Category Archives: compassion

Some Wisdom Amidst the Noise, Part 2

As we face personal and community challenges, there is “wisdom from above” that is pure and peaceable and unites love and justice, compassion and empowerment. Here are some more reflections as I listen to God – and that listening is mediated through wise people in my life.

Confusion leads to anarchy and ultimately external control. Clarity leads to accountable liberty and greater personal responsibility. On most issues, ethical/moral clarity is not difficult – it is just demanding.

Reflecting and responding beats reacting and resenting every day.

Instead of castigating former and present leaders, how about constructing new friendships?

Current reactions in our civil conversation are morphing from legitimate dissent to hysterical accusations and perceptions. Instead of anger and violence and quashing voices, how about concrete actions of love and service and policy proposals that have a chance to work? I challenge all parties and groups to think of the common good of all – Black and White, rich and poor, religious and secular.

Grateful for the global church of all ages today: Jewish and Gentile, African and Asian, Near Eastern and Western, in soaring cathedrals and hidden catacombs…from Mt. Sinai to Monte Cassino, from Armenian chapels to American campuses, from bells and incense to freeform dance and song…may their testimonies inspire our fidelity and service.

Choosing contemplation over cynicism, helpfulness over hatred and vision over venom. Such responses are harder than reactions, but so much better for the soul and society.

A Baptism of Tears

Stan Burgess’ delightful source book, Peoples of the Spirit, chronicles gifts and expressions of the Holy Spirit throughout church history. One of the most interesting experiences is what the Eastern Orthodox leaders called, “The Baptism of Tears.”

When the Spirit falls, tears flow.

God hears the laments of his people and records the tears on his scroll (or stores them in his bottle – Psalm 56:8). Tears of repentance cleanse the soul. Tears of rejoicing lift our spirits. Tears of righteous anger propel advocacy for justice. Tears of compassion empower sacrifice for those that cannot return the favor.

North American Christianity needs a baptism of tears.

Instead of polarized invective that tears up apart, we need the tears of divine empathy to unite our hearts. The God of the Bible weeps and laughs, grieves deeply and dances with joy (Jeremiah 8-9; Zeph. 3; Luke 10, 19).

Imagine our conversations with God and each other if we experience a baptism of tears:

We will weep deeply as we confront the racism of Charleston and shed joyful tears as forgiveness triumphs over retaliation.

We will weep hearing the cries of creation as humans despoil the earth and we will cry aloud with delight as gospel hope inspires ecological healing.

We weep in intercession for our neighbors lost without Christ and shed tears of joy as converts are baptized and prodigals discover Abba Almighty waiting for them.

We will weep when a sister or bother suffers and find our eyes moist when healing flows.

This baptism of tears purges hubris and hypocrisy from our hearts. Tears will inspire love for enemies as we realize their need of grace.

There is a time and place for civil, dispassionate debate, inside the church and in the public square. The issues tearing the church and civil society apart, especially the labeling and libeling, the intolerance and entrenched anger, will not be overcome merely with debating points. Evidence and rational thought are needed in our hyperbolic sound bite-driven world. But tears are needed even more.

Tears in our eyes help us hear with our ears what the Spirit is saying as we listen deeply to each other.

Today I am shedding tears for our violence toward the vulnerable, from the unborn to the aged, the oppressed and trafficked to the hidden abuse in homes.

Today I am crying with joy over the thousands finding Christ each hour, and many believers awakening to this moment of kingdom opportunity.

Tears are not a sign of moral compromise or inner weakness. They are not evidence of sentimentalism. Tears are signs of compassion, empathy and wholeness.

Healing laughter often ends with flowing tears. Deep conviction that leads to repentance is accompanied by cries for mercy, with tears running down the face.

We do not need to make this happen artificially or start a new movement for tears in our services. Authentic works of the Holy Spirit that honor Christ and transform individuals and institutions do not need our manipulative assistance.

If we pray the ancient prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit” and really desire the fullness of the resurrection life of Christ, tears will flow.

Come, Holy Spirit, and baptize us with tears.

 

The Road Ahead

Our next Administration faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Reversing more than half a century of ballooning indebtedness and bloated bureaucracy will be daunting. Transforming health care and retirement plans so they are stable and sustainable will require courage and sacrifice heretofore unknown among politicians. Restoring our global influence and leading the resistance to intolerance and totalitarianism will demand humility, wisdom and moral and military strength. Advocating for life from conception to coronation and affirming compassion for the broken, poor and vulnerable will summon our best character and competencies. Standing with Israel while engaging in honest dialogue with Muslim leaders calls for Solomonic discernment.

Can we chart a fresh direction, revitalizing our founding principles for 21st century realities? Or is it too late and must we “adjust” to a “new world order” and “settle” for less? There is no way forward without pain. The only question is which type of surgery and recovery creates long-term health in the patient we call the United States of America.

There are two dispositions we must eschew and two we must embrace in order to construct a better, more inclusive and prosperous future. First, we must reject fatalism and fear, with their partners dependency and victimhood. Second, we must resist the extremes of hyper-individualism and collectivism. We must reaffirm that liberty is built on virtue and truth embraced by people with freewill. We are responsible for our choices. Yes, there are second chances and opportunities for redemption. There are, however, risks and rewards, positive and negative possibilities with daily decisions. Our future rests on accepting reality and affirming freedom – to fail or succeed. Hyper-individualism forgets that others do contribute to our progress – parents and pastors, coaches, friends and mentors, partners and even competitors are all part of the social reality that makes prosperity possible. The opposite extreme, the “you didn’t build that” collectivism of the last four years (and perhaps longer, truth be told), forgets that the infrastructure that sustains growth is funded by the innovation of the market that produces tax revenue! Remember, the politician’s are playing with our money.

On the positive side, we must embrace hope that is fulfilled by new habits. “Hope and change” only happen with habits and character. Hope is not wishful thinking and new habits begin with new hearts. Will we joyfully embrace the truth that “we are the change” as we diligently work, cheerfully volunteer and sacrificially serve the next generation? Secondly, we must live out the paradox of self-fulfillment through selfless service. Prosperity is adding value to others, not just extracting it. Our material wealth, emotional well-being and fruitful future rest on offering products, services and relationships that honor God and bring good to others. We buy certain products because of their (perceived or real) value. As we participate in the economy, we are stewards of God-given relationships and resources.

As we pray, vote and await the changes ahead, let’s dedicate ourselves to a future founded on character and competence rooted in faith, hope and love. Our salvation is from Christ. Our ultimate future is a gift from the Triune God. But our current life is a partnership with God and people of conscience to forge a loving and just community. “Yes we can” change course and one day look back on a new era of compassion, opportunity and flourishing.