Being Fully Human, Compassion, nonviolence, terrorism

Nobody Likes a Terrorist

Nobody Likes a TerroristThe website has a compilation of terrorist fails put together by Morris M. This is one of my favorites. This is about the Colombian group FARC, a group that has nothing to do with religion. The FARC are a self-described army of peasant Marxist–Leninists with a political platform of agrarianism and anti-imperialism. They fund their operations by kidnapping and demanding ransoms, illegal mining, extortion and the production of cocaine. They’ve killed thousands during their 50-year battle with Colombia’s government. Their operatives are ruthless, brutal—and, just occasionally, hilariously incompetent.

In 2008, FARC leaders struck a deal with the Colombian government in which they were to turn over three hostages including former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and her son. The child was born while Rojas was a hostage and was now 3 years old and the government’s chief concern. The whole exchange was choreographed by the FARC leadership to be a PR triumph for the terrorists—and it probably would have been, had they not accidentally freed their key hostage two years earlier.

As zero-hour approached, it became humiliatingly clear that FARC no longer held Rojas’s son captive. One of the fighters had given the child up for adoption shortly after it had been born and somehow the leadership had failed to notice the total lack of screaming baby in their camp. Suddenly, the massive PR coup was nothing of the sort, as FARC were forced to release their other two hostages to mocking laughter instead of cheers of solidarity.

Think terrorist cells are run by a network of criminal masterminds? Think again.

Who Is the Terrorist?

Ever since September 11, 2001, we Americans have become a nation increasingly obsessed with terrorism. We wonder why we were attacked and what we can do to prevent being attacked again. We explore the causes of terrorism and debate how should respond to the next threat.

We also tend to have taken a pretty singular stance as we do so. We are the victims of terror. We are the potential casualties. And they – that group – those people – they are the threat. How shall we protect ourselves from them? That’s a convenient stance to be sure because it nicely isolates us from the problem – the role we play in this tangled web of power and corruption and desperation.

So if we are to take a more integral view of this whole messy business, perhaps we should start by asking the more fundamental question. Beyond the rhetoric and the scare tactics, just what is terrorism?

Caleb Carr, in his book “The Lessons of Terror” defines terrorism as “any form of warfare that deliberately targets a civilian population.” Terrorism is “any form of warfare that deliberately targets a civilian population.”

It’s not a particularly comfortable definition to some ears because it implies that terrorism is not only a means of individual extremists, but also something the regular military might use. And so it has. Think of Nazi Germany. Think of Cambodia. Think of Rwanda. Think of Hiroshima. Think of Iraq. Think of drone missile strikes.

Drone missile strikes from the United States to be exact. The human rights group Reprieve analyzed the available public data concerning US drone strikes. Targeted strikes aimed at 41 men have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of November 24. The Council on Foreign Relations also reports that 500 signature strikes outside the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a conservative estimate of 3674 civilians killed in these terrorist attacks. Oh sorry, I think the correct term is “collateral damage” when we’re inflicting it on others.

Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism

That’s the regular military. What about those bands of extremists? Here it is helpful to distinguish guerilla warfare from terrorism. Both guerrillas and terrorists consisted of small bands that would rise up against a more powerful enemy with quick action and fast retreat so that they could soon strike again. Both tend to work by hiding among civilians and recruiting their support. Both groups consist of the disenfranchised. Both attempt to use violence to change the status quo. But the target of their violence is very different.

While terrorists attack civilians, guerillas know the importance of strictly avoiding (or at least appearing to avoid) any such attack. By following this mandate guerrillas are able to maintain the support of their fellow citizens – even their admiration for the brave work they do. As a result there are many examples of successful guerrilla campaigns.

Terrorists, on the other hand, use civilians intentionally as targets. The goal is to instill fear. Because they fail to show concern for the people, the citizens blame the terrorists both for their actions and for the retaliation that often comes at their expense. This is why eventually, Carr maintains, terrorism always fails.

Nobody likes a terrorist.

Here’s an example: US citizens are killed when planes become terrorist missiles that slam into the World Trade Towers – the world immediately responds with prayers, support and sympathy – but then the US attacks Iraqi citizens and support for the USA plummets globally while fear of the US increases.

Killing civilians is not a good long term strategy. It always makes it more difficult for those who use it to achieve their ends. Here’s another example: The Palestinians and Israel. Whenever one acts against civilians, sympathy shifts to those who are being attacked or harassed. Terrorism is ultimately a self-defeating tactic.

Nevertheless, it remains a tactic used by a whole host of people all around this world. Why?

No Other Option

Because they see no other option. In his book The Many Faces of Terrorism, Ken Wilber looked at 50 major terrorist acts around the world from Protestant bombings of abortion clinics in the South to Buddhist subway attacks in Tokyo to Sikh separatists in India to Muslim terrorist acts including 911. He discovered that all have the same profile. They were groups of people who did not believe there was a place for their most firmly held beliefs within the modern world – and because the world would not make room for their beliefs, they were ready to blow up the world.

Wilber contends that 70% of the world is operating at no higher than an ethnocentric world view. Preserve and protect me, my family, my kin, my lineage, and those like me. Me, my family and those like me are united by our belief structure and a rigid code of right and wrong. We are united by obedience to our God or another moral order that glues together our particular ethnic group. We know what our God values and what our God wants.

But this nation or this world does not recognize those values and those wants. The world is a threat, a jungle full of predators. A place in which heroism is necessary and power belongs to the conquerors. Such is the seed of a holy war.

Terrorists are Soldiers

We all can fall pray to this mentality. All of us have within us the seeds of this kind of extremism. We all have tightly held beliefs and values and when they are threatened, we have the capacity to act to protect ourselves, our families, our Gods – whatever they might be.

Understanding the human capacity for both good and evil is critical if we are to have any impact on terrorism at all. For the first mistake we make is to justify the killing of civilians on our side and to dehumanize and call terrorists those who kill civilians for some other cause. In reality terrorists are soldiers and activists. Our failure to deal with terrorism adequately over the past few decades rests in the fact that we have refused to acknowledge that in their own minds they are not criminals, but soldiers engaging in acts of warfare.

Terrorism will continue to haunt us all as long as there is hunger and poverty, corrupt and brutal political systems, harsh discrimination and social inequalities, civil wars, environmental degradation and epidemic disease. All of these problems are sources of insecurity and hopelessness for millions. To be indifferent to these realities is to ignore the role we play in the perpetuation of terrorism.

In Buddhism there is a state of consciousness called compassionate detachment – the ability to step outside of one’s own self, above the human level, to see the wider view of humanity. From this elevated view, we see that there is suffering on all sides that has led people to act out in ways that hurt others and themselves. From this vantage point, there are no sides to pick, there is just the tragedy of human victims trying to make their way in a difficult world while carrying their own wounds and scars. From this perspective we understand the need for compassionate action.

A Compassion Response

But what about here on the ground? But what about ISIS? What about Boko Haram? What about Al-Shabaab? We almost can’t stomach the slaughter of college students in Kenya, the execution of Egyptian Coptic Christians and the beheading of journalists. As we recall those images, you can feel the energy in the room shift. We are filled with revulsion, outrage, and frustration. What does the value of compassionate action call us to when such evil is assaulting our world?

If you’re like me, the idea of practicing compassion in light of such horrific behavior stops us short. It’s hard enough for me to feel compassion toward the guy who cut me off in traffic last week or and my old high school classmate who posted their conservative rant on Facebook last night. It takes tremendous courage to practice compassion toward people who we love and who have caused hurt. Isn’t this taking things to an unrealistic extreme? And why would we do it? Why would we even bother cultivating compassion for men who barbarically mass execute civilians?

We bother because we genuinely want to be more fully human and that means we understand that violence only begets violence; that there is never an excuse for one human being to commit violence against another human being. And here’s the kicker – not only is nonviolence a more fully human response, it actually works!

The Buddhists and other spiritual teachers tell us that deep down inside those we call terrorists are just the same as us. They want to be happy and free of suffering, and so do we. If we had been born to their parents, in their country, and brought up in their environment, who’s to say we wouldn’t behave in exactly the same way.

The Making of a Terrorist

But let’s bring it closer to home. What about people born here in the United States becoming terrorists? Pete Simi is an investigator for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism. He has found that there is a lot of diversity among those who join extremist groups, including the fact that they come from a wide cross section of socioeconomic situations. While it is not always the case, the most common background characteristic is some kind of family disruption, either divorce, parental abandonment, a parent becoming incarcerated, or substance abuse by one or both of the parents.

In terms of personality, there does seem to be certain characteristics of thinking that make a person more prone or susceptible to recruitment. One is a low tolerance for ambiguity and a strong need to categorize things as “black and white” rather than deal with so-called “gray areas.” In fact, at the most fundamental level that’s what most of these movements are really all about — the oversimplification of a highly complicated world. Simi concludes black and white simplicity is a powerful incentive to offer people, especially those who feel lost and looking for easy answers.

Compassionate action allows us to see others as brothers and sisters. It witnesses to the fact that love extends to all. And it invites us to pay attention to the interests and welfare of those we might consider to be enemies. It recognizes that we all play a role in creating extremism, so we all need to find ways of diminishing extremism.

After Hate

Simi points out that “a common misconception is the idea that “once a hater always a hater,” once a terrorist always a terrorist, once a deviant always beyond redemption. This,” says Simi, “is folklore; it’s simply not true.”

People do leave extremist groups. Some leave as they become more familiar with the ideas and realize it really is a pretty warped world view. Moral uneasiness can emerge that creates distance between them and the group. Others realize that their future is likely prison or the grave and decide this isn’t the life they want for themselves or their family.

But Simi believes the most common factor for those who want to leave extremist groups is the growing realization that, “as much as the movement professes loyalty and kinship and all of these affirmative qualities, there’s really a tremendous amount of backstabbing and infighting that occurs. As people experience and observe this, they become disillusioned and begin to see the movement for what it is.

But leaving can be very difficult.  The organization LAH Life After Hate was started by former hate group members. The focus of their message is the importance of using compassion to inform prevention and intervention efforts and aftercare for individuals who want to change their lives but may need various types of support.

Compassion may indeed be the most powerful tool of all. Compassion does not mean condoning reprehensible behavior. So what does compassion look like in this situation? CompassionIt is a nonprofit and global social movement. They suggest that in this very moment, we can send terrorists (both home and abroad) a wish for peace by saying or thinking, “May you find peace. May you be free from suffering.” It’s pretty simple, really.

People at Peace Do Not Harm

People who are at peace with themselves and with others do not harm others. By wishing that others find peace, we open our own heart and cultivate peace within ourselves. When I am at peace, it changes my own world view and my interactions with everyone else. It is a truly a transformative and subversive action.

It might sound naïve, but we should never underestimate the power of non-violence. Preston Sprinkle points out that, “History doesn’t like to glorify non-violence; our nation and identity were born out of bombs bursting in the sky. But wipe away our militaristic lenses through which we view the past, and you’ll see that many seemingly invincible powers were resisted and overcome through non-violence.”

Compassion takes courage and practice. We won’t leave today and suddenly feel compassionate toward everyone just because we want to. It just doesn’t work that way. But we can set an intention to look at the world through the lens of compassion. If we do that, we can achieve peace…within ourselves.

So are you ready to exercise profound courage and subversion? Then close your eyes and begin by settling your mind with a few moments of breathing…

Now visualize a terrorist or a person who represents terrorist to you.

Send out these thoughts, “May you find peace. May you be free of suffering.”

As you open your eyes, may you find peace. May you be free of suffering.


Being Fully Human, buddhism, christmas, Compassion, ego, egoic giving, generosity, gifts, giving, holiday, presents, reason for the season, santa claus

Expressing Our Thanks in Giving

GiftWhen my son Alex started first grade he came from a pep rally ready to raise money for the school. He gathered a bowl full of small toys and office supplies and told me he was selling them for $5. I found the magazine from school and explained that he was supposed to sell the items in the magazine. 5 minutes later he was very upset. “I have to sell the stuff in this magazine?!” he demanded. “Yes,” I calmly explained. “Great!” he said as he flung the magazine to the floor, “We don’t even HAVE any of this stuff!!”

‘Tis the season for fundraisers … and charity events … and end of year donation appeals. And since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, we have officially entered what used to be the beginning of the Christmas season and is now the last lap. You all remember the reason for the season, right? Yes! Of course you do! The reason for the season is to engage in overindulgence, materialism and consumerism. It is the time to celebrate commercialism run amok! What a wonderful time of year! Because underneath the layers of Christmas wrapping paper and piles of newspaper inserts lies the heart of Christmas, and it turns out it is a heart full of love.

Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, whether we embrace the season through the lens of secular celebration or religious tradition, this time of year at its best is about giving, it’s about good will to all people and it’s about compassionate action. The winter holidays are a time to remember the joy and delight we discover in giving of ourselves to others.

Did you take advantage of Black Friday sales this week? One year my brother in law actually got in line at Toys R Us at 4:30 in the morning! To me that is absolute insanity, but he still loves telling that story. We buy our presents, fill red buckets with change and hurry home to wrap our gifts in pretty paper and ribbons and bows.

A Buddhist Perspective

In Buddhism this kind of giving is called “dana.” Thoughtful gifts given to friends and family become symbols of our love and affection. As we complete our shopping list, we are reminded of the importance other people have had in our lives over the past year and we attempt to show a bit of our gratitude for their presence in our lives. We express our Thanks in Giving.

We also pay a little more attention to the needs of our larger community this time of year. The Buddhists It is a time for cultivating compassion itself or “karuna.” “Karuna” moves us beyond considering our own happiness and well being to acknowledge that there are others who are unhappy and who suffer in all different ways. As we support charities and give to strangers we will never meet, we demonstrate “metta” or loving-kindness.

But it can be a delicate balance, expressing our Thanks in Giving without feeling overwhelmed with stress, weight of expectations and the burden of accumulating credit card debt. Because for most of us, our holiday giving becomes a blurry mixture of compassionate action and egoic giving based on WalMart values.

Giving from the Heart vs. Giving from the Ego

When we give out of the need to live up to some stressful expectation, we give from the ego. When we give and find ourselves crushed, angry or frustrated when people don’t react to our gifts the way we expect them to or think they should, we give from the ego.

But when our giving comes from the heart with no expectation of what we will receive in return, then we are practicing compassionate giving. When we give because we are truly thankful for what we have received and feel the need to share what we have with others; that is compassionate giving. Compassionate giving finds joy in the act of giving itself.

In adopting the heart of a giver, we stop keeping score. Instead, we receive the joy of discovering that in our core – in our genetic make up as altruists, we are givers. That giving is simply an expression of our own True Self. When we give from the heart, the delight we experience is in the giving and NOT in anticipation of being appreciated or acknowledged for the incredible gift giver we obviously are. The delight is in the giving — and the reaction to that giving really becomes of no consequence at all.

This kind of giving is totally different from egoic giving. It’s a lot like the difference between compassion and idiot compassion. Compassion is other focused, idiot compassion is self focused. Egoic giving is also self focused. Let me give you an example.   

Egoic Giving 

I used to get together once or twice a week with a small group of friends. One of people in the group was very obese and one night he announced that he was going to join a diet program through a medical facility. It was quite expensive but he was committed to that plan of action even though he had very limited income.

One of the other members of the group immediately thought we should all pitch in to help cover these costs. Now, our obese friend didn’t ask for our help. Never even suggested it himself. But friend number 2 had an offer on the table and although I didn’t agree with it, it would have been very awkward to be the one person in the room saying “No way. Not pitchin in. Not gonna do it.” So we all began contributing to the monthly expense of this program.

The first couple of months he announced his weight loss and we all congratulated ourselves on our group accomplishment. You see where this is going. A couple of months later, he started to have lapses in his commitment to the program and his success started to wane. Guess what happened? You know don’t you. Everyone who had been footing the bill felt betrayed and let down. How could he do this to US?

Wrong. When we decided to donate to someone who didn’t even ask for it, we were engaging in egoic giving – something that made us feel better about ourselves. Helping to pay for the program did not buy us the right to hold anyone accountable to us – and it created a barrier for us to be an accountability group for our friend – because instead of speaking out of genuine love and concern for our friend, we were talking out of anger and feeling bitterness that our own contribution was being appreciated in the way we thought it should. The truth is, our obese friend didn’t owe us a thing.

When we give because it makes us feel good to give, there’s nothing wrong with that. Feeling good is something we all aspire too. But when we give with strings attached, when we expect something in return, we are engaging in egoic giving. This is the kind of giving that looks like an accounting relationship. If I give to you, you are in some sense in my debt – maybe to do  me a favor in return, maybe to bail me out when I need it, maybe to live up to my image of you and for you to see me as the selfless, caring and compassionate person I know myself to be.

Compassionate Giving

Compassionate giving, on the other hand, asks nothing in return. It is the giving we do from the depth of our heart –– regardless of the response we get. Compassionate giving brings us to selecting our gifts and placing them under the tree with love that is free and unconditional. And it challenges us to extend such giving beyond our immediate family and friends to embrace all of humanity. It cultivates a heart of universal compassion as we offer up our concern for the well being of all others.

So let’s wrestle with the question that comes up time after time about giving to strangers. What about the guy on the street corner? If we give him a handout, will he use it to feed his family or to buy a beer? The truth is we really don’t know. So we have to make a decision. Give or don’t give. There really is no right or wrong answer. We usually don’t have enough information to practice idiot compassion. The decision really says more about our view of money and our financial systems and structures than anything else.

Some of us will prefer to donate our money to organizations that seek to address the underlying causes of disparity in order to create more financial stability for people in the long run. Some of us will be moved to act in that instant to help that particular individual with the money we are fortunate enough to have in our pocket right then and there. Some of us will opt to take this person out for a meal and a conversation to connect on a more intimate level.

All of those decisions are valid, value-based responses to human need. And if we decide to give, we owe it to ourselves and the recipient to believe the best. Give and let go. What ends up happening to it, doesn’t matter. There is no reason to stress yourself any further worrying about what you have done and whether the other person will appreciate it appropriately. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.

Our Relationship to Money

Giving from what we have to help others individually or as a group is an important aspect of living a good life. Money and our relationship to it is certainly one of the most emotional aspects of our lives. We can’t separate money from the rest of our life, because how we approach money, how we treat money, how we depend on money, how we may even tend to worship and idolize money shapes how we approach life.

The tithe (or 10 percent of our income) is a common model for compassionate giving. In the ancient world a tithe could be a compulsory tax paid to the government, a required payment to support the synagogue or a donation to charity. It’s a model that I used when raising my own children. They got an allowance. They were required to put 10% in savings, to donate 10% to whatever social justice program they wanted (which I admit was usually the faith community I was leading), and the rest was theirs to blow on Pokemon cards.

Giving satisfies our impulse toward altruism, but it contradicts our impulse of individual survival. If we give away 10%, that means we only have 90% left for our own wants and needs. We fear that unless we have more, we will be dependent on others and in our dependency we will not be free. We want freedom from anything that might hold us in bondage. We are free when nothing is present to stop us from getting what we want, when nobody is telling us what to do.

The truth is we only dream about meeting the needs of all the world’s children because we do not trust we can do more than we have ever done in the past. While the reality is that we have everything we frail and flawed human beings need to end poverty and hunger and homelessness. Why don’t we do it? We are captive to a genetic disposition of survival that has created a culture that fails its own people and a worldview that allows human beings to walk away empty, hungry and without hope. We are bound, captured by our culture, in bondage to money.

Of course, sometimes we just aren’t in a position to give any money to anyone else – that is the sad reality of economic disparity in our nation today. It is then that we need to be able to receive the gifts of others in order to maintain our own health and wellbeing. During those times, we can still cultivate the heart of a giver through our presence, with our care and concern for each other, for the positive energy we send into this world. We each do what we can – for each other, for this community, for this world in which we live.

The Spirit of Santa Claus

Edwin Osgood Grover in The Book of Santa Claus writes, “Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows; who shares his joys with those who are sad; whose hand is never closed against the needy; whose arm is ever outstretched to aid the weak; whose sympathy is quick and genuine in time of trouble; who recognizes a comrade and brother in every man he meets upon life’s common road; who lives his life throughout the entire year in the Christmas spirit.”

So with the giver’s heart of Santa Claus and in the Christmas spirit of Compassionate Giving, let’s all celebrate the reason for the season!


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The Politics of Values

Carl Sagan Quote
According to the Tao Te Ching:
Governing a large country
Is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.
Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.
Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

Ann Landers, the advice columnist, was at an embassy reception when a rather arrogant senator walked up to her and said, “So you’re the famous Ann Landers. Say something funny.” So she said, “Well, you’re a politician. Tell me a lie.”

Whether her response was funny or just sad, the reality is that lies are pretty much what we’ve come to expect. After coming through the last two presidential elections, I can’t help but agree with Will Rogers that, “The more you observe politics, the more you have to admit that each party is worse than the other.”

Before we know it the 2016 election will be upon us and before then we have mid terms to contend with. As we wrestle with our decisions, it seems appropriate to take some time to look at our responsibility as spiritual people in the political world of today.

One of the teachers I have learned from over the years is Jesus. There is a story in the Bible in which Jesus is placed in a political conundrum. He is asked about his view on taxes. If he agrees that taxes should be paid to Caesar he will disappoint the Jewish people, but if he states that no payment should be made to Rome, he could bring about his own arrest.

So he asks for a coin – you might notice at this point that Jesus doesn’t have a coin while the Pharisee does – and as it is tossed to him he catches it in the air. He looks at it and asks the crowd, “Whose head is on this; whose title?” “Caesar’s,” they answer. “Well, if it already belongs to the empire,” Jesus says, “give it back.” (At which point we might picture Jesus slipping the coin into his pocket.) But that’s not all he says. The second half is really the surprise ending: if we will give back to the empire what is the empire’s, then we are also to give to God what is God’s.

Looking for God’s Image

Caesar’s image was on the coin. That’s how we know to whom it belonged. So our first question is where do we find God’s image? According to the book of Genesis, we find God’s image in us. Humans were created in the image of God. So if we are to give God what belongs to God, we have to give God ourselves, our bodies and our souls, all that we are – including that part of us that is involved in the political process.

Here’s the truth that Jesus shares: We cannot separate our spiritual life from our political life. We cannot separate our faith from the problems in our society. Like two sides of the same coin, the two are held intricately together as we bring our faith with us into the political arena. The next question then is how do we apply that faith in the world of politics today.

Jesus said that we have a responsibility to love our neighbor – even when that neighbor is an enemy. And that love reveals itself not in a sentimental fuzzy feeling – but as concrete actions that demand justice – even at the risk of a personal cost. We have a duty and a privilege to participate in the public arena of politics because we have a duty to be the voice for the voiceless, to exercise our power for the sake of the powerless.

God Does Not Lead a Political Party

And we must also recognize the danger of politics subverting our religion for its own purposes. Sojourners recently ran a wonderful ad in an effort to remind us that God is not a Republican – or a Democrat. The most troubling aspect of politics for me is when people use religious language in order to advance their own national or domestic policy. The most troubling aspect of politics for me is when my faith is used to as a political weapon that seeks to justify injustice.

We hear a lot of talk about security these days. The Pharisees who ask Jesus about paying taxes are also rightfully concerned about security. They have chosen to compromise with Rome in exchange for some degree of religious and political freedom. They don’t necessarily like the situation, but it seems to be working. And Jesus’ refusal to “show deference” to anyone must seem like an extremely arrogant failure on his part to appreciate the complexity of their situation.

So they try to trap him. But their strategy backfires because Jesus refuses to accept the terms of their argument. Instead of getting into a debate over taxes, he pronounces God’s authority over everything. His answer provides no clear guideline for what aspects of national duty we are to accept and what we are to challenge.

Politics of Values 

But Jesus’ attitude should encourage and embolden us to refuse the terms of this nation’s debate when it presumes that military and financial security are unquestionable values. If we take Jesus seriously at all, we will question the very notion that military and financial security are our values at all! And we will do so even when, as Sojourner contributor Kari Jo Verhulst states, it means risking that we will be called a friend of terrorists and a national traitor.

The current social climate certainly yields an interesting mix of attitudes about politics from the pulpit. Some people feel very strongly that the church is no place to engage in political debate. Others expect their pastor to address the very real issues of our day and to place them in the context of faith. Martin Luther urged pastors to preach against economic injustice and public policies that work against the well-being of the poor. Well, you can’t get much more political than that.

Loving our neighbor demands that we engage in public affairs because they have such an enormous impact on people’s lives. Loving our neighbor means publicly denouncing oppression and exploitation wherever it is found.

What more important task could we have before us today? In the midst of terrorist attacks and questions of patriotism, we need to look beyond the debates, the media spin and the noise in order to ponder what is right, what is good, and what we believe our elected government should do.

Global Citizens

Groucho Marx said, ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” The truth of the quote can be so discouraging. It tempts us to hide in despair behind illusions of our own powerlessness. But we are among the most powerful people in the world. And nothing has ever been changed without the action first of a single person.

If we will take our role as a citizen of this country seriously, we will look deeper than political rhetoric. We will look at the whole global situation:  the whole machinery of international power and global capitalism. And we will begin to seriously call into question the values that keep it all in place.

But as we continue to look deeper, we will also begin to see glimpses of God already subtly at work in this world. We will find hope anew that the reign of God is indeed here – being ushered in before us as we hurry to try to catch up. God reign comes even in the midst of our politics and in that reign God’s will for justice and peace is being made visible.

There is no simple application of our biblical text to the political options before us. Each option, each party represents some element of the truth and some element of human fallibility. And no option that I have heard so far takes seriously our role as oppressor in a world where we only continue to grow more wealthy and powerful on the backs of an increasing number of people living in untenable situations.

God’s Reign Equals Our Reign

The hard reality is that no matter who wins, they will not usher in the perfect realization of the promised reign of God. Any political ideology can only be a shadow of that truth. So our final question is how do we weigh the various issues at hand? If we are faithful, we must first consider what it means to love our neighbor. Self-interest is never a God-centered stance.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must seek to be what we want to become.” We must start acting now the way we want to be in the future. We are a transformational people. We know we can change – our habits, our practices, and our way of thinking. Our world too can change – for justice, for peace, for community. Grace makes it all possible.

And in that grace you and I are given the opportunity to decide how we will manifest God, how we will strive for justice and peace in this world that we create.

As people of faith, as people of conscience, and as citizens of this country, we can raise our voices to proclaim where we see God at work in this world. And we can raise the question, like Jesus, of how we, including with our political decisions and action, will give to God what belongs to God.

Invitation for Reflection

  • What is the most critical political issue facing us today?
  • How do you participate in the political process?
  • Is not voting casting a vote for change or abdicating one’s responsibility?
altruism, Being Fully Human, belonging, Compassion, eveolution, faith and science, process theology, Progressive Christianity, selfishness, tribe

The Altruism Gene

dnaWe all seek to be more compassionate people and to demonstrate that compassion in our daily lives. I’ve mentioned that I have two boys. My firstborn, Jackson, is 22 years old. Twenty years ago when Jackson was just a toddler in the process of potty training, grandma came over to babysit. As the morning wore on, she found the need to visit the restroom. Shortly after sitting herself on the commode there was a gentle knock on the door. “Yes?’ She asked. “Whatcha doin grandma.” “I’m just going to the bathroom sweetheart.” “You want me to help you wipe your butt?” Not that’s being willing to take one for the team!

And it is an example of altruism. The unselfish concern for others. Altruism is the active practice of love and compassion.

So where does altruism come from?

Evolutionary Biologist Edward O. Wilson suggests that arose as part of our biological development. But that’s only half of the story. In his book The Meaning of Human Existence, he also suggests that selfishness is part of our biological development. Hence, human beings have evolved in such a way that we are in a continual inner struggle with the contradictory forces of selfishness and altruism.

Altruistic and Selfish DNA

It’s all there spelled out in our DNA. One on hand our genetic makeup is the result of a process in which only the strongest individuals survived. This individual survival instinct continues to play itself out in the choices we make to pursue our own interests, needs and desires. But on the other hand, our genetic makeup allowed us to survive as a species through collaboration and sacrifice for the good of the whole. So we also have this altruistic instinct that automatically thinks about caring for others, even when we derive no benefit from it ourselves, even when we pay a personal cost in doing so.

As a result of this multilevel selection, individual selection and group selection, we now live with inherent internal conflict. Within groups, selfish individuals are more likely to survive than altruistic individuals. But groups of altruists are more likely to survive than groups of selfish individuals. So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that our common language is protective of the group with individual selection promoting behaviors we label as sin, and group selection promoting behaviors we label as virtues. We gain an advantage as an individual by being selfish, but our group is more likely to survive if we act altruistically.

Are Humans Essentially Good or Bad? 

One of the most enduring philosophical debates is whether we as human beings are at our root good or evil. Sinner or saint?  The answer is yes. We are both team player and whistle blower. We buy from our local farmer’s market and from the shelves at WalMart. We donate our money to peace initiatives and invest our money in stocks that produce the machinery of war. We obey the rules and we break them. We are simultaneously champions of truth and hypocrites – not because of a religious or philosophical failing, but because of the way we originated across millions of years of biological evolution.

It isn’t the forces of good and evil with which we struggle at all – it is conflicting biological traits. These conflicting pressures have produced an unstable mix of innate emotions and shifting moods. We are in turn proud, humble, angry, loving, vengeful and empathetic. This unique combination of self focused and other focused traits is the essence of our humanity and the source of our creativity.

So if altruism is nothing more than a biological development, what does that tell us about god?

Faith and Science

There were no debates in my house about evolution vs. creation when I was growing up. My mother’s approach was one of simple faith. She believed God created the universe – and that God could do that anyway God chose.

And so I learned to see science and faith, not as competitors but as complements of each other. Science itself was borne out of a desire to understand the “mind” of God, and science-based theological reflections have never been difficult for me to make. As Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

And yet in some places and in some hearts, battle lines between faith and science were clearly drawn. The explosion of scientific knowledge, the accuracy of mathematical physics, and evolutionary science based on random variation resulted in intolerance as people painted themselves into either the corner of science that would seek to disprove the existence of God or the corner of Faith that would shut its eyes to the very wonder of scientific discovery.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, science and faith have a comfortable connection in process theology. So, let’s first define theology not as the study of God, but as the study of the human understanding of God. Alfred North Whitehead introduced the idea of process theology and gave us a whole different way of understanding God. I still use words like “god” as placeholders in order to have precisely these kinds of conversations.

Meant to Be?

But to get a feel for what I mean by God, and to understand process theology, we have to let go of the image of God taught in so many of our Christian churches and households. And I don’t just mean giving up the idea of God as an elderly white grandfather figure. I mean letting go of definitions of God that necessitate a faith that contradicts scientific reality. That means letting go of three beliefs about God:

First, that God is a cosmic moralist who keeps a record of our sins and will punish us for our trespasses.

Second, that God is unchanging and absolute.

Third, that God is a supernatural controlling power.

It is belief in these three attributes of God – that God is all knowing, that God is all powerful, and that God keeps score – that leads to the teaching of predestination. Predestination is the idea that God has already determined who is going to heaven and double predestination means that God has already decided who is going to hell. The big catch is that you have no idea where you are destined to end up, no matter how piously or horribly you behave. In my first theology class I learned that Pine Rest Mental Hospital was founded in large part to care for people who had literally driven themselves crazy with worry about what would happen to them after death.

While collapsing under such uncertainty is an extreme reaction, I am fascinated by the way in which we routinely use predestination language to explain even the most mundane occurrences in our life. I guess it was meant to be. It must be part of the plan. It’s Fate. Destiny. God’s will.

In marked contrast, process theology affirms that everything is in the process of changing. Like the teaching of impermanence in Buddhism, nothing stays the same. Every new thought, every interaction, every gain and every loss changes us in some way. Everything we do makes a difference, however subtle. We can’t, as Heraclitus said, step in the same river twice. And because we are continually sloughing off cells and growing new ones, we can’t even take a step with the same foot twice!

Claiming the Power to Create

Which means we are at the very least co-creators. Every decision that we make has the potential of changing every other possible decision in the whole cosmos. So we owe it to the cosmos to be about something more than passive existence. It is up to us to claim our own power to create. Because here and now, in this relative world, our choices make a difference in influencing our own lives and all of creation for good or for ill. What we do has consequences for our self and for others.

And we humans are intensely interested in the behavior of others. Just look at the racks of People magazines and the proliferation of reality television shows. We are gossips and social media sponges. Our minds are constantly evaluating everyone in terms of trust, love, hatred, suspicion, admiration, envy and sociability.

At the same time, we are compulsively driven to belong to groups and to define ourselves in relation to others. Not only that, we all tend to think of our own group as superior – no matter how gently we try to express those sentiments. In fact, studies show that not only do we sense our own superiority, but we also quickly come to think of members of other groups as less able and less trustworthy, even when we know the groups have been selected at random.

The truth is, we have the intelligence and the capacity for altruism that is necessary to turn this world into a utopia. But we are handicapped by the dysfunction of our species: we are addicted to tribal conflict. It’s amusing when we watch the Detroit Lions play or when we root for our kid’s soccer team. But it is deadly when expressed in real life ethnic, religious and ideological warfare. We have hereditary myopia. It is just harder for us to care about people beyond our own tribe and country, or about those whose births are one or two generations away.

The Future We Choose 

So what choices will we make? We have the social intelligence and the memory necessary to evaluate scenarios and predict consequences. We can imagine different futures, then choose which we would like to see while planning our path forward. What path will we follow?

My mom tells the story of three scientists got together and decided that by using all of their knowledge, they could create a human being. So they approached God and told her that they could create a human being without any help from her at all. Then they asked if they could prove it. God was very skeptical, but finally said, “Sure, let’s see what you can do.” Excitedly, the scientists started running around collected dirt and putting it in a pile. But after a few minutes, God said, “Hold on a minute. If you don’t want my help, you’re going to have to get your own dirt.”

We are quite literally on the precipice of abandoning natural selection and truly taking on the role that we once reserved for nature or for god. Now that we have mapped our own DNA, we can also alter it. What will be the consequences as we step into the ability to change the genetic makeup of unborn human beings? should we? If so, how much? Shall we have longer lives? Better memories? Less aggressive behavior? More pleasing body odor? Will our choices err on the side of individual conquest or group survival?

And how much more do we just not now yet? Think about it. Scientific theories are consistently proven wrong over time. Our images of God are also consistently proven wrong over time. Maybe god finally equals the right answers. Or maybe there are no right answers and no permanent resolutions. The Jewish name for God YWHY is usually interpreted as I AM WHAT I AM. But another equally valid interpretation is I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. Nothing absolute. Nothing concrete. Nothing even particularly well defined. Hmmmm. God as a process…

And if God is a process, then we are a process. Continually evolving and developing. So if we are both selfish and altruistic, if we need a tribe and we need to stand out, then let’s stand out because it is hard for people to understand the depth of our compassion. And let’s join the tribe of the entire Cosmos so that the only limits to how far we extend that compassion are the limits of our imagination.


acceptance, beign fully human, belonging, Christian Mysticism, coming out, Compassion, gay, gender identity, glbt, heterosexual privilege, homophobia, sexual orientation

Heterosexual Privilege

Coming Out DayIt is a gift that we are talking out loud about those things that used to only be shared in secret, in darkness, in the closet. I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one raised with the teaching, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” What an incredibly destructive teaching. To condone hating on one hand and to label people as sinful on the other.

When I was doing campus ministry at our Muskegon Community College, I met with a professor of philosophy. The college had recently been in the news for refusing to allow a drag show to take place on its campus. The professor welcomed me and told me he hoped my presence would have a positive impact. He shared with me that in the past year, a young student of his had come out as gay to his Christian parents. They responded to his disclosure by telling him he “should kill himself.” He did.

The LGBT community has far too often been the victim of violence – both physical violence and spiritual violence. Too often anti-gay rhetoric masquerades as a message of God’s love and the power to overcome obstacles, giving rise to self hatred and encouraging intolerance. When people arm themselves with the weapon of misinformation that perpetuates intolerance and preserves heterosexual privilege, the fruits of their labor are suffering, self-hatred and wasted gifts. There is much to be angry about and much to lament. And there is also much to celebrate.

You know, as a heterosexual, I had the privilege of never having my own sexuality questioned. I also never had anyone reduce me to my plumbing or ask me how I “do” it. I never had to “come out” and worry what the consequences would be. I also never had to live with internalized homophobia that would make me question whether every person’s reaction to me had something to do with my sexuality.

One of the saddest stories I lived through was when a gay couple stopped coming to Extended Grace. When we finally connected weeks later, I learned that one of the men had been refused a hug by a young college women. He felt she was rejecting him because he was openly gay. What he didn’t know was that she had been raped on her college campus while walking home at night earlier that week. She wasn’t letting anyone hug her. A heterosexist, homophobic society conditions human beings to expect rejection even where that rejection doesn’t exist. And when that happens – everyone is hurt.

I know I will be more aware in the days to come and I hope those of you who share my heterosexual privilege will be, too. Think about what the world would be like if we would all live as our most authentic self. Then work for a world in which everyone is not tolerated or accepted, but where everyone is celebrated and encouraged to be fully who they are.


acceptance, Being Fully Human, Bible, Compassion, gender identity, glbt, heterosexual privilege, homophobia, sexual orientation

Learning Life’s Lessons

National Coming Out DayI am grateful to my mother for all the things she taught me. I am grateful to my fifth grade homeroom teacher, my seventh grade English teacher and my high school media production teacher. But some of the most important lessons, the most interesting and discussion-worthy lessons I ever received came from another source. For teaching me the things no one else wanted to talk about or even knew how to talk about, for discussing them with compassion and honesty and frankness, for keeping a sense of humor while providing me with profound insights, for all of that and more I am grateful to … Phil Donohue.

Long before talk shows became a series of loud, embarrassing family fights and blatant attempts to shame and humiliate guests and studio audience participants, Phil was exploring the nooks and crannies in our society no one else seemed to be giving any attention. Did he ever exploit people? Did he sometimes work the ratings? I’m sure he did. Maybe you never liked Phil, yourself. But to me, as a kid just trying to figure out her own identity, Phil Donohue always seemed sincere and genuine. He cared about people, and he introduced me to a whole lot of people I learned to care about, too.

It was Phil who talked with gay men, and lesbian women, and people who were having operations to change from one physical gender to another. He didn’t talk about them. He didn’t talk down to them. He talked with them about their realities – and he listened. And in doing that, he taught me to listen. It is in listening to the real stories of real people that I have learned so much and have felt so much and have grown so much.

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day. Whether you are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or an Ally, spend some time this week listening to the stories of others who have experienced homophobia and a society that continues to support in overt and covert ways “heterosexual privilege.” There is much we can share and so much more we can learn!

ageism, aging, beign fully human, Being Fully Human, Buddha, change, Compassion, emotional, feeling, grief, Jesus, loss, moses, mourning, pain, physical, Spiritual, stillborn

The Worst Kind of Grief

griefI used to be a Lutheran. Then I changed and became a Christian Mystic Taoist. So my first question is how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Lutherans don’t change. How many Taoists does it take to change a light bulb? You can’t change a light bulb. It can only be true to its own nature. How many politically correct clergy does it take to change a light bulb? We’ll never know. Politically correct clergy don’t tell light bulb jokes!

In a past life I was the Project Manager for the Primary Care Network at Mercy General Health Systems. That meant that my job was to know everything that could be known about a doctor’s office– and then to change it. So I spent time with staff, job shadowed doctors and interviewed patients all in attempt to be more efficient, more effective and more customer focused. Then I would present my wonderful ideas for change.

This is where my lack of human understanding would always rear its ugly head. See, I thought that if I explained what was happening and how it was going to happen and all of the reasons it would be so much better that everyone would be happy two go along. Wrong. You see everything I was doing made great sense intellectually, but I was completely disregarding the fact that change is an intensely emotional activity. I was simply disregarding everyone’s fear and pain and assuming everyone would now be happier and more content.

By the time I left Mercy General I had learned a lot about the process of change – the grief and loss that must be met with mourning, the fear that can propel or paralyze, the joy and anticipation that can lead to even more change.  Change is an opportunity for growth, an antidote against inertia and proof that we live in an ever evolving and creative cosmos.

Organizational change is a challenge, but there is other change that is far more difficult, more painful. In my last blog, I talked about the aging process. I challenged us all to embrace growing old gracefully as a sign of hope for those who follow us. I focused on what we gain as we age. Today in true Taoist fashion, it is only appropriate to acknowledge what we lose. Because loss is real. Aging with grace isn’t about denying that loss, it’s about acknowledging it, grieving it and then continuing to go on living.

Aging isn’t the only thing that brings about painful loss. There are accidents and injuries, divorces and layoffs, violent acts and natural disasters. There is death. And there are too many Detroit Lions football games.

Change can overwhelm us when there are too many of them too soon – and when they come not as something we choose and to some extent control, but as something that controls us. These changes are especially painful.

You know what I’m talking about. None of us totally escapes crisis in our life – those unexpected breaks in our equilibrium, those sudden changes that leave us overwhelmed and anxious. We move through shock and denial, bargaining and depression until we return to some sense of reorientation.

What is the Worst Kind of Grief?

And what is the worst kind of grief? Your own. The worst kind of grief is whatever grief you are experiencing. The worst pain you will ever experience is your own pain.

Life is hard. And life is hard because we hurt.  We hurt physically, we hurt emotionally and we hurt spiritually. Pain is present from the very beginning of our life until our last breath. First we are pushed and shoved out of the warmth and security of our mother’s womb into a cold and uncertain world.

And from that day on we will know pain as an unavoidable aspect of life – as we cut our teeth, as we learn about gravity, as we realize why we were told not to touch the stove or play with knives. (Side note, when I was two years old I actually tried to shave my tongue. Any idea how much a tongue bleeds? Hard to bandage, too.) We know pain as we stretch ourselves to learn new skills and in the process fall flat on our face. Pain accompanies our journey as we maneuver our way through the sicknesses and injuries of life and keeps us company as our bodies age, reminding us we are mortal after all.

Then there is the emotional and spiritual pain that can bring us to our knees faster than any physical injury. As we are emptied of everything else – hope, dreams, desires, belief – it is the pain that comes into the void and fills us to overflowing. It arises in times of crisis, trauma and loss and serves as a cruel reminder of our own powerlessness and lack of control. And it is universal. None of us can participate in this world and not know its sting.

We have few role models, however, for learning how to deal with the sting. Our society does not encourage emotional awareness, let alone emotional expression. Instead we are offered a continual array of ways in which we can avoid feeling our pain or feeling anything at all. When any glimmer of emotional turmoil threatens to come our way we can choose alcohol, drugs, sex or food instead. We can distract ourselves from our own emotion by yelling, blaming, or trying to appease somebody else. When sadness, fear, anxiety or loneliness threaten to descend we can run away, go shopping, or turn on the TV.

Feeling the Pain

The idea of actually FEELING our pain can seem strange and even frightening. But the only real way to get through it is to finally experience it. Fully. Unflinchingly. In all of its terribleness and terror. And the truth is, we can.  We can feel our pain without exploding, going crazy or dying. And when we do, we realize our pain is not endless.

Half of the battle with grief is just accepting the grief and letting ourselves grieve. We have to accept our grief because other people might not. Other people will mistakenly think that we should have “gotten over it” or that our personal loss shouldn’t be “such a big deal.” We may run into people who are so uncomfortable with grief themselves that they would rather not talk about it. Whatever the reason a lot of people will say or do things to discourage us from grieving. So we can’t depend on others to give us permission to grieve. We have to give that permission to ourselves.

And as we allow ourselves to grieve, we move beyond being a victim. It’s actually much easier to let the voice of the victim drown out the pain. The victim is the witness who carries our story and that is a very important role. As Michael talked about last week, there are times we need to tell our story. There are times people need to hear our story told. But our story is not all that we are. And when we choose to see ourselves as the victim in our own story, we choose powerlessness. We choose to remain stuck right where we are. We choose to do nothing to help ourselves or to help those around us.

Ultimately, we have to grapple with the pain itself in order to move through it. I can complain about my bad luck all day and all night, but until I’m willing to experience my pain, I will never know joy. For the same energy I use to avoid embracing my own damaged self with all of the hurt it carries, is the same energy that keeps me from embracing my own original joy and wonder.

For many of us who prefer to stay in our heads, this may not seem like good news. We cannot think our way into healing and health. We cannot think ourselves out of our grief. It takes great courage to listen to the damaged self, to stay with the painful emotion, explore it, and own it.

The Process of Grief

Grief is a very individual process. There is no roadmap. We all have to go through the stages, but we will do so in different order. We may thing we’ve worked through a stage and then suddenly find ourselves in it again. That’s okay. It just means there is something else that needs to be worked through. We need to let ourselves do that work.

How long does grief last? As long as it takes. In one sense our grief will always be with us. Those things that we’ve lost – people, pets, jobs, abilities, youthfulness – they will never be replaced. In another sense, grief does end. Eventually pain subsides, memories bring more smiles than tears, and the future appears more hopeful than foreboding.  There is no one-size-fits-all timeframe for grief. There’s only your unique and personal timeframe. That’s the only one that should really matter to you.

A Personal Story

Every year on February 1st I take time to intentionally sit with my pain. It is the anniversary of the date my son Malachi Aaron was delivered stillborn. He was a perfect little boy with 10 fingers and 10 toes, my chin (poor kid) and his brother’s nose. And his umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his little neck, twice. It was horrible in every sense of the word, pain more intense than I had ever felt before. Physical pain. Emotional pain. And especially spiritual pain. I felt as if a part of my very soul and very being had been severed from me. This is the feeling I still know when I return to the cemetery every February 1. A deep and abiding ache that I surrender to once a year. A bleeding wound that I take time to expose, to kiss and to nurture and then to gently rewrap in bandages of remembering.

In fact, an important part of my healing was in creating a time to intentionally feel the wounds once more. In the midst of my grief there was a part of me that didn’t want to be okay again – that didn’t want to let go of the pain. I didn’t want to simply blink and then pretend that everything had returned to normal. And yet my normal routine was beckoning me and the time came that I had to return to life. And so I returned. But I returned not to the same old world I had known before, but to a world where I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I returned having survived something I didn’t know I could survive with strength I didn’t know I possessed.

Spiritual Pain

Today spiritual pain is recognized as a very real factor in our total well-being. Health care providers are taught to recognize signs and symptoms and to help bring healing. Even the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation requires that routine spiritual assessments be part of every hospital patient’s care.

Spiritual pain is about feeling separation. It can include loss of meaning, loss of hope, and loss of one’s own identity. It can include anger, a sense of betrayal and abandonment, and a disruption to one’s core beliefs.

When we allow ourselves to move into our spiritual pain, to experience it fully, we can find new meaning and understanding in the midst of it. A community that welcomes individual questions and doubts can offer consolation and the promise of building relationships of care and of witness to one another, while assuring us of abiding grace and unconditional love.

This is what we seek to know and feel underneath all of our life long struggles. “Our problem,” according to David Richo, “is not that as children our needs were unmet, but that as adults they are still un-mourned. The hurt, betrayed, bereft child is still inside of us, wanting to cry for what he missed.” Because without that expression and the release it allows, we stay stuck. We don’t let go of the pain. We continue to feel stressful neediness. In fact, that neediness tells us nothing about how much we need from others. What it tells us is how much we still need to grieve a barren past that cannot be changed as it urges us to call upon our own inner sources of nurturance.

Pain comes out of nowhere, hitting us when we least expect it in the place that hurts us the most. When we do our grieving work, when we admit our powerlessness and express our mourning, when we whine and complain and yearn and yell and then take another step forward, we realize that we always have alternatives, no matter what our predicament might be. Knowing we always have choices keeps us from getting stuck in depression, apathy or the paralyzing stance of the victim. Instead we get on with our lives in powerful and productive ways.

When my oldest son Jackson turned 9 I remember his being overwhelmingly sad at bedtime one night. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I’m already 9 years old. I’ll probably be moving out of the house and going to college when I’m 18. I’ve already lived half of my life with you. It’s just all happening so fast.”

As we grow, there is much we leave behind. But as mature human beings, there is also much we can recapture. As we live our lives more fully and deeply, we can even move outside of ourselves in order to enter into the brokenness of life so that we might reach out to other people in their grief.

Entering Into a Broken World

It was the sight of pain that jolted the Buddha out of royal complacency and set him off on one of history’s greatest spiritual journeys. It was the sight of pain that made Moses give up his privileged status to lead a political and cultural revolution that is called the Exodus from Egypt. It was the sight of pain that stirred Jesus to follow the call of social activism in such a way that his teachings would influence history and get him killed.

There’s a story of two men in a hospital. One is able to sit up and the other can only lie flat on his back. Day after day the man who sits describes the picture outside the window – the trees, the sunshine, the children playing. His descriptions give the other man comfort and consolation as he struggles with his own failing health. One day the man at the window dies and is moved from the room. The other man asks to be moved to the other side of the room. He is very excited to finally see for himself the wonderful activity taking place outdoors. But when he is moved there is only a wall. The nurse explains that the man who had died was blind.

Indeed, one of the most significant changes for grieving people happens on the inside. Nearly every grieving person becomes more caring and compassionate with others who experience loss. They know what it’s like to lose something or someone precious and are much more sensitive to other people’s needs. Look to your own heart for your motivation. When you are ready and when you feel it deep inside, reach out to help someone else who may need it. When people give of themselves, they also receive.