Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Compassion and Community

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul, MN
I can't get him out of my mind.

            Last week my husband and I registered members of our congregation for their church directory photo sessions. When we were asked to do this, it was suggested, since we are new members, this would be a nice way to meet a few people, and it was.

            One interaction, however, was upsetting. 

            As I registered a couple, perhaps in their late 60's, I would guess, the man remarked about the "fact" that the Bible says women must subjugate themselves to man. "God says." At first I thought he was trying to be funny. I teased that he was "trouble--big trouble," and he seemed to like that and be encouraged by that, repeating, insisting, declaring the same words. I am not sure what he wanted from me, but I stiffened and wanted to rebuff and reprove, but I was certain I would not be successful.
          Other people arrived, and I redirected my attention, as did my husband. How grateful I was when the photographer arrived for their session. (I wonder how that went!) After the session he returned to the registration table, however, and leaned in towards me and said, "Your punishment is to be subjugated to your husband for the rest of your life."

          I told him that was enough and he should leave now. 

          Since then I have wondered what his story is and what life with him is like. How is it possible he reconciles his beliefs with the fact that one of our congregation's pastors is a woman, as is our intern, and the former senior pastor is a woman, and many women are in leadership roles. This is a congregation whose mission states,  "By God's grace we are called to be a caring, healing, and welcoming community who proclaim and celebrate the love of Jesus Christ, live as God's servants and seek justice for all people." http://www.gloriadeistpaul.org  What does that means to him?

         If I felt abused, what does his partner feel? And I wondered what else I could have done, should have done. I may see him on Sunday mornings or at other church events. Do I greet him and move on? Do I attempt to get to know him? Do I engage him in a theological conversation? Do I tell him how offended I was? Do I ignore him?

         I have no idea, but I know my first task, which was not my first inclination, I must admit, is to hold him in the light, to send him lovingkindness. As I sit in morning meditation time, I ask that my heart open to him, not as a vehicle to convince him of the error in his beliefs and behavior, but as a way to extend peace, to help him soothe what seems to be his own troubled heart. 

         Can I do that? Not alone, for sure. I need all the help I can get to see others without judgment, to be a compassionate presence, even as I honor my own personhood. 

          Perhaps the following prayer is one you and I can pray together as we live and grow in community:

           All that we ought to have thought
                 and have not thought.
           All that we ought to have said,
                 and have not said.
           All that we ought to have done,
                 and have not done.
           All that we ought not to have thought,
                 and yet have thought.
           All that we ought not to have spoken,
                 and yet have spoken.
           All that we ought not to have done,
                 and yet have done.

                 For thoughts, words, and works,
                 pray we, O God, for forgiveness.
                                  --A Persian Prayer

An Invitation
      Who are the difficult people in your life or community who could use a boost of lovingkindness? What casual encounters have you had recently that have disturbed you either because of what was said or perhaps because of the way you responded or failed to respond? What are you willing to do to hold yourself and others in the light?  



  1. This is an excellent post, Nancy. We all face these situations in our various communities, and they're not easy. I think that I'm becoming more compassionate the older I get. At least I hope that's true!

  2. Thanks so much, Joan. I have no doubt your compassion is growing.


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