June 27, 2018
The Gospel and Compassion Fatigue
Last week, I wrote a pastoral letter on the separation and incarceration of families on the southern U.S. border. It was a subject that had weighed on me during my time away on vacation, and I felt it imperative to not only assure folks that I was paying attention but also to counterbalance the narrative that there is some kind of scriptural support for such horrific treatment of our fellow human beings.
I received several supportive responses from many of you who have been wondering how all of this could be happening and hoping that the Church would take a stand on the side of the vulnerable. I also received a response taking me to task for never having issued a similar call to action on behalf of Puerto Rico. I’m grateful for that. We all need reminders from time to time that people continue to suffer long after the spotlight has moved on, and that our silence can seem callous.
This reminder also sent me into a time of deep prayer and reflection, because the enormity of what is going on in our country and in our world can be overwhelming:
- More than 2,300 children separated from their parents in recent weeks on the border.
- 11,000 Puerto Ricans are still without power following Hurricane Maria’s devastation last September.
- Four years after lead contamination, Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean water.
- A devastating volcano rocked Guatemala earlier this month.
- More than 8-million people are threatened by famine in Yemen, and 2.5-million have been displaced by Civil War.
- Roughly 5-million refugees have fled Syria.
- 2-million have been displaced in South Sudan.
And then there is Myanmar, and mass incarceration in the U.S., and environmental degradation, and the rise in white supremacist activity, and on and on.
How do we, as Christians, respond to all the need in our neighborhood and beyond when our compassion is stretched so thin?
If we look at the example of Jesus, he frequently went away to a quiet place to pray (Luke 5:16). On many of those occasions when he tried to get away, the crowds would follow. Even his own disciples are said to have gone looking for him (Mark 1:36). Every time he was found, he did not say to them, “Leave me alone.” No, he listened, he healed, he addressed the needs that were right in front of him. One at a time.
When we are feeling overwhelmed by the world’s needs, we can and should pray. And then we must act. We are not required to personally address every single tragedy or ill that dominates the headlines, but we do need to discern which are the ones on which we can have some influence, make some change, help someone’s life be a little bit better. Maybe that will be the person right in front of you – on the train, in church, in line at the market.
There is a saying, thought to be from the Talmud, that goes:
Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
are you free
to abandon it.
Do what you can. Pray without ceasing. Love extravagantly.
If you are looking for ways to help financially, here are some possibilities you might consider. This is not an exhaustive list, but perhaps it is a place for you to start.
Episcopal Relief and Development continues to provide support for hurricane relief and other disasters around the world.
Many organizations are working on the US border with Mexico to assist those who have been incarcerated and/or separated from the children.
Closer to home, First Friends of New Jersey and New York works with immigrants and asylum-seekers in our area.
The Lighthouse in Jersey City houses asylees who have been released from detention but have no place to go.
Pastor Elaine speaks at a prayer vigil for immigrants and refugees.