Christ Calls Christians to Compassion, NOT Comfort

I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.

First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.

There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):

The (Samaritan) woman at the well,  John 4:4-26

Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)

The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48

This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.

 The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.

The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

 Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.

 Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11

There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.

Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:

Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)

Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)

Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?

I believe it looks like this:

Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?

Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.

Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.

Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?

The Search for Truth

If you haven’t given up on me after the last post, I’m hoping that means the truth is important to you as well. I do not for even a split second claim to have all the answers, or to have a monopoly on the truth. You may not agree with me on the best ways to discover the truth, but I’d like to make some suggestions.

First, let’s get something out of the way: all newscasting is biased. Humans are biased. It’s virtually unavoidable. Everyone has their own unique set of deeply held personal beliefs, and it’s nearly impossible for that to not affect how we respond to certain news. Some sources are notorious for being exceptionally biased. But there are plenty of sources that try as much as possible to present the news or fact check without overtly skewing the facts toward their own bias.

I know there’s been a story going around about how “Snopes got snoped”. There’s actually a really great review of that dilemma here. The thing is, people have been claiming for years that Snopes is “too liberal”, while others have been claiming they’re “too conservative”. The truth of the matter is that they’ve done a particularly good job of remaining as neutral as it is possible to be, on a wide variety of stories on both sides of the divide, which as I said is very difficult. But here’s the most important part: they always cite their sources. If you think they’ve said something hinky, it’s super easy to follow up on the story, just by clicking on the links throughout the article. That is exactly why has remained a highly respected, tremendous resource for fact-checking for so many years. Snopes even has their own response to this claim that they’re biased, stating that the direction of the supposed bias changes depending on which political party is in control at the time, and whether an article fits the claimant’s preconceived notions.

And therein lies the problem.  As I said, everyone has their own beliefs, and those beliefs affect our personal bias. But we should never cling so desperately to our personal worldview that we don’t allow ourselves to remain open-minded to the truth. There will be times when we don’t like the truth. But truth can withstand any amount of intense scrutiny. We should not fear our beliefs being challenged; if they are based on truth, they will endure. It may occasionally happen that we will discover something we believe in is not based on truth, and we will need to be willing to adjust our beliefs accordingly.

If you can’t let go of the idea that Snopes is biased, though, there are plenty of other resources., Politifact, and Fact Checker are just a few. Media Bias Fact Check has a list of 10 of their favorite sites, which includes the ones I’ve mentioned. I particularly like that they use many different resources at the same site. But here’s the biggest thing: If you read a news story that seems outrageous, chances are high that the reporting is biased. If we only rely on one source for our news, we are likely to be overwhelmed by that bias, and we will become increasingly unwilling to make sure that our beliefs are in line with the truth.

I know what I’m asking. I know how deeply ingrained some beliefs can be. But if truth is more important to us than our personal bias, there are potentially times when we will have to be willing to put our beliefs through extreme investigation in our pursuit of that truth. As painful as it might be, we might be occasionally required to reevaluate our opinions. I hope that we as individuals, and as a country, have the strength of character to do exactly that.


How Important is the Truth?

I have an announcement to make: We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated. Used. Taken advantage of for the purpose of money and/or power. Does this make anyone else angry? It should–we should be furious! But instead we have allowed inflammatory headlines and an addiction to outrage dictate our behavior and drive a wedge between us. We have let other people use our emotions to control us.

Since apparently we need a reminder, listen up. Internet sites get their money from page visits. They don’t care in the least if their headline is remotely truthful. Incendiary, flagrantly offensive headlines get TONS more clicks than calm, metered, truthful language. Their primary goal is to get us incensed enough to think, ‘OMG can you believe so-and-so said such-and-such?’ They know we will click ‘share’ within seconds, and before our heads have had a chance to spin a full 360 degrees, the page has had hundreds of thousands of visits. Flash lesson on internet ad revenue: In most cases, you don’t have to click on the ad to earn money for the page designer. Every single page visit brings revenue.

This post may make some people angry on both sides of the political divide, and probably some who don’t like either side. But I think considering this topic is crucial to healing the rift in our country. I think this is a very grave subject that had a dramatic impact on the process of the election as well as the country’s response to its outcome. I think it’s still having a dramatic effect on the divisiveness and bitterness that continues to linger. So I’ll repeat the question: How important is the truth, to you specifically?

Is the truth important enough to you to take just a few seconds to check and make sure an article is legitimate? Is truth important enough to you to make sure that you read an entire article before sharing? Is it important enough to avoid passing on articles that have deliberately misleading headlines, even if there is a kernel of truth in the article? Is it worth it to find the original story, so that statements or actions are not taken out of context?

I have seen this on all sides (that means you too, third party voters).

Hillary is evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote for Trump because he’s not Hillary.

Trump is evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote for Hillary because she’s not Trump.

They’re both evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote third party, or not at all, because you can’t vote for either one of them.

And I’ve seen all the garbage about all the candidates, ad nauseum. It doesn’t seem to matter how fantastical, how implausible a claim is, you just think to yourself, ‘I wouldn’t put it past them’ and blindly pass it on. And unfortunately it has continued past the election. Can you believe what that group of people is doing, or trying to do? Can you believe Trump appointed this person and they want to try to pass this law? Can you believe Obama/Clinton are trying to undermine Trump? If a headline makes you think, ‘Can you believe…?’ maybe that should be a major clue that you shouldn’t believe it without checking it out.

If you value truth at all, please take the time to make sure you’re proclaiming truth and stop lending legitimacy to lies.

Stop it.

Please, I beg of you, America.



I Am Heartbroken for My Country

It’s less about the outcome of the election and more about how we’ve been responding to that outcome. At this point, it doesn’t matter much whether you voted Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Little Green Men, or no one at all. The fact of the matter remains, Donald Trump will be our president. But whether we are elated or distraught, the thing I think we’ve most forgotten how to do is truly listen to one another. I was desperately hoping that after the election we would start to get back to a minimal sense of unity, as is usually the case after elections, but it seems most people are only interested in talking over one another instead of listening and carrying out a truly productive dialog.

The problem is, fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. And people who have been whipped up into a frenzy of fear tend to make irrational, emotionally biased decisions.

The people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are frustrated because so many white people aren’t truly listening to their concerns and grievances. They feel marginalized because saying “all lives matter” in response doesn’t acknowledge that there is a definite issue that needs to be dealt with. If we can’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated so strongly with so many people, we’re never going to be able to address the issues that brought it about. While there are plenty of white people who have lived their entire lives in poverty, living in dangerous neighborhoods, they still don’t fully comprehend how it feels to know that you have a much higher chance of being shot and killed if your skin is dark, or what it’s like to be “guilty until proven innocent”. It’s even harder to understand for white people who have grown up in middle class or affluent neighborhoods.

The police force is frustrated by the public perception that they are bullies, and they are worried every day that they might be sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. If we can’t understand the fear that motivates policemen to respond to threats of violence with violence instead of deescalation, we will never be able to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality that has resulted in so many wrongful deaths recently.

The LGBTQIA community is frustrated because they are being discriminated against with very specific, confrontational legislation, and bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If we can’t understand why people with a different sexuality or gender identity are genuinely afraid for their safety and sometimes even their lives, and that all most of them really want is to be accepted members of society, we are not ever going to be able to be allies and make sure that they are treated with fairness and respect.

Muslims, and indeed anyone who even looks like they might be Muslim or from a “terrorist country” are legitimately afraid for the safety of their families. There is still so much residual distrust and suspicion haunting us since 9/11. We need to understand, acknowledge, and attend to the fears that they have, as well as the fear that non-Muslims have about another potential terrorist attack.

The Christian right is frustrated because they fear they are losing ground on what they see as moral issues: abortion, gay marriage, etc. I’ll talk about Christians and the culture war in another post. Or several. Probably several.

Women are afraid that our country indulging a man who has repeatedly disrespected women will send the message that appalling “locker room talk”, sexual harassment, and even worse behaviours are perfectly acceptable, even expected.  Young boys will grow up seeing women as objects instead of equals.

People on both sides of the gun control issue are frustrated with, well, the adamant stance of the people on the other side. If we don’t even attempt to understand the fear that motivates both sides, we’re never going to be able to meet in the middle.

I hope you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at. Each of the major issues I’ve listed has at least some element of basic fear involved, and there are many more that I didn’t list. The thing about fear is that it’s hard to overcome. Many of these fears are quite justified; some, in your mind, may not seem justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people do feel them. We can’t really dictate to people what they are and are not allowed to be afraid of, nor should we want to try. It’s also pretty counterproductive to tell someone that their fear is ridiculous, unnecessary, or overreacting. That just shows more clearly that we’re not really listening to their concerns. If we don’t come together, acknowledge that there are some major issues that need to be dealt with, and start working toward some resolutions, we are going to continue to have ghastly, horrific, divisive political campaigns like the one we just endured. We have to realize that the majority of Americans are not acting out of hate, but out of fear. Unfortunately, fear has been responsible for some particularly reprehensible actions (consult the annals of history). The thing is, it just doesn’t work to tell someone that they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they shouldn’t act in response to their fear. It’s part of the human condition.

But we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In fact, most of the time it seems like we’ve forgotten how to, or perhaps lost the will to even try. It’s so much easier to click share on that smug article gloating about the outcome of the election, or the one bemoaning how horrible it is, and that it’s the end of our country. We’d rather lash out at our opponents, instead of remembering that ultimately, we’re all in this together. While it’s true that there are certainly some extremists on both sides of every issue, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle, in spite of the way it seemed during the election. This is somewhat easier to recognize when we view people as individuals rather than groups (i.e., those people), and if we try to refrain from using exceptionally inflammatory language like calling one another evil, Hitler, Antichrist, etc.

I’d like to propose something. If you see something on social media that makes you feel affronted, afraid, defensive, defiant, incensed, indignant, offended, or outraged, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Pause and try to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, and why you feel that way. Then, take a second to fact-check and make sure that the objectionable story, article, or statement is founded in truth. Please, please do not pass on misinformation or opinion pieces as fact, or worse yet, pass off satire as truth. Next, take a moment or two to try to see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes this is the hardest part of all. There are simply some aspects of another person’s state of mind that we can’t ever truly comprehend. But at least give it a shot, for the sake of the country. Then, consider what you’d like to accomplish by passing something on. Are you trying to help people understand one another, or are you really just trying to engender outrage at the actions of a few unrepresentative obnoxious individuals. Are you pursuing unity, or are you deliberately encouraging division?

The comedian Craig Ferguson, former host of The Late, Late Show, has a stand-up routine themed “Does This Need to be Said?”. I think we would all be well-served to try this approach as much as possible; it boils down to this:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I might even add a corollary: Am I using the most effective, least divisive language and tone that I can, while still getting my point across?

Regardless of whether you were for or against Hillary, if we want to Make America Great Again, we have to acknowledge that we are Stronger Together. United we stand, divided we fall. Those are not trite platitudes, it is an absolute necessity, especially if we are to surmount the challenges that will face us from without.

We’ve got some pretty ugly tears in the fabric of our country. Let’s start the process of mending them, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

With utmost hope for our restoration,


A Commentary on the Changing Face of Christian Politics

At first I was just going to share this article on the Changing Face of Christian Politics, but I quickly realized I had more comments to make than I could reasonably place in a Facebook status.  I encourage you to read the entire article (yes, even non-Christians).  There are so many great points, not the least of which are:

1. “Surely we (Christians) want to be known for what we are FOR” (not what we are against).  In my experience, although the majority of non-Christians seem to assume that the confrontational zealots that keep getting handed a microphone are representative of ALL Christians, in reality most Christians are far more interested in peace.  Even those who are uncomfortable around homosexuals usually do not actively hate homosexuals, as is often portrayed.  Most Christians believe that it is possible to love people you don’t agree with, regardless of the point of contention.  Unfortunately, it is the combative, oppositional hard-liners that tend to get the most media coverage, because the media loves a conflict most of all.  Drama gets viewers.  And that fault lies with all of us, because WE’RE the viewers.

2.  “”Why,” he asked, “is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them?”….ending a conversation is vastly different from winning an argument.”  We seem to want to silence or dismiss opposing views especially in instances when the opposition is speaking very loudly.  In some cases, it doesn’t matter if the opposition has some valid points (even if we don’t agree with them).  Let me ask you this question:  If you are so confident in your position, why are you so threatened by someone presenting an opposing view?  Ending a conversation by silencing it through censure or dismissing it with a shrug and a “well, they’re just ignorant, uneducated, delusional, etc is not at all the same thing as carrying on a productive discourse and finding common ground.  It is not at all the way to make any progress.

 And we’ve got to stop letting people cry “free speech” for their own malicious words, but then call for censure of the opposing viewpoint (or that they lose their job).  It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction: I should be able to say ANYTHING I want, without repercussions, because of “free speech”. That’s a load of tripe.  Free speech only allows you to say what you want (specifically, against the government) without being arrested.  It was never intended to protect you from the consequences of your words.  Free speech does not protect you from losing your job if you are hateful and disrespectful to your boss, neither does it protect you from disdain if you choose to express your opinion in a vindictive manner. I’m not saying people who want to speak out against (perceived or real) wrongs should keep their mouths shut.  But many of the most passionate people seem to have completely lost the ability (or desire) to carefully choose their words. There is no need to sugar coat things, but neither is there a need to attack and condemn.  We MUST not appoint ourselves judge, jury, and executioner, regardless of the topic of discussion. .  I don’t care what the topic is, we should be able to express our beliefs without dehumanizing others.  If you are incapable of doing that, you should stay away from the microphone until you grow up a bit.  Or until your language skills improve.

3.  “A Christianity that seeks to unilaterally impose itself on the nation is unlikely be fruitful, but it is similarly unrealistic and unproductive to force a secular morality on believers.”  I believe that this is the fundamental flaw in the “right-wing” approach in recent years.  First of all, Christians need to realize that we are NOT the only ones who live in this country.  And the country belongs to all of those other people too.  To try to legislate our version of morality is not only wrong, it is completely counterproductive.  No true change is brought about by legislation alone.  You cannot force someone to believe in God, or it is not true faith.  But neither should non-believers try to force their beliefs (or lack thereof) upon Christians.  There has been such an intense backlash against Christianity recently that it is shocking sometimes the malice with which non-Christians speak of Christians.  Granted, the aforementioned heavy-handed bigots are deserving of the backlash, but do not assume that all Christians are just as vicious.  And do not assume that just because some Christians ARE hateful, that you must in turn be spiteful to every Christian you ever encounter.

4.  If gay people are to be afforded dignity as those made in the image of God, what does this require of our rhetoric? What does it require of our laws?  This applies not only to gay rights, but to every other moral debate going on in the political arena today.  Do the right-wing extremists take this concept into consideration when they are trying to force restrictive laws upon the American people?  Do run-of-the-mill Christians like me consider this statement when we interact with homosexuals, prostitutes, thieves, embezzlers, liars, or any other human who has ever done anything we don’t approve of (ie, all humans, including me)?

5.  “We need leaders, and people to support them, who recognize that the question for this century is not “how do I win?” but “how can we live together?””  This is really the crux of the matter.  If we cannot get past our desire to “win” and instead work towards finding common ground in this world we share, we will never be able to have a productive conversation, much less a peaceful nation.  Which one is more important to you?  Figure out which one you value more, and you will act accordingly.

The Lost Art of Debate: Reviving CIVIL Discourse

This is a subject that has been in the forefront of my mind a lot lately.  I have gone weeks at a time deliberately avoiding facebook and other social media in order to avoid the hatefulness and close-mindedness that seem to permeate the timelines. (I guess those days are over, right?) There are so many hot topics that seem to ignite verbal nuclear warfare: gun control, politicians, abortion, gay rights, religion, and so on, and so on. I recently posted on challenging our minds, in order to keep them sharp into our old age.  One of the far underused ways that I think we can do this is through true debate.

First, let me define what I mean by debate.  It does not necessarily mean an all-out argument.  IF all sides are being presented and respectfully considered by all parties, this is a constructive discourse.  I think that mature adults should be capable of carrying out a civil debate on ANY topic, even those that we feel very strongly about. (Rant warning!) If you are completely and utterly incapable of considering an opposing viewpoint (or unwilling to do so), perhaps you need to reevaluate your emotional maturity.  

Only when we can agree to peacefully disagree, without name calling, derision, or disrespect, can we make progress towards understanding, and at the same time sharpen our minds. Our primary goal should not be to verbally bludgeon someone into agreeing with our point of view, or to loudly pronounce that anyone who does not agree must be too stupid to know better. That is neither productive nor intellectually stimulating.

Why are we so unwilling to accept an opposing viewpoint as valid, even if we continue to disagree with it? Of course, those hot button topics are always the subjects we feel most strongly about; otherwise, why would we care?

But try this the next time you get caught up in one of those discussions: pause, take a deep breath, and regulate your blood pressure. Remember, the person you’re talking to is also a human being, and regardless of how intelligent you suspect they might be, consider that there is probably a reason that they believe the way they do. While you may not be able to bring them around to your point of view, and they may not be able to bring you around to theirs, maybe you could expand your mind by seeing a different side.