Tuesday, March 16, 2010


For one of my classes, we have been reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. The book is a reflection on compassion and Christianity based on the model that Jesus lived out. Much of it is truth that I have already heard, but looks at different aspects from a slightly different perspective. On the second page I already knew that I would be challenged and like the thoughts and discussions that would come out of reading this because I could so directly relate to one of the statements, “we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful…Meanwhile, we have forgotten that it is often in ‘useless,’ unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we feel consolation and comfort.” So often I say or think that presence and relationships are the most important, but have really found that more difficult to live out since being here. And I think it is very directly related to the need to useful. In the context of being here in Uganda, it is even related to the implicit desire and expectation that I am here to serve. And in fact, I have been served most of my time here by learning and by being a guest. All I can legitimately offer is my presence. Later on, it discusses the servanthood that Christ modeled for us, “Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.” After talking about poverty, we had already discussed how the Bible talks so much about the poor and underprivileged and the need to be WITH them. After all, James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to VISIT orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” It doesn’t say to send money and solve all their problems, but instead calls us to be in relationship and offer our presence. So this is something that God has already been convicting me on and this definition of compassion and serving just added to that. So often, it is easy to give money and not have the relationship or offer my presence. I want to feel good but stay comfortable, and that is NOT what God has asked of me. It just shows how easily my selfishness wins out, and I’m not okay with that. It takes sacrifice and humility and it will be hard. But only then will I feel true compassion, and out of that love, I will be able to truly serve others. And I really like what they go on to say, “Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.” No it won’t always be easy or fun, but I’m not trying to suffer, and I get to live a life with God’s joy which is way better than anything superficial. So right now, I’m just working on how that will look practically in my life. I know it is something that I am not doing, but I want to. Good intentions and all of this learning are not enough, though, so figuring out how to act on these lessons and convictions once I’m back in America is becoming a big focus now. As all of this was in the back of my mind, I had an interesting conversation about “typical Christians” with a Ugandan friend. One of the stereotypes of American Christians that she mentioned was that we ignore parts of the Bible that don’t work for us, and just listen and talk about the passages and theology that we can follow. I gave a noncommittal agreement, something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m sure some do” but moved on to asking what the faults were of the typical Ugandan Christian. Later, as I was reading for class, I realized that even though I didn’t want to admit it, I fit the description of the “typical American Christian.” By tithing, praying, and occasionally doing different community service or giving money, I thought I was loving and serving the poor as God would ask me. But Biblically, I’m not. And then I read about obedience. The authors mention that this is a word that often has many negative connotations because implies an imposition of authority, but then they redefined it “Obedience, as it is embodied in Jesus Christ, is a total listening, a giving attention with no hesitation or limitation, a being ‘all-ear.’ It is an expression of the intimacy that can exist between two persons. Here the one who obeys knows without restriction the will of the one who commands and has only one all-embracing desire: to live out that will.” What a great description! To someone who has a strong will, I very often relate to the negative connotations of the word obey, and prefer to act out of my own free will. But this definition makes it so much more attractive- a loving listening and then acting upon that to please the other. So needless to say, I have been learning and convicted of a lot. But one of the best things about God is that He still loves me and offers me mercy, forgiveness, and grace. I love Hosea because it is such a beautiful portrayal of God’s love and have been taking comfort in Hosea 2:19-20 “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

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