It’s easy until it’s you.
It’s easy to speak loudly and boldly about what needs to be done until it’s being done to you.
It’s easy to talk about the greater good and sacrifices until you’re the one sacrificing.
It’s easy, for example, to have a lot of opinions about what should happen to the US/Mexico border until you live there.
What’s not easy is having compassion when you’re not the one being affected.
From Headlines to Homes
I love political news. I know, I’m a sucker for punishment, but I look forward to my daily news brief every day. I enjoy reading about the policy proposals on the table for issues like energy and healthcare and the tax code. In some ways, it’s a giant game: What would be optimal? What can you actually pass? Let’s get out the charts and graphs and tables and put on our thick-frame policy wonk glasses and go to work.
Then more and more the news was about me. Well, not me specifically, but about the place I live, about the US/Mexico border. Suddenly when the President announces that he wants to renegotiate NAFTA and change manufacturing and trade with Mexico he’s talking about my local economy.
A huge section of our local economy survives and thrives because goods are crossing back and forth across the border every day. A huge section of our stores survive because Mexicans come over and buy our goods.
It wasn’t just about my city, but my family. I think my first policy question ever to my dad was about NAFTA in the 90s. I knew my dad worked with helping trade stuff back and forth between the US and Mexico. I asked if NAFTA was going to be good. He said he wasn’t sure but that anything that helped the US and Mexico trade would help our family business. And it probably did.
In a very real sense, my parents paid for my college education with money my dad earned because the US and Mexico were trading partners. That changes the way you see trade agreements.
Suddenly, as people cheered the idea that NAFTA was a disaster, all the headlines and policy proposals weren’t abstract to me but very very concrete. When the headlines turned I learned something that I don’t want to forget.
I’m not arguing for policy solutions here. There’s a place for economic arguments, for political arguments, for national security briefings but I’m arguing here for love.
I’m arguing for compassion.
In Mark 12, Jesus sums up the entire old Testament law when says we’re to love God with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That applies to our neighbors both in the faith with us and those outside the faith. It means everyone. It means the people affected by the news headlines.
For those of us who drive next to the border every day and see into Mexico, it means, in a very real way, our vecinos, our neighbors on the border.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means understanding them and their situation we’d want others to understand our situation. I think it means especially understanding and having a heart for those who are hurting or will be hurting. This is biblical compassion.
And compassion is embedded into God’s very character. He reveals himself as the Lord “compassionate and gracious” (Ex 4:31). God’s heart is full of compassion for the suffering and hurting and Jesus embodied this heart, full of compassion for the hurting around him (Matt 20:34).
Francis Schaeffer cuts us to the heart when he says “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” I think the same idea can be applied to decisions and policies on business and local and national levels.
Two Sides To Every Border
Surely, there is a great need for us to be able to back off from the white-hot emotion of issues, to see and pursue outcomes that benefit the most people. We need this in our workplaces and in our churches as much as we need this in our state legislature and oval office. It’s near-unavoidable that some will be adversely affected by any policy decision. We need wise, measured, leadership that is willing to make hard choices.
But let’s never make those decisions, or discuss those things, without feeling compassion for those affected and allowing that to temper our rhetoric and policy and legislation.
I truly believe we will make better policy decisions in our workplaces, in our cities, in our churches, in our country, if we make them compassionately.
This is the truth: I know people well at a church right across the border. I know their pastors. I’ve stood with my arms lifted in worship with them as we sing in Spanish, I’ve chatted with them in broken Spanish.
This is, without exaggeration, the bravest church I know. They have lived through a drug war that destroyed their city while preaching the gospel boldly. They are doing gospel work affecting their whole country and Latin America.
Visiting on a Sunday I see that many there have far less than me. I see it by the scuffs on one man’s shoes and the stain on his dress shirt. And now, I see that to make my country prosper they may sink further into poverty. They may come home and cry because papa has lost his job in the maquila industry.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, another family cheers because the auto plant isn’t shutting down anytime soon. Meanwhile, a man in his 50s, who worried he’s too old to do anything else, tells his coworker, “We’ll be open four more years at least.”
I’m not arguing for a policy, I’m arguing for compassion.
May we never read the headlines in the abstract but with these men in mind. We read, rejoicing with our brother in Michigan and weeping with our brother in Mexico. That will change the way we read and react and advocate.
Praying the Headlines
So where do we start in this? We start by praying.
Don’t just read the headlines, pray them. We naturally listen to the news with the bent “How does this affect me?” but compassion and neighbor-love means we also listen for “Who is being affected?” When we hear that, we pray.
I will confess that I worry about what will happen on the border. But I’m seeking to pray rather than become anxious. I see a sign at the outlet mall reminding Mexican shoppers about the regulations for taxes on goods they buy, and I wonder what will happen if the Mexican shoppers don’t come anymore.
It’s had a strange effect. It’s made me pray about more than I did before. My water is fine but I can pray for those in Flint, MI. My city streets are safe but I can pray for areas where they aren’t. I’ve started praying for the school districts in my city more, for the city council more, for our homeless population.
And we should not be surprised when we see opportunities for prayer and compassion to overflow into service. I’m continually struck by Paul’s example in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans to so eagerly and earnestly take up a collection for the relief of poor brothers and sisters living in poverty in Jerusalem.
To the people in Corinth or Rome, centers of power and culture, giving money to a backward province like Judea might have seemed ridiculous. But Paul pressed the issue. Why? Their neighbors were in need there. Because there were brothers and sisters in need in need there.
So if you don’t live on the border, remember me. Or rather, remember that people live here too. Remember that so many policies affect us here. And then remember your city, your state, your country. Remember compassion. Remember prayer.
Remember it’s easy to forget until it’s you.