More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

One Day You’re an Expert

I’ve been experiencing a great deal of change recently, and another big one is right around the corner. In two weeks I’ll be leaving my current employer to become an independent consultant in the healthcare industry. It’s pretty exciting. I guess it could also be scary, but I’m trusting God and I’m ready for this particular change.

Having dinner with a younger colleague last week, and discussing my plans, the more general topic of career progression came up. After I explained my career journey, he had a couple of questions. “So, how does one get to be ‘an expert,’ to arrive in a position where others seek you as a consultant? Any advice to pass along?”

I don’t know that I had too much smart to say. Most of my thoughts on the topic are pretty basic, and my answer was something like this: Do your best at your current job. Keep learning. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Research what others are doing. Go to conferences and meetings. Read. Talk with colleagues. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own knowledge and ability and you’ll realize that you’re an expert. At least that’s what happened to me.

Something similar seems to have happened with my emotional wellbeing. I’ve thought about this kind of career move before, but it seemed too scary, too distant. Now it seems at hand. I’m finding myself to be calm and at peace with this major change. Also as you’d expect, I’m trusting God. It feels good, surprisingly good. It’s surprising enough for me to ask myself, “Wait a minute! Why am I not more worried about this? How and when did I become a calm, peaceful person? When did I get this faith?”

I think the answers are a lot like those involving my career. Do the best you can at following Jesus. Pray. Listen. Talk with others of like mind. Pay attention to your emotions. Have whatever faith you can muster. Read the Bible. Work through your emotions as best you can. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own inner state and you’ll realize that you’re a calm and peaceful person of faith. At least that’s what happened to me.

Praise God.

Peace,

Pete

Change Happens

“Lookin back at my background tryin’ to
figure out how I ever got here.
Some things are still a mystery to me
While others are much to clear.”

Migration – Jimmy Buffet

 

Like I said a few weeks ago, things can happen fast, and change is a constant. But it sure is hard to get used to, isn’t it? I’ve spent the last week or so reflecting on all of the recent (and not so recent) changes in my life, and thinking about how I, myself, have changed. While recognizing that I am certainly the same individual human being as I was in high school, I also feel like a “different person” in many respects. It’s a strange feeling – I’m still me, but a different me.

A casual conversation on this topic with my friend Curt (who is into music), led me to pull out my Jimmy Buffett CD collection, and I’ve been listing to them in the car all week. His music really takes me back. I can remember the various stages of life I was in when each album came out, and the music brings back memories of good times as well as stressful times. I’ve been enjoying his lyrics and melodies for over 40 years.

Can we agree that Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes is clearly the best Jimmy Buffett album?  It has really withstood the test of time for me.  I still love it, every song.  Everything may be different since 1977, but that recording endures, unchanged by time. Maybe it’s that sameness that’s the reason his songs bring up such memories for me, and why music often seems to take people back to the past.

Constancy, stability, sameness. We don’t get that too much in life. Maybe in certain foods – Oreos are pretty much the same as decades ago – but otherwise change is the rule. People, places, organizations, things, jobs, relationships, and technology – everything seems in constant flux. And it’s all speeding up.  What’s a person to do?

“It’s those changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy is right. We have to roll with the punches.  It’s good to have the ability to laugh, to be lighthearted, despite and through life’s inevitable changes, but what can allow you to do that? What’s helping me through is placing my trust and confidence in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t forget his people or his promises, and his arm is never too short. Facing uncomfortable changes? Seek the Unchanging. I’m nobody special; God will help you too.

Take care,

Pete

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What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-9 NIV

Less Striving, More Abiding. It’s Okay Not to be the Best

strive – verb
– to exert oneself vigorously; try hard
– to make strenuous efforts toward any goal:

I’m a striver, or a capital-A “Achiever” as Tony Ferretti and I describe this personality trait in our book The Love Fight. Always have been. Probably always will be. It seems I’ve got to be doing things, making progress, achieving goals, striving for “success.”

Striving is the American way. In business we try to go from good to great, make continuous quality improvement, and hit zero defects. In our personal lives we want nicer houses, bigger bank accounts, leaner bodies and more recognition. The omnipresent media exhort us to “be the best.” No one wants to be less than the best.

It gets old after a while doesn’t it? Perhaps it takes years or decades of striving before you’re ready to relax a little. It has for me. Truth is, you don’t have to be the best. You don’t even have to be better. Forget better, you don’t even have to be “good.”  Life isn’t a competition. You can’t “win” it by striving.

Back in medical school, when my friends and I were stressed about our grades, someone would toss out this reassuring riddle:
Question – “What to they call the guy who graduates last in his class from the worst medical school in America?”
Answer – “Doctor!
Forget the grade, just keep going. And we did. There’s a lot to be said for patient persistence, for showing up, for just keeping going.

Of course accomplishments are good things; using them as a measure of our lives or our value as people is where we go wrong. And many of us do. I have, and I probably won’t be able to stop completely, but the gospel message of God’s grace is sinking in. Only one thing really matters, being reconciled to God.  All true success in life will flow from that.

We get that message every week at my church.  I used to think maybe it was a little too repetitious, but now I get it.  I need the repetition.  The pastor has that figured out.  His current sermon series is titled “Abide” and it’s got me thinking.

abide – verb
– to remain; continue; stay
– to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.

Abiding.  Seems like as good of an idea today as it did back in school.  The preacher is talking about abiding in Jesus, but I could do with a lot more abiding in everything else too. Fortunately the one leads to the other. So, less striving, more abiding is my plan. And if you know me, you know that will take the Holy Spirit’s intervention.  May it be so.

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For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Matthew 16:25-26

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PS: I can’t think about abiding without thinking of the Dude:

Maybe I should watch this movie again.

The One Human Right

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
– Declaration of Independence 7/4/1776

People have rights! Especially Americans. Our founders got us started with the three mentioned above. Apparently they felt these were universal “human rights” given to us directly from God. Shortly after that sentence, they add in the right to change the government. In subsequent documents and decisions Americans collectively have added many more “civil rights,” that is rights granted by our government and codified in laws and regulations. Unfortunately, and as everyone in America has figured out lately, one man’s civil rights are another man’s civil obligations. Enforcing our ever-increasing canon of civil rights has required a corresponding increase in government scrutiny of and coercive power over our lives as individuals.

It’s pretty obvious that all countries don’t have the same civil rights. In a sense civil rights are elective – we choose them, or not. Not every society chooses the similarly. Crossing a border changes your “rights” as an individual. One doesn’t have the same rights in North Korea as one has in the United States, as too many unfortunate and naive travelers have discovered.

Also “right” seems to be a much over-used word these days. We often use it in casual conversation to justify self-centeredness or a sense of entitlement. Think, “I’ve got a right to ______.” (be angry, treat myself, spend my money on _____ )

It’s got me wondering, perhaps like you, what are our basic, bottom-line rights? Where do we draw the line? What’s our minimum? Do we really need or want all of these civil rights? Are our civil rights also human rights?   Really? Which rights truly come from our Creator and which have we just made up as we go along? Naturally as a follower of Jesus, I’ve searched the Bible and pondered these questions from a Christian perspective.

Honestly I can’t find too much on this. No disrespect intended to our founding fathers, but nowhere in the Bible do I read of God giving human beings the right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Nor do I see the right to be married, the right to a job, the right to healthcare, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against. There’s hardly anything on God granting us rights.

On the other hand I do see a great deal of obligation. God is pretty clear on how we should treat him, ourselves, and one another. For example, people shouldn’t steal from or murder others. Those are “human obligations,” but obligations do not create a reciprocal rights. We all have a God-given obligation not to steal, not a God-given right never to experience theft. Beyond the traditional moral code, it’s also very clear that we are to love God, love one another, and even to love our neighbors as ourselves – a tall order indeed.

That’s kind of bad news – not much in the way of rights from God, and lots of obligations that no one keeps, not even us followers of Jesus. We had better get used to tough breaks, oppression, and harm. Be it the United States, North Korea, or somewhere in between, governments are going to do what they do. People will hurt us. Bad things, even evil things, will happen to us. It’s nice if they don’t, but we’ve no right to anything else in this life.

The good news is that I did find one human right, “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) through the work of Jesus. On the surface, it would seem more a privilege rather than a right, but God doesn’t change his mind or go back on his word. Once you belong to Jesus, there is no condemnation, no rejection, and an acceptance that cannot be lost – period. God himself grants you a life, a freedom and a joy that cannot be taken away by any government or any man.

The only human right you have is the only one you need.

Exercise your right today.

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He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:10-13 NLT

Comparing Myself to Others – Grace Make the Difference

In church a couple of weeks ago the pastor said something that caused me to think, “I’ve got to stop comparing myself to others!” At this point, I can’t remember the sermon topic, or the passages that he cited, or even exactly what he said, but the issue of not comparing myself to others has stuck with me.  I’ve been turning it over in my mind since then.  I do understand that my ultimate responsibility is to God, and that we all have the same judge – a judge who does not grade on the curve.  As the Apostle Paul says it,

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:1-8 NIV

Okay, I get that. But in day-to-day living it seems that I am always needing to compare myself to, or I am being compared with, other people. Examples abound:
– Do I sing well enough to serve in the choir? [no]
– Am I smart enough to get into medical school? [yes]
– Am I good enough to get the job, or the promotion? [maybe]
– How popular are my books and my blog? [not that popular]
– Can I make the sports team? [never could]
– What are my talents and abilities? [varied]
– How do they measure up in the marketplace? [some better, some worse]
I’m sure you can think of many more. Our human systems and societies typically reward talent, skills, drive, ambition, intelligence, beauty and other personal characteristics that are not equally distributed. Some can be acquired (education for example) but others are inborn gifts – if you don’t have them, you can’t get them. Life isn’t fair.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to completely stop comparing myself to other people without the Holy Spirit changing me from the inside (which is happening, albeit slowly). But honestly, comparison seems to be built into our social fabric, it’s how the world works. As I’ve thought about this, I’m not sure the real issue is “comparing,” but rather the “judging” that is part of my sinful nature. The Bible warns us more about judging than comparing, and we are to be “discerning” about people and issues. Doesn’t discerning involve comparing, at least sometimes?

Given that, I’ve begun to think that controlling my attitude is the most important thing to do as I inevitably continue to view myself in relationship to others. I can control my attitude. What’s my perspective? Am I operating from a perspective of Grace or from that of Law/Works? I think that makes all the difference. I’ve tried to express this in the 2×2 matrix below.

Comparing

Here’s how I’m seeing it:

If I operate from a perspective of Law, where I compare favorably to others (quadrant 1), I adopt a self-righteous attitude and am contemptuous or disregarding of “lesser” people. Where I don’t measure up (quadrant 3), I become envious of others’ success or giftedness, and I may despise and disparage them in an attempt to elevate myself.

On the other hand, operating from a perspective of Grace, where I compare favorably (quadrant 2), I am grateful for my talent, success or other blessing from God. I know it is not me who is responsible. This also leads to compassion for those who may be relatively lacking in those same areas in which God has blessed me. Where I am not gifted or specially blessed (quadrant 4), I can accept my limitations or shortcomings. God’s grace is enough. I don’t have to “measure up” to any human standard. Seeing and appreciating the gifts and blessings that God has given to others allows me to be happy for them.

That’s a very short explanation; Grace goes a lot deeper. It is by Grace that we are saved and transformed. It’s so easy to slide back into a Law- or Works-based perspective in selected areas of life. That leads to a person who may be saved all right, but perhaps has persistent bitterness, envy, or self-righteousness. Understanding and operating from Grace is the cure for that. Think Grace!