When I look back on my life, there seems to be a very strange and yet distinct pattern. I will have feet in two disparate worlds. It's almost as if I'm placed in positions which force me not to lose contact with the multiple faces of humanity.
When I lived in Salt Lake City I was a teaching golf professional at two very nice public golf courses. One of which was a true championship course and was drop dead gorgeous. The view of the Wasatch Mountains from the top of the 10th tee box was spectacular. I used to frequently think as I played this course that it was an example of man's capacity to put his creative signature to work in harmony with nature. The course was also a designated water fowl preserve.
It almost had the feeling of an outdoor cathedral. Perhaps I wax to eloquently, but this was by far the easiest course any of us professionals had ever managed in terms of players exhibiting idiotic behavior. Because of the demand for play, it was not unusual for an 18 hole round to take 5-6 hours on the weekend. I rarely saw impatient or angry people even though there might be four groups of players backed up on a given hole. Instead I saw people at their best. I loved going to work because it really wasn't work.
At the same time, mostly during the off season, I was also a bonded bail agent and rubbed shoulders with some of the least savory people humanity has to offer-- and some of the dumbest, and some of the most addicted, and some of the most pathetic. I saw the world on the opposite side of the country club set, where the rules of engagement are entirely different. Eventually, I began to see that the two worlds were not that different in kind, only in environment and execution.
To give one example, I was stunned with the amount of prescription fraud arrests that came across my desk. Way too many times these were up scale women with large Mormon families whose husbands were clueless.
One Christmas day stands out. The police responded to some sort of domestic dispute and in the process of discovering what had gone on, the son of the couple tipped the police off to his mother's extensive stash of prescription drugs. The father was devastated, totally unsuspecting. It took all his credit cards and his best friend's credit cards to bail his wife out on felony drug charges. My heart broke for this man as it became apparent to him his suburban idyllic life and wife had been chemically fueled. We recognized each other from the golf course. It gave me the opportunity to connect him with the community resources he would need to get help for his wife. He was absolutely not going to his LDS Church for help. Too embarrassing.
That same Christmas weekend I had a gentleman in his seventies come in and ask me to bail out his girl friend who was in jail on misdemeanor drug charges. Turns out his girl friend was a 20 year old street hooker addicted to heroine. She weighed about ninety pounds and the number of needle tracks on her arms and legs were staggering. This was human wreckage at it's best, or worst I guess, depending on your point of view, but in my clients eyes, she was not just salvageable, but worthy of love. So the social worker in me comes out again and between the old man and myself we got her in rehab, hunted down her younger sister who was also a drug addicted hooker, and reconnected them with their very proper and fundamental Mormon family.
That was a disaster. I've never seen a parent turn on their children the way the father of these two girls did. The thoroughly cowed mother never said a word. I watched the now cleaned up daughter's faces go from hope to despair in less than three minutes. There was no stopping his condemnation, or his anger, or his fury. I thought I was going to have to call the police. There was no doubt he meant it when he said they were dead to him. Both girls were back on the streets in less than 12 hours.
My client, a remarkably wise old man in his own way, continued to take care of his girl friend, even if that meant buying up her time to keep her off the streets. Eventually the SLPD didn't even bother with arresting her, they just dropped her off at his apartment. Turns out the girl's daddy had been engaging in sexually educating his girls for a very long time. Which makes this a not at all unusual story or outcome. That is except for the incredible compassion shown by one old man and the lessons he taught me about what it really meant to see the Christ in others.
It was quite a Christmas gift I got that year. I learned a lot about just how similar we all are-- no matter our circumstances--- and that life throws so many curves at people, it's not wise to make judgments about others or treat them differently. I also found out that treating people with compassion is a lot easier on one's stress level than treating them with condemnation. Condemnation means your energy is invested in other people conforming to your agenda. That takes a lot of energy. Compassion on the other hand makes no demands to conform, although it frequently leads one to suggest other paths, or set up other opportunities. But unlike condemnation, compassion still respects the other person's dignity and choice.
One last observation about my two jobs. I used to play a round of golf every Tuesday with two old gents who were on the LDS quorum of 70. The Quorum of 70 is roughly equivalent to the College of Cardinals. They rarely allowed anyone else to play with us because a lot of betting was done and we had extensive conversations about religion and theology.
They used to ask me all the time about the other job. It gave them insight into what the seamier side of Salt Lake was like. They really connected with the story about the other old gent and his girl friend because it was a concrete story about compassion in action. Something they both felt organized religion needed more of if it was to maintain any real relevance in today's society. (This is not to imply we showed each other any compassion when it came to all the bets.) We talked a lot about compassion in action and I'd like to think the discussions were as fruitful for them as they were for me.
This concept of compassion in action was a place where two Mormons and one Catholic could meet in perfect agreement. If they were still alive during last year's prop 8 campaign it's difficult for me to imagine they would have given it any support. But I don't know for sure, because like two good religious politicians, they held opinions which 'were on the record', and ones which were 'off the record'. Off the record, even they admitted they were better Christians when they were, acting off the record.
This seems to be the over riding lesson coming from our hierarchy lately. I suspect they are all better Christians off the record, than on the record---compassionate off the record, and condemnatory on the record. Splitting one's Christianity between the two different modes is not good for one's authentic Christian leadership, nor one's soul. This was the conundrum faced by my two LDS golf buddies and is the same one faced by our Catholic leadership. It's really not relativism to operate from compassion. It's Christ like.