It must seem like a broken record...

It must seem like a broken record (or at the very least a scratched CD or malfunctioning MP3) when I keep going back to the role compassion plays in my emerging theology. But it is all too clear that both professionally and personally I continue to understand and experience the essence of God just like St. Jewel says: in the end only KINDNESS matters.

In this concluding autobiographical reflection on theology and ministry at the close of the church year (earlier I have blogged about the role of both the arts and feasting) I continue to be surprised at how important the words from Matthew 9 are to me: go and learn what this means - God desires mercy/compassion - not sacrifice or religion.

These were not the words that first called me into ministry. No, back when I was 16 sitting in the Potter's House in Washington, DC I was touched by the words of Jesus in Luke 4. Like many aspiring social activists I was energized by the way Jesus made the prophesy of Isaiah his own: The Lord has called me to proclaim good news to the poor, release of the captives and all the rest. Nearly 30 years later, this call to justice is still vital - and I am committed to living into ways that bring healing to our wounds - but I have come to see that I was not called to large acts of social transformation.

When I entered seminary, however, this realization was not clear. In fact, by the time I entered Union Theological Seminary my social justice emphasis had intensified. Luke 9 fueled my zeal: "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." It was ALL about commitment I believed and I was a spiritual hard ass on myself and anyone who would listen. Once St. Jim Forbes calling me into his office and said: Man, why are you in such a hurry to get yourself killed? Even Gandhi took some time off for study and reflection. Can you give yourself permission to do likewise? Good words from one of this land's finest preachers... but I was too stubborn and unhappy to listen.

Like the old timers put it: when you're only tool is a hammer, everyone looks like a nail. It was all very black and white - good and evil - right and wrong to me for a long, long time. And it wasn't until my life was falling apart for the first time - during my divorce when all my religious friends were more interested in judgment and being right than helping me deal with my inner demons - that I came across the words of Jesus concerning compassion. In some ways, I was reaping what I had sown - and I hated it.

How ironic and holy that it was only the outsiders - the lesbian, atheist and feminist - who had room for me in my broken and wounded incarnation. And it was through their ministry of presence and patience that I was able to hear Jesus when he said to me: "Go and learn what this means; the Lord God desires compassion not sacrifice." These are the words that continue to shape ministry and bring life to me.

I guess it is often true that you can't give what you don't have - and you can't really walk the walk without getting rid of a whole lot of garbage. In preparing for today's worship I came across some words by Walter Breuggemann, whom I value and respect dearly, about how the wounds of the world are signs of what is wrong or out of balance. And while I suspect there is truth here I have also come to think that this type of zeal is part of the problem; rather I sense that the wounds within and among us are reality.

Like the mystics say: Reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we have to start with what is real no matter how harsh or painful. Sometimes these wounds can be healed but sometimes not. So the real invitation is to journey with other wounded souls in solidarity for this brings compassion to birth. And when grace and compassion are made flesh... miracles abound.

Two other scriptural parallels have taken on new meaning, too. First there is Peterson's reworking of Matthew 11: are you tired and burned out on religion? come away with me and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. BRILLIANT. And second is Psalm 131: O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks. I do not occupy myself with great matters or with things that are too hard for me. No, I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother's breast, my soul is quieted within me.

Now I'm ready to enter Advent and learning how to better wait with Mary the Christ-bearer.

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