Monday, December 23, 2013

Compassion and Control

It is the morning of our big Christmas Eve two day celebration.  We began a Dec. 23 worship service last year, as an addition to the 7 other worship services here on Christmas eve (Dec. 24), and to our surprise, many people attended.  So, it will be a big day.  I have a lot on my mind, but I wanted to send out a quick blogpost to my faithful readers.

As I was listening to the Christmas Sunday messages yesterday, preached by John Stevens, my pre-predecessor, and Nate Stratman, our Director of Family Ministries, I was struck for the first time by the intertwined and convoluted messages of "Compassion and Control" found right within the Christmas story.  You see Compassion and Control throughout the scriptures, but it was surprising to me to see it at the center of the Christmas story.  Here's what caught my eye:

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child.  as soon as you find him, report to me, sot that I too may go and worship him."(Matthew 2:7-8).

Of course, Herod's form of worship would take the form of infanticide in the next chapters of the story. Herod hated the little baby.  Herod hated what change the little baby would bring.  What is fascinating to me is the way that Herod weaves language of compassion together with his deep seated hatred of the Christ child.

You see this at the end of Jesus' ministry as well.  When Pilate questions Jesus before his death, here is almost a moment of compassionate connection between Pilate and Jesus.  Pilate asks Jesus; "Where do you come from?"  Jesus gives Pilate no answer.  Then comes the language of control, "Do you refuse to speak to me?  Don't you realize I have power either to free you or crucify you?" (John 19:9-10)

What is similar in both Herod's and Pilate's interactions?  There is a veiled language of compassion wrapped in the desire for control.  But perhaps it is more complex than that.  Perhaps what is happening is that both Herod and Pilate are frustrated at not being able to bend Jesus to their own purposes.  Perhaps both Herod and Pilate are ultimately worried about losing power and authority, as one who is stronger is in their midst.

There are several examples of this double combination of compassion and control in popular cinema.  In "Lord of the Rings", Frodo has an encounter with his old mentor and friend, Bilbo Baggins.  Bilbo asks Frodo for the enchanted ring.  Frodo says, "No, I don't think I will give it to you.  I shouldn't."  Bilbo says, "Let me just look at it."  All of a sudden Bilbo turns into a monster like character, and says, "Give it to me!!!!".  What is observed here is once again, compassion laced with control.

In Hitchcock's famous movie, "Whatever happened to Baby Jane," (1962) with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, you see Bette Davis shroud the desire to control her sister Joan Crawford, in language of love and compassion.  Bette pretends to love her sister, while at the same time holding her captive.

Sometimes without meaning to, we all have a tendency to say things that sound compassionate but are really a little controlling.  Here are some quick examples that come to mind:

*  Parents to children: ("I am only doing this for your own good...") and then punishment.
*  Loved ones to one another: ("If you really loved me you would...")
*  Friends to one another:  Do something wrong then say, ("All I ever wanted to do is be your friend,")

The take away that I am learning from this human tendency is to simply make sure the words that we use really represent what we are feeling.  What if Pilate had said to Jesus what he was really feeling, "I don't know who you are Jesus, I don't want to kill you, but these people are calling for your head, please don't force me to do this."  Herod could have been more honest, "I am trying to run this city and state but nobody gives me any help or assistance, and now this child comes along, and he threatens my power, and I'm mad about it."  The more we separate what we are really feeling from what we are saying, in authentic ways, the healthier we will be, and so will the lives of those around us.

Jesus said it better.  Let's let our yes be yes and our no be no.  Let's let our compassionate statements be truly compassionate, and at least admit our controlling ones when they arise.  At least that's what I will be working on...

All For Now,

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