I’m aware that sometimes teachers/chaplains/youth workers stand up in front of young people and tell them all the things they should be doing. Today’s assembly was on compassion so I took the opportunity to be honest about how difficult doing the right thing can be. Rather than presenting myself as someone with all the answers I think it’s healthy to be upfront that even as someone employed by the church I find some of Jesus’ most basic commands about loving others and being non-judgmental incredibly difficult.

What follows is a story about a recent trip to New York and some of the people I encountered there that formed the basis of a short school reflection…

When I visited New York in January it felt like I spent most of my time on the Metro. You sure find some interesting characters on the underground – you never know who we’re walking past!

Most of the time you try keep your head down and pretend they’re not there; all in the hope that you get to your destination without any bother. This was my experience in Manhattan.

“I’m the New York Candy Man,” he bellowed. A young entrepreneur holding a box offering a selection of chocolate, Oreos and M&Ms explained eloquently that he was trying to help fund his studies.  No one flinched or looked up from their kindles and IPad’s.

America has an incredibly expensive education system – this is how the Candy Man finds the money to pay his way through school.

On another trip a man in a wheelchair shared his story about how his health bills caused him and his family to lose their house. A woman reached over offering him a dollar bill and said, “I lost my home one time and I know how it feels.”

America has the least effective but most expensive health care system. We complain that we only get to see the doctor for 5mins but in the States the doctor sits behind a cash register. Least we have the safety net of the NHS.

“I mean you no harm,” the third man boomed in a loud voice. “I’ll be honest with you I’m just out of jail and I’m looking for help with anything you can offer.” One woman with her wee boy held tightly to her handbag as the man walked up and down the train. The rest of the passengers breathed a tangible sigh of relief as he finally disembarked – no doubt to tell his story to the next carriage.

Do we really believe in second chances?

By the third time I realised the Underground in Manhattan was a lot like Buchanan St; filled with people you spend most of your time trying to avoid.

The one thing that each of the storytellers had in common was my  cynicism. Each story I heard, I grumbled in disbelief.

I could buy those sweets somewhere else half the price!

I don’t believe he’s lost his home or that he actually needs that wheelchair! 

I’m not giving my money to him he’ll probably spend it on drugs.

What lies underneath the surface says a lot about a place. Against the backdrop of Manhattan and the bright lights of Time Square people share their stories of desperation, struggle and of difficulty. Mesmerised by a shrine to capitalism and consumerism but dead to people’s need.

It makes you question what is real and what is fake. What New York presents to the tourist vs the story of real New Yorkers.

But it also makes you question what lies under the surface of your own life. What you show others…and what lies on the inside. Like New York I didn’t like what I found.

I struggled to show compassion. I struggled to see past people’s labels and their appearance. I convinced myself that I didn’t need to act or step outside my comfort zone.

So my challenge today – and I’m saying this as much to myself – is to find one person in these next few days and show them an act of kindness. It might be something grand or something as small as putting some change in a cup.

I wanted to finish with the words from this poem by Steve Marboli

Dare to Be

When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.
When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.
When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.
When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.
When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.
When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.
When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.
When times are tough, dare to be tougher.
When love hurts you, dare to love again.
When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.
When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.
When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.
When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.
When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.
When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.
Dare to be the best you can –
At all times, Dare to be!

  • What stories might you be able to share with your groups of children and young people that shows the things you find difficult about following Jesus?

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