Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Compassion

*DISCLAIMER: I rarely discuss my faith publicly as I believe it is private thing for everyone and choose to let my actions speak for me.  In light of the times, I wanted to say a little something; well, 2,224 words of something.  I know some will disagree, and that is absolutely fine and within your prerogative, and I respect your opinion.  Please respect mine.  I promise I will return to regularly-scheduled silly, meandering, Millennial diatribes about life, love, movies and more on my blog soon.  Thanks for reading.

Compassion.

It’s a word we hear often but perhaps don’t fully comprehend its meaning.  Compassion comes from the 14th century Latin, “compati” or “compassio” which means, “to suffer with.”  Compassion itself contains the word “passion,” and from a Christian perspective, there is no more important narrative to the Church than the Passion of Jesus Christ, which is the story of Christ’s suffering and death.  It is so important to the Christian faith, the Passion of Christ is included in all four of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (though John’s account varies a bit from the first three).  jesusIn many churches during the Easter season, Christians travel the Stations of the Cross, which is a series of 14 images or “stations” depicting Jesus on the day of his Crucifixion and death.  At each station, you are encouraged to reflect and pray in order to “suffer with” Christ and better understand His sacrifice for the world.  Compassion: the act of suffering with others to try to understand their own suffering.

I can remember the late spring day, quite clearly, when one of my oldest childhood best friends pulled me aside by our lockers after school in 9th grade and said, “Emmy, I have something important to tell you,” he took a breath, “I’m gay.”  While I had always suspected this and, therefore, wasn’t totally surprised by it, I also knew I had a choice in that moment—a very important choice—of how I could respond.  I was able, at fifteen, to recognize that this moment was going to be the one that would define our friendship from that point onward.  Not only that, but I had the good sense (thank god) to recognize just how difficult this was for him.  I could see he had clearly agonized about sharing this with others.  At that time, he would be basically the only openly gay student at my high school, a school small enough (our graduating class was around 156 people) for everyone to know who you were and gossip about you incessantly.  It wasn’t, at that time, the friendliest place to be openly gay (as our high school was situated in a rural Missouri town of about 13,000 people), and I understood what such an admission meant for my best friend.  So I took a breath too and replied, “Okay.  Thank you so much for sharing that with me.  I love you, and I’m here for you no matter what.”  Then, I hugged him.  It was a response I would repeat many, many times over the next couple of years as subsequent friends would come out to me and others, but no matter how many times I repeated it, I never stopped meaning it.  Each time I was presented with a choice of how to respond, I always chose the one of compassion, acceptance, and love.  It wasn’t really a choice at all, frankly; it just felt like the right thing to do.  Who was I to judge, anyway?

I don’t pretend to understand how difficult it is for many in the LGBT community to come out to their friends and family.  I will never know the anxiety and fear so many experience over whether or not they’ll be accepted for who they are and who they love.  I cannot fathom having to choose between being myself and having my family in my life, but some of my friends have had to make that choice, and it is devastating watching them go through that.  Imagine being told you don’t exist anymore or that you’re worthless or God hates you simply because you stood up for who you are and it may not align with the expectations and beliefs of someone else who is important to you, whether that is someone in your family, your church, or otherwise.  Imagine being made to feel less than human on a daily basis because of who you are.  Some of my friends and colleagues in the LGBT community have suffered through depression and thoughts of suicide.  Quite a few have been completely disowned by their families.  I’ve sat and listened while friends have cried because they couldn’t understand why people hated them so much, why their own families wouldn’t even try to understand what they were going through and who they were.  And it made me feel helpless, but I did the only thing I could do: listen to them, love them, and show as much compassion as I could.

Some of my LGBT friends are vehemently opposed to Christianity and church.  Most of their arguments against Christianity center on the hypocrisies presented by those who claim to be most pious yet act in ways that are anything but.  They pose very valid questions about how people can call themselves Christian but judge others, turn away the poor, discriminate against those who are different using Bible verses as weapons.  If these are the only interactions they have with people who claim to be Christian, can you really blame them for not wanting to be followers of Christ?  Why would a person in their right mind go where they have been told repeatedly they aren’t welcome?  Why would you worship in a religion where some of its believers repeatedly tell you that you are an abomination?  That God, who is supposed to be loving and forgiving, sees you as a the worst kind of sinner?  Even in New York City, where differences are celebrated and welcomed, some of my gay friends have been met with haughtiness and silent judgment in certain congregations and have never returned to church since.  “If I can’t find a church that will accept me in New York City of all places,” they ask, “what church anywhere will accept me?”  All they see is corruption, hypocrisy, and unfailing judgment of others.  They see Christianity as the dagger loved ones used against them when they were coming out.  They have been told through the words and actions of an unfortunately very vocal sect of Christians that they do not belong in Christianity.  That they do not belong anywhere.

I have found myself becoming increasingly more and more distressed as of late by the actions and words of a lot of my fellow Christians.  With the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, I expected an impassioned response, but the lack of any sort of  compassionate response has weighed very heavily upon my heart.  While the internet is always a breeding ground for vitriolic un-Christlike and decidedly trollish behavior, my heart sank further and further reading death threats, accusations of mental illness, and generally horrible slurs aimed at not only Caitlyn but others within the transgender community.  Unprintable things.  Things no human being should or would be able to say to someone’s face.  And all of it wrapped in the words of scripture and the guise of Christianity.  Everyone claiming to speak for God and to know His thoughts but not once even attempting to show compassion the way Jesus constantly did for lepers and prostitutes, the blind, the hungry, the downtrodden, for any and every person who has been cast aside by others.  For all of us.  The more I read, the more upset I became at how so many Christians were attacking this group of people and have attacked this group of people (sometimes physically) in the name of Jesus Christ.  I have found myself at points lately with tears welling up in my eyes at how little compassion has been shown to the very people who need it most.  This is the moment, like the one I had with my best friend all those years ago, that Christians have a choice in how we respond to those who are reaching out to us, and I fear many of us are going to choose the wrong response.  Some of us already have.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean you are condoning the words and actions of another.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree with anything.  Being compassionate means putting someone else’s feelings above your own.  It means listening and seeking to understand another person’s sufferings as best as you can totally free of judgment.  jesus on crossI see Christ as the best example of compassion there is: He suffered death on the Cross in order to “suffer with” all of us and our sins.  He did this out of love for us to save us all.  If you truly believe in the Passion of the Christ, then you must also believe in compassion, because God showed perfect compassion for all of us, no matter how grave our sins.  None of us here on earth are perfect; all of us need saving.  That so many Christians are ignoring God’s call for love and compassion in favor of doling out judgment and rejection hurts my heart.  God calls all of us to be in His flock not just a selected, more righteous few.

I understand the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Case of Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26th does not sit well with a lot of Christians.  I know many do not believe same-sex marriage should be legal and that this is just another part of “America’s downfall” and that “end times are coming.”  I know I probably have members within my own family who are crestfallen by the Court’s decision and do not understand how I am in support of it and how I rectify that belief with those of my faith.  I know I have friends who do not understand how I rectify that belief with those of my faith.  Honestly, they don’t have to understand, but I do, and that is what’s important.  I know God knows what is in my heart the same as He knows what is in yours, and even though they may be different, I know that God loves each of us exactly the same.  The old song goes, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” and I have no doubts that He does.

As for the “end times,” yes, they will come one day and perhaps even at our own hands, but I believe Christians who harp on this the loudest are probably the most scared about dying, which makes no sense if you believe in the power of Christ’s death, resurrection, and eternal life for those who believe in Him.  “End times” are used to scare people into the church, but too many Christians are doing a better job of scaring people OUT of the church these days.  People like Caitlyn Jenner.  People like Matthew Shepard.  People like my best friend.  That is not what Christ wanted.  In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  Later he says in verse 12: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this the Law and the Prophets.”  Too many Christians today more closely resemble the Pharisees in the Bible.  Consider this passage from Matthew 23:13, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”  The Pharisees often made themselves appear the most pious while inwardly they were just as sinful as the rest, but Jesus warned us that “whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).  All of us need to truthfully ask ourselves if we are exalting ourselves before others and the Lord or if we are humbling ourselves instead.

I understand those who are mournful for what they perceive to be a great loss.  It is a hard thing to feel like the world is against you.  The irony is that is exactly how the LGBT community has felt for hundreds of years.  It is how I feel sometimes as a woman in this country.  It is how my African American friends feel.  We’re all in this thing together, and the sooner we start treating one another that way with true compassion, the better off we are in the end.  We need to seek to personify God’s love and compassion here on Earth.  I’ll leave you with a verse from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of COMPASSION and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

Be a comfort to those around you.  We all bear our own equal burdens.

With deepest love for ALL of you (I mean it),

Emmy