A young boy was once walking down a country road on his way home from school. As he passed a neighboring farmhouse he saw the farmer nailing up a sign: "Puppies for Sale." He walked over to the man who stood admiring his handiwork and tugged at his pants.
"Whataya want, kid?" the man asked.
"I want to buy one of your puppies, mister" the boy replied.
"Boy" he said, "these are working dogs. They cost way more than you can afford."
The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. All told, he had 56 cents. He held out his hand.
"Is this enough to buy one of your puppies?"
Well, the farmer scratched his chin and thought about it. He could tell by the way the child was dressed that his folks must be barely getting by. Looking toward the barn, he gave a whistle.
A beautiful border collie trotted out the door, followed by four identical looking puppies. Moments later, a fifth puppy tumbled out the barn door and clumsily stumbled toward them, its crippled back legs causing it to wobble from side to side. The boy's eyes grew wide.
"That's the one I want" he said excitedly. The farmer looked at the puppy hobbling toward them, then back at the boy.
"Kid," he said, "you don't want that one. He won't be able to play with you or run alongside when you learn to ride a bike. Why don't you pick one of the healthy ones?"
The boy reached down to the cuff of his overalls and rolled it up, revealing a metal brace that stretched from his knee to a specially made orthopedic shoe.
"Sir," he said, "I don't run too well myself. I think that puppy can use a friend like me who understands."
Theologian Frederick Buechner writes: "Compassion is the capacity for feeling what it's like to live inside someone else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you, too."
In other words, having true compassion requires forging personal connections that make the suffering of others real to us. Like a crippled child who can imagine the joy of sharing himself with a crippled puppy, having compassion toward another stems from a place of shared experience.
Living as the presence of Christ is an invitation to go out and personally witness to the fears and the insecurities of our neighbors.
If someone in our community is struggling with addiction, we are called to be the ones to physically hold them.
If our elderly neighbor is isolated and lonely, we are called to be their companion.
If a veteran is struggling to cope following active duty, we are called to become his or her personal advocate.
We are invited - no, we are commanded - to be disciples who serve others with compassion, especially those whom this world disregards, whether it's because of their religious beliefs, immigration status, poverty, dependency, gender identity, disability - whatever.
Living compassionately isn't just life-changing for those whom we reach out to in love. It's life altering for us as well. It breathes new life into our communities here on the shore. It inspires the world that we are called to serve. It bends the arc of history toward justice and righteousness.
"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.