‘The Compassion Quest’ published at last… but not in Portuguese!

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

Today, my new book The Compassion Quest has been officially published. I’m excited to see the reaction it will get, as I think it’s a book that will challenge many. In fact, it still challenges me now when I re-read it! After all, how many of us can say we truly show compassion to every part of God’s wonderful creation – to our friends, our neighbours, our enemies, to strangers, animals, the environment?

The process of writing the book has itself had its challenges. There were often times when I asked myself whether pouring my deeply-held beliefs and values into another book was making me all too vulnerable – most books, after all, are deeply personal (whether directly or indirectly) and reflect the heart and soul of the writer. But the process of writing also had times of pure joy, which culminated in the day that I was informed that bestselling author and President Clinton’s former spiritual advisor Tony Campolo was endorsing the book. “This is a book that was waiting to be written”, he wrote.

One of the more unusual events that occurred during the writing process, though, was that I noticed that an increasing number of Brazilians were following me on Twitter and Facebook. After a few days scratching my head as to why this was happening, I was told that a quotation from my last book, Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering, had appeared in Wm Paul Young’s follow-up to his #1 New York Times bestseller The Shack, and it turns out that Wm Paul Young is particularly popular in Brazil! Many of his fans had noticed my name in his book, had appreciated the quotation, and had looked me up on social media sites.  Soon, I began to get tweets and messages, all written in Portuguese, from people desperate to find my books in their mother tongue!

Unfortunately, my Portuguese is rather rusty, so The Compassion Quest will not be appearing in Portuguese in the immediate future. But, then again, neither will it be appearing in my own mother tongue (Welsh) or that of my wife (German)! Still, in many ways, the quotation that Wm Paul Young chose to include in his book, Cross Roads, summarises The Compassion Quest and so I will finish with those words: ‘A dor pode nos fazer lembrar que estamos vivos, mas o amor nos faz lembrar por quê’ (Trystan Owain Hughes). [‘Pain may well remind us that we are alive, but love reminds us why we are alive’ (Trystan Owain Hughes)].

Please feel free to use or share this image

Please feel free to use or share this image

We are Family, all my Brothers, Sisters, and Me!

Who is the most famous person you’ve met? My list is not particularly impressive, although I did once share a few drinks with Terry Jones of Monty Python, in the famous White Horse Tavern in New York. Earlier this week, I asked this same question as I led a Quiet Day in St Michael’s Theological College in Cardiff, Wales. After the college had appeared on the BBC’s Vicar Academy series recently, I was imagining that the students would simply point at each other, but some of the answers I was given were intriguing: Prince Edward, Johnny Depp, Katherine Jenkins, Jonathan Edwards (I presume the triple jumper, not the eighteenth-century evangelist!), Mark from Take That, Simon Cowell, Eddie Izzard, Shadow from the 90s TV show Gladiators (not even sure if that was a man or woman!), and Richard Dawkins… no, wait there, it was Richard Dawkins’ wife!

sixdegsepThese answers all brought to my mind the phrase ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. In 1929, the Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, suggested that you could take any two people in the world and connect them with each other through six steps or fewer. In other words, a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements could be made between you and Barak Obama, just as could be made between you and a factory worker in Beijing. Recent research has shown that our connection to each other may be even closer than six degrees. In 2011, researchers at the University of Milan had concluded, using the data of 721 million Facebook users, that there was, in fact, a mere 3.74 degrees of separation between us. And I can believe that. Facebook, which I see now has over 900 million users, often reveals mutual friendships that leave us startled – ‘how do you know that friend of mine?!’

We are certainly all connected in so many ways. Twitter and Facebook have extended our networks in ways we would never have imagined only a few years ago. I’m guessing blogs take us one step further, in that they allow us to share thoughts, ideas, values, and creativity with each other. Rather than creating false connections with others, as critics of social media would sometimes have us believe (“Facebook friends are not real friends!”), perhaps the world of social media reflects a deeper truth about our desire to connect with each other.

The most frequent word for ‘compassion’ in the Old Testament is related to the Hebrew term for womb, rechem. In other words, Judaism and Christianity teach us that we are all intimately connected as one large family and should treat each other as if we had shared the same womb. The French Cistercian Charles de Foucauld’s wonderful concept of the ‘universal brotherhood’ is rooted in such a realisation. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: ‘I hope we can accept a wonderful truth – we are family! We are family! If we could get to believe this we would realise that care about ‘the other’ is not really altruistic, but it is the best form of self-interest’.