Lesson 1: Compassion

A lot of people have talked to me about the violence series. They are concerned about the acceptance of physical force and inflammatory language in our present society. At the same time, there was some uneasiness about seeing nonviolence as the response. Some questioned if it is sufficient to cover the need to offer some form of defense, at least when a neighbor is threatened. This was often raised in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Nonviolence seemed too passive. In our present deadlock, where people resist anything that might change their minds, something more challenging would appear necessary.

Love is the obvious answer, but the word is so misused an adequate synonym seems called for. When I asked my wife what that word might be, she suggested kindness. She maintains Christianity’s greatest problem in our time is the lack of kindness in the groups she labels as the Christian Wrong (rather than the Christian Right).

I was ready to make that the subject of this series until I read the dictionary definition and wondered if kindness also does not go far enough. Webster thinks kindness involves sympathy and affection but not so much taking care of another.

Compassion expresses more reaching out. I felt it had to do with an empathy that was conscious of others’ distress and the desire to alleviate it. The word itself means a willingness to suffer with or for another person, which is a fine definition of Christian love.

Besides that, I have always been intrigued that Karen Armstrong maintains compassion is the common ingredient of every world religion. This will give me a chance to examine that claim.

A big part of me wants to see Christians stand firm on nonviolence when confronted by violence. I see myself as a disciple of Martin Luther King. But another side of me questions if this has more to do with feeling good about myself than making a better world. If the goal is to transform evil into good and the enemy into a friend, maybe we need a more nuanced response addressing every situation’s need.

Let’s see where an investigation into compassion takes me.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry Walters says:

    Looking forward to the new discussion!

  2. paul wildman says:

    This is a hugely challenging topic as for instance several observers see the decline and decline in the US social situation with homelessness, tent cities (esp. in Calif) and mass shootings daily. Compassion is a personal AND collective issue. So for me the issue also becomes how can we show compassion to ourselves, one another, our planet and design it into our social structures and processes. ciao paul (Brisbane Australia)

  3. Ira says:

    We need practical and concrete answers to the many social problems and all this talk is not going to cut it. Churches can help but they need to go outside traditional approaches. Just saying “be compassionate” is not going to solve individual problems. There are lots of compassionate people who go too far or do not recognize their limits or priorities. The “church” is compassionate but needs to know what they are doing. More of a business approach to problems solving.


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