January 22, 2010

The biggest truths in the smallest stories

Last Sunday I met female disciple Tabitha at Safe Haven Church that I've started going to, in Acts, chapter 9, in a sermon on compassion. Pastor Martin talked about the difference between pity and compassion. He said that pity is a heavy burdened heart for someone in a hard/sad situation...but that is where is stops. But compassion extends a hand to reach out to someone past the point of pity. At this point the Pastor turns to people and just shouts: "SLOW DOWN AND HELP PEOPLE!"

How often have I heard this sermon? What does it take for one to reach out after being moved? We can sit in church and be moved by his words, but yet we come back to the same seat next week and don't even know the names of the people that sit beside us. I call myself a Christian, I claim to love my neighbours, and yet I don't even know my neighbors names. How much does the Pastor have to raise his voice, and shout because he so badly wants us on this Sunday to "get it" and live it?

This past Tuesday I took the subway into downtown Toronto to meet with a friend I haven't seen in months. For the first time since moving here I was in a rush as I tried to get from the OHIP office to Starbucks. I ran with the crowd at the crossover to the Bloor line and stopped for all of a heartbeat to watch a staggering hungover woman struggle...no, I shouldn't make this sound nice...flailing around, smash her head into the wall, spilling her coffee everywhere. I looked- and just as quickly turned away and caught the subway.

As soon as I sat down on the train I had this sinking feeling as I realized just what I'd done- exactly what Pastor Martin told us not to do.

If I was in Africa, Asia, the Ukraine...I would have stopped to help her- in fact, it probably would have been shared as a heart touching story, or snapped as a brochure cover for some great humanitarian organization. But in my own neighborhood? I was too busy again.

I arrived at Starbucks 5 minutes early. That's all it would have taken for me to help her stand up and walk to somewhere out of a dirty stairwell where she could have sat down and had something to eat and a simple glass of water. I had time. In fact, in the stories that immediately come to mind in the bible that illustrate compassion- Jesus, the good samaritan, they were both headed somewhere. They didn't just aimlessly wander around looking for random acts of kindness- they had their own day and schedule ahead of them, people following them, and people to meet. But they had time. And so either way you look at it, I had time too... 5 minutes early, or even if it meant being 15 minutes late- I had time.

And so I thought I could check off the "not busy" part of the sermon as I look at my life and try to plant my feet here serving, being in relationships and community. But in a mere few days I lost it and became a failure once again to the Christian love Pastor Martin shouted about. I wouldn't even call it pity that came across me, but only pitiful.

...And so I wonder, what does it take to hear but then act?

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