The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience or devotional practice [is] that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine [makes] you kinder, more empathetic and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness this [is] good theology. But if your notion of God [makes] you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it [leads] you to kill in God’s name, it [is] bad theology.
Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase
Nick Spencer, in his book Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarised Debate, talks about compassion for the vulnerable being the critical litmus test of a society’s social health – a truly sobering reminder of the state of our society’s declining social health, I thought. Spencer goes on to say that
a nation should be proud rather than grudging in its acceptance of the truly vulnerable, There are few higher callings than to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and house the homeless.
Some quotes from Desmond Tutu’s God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time.
On ‘a deep reverence’ for this world:
… all is ultimately holy ground and we should figuratively take off our shoes for it all has the potential to be ‘theophanic’ – to reveal the divine. Every shrub has the ability to be a burning bush and to offer us an encounter with the transcendent.
On a church that is too focused on the world to come:
A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous.
On prayer, government and the kingdom of God:
It is dangerous to pray, for an authentic spirituality is subversive of injustice. Oppressive and unjust governments should stop people from praying to God, should stop them from reading and meditating on the Bible, for these activities will constrain them to work for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion.
On peace, justice and terrorism:
… instability and despair in the third world lead to terrorism and instability in the first world. … there is no way in which we can win the war against terrorism as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. […] there is no peace without justice, and safety only comes when desperation ends.
Commenting on Isaiah 56:3-8, which talks about the inclusion of foreigners and eunuchs among God’s people, foreigners and eunuchs, that is, who keep the Sabbath and the covenant, Walter Brueggemann notes that:
the community welcomes members of any race or nation, any gender or social condition, so long as that person is defined by justice, mercy, and compassion, and not competition, achievement, production, or acquisition. (Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now)
Quite so! Brueggemann is also right, it seems to me, to suggest that this ‘stance of generous inclusiveness’ is a direct contradiction of the Mosaic rules in Deuteronomy 23:1-8. Isaiah’s words are an example of prophetic critique of Israel’s ancient traditions, the kind of critique that Jesus was to continue some centuries later.
Those who remember and keep Sabbath find they are less driven, less coerced, less frantic to meet deadlines, free to be, rather than to do.
Sabbath is not simply a pause. It is an occasion for reimagining all of social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity.
Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now
Prayer should move us to action, even if it simply makes us want to be more compassionate and faithful. Entering into a relationship with God will change us, will make us more loving, and will move us to act.
James Martin, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life