Missiles, Syrians and Samaritans

Compassionate

When I started as a hospice volunteer, one of my first coordinators was a woman named Leslie. She assigns patients to volunteers who visit once a week, providing company to people who are at a tender time in life.

Leslie is one of the most compassionate people I know. Her kindness rubs off.

When Leslie started working as a hospice volunteer, she was given the chance to visit a man who was openly racist; Leslie is African-American. She agreed to look in on someone who might not welcome her.

A dying man needed companionship. She could provide it. So, she went.

The man was cold to her at first. She allowed him to decide whether she should visit again. He said that would be fine, so she returned. Persistently.

Week after week, she visited and showed kindness to the man, who slowly warmed to her. They grew into close friends during his final weeks. Leslie’s compassion changed the man’s heart.

That’s what compassion does. First, it changes our hearts. Then it compels us to do something to help another.

Compassion changes everything.

We saw an example of compassion trying to do its transformation thing last week. Donald Trump saw images of children killed by gas in Syria, and his heart apparently was moved.

“No child of God should ever suffer such a horror,” Trump said.

For years, he had insisted that suffering people in Syria and millions of refugees should be ignored – they’re not our problem. And yet, there he was, saying he’d been touched by those images of dying children. He could be indifferent no longer. He recognized these Muslim children as beloved children of God. He had to do something.

Compassion changes us

Of course, we can and we must debate his response. Creating missile craters in the ground in a show of power-and-might does nothing to help the millions of others who are facing horrors that none of God’s children should face. Refugees still face bans.

And we are left with some questions: Will our compassion be only momentary and severely limited? Does our response to the suffering of God’s children amount to making craters in a field?

There are many other children of God dying not from gas but from bombs and bullets and building collapses and disease and malnutrition — the many horrific things that are manifestations of war. Will we do something life-affirming and help them escape their horror?

Or will we slip back into fear and orthodoxy and dogma that wall off our compassion? Will we insist that it’s too dangerous to help and it might cost us some money as well, so we’ll move on?

Go and do the same

A Jewish rabbi from the Middle East takes aim on that attitude in one of his most famous and challenging lessons. He tells the story of a man who is robbed on a dangerous road and left for dead. Two religiously observant people see him and decide not to stop at this dangerous spot that has already been a target for robbers. Instead, they move on.

Along comes a dreaded Samaritan who is moved by compassion. The Samaritan not only puts himself on the line by stopping, but cleans this total stranger’s wounds – now that’s nasty and uncomfortable! – and then takes him to an inn and writes a blank check to cover whatever it costs to get him well.

We know how the story ends: Go and do the same. You can’t save everyone, but you can save this one. So, do it. Let compassion be your guide.

If our policy discussions start with a recognition that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be cared for in that way, then we’ll make more compassionate choices as we go down the dangerous road. They may not be the safest choices or the most comfortable choices or the least-expensive choices, but they’ll be the most God-like choices.

We’ll stop to help the one in need, whether it’s a left-for-dead traveler or a racist hospice patient or a terrified refugee family. We’ll be compassionate, as God is compassionate.

The silence on the bus

speak-out

Donald Trump’s voice is so jarring in the video as he brags about his sexual misconduct in extremely vulgar terms. There’s another voice that’s jarring, too, the one that laughs at all of the horrific things and encourages them. That other voice disturbs me just as much as Trump’s voice.

So does the silence from the other men on the bus.

You’ve probably seen the video. The presidential candidate essentially describes himself as an out-of-control sexual predator. He says he can’t stop himself from kissing a beautiful woman when he sees her. He says he gropes women because he’s a star and can get away with it.

It’s so dark and twisted that it makes me ill. And with each horrific sentence, that other voice – the one of program host Billy Bush – provides a laugh track and heaps praise.

“Yes, the Donald is good! Oh, my man!” Bush gushes as Trump’s comments get more vulgar.

Finally, when Trump says he gropes women and inflicts whatever he wants on them because he can get away with it, Bush exults, “Whatever you want!!!”

There are other men on the bus, too. We see them get off before Trump and Bush. We can assume they’ve overheard the conversation. Not one of them interrupted and said, “You did what? That’s repulsive!”

Their silence is bothersome and familiar, too.

Nobody said: That’s repulsive!

We’ve all had times when we were in a group and something was said that violated our values, but we didn’t speak up and later wished that we had. Speaking up can be difficult, but it’s the most necessary thing to do.

And this is a good time to remind ourselves.

When we come across the bullies and predators in our world, we can respond with either revulsion or silence. Bullies and predators want to have people around them who encourage their awful words and deeds.

If we won’t applaud them, the bullies and predators want us to at least abstain from criticizing them. That’s why we’ve seen such a pushback against so-called “political correctness” by hate groups.

Some people want to go back to the days when they could openly use racial, sexual, ethnic and religious slurs – all types of hateful language – without consequence. They don’t want to be held responsible for the pain caused by their words and their actions.

Instead, they want everyone to condone them by deciding not to challenge them. And it’s at times like this that people need to stand up and say: No! This is unacceptable!

All of it is unacceptable

It’s unacceptable to suggest that all men act in these lurid and pathological ways. They do not. To try to drag all men down to your level shows how far you’ve lost your way.

It’s unacceptable to write it off as just locker room talk, all fun and games. Sexual abuse isn’t a game. Fortunately, we’ve seen a pushback from professional athletes saying that such language is not acceptable in their locker rooms.

It’s unacceptable to say that other men have done equally horrific things, so it’s OK to do the same horrific things. It’s not OK. You are still horrific.

Bullies and predators are encouraged by our silence

It’s unacceptable to try to shrug the whole thing off as just boys being boys. Instead, we need to describe it for what it is: A man being a monster.

Also, it’s unacceptable to go to the other extreme and say that one man’s attitude and actions can be dismissed as rare. The comments on the video remind us graphically that a rape culture exists. While not everyone is a bully or predator, there are far too many bullies and predators in the world. The only way to stop them from preying upon people is to stand up to them.

We must not encourage them in any way. Nor can we remain silent. Bullies and predators persist because of others’ persistent silence.

Living our values means speaking up

This goes for the bullies and predators in our politics, our families, our communities, our religions, our organizations. We have to stand firm and say that what they’re doing is wrong and must not be tolerated.

That’s not being politically correct; that’s living our values. And if we’re not willing to stand up for what we value, then we don’t really have values.

We live in a society founded on the idea that all people are created equal and must be treated with equal respect. We come from religious backgrounds that recognize we are all equally beloved children of God and must be loved as such. Each of us has a responsibility to defend those whom the bullies and predators want to prey upon.

What the bullies and predators want is our laughter and approval. Or, at the very least, our silent capitulation.

We must give them neither.

Archie and me

Archie

I became well-versed in slurs during my childhood. I learned them in my neighborhood, in my church, in my extended family. I heard many different types of people demeaned with many different words.

I grew up in an ethnic area of Cleveland. Each immigrant group had its own neighborhood, its own tavern, its own bakery, its own church, and its own groups that it disliked because of past history.

Italians? They’re all in the mob. The Irish are drunks. The Poles are dumb. Blacks are uncivilized. Women are dim and emotional. Protestants are hell-bound. Jews are money grubbers.

On and on it went. There were demeaning terms for pretty much every group, including my group. And the mention of other groups could bring out the worst in some people.

That’s why Archie Bunker was one of my favorite television characters. I knew him. Also, I knew many people like his daughter and his son-in-law who regularly called him out for his prejudices. For instance, my dad would challenge my grandfather for using the n-word yet again.

The show came on TV at a time when another idea was taking root in America: People should be considered by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or any other superficial difference.

For a time, the slurs and the ugly jokes receded, although many people still felt comfortable telling them when they were around people like them. They’d complain that the country had become so “politically correct” that their slurs and jokes no longer drew nods and laughs, but criticism.

And they wished things would go back to the way they were. Back to the days when we openly judged people on the basis of the color of their skin or the country of their origin or the sex chromosome they inherited. And people would nod and laugh and agree.

Like Archie, they thought: Those were the days.

Well, those days are making a comeback in some ways, aren’t they?

A presidential candidate gets applause for saying a Mexican can’t be an impartial judge, or Muslims are dangerous, or immigrants are criminals, or women should be judged on their physical appearance. Or when he says that only rich people like him can be great.

And it’s not confined to politics. Religion is providing its own blast from the past: I’m going to heaven, but you’re not because you’re a sinner and I don’t want to have anything to do with you because I’m afraid it might jeopardize me. So go away.

My childhood, revisited.

Fearing those who are different from us seems to be our default setting as humans. It’s true for me. I’m more comfortable in groups of people who are more like me in some ways. People who think like me and have similar life experiences.

Yeah, there’s that little bit of Archie in me, too. It’s just a human trait, I suppose, woven throughout our history and religious texts. And so is this: The moral and spiritual imperative to push past our innate fears and learn to love each other and appreciate our differences.

Jesus loudly advocated for it, which got him into a hell of a lot of trouble. He reached out to the rejected groups of his times and welcomed them. He was constantly criticized for inviting the wrong people – the ones who were the objects of the slurs and the nasty jokes – to eat and socialize with him.

In fact, he made those people the heroes of his stories. It’s the dreaded, good-for-nothing Samaritan who is the model of behavior, not the religiously observant people.

Is it any wonder that people wanted to push him off a cliff?

So, what about us? Perhaps we start with never allowing anyone to be slurred or bullied or made the butt of jokes, even if there’s a price to be paid in standing up for them.

But it requires something more.

Perhaps the next time we encounter one of them people – as Archie would say – we could invite them for coffee or lunch. Instead of talking about our differences, we could share stories about what keeps us up at night, what breaks our hearts, what makes us feel alive, what we’d most like to change about ourselves.

And maybe along the way we’ll have a few laughs and change how we feel about each another a little bit. In doing so, we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere beyond the days that were great only for those slinging the slurs.