Are you ready for Ministry Fair? How’s the reading of The New Jim Crow coming? I hope you are gaining new insight from this significant book but, if you haven’t been able to read it before Ministry Fair, please come to our workshop and hear from others who have! All are welcome to share in our conversation next Saturday. By the way – Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, was Krista Tippet’s guest on “On Being” last week. Here’s the link to her interview – http://www.onbeing.org/program/michelle-alexander-who-we-want-to-become-beyond-the-new-jim-crow/8603
This morning, while leading a Bible study on this coming week’s Gospel, I asked the participants, “What does God want?” They had great answers: forgiveness, love for one another, obedience, worship, kindness, non-judgmental attitudes and behavior, peace, trust and contentment. Based on the Gospel, the answer my study guide was looking for was “a relationship with us.” And, certainly, that is exactly what we see throughout history and the Scriptures– God desires a relationship with us! And that is truly amazing to me. But the answer that struck a chord with me this morning was “compassion.” Compassion – feeling with the “other” – seems to embody many of the other responses and serves as a good measuring tool as to how we are doing in following Jesus. Sadly, as I have looked around me recently, I have found that it necessary to hunt through social and news media to find evidence of compassion. The political rhetoric of the Presidential campaign, the subject of “bathroom equality,” the oppression of refugees all seem to be devoid of evidence of compassion.
General Convention 2015 passed Resolution C014: Commend Charter for Compassion. Right now, this sounds like exactly what we need. Here’s the final wording of the resolution –
C014: Commend Charter for Compassion
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention affirms the Charter for Compassion and its encouragement of respectful and compassionate conversation while honoring full expression of differences, and encourages its study and a prayerful response; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention asserts the importance of joining with other partners to further the understanding of the principles of compassion and how we might live more intentionally, putting compassion at the center of our daily lives and relationships within the Episcopal Church and beyond, in ecumenical and interreligious contexts, within our cities and towns, and in the world; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention encourages all dioceses to study the Charter for Compassion and to participate in its call to action.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the Charter for Compassion so I did what we all do these days; I “googled” it. Here’s the text of the Charter for you to read or you can hear the Charter in this short video –
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the center of morality and religion
~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate
~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures
~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
Charter for Compassion International was founded by scholar and author Karen Armstrong in 2009 following her award of a TED prize the previous year. Armstrong asserts that compassion is “the test of any true religiosity. When we feel compassion, we dethrone ourselves and put another in our place.” Please watch the video of Armstrong’s acceptance of her TED prize.
The website describes their purpose, vision and mission statements:
Aware that our world is deeply troubled and polarized and committed to make the world a better place, we work to establish and sustain cultures of compassion locally and globally through diverse initiatives—education, cities, business, religious and spiritual communities, and the arts. We supply resources, information and communication platforms to help create and support compassionate communities, institutions, and networks of all types that are dedicated to becoming compassionate presences in the world. Through a vibrant Charter for Compassion Partner Network we welcome and communicate the sharing of information, stories and experiences that touch the work of compassion.
A world where everyone is committed to living by the principle of compassion.
We support the emergence of a global movement that brings the Charter for Compassion to life. To do so, we are a network of networks, connecting organizers and leaders from around the world, providing educational resources, organizing tools, and avenues for communication; sharing lessons, stories, and inspiration; providing the umbrella of the Charter for Compassion for conferences, events, collaborations, conversations and initiatives to create compassionate communities and institutions.
Their website has much information that can help you and your congregation begin the work of the Charter in your community. One way to begin this work might be to read Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, either individually or as a small group book study. Armstrong describes the journey as:
The First Step: Learn About Compassion
The Second Step: Look at Your Own World
The Third Step: Compassion for Yourself
The Fourth Step: Empathy
The Fifth Step: Mindfulness
The Sixth Step: Action
The Seventh Step: How Little We Know
The Eighth Step: How Should We Speak to One Another?
The Ninth Step: Concern for Everybody
The Tenth Step: Knowledge
The Eleventh Step: Recognition
The Twelfth Step: Love Your Enemies
It sounds so good and yet can be so difficult to buck the prevailing culture in which it’s easy to find fault and to criticize. Even while writing this blog this morning, I took the time to vent to a colleague about my assessment of a certain student’s character. His behavior and intentions were questionable, to be sure, but I really didn’t need to speak with such judgment to another about him. Fail…again. A life of compassion will stretch us and, like me this morning, bring us to our knees often – which is a very good and honest place to be. Let us engage in this process together and, as a Household of God, let us commit to engage with the Charter for Compassion.
Let us pray –
our lifestyles are too busy,
our focus self-centered,
and our world is consumed
with fear, greed, and pride.
Sometimes, Lord, we react
to the pains of others
with a flippant “who cares?”
Yet, in our more receptive times,
when Your Voice calls to
our innermost beings,
we know with absolute certainty two things
we desperately need:
To be loved…and to love.
Hear us, Lord,
grateful, thankful to experience occasional
breakthrough moments of unconditional love.
Be with those whose hearts are broken,
demoralized by life’s blows;
those who mirror to us that unfairness and suffering
is not lightened by pat answers or avoidance,
but is made bearable
because of fellow travelers
who truly do care,
and show it.
Walk with us, God.
Our trek is not always easy,
our vision shortsighted, our love often hidden.
May we seek the deeper places
where our compassion, our joy reflect You,
the God who is Love. Amen.
(by -Virgil Fry http://www.lifelinechaplaincy.org/prayer8.htm)
~ The Rev Deacon Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review