Explore The Way of Compassion
Compassion Sermons and Stories
Be Compassion – In the Image of God
September 17, 2017
I’m so glad we have nametags….I really have trouble writing my name on one of those sticky tags. Mostly its about how I write…can I tell you I flunked handwriting in the 3rd grade. It’s gotten better as I have gotten older, but obviously writing is not my gift.
Not only am I anxious about the way I write…I also wonder – which name do I write? Do I write Julia? Juli? Reverend? Pastor? First name only? Maiden name? Last name? So many ways to write it – and usually not enough space for any of it.
How about you? What would you write on a nametag? I would suspect, like me it depends on the situation and the circumstances, and how you want those who read it to perceive you. A friend of mine used to always write his name upside down…just so folks would have to work at discovering his name.
In our scripture today, Isaiah shares with us divine declarations in a long list of “I” statements with the command, “Do not fear!” framing as well. The passage is directed to the whole community, but with its second person singular verb forms, it makes it feel like God is having an intimate conversation with each community member.
The divine message is for the exiles that were deported from their land and facing a fearful future in Babylon…one message God is sharing with the people is that their redemption does not depend solely on their own strength or wisdom. They should not fear because God has already claimed them and redeemed them.
The central verse of this passage is also the center of the prophet’s message, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. [v4]…the one who has named them has not turned away from them. Israel belongs to God as sheep belong to a shepherd.
In our revised common lectionary this passage is paired with the Luke description of Jesus’ baptism. The pairing is excellent because it is in the waters of baptism that we understand Gods mark on us as God’s children. In the waters of baptism, we, like Jesus are claimed and named no matter what we might have done or what might happen. “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As we think about Jesus’ threefold way of compassion, we begin with the God that Jesus knew, a God whose heart beats with the pulse of compassion. In Jesus and the acts of Jesus, we are reminded of our core identity. That core identity was woven into our very beings by an extravagantly compassionate Creator. The root of our identity as Christians – that we belong to God. It is not something we have earned because we are particularly beautiful or gifted.
It is because God created us to be in relationship, going so far as to send Jesus to make sure we knew just how much God loved us. In order to truly be faithful disciples, we have to allow this name, this label, to be the one that transcends all of the others. Above all else, we have to remember that we are children of God.
We don’t always remember. Many times we find different roles to play. We sometimes go so far as to rearrange and falsify who we are. Not all of our different roles or name changes fit with who we really are. Sometimes we let the world identify and define us. Patricia J. Calahan writes:
…as we grow, we sometimes forget the heavenly voice, and we begin to listen to other voices that confuse us. Perhaps we hear voices when we are children through report cards that tell us we are not smart enough.
As teenagers, we hear voices through the cruelty of other teens who tell us that we are not cool enough. As adults, we hear voices that tell us we are not successful enough or that we do not have enough money…
Somehow, as God’s voice gets drowned out, we listen to these other voices, and we are tempted to forget who we are. We are tempted to forget that God claimed us as beloved child.”
Jesus is our connection to the God of infinite love. We get a glimpse of this compassionate God now and then. We recognize the grace in our lives, some experiences are mountaintop experiences, some we recognize in the middle of our day to day experiences, like washing dishes or folding clothes, like helping someone else…but in the midst of these moments, we feel loved and connected.
Fred Craddock was a lecturer at Phillips Theological Seminary in the United States. One of his stories is about a time he was on holiday in Tennessee.
While Fred and his wife were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table.
“Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“Oklahoma,” they answered.
“Great to have you here in Tennessee.” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?”
“I teach at a seminary,” he replied.
“Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really great story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple.
The professor inwardly groaned and thought to himself, “Great… Just what I need another preacher story!”
The man started, “See that mountain over there pointing out the restaurant window. Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, ‘Hey boy, Who’s your daddy?’ “Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’
He would hide at recess and lunchtime from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad.
“When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.
“Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your daddy?'” The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him.
Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, ‘Who’s your daddy’.
This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy
“‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God. With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’
With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again.
Whenever anybody asked him, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a Child of God’.” The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story!
As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, “Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?”
The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”
How will you use your hands this week and what name will you write on your next sticky nametag? Amen. (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz. Juli's sermons can be found on youtube if you prefer to listen.)
Be Compassion: Be Complete in Love
Genesis 1: 27; Matt 5:48
September 24, 2017
This is the 3rd of our 8 part series on how to ‘Be Compassion.’ This week we get into the nitty gritty of the how-to Frank Rogers shares in his book Compassion in Practice.
Our scripture today gives us the reason for our compassion….To be complete in love…to live in and see the world, to see all of creation , as the imago dei or image of God…
But what exactly is compassion? Rogers defines compassion as:
Compassion is “being moved in one’s depths by the pain or bliss of another and responding in ways that intend to ease their suffering or promote their flourishing.”
In our first sermon, I shared with you the idea of compassion as Jesus’ spiritual path and his ‘third way’ of being. Today we remember the fourfold steps of this practice of compassion. You will see on the screen:
Catch your breath [get grounded]
Take your PULSE…cultivate compassion for yourself
Take the other’s PULSE…cultivate compassion for the another
Decide what to do…
As Roger’s breaks down his ‘practice for us…we discover the way of Jesus is a way of ‘personal restoration.’ He lives and teaches this restoration flows from the heart as does a life of compassion.
While we can act with compassion on a whim – more often we harbor selfish or judgmental thoughts when we see or come in contact with someone in need or one who pushes our buttons. It is only by cultivating and healing our own hearts that we can ‘be compassion.’
The first step is to catch our breath….What does it mean to catch your breath?
To catch your breath is to recognize God’s roomy and vast restoration of our hearts and our lives…helping us find focus and the ability to connect with those who are hurting, those who hurt us or those who’s lives are flourishing.
Rogers believes we are made in the image of God and God is love...that love is a natural way of being for us…and yet, from the time we are born, there are obstacles that get in our way. These obstacles are inner feelings, interior movements that are derived from our fears, passions, drives and hostilities.
They arise when we face someone or a situation that challenges us. …the Apostle Paul calls this part of our humanity, being enslaved to our lower nature…
Jesus calls us to look inward when these obstacles arise within in us, clear away the obstacles so we might heal our hearts and allow a free flow of compassion to move us.
Yes, you say…but that is Jesus…he is divine and that comes easy to him…how about a story. This one of a man who lost his way for a while…Frank Rogers tells this story in his book…Compassion in Practice…`
A friend of Frank Roger’s…Nick, once attended a peace vigil. After the invasion of Irag, in the wake of 9/11, a Quaker group organized the event as a silent witness for peace at a busy intersection in Nick’s hometown.
Nick a long time practitioner and teacher of contemplative practices arrived a few minutes after the vigil began.
The leader, a gentle elderly woman approached him to share the parameters. Her lifelong commitment to Quaker activism nurtured a spirit of calm that informed the design of the vigil. They gathered, she explained, to provide an oasis in the middle of the fervor of the war. Nothing more.
They would merely act as a silent presence of care. Respect and courtesy would be given to all who passed. NO words would be uttered. They would embody peace, not debate it. Peace speaks for itself.
The woman cautioned Nick that this would be difficult – people might gesture, honk their horns or shout their dissent. Nick assured her that as a teacher of contemplative practice, he knew how to be silent. He scrawled a sign that read Peace for our Children and took his place on the edge of the sidewalk.
Within moments, right in front of Nick, a pickup truck stopped at a red light. The windows of the truck were rolled down and the radio was blaring. The man inside fumed at the traffic, glared all around, saw Nick, and spat out, “Your children would be dead if we lived in Iraq.”
Nick, seasoned contemplative that he is spat right back, “Your children will be dead if we keep bombing innocent people.”
“Don’t talk about my children!” the man shot back.
“Don’t talk about mine,” Rogers’ friend rejoined. “I want peace for them all.”
“I’ll show you peace!”
“Show me! I’m right here!.”
At that moment a gentle arm wrapped around Nick’s shoulders. He heard these words whispered in his ear, “ That’s okay. Just take a deep breath. Why don’t we go for a little walk.”
Nick and the elderly Quaker woman did walk. As the light turned green the truck pulled away. And the peace vigil settled into silence once again.
It is so easy for us to be hijacked…we seem unable to separate our emotions from our behaviors. We mean well, but we get mad, we yell, we are anxious and we mentally shut down.
This is when we need to find a way to get grounded…so what can we do? Dr. Rogers has several suggestions:
(1) change our location – go for a walk spend time in nature, take a drive or find a house of worship, a sacred place where you know the divine will fill your heart.
(2) Or we can engage our body – go for a run, spend time in a yoga practice, make music, draw or paint. Find a way to get out of your body…
(3) Or find a trust person with whom we can engage – go for coffee, visit a spiritual director, a counselor, seek out a pastor or priest …someone with whom you can confide and share how your are feeling.
(4) Lastly, perform a spiritual practice -- pray…meditate, write in a journal, walk a labryinth…find something that will connect with your soul…
So many times we neglect this portion of our self-care…we allow the emotions to run our lives. We do not create a practice… our own spiritual practice, something we can return to time and time again when we recognize that we are being hijacked…whatever it is….the more you practice it, the quicker you will return to the ground of your being.
This is the time when we need to remember whose we are…we need create space within ourselves…we need to find a way to go to the well of spiritual groundedness. Rogers calls it ‘replenishing the wellspring of our love and compassion….” Once we are grounded we can assess the situation and figure out what’s going on…
Regardless of our practice …the invitation is always the same.
To be complete in love…to live in and see the world, to see all of creation , as the imago dei or image of God…May it be so. (sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus, by Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr. Juli's sermons can also be heard and seen on youtube.com)
Be Compassion: To see more clearly
Luke 7: 3-5
October 1, 2017
The context of today’s scripture is Jesus on the mountain delivering the Sermon on the Mount …and after he concludes the Beatitudes, he continues to share some of the richest wisdom through the next couple of chapters of Matthew.
Verse 1-2 right before today’s, text, Jesus speaks explicitly about judging and we get the sense from him that we should judge what is right and wrong but not let our passion for truth eclipse our ability to love those who may be caught in something we cannot understand.
As we move to verses 3-5…Jesus’ words are like daggers into each of our lives. Can you imagine how the crowd felt when they heard him say those words the first time, ‘the log in your own eye’…do you think there might have been some nervous giggles?
Jesus gets right to the point, we need to recognize that being critical of others has a blinding effect on us regarding our own lives and actions. Sometimes in our zeal we will throw rocks at others with our own words…and like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we ignore the condition of our own hearts.
Jesus is in effect saying, “Open your eyes. Stop evaluating everyone else and take a look at yourself. What might be going on with you inside yourself?
Our compassion study would say…notice and identify your own interior movements [your impulses, emotions, fantasies, interior monologues and bodily sensations]
Example: A reporter was once searching for a story about the laziness that existed throughout the South, when he saw a man in his field, sitting in a chair and hoeing his weeds. This had to be the ultimate in laziness. So he rushed back to his car to start his story when he looked back a second time and what he saw changed his entire outlook.
He saw that the pants legs on the farmer hung down loose -- the man had no legs. So what seemed at first to be a story of laziness turned into a story of great courage.
Or another way – we need to learn to practice becoming aware of and not enmeshed in our agitated interior movements.
-Isn’t it funny how we often judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions? Bertrand Russell summed up this hypocrisy when he said,
"I am firm. You are obstinate. He’s pig-headed
I have reconsidered. You have changed your mind. He’s gone back on his word.
But, you ask, how do we change? How do we take the plank out of our own eye?
That is our lesson for today…in our 4th session of our series on how to Be Compassion…
Let’s say you find yourself constantly angry toward someone in your family who is on the other side political situation in our country…is the anger or negativity you feel really about the situation or is it about you?
Is this the way you really want to feel every time you see this person?
Are the physical manifestations of stress and anger and loss of emotional control really how you want to be?
I usually find when I’m in such a situation that those feelings are about me…and they cause me to feel, shame, guilt, and self-judgment. I also recognize this is not how I want to spend my energy.
So, if you remember, Frank Rogers in our compassion study says the first step is to get grounded…Getting grounded is about finding your true center…its about separating yourself either physically or emotionally from the interior movements going on inside you!
Once grounded…once we feel connected to the source of our essence and connected with the compassionate presence of God…we need to take our PULSE…
Do you remember last week I shared that Jesus’ way of compassion, the third way is about ‘personal restoration’?
We need to find out what’s going on inside of us. Even though we are connected, why did we have those feelings of fear, anger, jealousy, despair even envy…why did we feel the need to escape from the situation or yell, or fight back?
Rogers, in his book Compassion in Practice gives us a practical way to figure out what is going on with us…a way to recognize the log in our own eye.
(1) Pay attention:
As we work on our practice of compassion – we will find that it requires a distinctive way of ‘seeing’ the other. For most of us, it is common for us to ‘see’ the other through judgment, and those things that feed our own ego, like needs, feelings, and sensitivities. It is common for us to ‘objectify’ those we see through our own personal agenda or because we know them and see them through their faults, fears and wounds. Rogers reminds us to be compassion we will need to generate a way of seeing that does not include a judgmental or distortional view of the other.
So ask yourself – how are you ‘seeing’ the other person or situation? Are you looking in a judgmental way?
(2) Understanding empathically:
As we see in our definition, compassion involves being moved by another’s experience. The etymology or roots for the words that translate into compassion are rachon [Hebrew] or splanchnizomai in Greek…those are the words for heart, belly and bowels.
….the word for entrails is related to the word compassion, and is perhaps best rendered in the English with “the pit of the stomach.
Have you ever experienced this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach or your “entrails” when you heard really shocking news, perhaps about the illness or death of a loved one?
Well that’s the feeling Roger’s is describing…that’s the feeling Jesus felt when God gazes upon the Israelites enslaved in Egypt or when Jesus sees the widow of Nain beside her son’s dead body or when the woman who has been bleeding for twelve years touches the hem of his garment.
In our practice we need to be able to connect with the feelings of another…the wounds, the longings, the heartaches…even the joys of the other. And believe me when I say…the other person will know if your compassion is real or not.
(3) Loving with connection:
At the core of compassion is the all-embracing, all-accepting presence…like God’s unfailing grace. In fact, this is can be described as a love of a mother, or Jesus’ loving his disciples like a shepherd tending to his sheep.
As we take our own PULSE, we need to learn and remember how it feels to be loved by the all-embracing, all-accepting presence…
(4) Sensing the sacred:
There is an energy about compassion…and energy that is filled with the Holy Spirit…when we truly are open to another’s joys or pain…we will know – for most of the time there is a spacious, benevolent presence…
And for both the compassion giver and the receiver there is a moment in which all of the universe comes together and all wounds are healed.
Again, remembering a time when we were loved and accepted for who we are helps to create the energy and assists in our ‘sensing the sacred.’
(5) Embodying New Life:
Compassion engenders goodness, wholeness and transformation from pain into new life…joy. Compassion revels in new life, new relations, new birth…Jesus is filled with joy when the widow of Nain’s son rises and they are reunited – he rejoices when the woman who touches the hem of his robe is healed! If you have truly forgiven someone you will rejoice in the lifting of the burden.
There is no selfishness in compassion…if we are to practice true connection, truly seeing another, we will rejoice, even with tears as they become whole or our relationship thrives!
Once we take our PULSE…we need to act…either for ourselves or take action toward another.
Feeling compassion does no one any good if we do not act…there must be some action to relieve the burden, ease the suffering, nurture the flourishing…Jesus raises the widow’s son…that is his act. Jesus, stops the bleeding of the woman who has been bleeding for twelve years…there must be a restorative action. We must not allow ourselves to degenerate into sentimentality…we must find a way to participate in the easing of the burden and the renewal of life.
Your challenge this week is to take your PULSE…and when you do…tell yourself, “I can see clearly now!” Once you recognize the log in your eye…the emotions stirring within, you will understand Jesus’ way of compassion…you will clearly see the invitation ‘to live and see the world, to see all of creation, as the imago dei, the image of extravagantly generous God….a God of grace…
This week we celebrate a God who extravagant loves encircles the world…we celebrate World Communion Sunday …we celebrate with all Christians all around the world who understand love as the very essence of our being….may it be so! (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on Compassion in Practice by Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr.)
Be Compassion: …expecting nothing in return
Luke 6: 27-36
October 8, 2017
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." And don't be too impressed with yourself for being good to your friends.
Anybody can do that, Jesus says. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much again."
Just when we have the Golden Rule memorized, Jesus reminds us that it's far deeper than how we treat our friends. It's far deeper than what we hope to receive. It's even different from treating others the way we hope to be treated. Jesus comes back again to the place where he began: "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return."
Loving your enemies is not very practical, not in the sense of getting ahead in the world or doing what comes naturally.
That, Jesus says, is real mercy and compassion. Loving your enemy can bring you closer to God and God’s style of mercy than any other possible repayment the Father can expect from us miserable sinners. We surely can't repay enough to compensate for the precious blood of Jesus that was shed on our behalf, as an expression of love …just for each one of us.
Mercy and compassion to those who have no way of repayment? Jesus' death is one such case.
And disciples of Jesus must learn to be merciful and compassionate. Not when it is useful. Not when it is convenient. Not when the recipient is worthy.
Compassion and mercy never need to be justified. They are given freely. That is what we disciples must learn. It is in loving our enemies that we have an opportunity to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate.
"Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (6:35b-36)
The cost of learning this costly mercy to enemies may be some insults and slander. Some blows to the cheek and stolen cloaks. But to learn this is to learn the essence of the Gospel -- unmerited, costly forgiveness. And the reward is God-likeness, the most rarefied gift Jesus' Spirit can bestow.
This scripture today is a very basic premise to our conversation around compassion. Jesus is talking to the disciples and others about agape…which is about “being kind to the ungrateful and wicked” – love for others which is NOT romantic love, but is about whole heartedly, UNMERITED, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of another.
If we look out Frank Roger’s definition of compassion…
Compassion is “being moved in one’s depths by the pain or bliss of another and responding in ways that intend to ease their suffering or promote their flourishing.”
Last week we talked about taking our PULSE….if you will remember:
Sensing the Sacred
Embodying New Life
This week I want to talk a bit more about PULSE – but in widening the conversation to not only taking our PULSE, but taking the pulse of someone who may push our button…
If you remember:
Paying attention was about getting grounded in the generously extravagant God who loves us unconditionally…
Understanding empathically is about trying to understand what is under our own or someone else’s behavior…are there FLAGS we need to look for…such as fears, longing, aching wounds, our gifts that are not being used?
Let me share with you a scenario Frank shares in his leaders' manual. This scenario might be helpful in understanding how to take your pulse as well as the pulse of the ‘other.’
On a hot summer afternoon, you notice a woman in a grocery store with three small children. She is paying for their groceries with food stamps while one school-aged child is skipping toward the door, another is pulling on the mother’s skirt begging for one of the candy bars in the rack, and the toddler in her arms is crying while pulling on her hair. Finally, the woman turns to the child at her legs and grabs her arm shaking and scolding, “I said stop! No candy, dammit! One more word and you’ll get a whooping when we get home.”
For some of us…this scenario would strike emotional chords and reactions that may create both strong sensations and judgments. It might be very difficult to find compassion.
Let’s think about this woman’s ‘PULSE’ together by considering the following questions. It might give you an idea of how to take your own pulse as well.
Feel free to embellish the details using your imaginations.
Paying Attention: Describe, nonjudgmentally, what you might see about this woman.
What is her appearance? Is she well dressed?
What is her behavior? Exactly how is she acting?
What does she seem to be feeling? Can you read her emotional state?
What else might she be experiencing in this situation?
What else might be going on in her life that contributes to what is happening?
Understanding Empathically: Using your imaginations if necessary, sense what may be the deeper suffering underneath her behavior.
Fears: What might be this woman’s deepest fears?
Longings: What might this woman most deeply be longing for?
Aching Wounds: What persistent and sensitive wounds may this woman be carrying that could exacerbate the pain of this situation?
Gifts stifled: What gifts may this woman have that are being frustrated or denied at this moment?
If this woman’s behavior were a cry of suffering, what would it be saying:
“Please understand… (this about me);
[maybe] My husband was laid off from work two months ago and last night he attempted suicide, because he hasn’t been able to find work.
I ache for…
[possibly] Economic stability and a way to let him know we will always be a family.
Right now I most need…”
[it could be] Rest – could someone please do my grocery shopping so I can take a nap and a shower?
Did you notice how her reactivities, emotions, and outer behaviors could be rooted in her deeper Fears, Longings, Aches, Gifts?
If you recognized some initial reactivities or emotions or impulses to judge, comment on, or fix this woman this woman, could they change when you connect with curiosity about her fears, aches, longings instead?
As your understanding of this person deepened, do you think it possible for your heart to soften toward her? Is it possible to move to the next step and create a loving connection with this person?
***As an aside…let me make note that no where does Jesus show us that compassion excuses or condones violent or destructive behavior; it merely opens the possibility for more understanding about the suffering from which such behavior comes, which in turn can temper how one might respond.
It might also be worth mentioning that responding to this woman in the moment with judgment or reprimand would probably be worse for the child. The mother would probably take out her shame or fury on the children when out of eyesight. Child Protective Agencies suggest the best way to respond in such situations is to offer empathic understanding, for example by saying, “Children sure can be a handful; or it looks like you are having a helluva day.”
Remember: Compassion has the potential of softening the other rather than escalating their own triggered state.
Frank Rogers tells us that cultivating compassion for another comes only when we feel grounded and open to cultivating more compassion.
If we do not feel grounded, the invitation is to take a ‘U’ turn…and first tend the log in our own eyes, thus freeing the block that hardens our own heart.
Once our log has been tended we are able to see more clearly, only then can we answer the invitation:
‘to live and see the world, to see all of creation, as the imago dei, the image of extravagantly generous God….a God of grace…expecting nothing in return.
May it be so. (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus by Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr.
Nevertheless, even this level of violence-- Be Compassion…don’t run, don’t fight…
Matthew 5: 38-41
October 22, 2017
This is our 7th week of our 8 week series on compassion. Our scripture comes from the Gospel of Matthew…
The reading is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is telling the people his purpose is not to establish a "new law', even less a new and improved Old Community.
His purpose is an articulation of life as it is lived in the New Community which lives the reign of God on earth.
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." He could have gone on for in the original Exodus law (21:24-25) – it reads "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
The original purpose of this law was to mitigate revenge and free the people from blood feuds and excessive retaliation. If someone in your family loses an eye, it does not mean you can cut off the head of the perpetrator.
justifiable violence, you might say--is rejected by Jesus.
We understand there are two ways to respond to aggressive behavior…flight or fight.
‘Flight’ entails fleeing the violence and allowing it to continue unchecked.
The problem with ‘Flight’ is that the oppressive situation is never confronted and transformed; and we are dehumanized in the process—we accept our victimization and cower in submissive passivity.
‘Fight’ is responding to violence with violence—an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. If someone hits you, you hit them back until they stop.
Again, the Hebrew Bible law of an ‘eye for an eye’ was meant to limit escalating violence. In a world where the murder of a single tribesman might give rise to the slaughter of an entire village; the mandate was that a just retaliation was limited to an equal measure; a life for a life, an eye for an eye.
The flaw in this logic, however, is that violence escalates violence. Retaliation only inflames greater hostility; and inspires further retaliation. A Russian folktale illustrates this familiar cycle of violence
Two merchants have become bitter enemies. They spread malicious rumors about one another, they steal each other’s customers, they sabotage one another’s shops until, driven by their reciprocating rage, they square off in the middle of town.
One shopkeeper bares his fists at the other. The second draws a knife. The first counters with a samurai’s sword. The second pulls out a pistol. The first comes back with a rifle. The second whisks out a dynamite stick. The first barrels forth with a dynamite bundle and defiantly lights the fuse.
Finally an angel, grieving the depth of vengeance and alarmed at the escalating violence, intervenes. She snuffs out the fuse of the first man then parlays with him on the side. She tells him that she is prepared to grant him any wish in the world- extravagant riches, abundant children, a king’s palace, anything he desires at all… with one condition. Whatever he wishes for himself, she will also grant to his rival, twofold.
The shopkeeper muses over the dilemma, desiring wealth yet bitter at the prospect of his rival’s double share. Finally, he knows what he wants. He turns to the angel and confirms,
“Whatever I wish for, my rival will receive twofold?” The angel nods. “Then what I want for myself is, one blind eye.”
This folktale illustrates the flaw of ‘Fight’—if someone hits us; we want to hit them back… harder. If a terrorist attacks us, we want to obliterate them… and their friends.
Violence does not eliminate violence; it only breeds more violence. And at the end of the day, we will all end up blind.
Jesus’ Third Way
Jesus’ teaching around ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ has been widely misunderstood, sometimes criminally so.
The two translations
A better translation for verse 39 would be “Do not violently resist an evildoer.” It is often understood as a form of naive passivity—if someone strikes you once, roll over and let them strike you again.
Such a response would be naïve. Jesus is not telling a battered woman to submit to further assault from her abusive husband is a violation of the woman’s safety and of her dignity. It is also a violation of Jesus’ teaching.
In the scripture, Jesus continues with examples of how to react non-violently….such as….
People in ancient times did not initiate action with their left hand since the left hand was considered unclean. If they were going to strike someone, they would do it with their right hand.
The physics don’t work. How would someone land a right hook on someone else's right cheek? They can't because it can't be done. The only way to strike another person on their right cheek is by back-handing the person, which is an insult, an expression of dominance.
Jesus does not counsel passivity in the face of insult--quite the contrary. If someone backhands you on the right cheek, lift your head back up, turn your cheek and expose the left one as well.
You have dignity as a human being. Don't let someone else take that away from you. Don't hang your head and accept servility. Stand there with head held high. That way, you are defining your own self and not letting someone else define you as "lesser." This is how to resist evil non-violently
For Jesus, compassionate action toward a perpetrator of violence does not entail fighting back with violence, nor passively submitting to the abusiveness of the situation.
Of course, not reacting in the flight or fight mode is not easy. It takes intention and discipline. As we have seen throughout this sermon series…this needs to become a spiritual discipline – something we work at and practice.
Jesus’ third way is a deliberate spiritual practice in which we learn, and practice intentional actions that treat the other as a human being and invites them into right relationship without sacrificing one’s own dignity and power.
If we think about the work we are doing through Frank Rogers and his book Compassion as Practice…
Take your Pulse
Take the other persons Pulse
Take Compassionate Action
Compassionate action is that which is thought out…intentional, and sometimes takes lots of discipline. Standing your ground and keeping your dignity…not losing emotional control.
Compassionate action did not entail condoning bullying. Compassion confronts and seeks to transform both victims and the oppressor.
Compassionate action is not the same as reconciliation. Compassion invites right relationship; but the oppressors must acknowledge, transform, be held accountable, and choose to participate in right relationship for reconciliation to occur.
The criteria for compassionate action can be summarized as action which:
Embodies and sustains a grounded state, not a reactive state;
Recognizes the humanity of the other and treats them with dignity;
Maintains one’s own dignity and power
Invites all parties into right relationship with appropriate accountability.
Compassionate action can be forceful. It forces oppressors, bullies, to make a choice in how they will react to our actions. We are inviting other persons into relationship, with conditions of acknowledging the inappropriate behavior.
Compassionate action also understands that those to whom much has been forgiven could even understand it. Only those who have been loved beyond all deserving could being enacting such actions with a straight face.
Your charge this week…should you be agreeable is to go out into a world filled with retributive justice and face it with compassionate action…don’t run, don’t fight…ground yourself, take your pulse, take the other person’s pulse and then…and only then…take action in which you can maintain your own dignity, action which recognizes the humanity of the other person and action which invites that person into a right relationship…let’s not allow evil and our bent for violence blind us all…
Remember we are invited ….
‘to live and see the world, to see all of creation, as the imago dei, the image of an extravagantly generous God….
May it be so (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus by Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr.)
Be Compassion…you have the power!
October 29, 2017
Today is a busy day – so stay with me. We have a couple of important discussions to have.
In the greater Protestant church today is Reformation Sunday. 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
So why is this relevant to us today?
One of the reasons protestants believe we have the power to change the world is because Martin Luther questioned the power of the church in 1511. I’m not going to go into a long history – if you want a long history ask the folks who have been in our adult Sunday school class – they have been studying Martin Luther and the Reformation throughout this fall…I’m just going to give you a taste through one story.
Luther took a pilgrimage to Rome to climb the steps of the Basilica of St John Lateran on his knees saying the ‘Our Father’ on every step.…it was said that the steps of St John’s were from the Pilate’s palace, the Praetorium in Jerusalem…the very steps that Jesus walked up to his trial and down to his crucifixion.
Luther like other pilgrims felt it was an important act to go up the steps at St John’s. It was said, if you climbed the stairs on your knees you could redeem someone from purgatory….so he did – but once he got to the top he asked himself…was it true?
Not only did he question whether the stairs were really the one’s from the Praetorium, but was it true you could redeem someone from purgatory through the act of climbing the stairs, and most of all why would one need to take such action?
This was one of the many questions that drove Martin Luther to question the power of the church of his day…what difference did it make to go through the motions…wasn’t the difference what was in your heart?
Luther, like Jesus, did not set out to break away from the established church…he set out to restore the church to the heart of God…Like the church, we need to restore our hearts to God…Jesus’ mandate to the disciples to go out into the world with the power and authority to heal and teach the greatest commandment, reminds us that we have the power in our hands to restore our hearts to God.
Our Compassion as Practice sermon series ends today and the question I have for you is are you willing? Are you willing to heal yourself and work to heal the world?
What will you do with the information and conversations we have had about how we can change the world…What will you do with the power and authority given to you by Jesus? Is there an action you can take – is there an action Pioneer can take, as a church that will announce to the our community that we are a church on the move…not a congregation that comes to church to visit with friends – to passively listen to a message and work only to take care of ourselves…so I ask you, are you willing to heal yourself and the world?
One last story from Frank Roger’s book Compassion in Practice:
There was a man who, over the years, grew to hate Christmas. He was not a mean-spirited man, his crusty cantankerousness solidly masked his more tender side. Honed on depression-era values, he had clawed a stable enough existence for a family of six.
But he believed people were getting spoiled. And their greed was fed by some unquenchable consumer appetite gobbling up the land. Year after year, as his kid's Christmas lists turned into his grandkid's Christmas lists, he watched it.
To Mike, Christmas brought out the worst in the whole greedy lot of humankind, frantic shopping sprees spilled later into Christmas Eve; the lines for Santa grew longer; the commercials were louder; and it grew to the point where, well, he just hated Christmas.
'When I was young, Christmas was about giving,' he grumbled. 'Now, it's all about getting. Getting all the toys I want. Getting all my shopping done. Getting more customers in the store. From now on, I don't want anybody to get me a thing. Send the word out, not one polyester tie, no more bottles of cheap cologne. Nothing. Until people get what Christmas is all about, I don't want to get a thing.'
And he receded ever more deeply into his easy chair, trying to ignore the whole tinselly season.
The man's wife, a long-suffering homemaker and helpmate began to worry. She was worried about Mike. She worried his retirement years would be filled with the numbing of daytime TV and recliner passivity. Surely Christmas, of all times of the year, is a season in which the impulse to care could be cultivated rather than suffocated.
An idea came to her when the two of them were attending their grandson's wrestling match. A team from one of the poorer neighborhoods in town was participating in the tournament. They were easy to distinguish because their uniforms consisted of ill-fitting boxer shorts, threadbare t-shirts, and mismatched tennis shoes. And they were being crushed by all of the bigger schools in their neatly pressed wrestling suits with matching robes and color coordinated head bands.
'Just look at those boys,' Mike bemoaned, 'it just isn't right. This sport may be all those boys have and they will lose that soon enough.
That Christmas Nan did something a little unusual. She tucked a single envelope with Mike's name on it between a couple of ornaments on the tree.
After all of the presents were opened on Christmas morning, the grandkids squealing with their new toys, the grownups sipping coffee, Nan mocked surprise and said,
'Why there is still one more present. And it has your name on it, Sweetheart.'
'I thought I made it clear that I didn't want to get anything this year,' Mike grouched.
'Maybe you will like this,' she prodded.
So Mike took the envelope, eyed it suspiciously, and fingered it open. Inside was a simple index card. On it, typed with the fading ribbon of an old Smith-Corona, was a pledge. During the coming year, Nan was committing her considerable seamstress skills in service of making wrestling uniforms for the inner-city school they had watched earlier. Mike took it in a moment and, not wanting to concede too much, mumbled,
'Well, at least it's not a box of peanut brittle.'
Nan was true to her word. Early in January, after the relatives had left and the tree was down, she set up a sewing station in the family room and began sketching uniform designs. After a while, Mike wandered over, fumbling through an extended search for a misplaced remote, when his eyes happened to glance at the budding sketches. He wrinkled a scowl, then volunteered,
'No, no, no, wrestling uniforms don't look anything like that. Besides, the colors are all wrong. Their school colors were orange and black. And the sizes, how will you know the sizes unless you know the players?'
'Well, I was wondering about all of that,' Nan admitted. 'Do you think you could give me a tip here and there?'
'Well,' Mike begrudged, 'It's a good thing one of us knows something about this end of things.'
Quicker than a takedown, Mike was off. He was down at the school sizing the youngsters, he was at the fabric store picking out material, he was even in the family room, down on the floor on his hands and knees, separating fronts from backs and pinning numbers into place.
Of course, more trips to the school were needed where the kids, beside themselves at the prospect of brand new uniforms, begged to be part of the project. Soon, they were hawking chocolate to buy headgear and scheduling twice a day workouts to break in the new equipment. And Mike and Nan, they became something akin to unofficial team mascots.
Mike and Nan enjoyed a relationship with that wrestling team in which it was difficult to distinguish just who was helping out who the most. Indeed, the envelope worked such magic that, as the next Christmas holiday approached, Mike was almost giddy with anticipation. He poked around the tree and filed through drawers, mischievously hinting,
'I wonder if there might be a little something for me this year.' And there was.
That year, and the following year, and the year after that. A new family tradition secured itself. And every Christmas it played out to the same script.
It was not peanut brittle. The envelope held a 3x5 card typed with the same Smith-Corona pledging some project designed for Mike and Nan to do together through the coming year.
One year they worked with some kids at a boy's home designing equipment for a playground, organizing bottle drives and car washes, and mobilizing volunteers to birth its construction.
Another year, they galvanized a group of neighborhood youngsters to construct birdhouses and feeding stations for displaced wildlife at a local marshland.
And one year, they fought city hall. With a band of budding activists, they protested a zoning decision and transformed a vacant lot into a community garden.
Year after year, it was the same. Little flowers of kindness and good will bloomed throughout the town, at retirement centers and juvenile halls, at rehabilitation facilities and halfway houses; flowers germinated by the seed of a single Christmas envelope.
But those years were not to last. On December 21, just four days before Christmas, Mike had a stroke in the middle of the night and died in his sleep. In the days that followed, family, both close and extended, gathered from all over to attend the Christmas Eve funeral and to stay over with Nan for what was going to be a very painful Christmas.
With all of the company, Nan was able to keep herself occupied throughout the day on Christmas Eve. After the funeral, there were meals to check on and linens to lay out. As evening approached Nan busied herself straightening chairs and setting out breakfast dishes until, late in the evening.
Finally, Nan dug out a few more presents from the closets and stuffed the children's stockings. The tree seemed to be adorned as much with memories as with ornaments. For some time Nan simply sat and stared, fragments of memories dancing in her head.
And then, as also was her custom, she placed a single white envelope addressed on the tree with only two words, 'For Mike'.
The next morning, Nan was awakened to muffled squeals downstairs. She had slept in a bit more than she anticipated. She slipped on her robe and slippers, refreshed herself, and made her way toward the others. As she started down the stairs a chorus of season's greetings rose from the loving, anxious faces that filled her living room.
'Merry Christmas, Mom. Merry Christmas.'
The kids were effervescent in their giddiness, signs of Santa's presence were scattered throughout the room, the tree was lit in all of its festive glory.
And then she stopped.
All the room hushed at Nan's apprehension. It was the tree. The tree was wrapped in white. Not lights. Paper white. The tree was adorned with dozens of white envelopes.
Every single family member, each daughter and son, granddaughter and grandson, niece, nephew and cousin, had placed their own Christmas envelope on to the tree, their own personal commitment to a project of kindness or service that they would do in the coming year in memory of Grandpa Mike.
Nan could already see the ripples of care reaching into the world beyond. She still ached in her longing for Mike. But somehow, her grief was eased just a whisper as she saw not only these Christmas envelopes, but all of the innumerable envelopes multiplying through time on all of the future trees in all of the future Christmases.
And Nan was comforted also because she knew just how pleased Mike would be.
Today, you have in your hands, a white envelope with two 3X5 cards…
One card is for you – a card to write what personal acts of compassion you will do over the next days, weeks or even throughout the year…I would suggest you find someone who will hold you accountable, share with them your card and hopefully they will share theirs with you and together you can make kindness and compassion flow.
The second card is for the church – a card on which to write one action you think Pioneer church should take over the next year – as an act of kindness and compassion within the Walla Walla community….my friends, these are not actions to be taken within our church or our church family…this is for those who are not in our church or our church family…do not think about how much the action would cost, or how many people it would take, or how much energy it would take…simply write what you think we could do as a church.
I’m going to ask you to put that card in the envelope and during our final hymn bring it up and put it in the basket…
My hope is that we will be able to do some of these acts of kindness throughout the year…we will find ways to put some of your dreams into action.
Martin Luther believed it is not about going through the motions it is about what is in our hearts. Over the last 8 weeks we have learned Jesus’ three-fold way of compassion…it is about loving God, loving ourselves and loving the other.
We have learned how to practice compassion, we’ve practiced staying in the room with those we don’t agree with, we understand it begins with grounding ourselves, then taking our pulse, then observing and taking the pulse of the other, the taking intentional action. We know this is hard work – that it takes lots of practice, probably a lifetime…
Jesus gave us the power and the authority to heal and bless the community we live in with acts of kindness and compassion – let us work to be known as a church on the move…with God, with justice and with love! Let us be the hands of Jesus in this world!
May it be so… (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on the book Compassion in Practice: The Way Of Jesus by Dr. Frank Rogers, J.)
Radical Compassion: Practicing the Spiritual Path of Jesus
Matthew 22: 34-40
September 10, 2017
In 1963, Martin Luther King paid a trip to Birmingham, Alabama as it was reputed to be the most segregated city in America. Schools, swimming pools, public parks and bathrooms, drinking fountains, fitting rooms, even check-out stands in grocery stores were designated with placards, ‘Colored’ or ‘Whites Only’.
Tensions were feverish. Bull Connor was chief of police, a man so violently racist he would disperse a crowd of demonstrating schoolchildren by knocking them off their feet with fire hoses before unleashing his attack dogs upon them. Blacks, were routinely raped, lynched, castrated and spat upon in the streets with no hope of prosecution.
Into this war zone of racial tension, King came to preach his gospel of the soul force of love, and to mobilize the people into a nonviolent campaign to boycott stores, stage sit-ins at restaurants and to march through the streets in peaceful protest against the indignities of segregation and racism.
The night before the campaign began, King spoke at a church. The place was packed. People filled the pews and the aisles, the window alcoves and balconies; even the parking lot was filled with speakers for the overflowing crowd. To begin the evening the crowd sang spirituals and civil rights choruses; community leaders offered words of welcome and inspiration; victims of beating testified to the suffering and admonished the time for oppression to end. Then King stepped up to the podium.
As King got ready to speak to the crowd, a white man in the front row stood up and walked towards him. King was weary. His house had been bombed three times already; he had received death threat letters in the mail for years; he was stabbed in the chest almost a year earlier while delivering a sermon in Harlem.
But not until the man was directly in front of him, did King see the hatred in the eyes. The man lunged at King, knocked him back onto the floor, and beat him on the chest. The church erupted. A mob swarmed around King, grabbed the attacker and herded him toward the door. Cries rung out, “kill the bastard! Lynch him! Beat him to a bloody pulp!” And into the midst of all that cacophony and chaos, one baritone voice boomed through the room,
The place silenced. The voice was that of Martin Luther King. King walked over to the man, put his arm around the assailant’s shoulder and looked around the crowd.
What do you want to do with this man!” King bellowed. “Kill him? Beat him? Do unto him what he has done unto us? That isn’t our task. Our task is to step into his shoes. To ask ourselves, “What would we be like if we were raised to think a Negro was a thing? Where would we be now if everyone we knew—our parents and ministers and teacher – taught us it was ok to hate?
What possible contagion of terror and pain, shame and self-loathing could give rise to the hostility that would harm another person? Our task is to understand this man better than he understands himself, to see the hatred in this eyes, and refuse to mirror it ourselves, to feel his fear and glimpse his goodness, and to show him what it means to be a human being welcomed into the beloved community that holds us all together.”
That story if from Dr. Frank Roger's book, Compassion in Action. It was 1963…sadly in 2017 we are still talking about the contagions of terror, pain, shame, and self-loathing that give rise to bullying, hatred, abuse, violence of one person over another. It knows no limits.
And I don’t have to tell you such actions and fears infect all of our lives – they affect our relationships, our homes, our workplaces, even the functioning of our government…and not just on the national scene. As Frank Rogers in his book Compassion in Practice would tell us, ‘we are a world at war, and the war is waged both within and without.’ [pg 9]
Rogers would also tell us that in the midst of all this violence, fear, disgust, anger, despair, spite, shame and loathing…in the midst of all of this…we can at the core of our being hear the heartbeat of God…this heartbeat can come to us as a strand of music… and within that strand we can find the Holy Spirit…and the Spirit brings with it a ‘reconciled connectedness that extends to all without exception.’ [pg 9]
We are all part of this music, the heartbeat, the connectedness…some of us can’t or don’t hear it right away – but the mystics can hear it, the contemplatives can hear it…oh, and children can hear it. It’s called compassion.
As we heard in the video from the Charter of Compassion…all religions promote compassion. All religions have some sort of what we Christians call the Golden Rule…And religions in their purest form are called to be spiritual paths of transformative love – or schools of compassion, if you will.
Christianity is no exception … we too, are called to transform the world…through compassion…and yet we stumble much of the time – and we must bear witness to the wars we have waged on Muslims, women, witches, gays and pagans, the divorced, the unorthodox, the sexually active and the sexually abused. We have been taught doctrine, liturgical practices, codes of conduct and the like, very well, but our path to living into compassion must be grown over…because it is very difficult to see.
In our scripture today, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment…and he tells the expert in the law…You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being and with all your mind…and then he added You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus taught a way of being…not a new religion. He never intended to create a new religion…Jesus was passionately committed to the Jewish way of life…and yet he spent his life exposing hypocrisy, criticizing abuse of the law and encouraged radical renewal…he spent his life committed to a ‘third’ way. The way of radical compassion.
The Way Jesus taught is radical both in its sense that it rises out of the deepest taproot of his Jewish tradition and it is scandalous in the way it upended the foundational assumption on which the entire system was based.
The Way of Jesus promoted a threefold heartbeat: (1) deepens of our connection to the compassion of God; (2) a radical sense of human dignity which emboldens a capacity for abundant life and  it cultivates an ethic of radical care that extends not only to loved ones, neighbors, and strangers, but also to enemies opponents and oppressors.
I believe deep in our hearts, most of us can and do know the first assumption, the extravagant love of God ….a love so wide that like the parable of the prodigal son, this God, welcomes home every lost and broken wanderer of the world. Jesus experienced this love at his baptism when God announces, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11] Jesus’ spiritual journey is grounded in this experience and he wants all of us to feel such love.
The second assumption Jesus promotes is a radical sense of human dignity which inspires a capacity for abundant life…what it says can be summed up in John 10:10…”I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” As Rogers says such a lavish life flows from God’s abundant love…As surely as our suffering moves God, God beams with delight when we shine in the fullness of our power and giftedness. When we use our gifts, claim our power, find our voice, or own our dignity, God cheers for us. “That’s my girl,” the voice from the heavens champions. “That’s my boy. That’s my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” [pg 16]
Sadly, I don’t think we are very kind to ourselves…we do not love ourselves well. Self-loathing, self-disgust, and self-castration are obscenely epidemic. We intentionally berate ourselves. …Jesus offers us relief from such corrosiveness. His way, his spiritual path can teach us how to claim our dignity, how to see ourselves differently and how to heal our vision of the beauty God sees in each one of us.
The third assumption Jesus’ spiritual path promotes is the understanding that once we recognize and love ourselves…out of that abundance of self-compassion we will have the capacity for the genuine compassion for others.
As Rogers notes, ‘while the spiritual path Jesus teaches includes an invitation to know our compassionate God more deeply and to cultivate a love for ourselves, it also bears decidedly social and political dimensions…Jesus lived within a violent and oppressive society…he was a teacher of peace and a prophet of social transformation….the politics of compassion are radically inclusive…like the rain, the Kin-dom of God that Jesus advocates, extends without discrimination…it welcomes everyone.
The problem of course is how to we live this three-fold way….
In our opening story, Martin Luther King, dares to dream and exemplify the radical beloved community Jesus envisions. And yet we also see, in the community, it is so natural and instinctive for us to move into flight or fight…to flee the situation in submissiveness and assimilation or to fight back with aggression and violence.
How is King’s response different? He clearly steps out of the stream of instinctive reactivity. His response and his words give us insights into the power and practice of compassion. How did he do this? What rhythms do we see lifted up in the King’s actions…there are four steps that we can see in this short story and these steps are what we will be talking about over the next seven weeks…
[Catch your breath] -- [Take your pulse] -- [Take their Pulse] -- [Decide what to do]
These are the ideas and rhythms we will continue to talk and learn about…Our challenge for this week is to think through the story of Martin Luther King and see if we can recognize these four steps (catch your breath, take your pulse, take their pulse, decide what to do) in the story.
If we are to be the hands of Christ in the world today…we must be disciples of the Way of Jesus…if we want a more compassionate world…we must learn and study and talk about the Way of Jesus…we must learn the song that flows from the heartbeat of God….may it be so. (Sermon by Rev Juli Reinholz based on Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus by Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr.)
Personal Compassion Stories
When I taught 4th grade at Vale in Cashmere many years ago, I eventually learned if I treated my students and our classroom as a family we worked better together and learning was easier. I called our classroom "The Family of Room 403." I even had former students return to visit often since I told my students once they were part of "The Family of Room 403" they were always family and always welcome to return. I modeled and talked about how to treat each other in a caring family and we practiced daily the different aspects of caring and kindness. Amazing how this simple shift in how we looked at each other, led to more kindness, compassion and LEARNING!
I recall one year when I had a large number of children in the classroom who were extremely needy...both emotionally and socially and of course, academics suffered also. I had for a number of years given each and every child a choice at the end of the day...."Handshake or hug?" Most went with hugs day after day and many gave and wanted bear hugs! However, that year I went a step farther and said that during the day ANYTIME a student needed a hug that all they had to do was approach me and ask for a hug and sometimes when they approached I could read their body language and knew a hug was needed.
Every year as Martin Luther King Holiday approached I read aloud, over a period of a couple of weeks, a book written for young children titled I Have a Dream by Margaret Davidson. It is an excellent children's book that tells the story of M.L. King from childhood until his death. That year, once again, when I was reading the portion about his death, tears welled in my eyes.
Suddenly one of the neediest little boys named David leaped out of his desk, ran from the back of the room and tackled me with a hug saying, "YOU need a hug!" And in seconds the entire class was at the front of the room hugging and sniffling with me. It was so touching and a moment I will never forget.
The young students were touched by the wrong of M.L. King's violent death and also needed the comfort of a caring "family" grieving together. Maybe.... the next day, I told them this is what a caring family does...they are there for the joy and laughter and also the sadness and tears.....however, even if I didn't SAY THAT I think the ACTIONS demonstrated by David made it crystal clear to everyone what a loving compassionate "family" does! (Submitted by Julie Ryan, Wenatchee, WA)
Start Your Own Compassion Circle
Suggestions for Weekly Compassion Circles
Small groups (4-7 people) are invitations for:
1. Each person to have the opportunity of giving voice to what is on their
heart and experiencing it being heard by other companions on the journey;
2. Each person to have the opportunity of hearing another person’s
experience and holding it with care and compassion.
These groups are NOT:
Advice seeking or giving consultations (though this can be requested from
people in the group in a different setting)
Suggested ground rules would be that each person commits to:
Listen with warm-hearted and generous curiosity
Extend compassionate presence without judging or critiquing the other
Refrain from advice giving or attempting to ‘fix’ the other’s experience
Not interrupt the other person (facilitator may need to do this on occasion)
Looking within and noticing what is happening internally - sharing only
what feels comfortable to oneself when it is your turn to speak
A facilitator is suggested, though not imperative. People in the group can take turns each week
(excerpted from the work of Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr.)
Let the Core Compassion Principles Guide You (Christian based)
We view compassion as more than a feeling. It is a choice - an effective way to living together and enjoying fulfilling lives. Compassion may be experienced as a spiritual energy or sacred encounter, as an intentional ethical path, and/or as a committed journey toward realizing our essential humanity, the best within ourselves. It best sustained by warm heartedness, vulnerability, and committed partners.
1. Our compassion practice involves developing skills and ways of being including:
a. noticing and connecting with both suffering and joy in ourselves and others.
b. using mindfulness, curiosity, validation, empathy, non judgment, nonreactivity, understanding, kindness, and presence.
c. discerning what we can do (to alleviate suffering and to promote thriving in both ourselves and others).
d. taking wise, spiritually grounded - sometimes creative, and courageous action which respects, protects, and nourishes both ourselves and others.
2. We choose to believe all people carry a spark of the Divine. We all have the seeds
of compassion, but lack of nurturing and emotional hijacking can occur which thwart us.
3. We accept our challenging emotions. We take an aware, gentle, nurturing stance
toward our own and others’ thoughts and emotions often labelled “negative” as part of
being human. Even if distorted, difficult emotions are often, if not always, rooted in
positive intent. We do not try to suppress them, nor get carried away by them. Rather, we pay attention to them and try to understand. We call on the Sacred for healing.
4. We own our belovedness. We choose to think of ourselves (and others – no
exceptions) as the beloved.
5. We cultivate kindness and compassion toward ourselves. We do not force
ourselves to be compassionate toward another when we sense internal resistance. Rather we notice and turn nurturing attention toward our inner state, to healing “the log in our own eye.”
6. We reach toward our Highest Self - toward the Sacred and allow the Sacred to
touch us. By engaging in behaviors like deep relaxation, breathing techniques, prayer,
nature walks, listening to music, meditation/contemplative practices, play and laughter,
sharing compassion stories, learning and discussion, we move toward our True Selves.
7. We do not minimize violent and hurtful behavior. We believe compassion toward
an adversary is possible without legitimating the violence of their behavior. We recognize that an offensive person is still human. We look for the suffering hidden within their difficult behavior. Such compassionate understanding, however, in no way condones nor minimizes violation and abuse. Abusive and violent behavior still needs to be checked and transformed--sequestering or limiting the dangerous when necessary.
8. We affirm that resting in healing Love, loving self (attending to our health
and well-being), and loving others (promoting their flourishing) is the ultimate
ethical calling. This is the basis of the compassion practice.
9. We conceive of God, the Sacred, the Divine as a Source of Infinite Love from whom we can never be separated.
This practice is based primarily on the work of Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr. author of Compassion in Practice: Following the Way of Jesus
Compassion Practice Core Principles (Secular)
We view compassion as more than a feeling. It is a choice, an effective approach, to living together and enjoying fulfilling lives. Compassion may be experienced as a spiritual energy or sacred encounter, as an intentional ethical path, and/or as a committed journey toward realizing our essential humanity – our best selves. It is sustained by a warm, open-hearted attitude toward ourselves and others.
Our compassion practice involves developing skills and ways of being including:
noticing and connecting with both suffering and joy in ourselves and others.
using mindfulness, curiosity, validation, empathy, nonjudgment, nonreactivity, understanding, kindness, and presence.
discerning what we can do (to alleviate suffering and to promote thriving in both ourselves and others).
taking wise, spiritually grounded - sometimes creative, and courageous action which respects, protects, and nourishes both ourselves and others.
We believe all people carry a seed of goodness. We all have the seeds of compassion, but lack of nurturing and emotional hijacking can occur which thwart us.
We accept our challenging emotions. We take an aware, gentle, nurturing stance toward our own and others’ thoughts and emotions often labelled “negative” as part of being human. Even if distorted, difficult emotions are often, if not always, rooted in positive intent. We do not try to suppress them, nor get carried away by them. Rather, we pay attention to them and try to understand. We call on the Sacred for healing.
We cultivate kindness and compassion toward ourselves. We do not force ourselves to be compassionate toward another when we sense internal resistance. Rather we notice and turn nurturing attention toward our inner state, to healing our inner wounds.
We reach toward our Highest Self. By engaging in behaviors like deep relaxation, breathing techniques, nature walks, listening to music, meditation/contemplative practices, play and laughter, sharing compassion stories, learning and discussion, we move toward our Highest Selves.
We do not minimize violent and hurtful behavior. We believe compassion toward an adversary is possible without legitimating the violence of their behavior. We recognize that an offensive person is still human. We look for the suffering hidden within their difficult behavior. Such compassionate understanding, however, in no way condones nor minimizes violation and abuse. Abusive and violent behavior still needs to be checked and transformed--sequestering or limiting the dangerous when necessary.
We affirm that resting in healing love, loving self (attending to our health and well-being), and loving others (promoting their flourishing) is the ultimate way to flourish. This is the basis of the Way of Compassion.
Our practice is based primarily on the work of Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr. author of the Way of Compassion.
Sample Format: Compassion Circle
Compassion Circle Suggested Protocol (60-70 minutes)
Welcoming and greetings of participants (5-7 min)
Compassion Quote (1 min)
Grounding: Collective deep breathing, move to reflection on feelings, thoughts, and experiences of the week particularly related to compassion (4 min) (suggested questions – How are you doing really? Where have you seen, received, given, struggled with, had insights with compassion?)
Participant sharing: As participants feel comfortable around how they are doing and compassion reflections (3-4 minute each, approximately 20-25 min total)
Group learning: Facilitator shares a compassion piece – passage or story for discussion (5-8 min)
Discussion and questions: find the things that squared with thinking, things they are circling around, inquiries to hold collectively (10 min)
Summary: Bring back to mind major ideas and questions for further inquiry, express gratitude for participants showing up authentically and respectfully with willingness to listen to others’ stories. (3 min)
Optional: Lovingkindness sort of meditation (receiving and sending peace and love to self and others, 5 min)
Sending into the world: Facilitator expresses particular concerns of participants (we hold the concerns of this group around our children) and more universal concerns, example, “Let there be peace, compassion, gratitude, joy, love, and let it begin with us.” (1 min)
Children's Books for Journeying to The Good Life
(recommended by Rev Sandi Liddell)
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day -Viorst
Alexander Who’s Not Going to Move……………..Viorst
My Mam Says there aren’t Any Goblins……………….Viorst
The Creation – James Weldon Johnson
Badger’s Bring Something Party- Varley
Badger’s Parting Gifts- Varley
Old Henry – Blos
Love You Forever-Munsch
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig – Trivizas
You are My I Love you - Cusimano and Ichikawa
You are My Miracle – Cusimano and Ichikawa
Always – Stott
Sheila Rae the Brave- Henke
The Dog Who Walked with God – Rosen
Have You Ever Done That – Larros
Little Boy – McGhee and Reynolds
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever- Frazee
I Love You Like Crazycakes – Lewis
All the Olivia books -Falconer
On Meadow Street – Coles
Zen Shorts- Muth
That’s What Friends are For- Gorbachev
Diary of A Wombat -French
Piggybook – Browne
I Loved You Before You Were Born – Brown
Rufus Goes to School-Griswald
Goodnight Gorilla – Rathman
Ten Minutes til Bedtime
Hopper and Wilson Van Lieshout
Good as New – Dougleass
Imagine – Vivian
The Worst Person in the World- Stevenson
I’ll Protect You From the Jungle Beasts-Alexander
You’re a Genius Blackboard Bear – Alexander
Bob and Otto – Brand
Can I Play too?- Willems
Should I Share my Ice Cream?-Willems
Pigeon series _Willems
The Little Brute Family -Hoban (given to me by Jan Evans)
You’re All My Favorites -McBratney
Christmas from Heaven – Brokaw
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons -Spinela
Thanksgiving Is Here -Good
Great Joy-Die Carmillo
Polar Express-Van Allsberg
Everet and Celestine – series Vincent
Jesus’ Christmas Party – Allen
A Time to Keep – Tudor
A Library Book for Bear- Becker
Our Grannie – Wild
Bear Feels Sic…series Wilson
Strictly No Elephants – Mantchev
Finding Winnie -Mattick
Open Very Carefully-Bromley
The Yellow Star-Deed
Leon and Bob- Jann
Anno’s USA – Aanno
The Boy on Fairchild Street- Krull
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers – Gerstan
Once Upon a Memory -Laden Where the Wild Things Are- Sendak
The Night Kitchen – Sendak
Two Eggs Please
It’s a Book- Smith
Wallace’s Lists- Bottner and Kruglik
A Sick Day for Amos McGee- Stead
The Beatitudes – Weatherford
Here Comes the Easter Cat -Underwood
Extra Yarn – Barnett
Mr. George Baker-Hest
Too Much Noise-McGovern
It Could Always Be Worse- Zemach
I’ll Always Love You- Wilhelm
My Teacher Sleeps at School – Weiss
The Runaway Bunny – Brown
Sophy and Auntie pearl – Titherington
My Grandmother Died- Hogan
Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs -de Paola
Fly Away Home-Bunting
A Special Friend Indeed -Bloom
An Angel for Solomon Singer-Rylant
Leo the Late Bloomer- Kraus
When Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears-Aardema
Everybody Cooks Rice-Dooley
Ira Sleeps Over- Waber
Ira Says Goodbye – Waber
The Teddy Bear -McPhail
I’m Terrific- Shermat
Can’t You Sleep Little Bear
Some Day – Zolotow
The Wednesday Surprise -Bunting
Wilifred Gordon McDonald Partiridge- Mem Fox
Faith the Cow- Hoover
And Here’s To You-Elliot
The Country Bunny- Heyward
Ruby the Copycat- Rathman
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon-Lowell
Stone Soup – Muth
The Pain and the Great One- Blume
The Quarreling Book- Zolotow
Harriet You’ll Drive Me Wild- Mem Fox
Baseball Saved Us-Muchizuka
Tight Times- Hazen
Move Over Twerp – Alexander Oliver Buttons is a Sissy – de Paola My Grandson Lew- Zolotow
It Wasn’t My Fault- Lester
Say Hello – Forman
When I Was a Little Boy- Zolotow
Now One Foot, Now the Other- de Paola
A Special Trade – Wittman
The Good-bye Book Vioirst
Franklin in the Dark- Bourgeoise
Don’t Forget I love You- Moss
The Wall – Bunting
I Love You the Purplest- Joosse
The Empty Pot – Demi
And of course,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever- Robinson
The Rabbit Listened (one of my favorites, June) by Cori Doerrfeld
Knight Owl - Christopher Denise
How To Be A Lion - Ed Vere
Sorry (Really Sorry) - Cotler
Kate DiCamillo books (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and many more)
The Golden Rule - Ilene Cooper
Human Kindness: True Stories of Compassion and Generosity that Changed the World - John Francis
How To Tame the Tumbles - The Mindful Self-Compassionate Way, Eileen Beltzner (this is a little gem of a book for a wide age span beginning around 7 all the way to adult. I read several chapters of this a day with my grandchildren who are 7 to 15. They all seemed to understand it and enjoy it and even put some of the practices to use. The story is compelling enough to move the practices along. Our compassion circle of adults read this as well.)