The Benefits of Being an Outsider

One of my favorite people in the whole wide world is in a free fall. After years of sobriety, he has relapsed. I feel so very, very sad. Until I think about his faith. This guy believes that God loves him and he is deeply spiritual. He understands that God loves “the sorry people”. He’s in bad shape AND God is in the business of restoring broken people. No problemo. The cynics among us might scoff at this. In fact, just the other day another person I know said this: “Well, he couldn’t have loved Jesus as much as he said he did if he has gone off and gotten back on the sauce.” Big, big sigh.

Can we talk about this? If loving Jesus served as a spiritual vaccine against doing stuff that goes against our core values, then we would NOT have so many church folk doing hood rat stuff - like having affairs, watching porn (at work, even at work being a pastor), abusing others, stealing from the petty cash drawer, getting divorced, etc. I’m not judging the sin here - but I am just pointing out reality. Loving Jesus doesn’t stop us from messing up. So why in the name of all things holy do we think it provides an insurance policy against relapse?

But...just because Jesus is not the equivalent of a vaccine against going against our own values does NOT mean our faith is of no value. It just shows up in a different form.

Right now my friend is on the street buying drugs from folks he once tried to help get sober. He is a serious outsider, isolated from his tribe of recovery warriors. But drug dealers will sell to anyone. People are talking. They are saying that the guy who used to help them is now in need of help himself. Can you imagine how nervous they feel? Their leader now needs a good shepherd to guide him back home. Everyone is just sick over the situation. I just want him to come back home. No judgment here, brother, Just. Come. Home.

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:12-13 The Message


My friend Linda and I have been talking about Christmas memories today. She’s in a funk and so we were talking about some memories and how she feels about them. I gave her some different ways of thinking about the same events, and she is such a good sport that she readily agreed that there were several legitimate interpretations to some of her Christmas memories.


This is a wonderful skill set for all occasions, especially during the holidays.

I consider it a spiritual discipline.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Psalm 77:11-12 NIV

IF we are going to make changes, it will be helpful to remember. I have found more compassion and empathy for past resentments and griefs once I was able to remember.

What is remembering? It is the capacity, like Linda, to consider that the stories we tell ourselves may have different interpretations.

Have you noticed that when we tell a story from the past, particularly an emotional one, that over time our recitations of the story become rote? It’s like someone pushes our play button and we retell the story with the exact same words we have always used?

What stories do you need to remember? Who could you talk to and perhaps get a fresh interpretation of the same old story?

What is distracting you?

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

~ Romans 1:23

Take a pause and journal or make a list or consult with your sponsor or spiritual director. Ask for feedback. Give yourself time to really think about this:

In what ways are you chasing after free cheesecake?

What distracts you from living with more intention?

How can you find the peace that comes when our resolutions align with our core values and intentions for life?

I remember a conversation I had many years ago with a young woman who was having a devil of a time stringing sobriety days together. She was extremely frustrated with her family’s reaction to her relapses. She felt they had turned cold toward her. They no longer were willing to “share in her suffering” after a relapse. They were done talking about it and they were unwilling to act as if she was sustaining long term recovery. They stopped counting on her; they stopped expressing sorrow when she didn’t show up for a family event. She was livid. She felt this showed a lack of Christian love. She felt they were not working a solid recovery program. She talked about all her experience in treatment, and waxed eloquent about what everyone around her was doing to ruin her recovery experience.

She had no clue how foolish her words sounded. Although she had access to a strong recovery support network, she exchanged that opportunity (privilege really) for the chance to blame others.

Are there any exchanges that you are making? At what cost?

Resolutions can be bigger than our insecurities

My musings continued (so this won’t make sense if you didn’t read yesterday’s blog):

Apologizing in advance for presuming to add content to anything Brene` Brown has to say, I would add this to her quote (with all due respect): [the courage to be vulnerable] also about showing up when absolutely nothing is offered you. No free cheesecake. No warm fuzzies. No personal benefit at all.

Aren’t most of our resolutions a structured way to address our own insecurities, weaknesses, and anxieties? Lose weight. Find a loving relationship. Change careers. Hike the Himalayas. Get botox. Deadlift 300 pounds.

Are those really things we need to be RESOLUTE about?

So what is worth being RESOLUTE for? It depends on our core values I suppose. But what I hope we will all consider is that thousands of people RESOLUTELY went out for a piece of free cheesecake who may or may not be RESOLUTE about loving like God loves.

I closed my impromptu note with a prayer. Because if anything is true, it is this: we are desperately in need of prayer, transformation, and a commitment to something bigger than a free piece of cheesecake.

This is my prayer for you...May we show ourselves more compassion and more respect than has been our habit, daring to believe that we are destined to show up for others, sacrifice for something more profound than a carb-laden sweet treat. May we begin to practice standing up under the pressure of inconvenience over indulgence - because we know we are better than pettiness and selfish indulgence. May be do something nice for someone else even as it costs us something we are not quite sure we can afford to give. May we show more compassion to ourselves by being more compassionate than we knew we could muster. May we live with more courage and conviction than we knew we possessed. May we choose daily to live with more conscious intention than the Cheesecake Factory story gives us much reason to hope for on the part of humanity...and let’s be honest, in ourselves. May we dare to believe that together, we can do hard things. Inconvenient things. Things that are not our preference. Amen

Make 2019 the year we that act on our good intentions. Do hard things. We are image bearers. We can do better.

Caring for yourself helps your relationships

When it comes to maintaining relationships or ending them, can we all acknowledge that it is very hard and often tricky? May I suggest that we all need to be doing our own work - self-care, accountability for our stuff, finding moments of respite, on and on.

This kind of focus on ourselves is not selfish, it is restorative. It is awfully hard to have healthy relationships with others if we do not have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

How are you doing with your own responsible living? Need to make any adjustments?

Demanding trustworthiness does not work

I once knew a family that was dealing with infidelity. And the offender eventually grew weary of being the untrustworthy one. She wanted to know why her husband wasn’t being held to his Christian duty of forgiveness. Wasn’t he a Christian after all? Shouldn’t he forgive her like the good Christian man he is?

To which he replied - “I’m wondering the same thing about you. I’m wondering how you, a good Christian woman, cheated on me with my friend.”

Yikes. That’s a good question. Notice how easy it is for us to avoid talking about the issue at hand simply by pointing out each other’s hypocrisy.

This conversation is a trust eroder. Once trust is lost, it is very hard to re-establish.

So here’s a thought - could we work hard to build and maintain trust, rather than demanding others give it back when we throw it away?

Trust and grace

Love covers a multitude of sins. The Bible says so. But I think trust can certainly be helpful too, especially when we make a mistake, even a big one, in relationships. Am I the only person who has been inattentive in a relationship? Unkind? Selfish? I didn’t think so!!

Everyone has bad days, even horrible ones, that can cause deep cracks in the integrity of a relationship. Sort of like my friends who are having trouble feeling love for one another in their marriage. Both have made some mistakes. Trust has eroded.

If trust is in place, we have some wriggle room. Some grace.

Last weekend I made a mistake in a family relationship. I knew I was making the mistake even as I was making it, but we were in a group, and there was nothing to be done but carry on. I meant to talk about it as soon as the event was over, but I forgot. Later that day, one of my kids brought up the incident.

I was so grateful. What if I had forgotten to circle back and address the issue? I IMMEDIATELY agreed that I had messed up - because I had! This kid quickly extended me grace. We moved on to the next topic at hand.

Now, I think the reason my BIG mistake did not become a horrible relationship conflict was because there was some trust that this is not a pattern. If I keep making this same mistake, it will erode trust. See how that works? Trust helped.

How do we build trust? One teeny tiny step at a time. We can erode it that same way. What we cannot do is grand gestures that restore trust.

Are you building trust in your relationships by being trustworthy a reasonable percentage of the time?

Rebuilding trust

I have friends who are struggling with trusting one another. There is no reason for this, as far as I can see. There has been no infidelity; they share the same core values; they have a common and strong faith; they have a similar vision for family life and both desperately desire to build a strong family.

But they aren’t feeling the love.

Lately we’ve been talking about building trust. And they both are very confused about why this is the topic of conversation. Instead, they want to talk about conflict resolution or communication or maybe how I should get the OTHER spouse to change in this way or that. I’m not willing to play.

I am sticking to my guns. We need to talk about trust.

Realizing I am stubborn they stopped asking for 5 easy steps for communicating without conflict and chose a new path: can we please, please talk about intimacy? What they meant, we figured out, was vulnerability. They wanted to be able to be honest with one another without feeling like they were just providing ammunition for the other one to use in the next argument.

Nope. Trust. We are going to talk about trust.

“But we do trust each other!” they say. It turns out that they can agree on things if it means they are both united in disagreeing with me!!

If I’ve learned anything from the work of Brene Brown it is this: trust and vulnerability go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you do not have one, you lose the other.

Trust. It’s the antidote that can help with a lot of issues that might cause a relationship to end. Because let’s face it - we can all be knuckleheads when it comes to relationships.

To be continued…

Pay attention in your relationships

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

How do we develop trust in relationships? Well, for sure it is NOT being perfect. In fact, it might just be the opposite of perfection. It probably isn’t grand gestures or heroic acts - because, come on, how often is that even necessary?

But it might include: paying attention.

A while back I had an extremely stressful event happen. And my friend noticed. How do I know this? Because if her response. She was paying attention. In her attentiveness, she did a few things that were so supportive, helpful and encouraging - at a time when she herself was certainly busier than a one-armed paper hanger.

Over the course of a number of months, a number of people in our community lost people they loved. So when we gathered the week after Thanksgiving for one of our regular meetings, we took time to ask each of those people about their holiday in light of their loss. Afterwards, one of the mourners came up and said to me, “I cannot believe that you remembered.”

Due to my advancing age, I need to be honest, I am grateful I remembered too!! Paying attention to what is important helps us remember. A gracious community that takes into account memory loss certainly helps on the days when we forget.

Are you paying attention to what really matters? There are so many benefits, including a propensity to feel less self-pity, loneliness and depression. When we pay attention, we realize that we are not alone, in fact, we are usually in the company of others who are going through the exact same thing we are!

How you build relationship matters

How we cultivate relationships has wide reaching effects. My daughter is as (or more) likely to my friend when she needs help as she is me. A few of my own children’s friends have turned to me over the years when they were heartbroken or burdened with a weighty decision rather than their parents. My husband, Pete, has had a couple of “lunch and lectures” with kids who had their own parents but had spent enough time in our home that we had permission to have a crucial conversation over an issue that needed addressing.

I always felt when my children were younger that if something happened to Pete and I, my children would continue to be well loved. I hope my friends thought the same in reverse.

This does not happen in a vacuum. We do not accidentally create a village to support the nurturing and growing of the next generation. This is hard work and requires intentionality.

I think this commitment to working hard at maintaining relationships deserves our attention. It makes our lives richer; it improves the community; it makes it easier for the outcasts and the suffering to find a safe harbor. The weight of suffering can be born easier by the community than just one person.

I challenge us all to keep tending to the village. Our lives depend on it.

Trust is not the same as being like-minded

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Even as a child, I learned one particular non-negotiable relationship issue. It was trust. I learned that the difference between someone my grandparents were friendly with and someone for whom they counted on was predicated on trust. My grandmother was wicked smart; she watched people; she let people have the time it took to teach her whether or not she could trust them. I’m not sure if others necessarily knew which list they were on, but my grandmother was crystal clear. She could be friendly with everyone, but she trusted only those that taught her they could be trusted. She was patient; she waited for people to teach her who they were and if they could be trusted with her most vulnerable realities. For her, trust was NOT about total agreement on all subjects, it was about whether or not a person had the capacity to care and be cared for as circumstances dictated.

My grandmother maintained a certain amount of watchful but kind distance in some relationships, she even had a couple of notable compassionate endings to relationships that proved incompatible with the community she was part of. Many benefited from her quiet ability to be a good friend to others and choose her own friends wisely.

Make space for your friends' shortcomings

To review:

1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I might miss an opportunity to develop a lovely friendship with someone who at face value seems really different from me.

It is possible to adore people who voted for the candidate we did not vote for. I know - this sounds crazy - but it is true. I suspect this is a bit more challenging today than it was in the past and I wonder why. I fear it is because we have gotten careless with our relationships. Maybe we take them for granted. Perhaps our tendency toward upward mobility, or just mobility in general, has made it too easy for us to disconnect from difficult people.

My grandparents lived within a four mile (maybe less) radius their entire married life. They had relatives and lifelong friends who lived within walking distance. “Back home” was a drive out into the country, and the country was not that far from the city. I suspect their web of relationships made it harder to pout or withdraw from relationship.

It certainly made it hard to keep secrets. My grandmother was the keeper of confidences. Countless times I was shooed out the door as she welcomed a friend to her back door for a quiet, and often lengthy conversation. Rumor had it that my grandmother knew every secret in Durham but never shared one with others. I suspect this is true. She certainly held mine. I do not know if it was an expression of core values or a real sense that folks needed each other or what. But people looked out for one another, people who were very different from one another socio-economically, educationally and in other less quantifiable ways too.

True friends are your family

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Never, ever underestimate the value of friendship. When I was a kid, there were aspects of my growing up years that were lonely and challenging for me. I’m sure that many, many others in my shoes would have thought that our family situation was wonderful. I don’t want to communicate a lack of gratitude or misrepresent the times that were not only fun but quite adventurous. But for my particular personality, our vagabond tendency to move from city to city was stressful.

My saving grace was the time I spent at my grandparents’ home. In the summer I was allowed to go stay with them, and their block welcomed me like one of their own - particularly the Harwards who lived next door. I’ve written about them so many times, I’m sure that if you’ve hung out with me or read our blog - you feel like you know them too! These folks extended themselves for me. They went out of their way to be kind. They reminded me of who I was when all the moving often left me feeling uncertain about my own identity. They held the memory of me over the long haul.

When my mother died, they mourned with me. When their dad died, I mourned with them. Much of what I believe about hospitality, kinship, kindness, love and generosity have their roots in the deep and abiding foundation of the friendships we forged over decades. I may have been a rolling stone gathering no moss, rolling but Ruby Street was solid ground and provided a firm foundation for growing up in a loving environment.

Friendships may come and go, but we should fight to keep them if at all possible. Because a friendship can not only save a life, it can redefine it, redeem it, restore it, and even give a lonely little girl something to hold onto with joy.

True friends give you extra chances

To review: 1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I might believe that someone is a trusted friend when they really are not. This does not mean that they are an enemy, or that there is something wrong, the relationship just may be different than we thought or hoped.

Trusted friends are not necessarily obvious choices. Because this is such a challenging thing to figure out, I hope we will all exercise a ton of compassion towards ourselves and others as we sort out what it means to have a trusted friend.

We do not have to agree on much of anything to be a trustworthy friend. What we MUST do is have our friend’s best interest as a top priority. We need to be not only willing, but eager, to set aside our own interests for the sake of theirs. (For this to be a trusted friendship, this is a mutual give and take, otherwise, this is not a friendship, it is a ministry opportunity. Or 12 step work.) We celebrate their victories; we grieve their defeats. We find joy in their joy; their sorrow is ours and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that the relationship will be EQUAL, although of course, over the course of a lifetime, we hope it evens out. But it may not. If we’re hoping for equality, we are not talking about a friendship, we’re negotiating a deal.

A trusted friendship is one where there is a shared commitment to not only compassion, but carrying each other’s burdens. A real friendship will involve inconvenience, hurt feelings, and aggravations from time to time. On a practical level, when I think about my dearest friends, I would say that they are the kind of people that make watching paint dry together fun. Getting lost together is an adventure. Losing together is a comfort. Standing together at a graveside in the rain and wind is a privilege.

Some of us trust too easily or too long. Relationships change. It’s important to pay attention, be honest, and not assume that once a friend, always a friend. Or, for that matter, once an enemy, always an enemy.

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Making enemies out of friends

I am not prone to thinking of others as my enemy. Oh, I do have enemies - but to me they are things like: substance use disorder, abuse and neglect, poverty and prejudice. All these things that, to my way of thinking, whittle away and endanger a world that welcomes the kingdom of God in its midst.

In order to find compassion, I believe my work in evaluating all my relationships is twofold: 1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. That way, I can make a wiser, more informed decision about how we relate to one another.

If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I’m going to be danger of making several crucial relationship mistakes:

1. I am going to mistakenly believe that someone is a trusted friend in life when they are NOT.

2. I am going to limit my connections with others who might make awesome friends even though we are very different.

3. I’m going to bail on relationships that I could maintain with a bit more intentionality.

4. I’m going to hold on too long to a relationship that deserves a compassionate end.

Do any of these options feel like experiences you have had in your own relationships? I wonder if we each tend to have a pattern to our relationship problems?

To be continued...

We do not know enough to judge

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

The second principle that I’ve been mulling over is this: I am only responsible for living out my way of seeing. I have no right to judge yours, even if IN THEORY it seems like we should agree.

The person who demanded that I comply with his request or take on the status of “enemy” was a confusing relationship for me, because I was under the impression that we shared a set of core values. And, I believe that we did. But my mistake was thinking that we applied them in the same way too. And we did not.

Compassion to carry on a relationship or end it will be in short supply if we do not get a grip on how unclear we all are so much of the time about just about everything. No wonder we get confused when what we think are shared core values end up being expressed in such different ways. If we can see how we are all prone to walking around in a fog, then maybe we can find some compassion for one another as we continue to bump into things in the dark.

Disagreements and Deal-Breakers

Whether we are able to maintain a relationship or choose to let it go, there is a principle that applies to both situations all the time. We do not let the (feared, expected, dreaded, desired) outcome dictate the way we show up for the relationship.

As image bearers of God, we are called to show up for relationships with our truest, most loving selves. Our work is to have the courage to love others EVEN IF we do not get our way in the relationship.

There are limits. In cases of abuse, neglect, and years of evidence that someone is unable (or unwilling) to learn how to relate with some degree of reciprocity, these relationships may need to end.

But what has no limit is our capacity to do so with compassion, even love.

Once I was in a relationship tussle with someone over a disagreement related to how our organizations interfaced. When it became apparent that I was holding firm on my position he said, “I’m sorry to say this, but if you continue to take this position you are my enemy.”

I thought he was joking. He was not and proved it in the years that followed. But what I knew then has remained true for me - he was not my enemy. It is easy to confuse a disagreement as a deal breaker if we are more invested in outcomes than we are committed to living out of our core values and inspired way of seeing.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

Honorable image bearing

Honorable image bearers learn that failure is a thing, it happens all the time, it is inevitable, and it is never as big a deal as it feels at the time. When we don’t figure this out, we struggle in relationships as we compare and compete. People who can embrace failure as a norm have the energy to devote to cooperating and encouraging others.

I was in a public place with a television blaring. A commentator, speaking of President Bush during one of the services eulogizing him said, “President Bush was willing to risk failure in pursuit of a higher good.”

I thought to myself - you missed the mark buddy. He FAILED. President Bush failed over and over and over again. That is the point. It’s easy to talk about risking failure - it sounds noble and brave. But it is far more accurate to say that Bush failed spectacularly many times. It was a strength; he had the ability to move through it and keep going with his remarkable optimistic attitude intact. I wonder. Is that why he had so many unlikely friendships with folks that many would have thought were his enemies?

Why do we act so surprised, so defensive, so mad when we fail to get our way or have things go as expected? What if we were better at failing? Would it improve our relationships? Would it change the need to end some relationships?

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message

What might change if we radically adopted failure as an expectation? What if we saw it as a normal part of accepting life on life’s terms? What if failure didn’t feel so personal?

Ending relationships SHOULD be hard

One of the most poignant scenes during the various events eulogizing the life of George H. W. Bush, at least to me, was watching former Sen. Bob Dole rise from his wheelchair and salute the flag draped casket of President Bush. Once upon a time they were political rivals; Dole lost, Bush won the nomination for President. The fight for the nomination was bitter. After Bush became president and Dole was the Republican leader in the Senate, they worked together to accomplish their goals.

It would have been easy for these two fierce competitors to continue the rivalry after Bush was elected; they chose to do the hard thing and set aside the bitterness in favor of maintaining relationship. Perhaps in the beginning it was grudging, who knows? But on the day that Bob Dole said good-bye to the President, the nation watched transfixed as Dole paid tribute to his rival who became his friend. At 95 years of age, Bob Dole cannot stand without assistance. He could have stayed home and written a nice note of condolence to the family. Instead, he was driven to the Capital, loaded into his wheelchair and pushed into the room that held the casket of President Bush. His aide helped him to stand, and Dole raised his arm in salute. It was a tribute to not one, but two men who refused to choose rivalry over relationship.

It ought to be REALLY HARD to end a relationship because, if we are intent on bearing the image of God, we have worked so very very hard on loving others. In many ways, it needs to become almost automatic, this inclination to love well. It is certainly at the core of who we were all created to be - but this does not mean that we are particularly good at remembering that, does it? We should work so hard on loving, that loving is what we do. And if we must, absolutely must, end a relationship, it should feel unnatural and not our preference or an act of convenience.

Relationships morph constantly; few last a lifetime. We value them because the capacity to love others is the essence of humanity. When they end, we may come to acceptance and know that it is the best decision under the circumstances, but that does not make it easy.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message

What can we do that will help us become better lovers, compassionate leavers, and honorable image bearers?

God's image is compassion

People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!

~ James 3:7-10, CEB

These verses essentially teach us not to use our bodies (in this case the tongue/mouth) to tear down other people. Why? Because human beings are made in God’s likeness. This is both physical and spiritual.

On the one hand, we’re made in God’s likeness. So, to tear someone else down is to use God’s likeness to do something that is, let’s say, not great. We should be thoughtful, at the very least, about how we’re using the gift that is God’s likeness.

On the other hand, every human being reflect’s God’s likeness in some form or fashion. When we tear another person down, we’re tearing down God’s image. The only way we see God, physically, in this world is through other people. When we tear down God’s image, how is that different from tearing down God?

And so we return to compassion. We do not practice compassion because people are good. We don’t practice it because they are better than they appear to be. We do not practice it because other people deserve it. We practice it because we are made in God’s likeness, as are other people, and we’re doing our best to live up to that responsibility.

When we treat people with compassion, particularly those who do not deserve it, we may even be helping them recognize the ways in which they represent God’s likeness. Perhaps this is a moment of clarity, or spiritual awakening. Who can say? What we can say, is that all of us benefit from compassion.