Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

25 “Cues” For The Week That Will Come When You Hear “I just….”

Monday, April 20th, 2015

God speaks.  Speaks all the time.  Rarely in the form of the clouds parting and visions of light but often in quieter forms of simple conversation.  This week that means paying attention, paying attention to God’s voice in the voice of others.  It might well come in the form of a quiet request for connection, at times of joy or times of grief, with the words “I just….”

  1. I just can’t handle what is going on in my life.  I need a break.
  2. I just had a baby
  3. I’m just concerned.  I know I will miss this congregation if we move out of state
  4. I just lost my job
  5. I just want some balance in my life
  6. I just miss my child
  7. I just feel like I am done
  8. I just want to feel SOMETHING
  9. I just feel so alone
  10. I just want to be a good person, can’t do it any more, appreciate everything I have, want to find peace within myself, learn to love myself.
  11. I just can’t hold on anymore
  12. I just had a good day
  13. I just like Pizza (:-))
  14. I just want peace
  15. I just feel helpless
  16. I just need a hug
  17. I just need a break
  18. I just want to know why
  19. I just want to know how
  20. I just don’t know how to do this
  21. I just wanted to help
  22. I just need somebody to talk to
  23. I just had hip surgery
  24. I just lost my dad
  25. I just got married
Hear these words.  Pay attention to the clues.  Be the church!

Ebola and When Fear Reigns

Friday, October 24th, 2014

The recent news that a New York City Doctor, Craig Spencer, tested positive for Ebola will no doubt create another spasm of fear in the US.  Understandable.  The frightening ability of this disease to spread, even to highly trained  medical professionals who no doubt take every precaution, terrifies.

And we live in an even more dangerous world when a contagion of fear reigns.

Yesterday read of another tragedy … over 3,000 Palestinians have died in recent months attempting to flee by boat to Europe in hopes of starting a new life.   Buried deep in the paper … who knew?

That does not make Americans bad or wrong either for not paying attention to the plight of refugees or paying too much attention to understandable fears around Ebola.  But.  But our fears can blind us to the plight of others. We will experience cases of Ebola.  We will not experience what many anticipate is soon coming in Africa … thousands of cases a week.

I admire Dr. Spencer.  I admire he traveled to Africa.  I admire he followed a dangerous call to help.  That is the bigger story to me.  A man driven not by fear but by compassion, joining unknown others doing the same.

Compassion and Community

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Henry Nouwen wrote ….

  1. The crisis in the lives of many caring Christians today is closely connected with the feeling of not belonging.
  2. Without a sense of being sent by a caring community, a compassionate life cannot last long and quickly degenerates into a life marked by numbness and anger.

Those lines ring so true.  For many the church is not the safe harbor from which we are sent forth to compassionately serve with love, but instead becomes a bastion of estrangement, a place of sorting, a place of degraded, privatized faith where the Word is used as a set of directions for parsing who gets to heaven and who goes to hell, and not as a story of hope, peace, reconciliation and resurrection.

The result of that estrangement?  Numbness and anger.

And yet different approaches abound, antidotes to numbness and anger, churches that move us back to a community of compassion, a matrix out of which healing and service grows.

Such churches understand faith as a flow of energy.  As an environment.  As an ecosystem.  Not as mono-culture.  Such churches – breathing –  are not without mechanics, doctrine and structure, but those three now serve.  They create, as it were, the banks of the river but they are not confused with the river.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I say, with an attempt at being lighthearted, that the most common theological question I field is “I am thinking about a divorce. What should I do?”  There is nothing however lighthearted about the question.  Divorce often is devastating not just to the couple but to families and friends alike.

And yet there are situations where divorce is a legitimate choice.  I don’t believe the job of a pastor is to serve as a court-appointed arbitrator who renders decisions on a “legitimate” or “illegitimate” divorce. The role of a Pastor is to listen, to hear, to offer an unanxious and loving presence willing to sit with someone in pain who has reached a painful crossroads.  From that place a pastor can offer what he/ she sees as God’s insights from His Word.

And what would those insights be?

For me, it starts with the overwhelming need for compassion.  Working on both sides of the marriage equation – with those who want to keep working and those ready to leave – I know the entire enterprise is filled with pain for everyone.  No one gets a “Get out of jail free” pass .  That is a clear call for compassion, a call we see again and again in God’s Word.

In the New Testament, Jesus consistently narrowed the scope of appropriate reasons for divorce, eschewing the Old Testament teaching that a man could divorce his wife if she was “displeasing” to him.  That Old Testament perspective reflected the overbearing paternalist chauvinism of Middle Eastern culture.  Christ stood clearly against it, urging men to leave ancestral family ties behind in order to join with their spouse.  He likewise narrowed the cause for divorce to adultery.  Those teachings were offered in the spirit of compassion, as a way of protecting women for whom a divorce was often, literally a death sentence, given their lack of rights and their inability to claim any of their husbands property in the event of a dissolution of the marriage.   New Church theology reflects that same basic posture.

I do not believe marriage should be dissolved for “light” reasons.  I likewise believe that adultery is a broad term.  A husband addicted to pornography who purposefully pushes the marriage aside as he dives further into a land of addiction is adulterating the marriage covenant.  Abuse – physical, sexual, or verbal – arguably would be the same I believe.  All relationships entail periods of suffering.  However there is a categorical difference between the suffering that is within God’s will and the suffering that is death dealing, that is outside of God’s will.

And what I know at a very deep level, is that regardless of “rights” and “wrongs” compassion must reign supreme.  For those versed in the New Testament, Jesus’ comment to the woman caught in adultery was not “suffer the consequence” but instead quite literally the life saving approach of the Savior.  To the Samaritan woman at the well – married 5 times and now living with her boyfriend – the promise was in the same vein – a promise of “living water.”

Words of kindness are not just reserved for the easy situations in life.  They are likewise applicable to the mess.   As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “Those guided by kindness hardly notice evil in another but pay attention instead to everything good and true in the person. When they do find anything bad or wrong they put a good interpretation on it.” Lets do the same.  Lets be guided by kindness.

Hope and Optimism

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

As is important to note, “Church is a decision to hope and an invitation into the imperfect.”

“Hope” and “Optimism” can be held as slightly different phenomena.  I have met people – and I can be one – with an almost compulsive need to be optimistic.  I don’t like hearing sad stories.  I even struggle to remain in my seat during a sad movie – which means I see about 2 movies a year.  That saccharine”optimism” masks frankly a discomfort with pain and struggle. I am challenged by looking at it “in the eye.”  Ministry is shifting that in time but it is often a struggle.

And what I am learning is that I can sit with others who are in pain, who struggle, and see a deep hope grow in areas where I, in my human smallness, could not imagine hope taking root. And this hope is a sober and at the same time generative hope – one that is able to witness the struggle of life as well as God’s calming and compassionate hand gently holding lives in turmoil.

The miracle for me is that I can decide to hope!   And if I decide to hope, I can then face the imperfect not with a response that recoils from pain, but with response that is able to access compassion – a word literally meaning to “suffer with.”  This hope goes a place where simplistic optimism never could.

Life is filled with hope, if that is the decision we choose to make.  We are after all in the Presence of God – a Presence that deeply loves us and continually calls us home.  That love remains regardless of circumstance – a secret found most profoundly in those whose lives have suffered trials of fire.   To know is to know the imperfect and to know a soul deep, a bone deep hope.

So in that spirit of hope, take 15 minutes and enjoy this short video!

Osama Bin Laden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

What a surprise to wake with the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been located and killed. The news for me frankly was not one of joy, but of saddness.  The sadness grows from realizing the immense toll violence and hatred takes on the human condition.

I remember teaching secondary school students about Bin Laden and terrorism using the “9/11 Report.”  What struck me most was his resolute rejection of all things Western, all things non-Muslim, and all concept of political solution.  That type of fundamentalism – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Atheist – is ugly regardless of its source.

So what are we do?  How we are to hold days like today?  For some there may be place to celebrate.  That being said, I believe more strongly that it is a time for prayer.  Evil is a real force.  It is not imaginary or made up.  Evil seeks destruction.  It practices deceit and intolerance.  And our first response must be to always guard against it growth not just in the world but within ourselves.  Celebration that comes from a warped desire to rejoice over vengeance speaks to our lower selves, the part in us that separates the world into “us” and “them” – a place that finds no space for compassion.  The line between vengeance and justice is slim.  It is difficult to argue that Bin Laden’s death did not serve the interests of justice.  But if vengeance creeps into our hearts, what then has “won?”

My prayer is for deep compassion.  My prayer is not only for the 1,000′s who perished on 9/11 but for the blood shed that that depraved act unleashed.   My prayer is for our country, that it may keep its heart.  My prayer is for the world that in this Easter season we find in Christ a message of reconciliation, a world in which the “Lion and Lamb shall lay down together.”  And as prayers end – may there be peace.

The Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

The scenes from Japan are deeply saddening.   My brother lived there for over 10 years with his family so that country has been close to our families heart for quite some time.

The damage in Japan is hard to grasp.  Japan is roughly the size of Minnesota with 1/2 the population of the US.  Therefore population density is far higher than one might find in the US.  When these events strike, the damage even if localized is greater than it might be in the US.

With concerns around nuclear reactors, the crisis does not appear to be over.

What can we do at times like this?  For those called to offer material aid, there will be many opportunities over the coming weeks.  For all of us, what we can do is keep the those impacted in our hearts.  Prayer does not directly alleviate suffering.  What prayer does is open us up to the compassion we need to access in order to reach out towards others.  It softens our heart which allows us to reach out to those who are brokenhearted.

Priest Fights Gangs with “Boundless Compassion”

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

In wrapping up on the planning for this weeks service we are working on pulling together Justice, Mercy, and Humility.  All three depend on one another.  Read the list and try dropping even one of the three.  It quickly degrades the thrust of God’s business, God’s intent.

In a NPR interview Father Gregory Boyle spoke very movingly about his work with “Homeboys” and the “slow work of God.”  Throughout, is a context of justice, mercy, and humility lived out into challenges of life.

Listen to the interview and share your thoughts.  A special thanks to Anders Fehon for putting me towards it.