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One of the greatest temptations faced by American Christians today comes in the form of voices demanding that we, first and foremost, protect ourselves. In response to the very real dangers present in the world, these voices encourage, no, demand, that we withdraw, face inward, and put the well-being of ourselves and our families first. The voices promise a way to safety.

We have already, during the last few decades, successfully used the suburbs to separate ourselves from the poor. We have built highways that allow us to avoid the wretched cities, and we relocate refugees deep into those tangled streets, maintaining the illusion that we are all the same, that nothing has changed. We employ the police to sweep away the homeless from our neighborhoods and parks. We look away. We close our eyes. We sigh with relief.

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Jesus found that place in the scroll and proclaimed it to those who were listening. What are we proclaiming? What are we believing for? Safety? Security? A final and permanent separation from anyone or anything that might cause us harm?

At what cost?

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The safe isolation we crave is not the way of Christ.

To make compassion the bottom line of life, to be open and vulnerable to others, to make community life the focus, and to let prayer be the breath of your life…that requires a willingness to tear down the countless walls that we have erected between ourselves and others in order to maintain our safe isolation.

Henri Nouwen

In our country we elevate anything that illustrates toughness and self-sufficiency. The sports we worship in the new cathedrals we call stadiums squash the weak and the small and celebrate strength and domination. We have left little room for compassion, especially a compassion that seems impractical or dangerous.

Yet we are being called back to compassion, the kind of compassion shown by the Good Samaritan to the man dying on the side of the road. The kind of compassion shown by Christ’s disciples, men and women willing to follow his leading into dangerous, dark places. The kind of compassion shown by Christ who chose not to retaliate, not to protect himself, not to escape, but to spread wide his arms and take us all in.

When our first thoughts are for the safety of ourselves and our families, our last thoughts are of Christ.