Truth and Empathy

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We don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. We can’t know or bear anyone else’s burdens. We don’t feel anyone else’s pain. We can only know our own. And that being said, because we all have burdens, it should never be a competition…i.e., my pain is worse than yours or I learned my lessons faster than you have, etc. Our journeys on this planet are unique to each individual. When I weigh out my troubles during prayer time, I am often overwhelmed by the ripple effect that our actions have on other human beings. I am aware that when I allow my personal struggles and fears to fog my eyesight, my behavior changes: less open, less empathetic, less loving. I also know how it affects me when others treat me in a closed, judgmental or hateful way, its like a punch in the stomach making it harder to bounce back. In response, I am  continually refocusing my prayers to help me include bringing openness, empathy and love to all  people, specifically to combat the growing deficit of these qualities in the world. I know all change begins with me. I decide the tone and tenor of my journey on this planet and it is my belief that being open, empathetic and loving will have an even bigger ripple effect than being closed, judgmental and hateful does.

When I start at this small level I can build up the skills necessary to bring out the big guns when I need them. What do I mean? Becoming skilled at being open, empathetic and loving has changed my whole perspective, hope begins to thrive and my own burdens become significantly less. A simplistic solution, I know…that’s why working hard on the simplest circumstances help gird my loins for the tougher circumstances. Knowing the back story of a truly vile person that is rooted in the most tragic of circumstances does change the level of judgement that I have about them. It has to. If I am trying to evolve as a person…IT HAS TO! It doesn’t mean that people who break the law get a free pass, or people who make bad choices don’t have consequences. It does mean that when I respond back to them in an open, empathetic and loving way…I take control of the situation and that is where the truth lies. I learn a lot from friends of mine who are defense attorneys. They hear another side to the story. They stand for people who have made mistakes, or who truly haven’t, all of whom need help facing a complex system. They advocate fairness in a way that the world outside the justice system does not (OK an aside here, I am not referring to the inequities of the present justice system…just for the importance of hearing the other side of every story). I also learn a lot from friends and others who are counselors, pastors, doctors, etc. who hear the “other” sides of the stories we would like to bypass so we can feel comfortable in smug judgments. I am also privileged to hear many stories that have staid the hand of my own judgment of others in my own life. What I know is this: most people are not inherently evil, most were taught to hate (I have to be truthful here, I say most because the jury is out on some who actually are evil in my mind…but then I am a work in progress). And when you offer openness, empathy and love in response, they do react differently. Change has to start somewhere.

Being open, empathetic and loving isn’t just reserved for the more heinous behaviors of the population either, it also allows me to share in the goodness and wonderful experiences I hear about every day too. The joy of another’s win, accomplishment, and kindness all give me hope and encouragement to keep me on the road that I am on. And for those of you who share in my faith, Jesus affirms my celebrations of openness, empathy and love as well in MT 7:1-18:

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite,  remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s or sister’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand their children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread, or a snake when they ask for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.

The lesson here is clear: spend less time judging, help is always available, and the only acceptable judgement is determining who the wolves are by the fruits that they bear.

Truth and Circumstances

In a perfect world, truth would be so much easier if everything were transparent…except, its not. Transparency isn’t the norm. So much of the circumstance of every human encounter remains hidden to each participant. How much personal pain, damage, courage, experience, deception or thousands of other bits of circumstance color the reaction expressed in each encounter? I would venture to say a lot. And yet so often we behave as if we know it all and are completely comfortable in the quick judgments we throw out into the world. In the last few days, I have been part of many conversations and observed the behavior of many on the national level that were rooted in misunderstanding and steeped in unwarranted judgement. Its exhausting, pushing down the desire to quantify and qualify everything. In the war between “my truth” and “your truth” does “real truth” get lost?

If we knew more of the “circumstances” that were behind every encounter, would we behave differently? I would hope so. Would a rash of angry and misinformed threats fall differently if the other party knew the circumstances that the other party was struggling with? Again, I would hope so…even if it only meant that words, perhaps angry or harsh, were then not taken personally, or to heart, but created a greater sense of understanding and empathy instead. As Christians, (since I am one, I claim no expertise on any other faith, which is why I use my own as an example) Jesus tells us: to walk in another’s shoes, to judge not lest we be judged, to turn the other cheek, to take the plank out of our own eye before we point out the speck in another’s eye, to be merciful, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and above all to tell the truth. Truth and living mindfully of these commands go hand in hand.

The other side of the circumstance coin is the person who hides deep deception and all other deviant qualities, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I certainly have been the naive one in that equation, and I consider myself a pretty astute observer. The “truth” here cautions us to be careful, to take the time and effort necessary to not only give each person a break, but to remain cautious while the substance of what they speak is revealed, which usually takes more time than we are willing to commit to. Without trying to sound like a broken record, media, social, opinion or news, have created such a market that perpetuates snap judgments that do more to destroy the truth en-mass than any other mechanism I can think of.

In your next encounter, think of the mass of circumstance that you can’t see. Be mindful of how much you hold secret too. Truth takes time, and kindness.

Beauty

cropped-cropped-cropped-gods-sunset.jpgI have been stumped on this one for days. My commitment to clarity has found fault in every attempt at bringing forward a response to the private sadness-es extended to me, the brokenness, and the unbearable burden of living in the skin that they’re in. Be it stress, self loathing, anxiety about the future, never fitting in…the list goes on and goes deep. I could write about societies skewed views on beauty, weight, identity, intelligence, gender, etc. but so many have done a better job at it…and I continued to feel like there was an idea, a word, a first step just outside my consciousness that others hadn’t addressed, that I could create a different context for. Then, this morning it came to me…Job.

While perusing the news and social media, I came across a post that made my blood boil about defining “who and what” is made in God’s eyes. In general, a pastor went on about who God intended men and women to be, which seemed completely contrary to everything I have ever understood about God. It was that moment when Job, in the Wisdom books of  the Old Testament, popped into my head. Here is a primer: Job has a wonderful life in every respect. God is reveling in how faithful he is, and the Devil speaks up and says, “well, sure he is…he has everything. Take it all away and he won’t be so faithful.” To which God replies emphatically, “Go ahead, take away all that he has, but do not harm him” The devil takes up this wager and takes everything and makes his life unbearable. Horrors unimaginable happen to him and throughout the story, Job’s friends and even his wife try to convince him that he had to have done something wrong to have received God’s wrath. Job wishes he had never been born, demanding answers from God. Then a man who claims to know God’s mind instructs Job in what he should do to get back in God’s graces. God has finally enough of people bombarding Job their opinions and claiming to know his mind. He goes on a long diatribe that begins like this:

Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding? Who determined its size, do you know? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid the cornerstone?  While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the children of God shouted for joy? And who shut within the doors, the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, And said “Thus far shall you come, but no further, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!” Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown dawn its place? For taking hold of the ends of the earth, till the wicked are taken from its surface?…….

 

God goes on for pages asking questions that no one could know the answer to until Job finally responds:

Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth…I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I have heard you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.

God then sees that Job has learned and repented, and restores all his blessings.

What strikes me most in this time, with this old and wise story is how often I hear men and women preach about what is in the mind of God. I wish God would come down and say to them as clearly as he did in that ancient story, that unless you can answer the litany of questions that I posed to Job, don’t speak as an authority of what is in my mind! At 56 years old, I am still trying to figure that out, through many trials and errors. The arrogance of the judgments made in the name of God make me physically ill. But that doesn’t mean we can have no understanding at all, we have a history of faith to pull from. First and foremost, though, I think the place to start is to learn to see and appreciate the beauty that he created, including the beauty that is each and every one of us. If we can’t start there, with what is right in front of our eyes, then we can’t begin to understand the masterful construction of God in anything else. Seeing beauty as God does, counter intuitively must begin through our own eyes, the created, at our own reflection. Until that happens, any beauty we think we see or strive for out in the world is nothing but an illusion to try to become something other than what we are at this moment, which is loved by an omnipotent and magnificent God. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take care of and nurture the beauty that we are, it just means we accept and celebrate the blueprint…which can include any amount of differentiation, like being born with the brain of one gender into the body of another gender. It is expressing that blueprint with each individual’s best effort and not defaming it in any way, regardless of the challenges, that we acknowledge the brilliance of God. Imagine how wonderful the world would be if each of us could just accept that God made us exactly the way we are for a reason and trusted us to do the best we can with what we have.

When an individual or group condemns one of God’s creations, be it gender, or size, or ethnicity, or class, it is also how we can know with surety that someone does indeed NOT speak God’s mind. There are no mistakes. When anyone says, “this creation is an abomination”, or denies the beauty of it, they move further away from understanding God. The New Testament is full of opportunities to see and hear things in a new way, the way God intended. When any person tried to trap Jesus into condemning anyone, he refused and usually threw the judgement back at the accuser, because all are welcome into God’s kingdom.. We need to be more like Job, recognizing our smallness compared to God, and admit that there is just too much out there that we cannot know, and most importantly humbly trust in God even though it might be beyond our understanding.