Politics. Mostly yelling. Deep divisions. Both sides challenging the other. Polarization. Which lead to paralysis. And nothing gets done. Jesus actually lived in a similar time. But he challenged people to practice a different kind of politics — a politics of compassion.
The challenge of living compassionately is embedded in the Shema, the ancient Jewish command to love God with everything we have, to love our neighbors, as we love ourselves. It was the answer Jesus gave to the scribe who had asked what the greatest commandment was. And Jesus went so far as to say the whole law and the prophets rested on that command.
So, what does a politics of compassion look like? One of my seminary professors, Dr. Frank Rogers, described it this way:
Rabbi Lea Rosen and her lesbian partner recently had moved into a town where Lea was to be the new rabbi for the Temple there. They moved into a home that was kitty corner from Jack, an angry kind of person who, it became clear, was very anti marriage-equality.
One day Lea came out to her car to find a flyer attached to the car’s windshield by a huge stone, one that could easily shatter the windshield. The flyer said, “Anti Marriage Equality Rally this Saturday at the Park at Noon,” and scribbled on the flyer was a note to Lea that said, “I dare you to try and stop us!”
Rabbi Lea was shaken, and for the first time felt physically threatened. Her first thought, one many of us might have in a moment like this was to fight back. To threaten back.
But she knew deep in her heart that that kind of response would not change anything. So she and her partner prayed. And listened. And then Lea acted.
She wanted to know more about Jack, what his story was. Jack was a Catholic, a deacon in the local parish. He also thought himself the “best chili-maker in the whole state!” Jack was also active in the work of the animal shelter.
Lea came up with an idea. She got all of her friends together and planned a chili cook-off for the Saturday of the marriage equality protest. The proceeds from the cook-off would go to the animal shelter. Saturday came and the two groups, the protesters and the chili cookers, came to the park.
Now, the chili cookers were having such a great time that the protesters really wanted to join them. Lea went over and invited Jack to join them saying, “I understand you are the best chili-maker in the town,” to which Jack replied, “in the whole state!”
Lea continued, “I wonder then, maybe you could come over and taste some of the chili and give your opinion.” Reluctantly, Jack went.
To make a long story short, Jack and Lea, over the course of the next year, became friends.
One day at the coffee shop Jack asked Lea how she knew she was a lesbian. She shared her story, and then asked if Jack had ever known a gay person. “My younger brother was gay,” he answered. “He had AIDS, and when he told our parents, they ostracized him. The church ostracized him. He went to another town where he died alone. That was 10 years ago.”
“In my tradition, when someone dies, we say a Kaddish for him. I would be honored to say a Kaddish, our prayers for the dead, for your brother. Would you join me?”
So Jack joined Rabbi Lea in the Temple, and, together, they said the prayers for Jack’s brother. And a wound from long ago began to heal. Two people, once politically opposed, shared their humanity.
The politics of compassion.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.