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Empathy, Experience and God’s Call to Speak Up

Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. ~Isaiah 1:17 NRSV

 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“I’ve never met an activist member of the Evangelical Left before!” The woman stood before me with wide eyes. “How did you get there?” That got me pondering. We believe social justice and Jesus should be our guides, with Scripture as our road map. Evangelists, dreamers, artists, preachers, protesters, teachers, prophets, activists, writers, creators and doers. I’m blessed to know folks who speak up whether it is through action, service, art, standing in front of government buildings, writing everything from books to letters to protest signs (which often are pieces of art themselves).

But not all my friends and associates would be considered hippies or liberal or radical or any of those other names bandied about in the media. I look at all these disparate people and got to wondering, “How did THEY get to who they are today?”

So I asked them. And not just friends who think like I do.

Now true to form, folks were willing to speak up. Whether people considered themselves Pentecostals, Methodists, Catholics, Jesus followers, pagans or agnostics etc.:

  1. They believed they were born with empathy for others; and/or
  2. Life experiences and exposure were catalysts – whether they observed acts happen to others once too often or incidents in their own lives.

Born that way

Quite a few of my friends talked about feeling for people from a very young age. They came into the world “born” empathizers. These folks can trace examples back to early years when most other children are still fighting over toys.

Young eyes saw riots happen and realized people were angry for a reason. Some had what one friend called an “overactive sense of fairness.” They stood up for others on the playground. Or maybe even more importantly, they noticed when they had a nice playground at school while others did not. Some have been encouraged and taught by their parents to be this way, but those seeds were planted in fertile soil.

Jesus was born that way too, a wise friend pointed out.

Exposure

Targets of bullies, teased about skin color, witnessing a shooting or being a victim of violence, adopting children of color, having children with special needs, being multi-racial, or having family behaving badly. As one friend said, witnessing racist family members spewing vitriol and then going to church and hearing, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight,” made them angry enough to stand up for others, even if it meant disagreeing with family.

A pediatrician and family friend influenced me. Dr. Neumann’s patients WERE her family. We loved her. But we were her family because her own relatives were killed in the Holocaust. The horror of her experience affected me like nightmare horror movies. From an early age, my guiding questions were, “Why would anyone kill Dr. Neumann’s family? What would I do in that situation to prevent it? What makes people put their lives at risk for others?”

Again, some parents influenced them in the way of Micah 6:8 – Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. They didn’t keep their children in a bubble, but took them to places that made them think, introduced them to people different from themselves. Books also were listed as an incredible influence into the worlds and lives outside our own. As adults, people allowed themselves to be exposed, to step into situations and get out of their bubble.

Called to it

Pierre Teihard de Chardin says, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What would Jesus Do? What would God want me to do? These questions moved people forward whether they liked it or not. And they find themselves proclaiming, enough is enough. Even when they’d rather be silent.

Or a transformation happens regardless of a person’s nature or experience. “Jesus introduced me to His friends.” Or God speaks to folks directly and opens their eyes. God allows people to see injustice and then doesn’t let them unsee it. Enough is enough. God called the reluctant, blind, and silent. Several reluctant friends mentioned getting dragged front and center into situations needing a “voice crying out in the wilderness.” Enough is enough.

Bottom line: You may not have been born an empathetic soul. You may not have had the experience to get you out of your bubble, but God swoops in and uses you anyway.

Speaking Up

I may be a person whose beliefs others don’t identify with – but this is the deal. Whether you are a conservative Baptist, a liberal agnostic, a not so silent Quaker, a noner (person who is still Christian but done with Church), a person who connects more with Nature, or someone who doesn’t think about God at all, if we pay attention to the Spirit within us, if we allow ourselves to be exposed to the pain of others, if we listen and look for an opportunity in this world for us to make a difference, we will be able to speak up in ways we never thought possible. Maybe with fear and trembling, but we can do it. Trust me.

I speak up because of the strength Jesus gives me, the guidance of the Scriptures and God’s nudgings, but I wouldn’t have gotten HERE without valuing and examining the experiences through my life. That’s how I got here.

What experiences can you look at more fully and make a difference? What will help open your eyes? What makes you speak up? How do you find the strength?

My prayer is that we each find that strength and speak up about what truly matters.

 

Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.
Sis Steele
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Sis Steele

Julie Hilton Steele is an eclectic soul who’s done everything from work in a lab to pastor a church.But no matter what she’s done, she’s always been reading and writing. As a published non-fiction writer, she focused on devotions and articles about her faith and life experience,social issues, spiritual formation and church curriculum.Now she’s discovered the fun of writing fiction, immersed herselfin the 1940s and WWII, creating stories set in her birthplace of Washington DC or her most favorite place in the United States, Hawaii but still weaving messages about the gift of faith and the love of God.
Sis Steele
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4 Comments

  1. Diane on May 29, 2018 at 8:20 AM

    Thanks, Sis. This speaks to all of us, no matter our political leanings. I grow tired of one “side” or another spewing their way being the only way, when in reality, there is only one way to see kindness. As you write so eloquently, “if we pay attention to the Spirit within us” we can be the voice that God intended EACH of us to be – where we are, right now. Thanks for encouraging the dialogue.

  2. Sarah Robinson on June 3, 2018 at 10:16 AM

    We can unite in our shared sense of justice, and we have Jesus and His mighty spiritual warriors, plus the sword of the spirit, His indomitable word to guide and fight for us.
    He so often uses the weak and the disenfranchised to bring about momentous change in our world, so while we are here, we can pray to be of good use.
    Blessings!

  3. Julie on June 3, 2018 at 12:03 PM

    Amen!

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