Minister’s Moment, February 2018
“Empathy is full presence to what’s alive in the other person at this moment.” – John Cunningham
As a student at the University of Minnesota I heard a story I will never forget. A young man, a college freshman from the Deep South, had just moved to Minneapolis and was experiencing his first real winter. Not realizing he would need a new winter coat, snow boots, and winter gloves, he was pretty shocked and miserable to say the least! One December morning with the thermometer well below zero he bravely walked (or probably ran) out to his mailbox at the end of the driveway. As he was heading back inside he waved to his next-door neighbor and said with a smile, “Cold out today isn’t it?” “Sure is,” she replied, “but at least it isn’t humid!”
I cracked up of course when I heard this story and I love retelling it. With something as light and funny as the concept of “a dry cold” it doesn’t really matter so much that the next-door neighbor minimized the young man’s experience. But what happens when we minimize real pain and suffering?
I see it all the time. I do it myself. Growing up in the Midwest I somehow learned to respond to difficult emotions and conversations with blind optimism and disengagement. Did you? “Oh you had a bad breakup? Well at least you have good friends. Oh you are concerned about your health? Well at least you don’t have cancer. Oh you are scared to make a big career move? Well at least you have a job.”
This is not empathy. As Brené Brown says, “Empathy never starts with the phrase “Well at least…” True empathy is not a quick solution offered or a superficial attempt to make things better. In fact, our responses, whatever they may be, will rarely, if ever, make anything better when a person is sharing their pain with us. What makes something better is real human connection. True empathy fuels connection. And here is the good news: the best place I have ever found to cultivate empathy is at church!
So please join us this month at Peoples Church as we explore empathy, build real connections, and make a difference in the wider world. We will practice techniques like deep listening, genuine empathy, and compassionate communication in order to change our personal lives and the health of our planet. It is a big task so of course we will start small. We will engage our Mission, our Covenant of Right Relations, and our Anti-Racism/Dismantling White Supremacy work in all we do. We will open our wild, yearning hearts to new connections and we will love fiercely and tenderly. Happy February!
Yours in faith,