Human Connection and the Power of Empathy

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This post is part of the August synchroblog and the theme is “connection”.

When I think about connection I am reminded that significant, deep, meaningful connection with others is what I want most out of life. I think it is what most people desire. And yet there are times when we find the pursuit of connection daunting.

Brene’ Brown, who researches, writes, teaches and speaks on a range of topics, including connection, vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame says,

“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,”

She goes on to define connection as:

“the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

In her books, Brown develops the idea that creating the kind of life giving connection that we are wired for requires empathy and then she drops this on us:

“we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”

Boom! There’s the problem, isn’t it!?

In order to experience the kind of connection that we long for we are going to have to put ourselves out there. We are going to have to be vulnerable and take some risks. We are going to have to share our own fears and failings and fragilities.

And we can’t substitute sympathy for empathy. Sympathy isn’t a bad thing – it just doesn’t lead to the deep, meaningful connections we long for – for that we are going to need to “feel with people”.

Here’s the difference in sympathy and empathy:

Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. 

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges, created a great animated short that uses Brene’ Brown’s commentary about empathy and how it leads to connection:

If we can learn to be vulnerable enough to risk practicing empathy we open up the potential to experience the kind of life giving, whole hearted, healing connection we long for.

Empathy is connection!

Be sure and check out these other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Jerry Wirtley – Connection
Sara Quezada – Can You Really Know Someone In A Different Language?
Ford – Interindependence
Michael Donahoe – Connection
Minnow – Our Dis-Connect
Justin Steckbauer – Connection in Love, it’s what Life is all about!
Carol Kuniholm – Disengagement and Connection
Wesley Rostoll – Finding Jesus In Different Places
Doreen A Mannion – A bunny, a fawn and some geese walk into a bar …
Leah Sophia – Touch of Life
Karen “Charity” Aldrich – Wuv True Wuv
Abbie Watters – Connection – Addicted to the Buzz
Liz Dyer – Human Connection and the Power of Empathy
Loveday Anyim – Why Get Connected to God when He can’t be there for Me?

Dear Me

This post is part of the June Synchroblog which asks the question “what would you tell your younger self if you could travel back in time?” So, without further ado, here you go …

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Nothing mind blowing here – in fact, I feel like I have known these things all of my life, although it took a long time for me to “really” believe them.

My younger self would probably say, “tell me something I don’t know, like where to invest my money and who to marry!”

Yet, these are the things I would share with the hopes that my younger self would “get it” a lot sooner than I did …

1) You are enough! No, seriously, you are! So stop doubting yourself and get on with being “you”! Don’t waste any more time trying to be what you think others want you to be. Be you and enjoy it! You will be loved and accepted as you are! No, not by everyone – but there will be “enough” love and acceptance. So, believe in yourself! You are smart enough – you are good enough – you are pretty enough – you are enough!

PS Other people are also enough! Let them be who they are – give them lots of space and encouragement to be themselves!

2) Take more risks! Don’t just do the things that you know you are good at … do the things that you are passionate about – the things you dream of doing. Sure, you might have a few more failures but who knows what you might succeed at … and a few failures here and there make for a good story.

3) Give up perfectionism! Being perfect is way over-rated! AND it’s impossible to achieve! You will only end up frustrating yourself and others. Lower your expectations of yourself, others, even God! Relax a little more! Breathe deep several hundred times in a day! Spend more time in the present! You really don’t want to miss a thing!

4) Think for yourself! Don’t believe anything until you have thought about it, examined it, pondered it, studied it, argued against it and finally deemed it worthy to believe! No matter who said it or endorsed it! No matter how many people believe it or how long it has been believed! No matter how many times you have heard it! Think for yourself!

5) Always! Always! Always! stand up for what you believe in … while at the same time Always! Always! Always! take into consideration that you might be wrong about what you believe! So live out what you believe with conviction but hang on to enough humility to be able to receive new information. Your beliefs will change over time and it doesn’t have to be so hard when that happens.

6) Invest $50 in the stock market every month. Eat out less – buy a few less clothes – go out one less night a month. You can do it and it will be worth it!

7) Intentionally create stillness and quiet into your life. Learn to meditate and do it regularly. Go for walks or ride a bike alone. Sit and daydream. These things will open up the creative juices inside of you like nothing else. This is how you will discover the best ideas that are living inside of you. This will be one of the most important aspects to becoming a whole, healthy, happy person. Start immediately!

8) Trust your gut! You really can know what you should do, what job to take, who to date, what to purchase etc. That doesn’t mean you have to decide quickly. Take your time and think about it, gather information – but in the end trust your gut. You will know – so trust yourself!

9) Worry less! It doesn’t help. Think about what needs to happen and make a plan and do it … but stop worrying about it.

10) More often than not LOVE is the answer! I know it sounds cliche but it is true. Love is what matters and more times than not it is what wins in the end. It’s hard to explain but trust me on this one. Don’t ever give up on love! Give it, receive it, embrace it, practice it! LOVE LOVE LOVE! LOVE ON!

Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts!

 

 

Quotes Worth Repeating: “The Light Is Everything”

“The light is everything” is the last line of “The Ponds” by Mary Oliver, who is one of my favorite poets of all time. a1ed9b133e3f0d78cc15fecea3bd8b36 In “The Ponds” Oliver encourages herself and us to look past the imperfections of life and focus on the beauty that exists. Here is the whole poem: The Ponds by Mary Oliver

Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them—

the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?

I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided— and that one wears an orange blight— and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away— and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled— to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing— that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.

Mary Oliver

Hell? No!

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “What The Hell” – thoughts about the controversial subject of hell. You will find the links to all the other participants at the end of this post.
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I don’t believe in hell.

There, I said it.

I cringe a little every time I say it out loud because I come from a place where I was thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that there was a place called hell. It was where those who did not believe in God/Jesus would go when they died … but, if you believed in God/Jesus you would go to heaven instead of hell.

No one ever said what would happen to you if you didn’t believe in hell but it was kind of an unspoken assumption that if you didn’t believe in hell you probably weren’t “really” a “real” Christian and that meant you probably didn’t believe in God/Jesus and well … no need to repeat myself … you get the picture.

Once I got the picture I realized right away that I didn’t want to go to hell. It was an easy decision for me … believe in God and get a ticket to heaven … which by the way was the complete opposite of hell – it was a place where everyone was happy – so happy that no one ever shed a tear, and it was pretty too! Duh! – that’s where I wanted to go. So, I believed and I “confessed” that I believed and I got dunked and that was that … I was safe. I had my insurance and hoped everyone would be as smart and nice as me about it so no one would ever have to go to that horrible place called hell.

And the way I thought of hell was truly horrible. It was a place where those who “went” there would endure horrendous pain and suffering forever. The picture I had in my mind was a place where people were actually on fire – burning for eternity! The sounds I imagined coming from that place were even more horrible than the scenes that were conjured up by the hell fire and brimstone sermons I had heard. In my imagination the people were in so much pain that hell was filled with constant screams of agony that were louder than the music at a rock concert. Hell was a very scary place and any time I thought about it I was glad that I wasn’t going to go there when I died.

Then several years ago I began to seriously think about what I believed and what I based those beliefs on. That was when I realized that the idea of hell sounded out of place and wrong. It didn’t fit with what I believed about God. So, I began to re-examine what I believed about hell. Right away I discovered that the word hell (Sheol) in the Old Testament has nothing to do with a place of punishment and in the New Testament it (Hades and Gehenna) is used symbolically and masks a ton of metaphor.

It can be difficult for someone like me to see what scripture does and doesn’t say about hell as I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with what I’ve come to think of as “one hell of a lie”. But, a thorough study of scripture combined with a little knowledge and understanding of historical context and original language clearly revealed that scripture was being misrepresented and being made to appear as if it said stuff that it didn’t say.

From there it wasn’t a big leap for me to come to the conclusion that I had bought into a lie and although I might not have all of the answers about the afterlife I certainly couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support the idea of hell.

After more in depth research I have come to believe that hell is the invention of man and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of Dante’s Inferno and the English poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. But, none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! 

Since I have stopped believing in hell I have found that I am free to serve God because I love him and his ways – not because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I feel more compelled to love others just for the sake of loving them – not to convince them to believe something. Without hell I don’t find that there is as much need for thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” which can lead to more cooperation and unity … in other words we can do more good together.

At the same time not believing in hell has led to other questions which anyone reading this might be asking at this very moment. In an effort to give you some answers and much more food for thought here are three resources that you might find helpful:

One resource that I found especially helpful was the work of Crystal Lewis. She has written an excellent E-book (available for free) called Quenched – What Everyone (Especially Christians) Should Know About Hell. In the book she covers all the Old and New Testament verses that mention hell, the origins of the idea of underworlds and why people continue to believe in hell. You can download her E-book here and access her individual blog (which includes a series called “One Hell of a Lie”) here.

Another good resource I ran across was the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson. He was a super star preacher with a huge, devoted following. He rubbed elbows with the most powerful political and religious leaders in the U.S. He had it all. He was on top of the world. Until one day while watching the evening news he realized that he had bought into one hell of a lie and had been spreading it. He was so convinced that the hell he had preached about was a lie that he risked (and lost) everything to share what he believes to be true.

Here’s a little bit of Bishop Pearson’s story in his own words:

My kids were real small. My daughter, who’s now 16, was an infant in my lap. And I was watching the evening news, about the Hutus and Tutsis returning to Uganda. I was angry with God and very disgruntled – these poor African people were suffering so violently and I was overwhelmed with compassion and grief and guilt and anger.

I thought: “I’m here with this little fat-cheeked baby, and I’m eating my dinner watching the news in my lovely home, Mercedes in the garage, beautiful wife, everything going great.” I looked at children like my daughter, with flies around their eyes. And I assumed they were non-Christians under the judgment of God and going to hell.

You could see the little babies’ bellies distended and swollen, and they were scratching and crying and their mother was sitting there with this blank expression on her face, with her breast deflated, the child pulling at it, no milk. I thought, they’re probably Muslims or into Juju, they’re headed to hell.

I said to God: “How could you allow that? Call yourself a God of love? You let those poor people suffer, then suck ’em right into hell.”

And that’s when I felt I heard God say: “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

I said: “Well that’s what the Bible says. They’re not Christians. They’re going to hell.”

“Can’t you see they’re already there? That is hell and I’m pulling them out of there, out of that place that you as humans have created for them and yourselves.”

You can find more of Bishop Pearson’s story here and watch a 4 part MSNBC video series “To Hell and Back – Is Hell Real?” that tells his story here.

And finally here is an excellent response from Shane Hipps that concentrates on the reality that whatever any of us believe about the afterlife it’s all purely speculative. I particularly like this piece because Hipps concludes by pointing out that perhaps we should be spending less time pondering the afterlife and more time on the here and now – which is something I wholeheartedly agree with!

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Check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe – Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman - Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda – The Y In The Road
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell
Elaine – What The Hell?

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

You can’t get there from here

you-cant-get-there-from-hereThis post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”.  This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t get there from here.” The urban dictionary defines the saying to mean “the problem can’t be solved.”

As I thought about solutions to the divisions the Christian church is presently experiencing I realized I felt like “you can’t get there from here.”

When I think about healing the division in the church “here” becomes Christian unity and that’s where I see us needing to “get to” … I believe we have to know where we want to go before we can plan on how to get there, but, in order to pursue Christian unity we must first understand what it is and what it isn’t …

I don’t have a clear vision of what Christian unity is, so, I am limiting my contribution to some basic thoughts about Christian unity…

What I hate about Christian unity:

I hate the way the term or idea is used to shut down a criticism.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to bully someone who is disagreeing.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to avoid conflict.

I hate the way the term or idea is used as if it means agreement or uniformity.

Some things I believe about Christian unity:

Some things are worth division.

Uniformity is not unity.

Agreement is not unity.

Unity is better than uniformity or agreement.

Getting along with everyone is not equal to Christian unity.

Open acts of injustice are a real and formidable obstacle to Christian unity.

Christian unity is related to shalom in that it doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conflict but has everything to do with right relations.

Christian unity is not so much a destination as it is something that we are continually striving for in each present moment.

What I love about Christian unity:

It is other centered.

We get glimpses of it when we look through the eyes of the other.

It is a high ideal.

It is centered around, justice, love and mercy.

We can make it happen.

Questions I have about Christian unity:

Is Christian unity the opposite of division?

Can Christian unity exist in the midst of divisions?

Should Christian unity be more about a way of living and interacting than about a list of rules or beliefs that we agree on?

How can I have unity with someone who embraces something I believe is harmful to people?

Is Christian unity really nothing more than the agreement of a few basic ideas?

What do you think? Can we get there from here?


Here are the links to the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog. I hope you will take the time to read more.