compassion

When Robbers and Innkeepers Profit from Good Samaritans

Pollution dirties the holy Hoogly river in Calcutta. Photo courtesy Hung Chung Chih/shutterstock.com

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known, beloved, and influential portions of the New Testament. As a striking narrative about care and compassion for others, the content of Luke 10:29-37 has reverberated throughout the centuries as a clear and profound call to public love through personal action. All together, the radical hospitality of the Samaritan has sparked various charitable acts and organizations around the world. Thus, one can argue that no other parable has offered a more profound impact on the course of human history. 

Sermon — Prayer, Actually — on Jesus Loving Us So Much He Wants to Throw Up

Sacred Heart of Jesus image, Linda Bucklin / Shutterstock.com
Sacred Heart of Jesus image, Linda Bucklin / Shutterstock.com

A few years ago I wrote a book about the experience of watching 24 consecutive hours of bad Christian television. My friends and family signed up for an hour each to watch along with me. The whole thing was insane, but things got especially crazy around 1 a.m. when a show called the Power Team was on. Now, thePower Team are a bunch of enormous steroid-muscled men who hold really loud Christian rallies in which they tear phone books in two and break 2x4s over their heads by the power of the Holy Spirit. And they talk a lot about what “the Lord” had done for them. It’s impressive stuff. 

Anyway, so our own Andie Lyons was watching with me along with my friend Jerry. And the three of us watched in stunned silence for a moment trying to understand what it was we were seeing, at which point Andie finally said “so wait, basically they break stuff for the Lord?” and I answered yes, and then Jerry said “big deal, I break stuff all the time,” to which Andie asked, “but is it for the Lord?” and Jerry said, “well, it is now!”

Honestly the only reason I told you this story is by way of saying that I’m not a fan of the over-use of the term “the Lord. ”Like when people say “I just love the Lord,” I just never really know what that means. The way it’s casually thrown around makes me uncomfortable especially after Harry Potter, since Voldemort is called the Dark Lord. I just, I don’t know, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that for whatever reason, I can’t handle it. 

The Man in Row 26

In the weeks and months to come, thousands of refugees will walk quietly down jetways into worlds they've never imagined.

OUR PLANE SITS at the gate in Brussels well past our departure time. Slowly, the empty seats fill with Somali refugees whose flight a day earlier had been cancelled. After a night in the airport, they slide wearily into scattered seats.

Ten years together in a refugee camp in Uganda has melded the group into a close-knit family. What do they feel now, I wonder, knowing that on the other end of this flight they will scatter, not to empty seats but to unknown cities throughout the U.S.? From Syracuse to San Francisco, they will look upon a world they have never imagined. “When will I see my friend?” one little girl asks, not realizing she and her friend will live half a continent apart.

I watch a man a few rows ahead of me. I learn from his friend that he suffers from headaches. I know enough about refugees to realize headaches will likely be the least of his challenges. He and his family will face a confusing culture, strange language, unfamiliar religious practices, unknown yet required skills, and new technology—from flush toilets to garage door openers, from light switches to iPads. Then they’ll have to sort out schools and jobs and health care. They’ll be starting over, basically, with nothing.

Almost nothing. One suitcase per person contains the bit of their past they carry into their future. These slim and elegant humans are traveling very light. Unless, of course, you count the weighty baggage of war and displacement.

I talk with the striking Parisian who facilitates their travel. “They are so grateful the plane waited for them,” she says quietly. Grateful. After fleeing their homeland in desperation. After 10 years in a “temporary” camp. After hunger and disease. After leaving everything that’s familiar. After cancelled flights and cots in airport corridors. Grateful.

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Anesthetics and Advocates Below the Poverty Line

 Dollar bill and quarters, Shipov Oleg / Shutterstock.com
Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.50 per day, Dollar bill and quarters, Shipov Oleg / Shutterstock.com

By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty. 

As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.

...

A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday).

New & Noteworthy

Whom Shall I Send?

Drawing on years of pastoral and executive experience in churches and parachurch organizations, Sherry Surratt and Jenni Catron deliver on the pragmatic promise of their book's title, Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church. Jossey Bass

Giving Thanks

Dreams. Wind. Bread. Oriental rugs. Puppet shows. These are a few of the inspirations for Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast's 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life. These short, concise, sometimes whimsical prayers of gratitude for gifts great and small are invitations to increase our awareness of life's daily wonders. Image

Thine is the Power

An anti-nuclear-weapons activist and a pastor, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson has had ample experience with fervor meeting disillusionment. He writes of how to avoid compassion fatigue and cynicism without retreating to solely personal piety or apathy in The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. IVP Books

A Way Forward

Life after Death: Practical Help for the Widowed, by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, offers guidance on the nitty-gritty of finances, self-care, finding emotional and spiritual support, caring for children while you're all grieving, and more, all framed in a frank, grounded spirituality. Franciscan Media

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Ohio’s Rob Portman Becomes First GOP Senator to Support Gay Marriage

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Thursday announced he has reversed his longtime opposition to same-sex marriage after reconsidering the issue because his 21-year-old son, Will, is gay.

 

“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman told reporters in an interview at his office. Portman said his son, a junior at Yale University, told his wife, Jane, and him that he’s gay and “it was not a choice, it was who he is and that he had been that way since he could remember.”

The conversation the Portmans had with their son two years ago led him to evolve on the issue after he consulted clergy members, friends — including former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is gay — and the Bible.

Crossing the Belief Divide

IT WAS AS if the poison of the rancorous 2012 campaign had seeped into our social groundwater, tainting family gatherings, Facebook feeds, church coffee hours, and workplace lunch rooms. In my lowest moments I pictured an election-result map rendered with myriad fractures, like windshield glass—a nation of particles and fragments, held together, barely, by begrudging surface tension.

How do those of good will find productive and respectful ways to talk about important civic and moral issues when a significant number of people view their fellow citizens as enemies?

Two recent books, by radically different authors, explore how to stay committed to your principles while reaching out and even finding common cause with those who live and believe differently.

ReFocus: Living a Life that Reflects God's Heart, is by Jim Daly, president since 2005 of Focus on the Family. Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious is by Chris Stedman, the assistant Humanist chaplain at Harvard University and an activist in atheist-interfaith engagement. Daly leads a conservative evangelical institution that has been a major player on the Right in the culture wars of the past three decades (including around what Focus would term the "homosexual lifestyle"). Stedman is a young gay atheist who was once attacked by thugs who shouted Bible verses as they tried to shove him and a friend in front of an oncoming train. And yet both men argue, from both pragmatic and ethical grounds, for actively and respectfully engaging those who hold different beliefs.

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Aren't We Supposed to Be Peacemakers?

DURING THE BALKAN war of the early ’90s, I traveled twice to Bosnia and Croatia. I visited middle-class women whose husbands and sons had been brutally killed. I visited a refugee center filled with people who had lost everything and were at the mercy of any country that would take them in. I visited school children suffering from post-traumatic stress after seeing their parents killed by enemy shells that landed in their homes.

I walked through the rubble of Mostar, where the Friendship Bridge—a massive stone structure named in honor of the many ethnic groups that had crossed it for four centuries—had been bombed and destroyed. In city after city, I saw the destruction of architecture, art, museums—a violent erasure of the cultures that had thrived there.

It was the first time I had seen war up close, and I was shocked by what human beings do to each other.

While I traveled in the Balkans, another war was waged in Rwanda by Hutus against Tutsis—what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide. Since 2009 I’ve traveled twice to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ethnic battles forged in Rwanda crossed borders and continue to this day. As usual in war, civilians pay the highest price. Subsistence farmers in small villages want only to live in peace, tend their crops, and feed their families. Instead, their crops are burned, wives and daughters are raped, and many become slave labor in Congolese mines that provide minerals for our cell phones and wealth for the violent criminals who control the mines.

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Loan Stars

THE LOUISVILLE LOAN Club, which will open early this year at a storefront in a poor residential neighborhood in southwest Louisville, Ky., is a new economic justice ministry blessed and supported by Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty. The brainchild of members Susan Taylor and Andy Loving, it's a company that will make small loans designed to counter predatory payday lenders. Typical payday lenders offer short-term, unsecured loans at interest rates of up to 400 percent or more per year. Average loans are $250 to $500, but many borrowers are not able to pay back the principal and interest at the end of the first loan; instead, they become trapped in a cycle of loans and fees, eventually paying thousands of dollars.

The Louisville Loan Club will offer loans at an annual percentage rate of 18 percent—and offer a path to breaking the cycle. "Any of us can need a small loan at some point," says Taylor, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the club. "Surely we can do better for each other than to throw someone in need of a small loan into the proverbial shark pool."

Loving and Taylor are modeling their enterprise in many ways on the Pittsburgh-based Grace Period, a church-started alternative check cashing and cash advance service with a five-year track record, Taylor says, of "offering small loans and helping people learn to save their own emergency funds. They built a model of compassion."

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Lord Have Mercy: A Prayer for Colorado

People pray for victims of the Aurora shooting during a Mitt Romney rally in New Hampshire Friday.Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

Loving God,

Darkness has covered our nation and thick darkness has descended upon our people. Tragedy has clouded out the light. Shots rang out in Aurora, Colorado. Some people were wounded by gas and bullets. Others were murdered.

In this time of darkness may your resilient light shine forth.

May your light shine on the family and friends of the 12 people who were killed during this senseless crime. There's no way to explain the darkness that indiscriminately murders children, women, and men. They were each someone's son, daughter, mother, or father — and nobody can fully understand the immense grief and righteous anger of their loved ones. They need your light, Loving God. Please pour it forth....

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