving people—the vision of the Acts 2 church.
Remember what Paul wrote to the people in Corinth (1 Cor 13), “and these three abide, faith, hope, and love, and the greatest is love.”
Imagine what it would be if we all lived that teaching. Sing it Louis.

Welcoming or Blocking

August 12, 2016

While researching for yesterday’s post on humility, I spotted this teaching of Jesus.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

John Fischer at The Catch talks often about welcoming Christianity, about grace turned outward. I think about those people who call themselves Christians who stand in the marketplace and in the political realm and shout out a message very  like the one Jesus condemned.

Yesterday in Fischer’s email he said:

There is a mean-spiritedness prevalent in our society today and we need to counter it as Christians in the marketplace. Donald Trump’s success is not because of Donald Trump, it’s because his message and bullish attitude has connected with a large number of people who are not happy with the way things are and feel powerless to do anything about it.

First, we need to cultivate an overall graciousness whenever we are operating in the public square.

Second, we need to cultivate compassion – not only caring for the needs of the disabled or the less fortunate because their needs are often so obvious, but for everyone.

And finally, we need to cultivate an overall attitude of respect for every human being no matter who they are or what they represent. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is the evil one, and when we make people or groups of people our enemies we are playing right into his hand. Learn to see the image of God in everyone.

That attitude, and just listening to his podcast, makes me glad that two of my friends told me about him. Yes, as Christ-followers, we really need to bring grace and compassion into the marketplace and general discourse.

This song resonated with me 40+ years ago, and still does.

Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary)wrote this song, “Hymn.” The times are different, but there is a similarity. We sometimes still talk theory rather than people.

I visited some houses
Where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving

They passed a basket with some envelopes
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was I believe in You

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that
You had been replaced by Your assistants

The discussion was theology
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was I believe in You

Concern For All People

May 19, 2016

People of Paul’s world were divided into two groups–Jews and non-Jews. At least it was so from the point-of-view of a Jew.

Taking another look at Romans 10 (and 9 and 11 to put it in context), I’m suddenly struck by Paul’s concern for everyone. Paul spends considerable time talking about God’s grace toward non-Jews (Gentiles). This was revolutionary in Jewish thought.

Paul also spends considerable time discussing Jews. And how God wishes for them to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus and the reconciliation of grace.

Paul cared for them all!

In the world of that time, a Jewish person was to have as little interaction with non-Jews as possible. Definitely one didn’t eat with them or go into their house.

Yet, after Paul’s conversion and the redirection of his life, he seemed to have no problems being anointed “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Look at the struggles of Peter coming to the same conclusion. It’s remarkable that those internal struggle Peter had before he finally accepted Gentiles as people just like Jews were even recorded and saved.

We keep trying to divide the world today. Every culture I’ve had contact with finds ways to divide people. Even going so far as to label some in such a way as to imply “less than human” status.

Today’s discipline for us to practice is to go out this morning and begin to see everyone we meet (and think about) as people whom God created and God loves. Be like Paul who was concerned for each and every one.

I can hear the “Yeah, but what about” comments forming even now as I type. Cast those evil thoughts out.

If you need to find the strength, read Romans 9-10-11 with new eyes. See how Paul was deeply concerned for the lives of everyone. Go and do likewise.