The compassion we’ve lost

The hands of compassionate women

have boiled their own children;

they become their food

in the destruction of my people.

Lamentations 4:10

 

Where has compassion gone?

As our country divides over three unforgettable issues (COVID-19, racism and a presidential election) in 2020, we have lost our heart. We are destroying ourselves from the inside out.

Right and wrong are irrelevant. We have lost the ability to convince others of our values.

I’ll say it again: Right and wrong are irrelevant.

Without compassion, all of us are wrong.

Compassion, according to the Webster’s dictionary on my bookshelf, is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Instead, we ignore the distress of others. We not only have no desire to alleviate it, we add to it.

How do we regain compassion – a desire to alleviate distress in other people – in our once-great nation?

COVID-19

We’ve drawn battle lines over wearing a mask. It’s become a political “freedom” issue, not the public health issue that it truly is.

A good friend inhaled a toxic gas while serving in the Army a number of years ago, ruining his lungs. He does not wear a mask because he couldn’t breathe if he did. But he also does not pick fights with businesses that require a mask to enter.

Why is compassion so difficult? People are dying, people are getting sick. It’s a highly contagious disease. Do we want huge numbers before we acknowledge its seriousness? Whatever happened to prevention?

Countries where COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat locked themselves down for eight to 10 weeks, with nearly everyone wearing a mask and social distancing. Countries where residents think of other people – that’s compassion – bit the bullet for a time. Then, as cases waned, those countries gradually and safely opened up.

The United States is a country with 330 million individuals who aren’t willing to do that, even for a short time. Some of us did this spring, but not enough to make it work. As a result, we won’t view much college football on Saturdays this fall, and our education system is a mess trying to figure out how to begin in the next month.

There are consequences for our actions, or lack thereof.

But let’s not get tyrannical about it. If a store requires a mask to enter and you won’t wear one, respect the store’s policy. If you wear a mask and you see others not wearing one, keep your distance. Let’s not scream at each other. That solves nothing.

Racism

When George Floyd was killed this spring in Minneapolis, a firestorm of protest ignited, figuratively and literally. There are extremists on both sides, and often those are the voices we hear.

metro health

Instead, can we learn compassion for each other?

This is a hard one, because the history of racism is long and deep. It’s ingrained. I’m sorry to say that, but it is.

We whites flippantly say, well, slavery ended soon after the Civil War, so get over it. Legally, maybe, but our hearts did not change, and still haven’t in many of us.

Compassion is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. This starts with listening to each other, to your story and mine. Without anger. Without prejudice. Without judgment.

On both sides.

Do you have friends of other races and ethnicities? Can you work together on the job, and take instruction from each other? Be honest.

If not, do the rest of us a favor and keep silent (including on social media). If you do, let’s show compassion for each other in our leisure activities and our work spaces.

In the words of a song I learned as a child, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Presidential election

­Neither side has the full truth.

Democrats are not anti-life. Republicans are not narrow-minded Bible thumpers.

While Democrats support abortion as an option to end life, they do much better than Republicans do in the public arena should that baby be born. Dems know that all of us have immigrant backgrounds, some more recent than others. Guns in rural areas are used for sport or for hunting deer and other animals, generally. Guns in cities are used to kill other people (unless you’re into skeet shooting, or something similar). There are problems with mail-in voting, sure. So, fix them. Don’t throw out the whole system, or ruin the U.S. Postal Service over it.

Black lives do matter. Again, both sides have extremists on this issue. Let’s learn how to share leadership (a huge issue for white people) with respect, not resentment, on all sides.

With compassion.

Scripture clearly opposes same-sex marriage, but be careful how you apply that. Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman at a well who had five husbands and was living with a sixth man. In another scene, Jesus was introduced to a woman caught in adultery. Did he cast the first stone? He did not.

Do these stories mean Jesus supports divorce and adultery?

No. Jesus cares about people, since all of us have issues. By meeting our deepest needs, Jesus helps us understand the difference between right and wrong.

Jesus showed compassion in the face of sin. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11)

That’s compassion.

Where is that standard of righteousness, with forgiveness and empathy, today?

I’ve seen people bash the ethics of either President Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. We’ve been finding fault with our leaders for generations. I’ve often wondered why anyone would even want that job.

Where is empathy?

Compassion has not been a strong suit of Americans for a long time.

Except, perhaps, on the athletic field.

When a player suffers a serious injury during a game, it’s not unusual to see athletes from both teams gather together, kneel and say a prayer for healing. When the athlete is placed on a stretcher and taken off the field, the fans in the stands – whether the player is wearing a home or visitor’s uniform – clap as a sign of respect.

It often takes a tragedy to draw us together.

Sept. 11, 2001, united us as a nation against a common enemy.

COVID-19 should have brought us together in a similar way against a common enemy, even though a coronavirus is unseen. But at some point in recent years, we lost the desire to fight for each other.

When four police officers killed George Floyd, we stopped for a moment and listened. Some of us did, anyway. But we as a nation won’t acknowledge racism as a common enemy, so that’s not a fight we’re prepared to win at the moment. (Respect goes both ways. There are deep, deep issues here.)

And the presidential election has turned into an ugly social media battle.

We must get beyond tweets and memes. We must listen to each other’s distress, then seek to alleviate it. If I do that for you and you do that for me …

We will be showing compassion for each other. And we will be a United States of America again.

Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

Justice, kindness, humility: They go together

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

 

We don’t like to be called “mortal,” do we? That means we aren’t immortal – and God is. Many of us don’t like that thought.

Some of you reject the Bible and God for just that reason, don’t you?

Truth is truth, even if it’s inconvenient sometimes.

If something is “good,” then that means something else is “bad.” Good is a comparative term. This sentence says justice, kindness and humility are good, which means their opposites are bad.

Most of us would agree that justice is a good thing. I think justice means different things to different people, though.

Kindness is “good,” too.  A kinder world would be a better world. We might agree with this, but not enough of us do much about it.

Humility, especially with God? That’s a tougher one. But we can’t get along with each other, much less with God, unless we “walk humbly.”

These three concepts go together. We can talk about each separately, but we can’t have justice without kindness and humility, or kindness without justice and humility, or humility without justice and kindness.

Justice

1 Just behaviour or treatment.

‘a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people’

1.1 The quality of being fair and reasonable.

‘the justice of his case’

1.2 The administration of the law or authority in maintaining this.

‘a tragic miscarriage of justice’

2 A judge or magistrate, in particular a judge of the Supreme Court of a country or state.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/justice

 

Here’s another definition with a slightly different slant:

  1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.
  2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
  3. the moral principle determining just conduct.
  4. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
  5. the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
  6. the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings: court of justice.
  7. judgment of persons or causes by judicial process: to administer justice in a community.
  8. a judicial officer; a judge or magistrate.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/justice

 

Justice has to do with law, but also with “moral rightness.” It includes being “fair and reasonable.”

Who gets to decide what is “fair,” “reasonable” or “morally right?”

Those who write the laws of the land make those decisions.

Those laws are not irrevocable, at least in this country. New leaders can change laws or write new ones if they decide that “moral rightness” is not happening.

It’s not an easy process, but it does happen. Women were given the right to vote, for example, in the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919; before then, they couldn’t.

Earlier, on Jan. 31, 1865, the 13th amendment became law, which abolished slavery. This law has been enforced unevenly since. “Justice” and “morally right” still clash on this issue far too often.

We can’t legislate respect, although these amendments tried.

Justice in the Bible adds a couple of layers to the nation’s definitions.

 

We cannot begin to understand God’s justice unless we first understand sin. Sin … embodies everything contrary to God’s holy nature. Thus, sin is a crime against God, and justice demands a penalty of death and separation from Him for it (Romans 1:18-322:53:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay that penalty for us (Romans 5:8-116:23) and made salvation available to all who believe in His name (John 1:123:15-1720:31).

(This is) not in spite of His justice, but because of it. He loved us so much that despite the fact that our sin demands our death, He sent His Son to be our substitute upon the cross, thus demonstrating that His justice was not violated, but instead satisfied (1 Thessalonians 1:105:9).

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-of-justice.html

 

The Bible also talks about “social justice.” The Bible interprets that term differently than the world does:

 

The Christian notion of social justice is different from the contemporary notion of social justice. The biblical exhortations to care for the poor are more individual than societal. In other words, each Christian is encouraged to do what he can to help the “least of these.” The basis for such biblical commands is found in the second of the greatest commandments — love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Today’s notion of social justice replaces the individual with the government, which, through taxation and other means, redistributes wealth.

https://www.gotquestions.org/social-justice.html

 

If we want to have an intelligent, meaningful discussion on justice, we need to define the term and understand what we’re talking about. If you and I think differently about justice, we might have to work hard to understand each other.  Listening is essential to communication.

Kindness

Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It is considered a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindness

 

An entire movement, “random acts of kindness,” encourages us to do nice things for each other. That started in a Sausalito, California, restaurant in 1982 when Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. From there it spread to bumper stickers, quietly at first, but with all the powerful momentum of something important – calling us to lives of caring and compassion.

https://makeadiff.wordpress.com/2006/06/02/the-history-of-random-acts-of-kindness/

 

We need more caring and compassion in our country. It won’t happen by accident; whether as random acts or among friends and family, kindness is intentional. God recognized this centuries ago, and “requires” this of us (along with justice and humility).

“Walk humbly with your God”

I like this definition of humility:

 

True humility is to recognize your value and others’ value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourselves into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be.

To be humble is to serve others for their good as well as your own.

To be humble is to have a realistic appreciation of your great strengths, but also of your weaknesses.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility

 

 

Humility is not thinking I am unworthy of anything. It’s recognizing my value, while acknowledging your value as well.

“Realistic” is a great word. You and I both have needs and desires, and I should serve you to improve your life in some way. That’s humility. I would receive a benefit too – the satisfaction of knowing I did something good.

Why be humble and serve others? Because God served us first, by creating us and then offering us salvation from our sins. This is not only God’s justice, but His mercy – giving us a gift we don’t deserve. It’s a small way we can say “Thank you” to God. This is where humility starts.

Micah offers a good formula for living. Justice, kindness and humility depend on each other. If I seek justice, I will seek your best interests as well as mine. If I seek kindness, I want you to be just as happy as I am (possibly more so). If I seek humility, I want to see your life get better.

All three concepts are not about me. They involve serving God. And serving you.