Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee. Christ. Compassion.

After Penny's and my workout this morning, I indulged in one of my spiritual disciplines:

I went to my favorite coffee shop to enjoy a bold, black coffee and to read The New York Times.

I was content at my table until a man with a long, tangled beard came in the front door. He went to the merchandise displays, mumbled something to himself, and then sat down near me.

He started thumping the table with his hands and talking to himself. Very loudly.

No, he hadn't had a large coffee with six shots of espresso.

Something else was going on. He started to curse his partner, invisible to me, across the table from him.

By now, my contentment had changed to concern.

I'm sensitive to people with illnesses, especially mental illnesses. The ill should receive the very best care available, but I know that many of them don't because they can't afford it; they don't have insurance for doctor visits or hospital stays or money for medicines.

The man at the coffee shop might be one of these people. Or he might have medical insurance, which paid for treatment in the hospital and as an out-patient and for his medicines, but for some reason, he's stopped taking them; it happens a lot.

I didn't ask him about his situation. Uneasy because of his behavior, I left. I went outside, found a table, and finished my coffee and paper, glancing from time to time through the window to see where the man was and what he was doing.

At one point, I noticed him standing near the counter--a small cup of coffee in his hand, talking with someone. Not the invisible person this time, but one of the staff.

After the man left, I went inside and asked my friend who works there about the man, whether he'd had any trouble with him.

"I gave him a sample," my friend said. "And I talked with him a little. And he left."

"You handled that well," I told him, embarrassed at how I'd reacted to the man.

This morning, I responded to that mentally ill man with fear and suspicion. The next time, I want to respond as my friend did--and as Christ would--with compassion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning from the Chilean miners

With millions of people worldwide, I watched some of the 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days of being trapped deep within the earth. One by one, the miners were hoisted to the surface in a cage-like tube.

The miners survived because they cooperated with one another. They acted as a team. And their survival has something to teach us.

Above the surface, we humans are unable to get along, especially today in America amid one of the most venomous political campaign seasons in history. Whatever the office sought, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, Independents throw themselves against one another like dogs in a pit savaging one another until only one is left alive.

We can do better. We deserve better. And voters must demand better.

What none of the candidates realizes is that whatever our political party, we're all fighting for survival against many threats, including: a persistent recession, massive income inequality, global warming, hatred and"isms" of all kinds, war.

Yes, we have different ideas about overcoming these threats, but differences needn't destroy us. Differences can be discussed, debated, refined into better policies to solve our problems. Moreover, differences shouldn't be exacerbated and exploited by cynical political manipulators for party advantage.

If we continue to attack one another, like pit bulls; if we continue to work against one another, thwarting solutions to national and global problems, then we're doomed. We'll die in the dark.

But if we work together for the common good--not for one party's domination of the others--then we'll survive and even thrive as a nation and people.

What worked underground for those miners will surely work above ground for all of us.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lending a hand

"Hey, can you give me a hand?" A giant man with a hurting knee was asking me to help him up the steps and out of the hot tub at the fitness center.

"Sure, " I said, and I used both hands to help him out.

He said thanks. And I felt good helping a fellow human being, even in this small, simple way.

Jesus is God's hand out to us in all our needs. He's God offering us a hand up and out of all that keeps us from the fullness of life.

And as the followers of Jesus, we're to be His hands outstretched to the world and to human beings in their needs.

That man's need at the fitness center was for help out of the hot tub.

But other needs confront us daily: a hungry person needs food, a lonely person needs a visit, a discouraged person needs a call or note of encouragement.

We might not hear the words, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" with our actual ears, but we certainly will hear those words, that cry for help, with our spiritual ears.

That's Christ in the other person's need, seeking our response.

In taking that man's hands in mine, I was taking Christ's hands in mine, and Christ was taking mine in His, and there was communion in that moment of compassion. And joy.

May you meet Christ, too, in answering His call, "Hey, can you give me a hand?"