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Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Original photo by Eddie Adams

Original photo by Eddie Adams

I love dictionaries. They are wonderful tools for discovery and now that they are online, I have a place to hang out any time of day or night. Where else could I discover that “compassion” was, at one time (1580-90), a verb: “compassionate.” I’m still trying to figure out how to use this archaic word in a sentence. And although the word as a verb never caught on, the meaning lingers.

Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. [Luke 6:36, CEB]

The definition says, “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” This has been a deep error on my part for I have always thought of compassion as a feeling, a kind of empathy, sorrow and commiseration. But I have not allowed myself to take on the second part, the doing, the actual work that should be coming out of the feeling.

Rev. Everett Swanson, who started Compassion, Intl. back in the 1950’s, understood both sides of this word from the very beginning and his organization has grown into a multi-million dollar operation offering people all over the world the opportunity to play out a type of doing by financially supporting a child in a developing country. But, are we giving out of a strong desire to alleviate suffering or a kind of guilt and peer pressure?

And so it sometimes goes with giving to the church or tithing or donating to another “good cause.” Our motives are sketchy. I know mine have been to say the least. But I also know that the need is greater than any of us manage alone, for the Lord himself said, “The poor will always be with you . . . ” [Mark 14:7, NIV]. And for this reason, we must choose where we give our monies, our time, and our energy and work together.

I think it’s time to look into my heart for true compassion, for those whom am I honestly feel sorrow and possibly, even distress on their behalf. Have I been playing at this important ingredient of my faith? In some ways, I have followed along with the compassion others feel, slipping along the edges, but I am not convinced that I am “all in.”

For instance, the DNA of our church is much driven by our pastor’s authentic compassion for people who are “far away from God” (for whatever reason, be it bad choices, addictions, or malaise). And the church is becoming the hands and feet on his mission for humanity, loving them, helping them, engaging them for good: we are compassionating them.

It is so much easier to generate a feeling of compassion for people and animals we see in desperate circumstances, in news reports or commercials (how many of us change the channel when the ASPCA ads come on?). It’s simply too painful to watch.

painBut really, aren’t their people whose hearts are equally damaged but hidden within the norms of society? They are in pain too. In some cases, it takes not only a compassionate heart but a discerning one to recognize the lost or wandering soul.

Lord, guide me and sensitize me to the needs of others, not just their daily bread, but their need for the Bread of Life.

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Art by Favianna Rodriguez

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

But while he [the prodigal] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20]

It’s not that I didn’t know what compassion means. And yet, despite reading or hearing the prodigal story hundreds of times, I never put the father in this state: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” [dictionary.com]

I had always read longing and forgiveness into the father’s response, that he ran to the son out of love and joy. However, I finally see, compassion means that the father was struck by the extent of his son’s calamities and he did the only thing he could do for the young man: show him love and acceptance. The son had punished himself enough already. 

The results of the son’s disastrous choices were all over him. Where he had left the family home as a gallant young “prince” among men; he had returned as a slave. And although he would never again be landed (since the he wasted away his inheritance), he was still a son. Life would not be the same in that household: from that point forward, I am guessing the son would have to serve both his father and his brother. He would have to work. And if he wanted an independent life, he would have to create it for himself, save money and rebuild. The one thing he would have was safety and hopefully, a willingness to be instructed.

When I was so sure I knew my way, I too floundered. I wasn’t given my inheritance (for there was none really, in my family’s poverty), but I knew how to work hard and support myself. But I spent all of my money unwisely. I indulged my fantasies without examining them. I looked at the “good life” and yearned for it. And since I couldn’t have it in reality, I tried to have it in reflection: dress that way, spend that way, play that way, drink that way. But of course, the “way” continued to be a pretend world.

I was on a downward spiral. And although I never hit rock bottom as so many must before they turn back or step out of the maelstrom, the direction I was heading is so clear to me in in hindsight. Drugs, alcohol, and carnality were my daily bread. I was not a slave to them yet, but soon. From this, like the prodigal, I turned and tried on the arms of God. I am one of the lucky ones.

But I still have that personality. I still make impulsive choices, I can still spend recklessly, and I indulge both my whims and my children. I still have an addictive personality and can become somewhat obsessed with an idea or incident or food or whatever. I even catch myself yearning for the mega millions jackpot, as though money alone would solve my woes.

It took me a long time, really, to become a true believer, a Christ follower, a Christian even. I could never quite believe I’d done it, given up that other dream of fame and fortune and notoriety in the Big Apple. For the longest time, I went through the motions of extreme faith from “not quite authentic” manifestations of the charisma to dancing and laughing and anything else that would keep my mind occupied and keep me busy. I just kept adding and adding to my plate.

But today, I see that my plate is being stripped away. And I am getting back to the truth of me. And I know my God has compassion for me now just as He/She did when I came to the Spirit quite raw. I am not that other kind of prodigal anymore. I am shedding the layers of “shoulds” and working toward the inner sanctuary of my heart to a me I have never revealed before or known. She has been lost for a long time.

 

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Art by Jonas Gerard

God blessed Ishmael because he was the son of Abraham. And although it may not seem like a blessing at first blush, those many tribes that descended from Ishmael only to become enemies to the progeny of Isaac: but there was still fruitfulness. And God is honored in fruitfulness.

Genesis 17:18, 20; 21:11-12a,  And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” . . .  “And as for Ishmael, I [God] have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. . . . But God said to him [Abraham], “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. . . .  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

But the blessing of Ishmael is not simply about childbearing and big families, it is about enlarging the place of one’s tent (e.g. one’s influence).

Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.  [Isaiah 54:2-3]

Children are the hope of the future, whether we have them in our immediate family or we serve them through school, church, neighborhood, or work. It is the children who carry the message of our lives into their own. If our lives are loving and giving and caring, then they will respond to the model we provide them. But the opposite is true as well.

They say, if you want to know where a person’s priorities are, look at the list of things in which they invest their money. I say, the same is true for the way money, time, knowledge, and energy are invested in children. They cannot love if they have not been loved. They cannot give grace if they never received it. They will not show compassion if they have not seen compassionate behaviors around them. What we pass to children of all ages is only limited by our own misplaced preferences and choices.

I wish I could say that my children are bearing the fruit of the blessings of God. In some ways, they are: instead of an orphanage, they live in a family and a country of great opportunity. Instead of a proscribed future dealt to them through poor diet, alcoholism, and abandonment, they do know they are loved unconditionally. But in my enthusiasm for having children, I spoiled them too. I wanted them to have some of the things I missed and I created a distorted view of value, of appreciation for the little things, of comfort. Like most Americans, they reflect a world where “need” means another car, not another meal.

So now, I am sorry dear children, what I failed to pass along, you will have to discover on your own. Life will teach you and in that life, God will teach  you. For the blessings of God are still there, the promise of good things still available, but the road may be a little longer.

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Apparently, there are at least three tools for breaking the potency of bitterness, anger and slander that grieve the Holy Spirit (and others): kindness, compassion and forgiveness. And in fact, I believe it’s the marriage of kindness and compassion that makes forgiveness possible.

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Too often, we think of a kindness as polite niceties. Instead, I think it’s a choice to act in a way that is independent of the circumstances. Kindness is a habit, well-formed.

I’ve been reading a 2010 book by N.T. [Tom] Wright called “After You Believe” in which the good professor is putting forth the foundations for virtue and thereby, character. In the early chapters, he talks about the natural response to circumstances as being the evidence of virtue. And isn’t kindness one of these? We shouldn’t have to think about being kind.

The power of kindness became so popular at one point, there were bumper stickers and a Foundation advocating more kindness, just for the heck of it. And yet, it’s not really the norm for us.

And compassion? This requires an awareness of Other in a specific way. To express compassion, we must see, hear, and feel something of the Other. Without a relationship of some kind, I believe it’s only kindness. Compassion is the next level and implies a doing or a response to remedy the situation.

If kindness is touching someone’s hand, then compassion is putting something in the hand.

The two together create the perfect environment for forgiveness.

The father who forgives the drunk driver who killed his daughter, found compassion and kindness first. I met Jeffrey Vetter and the young man, Michael Jacoby, who drove the car.

Forgiveness must be fueled with something, and is not efficacious with words alone. The heart must be engaged because it is the heart that is healed.
(Fast Day 1)

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Who wants to be held captive? Just the idea of it makes me want to run the other way. Like most people of our culture, this sounds like the opposite of freedom. Ah, it’s another paradox of the faith: captivity is freedom in the realm of Christ.

II Corinthians 10:5
[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) . . . [Amplified]

I remember visiting a church once and being totally turned off. The message was about the “mind” and all its evils. The mind was the whole problem, he said. The mind caused every sin and every mistake. The mind was to blame. Both Mike and I walked out of there to never return. At that time, we equated the mind with intelligence, creativity, and logic, not evil.

But now, I think I have a clearer understanding of the mind’s role in my faith. The mind is the initiator of all things: both good and bad. The spark of an idea comes from the mind. Christ dwells in the mind as well, but without a whip. The mind must be tamed with love.

To bring the mind into captivity is to harness the thoughts that may initiate the wrong direction, a poorly conceived plan and unintended consequences.

The mind is where resentments can grow unfettered. The mind is where “Pete and Repeat” live: they go over and over the words someone said to me or what I should have said back or worse, reminding me of what I did or said that hurt others. Pete and Repeat live in a cesspool of words and feelings.

There are two possible solutions. One is to use the Jesus duct and to allow that cesspool to drain periodically. If not, it gets so full, eventually, one way or another, that stuff starts building a home in the heart and coming out of the mouth. The second solution is to put those thoughts and words and feelings into captivity first, before they get too powerful, too sullen, too belligerent, too stubborn to remain corralled.

My picture of such a thing is a corral with little delinquents running around, hurting each other with name calling, punching and the like. And there is Jesus walking among them, laying a hand here or there, touching a head, or blowing away the hurt like a mom does for her little baby who fell down. He sits in the middle of the muck and slowly, their curiosity gets the better of them and they come closer and closer, to listen, to touch, to be healed, and to be renewed.

This captivity is a place where broken things are made whole again.

I yield.

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As soon as the Bible mentions “body parts,” everyone’s mind goes right to sex. And yes, there is a lot to be said about sex and its abuses. But there are other misused body parts that do equal damage to the soul. . .

Romans 6:13
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

The tongue is the number one culprit in my life. This is the body part that is constantly leaning toward wickedness and does much damage. If I could keep my words corralled and dedicated to God, what a difference it would make. Instead, my mouth goes into 3rd gear while my mind is still in “park.” I have actually warned people that I think out loud. I hear my out loud thoughts and then massage the ideas. In a brainstorming session, I can be a true asset: Blurt Out Brown.

But this type of talking can do harm when it turns into gossip. I can’t even say it’s always malicious gossip. It’s the constant telling and retelling of a story where I might have been on the short end. And unconsciously, every time I tell that story, the perpetrator gets more stupid and I am more wrongly maligned. The listener nods and “tsk-tsks” and I feel vindicated to tell the story again. Oh shame.

There are other abuses of the tongue: cattiness, sarcasm, complaint, crudeness, name-calling, and lies (to name a few).

As I think about it more, it’s clear the tongue is but a slave to another, more secret master: the mind. It is the mind that fans the flame and directs the tongue to speak, to answer, or to attack. The mind is the “first responder.”

I love the fact that I have an active mind. I am relatively smart and I can process a lot of data. I am creative and I am facile. But this same mind that has served me well has also spent a lot of time on the “dark side.” It’s time to flood my mind with the light.

I confess my sinful tongue and ask forgiveness for the damage it has done. Oh Lord, Guard my mouth this day. Show me how to offer my words to you before they leave my mouth.

Sensitize my mind to the sacred other that I might not inflict my wounds. Hold my judging thoughts and sift them before they can take root. Take the memories I have used to justify my resentments or anger toward others.

Take my life and let it be consecrated to you.

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Matthew 23:23b
…But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness….

What an interesting combination of words. Here is justice, which has many definitions, but most frequently, I believe we think of it as “the administration of deserved punishment” or “rightfulness and fairness.” However, the power of mercy is to do the opposite, to forgive the deserved punishment with tolerance and compassion. And lastly, faithfulness (or adherence to truth, steadiness, and a standard) is like an umbrella over them both.

There are many paradoxes in the Bible and it is only with a wide-open mind and heart can be incorporate them into our walk. It is because there is justice that there can be mercy. And praise be to God, He is faithful in extending both.

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