Friday, September 7, 2012

Compassion: The Heart of Christianity

Compassion is the cornerstone of everything Christian. 

Too often we don't think of Christianity that way. Christian organizations foster judgment  that separates good, pious, successful people from immoral, godless people. 

That's not in keeping with the most basic goals of humankind, which is to create loving relationships, networks, and communities. So it's no wonder so many of us don't find a home in Churches!

But don't listen to some TV faux-Christian jerks: Jesus Christ was about compassion, not judgment.

Compassion means recognizing in oneself the potential for the same weaknesses we see in the other; to relate the suffering of the other to one's own potential for suffering. Compassion is to forget our proud success and security, and to visit dark places in ourselves. Compassion is to see the hungry, poor, sick, and know, "I, too, can be hungry. I, too, can be poor. I, too, can be sick. I, too, rely on the help of others."

"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it."
Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
And that is what Jesus taught, and what Jesus was, because:

Christ is Compassion (Christian means Compassionate)

In the most basic, metaphysical way, Christ (and so "Christianity") is compassion. The name "Christ", Greek Khristós, which is a translation of the Hebrew Māšîaḥ, in English is "Annointed". The title refers to the Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the "messianic" prophesies of the Hebrew bible that would connect the physical, geopolitical reality of the tribes of Israel with their Yahweh.

Likewise, the core of modern Christian philosophy is the concept of transcendence. That is, Jesus the Nazarene was both divine and human, simultaneously. Which is to say that Jesus, God eternal, chose to occupy a distinct, limited time and space, to experience human emotions and shortcomings, and to suffer death. Why would God do such a thing? What does this mean for us, today? 

Well, to me it means that Jesus' entire person is was compassion - experiencing parts of life that we would like to avoid. So not only did Jesus teach about compassion, Jesus' entire mission WAS compassion. So we can boldly say that anything that is not compassionate is not Christian. 

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