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.

___________________________________

“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)

Finding the Essence of Things

My wife and I are recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Arizona. It started as a business trip to which we tacked on a week’s rest in Phoenix and Sedona, and it turned out great. We’d never been to Sedona, a strange and spectacular place to Florida folk; it was enjoyable seeing a very different landscape and learning more about the desert. Our schedule was pretty unstructured, and I appreciated being “off the clock.”

Moving from place to place, we experienced a variety of accommodations from a high-end resort to a much more basic hotel. Our meals spanned the spectrum as well. The most elegant was a 4-course Valentine’s Day dinner at an exclusive resort. The simplest was fruit and cheese in front of the television. In between was a home-cooked dinner with family and restaurant meals of course.

Now I’m back to work and we’re both back to our usual routines, but I feel rejuvenated and I’ve been thinking about what made the trip so great. It wasn’t the fancy hotel of the fancy meals, it was much more basic than that. I think the key elements were:
– getting away from my usual responsibilities,
– maintaining a relaxed, no-pressure attitude,
– experiencing a new place, and learning about it, and
– sharing time with my wife and family.
These are the things I should think about when planning our next getaway.

Too often I think we Americans miss the essence of things. We get focused on the sizzle more than the steak. Our culture relentlessly pushes us to covet the most exclusive experiences and the finest things. Selling and upselling drives the national economy, but it comes at a cost. Too many people live beyond their means, under constant pressure to keep up with the Joneses and keep up appearances. Consuming is not the essence of life.

I’m resolved to focus more on identifying the essence in all of my activities. What are the essential elements of my work, my hobbies, my home, and my relationships? They deserve more of my attention. The superficialities deserve less. I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

How about you?

Take care,

Pete

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.

____________________________

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

Two Reminders From Antonin Scalia

Antonin_Scalia_2010Antonin Scalia’s recent demise has everyone thinking; mostly it seems about the divided nature of our country and President Obama’s choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. But it’s got me thinking about two different matters. The first is reasoning and decision-making. Justice Scalia was known for sound reasoning proceeding from firm legal principles resting on a view of the Constitution as having a single and unchanging meaning. Many disagree with his views on that last part, but his method and legal record should remind us that our principles must rest on something. We can’t draw our principles from nothing.

Reasoning is important to us as we make decisions and take actions to improve our health and wellbeing. What is the best way to live? How should we decide? What is our model? What principles have we found to guide us in decision-making, and on what foundation do they rest? Here’s a diagram of how I’m viewing the best case for us as we proceed.

IMG_0890 (1)

We should be making our choices after reasoning through the facts of our personal situations using the principles that apply, and those principles should be based firmly on reality as we understand it. In short, reality matters. Are body and mind separate “parts” of people? Do humans have souls and an eternal existence? Is there an unseen spiritual reality underlying and supporting our perceived material reality? If so, how does that work?

Just as the Supreme Court Justices have different views the nature and meaning of the Constitution, as individual people, we may have differing understandings of reality. Their disagreements, based on variation in views of the Constitution, illustrate for us how our views on reality matter in our personal choices. The President and the Senate together will select the next Justice, based in part on his or her view of the Constitution, and we have little control over that. However, we each have complete control over how we understand reality, and there is nothing more important.

Yet how much time does the average person devote to thinking about the big picture, to investigating the big topics? How much time have you spent investigating and settling upon a personal worldview, one supported by evidence? Many people choose to “go with the flow” and accept the prevailing cultural norms. That’s what I did for a long time, until a more careful inquiry caused me to rethink it and draw new conclusions; conclusions that have changed my principles, choices, actions and results – for the better!

I encourage you to thoroughly investigate reality for yourself. Ask the hard questions, spend the time to search the evidence and draw firm conclusions before more of your life passes behind you. Which brings up the second Scalia reminder. His death reminds me that I am going to die. So are you, and no one knows when for either of us. The second matter makes the first all the more important.

Do You Want to be Well? How About Healthy?

Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
John 5:3-6 NLT

“Would you like to get well?” Seems like a silly question. Who wouldn’t want to get well? Yet Jesus asked, and we can be sure that he had a good purpose in doing so. For this paralyzed man, getting well would mean a whole new life, and change, even positive change, is hard. He’d been ill for a long time, 38 years; perhaps he was middle-aged or even elderly at this time. If he got well, where would he find work? Where would he live? Life would be more uncertain and maybe considerably more difficult. Was he sure that’s what he wanted?

Jesus, in his person, poses the same question to all people. Do you want to be well? Do you want to be reconciled to God, to have life in abundance, to be healed? If so, come and follow me. Yet Jesus warns us that the cost is high.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.”

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’”  Luke 14:25-30 NLT

Many, like the rich young man (Matthew 19, Luke 18) or the disciples that leave after Jesus hard teaching about himself being the bread of life (John 6), are not prepared to pay the cost and turn away.

Even those of us trying to follow Jesus probably don’t fully understand the cost either, at least at the beginning. But as the Holy Spirit works in us, and we are drawn into a deeper relationship with God, we begin to understand what Jesus meant. New character and new desires accompany this new understanding, and we begin to separate ourselves from worldly vices and preoccupations. We don’t think like everybody else. We don’t live like everybody else…  except when we do.

Healthwise, the average follower of Jesus doesn’t seem to be living a great deal differently than the average American – too much sedentary screen time and empty calories, too little vigorous exercise and restful sleep. Now to be clear, in Christ, there’s no condemnation for this. Feeling guilty is neither necessary nor helpful. We are all very flawed individuals, and we will not be perfect in this lifetime. Grace is our watchword.

“No condemnation” is good! “No results,” not so much, and if you’re looking to be healthy while living just like everyone else, no results is what you’re likely to get. If you want to be healthy, you will have to pay the cost and live differently. The cost is real. It’s hard to be different from your family and friends; to eat what’s healthy, and not what’s tempting; to exercise when you feel lazy; to turn off the TV and read a helpful book.

As for me, I sometimes wish that I could just live like everyone else, but, deep down, I know I can’t. I want to be well and I want to be healthy. But it is hard to be different and my improvement has been gradual. Honestly I’m still learning the cost, and I’m not always prepared to pay it. The Holy Spirit seems to be taking his time with me, like he does with most people.

How about you? Do you want to be healthy? Under grace no guilt is required, only change. So start small, but do something different. You don’t have to understand, or pay, the whole cost upfront. I didn’t, don’t and haven’t. Nobody else does or has either. Just get started, and ask God to help you. Integrate your lifestyle choices into your faith and follow Jesus. It seems to be working for me.

______________________________

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 NLT

Responding to the World

We may disagree on what exactly is wrong with the world, but all of us can see that things aren’t right. The daily newspaper testifies to the widespread nature of our problems. Crime, corruption, poverty, addiction, disease, oppression and death lead the headlines. It often makes me sad, or angry, or both. But the world doesn’t need more angry people, so I’m working on avoiding outrage and maintaining my equanimity. My ability in this regard fluctuates, sometimes better, sometimes worse. Once again, “progress not perfection” is the helpful daily dictum.

In any event, this has also got me thinking in a general way about how people choose to respond to the disordered nature of reality. Perhaps because of the current social and political climate the first two things that occurred to me were “fighting” and “hopeless.” Many people are fighting to reshape society toward their preferred ends, while others have no hope of ever seeing their vision of culture and community accomplished. But of course not everybody is fighting; I’m not. And not everybody is hopeless; “not me” again.

Thinking along these two dimensions (and admittedly in a gross oversimplification of complex issues) I came up with the following 2×2 grid.

2015-12-10 14-33 page #0 (1)Here’s how I’m seeing the four quadrants

Fighting + Hope – This is the home of movements of all sorts. Movements aggregate like-minded individuals who agree on problems and solutions, and believe in their ability, working together, to change it. Their hope is in collective action. Think ISIS, or Greenpeace, or the various federal “wars” on poverty and cancer.

Fighting + Hopelessness – A bad combination and a recipe for isolated violence. Think Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber.

Accepting + Hopelessness – Another bad combination: “The world’s a mess, it’s going to get worse and there’s nothing anyone, especially me, can do about it.” Think Eeyore.

Accepting + Hope – This, I think, should be the home of the Christian. We know the world isn’t right, and we know it cannot be set right by human hands. Evil exists. No, human nature is not “good.” There is no getting better, or remaking the world to be better, on our own.

Yet we have hope, because we are not on our own. We trust in God, in and through whom all things are possible, and we live according to the Spirit. Thus we are (or should be) motivated to action, as individuals and communities. We can and should address the world’s brokenness and suffering, all the while understanding that “fighting” isn’t indicated as it is not we who can produce the outcomes we so earnestly desire.

What do you think?

_________________________________________________

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Romans 8:18-22 NLT

PS – Why not take another minute or two and read all of Romans Chapter 8 here? It was a blessing to me as I was preparing this post; perhaps it will be for you as well. – Pete