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Courageous Compassion

June 10th, 2013

Connecting with another is always risky. It's more than being known by the company we keep. Connecting goes deeper than the superficial, "What will the neighbors think?" Compassion is more than pity. It is empathy--feeling with. "I know how you feel," is not in fashion any more. President Clinton's, "I feel your pain," became joke fodder almost as soon as it was spoken. If we mean it, if we really feel the pain of another person, we experience courageous compassion.

Courageous compassion is what makes it possible for us to empathize with another. Empathy is more than feeling sorry for someone's circumstances. Feeling with another person means that we will risk as much as our friend would to make things better. Ruined reputations are scattered along the path of those who connected with someone who deceived or betrayed them.

Empathy is not for the faint of heart. It is much easier to be concerned and objective about another's plight than to feel the terror, the hollowness in the pit of our stomachs because someone else feels that way. Connection resurrects the oneness that we experienced with all prior to our becoming too self-conscious. I am not hungry or homeless today, but I meet people in those circumstances every day. Who knows where you or I may be tomorrow?

Charity--though in another era it meant love--has a paternalistic ring to it now. Dare we let ourselves love another whose circumstances in life are frightening or repugnant to us? Can we let down our defenses enough to begin to understand the thought processes, the emotions of someone who seems socially way off base?

Launching into a tumultuous sea of actually bonding with someone others may despise challenges our own sense of worth. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps we could use a few more fools--someone to crash headlong into the burning building to rescue the baby, someone to risk embarrassment if the attempt at good fails. What happens if the ex-offender you are mentoring goes back to prison with new charges? What if "your" student runs away from home, uses drugs or fails to graduate after all? Did you fail?

Connection, relationships, bonding, friends, oneness with those who seem so other from us--why bother?

Why should we disturb our fairly ordered lives, risk our good names, spend our time with those who don't fit so well into our social circle? The question is the answer. Our elitist barriers must come down if we are to experience full humanity.  As Rachel Held Evans says it from a Christian viewpoint,  "Maybe what makes the gospel offensive is not who it leaves out but who it welcomes in." Maybe that is what makes all love offensive. Love is so non-discriminating.  Love is a great leveler. It also requires a lot of courage.

We may have to leave it to the saints to love the whole world, but can we connect with someone along our way so much that we will do anything to make their life better? Can we bond enough to listen with our hearts as people tell their stories?

As we received communion Sunday morning at church my mind was full of scenes of brokenness, of spilled blood and tears and pain. I wondered if I could partake of all that suffering in our world. Out of habit, ritual and a personal decision that I pledged to be part of this global community, I ate bread and drank juice and promised to try again to relate to the whole and the broken in my world. However you can couch it, I highly recommend becoming one with another as we move in community with a very diverse world.

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