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On fairness and compassion

September 1st, 2017 by Stephen Bauman

“Life is difficult.” So began one of the most read self-help books of all time, The Road Less Traveled. From this three-sentence launching pad author M. Scott Peck explored how human flourishing was fashioned from a dynamic and sometimes searing balance of personal discipline, love, and spiritual growth. It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for more than 13 consecutive years largely because Peck accurately punctured the common fantasy that life ought to be relatively easy, problem-free, and fair. As we all learn sooner or later (and probably sooner), life isn’t any of those things.

As though we require overwhelming confirmation of the obvious, along comes Hurricane Harvey dumping 25 trillion tons of water on Texas. Like you, I’ve tried imagining myself in the victims’ water-filled shoes, and I am overwhelmed with compassion for their predicament. Through no moral causation of their own, their lives have been catastrophically altered.

Sure, we can debate the consequences of paving floodplains and wetlands as a matter of public policy, but for now, the scale of the human suffering due to a once-in-a-thousand-year rainfall quashes all other considerations. Suddenly life is supremely unfair for millions of people. And on this point, the wisdom dawns that we are all equally at risk: old and young, white and black, rich and poor, male and female, etc. and etc. At our best, or perhaps when stripped of all levers of control, we discover the naked “sameness” in our existence.

In part, this explains the fantastic, immediate volunteer response. Instantly, tribal identities lose relevance. As David Brooks phrased it, “You might be Black Lives Matter and he may be Make America Great Again, but you’re both Houstonians cruising the same boat down flooded streets.”

I reached out to a few random pastors in the flood zone, sending words of encouragement. A couple of short, earnest responses reported sleepless nights and days as churches were transformed into crisis shelters,and pastors into rescue workers. I’ve sent money to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)where 100% of funds go to disaster relief. I hope you will too. I am holding as best I can these thousands of victims and volunteers in heart and mind before God. I hope you will too.

Among my prayers is this one: Holy God, may the deep wisdom of our common humanity re-form our national identity long after floodwaters drain away. Help us to work together for the sake of the common good. In the meantime, may your spirit of compassion inspire a very generous response from me. Keep me grounded and focused on the things that matter most. Help me, after the manner of Jesus, to love well. Gratitude for your grace abounds. Amen.

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.