Book Summary – Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Justice, Theology
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 Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

Henri J. M. Nouwen
Donald P. McNeill
Douglas A. Morrison
2005, Image

Finished February, 2013

The primary lens through which most of us view the world is competition.  Compassion can play a small part of that competition, like the eraser on the end of a pencil.  This book, however, advocates that we make compassion a more critical place in our lives and that we should be come “compassionate as God is compassionate.”
Chapter 1 – God With Us
We often make the erroneous assumption that presence must be useful (12).  “God wants to know our condition fully and does not want to take away any pain which God has not fully tasted (13).”  “God is wholly other (18).”  “I am not the esteem I can collect through competition, but the love I have freely received from God.”
Chapter 2 – Servant God
“God does not want to be known except through servanthood and that, therefore, servanthood is God’s self-revelation (26).”
God is revealed in Jesus Christ as servant, therefore, we too should become not just helpers, but co-exist with the suffering as servants. [more…]
Chapter 3 – Obedient God
Becoming suffering servants must be done out of obedience to God rather than personal will.
Chapter 4 – Community
“The compassionate life is a life together (47).”
“We might ask, however, whether mass communication directed to millions of people who experience themselves as small, insignificant, powerless individuals does not in fact do more harm than good.  When there is no community that can mediate between world needs and personal responses, the burden of the world can only be a crushing burden.  When the pains of the world are presented to people who are already overwhelmed by the problems in their small circle of family or friends, how can we hope for a creative response?  What we can expect is the opposite of compassion: numbness and anger (51).”
“Our continued effectiveness requires a mental filtering system by which we can moderate the impact of the daily news (52).”
“When information about human suffering comes to us through a person who can be embraced, it is humanized (58).”  See context for how Thomas Merton responded to suffering in context.
Chapter 5 – Displacement
Chapter 7 – Patience
Discipline can either be a way to express control and promote efficiency or a way to express the compassionate life.
“Patience is the discipline of compassion.” (89)  Patience and passion both find their root in the latin word for suffer.  If we are unable to do a bit of suffering ourselves, we cannot suffer with others.  [Stoicism can help here.]
Too often patience has been perverted to mean subservience to those in control.
Patience as the “3rd way” between flight or fight.
“The transportation business is, in fact, a commercialized impatience…people have to keep moving.”  (95)
The basis of impatience is “living in clock time.” (95)  Clock time urges us to hurry, hurry, hurry and is “always making us depart.”
“clock-time judgment”
Chapter 8 – Prayer
“To pray for all these people is not a futile effort to influence God’s will, but a hospitable gesture by which we invite our neighbors into the center of our hearts.” (107-108)
Chapter 9 – Action
“Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation.” (114)
Activism should be done out of a sense of gratitude, not anger (or revenge for wrongs done).  This way the giving will function as receiving.  Burn-out will not be the ultimate result of the activist.  Activism should come from the deepest, God infused part of our being.
God is with us and a new earth is birthing.
The illustrator, Joel Filartiga, a doctor for the poor in Paraguay, had his son kidnapped and murdered.  Joel found comfort in drawing for this book.

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