Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: compassion

Cats and compassion

We share our home with three cats. Each one came to us as a feral kitten at about six months old. This summer they will be 15, 7 and 6.

They are dependent on us for shelter, food and affection. They tolerate each other, but don’t appear to really like one another, though Pookie will let us know when Angus wants to come in. But as soon as Angus is in the door Pookie acts like he wants to fight with him. They never do each other any harm, though.

Angus came home twice with a bloody ear and now has two neat v’s notched on his right ear. My wife thinks he was scrapping with some other neighbourhood cat, but he showed no other battle wounds. I think that both times he probably lost a game of tag with the magpies.

They appreciate the comforts of home, having a special preference for the two recliners or the two office chairs, which happen to be our preferred seats also. They often interrupt our work with loud demands for food, for brushing or to be let outside.

Our laundry centre is located beside the hallway between the office and kitchen. Every once in a while we will hear Angus calling loudly. There he is, on top of the washing machine and wanting one of us to come and pay him some attention.

Two of the cats shed a lot of hair; we are often awakened in the middle of the night by a cat wanting to go out. The only reward we get is knowing that they like us and feel secure being in the same room as us. And nothing can compare with the contented purring of a cat on one’s lap.

Despite their annoying habits, we love our cats and think most of the distractions are good for us. Which leads me to ponder: am I as compassionate towards the people around me as I am towards my cats?

Compassion for a magpie?

magpie-1987710_1280A magpie is one of the most striking and beautiful birds that you will see in our parts. Its iridescent feathers may appear blue or almost black, depending on the way the light falls on them.  Adults are 46 cm from beak to the tip of their long tail. The wingspread is 64cm and they are very graceful in flight.

Their song is anything but graceful, a harsh, loud chattering. Most people consider them a nuisance, even a pest. They steal pet food left outside and two of them will torment a cat, one chattering and walking back and forth in front, just out of reach, the other trying to sneak up behind to peck the cat’s tail.

Magpies are members of the Corvid family, related to crows, ravens, blue jays and gray jays. Birds of this family are reputed to be the most intelligent of all birds. Magpies are the only birds that can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Magpies are year round residents here and I consider them a nuisance in all seasons. My daughter likes to see them around, I can’t imagine why.

However, for the last few days I have sensing a most unfamiliar feeling within myself towards at least one magpie. We see it daily, pecking around on our lawn. It is unmistakably a magpie in all ways but one – it doesn’t have a tail. We wonder what disaster befell this bird that it has lost its tail feathers. It can fly, but it seems to take more energetic flapping of the wings than usual for a magpie.  I’m sure the loss of a tail makes a big difference in its aerodynamics.

I’m sure the tail feathers will grow back. In the meantime – who would have ever thought that I would be feeling compassion for a magpie?

Jesus as agent provocateur

Doesn’t it appear that Jesus deliberately did things that he knew would provoke the Pharisees to reveal their lack of compassion?

Jesus healed many people of their blindness; in some cases he touched their eyes, in other cases there was no physical contact, he simply declared them healed and they were. Why then did he make such a production out of healing the blind man in the incident recorded in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John? He spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. What was the point of that?

Well, it was the Sabbath. The work of making mud and spreading it on the eyes of the blind man was a violation of the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus went on his way and left the man to face the outrage of the Pharisees. It was not slow in coming: “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day;” “We know this man is a sinner.” When the formerly blind man did not agree with that judgment, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. (“cast him out” verse 34).

Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to talk with the formerly blind man, who now acknowledges him to be the Son of God. By this time he had seen what the Pharisees were really like, no doubt so had many of the bystanders.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).

The Pharisees were exceedingly zealous for the law, but could not get their heads around the idea that love had any place in fulfilling the law. They were sure that they had caught Jesus in flagrant violation of the law. In reality, He had snared them into revealing their lack of love.

In the end the Pharisees were so outraged by Jesus’ continual challenges to their authority that they raised a mob to demand that He be crucified. The crucifixion, rather than being the triumph of the Pharisees and the forces of darkness, was where they were defeated. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

Love is always subversive of the forces of evil.

Quebec city shooting and aftermath

Monday evening a man with a gun walked into a Québec City mosque and began shooting those who were there to worship. Within an hour, two university students were in custody, Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohammed Belkhadir. Before long, the police announced that only Mr. Bissonnette was a suspect, Mr. Belkhadir was a witness; he was released after several hours. Mr. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of murder. Two more victims remain in critical condition in hospital. All were shot in the back.

Mr Bissonnette did not belong to an extremist group. He had voiced some critical views about Muslims and others, but nothing that would have sent any warning signals about his intentions to proceed to such drastic actions. He is not a symptom of something terribly wrong in Québec society or Canadian society. I don’t know what can be done to stop persons acting alone who feel that they have received an illumination revealing that they can make the world a better place by going out and killing a few people.

Mr. Belkhadir spoke to the media after he was released and explained why he had been arrested. He had been leaving the mosque when he heard gunshots and went back inside. He had been providing first aid to one of the injured when he saw a gun pointing at him, thought it was the gunman, tried to get away and was quickly apprehended by the police. He said that he fully understands that running away made him appear suspect, but that the police had treated him well and he had no ill-will toward them.

The gun pointing at him was in the hand of a police officer, not the gunman. I am thankful to live in a country where police officers are not trigger-happy. The gun was not fired, Mr Belkhadir is alive and unharmed.

Government leaders and politicians across the country said all the right things about feeling sorrow that such a thing could happen and feeling compassion for the victims and all those affected by the shooting.

Perhaps Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec said it the best: “Spoken words matter. Written words matter.” He was not advocating censorship, but urging us to be careful to get the facts straight and to use words of kindness to others. He finished by saying: “We are all Québecois. Once we say this, then we talk to each other. Next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?”

We have been tested by the hatred shown by one young man. The reaction from across the country has given me an assurance that the great majority of Canadians are people of compassion, not hatred.

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy cannot be a passive virtue: kindly feelings towards someone in distress are worthless if not accompanied by action to help relieve the distress.

There may be a time when we are called upon to perform some major act of mercy, but we should not waste our time searching for such an occasion. Rather look for opportunities to do small acts of mercy every day. In the long run, more good will be done in this way than by standing around waiting to do something big.

Better yet, don’t be too particular about being recognized as the doer of those small acts of mercy. An amazing amount of good can be done if we don’t care who gets the credit for it.

It is true that others are apt to respond kindly to the one who shows kindness but don’t count on it. Don’t be merciful for that reason, rather look on it as storing up treasures in heaven.

Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

A man looks at the Proverbs 31 woman

Perhaps it is foolhardy to attempt a fresh look at this ground that has been turned over many times by better men than I, yet I confess that I am not altogether convinced that they have found the true treasure hidden in this field. Parts of it have been unearthed and displayed for our edification in such a way as to appear unattainable by any mortal woman.

Let me say at the beginning that I believe that Lemuel is Solomon and that this chapter contains the teachings of his mother, Bathsheba. That is the ancient Jewish tradition and the modern attempts to find a better explanation are not convincing.

Verses 10 to 31 form a poem written in acrostic style where each sentence (verse) begins with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, thus 22 sentences in this poem. I will give my thoughts on four points in this the description of a virtuous woman.

First, this woman is a person in her own right. She is not the property of her father, her older brother or her husband, though no doubt each are important to her. Neither is she the servant of her children, though they are precious to her. She is not a person living her life in subservience to others, yet her life finds its meaning in her relationship to others. Her freedom, and the use she makes of it, is the most surprising aspect of this poem.

Secondly, though her family is the main focus of her life she is a leader, not a slave. There is nothing said about the meals she prepares but I would perceive her to be like the modern French woman who says “C’est moi qui décide.” “I am the one who decides what my children shall eat. They need nutritious and varied meals served at regular times and I wouldn’t dream of catering  to a desire for sugar laden snacks at all times of the day.”.

She knows that she is the teacher that her children will learn the most from and she does not waste the opportunities to teach them respect and kindness and the other important lessons of life. She enjoys watching her children play and have fun, all the time knowing that she has the authority to let them know when their fun is in danger of going too far.

She sees to it that her family has suitable clothing for all weather and all occasions. She makes the home a place of warmth and security.

Thirdly, she  contributes to the family income. She is described here as one who buys wool and flax, weaves them into cloth and garments to sell, then uses the proceeds to buy a field and plant a vineyard. This is a revolutionary concept. I believe that women in Canada did not have the legal standing to purchase property in their own name until about 100 years ago.

But note that none of her work takes place outside the family setting. Today we have gotten our priorities turned upside down. A woman who does not have a career outside the home is often made to feel that she is useless, a parasite on society. Go ahead and have children, our society says, but give them to the experts to raise. Well, the “experts” are not doing a good job of it. A mother is the true expert at raising her own children. To scorn the value of the things she does in the home to raise useful and productive members of society is entirely wrongheaded.

There are many things that a stay at home mother can do to contribute to the family income. Farm wives have always been an integral part of the farm workforce. The wives of small business owners contribute in many ways to the success of their husband’s business. Others have found ways to bring in income through home based businesses. There are many opportunities, but home and family are always the first priority of a virtuous woman.

Fourthly, she is known for her wisdom. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” A wise husband will readily admit that he learns much from his wife. She often has sound advice in how to deal with difficult situations. She draws inspiration from the Word of God and applies it to life from a perspective that he would not otherwise see.

She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hand to the needy.” This also is wisdom, the wisdom of compassion that is at times lacking in men. We live in a day of government programs to help the needy. They do much good, but no program can perceive a broken heart and give the personal touch of compassion that will help it heal.

What I see in these verses is not a list of requirements that a woman has to measure up to in order to be considered virtuous. They are rather a general description of the nature of a virtuous woman and a list of possibilities for her to explore.

The weakness of God

As I reflected on the latest atrocities, in Jakarta and Ouagadougou, perpetrated by those who claim to be followers of Allah, my mind went to a well known quotation: “A fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do, if God really understood the facts of the situation.” I don’t know the name of the author, but it seems to me that the person who seeks to kill in the name of his god is implicitly acknowledging that his god is powerless.

This is true for religious fanatics of all kinds. The Crusaders were sent out in the name of God to destroy the infidels, which included Muslims and anyone who called himself Christian but didn’t hold to the Crusaders brand of Christianity. The result has been a millennium of hatred of Christianity by Muslims and the disgrace of Christianity in Europe.

Christianity was never meant to be a state religion, imposed by force on unwilling citizens. Genuine Christians have often faced persecution, from the apostolic era to modern times. Often the persecution has come from those in authority who called themselves Christians. Let me make two things clear:

  1. When someone calls himself a Christian and tries to silence, or even kill, someone else who calls himself a Christian, we can safely assume that the first person does not really know God or Christianity.
  2. When someone is opposed, oppressed or persecuted because he calls himself a Christian, and that person does not respond in anger, hatred or violence, that is good evidence that he truly is a Christian.

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. ” (The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25; 27-29).

This is another way of saying that faith, love and compassion have more true power than all the things that the rest of the world takes to be emblems of power. The power of God to change people’s hearts and lives may seem to be weakness, yet it is a power that is still at work after swords and cannons have turned to rust.

Historically, the faith has spread most rapidly in times of persecution. When people see someone mistreated, tortured and killed for no other reason than his faith in God, when that person was seen as someone who loved his neighbour as himself, and when such a person has faced death without fear, that has been a powerful witness to all who look on. “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

Zealous Christians who do no evil to others but rather seek their good and do not try to force their faith on others, are not fanatics.

 

Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor

Jesus told the rich young ruler: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He didn’t really mean that, did He? There must be some hidden meaning . Many preachers and teachers have expounded their ideas of what that hidden meaning might be.

Let me begin by saying that it appears quite plain that Jesus literally meant that the rich young ruler needed to do exactly what He said. That was Jesus’ message to this particular person in that particular time and place. The gospels also record numerous instances where Jesus warned that the temple, Jerusalem and the whole Jewish kingdom would be destroyed. What good would earthly possessions in that region be then?

Those who united with the followers of Jesus after the day of Pentecost got the message: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45).  “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).

They believed the Lord’s warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem and they were preparing for the time when they would need to flee. Josephus tells us that there were no Christians left in Jerusalem when the Roman siege began.

That was then, this is now. Does Jesus still want us to sell everything we have and give to the poor? It may be that there are individuals today to whom He is saying this, but I believe His plan for most of us is quite different. Nevertheless, the Bible makes it plain that the accumulation of wealth should not be our primary goal in life. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Do we want to be so attached to material possessions that this warning of Jesus applies to us?

“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Timothy 6:9-10)  “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (verse 17).

Perhaps the area that is most in need of change is our attitude towards those who are poor. Do we tend to blame them for their poverty? After all, often they appear capable of working, yet very often are idle. and when they do have money, they spend it quickly on the wrong things. Do we understand the hopelessness and futility that these people are feeling? They do not have a network of family and friends to help them find good jobs, help them deal with banks, government agencies or even find the education and health care that they need. When you have all that and take it for granted, it is difficult to understand those who are not even aware such a thing is possible.

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (James 2:1-6)

The sedate, the frolicsome and the frantic

We have three cats and the words above describe their personalities. Panda is the oldest, we consider her to be the same age as our oldest grandson, which means that six weeks from now she will be 13. She was part of a litter discovered in an abandoned car in a back alley in Saskatoon and taken in by a cat rescue operation. We had to pay for her. We assume from her large size, long hair, the ruff around her neck and her serene personality that she is mostly of Maine Coon cat ancestry. She is all black.

Her personality fits well with the elderly couple who share this house with her — my wife and I. We both spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer and when we feel a need to get up and do something more energetic to get the blood flowing again, Panda doesn’t lift an ear. She will come several times a day to where I am working and sit patiently until I take note of her. As soon as I make eye contact, Panda is on her feet and heading towards the kitchen, her ears laid back to hear if I am following. She stops at the place where we keep the comb and brush and waits for me to pick one of them up and come and groom her.

Pookie is our youngest cat, a feral flame point Siamese who showed up half-starved on to our doorstep when he was about six months old and has never left. He is the bounciest and friendliest of our cats, still likes to spend as much time as possible outdoors, but comes home to sleep. He has a little patience and seems to get it when we are too busy to jump up right away to see what he wants. He is the smallest of our cats and has stayed quite lean because of his exuberant lifestyle. He does not like to be picked up, but if we sit on one of the recliners and put our feet up, he will probably jump up on our lap. He is very agile, his jump seems effortless and he lands like a feather.

Angus is our middle cat, a little older than Pookie, black like Panda, short-haired like Pookie and mostly Siamese in conformation. We called him Angus because he is all black, but he looks more like a panther than a cow. He is much bigger than a real Siamese, but he definitely has the personality. Everything is an emergency with Angus. He will not eat unless one of us is in the room with him. If there is food in his bowl, he won’t touch it until we add a little bit more to let him know it is for him. If he wants to eat or to go out, he becomes almost hysterical, running back and forth and meowing frantically. For that reason, his name often come out sounding like Anguish or Anxious.

I am convinced that our cats are beneficial to our mental health and our physical health. They are certainly distracting, but we need those distractions. They are amusing and affectionate and that too is good for us.

Our oldest grandson tends to be quite impulsive and has been known to be rough with his siblings at times. But he has a cat that he dotes on. Before his cat was full grown, it was bitten by a dog, breaking one of the hind legs. He was worried sick about that cat. His parents took it to the vet and she did the best she could, but said that the break was so close to the growth plate that the leg would probably never grow as long as the other and the cat would have a limp. She did better than she knew, the leg is just fine. This is an outdoor cat, but our grandson often brings him in and holds him on his lap. The care and patience he shows with that cat gives me confidence for his future.

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