“Now that I look back on it," she says now, "it was a pretty ugly animal to be kissing, but the last thing I wanted to do was tell this little boy that his iguana had died." The lizard responded to her efforts and is expected to make a full recovery.
Now that story may not impress you, but it impresses me. I salute Officer Tori Matthews. Despite loving all things reptilian, the line for me is drawn at mouth-to-mouth action with an iguana! But I commend Officer Matthews for her heroic and compassionate act. Well done, Officer Matthews, well done. She went beyond the call of duty. I salute you.
Okay, yes, it’s a funny story and the humor could go on ad infinitum. But what I found particularly impressive about Officer Matthews’ unusual actions is the compassion she demonstrated toward that young boy. He was heartbroken over the seeming death of his beloved pet iguana. His world came crashing down on him because of the unfortunate events that had transpired that day. For a young boy – perhaps just a tender eight or nine-year-old lad – you just never know when tragedy will strike and it will be the last day in the life of your beloved iguana’s life! No doubt the youngster was traumatized, devastated by what was happening. Officer Matthews was having none of it; she sprang into action, forfeited her sense of hygiene, took a risk – and it worked. She saved the day!
It’s the same type of compassion witnessed the other day on a Detroit freeway. Eight truckers positioned their 18-wheeler rigs side-by-side under an overpass bridge when they received word came from the police about a man who was about to complete suicide by jumping off the bridge. They tied up freeway traffic in both directions for hours as the man was coaxed off the bridge by police.
According to Jesus, compassion is a central attribute characterizing faithful Christian living. I have been re-reading Marcus Borg’s book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Borg’s classic (if you are a progressive) changed my life over 20 years ago when it was first published. On the subject of compassion, Borg reminds us that Jesus refers to God as a “womb.” In fact, the origins of the word “compassion” in both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages of scripture is related to the word womb. Matthew the gospel writer tells us to be “compassionate as God is compassionate.” Thus, according to Borg, to be compassionate is to be womb-like. God is womb-like, Jesus says, therefore, you (we) are to be womb-like.
What does it mean to be womb-like? Borg says that it means to be life-giving and nourishing. It means to feel what a mother feels for the children of her womb: tenderness, overseeing their well-being, finding her children precious and beautiful. But it can also mean fierceness and being protective. We’re talking Mama Bear protectiveness, here! This is especially true when her cubs are threatened or exploited in any way. So to be compassionate, as God is, finds its roots in social justice, challenging exploitative ethics and systems of domination.
One of the greatest joys I have every week is to look out from the pulpit and see a congregation of compassionate people. Whether its feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, keep children from sleeping on the floor, giving voice to the voiceless, or a multitude of other compassionate acts, First Christian Church-Morehead understands what compassion, womb-likeness, is all about! I am honored to be part of FCC’s compassionate movement as your (transitional) pastor.