Love as compassion and justice

Bishop Curry says in the appendix of Love Is The Way, “So much of what is happening in the world does not look like love.  If we go through life letting external forces – our news feeds, our acquaintances, our Google calendar – determine how our days are spent and our contributions measured, we know what we are going to get; more of the same.  To live our faith and values, we need to bring intentionality and purpose to everyday life, and that’s where the rule of life comes in to support us.  Note my language;  It supports us.  It’s not there to constrain us or punish us…It is a way to create tangible habits that support our heart’s intentions.”

It’s so easy to be lazy, to forgo that morning walk because I’m tired, or eating my vegetables because it feels like too much work to cook them. It’s so easy to ignore those internal whispers about helping this person or taking time to check in on a neighbor.  Years ago, a friend told me that he accepted his experiences of speaking in tongues as God’s reminder that He communicates with us in very subtle, ordinary ways.  Speaking in tongues was God hitting him over the head to get his attention,” he said, “but everyday communication came as that burst of appreciation upon seeing a beautiful flower, the impulse to call a friend, hearing this little voice say, “go out and thank him,” the nudge to stop and chat with a neighbor.  Little things.   “Because,” he went on, “it’s the little things that make the real difference.  Over time they build up.  Of course, there are the big splashy gestures, but it’s living the Golden Rule day in and day out that speaks the loudest. Consequently, I’ve come to recognize those minuscule nudges as The Holy Spirit’s way of telling me what to do and not to do.”

White reading Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity, I was struck by his comment that in Greek, both compassion and justice are common synonyms for our English word love.  I find that revealing.  When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he was telling us to have compassion for them even while working for justice.  It’s so easy to judge another without knowing their story.  When visiting inmates for the Pennsylvania Prison Society, I often left the prison overwhelmed by the stories I heard.  Stories of being locked in closets as kids.  Of being beaten, burned with cigarettes, raped, and forced to work as prostitutes.  Given the choice to sell drugs or be killed.  I soon learned the true meaning of compassion.  Not empathy or sympathy, but compassion.  A deep sorrow and caring about them as beautiful but broken human beings.  While not condoning what they’d done, I came to see them through the eyes of love.  As a result, I ended my 20-plus years as an official visitor recognizing that punishment often compounds problems rather than fixing them.  Punishment is way too easy.  Compassion and true justice are often very different.

Years ago, I went on a Tony Hillerman binge.  In one novel, Jim Chee finally finds the individual who was driving drunk and hit and killed a native grandfather.  American justice would have incarcerated the man, but Indian justice had the man go to AA and assume responsibility for raising and loving the small boy left behind.  

Love equals compassion and justice.

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