» Inside out, up-side down | Perspectives from no-man’s land by David Whyte
Someone who looks at Jesus’ behaviour could conclude he was bipolar. In one instance he made a weapon and used it to disrupt a popular and successful market. He also insulted leading citizens, elders and other upstanding members of the community – making comments about their character that would make your mother blush.
Yet at other times he talked about wanting to be a mother hen protecting her young. He touched outcasts, talked to local whores, wept with compassion. He talked about how if one person was lost then he would seek them out like a good shepherd. He said his yoke was easy. He was kind, thoughtful, loving and caring.
Jesus knew how to relate to each person he met. He knew who should have their butt kicked and who should be affirmed. He was doing his Father’s work so he knew what message or behavior each situation and person needed.
We seem to be born with either one of two tendencies. Either we are naturally bent towards compassion and serving the downtrodden, or we are champions of righteousness who want to speak the truth.
The issue is that these tendencies are often rooted in our sinful nature, so we can end up using our gifts inappropriately. This results in the compassionate having no backbone and losing the willingness to speak the often painful truth into people’s lives. On the other side the truth-speakers don’t always speak with love. They behave harshly and are self righteous or judgmental. People see this as a clanging gong of criticism without love.
What is disturbing is we often use scripture to justify our position instead of going through the painful process of having our gift tempered by the Holy Spirit.
Modern Christianity has often given places of leadership to the people who boldly speak the truth. People like leaders who are forceful, set a clear direction and don’t mince words.
However the downside is that as Christians we often speak harshly and tell the “truth” without having the necessary compassion. Hence non-Christians (and sometimes Christians) assume Christians are judgmental and have no compassion.
We can easily fall into the trap about teaching truth and not compassion. This is because theology is easier to teach and makes us feel good when we are right. It’s easy for one person to preach to the many and explain things like a Western teacher would. That can lead us to feeling superior to others who are not enlightened.
Where did you learn your compassion? From my experience, compassion is caught, not taught. This makes it much harder to define what compassion is. Sometimes it is keeping people from the consequence of actions and sometimes the compassionate thing is to let someone’s actions produce consequence into their lives. There are no hard and fast rules to guide us in compassion.
One of my facebook friends said it was like a dance. Someone else leads us through life showing us the moves and over time we become graceful and smooth. However to start with, things are mechanical and awkward.
This rings true in my life. I was part of a multi-level marketing group. For a season I removed myself from the “negative” things such as news, radio, TV, newspapers, negative “friends” etc. These were replaced by videos, tapes, books and seminars that were often stories of compassion.
I hung around with two wonderfully and powerfully compassionate men where I learned that compassion was an essential part of the Christian faith. I have had the compassion bone nurtured but I still struggle with how to show compassion in an appropriate way. By no means would I say that I have mastered compassion.
There is a marketing concept on the sale and uptake of new technology. It states that people who are believers in the product overvalue the product by a factor of three. The non-users or non-believers undervalue it by a factor of three. Therefore something must be ten times better before someone will change their mind.
Applying this concept to church, if someone thinks we are harsh and uncompassionate we need to work extra hard to overcome the prejudice. We need to be ten times more compassionate than before for people to change their opinions. Our compassionate activities need to be more visible so the people around us see that compassion and Christianity are intertwined.
Truth is good and we need Christians who can speak the truth. But compassion is just as critical as truth and theology. What are you doing to develop your compassion bone? What is your church doing to develop compassion and act out of compassion to your local community?
We are not (yet) known as a people of compassion, so what can we do to demonstrate compassion on a daily basis to our co-workers, neighbours and strangers? I would be very interested to hear your story about your journey developing compassion.