Friday, January 30, 2009

an honest look at compassion

"Compassion is the virtue of being moved to action by the sight of suffering" [oliver o'donovan]

there is such a strange conundrum when it comes to the issue of compassion. it comes from our nature to judge the appropriateness of need.

For example, no one can argue that children living in the slums of Africa deserve compassion. However, what about the unstable woman of wealthy Andover who calls the church in desperate need of money b/c she blew it all on nose jobs, gambling and possibly drugs? a woman who has never known "need" and who is in the position she's in only b/c of her own poor choices? Does she deserve compassion, and if so can we say that it is the same compassion deserved by the African child who has never known anything but utter poverty, hunger and need?

i personally struggle with this. my heart aches for the poorest of the poor in Africa. i sponsor a child, i've been on a mission trip to Kenya and would go on a million more. but when it comes to a woman who has been irresponsible with her means, i am not as easily "moved to action". of course, i listen to her as she goes on and on, i promise to connect her to a pastor and to help her in any way we can, but my level of sympathy is very low. she questions the presence of God and His provision and it is so hard for me not to tell her to wake up and get a grip. she calls her situation "dire" and i want to yell in her ear that she can't even begin to know what "dire" actually is.

what i did tell her was that God does provide, but not in the way we always expect. He won't dump money in your lap but He might give you the opportunity to take an odd job here and there. after saying this, my mind immediately went back to the poor person in Africa who may not even have that chance. is it ok for them to question God's provision under their circumstances? How does God provide for the impoverished? does He?

and i digress...

there is so much that is hard to digest. when you mention volunteering at a local soup kitchen you hear a story from someone who works in that town and says that the people there get plenty of funding and government assistance but they squander it, and therefore her claim is that they are not truly needy.

when i was recently in arizona, we drove through a lot of indian reservation land. there was sadness b/c of all the run-down trailer homes, but raised eyebrows at the amount of nice cars outside them. we heard from several locals that the native americans on the reservations no longer work, but depend on checks from the government and the casinos. they receive a free car from the government at age 16, and are eligible to receive multiple replacements. most are alcoholics. i found myself torn between being upset and disappointed that they could live like that, abandoning the work ethic of their earlier generations who would farm that land– and frustration with the root of the problem, which our government started in the first place.

how do we deal with two-faced issues like these? how do i deal with the people that come in the church asking for money and food- and they drive away in a nicer car than i have, or they come back a different day with a different story and you know they are lying to you? i have to admit my first reaction is anger. how can they be so selfish and lazy and lie to a church just to get a couple bucks?

the only thing i can come back to is Jesus. what did He say about this? He said: "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'(from Matthew 25)

when have i been "moved to action"? am i willing to help anyone, so matter what the circumstance?

clearly, i've failed at that. or i have helped, but with a sour attitude.

there's been a few incidents when i've heard the holy spirit tell me to do something compassionate for a random stranger. most of those times, i refused to act on it. it was in those moments that i missed Jesus.

i refused to help Jesus.

out of all of those times, i can't really remember all the ones where i did obey His voice, i am only haunted by the times i didn't.

compassion is an everyday opportunity. the real dilemma is not if we agree with the reasons that make a person "needy", or trust their motives, or have the audacity to think we can decide if they are deserving of our compassion (as i am guilty of), but rather how we are going to act towards them in a way that is Christ-like, as if they are Christ himself.

the truth is we are all needy- we all need Jesus and that is the greatest thing we can share. without Him, we are all destitute, and our situation is indeed "dire".

Sunday, January 25, 2009

inspiration at the opera

an unexpected occurrence, indeed. not for lack of beautiful music, of course, but opera plots are reputably wild and obscure.

today's performace of haydn's orfeo was unstaged, consisting simply of orchestra and voice. this arrangement could easily have allowed a divorce from plot if one did not follow the translated text. at times they seemed indifferent, perhaps– the plot acting as a vehicle for the musical composition. I personally believe in this instance the simplicity allowed the beauty of the music and the voices to dominate the performance, rather than theatrics or plot.

however, i made a discovery. i was ambivalent to the plot itself, but it was the words which aroused my inspiration. first of all, italian is a language dear to my heart given my experience in italy, and when sung by this caliber of voices it channels the divine. secondly, a fact so often overlooked is that these composers were also poets. haydn was indeed a poet with carefully crafted and delightfully descriptive lyrics. his sensitivity to the consequences of love rings true.

here are the excerpts i enjoyed the most:

Thought is concerned with objective;
every desire stems from them.

We are governed by our affections,
and yet claim to be free.
So a bird will spread its wings
and think that it can fly,
when the unfortunate beast is tied
by its foot, all unknowingly.


One can love even in old age
when the hearts are those of lovers.

True love never alters
when it rules the heart.


Closed are the beautiful
eyes full of lovelight;
their splendor
now gleams among the stars.


One who lives but does not hope
for love and love's delight–
it would be better to be dead
than living thus.

The sense are sharper,
the joys more intense,
of one whose days are spent
in the arms of love.


Hope is nothing but a siren song


Constancy you ask of me?
Ah, before the constancy
and ardor of my loving heart desert me,
the stars will be snuffed out,
the sun turn to ice,
shadows radiate light, the sky turn dark!
The beauty that set my heart on fire
has made my heart invincible.

perhaps it was the romance of attending "the opera", or the magnificent quality of music... but my belief in love resurfaced. my numbness to the idea of ever being able to know that feeling again– or even want it– melted away. not completely, for i have not yet found it. but i believe in it again.

thank you, joseph haydn, for writing this masterpiece of music and poetry and for waiting 60 years to have it performed. it was worth it... for all of us.

Monday, January 12, 2009

the Word

having just celebrated the birth of Christ, the Word made flesh, it seems appropriate to express my passion for studying the Word and for seeking a deeper knowledge and love of Christ.

"Since I have first gained the use of reason my inclination toward learning has been so violent and strong a passion that neither the scoldings of other people... nor my own reflections... have been able to stop me from following this natural impulse that God gave me"
~Juana Ines de la Cruz (1691)

i thirst, i ache to learn, to always seek beyond what i already know. perhaps this is a healthy lust for truth, or maybe i am just eager to keep my eyes open, my mind alive. in any case, i have always enjoyed learning. a college professor once, intuitively acknowledging my eager nature, advised me never to stop, and encouraged me to continue learning even after my formal education was complete. at that time i assumed that my undergraduate college experience would be the completion of my formal education, but i held loosely to the possibility of grad school.

over the past few years, as i have been growing in my faith and my desire for Christ, my passion for knowledge has shifted from the worldly to the theological. i want to learn about the Word of God, I want to know the details, the original Greek, Hebrew, history... and i want to be able to approach it from an informed, analytical standpoint. i have so many questions, and there is so much i would like to discuss with fellow believers and share with those who seek a greater understanding of God and the Bible, those who may not know Him.

i feel that the only way to quench this thirst is to attend seminary. so, that is what i am attempting to accomplish. one step at a time, but i am on the path, regardless of those who intimidate or criticize, and with all gratefulness to those who encourage and assist.

the next few months are crucial... i will have to work hard to apply, decide, and prepare my heart for whatever lies ahead. i will need to be constantly in prayer and i will need your prayers. i will also need things like a new computer, new kinds of software (i thought i'd be upgrading to Adobe CS4, but instead i am trying to acquire a copy of Logos, bible software!) and booksbooksbooks.

while this seems daunting and scary, i couldn't be more excited. i start my first class at Gordon Conwell at the end of January, my first taste. hopefully it will be only the beginning, the whetting of my palette.

as many of my previous posts have expressed, i can't shake the idea that there is more to life, that i am somehow missing out on something greater. this might be it! i guess we'll see what God has planned...