Posts Tagged ‘compassion

25
Aug
19

For me?

Puerto Rican tree frogJoan and I (and Joan’s daughter Jessica) are in Puerto Rico for a few days, enjoying our first-ever trip to this island.

What an amazing place! If you have never been, I highly recommend it.

For Jessica, this is a vacation. That’s because Jessica is a working person.

Joan and I, however, are only allowed to call it a “trip” because we are both retired. That means we are legally prohibited from using the word “vacation.”

We are staying in a little seaside spot near Punta Santiago on the east coast of the island. It is far outside the city of San Juan and therefore very peaceful and serene.

The remoteness of our location has allowed us to meet the little tree frog that is known as “the symbol of Puerto Rico,” the coqui. The coqui has a distinctive and piercing call that begins right around sunset and continues until the wee hours of the morning.

Wikipedia tells me that the coqui’s call is made up of two parts… the “co” which is designed to scare away other male frogs, and the “qui” (pron. “key”), which is his come-on to any female frogs in the area.

I am glad I looked this up because when I first heard the call of the coqui, it struck me as the call of the most self-centered little amphibian in the world.

The call I thought I heard him making was, “For me?” repeated over and over and over again.

It made me think about how often I have employed that mating call in my own life.

I had to stop and ask myself if I am only able to appreciate the joy and wonder of life when it is especially designed “for me.”

Am I only able to weep and feel the true depth of sorrow when a tragedy is uniquely “for me”?

I sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if it were, I would truly be a person worth pitying.

When Jesus commanded us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39), I believe he was commanding us to do away with the notion that there is a distinction between the two.

When I see no distinction between my neighbor’s well being and my own well being, self-care and compassion merge to become the same thing.

Your joy is indeed “for me.” Your sorrow is also, “for me.”

So maybe instead of being annoyed as the little coqui sings me to sleep tonight, I will instead choose to be grateful for his sermon on authentic human compassion.

 

But maybe he could try preaching it a little more quietly though, eh?

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

05
Mar
19

Confessions of a human punching bag

Boy cryingIf memory serves, sixth grade was the last time I was ever in a genuine fistfight.

It was a hot summer day. As usual, I was at the community swimming pool with my friends splashing, diving, and horsing around. When suddenly, out of the clear blue sky another kid started dunking me. A total stranger, no less! And yet somehow this kid seemed to conclude that it would be a lot of fun to start pushing MY head underwater.

I was not particularly big in the sixth grade, but I was definitely wiry. As I recall, I eluded the bully pretty well and managed to slip in a couple of devious dunks of my own.

Like many bullies, he did not appreciate my guile at all. After yet another successful (and embarrassing) dunk I heard him grunt and say, “Let’s take this outside.”

Meaning outside the gate of the swimming pool.

Meaning into the parking lot.

Meaning to engage in an honest-to-goodness fistfight in front of crowds of our friends.

Of course, I took him up on it… despite having absolutely no clue how to fight and being five inches shorter and – probably – 20 pounds lighter than this guy.

And yes, it was exactly as bad as you might be imagining. The guy apparently knew what he was doing because I took a beating. The only thing that stopped him from continuing to pound the snot out of me was when one of the lifeguards saw the fight (if you can call it that) and came out and broke it up.

Since that day I have successfully avoided all opportunities to serve as anyone’s human punching bag…

…that is until this past week.

Or at least that is how I am choosing to describe my experience of recent events in my life.

The unusually cold and snowy winter here has dealt me a few vicious body shots. And just when it seems we might have turned the corner on winter, new snowfalls and single-digit temperatures arrive.

I’ll never trust Punxatawney Phil again!

My wife’s current round of chemotherapy has come with a much more punishing set of side-effects this time… which sort of knocks the wind out of me, too.

Last week, my denomination made the decision to turn its official, worldwide policy in the direction of harsh judgment and exclusion rather than Christ-like love (which you can read about here). That connected with me like a powerful right cross to the jaw.

And then, to top it all off, on Wednesday I was jolted by the jarring uppercut of a massive head cold.

Waaaaa!

I really wanted to respond to this past week by doing exactly what I did in the sixth grade; I wanted to run home to my mom, have her wash the blood off my lip, hold me in her arms, and say, “There, there… you’re OK. Everything’s going to be alright.”

But then I heard Kassem’s story. On a radio program called Snap Judgment, Kassem told what it was like to live inside the country of Syria. He talked about living with the hourly reality of falling bombs, scrounging for any kind of food – delighted to find a handful of grass to eat – and hearing the wails of starving children wherever he went.

His story went into excruciating detail about barely surviving a Sarin gas attack but having to watch friends and neighbors suffocate and die right in front of him.

And as I drove along and listened, I wept for Kassem. And I realized I had no clue what it means to be truly beaten up by the world. And I wondered to whom he turns for comfort and solace in the middle of that kind of hell on earth?

Next year it will be 50 years since my mother has been physically available to embrace me, dry my tears, and tell me not to worry… and assure me that everything is going to be OK.

But before she left us, she helped me figure out the best way to gain comfort during those times when it feels like the punches are coming from every direction.

She pointed me to the words of Jesus and his reminder of life’s reciprocity principle: “… give, and it will be given to you…. for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”(Luke 6:38, NRSV).

Need soothing? Dish up a little soothing to a troubled friend.

Need reassurance? Find somebody that needs it and give them some.

Need peace? Give peace.

Thanks, mom. I really needed that.

28
Feb
19

Here in the aftermath…

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21, NRSV)

GC2019 floorToday, words fail.

And yet, I have always been encouraged that the attempt to assemble appropriate words can often be the beginning point of the process of healing.

So I press on…

I traveled to St. Louis, MO early Monday morning to observe the proceedings of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a session with one task on hand: to resolve, once and for all, more than 45 years of bitter wrangling in the church over whether or not we will include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the life of the church.

While it is true that the two main issues at stake in General Conference 2019 were whether the United Methodist Church would permit LGBTQ+ people to be ordained as pastors and whether UMC pastors will be able to perform same-sex weddings, the real issue was inclusion.

Because if we assign one group of people a different, diminished set of rights than other people enjoy, we effectively exclude them.

I went to St. Louis hopeful. For months and months, I have heard a groundswell of support for something called the One Church Plan. The One Church Plan was structured to allow progressive United Methodist congregations to stay progressive, centrist congregations to stay centrist, and conservative congregations to stay conservative… while all still continuing life under the United Methodist tent

It seemed like a no-brainer.

But when I arrived I was reminded: the gathering in St. Louis was a global gathering. It was made up of not only delegates from North America (2/3 of whom said they supported the One Church Plan), but also delegates from Europe, Central and South American, the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa… where the UM church is seeing its most dynamic growth.

I was also reminded that many of these global delegates come from countries where homosexuality is a crime punishable by fine, jail time and in some instances, corporal punishment.

And yet, even on the four-hour drive from Kansas City to St. Louis, I was still hopeful. For the last eight months, I have been praying daily for the conference and the delegates. My prayer has been for God’s spirit to move through the hearts and minds of each delegate and that LOVE be the guiding force in the deliberations in St. Louis.

Since entering the ministry in 2001, I have seen firsthand the damage our church’s current policy has done to people who are something other than heterosexual.  My fervent hope has been that the church might no longer be an instrument of injury in those lives and would instead start being an instrument of healing and welcome.

The best chance for something new to happen was General Conference 2019

OCP voteYet those hopes were dashed Monday afternoon as the One Church Plan was defeated by 50 votes… then dashed further as the Traditional Plan– featuring even stricter condemnations of LGBTQ+ persons – was passed.

I was heartbroken.

Today I am still heartbroken. I am heartbroken as a person. I am heartbroken as a member of the United Methodist Church. I am heartbroken as the pastoral leader of two United Methodist congregations. I am sure I am still in the aftermath of the moment of trauma, but right now I feel like my mother just evicted and disowned me.

No one is terribly clear where things are going from here. Some people are talking about leaving the denomination altogether. Some people are talking about organizing an effort to “de-globalize” the United Methodist Church, making the North American church its own discrete entity with its own Book of Discipline. Some are saying this has been their church home since birth and will continue to be, no matter what.

And some – I imagine – are rejoicing that the United Methodist Church has finally “done the right thing” and “followed God’s teaching.”

For me for now, fretting over the future of the United Methodist Church does nothing good for my soul right now. I have to try and remember that my call is to discern and do God’s will in this next moment… and the moment after that… and the moment after that… for the rest of my life.

I pray that people are somehow able to see the face of Jesus even through the thick fog that is often produced by his church.

I pray for the healing of LGBTQ+ United Methodist people who have heard this ruling from the church and in it heard the words, “Because of who you are, you don’t belong here.”

God bless each of you. This is not the end of God’s story. It might just be the beginning of something extraordinary and new.

19
Feb
19

Old eyes, new eyes/Brown eyes, blue eyes

Cute little girlFor at least the first week and a half afterward, it is like I had an eye transplant. Old eyes gone… a new set dropped into their place.

And then, inevitably, I realize that the old eyes have returned… slowly resuming their assigned duty. And then I stop and wonder: which one of these is real?

That is one way I would describe the experience of participating in a short-term mission trip to the developing world.

Going in, you expect unique, eye-opening, out-of-the-ordinary scenes. You are not overly shocked when you drive for miles and miles and miles and see endless vistas of poverty set among lush, tropical greenery along choppy, pitted asphalt roads.

When you walk among people who stand an average of ¾ your height because of a lifetime of chronic malnutrition, you rarely jump back in horror. This is what they told you it would be like.

Slowly, gradually, it starts to work on you. Awareness begins to dawn that THIS is the reality of life for the vast majority of your fellow earthlings. You start to grasp that the life of shopping malls, six-lane superhighways, Starbucks drive-throughs, daily mail delivery, four bedroom Dutch colonials, and Netflix is the exception, not the rule in the world.

It doesn’t come as headline breaking news when you walk the dirty, noisy, chaotic streets of the Third World and see your paradigm morphing right before your eyes.

Penney and fan clubNevertheless, I still find myself surprised when I return from Guatemala (or Haiti, or Mexico, or the Australian outback) and discover how different everything looks back home here.

I mean, it is exactly the same familiar setting I left behind last week. At yet, it is somehow surprisingly foreign.

And much to my surprise, I also realize there is something inside me that wants it to remain foreign. Justice seems to demand that I remain alert to the scandalous level of resource consumption involved in my suburban, North American lifestyle.

I really should retain the ability to be appalled at the ease with which I turn the lights on and off, the thermostat up or down, flush the toilet, turn on the tap, reach into the refrigerator (or pantry) for a bite of something, don’t fret a bit about my physical security, or the effortlessness with which I travel from place to place.

And – like I said – for about a week and a half I do.

But then I don’t. The new eyes fade and the old eyes pop right back into my head.

So what am I saying? I’m not really suggesting that we First Worlders need to walk around in a continuous cloud of guilt-ridden angst all day, bemoaning our affluent fate.

But maybe it would be a good thing for each of us to find ways to regularly come nose-to-nose with the huge economic imbalances in our world. And then maybe it would ALSO be good for us to realize that our place on the advantaged side of the ledger mostly has nothing to do with pluck, work ethic, ingenuity, or any other virtue we ascribe to ourselves.

Part of our task – I believe – is to try and avoid opening our eyes here on third base and telling ourselves the story that we hit a triple.

I think Jesus also provides us with a pretty clear set of marching orders when we do eventually wake up to our positions of advantage in the world. In the New Revised Standard translation of Luke 12:48 he says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more, will be demanded.”

Much has been entrusted to me. Much has also been entrusted to you.

 

The key questions are: what is now demanded? And how will we (I) choose to respond?

Abundant blessings;

14
Jan
19

Blasts from pasts

crossroadsIt is the great boon and the great bane of our wonderful world of instantaneous electronic connection.

You or I can be shuffling along, minding our own business, when SHAZAM! a voice or face from the distant, forgotten past suddenly appears and says, “Hi! How are you? What have you been up to?”

This is exactly what happened to me just the other day.

Fortunately, it was a face and voice I was pleased to see reappear.

In a way not entirely clear to me yet, the 94-year-old mother of my best friend from elementary school suddenly materialized on my Facebook Messenger. After introducing herself, she asked if I was the same guy her son had spent Friday nights with, some 55 or so years ago.

When I told her yes I was, she immediately brought me up to speed on the highlights of her life and Chris’ (her son’s) life since we had last connected.

I had learned some of the particulars about Chris by way of a 40thhigh school reunion a few years back, but a lot of what his mom told me was new.

It was one of those “blasts from the past” that was fun and newsy. I was really glad she took the initiative to find me and fill me in.

That contact, however, made me immediately think about my other best friend from high school: John.

Back in the day, Chris and John and I were inseparable buddies. Every third Friday night we were at one of our three homes, eating dinner, reading comic books, drawing hot rods at the kitchen table, watching horror movies until late, and crashing in sleeping bags on the basement floor.

I liked Chris and John a lot. They were very different people, but somehow they both seemed to enjoy my company, too. We always thought of Chris as the “wild child” of the bunch and John as the more introspective, philosopher type.

Chris ran track and played on the high school basketball team while John and I spent a lot of time hanging out with the high school youth group at church. And yes, it is a total coincidence that there were several cute girls who also attended youth group.

True to his billing, Chris was the first one of us who started smoking in high school. He was also the first one to be arrested by our small-town police department for some not-so-innocent property damage he caused while out late at night with another group of friends.

John and I were no angels, but we generally kept our noses clean, studied hard, and tried to figure out what being a teenage Christ-follower was all about.

Now, as a man in my 60s looking back on those two people who were so important in my life at one point, I find myself wondering how I could have been so utterly clueless about them.

Or how life can take such dizzyingly sharp turns.

What I found out at that 40thhigh school reunion was that “wild child” Chris ran away from home after graduating high school (one step ahead of the law), hitchhiked to Florida, got a job and put himself first through college, and then med school.

He ended up becoming a highly respected cardiothoracic surgeon (inspired by the movie version of MASH) and father of four. His mother told me that he retired from the surgeon’s life because of numbness in his right hand, but then went back to graduate school and was now teaching psychiatry at a local university.

Chris actually now owns one of those hot rods we used to draw at my kitchen table.

Ten years earlier, at the 30thclass reunion, I found out the news about John. I learned that my thoughtful, Christ-following best friend – after fifteen years of battling depression and substance abuse issues – had finally taken his own life in the bathroom of a house he shared with his mother and sister.

His family was deeply saddened by the news, but no one was surprised.

Today these two stories – held up side by side in the clear light of day – trouble me. I am sure the seeds of Chris and John’s outcomes were always there, somewhere below the surface. Those seeds were likely alternately hibernating or germinating while the three of us were young… waiting to sprout.

I am also convinced that some of the twists and turns of their stories (and mine too) were completely random and unpredictable.

I am equally certain that God was/is a part of each of our lives – and yours, too – at every step along the way. My faith teaches me that it is never the case that God listens to and assists some of his children and leaves others to their own devices.

I believe that good fortune or utter ruination are not indicators of God’s favor or disfavor.

But today, as I celebrate the further update on his story brought to me by Chris’ mother from out of the clear, blue Internet-filled sky, I also shed a silent, confused tear for John and the loved ones he left behind as I pray for their comfort.

Lord, in your mercy…

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;




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