Category: Compassion

I need you

Boyd Varty grew up in South Africa’s Londolozi Game Reserve. He wrote Cathedral of the Wild and The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life.

Varty’s classic 2013 TED Talk, “What I Learned from Nelson Mandela” describes how South Africa’s wild animal country taught him the concept of ubuntu, a Nguni word that can mean helping a stranger, or a soul force that connects people.

The basic meaning of ubuntu is “I am because you are,” expressing a communal spirit deeply embedded in African tradition. It means, “we are in this together,” or “I am incomplete without you.” We complement each other.

Americans value self-reliance. I’m thankful a voice instilled in me sometimes says, “I can do this myself.” There also are times when I could use more of the spirit of ubuntu to draw strength from others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book Life Together seeks to balance solitude and community: beware the person who cannot be alone; beware the person who cannot be in community. I’m learning that the ability to appropriately say “I need you” is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s a sign of mutuality and community–ubuntu.

From “South African ‘Ubuntu’ Philosophy Could Be the Secret Formula to Happiness,” by Sara Mohammed, Medium, May 12, 2021

Margaret’s wisdom

Aunt Margaret has taught me by example. She faced the searing pain of violence with steadfast love and grace. She made something positive out of that pain by learning about mental illness and volunteering work in that field.

At 91, her current challenge is living with decreasing memory. After 35 years as an independent single, she is adapting admirably to community life that must feel like communal life to her. She’s taught me that brief visits are best and it’s best to talk about memories of siblings, parents, grandparents and her time at Hiwassee College.

After a brief visit in her apartment on Saturday morning, we returned to the day room shared by 12 residents. She introduced me by saying, “This is my brother, Ray Hicks.” Ray (1922-2013) was her older brother. I was honored by the promotion. He was a WW2 veteran and a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Margaret wrote notes to herself, many of which were quotes she read or heard. I found one of her notes this week:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Live your life and forget your age.

Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.

From a touching 3-minute conversation with mutual respect and understanding by Scott, who suffers from memory loss, and his daughter Bailey, via YouTube

Annie, a graying lab

Hair color is partly a function of age. I went from blonde to brown to gray to white. It’s my Combs genes. Grandma Combs (nee Mullins) lived to be 104. I only knew her as white-headed. She produced a flock of white-haired descendants. It could be the Mullins genes, but all my white-haired kin are or were named Combs. Sadly, some folks don’t live long enough to experience this trichological trajectory.

I feel a trichological kinship with Annie, a black Labrador Retriever, age 19. She’s pushing the age envelope for labs. She was featured on Today. I learned about Annie shortly after spending a memorable afternoon with my aunt in her new memory care facility. My aunt’s caregivers inspire me. They understand the world of those whose memories are slipping away. Annie’s inspire me, too.

Annie’s new adopted friends were told she might have a month to live. They are now into month four and Annie is enjoying an impressive “bucket list.” Love is about helping others sing their song, or experience their bucket lists–looking beyond wrinkles, limps and trichological transformations.

From “After a 19-year-old dog was surrendered at a shelter, two best friends took her in,” by Liz Calvario, Today,


Life, as I experience it, consists of multiple layers of reality. Each layer requires some of my/our attention all the time, and at times one layer will require a larger-than-usual share of my/our attention. At present, family ties are forefront as we help my aunt relocate to her new home.

Football, the stock market, current news events, myriad urgent pleas from Democrats for money, helping church friends understand the current trend toward congregationalism, thinking, writing, teaching, participating in several groups, email, phone calls–will resume and find a new balance.

For now, my consciousness of several layers is cursory and fragmented–bits and pieces of reality not in sharp focus at the moment. We all experience this disruption when illness, natural disaster, or some major life change occurs (childbirth, divorce, grief, job relocation, new residence, etc.).

My current fragmentary moment gives me great respect for my aunt’s inner strength and her ability to “hold it together” as the glue of memory becomes less reliable. We talk about family a great deal. I repeat her stories and sometimes she says, “I don’t think I know that story.” It’s re-membering.

As the world demands pseudo-certainty, I find humor and healing in that each of us is, all of us are, trying to hold it together. I’ll reflect on a few swirling fragments–one by one– in coming posts.

A hurricane has a way of re-ordering the various “layers” of one’s life. From “Three Ways to Build Back Smarter After Hurricane Ian,” by Elana Shao, The New York Times, October 3, 2022

Love and suffering

Richard Rohr reminds us that “love and suffering, and especially suffering” are “universal paths” to change. Suffering is a common thread of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism.

A Jewish teaching, from Midrash Samuel, states that “Everyone undergoes some suffering in life. Only one who can keep it from distracting him will succeed at Torah study.”

The suffering and death of Jesus is central to Christianity. Theodore Runyon said everyone suffers, thus everyone has a point of connection with Jesus: “The uniqueness of Jesus is his universality.”

Four Noble Truths of Buddhism deal with suffering: (1) suffering exists; (2) it has a cause; (3) it has an end; and (4) it has a cause to bring about its end.

From “They Say Suffering Will Make You Stronger—But It’s Not That Simple,” by Paul Bloom, Time, November 29, 2021

Consistent, coherent connections

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was impacted by two world wars. He was cited for bravery as a World War I stretcher-bearer in a colorful, spirited, highly-decorated North African unit of the French Army. He spent much of the World War II era working as a paleontologist in China. He was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, and he spent years dealing with church leaders who opposed much of his writing and teaching. Through it all, Teilhard developed an amazing coherence in his faith, science and philosophy.

Teilhard inspires me to ask whether my worldview and my actions reflect an inner coherence. Is there a seamless connection with all things? Is my faith consistent with my politics? Is there a “gyroscope” of common sense, or particular principles, that inform my faith and my political opinions? Has religious or political fervor created blind spots in my vision? Who helps me spot inconsistencies? Do I become defensive or am I able to change my position, or find a workable compromise?

South Carolina Republican state legislator Neil Collins told the House Judiciary Committee that he no longer supports in its present form the bill he earlier voted for after he learned that the law endangered the health of a 19-year-old. Sometimes there are unintended consequences when we act based on enthusiasm, political ideology or religious dogma. Common sense encourages coherence, connection, and consistency in our attitudes, our relationships and our actions.

From “Lawmaker Tearily Explains Teen Almost Lost Uterus Because of Abortion Law He Voted For,” by Dan Ladden-Hall, The Daily Beast, August 17. 2022

Immanently transcendent

How we can meaningfully speak today about transcendence? Traditional religious language spoke of transcendence in spacial terms, as in heaven “up there.” In his 1979 book A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox suggested we think of transcendence as “future.” Ever since, my understanding of transcendence has been “welcoming the future” (in an Isaiah 43 sense).

Traditional religious metaphors about transcendence have become less frequently used by much of today’s population. I remember a well-meaning friend seeking to comfort the adult child of a just-deceased parent, saying, “He’s in a better place.” The grieving one’s blank stare made it clear that the old spacial understanding of transcendence had lost its currency.

I see transcendence as the way we connect with others in the broadest sense–humans and all creation (including creation’s source, however understood). Transcendence is getting past my self-centeredness and tribalism through what I call a “Jesus-flavored panentheism.” In spite of Christians’ failures (mine being at the top of the list), I agree with my friend Don that the gestalt of Jesus is worth pursuing.

I see faith as the way we experience the immanently transcendent. In the next few posts, I’ll try to unpack my understanding of the practical meaning of these two words.

From “The Transcendent is Immanent in Each Speck of Dust,” by Alfred K. LaMotte, The Braided Way, September 27, 2021


After reading the latest “Trump did what?” article in Friday’s Washington Post, I ran across Cathy Free’s article, “A dog was missing. Cavers found her two months later 500 feet underground.” I don’t remember the Trump article. They all run together after awhile, but I’ll remember Abby’s story.

I’ll also remember Gerry Keene, a 59-year-old spelunker, who was exploring a cave 500 feet under Missouri. He saw Abby curled up on a rock in total darkness. She was too weak to wag her tail or whimper. Keene took a photo of the dog and climbed out of the cave to get some help.

Caver Rick Haley, 66, heard about it and went with Keene to help carry the dog out. Meanwhile word spread that a dog had been found. The two men put her in a padded duffel bag, with her head poking out, and hauled her out of the cave. Abby had been missing for two months. She’s 14-years-old.

Abby was reunited with her grateful family–a story with a happy ending. No search warrant. No political posturing. Just a lost dog and two guys with soft hearts and a love of spelunking. This week, let’s look for more stories like this. From now on, if Abby sees Gerry or Rick, I’m sure she’ll wag her tail.

From “A caving project became a rescue mission after a dog was found 500 feet down,” by Wynne Davis, NPR, August 12, 2022


This morning, respectful gratitude for healers. A compassionate nurse called Monday night to say Aunt Margaret was hospitalized after a fall, likely fracturing a hip bone. A jovial orthopedic surgeon called Tuesday while I traveled to confirm the break and recommend a hip replacement. Overworked nurses were patient with their patient’s inability to remember and with her sundown syndrome.

Several healers were volunteers who staffed waiting rooms, reception areas and a library. A friendly motel clerk provided a 15% discount when I replied to “What brings you to the Secret City?” Social workers, food service staff, hospital security, and a gentle anesthesiologist transformed what could have seemed like a fleeting, mindless, rote process into an experience of genuine, personalized care.

When she was fidgety, I said, “I think Aunt Margaret needs some of Aunt Bee’s elixer.” Her nurse gave her towels and sheets to fold, calming her as they discussed various folding techniques. Less than 48 hours after surgery, she was transported to rehab. When her movement alarm was activated, the staff found her walking around on her own, earning her a seat in the hall across from the nurses’ station.

From “Clara Barton,” edited by Debra Michals, Women’s History Museum

A political faith

In White Evangelical Racism, Anthea Butler sees American evangelicalism as a political movement within the Republican Party–moving the party away from its liberation roots in Abraham Lincoln and moving it toward repressive tactics that echo post-Civil War democrats in the South.

Butler’s subtitle provides a good question for Sunday dinner conversation for individuals, families or faith groups: What are The Politics of Morality in America today? How does your faith (or moral principles) shape your politics? How do your politics shape your faith (or moral principles)?

The Founders tried to avoid two European problems made worse by religious passion: (1) religious autocracies that demanded uniformity of belief and (2) religion-based political divisions. Thus, the US Constitution prohibits a “religious test” as a prerequisite for holding public office.

Lincoln wasn’t very religious, but his politics were shaped by a biblical understanding that liberty and justice are a nation’s highest principles–with malice toward none and charity (love) for all. I share our Founders’ fear of religious parties. I share Lincoln’s politics of human rights and equal justice.

An announcement from the Equal Justice Initiative about an expansion of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice