In a marketing email I received last week, I read the following:
Two people pass a beggar on the street. One sees a lazy bum and feels indignant. The other sees a victim of circumstance and feels compassion. Same beggar, same street, different perception. To each relationship we bring a lifetime of our own experiences, values, ideas, prejudices, hurts, and successes—all of which affect our perception of the person across the table.
It got me thinking that ideally the difference in how we see that person on the street should be guided by our Christian faith. The teachings of Christ clearly call us to be compassionate and not judgmental. So each and every church and each and every Christian would respond accordingly.
Uh huh. Right.
OK, so the sarcasm was probably stronger than it should be. I think most churches and Christians would respond with a degree of compassion. Someone might empty their wallet into the man’s cup, or even take him somewhere to be fed and housed. Another might scrunch up his face and wonder why these people are still on the streets in spite of the homeless shelter down the street. Both compassionate, but to different degrees.
It’s easy to learn judgment. It starts with not talking to strangers then evolves into avoiding people who smell bad, have what we interpret as threatening body language or erratic behavior. If you get asked for money often enough you just start blocking the whole thing out.
But learning compassion is harder, and something we need to be teaching in our churches. A lifetime of experience tells us to avoid the crazy lady with no teeth who yells at no one. Through mission we learn that her name is Edith, she has four kids, used to be a school teacher but when her husband died things seemed to change for her.
But that understanding only happens when we feed her, clothe her, care for her, love her as Jesus would have.
Of course the real danger in reaching out to Edith is she might come back on Sunday morning, sit in worship without bathing and heaven forbid might bring a friend with her. (More sarcasm there if you didn’t pick that up).
Back to the original quote: To each relationship we bring a lifetime of our own experiences, values, ideas, prejudices, hurts and successes. The key is to bring those positive things into our lives to balance the negative. This can only be done by leaving the church building and going out to be the church.