The D-Day celebrations and remembrances have been important news this week. Seventy-five years ago allied troops helped liberate France from German occupation and brought about the end of World War II. The movie Saving Private Ryan marked that scene on Normandy Beach for millions of people who did not experience it directly, burning in our memories the horrors and losses of war.
At the end of the movie Private Ryan kneels over the dying captain who along with 6 others had come to extract Ryan to send him back home after his three brothers had been killed. The US military did not want the family to lose their only other son. Four of the six sent to extract Ryan did not survive including Captain Miller.
In his dying breath, Miller whispers to a distraught and beleaguered James Ryan, “James, earn this, earn it.”
Though many Christians do not accept a theology that supports the idea of earning salvation or blessings, so that God’s gifts are only given to the righteous and deserving, two emotional responses to the gifts of life seem natural. One is of course gratitude. The other is compassion, the desire we have to attend to the needs of others and which often includes doing something in response.
Brain science and social science has spent centuries overcoming ancient ideas put forward from Plato to Kant that say emotions are unreliable and the basis for irrationality and even sin. Now research shows a more positive view of human nature and emotion and rejects the preeminence of self -interest. Put more succinctly, we seem to be wired for compassion. It is part of our biology.
This relatively new knowledge is something to celebrate and to cultivate. That we are good is in line with the biblical witness of the creation story. If humans are wired for compassion then we can realize a greater sense of bonding, a greater sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. And which of course offers the prospect of greater peace among us.
So as we gather together at church week after week perhaps we can cultivate and strengthen the idea that we are wired for compassion, for good. We can celebrate humanity and our connection to God, to all that is good, and we can expect that this goodness will grow because of our decisions to recognize, honor and celebrate this about ourselves and our human companions.
But what about that “earn it” idea? What keeps that idea prevalent and perhaps useful? What harm does it do, and what good?
I hope to see you Sunday morning at 8:30 in DiscipleChurch held in Leonard Memorial Chapel. We start early, so there is plenty of time left in your day for late spring activities.