September 19, 2009

What is true compassion?

If you have ever watched VeggieTales’ “Jonah”, there is a point in the movie where Pa Grape defines compassion as this: when you see someone who needs help and want to help them. I looked it up in Webster’s Nineth Collegiate Dictionary and it used fancier words for the same definition. I love VeggieTales! Who would think that that such a simple definition would be in the center of so many arguments? Some people say that abortion is showing compassion to those women who are in a bad situation whereas other say that the truly compassionate deed is letting them experience the joyful bundle that comes out of bad situation. Some people argue that giving everyone health care insurance is showing compassion to the poor, whereas others argue that eliminating the huge debt we owe to other contries is showing compassion to future generations. Can we say “Ni Hao?” Sure, I know we can and possibly will. As a conservative, I have sometimes been troubled that the liberals seem to be more compassionate toward the poor, the downtrodden, the forgotten. Every time there is a national debate about health care reform, housing reform, etc., they talk about the plight of the poor and weak and that those people need help. I think George W. Bush must have felt the same way because he coined the term “compassionate conservatism” which, at the end of eight years ended up being neither, in my opinion. However, I come back to the issue of helping the poor and think, “Am I really being hard hearted toward the poor and weak and defenseless?” Jesus talked a lot about the poor and weak, didn’t he? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to help them? Would Jesus be telling me to support security blanket programs like Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and a public health insurance option?

Somehow, I don’t think so. All those programs, and the proposed public health insurance option, allow us to keep the poor and needy at a distance, someone else’s problem, without letting them become our neighbors. After all, if the government is helping the poor and needy, we certainly don’t need to concern ourselves with them, do we? We are showing that we love them indirectly, by allowing money we earn to be taken from us by the government and given to the poor. Boy, does my conscience feel better now. And I still have money to buy my daily venti caramel machiatto and cinnamon scone at Starbucks and amuse myself with my iPhone as I plan my next vacation to Disneyworld!

If letting the government take care of our neighbors is true compassion, then Jesus needs to re-write some of his stories, too. The guy who goes to his neighbor’s house to borrow food for an unplanned guest will be told by his neighbor, who is shouting through the closed door, to go three miles to the government office for food stamps so he can get the food free (Luke 11:5-8) or maybe he wouldn’t have gone to the neighbor in the first place. In addition, the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus told in Luke 10:30-37 should be re-written too. Instead of the Samaritan stopping, caring for the wounds, bringing the injured man with him at the inn, taking care of him through the night, and paying for the man’s continued convelescence there, Jesus would have the Samaritan stop by the local government office to tell the people working there about the wounded man. “Yeah, we know about him,” the government official would say. “You are the third guy to tell us about him. There was a priest a couple hours ago and a Levite an hour ago who told us about him. The problem is, that we have had to take care of so many people, we haven’t been able to pick him up yet. My guess is that he will get picked up and taken to the local inn for care in the next hour.” And they all went on their way completely justified. The end.

For those of you who aren’t into the Bible, there is another, very familiar story that no longer has relevance if letting the government take care of the poor and needy and uninsured is the right solution. It is as much of the Christmas tradition as is “The Nutcracker”, presents, and Christmas parties: It is a play that is run throughout the country based on a book written by Charles Dickens, called A Christmas Carol. It would become the shortest book ever because of the two gentlemen visiting Scrooge at the beginning of the story to ask him to give them money to help the poor on Christmas Eve. Scrooge asks whether or not the debtor’s prisons, the Union workhouses and the Poor Law had been dismantled—the government plan for taking care of the poor. When they assure him that they were still in place, his comment would be “I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course…I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” Then the gentleman would say, “Oh that is right, the poor ARE taken care of. Why are we even doing this?” And they start talking to Scrooge about the best way to invest their savings. The end. Scrooge wouldn’t be described as a “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone..a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping,clutching, covetous old sinner.” And he wouldn’t be visited by his partner, Jacob Marley, who at one point, wouldn’t be crying out in the hopes of changing Scrooge, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” The book would be approximately 50 pages at the most, unless he decided to add other events justifying Scrooge’s position because, after all, he did get paid by the word those days. By the way, the Poor law was the way the English government decided to help the poor. They required communities to develop buildings to house and feed the poor, in exchange for work. If you want more information on these poor houses, you can either read Oliver Twist or check out In the interest of context, Mr. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol nine years after a new Poor Law was established to supercede the old Poor Law, which apparently wasn’t working.

So this is my concern: if we, as individuals decide to let the government “take care” of the poor, will we become a nation of Scrooges, or at least a majority of Scrooges? Maybe we have poor people and uninsured people so that we can carry out our God-given responsibility of looking them in the eye when we are taking care of them. Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is this: “To love our neighbor as ourselves.” This means that we need to love our neighbors, the poor and not-so-poor, up close and personal, not let someone else throw money at them in the name of love. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan right after highlighting the second greatest commandments in response to a person asking him the definition of “neighbor,”. Since the Samaritan encountered the injured man on a road and didn’t know him personally, Jesus’ definition of neighbor isn’t necessarily limiting the word to the person who lives right next door. Loving your neighbor, however, is REALLY tough. I just moved from a neighborhood near Chicago and was recently reminded how long it took me to get to know my neighbors and how tough some of them were to get to know. Now I get to start all over again. Yippee. Family members are also no picnic to love either. For that matter, it takes a lot of concious decisions to love my husband and my kids at all times. I am sure some people feel the same way about me. And yet, I would not give any of them up for all the safety net programs in the world.

So now that I have realized that liberals are not necessarily more compassionate than I am, I can sit back, with my concience cleared and think about jumping in the pool with my husband and kids. And yet, there is still something tickling my concience. It is the thought that God does not bless us so that we can wallow in those blessings, like Demi Moore wallowing in money she received in some movie with Robert Redford. He gives them to us so that we can pass it on to others in some way. It doesn’t have to be money, but it does have to show love to someone else that He puts in our path, whether it is an old friend or a stranger. And that I should be encouraging people to be more personally liberal with the blessings God has given them so that the government doesn’t steal our God given rights to care for our neighbor. How about it? Why don’t you take the time to go somewhere where you aren’t comfortable and start getting to know someone you don’t know and may not have any common interests?

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