Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Compassion and anger

Exploring the Rangitata river bed while stewing on life and ministry.
We have at least 40 people come to our Friday night drop-in centre. Many are mental health patients. Nearly all of them are unemployed and possibly unemployable. I talk with them, play pool and table tennis with them and generally mix and mingle. Some of their life stories are horrendous. I looked at one guy, a 70 something alcoholic and saw just a wasted life. I see illiterate people, emotionally injured people, deeply paranoid people and people who just can't seem to think straight. We often encounter smelly people and again and again we see people not coping with life and heading down hill in their appearance, their state of mind and their overall well being.  I often find myself feeling deeply sorry for them. At the same time I get angry. I get angry at the sort of society we are where we just spit so many people out of the backside of our systems! (education, economic, health, justice, family life, even their own life choices and the culture that encourages these ) It is a funny mixture of compassion mixed with anger. The same could be said with my encounters with people in chaplaincy and church. I often feel deeply sad for their circumstance. I ache for the distorted, hurting lives of the people, but I am angry at the values, perspectives, choices and culture that brought them to the difficulties and sadnesses. "If only they had..." I scream to myself in frustration.

I have been studying the passage Mark1:40 - 45. A man with a rough and scaly skin disease came to Jesus. In that culture such a disease would mean he would have to live in isolated places, away from family and society in general. He was considered "unclean" by religious authorities and there would even be those who would ascribe his condition as some punishment for sin. This man came to Jesus and it says in verse 41 that Jesus was "moved with pity". Now the original Greek words could be also translated that Jesus was "moved with anger". In some places the same words have been translated as this. Which was it here? Jesus in verse 43 Jesus spoke "sternly to him". Maybe he was angry with him?

I, with the backing of some scholarship on this, want to suggest it was both "compassion" and "anger". Jesus felt deep compassion for this man's physical, cultural, social situation but at the same time anger at the values in a society and the religious mindset that made this man's life worse than it need to have been. It was compassion with anger.

That is helpful to me. I am often filled with compassion and love for people. As I mix with people I relish the love, warmth and the sense of "worthwhileness" in the relationships I share. I find deep fulfillment and happiness in the people-work I do. At the same time, however, (and you will know this if you are a regular reader of my blog) I am often filled with anger, frustration, depression and want to quit at least once a week. These feelings are not negativity for the sake of negativity. They are not me wallowing in self-pity. (though sometimes they are) They are anger and frustration because in the first place I love and yearn for people's circumstances. I am angry at people, systems, values and perspectives which keep people down. This can be frustration at Church baggage and traditions. This can be frustration with people who I think should know better. It can be anger at our society's destructive values that we all buy into.

Anyway it helps explain how I can say that following Jesus brings to me happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment, and yet often I can come across like a misery guts! (Woe is me - life is hard)  Like Jesus, I am moved by compassion AND anger. That Greek word which can be translated with two meanings has real depth to it and rings true in human experience.
Post Script:I drove into town to my work for today with a country music tape blaring on the car stereo system. Being country music there was a fair proportion of "Oh lonesome me" and "She done me wrong" type songs. I got to thinking, "It would be easier not to love in the first place!" This is true of all love. If you love or feel compassion, you are going to hurt. You are going to be sad at some stage. As above compassion often leads to sadness and anger.  If you don't want to be sad, don't love... but then miss out on the essence of life.
The other thing I decided was that I should more often, where I can, deal to the things that make me angry. For example: I am angry at the waste of life that alcoholism does to a person. As well as caring for and supporting the person, like I often do, I need to be attacking our society's attitudes to drink and its place in our culture. Funny how country songs prompted thoughts. 

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