Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Urgent Need for Compassion - Building a Collective Voice to Address the devastating Concerns of American Society

Mindful of the week of Compassion February 21- 28 and that we are now in the season of Lent, a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter, and a time of self-examination and reflection are a means to awaken to the joy of God within.  These have been and still are significant responses, a means to exhale, if you will, as I and others engage distinctions such as racism. Today’s message, based on the lectionary text for this week, Proverbs 91:1-2, 9-16 and Romans 8b-13 seeks to provide sustenance as we daily seek to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in the midst of the complexities of the human condition, while holding firm, through our confession of Jesus Christ, to the intimacy of God’s care and concern and the urgent need for Compassion.

Society has taught me to embrace separation, to define myself as an individual, responsible to self and family, and extended family of faith.  This is good and right yet the call of Jesus Christ as lived out by the Apostle Paul calls you and me to so much more.

The life and dynamic ministry of the Apostle Paul reminds me that a calling of the one who would profess Jesus Christ is to break down distinctions, those barriers, racially, culturally, religiously, the constructs of gender and sexuality which beset, hinder or deny the fullness of humanity and the manifestation of the beloved community of Jesus Christ.  A proud Roman citizen, Paul knew the power, privilege and allure of distinctions as a tool to give the illusion of superiority, divide, define, characterize and shape life in imperial Rome.  By his conduct Paul makes it clear that distinctions have the potential to create disparities and disparities multiple levels of oppression and inequality and an imagination sequestered and bound to the narrow confines of tribal and/or imperial ideology and desire, and as such they are a denial of, and even irrelevant to the gospel message of Jesus Christ as received by the Apostle Paul. One Lord for All, racial, cultural and religious distinctions irrelevant. Further, distinctions have the potential to inhibit empathy and understanding necessarily hardening the heart towards the suffering of those less fortunate.

This thought on distinctions occurs once again in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  The implications of the Paul’s words are the transformation of social, cultural and religious institutions, systems and structures from modes of distinction as determined by the desires of the  culture, and those in power towards a means of grace and mercy grounded in Christ Jesus. More so the Apostle Paul, through words and conduct sought to build a Church not in bondage or beholden to the worldly desires of the age.

Recently while at anti-racism training there was a question posed by the facilitator.  The question was, “how do you introduce something new into an organization?  My response was that you have to be slow and gradual, listening to the people and the culture of the organization and in the process establishing relationships. As someone who has introduced a different narrative in various contexts I am aware that the process of introducing new ideas, concepts and narratives takes patience, consistency and listening. It becomes a means to cultivate compassion. 

Orchot Tzaddikim, a teacher of compassion within the Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, a 19th century ethical, educational and cultural movement, compassion is an extremely noble trait. It is one of the thirteen traits attributed to the Holy One, Blessed be the Holy One, as it is written: "Compassionate and gracious,." All that one can do to cultivate this trait, they should exert themselves to do. Just as one would want compassion on others who are in need.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” 1967
 “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

In light of the words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, cultivating compassion, (and I'm thinking on the many Civil Rights Activist who made a way for others and future marginalized communities here) is a means to awaken to life, community and destiny. It is urgent and unless this urgent need to cultivate compassion is addressed there will continue to be racism, poverty, inequality, police brutality and many other oppressions both personal and systemic with the very real potential to lead down a path of terror. We should be mindful of this as we listen to the various candidates share their agenda's about making America great again!

Compassion both for ourselves and others is a means to awaken and to build a collective voice to address the devastating issues which plague American society today in the 21st century.  Only through a collective voice will we be able to throw off those would divide and oppress.

According to the Greater Good Science Center located at UC Berkeley compassion is deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body. Humans can communicate compassion through facial gesture and touch, and these displays of compassion can serve vital social functions, strongly suggesting an evolutionary basis of compassion. And when experienced, compassion overwhelms selfish concerns and motivates altruistic behavior.

A healthy life is a compassionate life, so cultivate compassion 

While the weapons of war, politics and capitalist economics inflict pain and terror as means to change or transform or conquer people and societies, lasting change, even transformation occurs as we cultivate compassion within and without necessarily building a movement of profound care, concern, peace and justice and in this the gospel of Jesus Christ would be made real.

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion—
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the suffering that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
— Thich Nhat Hanh – in Singing The Living Tradition – #505