Monday, December 30, 2013

A More Campassionate World

This is the time of the year when many people take time to reflect on the past year and begin making plans for the New Year ahead.  I guess it is good that the New Year brings us to a moment of reflection.  My conviction is we spend too little time reflecting upon our lives and the world around us.  Because our culture drives our lives at such a fast pace we seldom slow down enough to think and reflect.

The problem is our moments of reflection tend to be focused narrowly on our own lives or the small spheres where we live.  We make New Year’s Resolutions to improve or change our lives.  We want to lose some of our excess weight.  We want to restart our exercise program.  We want to read a new book each month.  We want to finally take care of some of the things on last year’s “to do list.”  While I don’t want to minimize any of these or the other things on your resolution list, maybe it is time for us to think bigger.

Why not change our world?  A few weeks ago I watched a TED Talk by Karen Armstrong I had not seen even though it was posted in 2008.  Karen Armstrong is a religious scholar who has written more than 20 books on faith and the major world religions.  She has focused on how these faiths have shaped world history and continue to drive current events.   She was the 2008 recipient of the TED Prize, and her wish asked religious leaders around the world to work with the TED community to help her launch the Charter for Compassion.  It is a document and a movement focused on the implementation of the Golden Rule around the world as we work together for peace.  Her premise is the Golden Rule in one form or another is a part of every major world religion.

I believe too much of religion today drives people apart in a world where we need acceptance, understanding, and relationships.  My faith centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He said in Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV) the first and greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Then he said the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

He also said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  Karen Armstrong says a lot of religious people would rather be “right” than to be “compassionate,” but I believe we are called to be compassionate.  We are urged to even “love our enemies.”

I realize “world peace” is a tall order for a New Year’s resolution, but if we are going to change the world we have to start somewhere.  I decided to start with me.  I recently finished reading Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  I decided my resolution for this year is “to live a more compassionate life.”  I decided to intentionally focus on the incorporation of the Golden Rule into my daily life during 2014.  Any of you who know me well will realize the challenge before me.  I have to pause long enough to reflect on “the other person” and how my actions will impact them.  I have to do a better job of choosing how I live and relate to other people instead of just reacting.  I want to live in a more compassionate world, and I decided I needed to start with me. It is not complicated.  It is just hard to do. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Support the BJC on Giving Tuesday!


Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday and many good causes are available for you to support.  One of my favorites is the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  I have the privilege of serving on the Board and the Executive Committee for the BJC.  The BJC's mission is to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government. 

The Baptist Joint Committee is composed of representatives of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States and supported by thousands of churches and individuals across the country.  We work with a wide range of religious organizations providing education about and advocacy for religious liberty. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. 

While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership.  If you are looking for a worthy cause for #GivingTuesday, I would encourage you to consider the Baptist Joint Committee.  

For those unfamiliar with #GivingTuesday, it is a day to celebrate giving and a wonderful opportunity to both give and give back to the nonprofit organizations that mean the most to you. Thank you for supporting the BJC on #GivingTuesday and every day!

For Christians, Human Rights Rooted in Our Faith

Human rights are commonly understood as fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.  The Baptist World Alliance is promoting Human Rights Day on December 7-8 (depending upon whether they worship on Saturday or Sunday) around the World.  The date coincides with the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 after the conclusion of World War II. 

The declaration includes thirty articles and states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  The opening statement in the preamble says the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”  I believe the statement is a strong statement and a worthy goal for the global family, but my foundation for human rights is rooted in my faith experience.

It finds its foundation in the creative activity of God, the giver of all life.  We are all brothers and sisters by creation, and we are bound together by our common humanity.  Jesus urges us to “do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).”  We cannot and were not meant to live in isolation from each other, but in relationships, communities, and societies.  These relationships and the larger communities were to be governed by justice, mercy and compassion.  Jesus’ words in the sixth chapter of Luke make it clear that the standard for how we treat each other is not based on whether we deserve it, like each other, or trust each other.  There is a deeper, more significant foundation for how we treat each other.

In a world where fear and greed become the foundation of many relationships, God’s children are to be advocates for a different approach.  Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal safety because each person is seen as a child of God.  A Christian cannot accept any type of slavery, torture, cruel treatment, or discrimination because these are incompatible with the teachings of our faith and the nature of God as we know him through Christ.  Yet for a Christian, our understanding of human rights goes well beyond the obvious injustices.  We must lift up the fallen, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, visit the prisoners, speak for the voiceless, and love our enemies. 

What does it mean for the Baptists of North America to promote human rights?  As people of faith we must stand with the oppressed peoples around the world.  We cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and inhumanity.  We cannot allow our greed and lifestyles to be an excuse for the oppression of people in other parts of the world.

Much of the American church has bought into the scarcity mentality and systems of greed in our country which pit people against each other instead of promoting community.  A growing percentage of our own population lives below the poverty level, and many people go hungry in the wealthiest nation in the world.  Millions of Americans do not have access to quality, affordable health care because we have made “health care” into one of our most profitable marketplaces rather than a basic human right.  In our criminal justice system the wealthy and the privileged that are “guilty” are far better off than the poor and the minorities who are “innocent.” 
Human trafficking and slavery are a reality in our country as they are in many parts of the world.  Religious oppression still exists in a country founded upon the principles of religious liberty.  We cannot speak with authority to the world family about human rights until we take a serious look at our own communities.

Jesus called for a radical realignment of human values and relationships.  Americans like to talk about “their” rights, but as children of God we are to stand for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable.  Human rights not just an issue in troubled regions of our world.  It is an issue right here where we live every day.  When will the church stand up and say injustice is wrong?  When will the people of God stand up for the basic human rights of “every person” in our communities and around the world?  Jesus’ parable said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Human rights is not an abstract exercise for conversation, it is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it should the passion and mission of every person who bears his name.

This article was written for EthicsDaily.com and was originally posted on their site