Wednesday, March 24, 2010

With Suffering…

Some claim that waay before globalization, the internet or the growth of KFC, the original multi-national institution was the Christian Church. I think that’s hyperbole, but it hints at something true. We are a world community of faith. We’re Middle-Easterners, Congolese, Bosnians, and Iowans. We speak many languages, hold divergent cultural assumptions. Our dinner table would offer an astonishing array of tastes! But at its center would be something all recognize- bread and a cup. And the host, our friend and savior Jesus, might look different than anticipated, but we’d recognize his voice, the mirth in his eyes, and the impossibly profound depths of his compassion.

If you ask me, the vast variety of that mosaic is wonderful. But, alas, the picture isn’t always as beautiful as I’d prefer. Recent revelations about clergy abuse in Ireland and Germany shockingly remind us anew that Christianity’s worldwide reach doesn’t always match the caring touch of our leader. Christian churches, for all our divine foundations, will also always be simply human institutions- flawed, limited, capable of much good and evil. Sometimes, Christians forget that, and act like God’s grace precludes them from criticism or loving every neighbor. I’m firmly convinced, however, that most Christians act otherwise, that our interactions with God’s Spirit nurtures humility and compassion. Not always, never perfectly, but in greater quantity than expected, and it’s that story- of the billions of ordinary compassionate Christians heroes- that makes our faith praiseworthy, regardless the bad decisions or disgusting actions of some Christian leaders.

In our denomination, we live that profound story in many ways, though among my favorites is Week of Compassion. Brief tutorial for those unfamiliar- Week of Compassion is a non-profit organization that raises and distributes funds from Disciples of Christ churches, so that together we can provide relief to some of the worst tragedies of our time. Like after Hurricane Katrina, Disciples gave WoC some $7 million to distribute in aid. The count so far regarding Haiti is roughly $2.3 million. Also, throughout the year, WoC partners with other respected Christian agencies (Church World Service, Catholic Relief Services, etc.) to provide development assistance, and quickly respond to natural disasters, domestic and international.

Some of y’all might remember November 2008, when my stepfather-in-law preached here. At the time, he was Week of Compassion’s Executive Director, and he described his many travels on our behalf. He talked about Bosnia and Herzegovina, where WoC has long-standing relationships with communities still overcoming the brutal effects of civil war. He celebrated the immense outpouring of care after a 2004 tsunami wreaked havoc in Indonesia. Current Director, Rev. Amy Gopp, has continued Week of Compassion’s pattern of strong leadership. She’s kept attention on Disciples’ efforts to help rebuild parts of Iowa overrun by 2008’s floods. She wrote recently of visiting Central Africa, where she met resilient, remarkable women receiving WoC assistance, some of whom fled remote villages to escape soldiers that, as she said, “use rape as a weapon of war.” It seems that for all the world’s beauty, the range of its suffering also looms large.

You might know that ‘compassion’ comes from a Latin word-combo meaning “with suffering.” To have compassion is to “suffer with” others; to walk a mile in their shoes, especially when that mile is hard, because you care that they need a companion, or some help. So when I claim that Christian faith’s greatest story is about billions of ordinary compassionate heroes, I think that’s what I mean. Though not always, still quite often, following Jesus gives us strength to suffer with others when needed, just as Jesus suffered the Cross.

Every year, we take up a special collection for Week of Compassion. We’ll do it Palm and Easter Sundays this year, so many can give. It’s only one way, but to my mind, it’s a good way to practice compassion, to attend to others’ sufferings because you care. I invite you to learn more about WoC and as you’re able, to give. Together, Jesus’ Disciples can do incredible good, when we’re willing to suffer with others. As Jesus showed, there’s immense power in such compassion, perhaps even the power of new life.

Grace and Peace,


1 comment:

  1. Feel free to post whatever this letter brings to mind in this space. And if someone else's comments are thought-provoking, get a dialogue going! As long as everyone stays respectful...

    Thanks for reading.