Compassion Competition

I don’t usually comment on things like this but the recent situation regarding the flurry of online activity about Amy Winehouse’s death and other tragedies in our world has got me thinking and reacting.  There’s a trend that I see especially among Christians.  As I go online and read people’s reactions to her death, possibly from a drug overdose, the reaction among many is to use her death as a springboard to draw attention to other things going on in our world, the famine in Africa and the mass killing in Norway.  The comments all seem to have a similar theme.  “Why are people so caught up in the death of this one woman when so many are dying around the world.”

I believe a couple of things about these comments.  I think the first is a reaction to the idolization of celebrity in our culture.  There are numerous people who die every day from drug overdoses.  Amy Winehouse’s death has been brought to our attention in a different way because she was a famous musician.  Her celebrity and the attention paid to her in the media feeds this idea of celebrity in our culture.  Now, I have to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting the rise of celebrity in our culture.  I read about them but I don’t worship at the altar.  I think we lament about the power celebrities have but yet, it’s fed by the people.  But that’s another discussion for another day.

What I really find disturbing about this backlash against Amy Winehouse’s death (and I do think it is a backlash) is that it represents a trend among people who are called by God to show compassion.  When many Christians think about Amy Winehouse I wonder how many think “Well, when you do drugs…” and I wonder how many shake their heads and secretly think that with her lifestyle she deserved it.  So there are postings that say, well, why is there so much attention to this one drug addicted woman when there are so many dying elsewhere.  Good point, but I think we’re missing the mark and in danger of losing perspective on how Christ might have us deal with this situation in our world of multiple tragedies.

Here it is.  We seem to think that there is more virtue for those who are suffering through circumstances beyond their control (famine, natural disaster) then for those who meet destruction through their own actions.  Those who can’t help it deserve our compassion more than those who could have made better choices and prevented it?

Christ did not differentiate to whom he showed compassion.  He was sad for the woman who led a life of prostitution and sad for the man born blind.  He showed love and mercy to both.  I would be in irreparable trouble if Christ only showed me compassion for the things that weren’t my fault or a result of my doing.  Christ died for my sins, for the sins of Amy Winehouse, for the sins of the world and to reconcile nature and creation to himself.  Christ saw Amy Winehouse.  He grieved for her, cried for her, and saw that she was lost and needed him so badly.

As Christians we are called to show compassion to all who need it.  The starving in Africa need it, the families of those killed in Norway need it, Amy Winehouse needed it, and I need it.  My choices may have been different from hers but my sins come between me and God just like hers did.  There is no virtue for me to shake my head and use her as an object lesson.  She was a broken young woman in need of God who died in sad and terrible circumstances.  As Christians we should not have a limited supply of compassion that we dole out to the most worthy.  One of the hard things about being a Christ follower and trying to do as he did is that sometimes we are overwhelmed by the need in our world.  Our hearts are supposed to break for people who are starving, people who were murdered and their families who are left to deal with that realization, and for that lone young woman, famous or not, who tried to fill the Christ-shaped void in her life with the drugs that killed her.  Our compassion should show no prejudice, should be all-encompassing, and at times, yes, be slightly overwhelming.  With the realization of the endless mercy and compassion Christ showed me, I need to go and do likewise.