I have recently been using Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver in the Bible Study I co-facilitate for parents of school-age children.
The second chapter of this book speaks of Compassion and the act of truly seeing someone. Honestly, it did not resonate with me when I first read it. It seemed rather mundane. I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay. Notice people. Pay attention to the stranger. Show compassion to the outcast. Blah, blah, blah.”
It felt a bit basic, like Kindergarten Christianity.
By the end of the week, however, this chapter eerily struck home. On that Thursday our local and national news channels broadcasted word of yet another mass shooting. This time the tragedy unfolded at the Umpqua Community College just over an hour south from where we live in Oregon. With my own 18 year-old son having just started at our local community college, I felt a deeper pit in my stomach when the names and especially the ages of the victims were read.
It is still unimaginable.
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks a Pharisee who has generously dumped judgement on a woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party and proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon, the host, while busy labeling the woman a sinner had himself neglected to show such hospitality to Jesus (Luke 7:36-50).
Do you SEE this woman? Do I?
Copenhaver argues in Chapter Two that Jesus’ question comes with risks. If we choose to see the woman, really see her, we might “need to move beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions“. We might “have to stop simply labeling her a sinner,” “relate to her as a person, as one soul to another,” and “respond to her with compassion” as Jesus did.
Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see these people?
In a recent report about the Umpqua shooter, it is suspected in part that he carried out this heart wrenching, violent act to gain notoriety and be seen. In a since-deleted internet comment he left regarding the August shooting in Virginia he concluded, “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
He is not the only one who ever sought the limelight.
Let’s face it.
So many of us long to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and deemed worthy.
We post our selfies to Instagram, share inspirational memes on Facebook, and tweet our daily comings and goings in an effort to be seen and validated. I have realized for myself that too often I am more interested in how many people liked or commented on something I shared than in what others have posted.
Blame quickly followed the reports of this mass shooting: too little gun control; not enough guns in each law abiding citizens’ hands; too many attacks on masculinity by too many feminists; too little mental health services. I even read vaccines and medications to be the ultimate culprits.
I, however, can’t help but believe that this horrific attack was due in part to the missing sense of community in the life of shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer. Who were the core people who truly saw him and related to him as a human being, “one soul to another?” Where were the individuals with the Christ-like vision to see him with compassion?
I would wager that such people in his life were few and far between.
Sadly even in the wake of his death, most are unable “to move beyond the stereotype or preconception” of him as autistic, or mentally ill, or bi-racial, or a loner, or the child of a single mother.
We prefer to label him a loser, as I’ve read in many on-line comments, or lay blame at the feet of his mother for her failures in raising him better or his father for not being a bigger part of his life.
Simon, the Pharisee, could only identify the woman who tended to Jesus as a sinner. He was unable to see her with compassion. He wanted nothing to do with her loser-self and was annoyed that she was usurping Jesus’ attention. It was all about him.
And today 2000 years later, nothing’s changed.
Individual needs seem to trump what the community would benefit from as a whole. On most days I see a society that is leaning more and more toward division, public shaming, disrespect, and disregard.
We would never dream of seeing mass shootings as a communal problem.
It is too difficult or impossible to consider the impact or consequences of how we treat one another. We can’t bother to compassionately see one another, especially the outsiders or outcasts. I’m questioning these days if we even know how. We fire off our personal world-wide-web opinions with no regard for the targeted people involved. (A reason, I believe, Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. He channels and personifies this growing attitude of disregard and disrespect.)
I listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame, yesterday as she addressed our 21st Century problem of cyber-bullying. She spoke of being one of the first to endure it and how today, even more so,
“We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Maybe my initial thought of Copenhaver’s chapter on compassion as being Kindergarten Christianity wasn’t too far off or wrong. Perhaps as a society that has developed a compassion deficit and empathy crisis we need to go back to the basics, the kind we learned in kindergarten.
Patti Ghezzi, in her article on Kindergarten Social Changes, admits that Kindergarten has become more about 5 year-olds being academically prepared for 1st grade.
“Still,” she writes, “a primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children to work together, share, accept each other’s differences, solve problems by communicating, and enjoy playing with each other.”
Let’s hear that again class:
A primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children
to Work together,
to Accept Differences,
to Solve Problems by Communicating
and Enjoy Playing with Each Other.
Come on people!
As a society we must acknowledge our current compassion deficit and empathy crisis and face down this destructive emotional epidemic by returning to the Kindergarden basics of cooperation, sharing, acceptance, communication, and play.
To embody more compassion and empathy requires we return to a more tender time, as children eager to embrace the world, open to the power and possibilities of community.
Let us then intentionally choose to truly see one another—
the so-called saint and the presumed sinner,
the liberal and the conservative,
the neighbor and the stranger,
the Muslim and the Christian,
the Citizen and the Immigrant,
the socialite and the loner.
May we rise above “the stereotypes and preconceptions” we have for the Other.
Let us refrain from the habit of slapping labels on people and instead relate to each other as human beings, “as one soul to another,” as we compassionately and empathetically engage one another in the world.