April 3, 2016 • Life for Leaders
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Are you familiar with StoryCorps? Here’s their mission statement, as it appears on their website:
StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.
A recent StoryCorps recording featured a conversation with François Clemmons. Clemmons played the role of Officer Clemmons on the program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Clemmons, an African-American graduate student, met Fred Rogers, a white Presbyterian minister, in 1968. After meeting, Fred Rogers invited Clemmons to participate on his television program which was marketed toward children but which, quite arguably, was a gentle teacher to many adults who sat with their children to watch the show.
In the StoryCorps conversation, Mr. Clemmons shares his reservations about appearing on the show, especially in light of his experience of police officers in his community during a time of civil rights marches and displays of racism on the nightly news. As Clemmons explains:
Policeman [sic] were sicking police dogs and water hoses on people. And I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.
But Clemmons does accept the role of a police officer in Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and, in one scene, Fred Rogers invites Officer Clemmons to sit with him and cool his feet in a wading pool. There they sit, on national television — a white man and a black man, their feet resting beside each other in the very same pool of water — as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Fred Rogers brought a gentle and kind presence to his engagement of culture, and one of his most compelling and undeniable virtues was compassion. In the StoryCorps conversation, François Clemmons shares the impact this scene had on him:
The icon Fred Rogers, not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub he was helping me dry my feet… And so that scene touched me in a way that I was not prepared.
Listeners to the conversation on StoryCorps’ website, can hear Fred Rogers and Officer Clemmons in this short, but moving exchange. At the very end of the audio clip of this interaction between Mister Rogers and Officer Clemmons, we hear Mister Rogers saying, “Sometimes just a minute like this, will really make a difference.”
In Colossians, Paul reminds us of the importance of compassion. Just as we dress ourselves in jeans and a t-shirt, sneakers and socks, Paul tells us compassion is the spiritual equivalent of an outer garment. As people who have received much compassion — people who are holy and dearly loved, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience should be the way we move through the world. When we take these virtues with us, into every encounter in every day, even small moments make a difference for eternity.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
When have you experienced the compassion of another person?
When have you extended compassion toward another person?
How can you remember to clothe yourself with compassion on a daily basis?
Dear Lord, you are full of compassion and I have been richly blessed because of it. Thank you for loving me, exactly as I am. Help me to be compassionate toward those I meet today, accepting them exactly as they are. Amen.
Image Credit: By Dr. François S. Clemmons – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41429120.