Passion and Compassion

Time and again over the past couple of years I've come back to the issue of compassion, be it because of a perceived lack of compassion within the church particularly in this wee part of the world, or because I find it hard to practice any sort of self-compassion (the latter perhaps conditioned by the former).
Well yesterday, in my re-reading of Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" I came across his "definition" of a pastor as:
"a person who was passionate for God and compassionate with people."
Snappy. It has a "mission" statement/soundbite character to it, uncharacteristic of the usually forensically careful Peterson. But I'm trying to work out the implications of it.
Passion usually refers to some powerful emotion... Whilst it may be focussed on a person, or thing, often it can become intensely selfish - the person or thing may be the object of the passion but ultimately it is all about satisfying the emotional needs of the person experiencing that passion... Now there is a theological sense in which that is true of the passion for God that Christians in general and, if Peterson is true, pastors in particular should experience. An encounter with the God whom we were (according to Presbyterians anyway) created to glorify and enjoy forever, should satisfy our deepest need. Sadly, however, it can be corrupted into something both selfish and superficial at the same time... Responding to Jesus as our "heavenly boyfriend", as per the critique of some contemporary worship songs... A real, passionate relationship with God must go much deeper than that, reshaping who we are in the light of his love and holiness...
And the manifestation of that should be our compassion for others... The word usually translated as "compassion" in the New Testament could more accurately be translated as "splenetic" - a feeling deep in the bowels... or spleen to be more anatomically correct. But the prefix "com" implies a shared passion... a passion that encourages us to stand "with" someone... An emotion that physically moves us to do something...
An emotion that motivates us to campaign on behalf of those who feel voiceless... even if we may not like what they have to say...

An emotion that motivates us to argue for a change to economic, educational and political systems that have served me and mine well, for the sake of those who have not fared so well...

An emotion that motivates us to do more than press a like button on a facebook campaign, or sign a petition or even donate money by whatever means, but to actually go and do something with someone...
An emotion that motivates us to get off our backsides and onto our knees, and off our knees onto the streets...

I say all that against the background of the If campaign launched today... I am fully in support of this, and hope that all right-thinking individuals will be, whether Christian or not...
But whilst I hope that we will be passionate in our support of it, I hope it goes way beyond sharing soundbites and clever images on twitter/facebook... motivating us to look at how we spend our money and time as individuals and churches... standing alongside the poorest in our communities and the wider world, in the face of those who consistently write off entire communities and indeed countries as feckless scroungers who need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (if they possessed boots in the first place).

This Sunday I'm speaking at the World Development service of another church on our circuit and they have picked Graham Kendrick's song "Beauty for brokenness" as one of the hymns... The chorus of that song is as good a way as any to sign off:
"God of the poor
Friend of the weak
Give us compassion we pray
Melt our cold hearts
Let tears fall like rain
Come, change our love
From a spark to a flame"



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