Church Redux: How do we build better schools of compassion?

I just finished reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, which documents a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There was much about the book I appreciated, but I was also struck, again, and again, by how well-worn the teachings they set forth are. Compassion. Gratitude. Seeking to serve others rather than fixating on oneself. Three quarters of the way in, I felt a little desperate for something I hadn’t heard, in church or life, thousands of times before.

Ashamed of myself, I honestly thought of these good and holy men: come on, guys -- at your age there has to be a deeper secret. But in the end, this IS the gift of wisdom human beings have been given. The most spiritually sage, like these wonderful octogenarians, simply know these things more deeply, practice them more fully:

  • Pray or meditate each day.
  • Practice compassion.
  • Cultivate Gratitude.
  • Seek to love and serve others, especially those who suffer.

But if we know all these wise things, if we’ve heard them hundreds of times before (in or out of church), why are we ... well, you know. The way we are. Not particularly joyful as a planet right now. And if, as the Dalai Lama believes, the hope for humanity lies in education, how can the church do a better job at being a school for these virtues?

Speaking of old things, this is not a new question. But each generation might need to answer it anew. How are we going to form communities in Christ that are at least semi-effective schools of discipleship, schools of compassion?

As a parent, I think about these things with more urgency. As a person who would like to grow in love for God and neighbor through these practices but need a lot of help, I yearn for structures that would support me. I’m guessing I’m not alone.

As globalization and information / bad news overload keeps our heads spinning, we need communities that will help ground us in these age old truths. This week, will hear these two jarring passages from scripture:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”   (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16)

For Christians, this light is Jesus. All those practices mentioned by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu? Jesus said we should do these things, showed us the way, asked us to follow. (Like 2,000 years ago. Other major religious leaders have said the same. I credit the Holy Spirit.)

We’re still working on it, right?

But how can the church support EVERYONE in these well-known, if not well-worn, paths to joy and justice?

Not everyone is yearning to engage in this spiritual strength training. We don't have to look far to find examples of men and women who are not so interested in humility, healing the poor and suffering, discovering unexpected power through vulnerability.

"For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."   (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“To us who are being saved:” Whoa. Big baggage. But I translate this in my head as “to us who are being made whole.” 

The message about the cross --  about power in and through humility and self-sacrifice, and a God who loves us so much there’s nothing we can do to shake that love (even, say, trying to put God to death) -- there’s a lot there to spark prayer, compassion, gratitude, service. And, I should say, I am (maybe literally) eternally grateful for the way the church has carried that torch, that story, through the ages. 

Yet practically speaking, how can the spark of that story, the spark of that truth, shape our lives more fully, light the fire of our days and not just represent the votive we look at each Sunday? We are being saved; we are going made whole; it is our work, alongside God, for however many days and weeks of life we are given.

If the church, the gathering of those who seek to follow Christ, is (in part) a school, how can we better train and support one another, and our children, in these daily practices of discipleship, of growth, of being made whole, of being saved? Ideas welcome.