Tag Archives: compassion

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.

A prayer for those who are grieving

12 Sep

Holy One, we all have experienced times of grief and loss.

We bring those memories to you.

Heal us and teach us compassion for other who also grieve.

We offer our prayers in gratitude for your continuing love for each of us, especially when we feel lost.

Heal us, loving God.

Teach us, loving God,

the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

the courage to change the things we can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Gospel Reflection for July 14, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

8 Jul

The story of the Good Samaritan leads Jesus to pose the question, “Which of these is your neighbor?”

The lawyer responded, “The one who treated him with compassion.”
Jesus said, “Then go and do the same.”

Luke 10.36-37

The parable stands at the heart of Jesus’ message of salvation.  In effect, Jesus tells the lawyer (and all of us) that to be saved, whole, and happy we must love God and ourselves by loving our neighbors, including those for whom we may have no understanding or liking.  Jesus asks us to act as the Samaritan does when he stops to help and heal another marginalized person, someone whose wounds and distress everyone else has ignored.  He asks us to allow compassion to change our hearts and lives.

What experiences have taught you compassion and the need to be less judgmental?

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Example of a Good Shepherd: Norman Borlaug

18 Apr

John’s gospel makes an extended comparison between Jesus and shepherds who pasture, protect, and water their flocks and who at night sleep in the opening of the sheepfold. Jesus is both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold. This Sunday the Church reads from John 10, where the gospel makes this comparison.

A man died in September 2009 who like a good shepherd used his brains and energy that millions on our planet might eat.  Norman Borlaug believed food is a moral right.

Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for developing disease-resistant wheat that grew well in Mexico, India, Pakistan, and African nations where population was outrunning food production. Famine seemed inevitable when Borlaug finished his doctorate in 1942.

Gospel Reflection for February 10, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

7 Feb

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will be catching people instead of fish.”  Luke 5.10

The miraculous catch of fish in Sunday’s gospel moves Peter to a confusing response, “Leave me Lord.  I am a sinful man.”  Why should someone tell a teacher to leave when he or she has only begun learning what a teacher has to teach?  Jesus seems to understand the fear of the community of faith, represented in Peter, a fear of learning too much and being asked too much.

Jesus commission Peter in this humbled state, “From now on, you will be catching people.”  Peter knows future catches will come as the miraculous catch of fish has come, namely, in response to the word of God.

To what is God calling people today?  To what are people responding?

Catholic Relief Services

16 Nov

As stated in this week’s Sunday By Sunday: Many people in our world need help to survive.

AIDS has left thousands of children in Africa without parents. Learn about Catholic Relief Service’s response to these problems:

Catholic Relief Services works in over 30 countries throughout Africa and strives to enhance human dignity, empower the people that it helps and strengthen and support partner organizations. CRS achieves this by working in the areas of food security, peace building, HIV and AIDS, civil society building, Emergency Response and health among others.

Read more


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