Surrounding Yourself with Compassion

First, a story by Alaska journalist Shannyn Moore:

I saw something beautiful tonight.
I hesitate to put words on it. I fear I won’t capture all the wonder of beauty. I will try.
I stopped at the corner store on the way home from the studio. I was finishing a phone call and noticed a woman in the parking lot. She had no where else to be. Homeless. She loitered. I finished my call. We walked in at the same time.
Two women worked the counter. I see them from time to time. They smiled at me. Hellos were given.
One of the women said, “Are you a customer?” to the homeless woman.
“I don’t have any money, ” she said. “I need to use the bathroom.”
The woman frowned at her. She’s already beaten. Why make her feel less than beaten? I thought.
The other woman said, “You can get two hotdogs for two dollars. Here….”.
She pulled out two dollars. Crumpled dollars. Dollars that would get this lost woman to a bathroom as a customer and some food.
She looked at the other clerk and said, “Ring her up for two hotdogs.” She handed her the money.
I stood there at the counter. The now “customer” walked to the bathroom. The two dollars went into the register. I was next.
I burst into tears.
I consume so much of the news. The ugly. The hanging of women in Afghanistan and the frustration of an ignored war. The attacks on women’s rights. Chris Christy is an ass. Etc.
This was so beautiful to me. A woman – paid little to man a corner store who gave dignity to a homeless woman. Her kindness was gorgeous. Her grace and mercy on a woman who is lost in her circumstances is so much more Christian than most people who hang crosses around their necks.
“Are you Okay?” she asked me.
I’m fine. I have a home with a daughter who loves me and two dogs that bark too much.
I wiped my tears away.
“Thank you for reminding me that people are more good than bad.” I told her.
The first clerk said, “She does that all the time. I don’t know how she makes rent feeding these people.”
Words failed me. I found a twenty in my wallet and handed it to the other woman.
Thank you for taking care of people. She said she couldn’t take it. She’d be fired. I didn’t take it back.
I walked to Harlon – my Subaru.
My phone rang again.
The woman with two hotdogs and a relieved system walked past my car into the Alaska night. Her survival so dependent on kind souls like the corner market lady.
I think of our elected officials who want to punish the homeless more….like the first clerk. They also like to think they are Christian. They are not.
Thank you corner store lady. Thank you for reminding me how much love still exists. I love you.

I love this story because it reminds me that simple acts of compassion are the building blocks of humanity. I understand why Ms. Moore brings up the hypocritical faith of politicians in her article, because that is her world. And because they are easy targets. And I agree with her. Too many public officials wear their faith the same way they wear a flag pin or even a suit and tie–it is a necessary accessory for getting elected. And they are violating the Third Commandment, “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.”

But I also have to say that I see acts like this on a daily basis. I pastor a downtown church in Medford, Oregon, and we have more than our share of homeless or just plain downtrodden people coming through our doors. On Wednesdays we fill our fellowship hall with food, and let people come in and “shop” at no cost. People leave with shopping carts full of food.

On Sundays we get an odd assortment of people coming in our doors. Along with the regular parishioners we get people who really just need a place to get out of the cold. Last Sunday a homeless man wondered in, hoping to find a alcove to sit in, but before he got far he was given a cup of coffee and invited to sit in with everyone else. Or he could go sit in alcove. His choice. He choose to stay (possibly because this was our informal service, and you can drink coffee while I am preaching) and as I watched the congregation deal with him I realized that they treated him like any other visitor, in spite of the fact that he was clearly having a conversation with the voices in his head during the service.

If you live in the rough and tumble world of politics as Ms. Moore does, and as I did for a short while in the Alaska Senate as an aide, you lose sight of the some of the goodness that exists in the world. The environment affects us, and without realizing it, we start to think everyone acts in the same way as the people around us. (When I worked at the hospital, I often found myself thinking that half the world was sick and the other half was dying.)

That is why being a part of a compassionate community is so important, whether that community is a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or secular social club.

I do wish that those who wear their faith on their political sleeves (and I am talking to you, Governor Parnell) would heed the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Thank you, Ms. Moore for a beautiful piece on everyday compassion, and for encouraging us to those acts.

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
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4 Responses to Surrounding Yourself with Compassion

  1. Jake says:

    Pastor Murray,
    Thank you. I need these and your insights and counsel continue to be there for me and my family even from a distance. Miss you. Again thank you for being you and being there for me.
    Jake Poole

  2. Shannyn Moore says:

    Thank you for thinking enough of my writing to re-post. I wanted to be a minister when I was growing up and into my early twenties. Not being a man was a problem at that point.
    Thank you for your care for your community. Thank you for your care of everyone.
    — S Moore

  3. tmrichmond3 says:

    While the church may lost a wonderful minister, Alaska gained a great journalist!! (Of its never too late!) but what you are doing IS a ministry. Thanks.

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