Tag Archives: compassion

Year of Mercy

10 Sep


Corporal Works of Mercy are those that tend to bodily needs of others. In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus tells his followers they will be judged on six specific works of mercy, the first six below.  The last work of mercy, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit.[3][4]

To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned.
To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy relieve spiritual suffering. They come to us from Tradition.

To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive offenses willingly.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.

The Gift of Laughter

14 Aug
Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

I watched Tig over the weekend, a documentary about stand-up comedian and radio contributor Tig Notaro. I pressed play because my baby fell asleep at a decent hour, my mom had suggested the film, my brother respects Tig a ton as a fellow stand-up comedian, and I am very interested in contemporary female comedians as writers and speakers of truth. I didn’t expect to be thinking about the film days later, but here I am.

Tig’s career was going well until, while working in a film, she collapsed. In the hospital, she found out she had C-DIFF, a possibly fatal infection of the intestine. Then her mom died. Then she went through a breakup. Then she got diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. With the cancer diagnosis, because of the sheer ridiculous nature of her Job-like situation, everything seemed funny to her. She started writing. Less than a week after finding out she had cancer, she stepped on stage at the Largo and said, “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?”

She proceeded to do a set– a long set– making jokes about the laundry list of challenges God had handed her. Listening to the audio, you can hear the mix of human reactions in the crowd, and she played off of that. Some people laughed so hard you could feel the relief in their guts, finally being able to laugh about something so sad that they were also going through. Others cried and moaned. They begged her to keep going. And this is the moment I can’t get out of my head. Tig suggests changing the subject at one point and you can hear a man in the audience say, “No, keep going. This is amazing.” And it was. It was raw, true, and really funny. The interaction between her and the audience was charged with humanness, surging with emotion. People were aware that they were experiencing something special, something more than live comedy at its best.

As Tig said, the idea of the show went viral. She woke up the next morning more well known than she had ever been. Louis C.K. convinced her to sell audio of the show, which launched her into the national spotlight. The show hit a nerve, struck a chord, rung true. Not only was it healing for her, but it offered healing to others, as well. People couldn’t get enough of her, making jokes about her cancer. They loved her truth, admired her skills of wit, writing and timing, found relief in being able to laugh about something as ugly and scary as cancer, and were comforted by her brash courage in the face of adversity.

I will be thinking about the audio that captured the alive, human, sacred interaction between Tig and her audience at the Largo for a long time. It supports my hunch that comedians have potential to be modern-day prophets. It reminds me how much we need space to talk about what we are afraid of and what we are grieving. It acknowledges that there are days when we have cried so hard that we desperately want an excuse to laugh, not because sickness is funny, but because it is real.

Gospel Reflection for August 2, 2015, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Sunday Readings: Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4.17, 20-24; John 6.24-35

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

(John 6.35)

When Jesus sits at table with his friends, he has little more to say to them than what he has been trying to say through the whole witness of his life: “Here I am, like this bread and this cup — take it, let me be broken and poured out for you, so that the kingdom may come.” Jesus is not about being the strongest or most intimidating guy in the room or coercing and threatening people into believing the way he wants. Eucharist celebrates the one who chose to put himself on the line as a person for others.

Who in your life is a person for others?

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Running Toward

17 Jul
via Flickr user Lawrence OP

via Flickr user Lawrence OP

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things. –Mark 6:30-34

Can you feel Jesus’s fatigue in this passage? I can, viscerally. It is so important to retreat, to regroup, to recharge. It is so important to eat and rest and spend time in deserted places when your work is in high demand. These first verses need to illicit real fatigue in us, the readers, in order for the story to work. Then, when we get to the end of the passage, we are truly struck by Jesus compassion. Instead of getting upset and being short with the people, like I would if I were in dire need of retreat and it was ruined by a mob of needy people, he is moved. They move him to be more open. He takes a deep breath and continues to teach. Thank goodness.

For they were like sheep without a shepherd. This visual is so strong for me. I see this in the teenagers I work with. They are in a developmental stage when it is healthy for them to question authority and be critical of institution. They are beginning to define themselves against their peer group instead of their families. They are forming herds, and it feels exciting to them to move as a herd without a shepherd. Many of them turn away from religion, the church, the stories their parents taught them. They want to be free from these things, that all of a sudden feel suffocating, restricting, confining. They have a deep desire to wander the field without direction. I encourage young people to go, wander, frolic, play. Enjoy what it feels like to run away without heeding the call back. Often their instinct is healthy. They are running from what they see as hypocritical in the church, in organized religion. They are running from the ways that we as humans fall short. So run, I tell them. Run from those things. Just make sure you are running toward something good. Don’t mistake the love of God with the sin of humanity. Wander, frolic, question, yes. But run toward love, beauty, forgiveness, truth, and you will find Jesus again.

This is not just a teenage tendency. Don’t we all get lost? Prone to wander, as the hymn says. Prone to leave the God I love.

We may not be running from authority, but we allow our busy lives, our ego, our pain to pull us away. Maybe we get so swept up in thinking we don’t deserve love or forgiveness that it is too hard to stay. Or maybe we don’t want to admit that we need a shepherd’s help. We all have times when Jesus pities us, seeing us like sheep without a shepherd. And it’s okay, as long as we can hear the sound of his voice, feel the compassion of his love, and know when it is time to wander back into the unending fold of his care. There is no fatigue there. Jesus is ready to teach us many things.

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me. –JN 10:27

5th Week of Easter

28 Apr

Photo via Flickr user Farrukh

“I give you a new commandment: Love one another.”

John 13.34

The risen Jesus makes “Love one another” the simple command he leaves with his friends. Love is not only a feeling but a verb, actions we do. Serve. Include. Forgive. Share. Reach out. Listen. Comfort.

Pay attention to local and world news events about people of other cultures and religions, or those suffering neglect or hate. Pray for them. Live your prayer and the new commandment at home and in the office. Find a way to step beyond your usual circle to help someone in need of food, education, shelter, presence.

Prayer of the Week: God is good to all and compassionate toward all God has made.

Practicing Compassion

10 Dec

My spouse took a week of vacation from work when our son was born. When added with a few weekends and the Thanksgiving holiday, the three of us had a decadent twelve straight days together at home. We nested, spending hours staring at each other, learning each other, getting used to new sounds– coos, cries, grunts and mini sneezes– activities– breast-feeding, diaper changing, and rocking– and gear– blankets, bassinets, car seats, and slings. We took turns holding the baby, cooking, showering and napping. We bathed him and changed him together. It was lovely.

Then it was time for my spouse to go back to work. All of a sudden, our shared reality, living so intimately together in the warm womb we had made of our family room, turned into two completely different realities. My days continued to be filled with feeding, cuddling, cooing and diaper changing. His days were filled with meetings, computers, adult conversation, dress clothes and project management. The distance between our realities was vast, and it felt unbalanced. We were each a bit jealous of the other while we were both appreciative of the role the other was playing for our new little family member who is so dependent on us for survival. We were both providing, but it looked so much different.

To help us transition and continue to grow, we decided to borrow a compassion-building trick from a friend. It has helped us continue to be kind and generous with each other despite the distance between our new realities. When Dan is leaving work, he texts me and lets me know he is on his way home. We both spend his commute time imagining how the other’s day may have gone. I picture the good and the bad of an office work day. He imagines the joy and the struggle of a day with a newborn. By the time he walks through the door, we greet each other with warmth, curiosity, and openness. We ask each other about how the day went and are ready to really hear the answer. It has been really good for us to grow in empathy and compassion. We are patient with each other and more in tune with what the other may need in the evening to get up and do it all over again the next day. It is a practice that is simple and profound.

One of my favorite working definitions of compassion is this: Compassion is the ability to withhold judgement long enough to get curious about the story of the other. I’m in love with this simple compassion-building activity Dan and I are practicing. I’m struck by how effective it is. Instead of assuming Dan’s day was easier than mine and shoving the baby at him the second he walks in the door, I withhold judgement and get curious about his experience of the day. It is easy, but important work that works.

As I watch news about protests and racial tension in our country from Staten Island to Ferguson in the comfort of my warm family room, I experience feelings of sadness, confusion, anger and disempowerment. Where do we go from here? What is my role in addressing these two grand jury decisions? Our country is riddled with fragmentation and polarization. I am struck by how badly we all need to practice compassion with each other. We can start at home, and move from there, getting curious about the experience of people whose realities seem miles away. We are living in a season calling for more curiosity, deeper listening, and the commitment to withhold judgement for long enough to build compassion for the other.

Faith Today

20 Aug

There are days when I feel more connected to the collective conscious of people. It’s like my heart is connected to other hearts, known and unknown by a string, and the string is getting tugged on and saturated with grieving and pain.On those days, my heart feels heavy, and I get overwhelmed.

Today is one of those days. A dear friend is grieving the end of a marriage. Another is grieving the loss of a life after a miscarriage. A mother gets diagnosed with breast cancer. A high schooler falls unconscious at football practice and is rushed to the ICU. And somehow, the pain of these people I know and love makes me vulnerable. The floodgates open and in rushes the pain of Furguson, of violence against women, of depression, of brokenness in our systems of education and incarceration, and on and on.

Days like today require faith.

I have to dig deeper to find the words, the prayer, the belief. It’s not on the surface waiting for me. The truth is so simple, yet it is hard to grasp. “God’s mercy and compassion is not like the compassion of humankind. Humankind favors men over women, white over black, well over sick, strong over weak. God is not like that. God’s unbound love extends to us all.” When I do find the words and utter them, not all of me believes it. It sounds shaky and shallow and unsure in my throat.

Yet this is faith– to utter hopeful truth about a God that is beyond human understanding on the dark days. It is more important to utter with a shaky voice on the dark days than to sing confidently on the days that are bright and hope comes easily. It is an act of faith to have hope on these dark days, to try our shaky voices, and to keep believing in spite of evidence otherwise, that a good God wants to work with us to create a world of justice and peace, full of healing and reconciliation, where all people are free. Dorthy Day reminds us we cannot have the audacity to hope if we are not willing to do the work of implementing God’s compassionate vision of “on earth as it is in heaven.” The uttering calls us forth to action, which reinforces hope.

On our dark days, it takes faith to choose not to wallow in only what is, but to look harder and see what ought to be. It takes faith to believe that God is not satisfied with how it is today. Broken and hopeful, it is an act of faith to claim and live into the love of God that surpasses human compassion.

New Church Partnership Models

15 Jul

My work as a writer, editor and church worker have all put me in conversation with friends in Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Muslim and Jewish communities who are all wondering about the future of spiritual life in the United States. In many of these US circles, attendance at worship is down, especially among young people, and religious professionals are asking some hard questions. When Good Ground Press invited me to blog at Keeping Faith Today, they simply said, “Write about what it means to be a faithful person today. Talk about it all– the joys, controversies, and challenges.” It is rewarding work to be a part of the conversation across denominational lines.

Some exciting new models are coming out of the hard questions that religious professionals are asking about the future of the church. One trend I am seeing is churches and nonprofits being open and willing to work with for profit companies in new partnerships. The examples that are working are those where the partnership is savvy, relevant, and symbiotic. Here is an interesting example brought to my attention by Adam Copeland, a Presbyterian friend working at a Lutheran College with faith, leadership and new media, on one of his blog posts:

Via Kickstarter, Broad Street Ministry is seeking to partner with Federal Donuts to create Rooster Soup Company:

We want to use high-quality chicken backs & bones that would go to waste…

… to make delicious soup to sell

… and donate 100% of our profits to [Broad Street Ministry] dedicated to helping those in need.

Let’s break this down a bit. Broad Street Ministry is a forward thinking church in Philadelphia that does a lot more than worship. Federal Donuts is a for profit donut and chicken shop in Philadelphia. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform often used by artists and entrepreneurs looking for start up funds to launch the next great idea. Very few churches and religious nonprofits have used Kickstarter thus far, but visionaries at Broad Street are giving it a try. So we have a church partnering with a for profit and using a crowd-funding platform to build a new model. The pieces are all there. Federal Donuts is in because if this launches, they will not have to pay to have their backs and bones disposed of. Broad Street Ministry is in because all the proceeds from Rooster Soup Company will go back to Broad Street to fund programming. And in theory every day people like you and I are in and decide to support them by funding their start-up costs because we are fans of donuts, chicken, soup, less wasted food, more good ministry and smart partnerships like this one.

Young people want to see churches doing relevant work in their communities. Here is an example of a church willing to be in the community not only addressing the hunger in Philadelphia with its ministry, but also being willing to work with for profit companies in the community to create partnerships where everyone benefits. These partnerships are popping up in cities all over the US, driven by innovative leaders with a pulse on issues that need addressing via street-smart means. Check out this Kickstarter campaign and keep your eyes open in your community for new models of church partnership.

The Verbs of Everyday Living

11 Nov


This excerpt from Sunday By Sunday for November 17 seems especially apt following the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan:

“In the face of war, earthquakes, famines, plagues – the regular stuff of today’s headlines – Jesus recommends patient endurance. He has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone besides themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away wreckage. The courage of soldiers and marathon survivors inspires us as they learn to use prosthetic arms and legs.

Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgive, include, speak the truth, listen, learn, build, rejoice, have compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand.” – Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Read the full issue here.

Here is a list of ways to help the survivors of Haiyan – add other suggestions in the comments.


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