We went to the University of Missouri choral union and chamber orchestra’s performance of “Considering Matthew Shephard” last night. Incredible music, miraculously performed, took us to a shared experience of being united with sighs too deep for words. You can listen to an original 2016 recording, or watch a PBS special about this opus by Craig Hella Johnson.
25 years ago, Tuesday October 6, 2018, between the Snowy and Laramie Ranges of Wyoming, Matthew Shephard was tied to split-rail fence, beaten severely and left to die in the elements because he was gay. 18 hours later a fellow student riding his bike found him; he thought it was a scarecrow. Matt remained in a coma on life support for six days until he died. 8 years later, Johnson’s words and music would ask: When a hate crime is committed, what does it mean to be a victim, a parent, a community member, a perpetrator? How do we learn to find hope in hopeless situations?
In 2019, when I listened to Matt’s parents Judy and Dennis speak in profound ways, I knew I could no longer keep silent. For over a decade of quiet conversations with pastors and Bible scholars, I had worked with a group called “Freedom to Serve” seeking ordination of LGTBQ persons called to ministry in the church. Now this act of violence and hate, along with Fred Phelps saying he got what he deserved, gave voice to my compassion, even if it meant upsetting misguided opinions of people I loved.
If I had to choose one word to describe the peasant Jewish rabbi Jesus, it would be “compassion” — to suffer with — to acknowledge another human’s suffering and feel motivated to alleviate it. Jesus taught his followers: “be compassionate, as your Father in heaven is compassionate.” If someone claims to follow Jesus and has no compassion for the suffering of others, I question the road they’ve taken.
Words and music stirred up my compassion last night. I needed it. Compassion fatigue is rampant. I am exhausted by a rewarded compassionless spewer of deception, hate, and division. The continued suffering of Israelis and residents of Gaza and Ukraine deplete me. Sarcasm and silence reveal signs of burnout. From the God of Abel who continues to hear my brother’s and sister’s voices crying out from the ground for justice, I seek the energy to speak.
What events in your life gave voice to your silence? How is compassion fatigue affecting you today? What do you feel called to do about it?