"I Love Humanity..."

August 11, 2011

"It's people I have trouble with." These words were spoken by a pastor who was near and dear to my heart, my Father-In-Law. He was a graduate of Yale Divinity School, ordained and called to a Baptist Church in eastern North Carolina. I actually think he was making a little sarcastic joke when he would say these words. I think he realized that compassion and engagement in people's lives are inconvenient and interruptive to one's own agenda. A compassionate response can interrupt a Saturday night or a day at the beach. And detachment and clear boundaries can be a way of protecting ourselves from the pain others bear to us. My Father-In-Law left the ministry to enter the broadcasting business because, though he loved the preaching, he increasing knew that a short compassion stick and a great capacity for detachment do not a pastor make. Our president is hearing the same message. In an editorial by Maureen Dowd titled, "For a Passionless President, the Party's Over", Dowd cites the president's response - or lack thereof - to the turmoil in the country and especially the downing of a helicopter in Afghanistan with all 30 aboard killed - detached and aloof. "Detached hurts you when things are sour. You need some of Clinton's 'I feel your pain' compassion." A compassionate response is what the world needs. And it is the most Christ-like witness any disciple can offer. Compassion does not mean getting down in the pit with people. Rather it means listening and caring and being present with people in their suffering. I have long ago realized that suffering is the common denominator of the human experience. Suffering is what binds us together. When Jesus gave invitation to the weary and broken hearted to come to him, he opened the door of compassion to the world. The sick, the needy, the hungry, those with leprosy and demons came.... in unscheduled droves...to touch his garment and receive the blessing of his grace. In the church the extension of care is essential in the work of the kingdom. Holding people in their pain and loss is the work of Christ. A theoretical "loving of humanity" is simply not enough. It must be worked out in deeds, inconvenient, interruptive deeds of mercy. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is charged with the care of souls, the care of people. And from the pastors down, compassion sits alongside hospitality and generosity as ways to love and care for people. Compassion is born and nurtured in a growing love of God that transforms the heart to the heart of Christ. Dowd ends her column saying, "And [this great lack of passion and compassion] has led to American's regarding the nation's capital as a place of all villains and no heroes." The church will find relevance and revival in a renewal of attention to care and compassion and the cultivation of connection over detachment. Wow. What a concept! Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Mr. Wesley. Thank you, Mother Teresa. Amen.

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