I looked up from the groceries I was tucking into the trunk of my car when I heard her voice. Instantly, my judgmental senses went tingly….(Think: spider senses but without the super powers or altruistic motivation…) “Excuse me….Do you have any bottles?  I’m just trying to get my car to Jackson… I just need $3.00.” She was older- I think, or maybe life had just etched itself harshly on her features. She nervously tugged at her scarf as she talked. There was something childlike behind the etched face. There was also something.. hard.

“Sorry- all I have is a water bottle….” Grabbing the empty re-usable football water bottle still in my trunk from Sunday….Maybe I was trying to give evidence that I had no bottles…. Or maybe I was looking for a weapon…just in case. (Parking lot muggings are always on the news… or maybe on drama-mentaries….whatever- pretty sure I’ve seen this scene before. and it never ends well. ) “I’m just trying to get enough change to get to Jackson.” She replied.

Which is about the time I remembered I’m a Christian and my word for the year is: Mercy. Rescue. A lightbulb went on and I realized this was one of those “opportunities.”

After quickly looking around for accomplice’s and finding none….(It was daytime and I was the sketchiest person in the parking lot..)  I reached into my purse, carefully covering the fact that I had more than change in there…(No need to advertise that I actually HAD 20.00 duh.) Like a poker player covering their hand -I counted out $15.00 and suddenly had a weird feeling come over me… it was one part power, one part love and one part feeling… well….. good that I had something that someone else needed. I wasn’t just going to give her the $3.00 she asked for, I was going to BLOW HER MIND with my generosity. “Here— I don’t want you to run out of gas…” I said handing over the wad of singles,my words dripping with either love or condescension.. I’m not sure which. Except, it didn’t blow her mind. She looked kind of….bored. She took the money, smiled- and then scooted away across the parking lot.

Possibly heading directly to the nearest liquor store. ( I am fully aware that this is a classic parking lot scam…but a long time ago I decided not to withhold help because of assumptions….

Score one for mercy. Maybe.

Too bad I hadn’t decided a long time ago to withhold condescension as well..

Forget about the fact that I’d just helped this woman…. let’s look at my twisted thought process. I’m embarrassed to say this was more about ME- than Jesus. it was more about BEING merciful and mercy.

The truth is- it was more about condescension than compassion.

I HATE condescension. I’ve had people look at me not with compassion but condescension…condescension is placing oneself above another. It connotes a “looking down upon” someone else. An “I know better than you” Or “I will help you because you are so needy…” kind of attitude.  All of which: I’m guilty of. Often.

I hate that.

When condescended to- we feel less. Which is not mercy. Mercy VALUES a person over their actions. Mercy makes more of a person than they feel they are. Not less.

After this parking lot experience- I keep thinking about the times I’ve felt someone be truly compassionate toward me. Merciful. Without condescension.

It seems to me that compassion asks what a person feels or needs…. and condescension assumes. (Stuff like: You are a mess and I can fix you. Awww you poor thing- I am so past that kind of experience that I’m sure i can help you do this better…” ) The times I’ve felt someone have great compassion towards me- are the times when they took the time to LISTEN to how I feel and what I need,.. and then acted on it. Not the times they assumed how I felt and what I needed and did what made them feel better.

So what about you? Do you sometimes get caught in condescension? How do you show compassion without condescension?

Dear Lord- I was a hot mess of condescension yesterday. Actually- It was a regular mixed greens salad of pride, fear and condescension topped with a vinaigrette of care and love. Lord- help me to drop that. Help me to be merciful and help others the way YOU help me…. with real love. I’m pretty sure that woman in the parking lot saw right through me….I hope when she did- she saw you…. even if I was shot- blocking you. I love you lord- please forgive this heart of mixed motives and metaphors….amen.

I was beyond offended. “Excuse me? I can’t even TOUCH it? I may be: What? Unclean? “  I wondered if I was on a hidden camera show. “Is this a joke?” I’m a lover and collector of books. I am compelled to at least run my fingers over the spines. If the slightest bit of my interest is piqued, I explore them like they hold the hidden keys of life and love.  But here- I was- with a beautifully bound, gilt edged book right at eye level begging to be explored- confronted with a sign saying: “In honor of our faith, Please do not touch this holy book, you may inadvertently cause it to be unclean.”  I couldn’t believe it. I’d gone into this little shop to experience a little multi-cultural shopping- not to be judged.

I glanced up and down the aisle. No one was looking. In my typical strong willed way- after being told (albeit in a nicely worded sign.) not to touch the book, I desperately: wanted to. “They’ll never know. It’s not like it (or I) will burst into flames or anything. Besides- that’s what you get for judging me.”  At least I hoped nothing would burst into flames. Before I could raise my hand, I heard the squeak of grocery cart wheels and the voice of a mother telling her toddler “No.” to buying candy and his whine in response. Flames or not, I didn’t want to be caught even thinking about touching that book. I walked as quickly as I could away from the squeak (and the whining) to the front of the store. In the corner of my eye I caught sight of her beautiful deep brown eyes peeping out from under her head covering.  Suddenly, I felt very naked.  “Is she judging me for my naked head, too?”  (Yes, I’d gotten paranoid, guilt does that:P)

I made my way to the counter to pay for my purchase and a smiling face and warm, deep voice met me there. “Do you find what you need today, Ma’am? Can I help you find anything else?” His kindness made me feel like a criminal. (Guilt  also does that. It’s ambidextrous.) “No, but thanks.” I mumbled.  Hoping my fake smile would hide the truth that: I had just seconds ago wanted to purposefully and willfully defile his merchandise- worse yet- his holy book. Ugh.

My guilt was short lived. By the time I made it to my car, I also felt: self righteous and maybe a bit (ok, a lot) prideful.

“I’m so glad that I serve a touchable God. One who doesn’t require me to be “clean” to love me. I can pick up my bible and read it any time I want to. Anyone can. I don’t have to perform weird rituals or be afraid I’ll wreck it with my un-clean-ness. I can’t even imagine being in such a controlling religion.”  

 I stuck my keys into the door lock, with a righteous jab. Which, is when I noticed my pink “everyday” bible (forgotten) in the back deck window. It’s cover was curled from the heat of the car. It’s pages were yellowed from the sun.  There was a brown stain where I’d left an iced tea sitting on it for too long….and it’s pages were crimped from when it had slid to the floor and feet had found it, before I did.

The irony did not escape me.

It mocked me.

Maybe, I could learn a thing or two (or 10) about reverence from my Halal corner deli.

I wonder- how would my bible study change if I could only study at certain times of the month?  Would I long for it more- when I can’t? I wonder how it would change if I chose to ceremonially wash before even touching my Bible? Would I be more apt to remember my sin and Christ’s redemption? Maybe.

Either way- I took that pink bible out of the back window and am treating it with a bit more respect. I think it’s about time.

 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Lord let your word not just be taken for granted in the back seat of my life- but be at work in me. I love you lord and thank for speaking to me through a Quran in the Halal deli. Amen

Interesting word study on reverence in the  Bible-

Interesting resource for understanding the religious observances of the Quran (particularly the no- touching thing that I have such issues with)