Category Archives: Compassion

i finally get Easter (mostly)

Being a Christian who does not take the words of the Bible literally, I always struggle with both Christmas and Easter. These two very holy celebrations center around specific events in the life of Jesus. Events that, because I don’t believe they actually happened, I have a hard time celebrating. I need to know how these sacred stories apply to me/us today. I’ve rarely had a convincing answer. Then, last Sunday, listening to the Palm Sunday sermon at my church, I grasped a very real understanding of what the Easter story can mean.

Well, the pre-Easter story anyway. Our minister was talking about the trial of Jesus, Pilot’s asking the crowd which prisoner to free, the crowd fervently insisting on Jesus’ crucifixion and Pilot declaring his hands washed of Jesus blood. it’s a tense, sad scene. With our benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to be appalled at the crowd’s hatred and callousness, at Pilot’s acceptances of the seemingly irrational decision to set the hardened criminal free and to execute Jesus. We are angry.

But then we have to ask ourselves, would we have acted any differently than that crowd or that judge? Oh, we’d like to think so. But if we had really been a Roman politician or a Jewish citizen of Jesus’ time, what makes us so sure that we would have gone against all we knew for the sake of one man. Would we have had the courage to be one of twelve devoted followers of a stranger with a radical message? To stand against law and loved one to say ‘set this man free?’ We’ll never really know.

The real question for us becomes, do we have that courage today? Can we stand up for the weak, the disadvantaged, the wrongly accused in the face of mass unpopularity? Do we have the courage to do something even if it’s not what everyone else is doing, or runs contrary to what we thought we knew?

This is what I take away from the Easter story – a reminder to stand up for what is right, not what is popular. To stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. To picture myself in the crowd condemning Jesus and accept that that would have been me and I now have the power and passion to change that.

If you believe that Jesus died for our sins, then you must know that it was exactly those people who sent him to his death, their sins, that he was dying for. He didn’t look into a crystal ball and see “us” in the future that he would sacrifice himself for. It was for those sinners right in front of him. We are all among that crowd. We are not above them. And we will continue to condemn Jesus to death until we can truly move out of the crowd and examine ourselves, our motives, and defend the undefended.

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Anne Rice vs. Christianity

When I first heard the news clip about Anne Rice “quitting Christianity”, I thought what most people probably thought – ah, she’s gone back to atheism. That would have been an interesting story considering her public recommitment to Catholicism and her books on the subject of Christ. Turns out it’s not that interesting, as a matter of fact it smacks of a media ploy.

Her much publicized quote again:

“In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control.

“In the name of… Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

And now she feels better about herself. Congratulations. Really, what’s so new about this? People get fed up with Christianity and/or Christians every day because of some non-compassionate, backward stance. And it’s no different for Jews or Muslims. I’m willing to bet everyone’s got a beef with some aspect(s) of their religion.

The real problem is that this is just a cowardly response to the hard issues. Is it right to turn your back on something you supposedly care about because of disagreements? What about sticking it out, making it what you want it to be? Be the example you don’t see. I would have been much more impressed with Anne had she said that those positions were not Christian at all. That, indeed, she would continue to embrace Christianity while fighting for the acceptance of all those things.

By quitting, she’s saying: Yes, that [anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti….] IS what Christianity is about.

Thank goodness for the Muslims after the 9/11 bombings that stood up and said: this act does NOT represent my religion, it is NOT what we stand for and I will continue to embrace my God.

So, her statement becomes either a media play with no real substance, or an easy way out of dealing with what makes her uncomfortable with her chosen religion.

Get a backbone Anne.

compassion fail

It was one of those situations ripe with an opportunity to be compassionate. And I didn’t even bite. I’m driving home from the grocery store, leisurely mind you since I had NO ONE in the car with me for the first time in forever and I wanted to savor every second! One block from home neighborhood kids are riding their trikes in the street. I slow down as they clear off to the side. Where upon Dad feels the need to stand in the middle of the street with his hands out as the self appointed traffic cop to ensure that I stop completely. Then as I proceed past his house and the next few houses before mine he motions that I should slow down.

I was completely enraged by this man’s act. And at first I wasn’t sure why. But I’ve concluded that likely it’s because he wrongly assumed ineptitude on my part. As a mom myself I was driving more than reasonably around the kids, and I didn’t need Dad out there directing me, when he should be teaching his kids how to stay out of the street.

But whatever, it doesn’t even matter why it upset me. It did and I let it get to me so much that I really had and still have less than pure thoughts about what I would say to this man should I meet him face to face.

What I didn’t do was take time to recognize any sense of what he may have been feeling. Ok, we all want to protect our kids, that’s a given. Maybe he’d had a bad experience with a not-so-careful driver and one of his children. Maybe he’s trying to save the planet by not driving and is therefore leery of all cars. All admirable reasons to stand in the middle of the street and force me to stop…even if I disagree with his actions. Then again, maybe he’s just a frustrated control freak – point is, it doesn’t matter why he did what he did. What mattered was that I let him control my anger, which blocked me from even considering a compassionate response.

Compassion isn’t just about feeling for those who have less or need your help. To truly be compassionate I would have been able to put myself in the shoes of a man that I had the urge to get out of my car and punch. To rise above my own knee jerk reactions and consider other options. Obviously not there yet!

the compassion of gardening

I’ve always claimed to be a lousy gardner. No green thumb, not even a slightly brown thumb. Turns out that it’s not that I don’t like gardening, it’s that I’ve never had the time to really dedicate to it. While on maternity leave I’ve had that time and it’s been amazingly rewarding. I’ve planted azaleas, petunias, herbs, you name it!

Petunias

I’m shocked by how much I’m enjoying this. Now it’s early going so we’ll see how it all ends up but as of right now I’m hooked. Gardening really requires a slowing of the senses. Every little blossom sparks excitement, each new green leaf is cause for celebration. Gardening has become a great way for me to stretch my compassion muscle. If I can care this much for a plant certainly I can manage more for my fellow human beings. That’s the hope anyway.

Sometimes we find it easier to feel compassion for those things that can’t talk back. Plants, pets, it always amazes me what people will do for a dog that they won’t for a human. Not that I don’t care about dogs as much as the next person but seriously!

Speaking of compassion, read this great piece from the Bloggess.

40

I’m officially depressed about turning 40. It just snuck up on me. I’ve never been one to worry about age or fret about birthdays, but this year is different. A large part of it is due to the fact that I’m still overweight and hormonal from having a baby – nothing will make you feel less sexy. And sexy is what you’re supposed to feel at 40 right? To usher in the new older, wiser, I-don’t-care-what-people-think you.

My other hangup is that I’m in a crossroads in my career. 40 is when I envisioned having all my shit together, great job, great family, the works. Luckily I got the great family part and frankly that’s what I’d rather have anyway. But there’s this nagging feeling that I *shouldn’t* be wondering what I want to be when I grow up at 40.

All the self pity got me thinking about compassion again. Why is it we seem to find it easier to feel compassionate towards strangers and we’re harder on those we know – specifically ourselves? If I were listening to someone else describe these same feelings, I can actually hear all the wonderful sage advice I’d have for them. But can I apply that same advice to myself? Well, only after some real yelling at my pity self to wake up and listen to my sage self!

We are always hardest on ourselves. For me, this starts a spiral of negative thinking that has to hit bottom before I can reverse the effect. But practicing self-compassion just feels wrong doesn’t it? Maybe it shouldn’t, maybe we need to try and have more self-compassion (not pity) and forgive ourselves more so that we can learn to forgive others. And if you end up losing 10 pounds and feeling sexy in the process, bonus!

Compassion vs. compassion

My new years resolution was to blog about compassion (in support of Karen Armstrong’s charter). Specifically, my daily attempt to maintain a compassionate outlook and breath a new life into living truly compassionately. I’ve found both the writing and the action more of a struggle than I’d like to admit.

The writing struggle was easy to explain, I just had a baby – good luck being productive with a 2 month old! But compassion? Well I just wasn’t feeling it… Reflecting on a day I couldn’t pick out one example. It was as though I wasn’t able to tell what was compassion and what wasn’t – which just seemed ludicrous. It was like being blind to only one thing.

Initially I chalked this up to a lack of sleep and hot showers. Two very underappreciated necessities until they disappear. I even drafted a blog post about how without these basic needs being met it was nearly impossible to see beyond one’s self. That of course is pure bullshit. People with much less manage compassion on a far grander scale than I ever will.

Now, looking back, I believe it to be a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees. When we look for Compassion (big C) it can be quite intimidating. The word takes on a life of its own. It becomes something so great we only expect to see it in the wake of a disaster such as Haiti. It’s too big to be happening to or by a very ordinary me.

I needed to change my point of view to remove the blinders. I started looking for compassion (little c). And there it was, all over the place. A “thank you” or “I’m sorry”, an acknowledgment of another you might have otherwise overlooked, giving into the bedtime story request when all you want to do is sleep. These are also acts of compassion. They are the seeds that nuture what allows us to ultimately feel and act on Compassion. Don’t overlook these small acts, search them out. I believe it’s the small c’s that will ultimately change everything.

And on that note, I’d like to thank the little one who liberates me from sleep on a regular basis 🙂