“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. yours are the eyes through which he is to look out, Christ’s compassion to the world. yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. yours the hands with which he is to bless now.”
– mother teresa
okay, almost there, just a few more & the year’s almost over! this particular dream of “what could be“ is maybe the nearest and dearest to my heart because i firmly believe that this was, is, and always will be the defining characteristic of Christ-followers–our ability to extend love, mercy and compassion. unfortunately, these are not the typical words that people will respond to when asked “what are some characteristics of Christians?” we all know that the words on the tip of many people’s tongues instead are probably more along the line of: judgemental, critical, homophobic & mean. when people think of Jesus, their responses usually land in this area: loving, kind, merciful, compassionate. it’s a bummer that so much of the work that many Christ-followers have done over much of history to care for the poor & marginalized all over the world hasn’t seemed to translate in an overall perception of christians. we can blame all kinds of people & circumstances for our bad press, but i don’t think we can escape that christians have gained a bad reputation. unfortunately we tend to not be known for our love, mercy & compassion. why? because so many have become entangled in contemporary culture that tends to focus on self, independence, survival of the fittest, and a “let’s-not-get-our-hands-too-dirty” mentality. (you can read a really fun piece on the refuge blog that my friend amber wrote for last saturday’s gathering that touches on this issue from an interesting angle of the innkeeper who gave mary and joseph a place to birth Jesus).
for me, it really all goes back to Jesus’ summation of the whole entire law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. we can talk about love, we can preach sermons about love, we can read books about love, we can quote scriptures about love, we can long to love. but the bottom line is that the only way to really learn the ways of love is to extend it, to try it, to do it, to risk it, to enter into another person’s life & let someone into ours. and this is what “the church” sometimes isn’t the greatest at teaching us. but Jesus, our primary teacher and the one we should be listening to most, shows us the way. it’s the people who matter; doctrine, rules, the outside of our cups mean nothing. focus on people, on hearts. go out of your way to extend your heart and help and care and concern to those who need it, whatever that looks like. sacrifice yourself. lose your life. stop and help. shore up wounds. offer healing touches. look the outcasts in the eyes and remind them of their worth. this is what we as individuals, as a body, should be about. if we are really living out the gospels the way that Jesus modeled for us, then we should be known as the weirdest, craziest, riskiest lovers-of-people in town.
so what’s the path there? how can we learn to become people, communities who extend love, mercy & compassion in extravagant crazy ways? here are a few thoughts that come to mind:
if we haven’t received it, it’s really tricky to give it. in other words, if we are not in touch with Christ’s love, mercy, and compassion for us, it is awfully difficult to give away. when i first started this blog i wrote about the difference between “to” “for” and “with” relationships and the potential danger of missional mindsets being focused on hand-down “to” and “for” charity-like relationships that are more focused on us feeling better than actually getting into the muck and grime of real poverty & pain. “with” relationships usually come from people are in touch with pain, hurt, struggle & have tasted grace, mercy, compassion. when i think of the story of the good samaritan i can’t help but think that he was someone who understood what it felt like to be on the outside, the margins & that is what motivated him to stop. i am not saying the only way to extend love is if you have a huge crazy painful redemptive story because thankfully everyone i know hasn’t had to endure the same level of pain. what i am saying, though, is that without a true heart connection to God’s redemption, grace, and mercy in a practical & real sense, it is hard to pass it on to others. i think this is a reason why so many Christians might end up judgemental and harsh toward others–they feel the same thing from God. learning to receive it will require creating places to practice. this is why i am still believe so passionately in intentional gatherings of people, no matter the shape or size or form, so that we can learn these things in practice not theory.
safety matters. i have written about this before so i won’t revisit it, but it may be worth a little glance over to that old post about becoming safe people, safe communities. when i say “safe” i am not saying “tame.” the ways of God are so far from tame. i am talking about reckoning with our unsafeness individually, corporately, and continuing to ask God to help us become safer people for others. the safer we are, the more likely those who are in desperate need of love, mercy & compassion will be willing to engage in true relationship.
going is more important than coming. loving others should have nothing to do with “typical church”, as in a service or a program or a time that we gather. this hidden motive is what messes up all kinds of things for people. what if we just went to where pain was and brought love and hope there, period. people connected to the refuge love people all over the place who never ever “come”. sometimes it is hard for me because i know that it would be easier if they were around, if they could meet others, oh all kinds of things, but i am learning to let it go, to extend the web freely & unconditionally, and to commit our hearts to love long haul, bring light to dark places, to go, as best we can.
quit thinking these things can be measured. it just doesn’t work that way. there’s something far bigger going on whenever love, mercy & compassion are extended that we may not see or notice or ever get to actually see the fruit of, so please oh please let us not assess ourselves or others by looking for something that will somehow make us “sure” that what we offered was worth it or valuable or important. let’s give it for the sake of giving it and trust that God is always, always, always at work.
“if you can’t love 100 people, just love one” – one of my favorite mother teresa quotes is “if you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.” i think it’s adaptable here. sometimes we think these ideas have to be so big and effect a huge amount of people in order to be worthy. so we get paralyzed and miss out on what’s right before us. small, simple acts go further than we think, especially in a harsh & cruel world. let us never underestimate what a kind word might mean for someone, what a cup of cold water might mean for another. one’s always better than none.
it’s supposed to hurt, it’s supposed to be hard. so many of us have been taught that if we just have “good boundaries” somehow we can enter in to others’ experiences. well i’m all for boundaries, but i think many a person has been rejected, ignored, dismissed for the sake of “good boundaries.” real love, real mercy, real compassion will cost us comfort, pride, ego, time, money, all kinds of things we usually try to hold on to. and when they start getting pushed, our natural tendency is to run, retreat, avoid, and start leaving it back in the hands of “the professionals.” oh, what a mistake. real love is going to hurt, irritate us, frustrate us, confuse us. there’s no way around it. but it will be in the midst of that that we learn more than we probably ever expected about what Christ modeled & meant when it comes to love.
as usual, way too much ground to cover in one post, but i think you get the gyst. what are you learning about love, mercy & compassion? i’d love to hear more.
here’s my hope:
that we’d be people & communities radically in touch with Christ’s love for us & continue to risk our comfort, ego, time, money, and heart to offer mercy & compassion to others. that we’d be somehow known as ‘those weird people who love other people unconditionally, tangibly, and in all kinds of crazy, unexplainable ways.”
God, help us be brave vessels of your love, mercy & compassion whereever we go, wherever we are.