Monday, April 18, 2011

Compassion: “Always Ask the Turtle”

By Rev. Gerald Thomas

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed... – Jesus the Christ, Luke 4:18

A part of preparing to travel to Guatemala with our North Carolina mission team has been to consider the implications of compassion, that well worn admonition to “live in another person’s skin.” I keep hearing the words of an aboriginal Australian woman, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” These words from another continent pursue me on the way to Central America, making me hope that it can be true, that there will indeed be those who will offer to our group the gracious gift of working alongside. Then perhaps faith will be made to increase, together.

“Together” reminds me of a story from the life of Gloria Steinem, who relates an incident from her days as a geology student:

On a field trip, while everyone else was off looking at the meandering Connecticut River, I was paying no attention whatsoever. Instead, I had found a giant turtle that had climbed out of the river, crawled up a dirt road, and was in the mud on the embankment of another road, seemingly about to be squashed by a car. So I tugged and pushed and pulled until I managed to carry this heavy, angry turtle off the embankment and down the road. I was just putting it back into the river when my geology professor arrived and said, ‘You know, that little turtle probably spent a month crawling up that dirt road to lay its eggs in the mud beside the road, and you just put him back in the river.’ I felt terrible. But in later years, I realized this was a most important lesson: Always ask the turtle.

Knowing little of Guatemala, I look forward to asking a lot of questions and being helped by those whose lives are, in ways I am yet to understand, bound up with us all in our daily move toward liberation. Then I may know if I am ready for the “implications of compassion.”

Gerald Thomas is the pastor of Lamberth Memorial Baptist Church in Roxboro, North Carolina ( . This article originally appeared in their newsletter, Lamberth Lantern.

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