The other day I was listening to British author and commentator Karen Armstrong talking to Oprah Winfrey. The conversation was part of Oprah’s December 25 Soul Conversation podcast. I was walking to a doctor’s appointment as I listened and found myself nodding in agreement and speaking out loud to myself and couldn’t wait to get home and share this with all of you. (The people walking near me giving me odd looks were probably hoping I would’ve let them in on my secret enthusiasm as well!)
The basic premise of Karen’s talk was this: “The Ethos of Compassion is the task of our time.” Armstrong was instrumental in the creation of the Charter for Compassion (charterforcompassion.org), written by activists and thinkers in six different world faith traditions. The website says the Charter “is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter calls on us to activate the Golden Rule around the world.”
Says Armstrong, “We can’t go on treating people like we have….It’s not working. If we want a viable world it means we have to listen to one another and respect one another.”
She then reminds us that when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he wasn’t speaking about love in the way we define it in 2019. In the ancient world love was used in international treaties where two Kings who were enemies agreed to love one another. They were not expected to fall into one another’s arms and be best buddies as a result. Instead, they were promising to look out for each other’s best interest and understand each other’s pain.
Almost always, our anger and rage is born out of our pain. When we take time to understand someone else’s pain we cut through the anger and can offer compassion. If we want others to be more tolerant and compassionate, we first need to look within ourselves and examine our own prejudice, bigotry, anger and, yes, our own pain.
Just about every world religion has some version of the Golden Rule. There is a reason for that. When we offer compassion and love to others and treat others the way we want to be treated, we create a world of compassion. We create a world of wholeness. We create a world where prejudice, bigotry and hate cannot survive.
I share with you the questions I was asking myself as I walked down the street. Isn’t that the world God is calling each of us to work towards? Isn’t the reason we go to church to be spiritually strengthened, connect with God and find siblings in Christ who will share in this journey with us? Is there anything else more important? And, finally, can we let go of anything that gets in the way of this sacred work?