Monday, January 28, 2013

Extending Compassion

I’ve been prayerfully reading through Isaiah for several months now. Recently I read these verses:
The land mourned; it wasted away;
   Lebanon was ashamed; it withered.
Sharon became like the desert,
   and Bashan and Carmel were dropping their leaves.   
                                                                                                Isaiah 33:9
The lack of care for humanity extends to the land as well, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. That makes sense, for how can true compassion be compartmentalized? How can you love one and not another? How can you care for people and not for animals or vice versa? Psalm 36:6 says: Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. Lord, you save both humans and animals. How can you value the earth and not its residents? How do you love God and mutilate God’s creation?

Purposely and accidentally we have shielded ourselves from the consequences of our choices. We don’t always know the effects of our lifestyle and when we do know, we sometimes objectify the suffering we cause, as if that somehow makes it okay. When we label people as different from us (by sex, race, religion, age, lifestyle, etc.) we can justify our actions against them. When we objectify a person with a label, then we no longer see him or her as a child of God. When we commoditize flora and fauna, we lose sight of the care God took to create it and of the delicate balance of interconnectedness that we were charged to preserve. Our careless, self-important attitude leaves no quarter for true compassion or for the fullness of God’s love to flow through us for the benefit of a hurting world.

Who of us is not guilty? When we use electricity, someone’s nature is destroyed. Our mindless food choices means people and animals and land are often exploited and abused. When we push for cheaper products, the poor person in another country suffers for our benefit. The recent garment factory fire in Bangladesh should cause us to require accountability for the clothing we purchase. Our unwillingness to consider the consequences of our actions causes others to suffer and breaks God’s heart.

We may hide behind the notion that we are “good people,” but the suffering of lives that intersect with ours, if we stop to think about the reach of our choices, tells a different story. We are sinful people, and to glibly claim forgiveness continues to keep us skating on the surface of compassion, avoiding the deep woundedness that our lifestyle choices perpetuate. Ezekiel’s prophecy against the leaders of his day could be spoken to us in first world America: Doom to Israel’s shepherds who tended themselves! Shouldn’t shepherds tend the flock? You drink the milk, you wear the wool, and you slaughter the fat animals, but you don’t tend the flock. You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice. (Ezekiel 34:2b-4).

Until we cut through the calloused layer created by our limited vision, we cannot deeply know our forgiveness, for true forgiveness has to result in a changed life, a changed heart, a heart that knows that God lives in every person, every animal, every natural resource, every created thing. When we truly know that, we cannot help living differently. Until we know that, we crucify God time and time again by not honoring what God created and loves.

Lord God, creator of all that is, seen and unseen, help me to see you in every part of creation—people, animals, plants, and all else you created. Help me to live mindfully, making whatever choices I can to preserve your life in the world. Where I continue to crucify you by the lifestyle choices I cannot easily overcome, give me wisdom and prudence to lessen my dependence on these choices, a voice to speak out for changes, and courage and faith when such changes seem insurmountable. Give me a compassionate heart, even though I know that by asking for this, I am also asking for the ability to shoulder the pain and suffering of your creation, which is your pain and suffering. Give me the courage to carry your cross, which is carried daily by the poor and the exploited of all creation. Amen.

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