Is there a shortage of empathy today? According to Kaitlin Luna, host of Speaking of Psychology, this is precisely what is going on. In a 2019 podcast, Ms. Luna stated that “Concern and care for others’ feelings are virtues we seek to instill in our children.” But research indicates that these attributes are sorely lacking in many adult Americans today. 1

According to Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. 2

Empathy involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own — and empathy makes it possible for us to help others because we want to help. Rather than helping others because of some other pressure. Yet, according to a study conducted by Professor Sara Konrath, as a nation, we are becoming less empathetic.

As we begin our new series, Live, where our conversations focus on the new normal, we need empathy in large doses. But where and how do we draw upon this critical ingredient for creating a compassionate community?

Empathy involves experiencing another person’s point of view rather than just one’s own. And empathy makes it possible for us to help others because we want to help. Rather than helping others because of some other pressure. According to a study conducted by Professor Sara Konrath, we are becoming less empathetic as a nation.

As we begin our new series, Live, where our conversations focus on the new normal, we need empathy in large doses. But where and how do we draw upon this critical ingredient for creating a compassionate community?

Bridget Quinn lives in a northern suburb of Detroit. In a New York Times article, she noted that “Empathy can feel really rare and hard to come by because everyone is so isolated and atomized.” Ms. Quinn teamed up with two other young adults in the area, hoping to create a way for people to help each other get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Their Facebook Group grew within days to include thousands of participants. An encouraging sign that empathy can be found in abundance when we look for it.

In her interview on empathy, Dr. Sara Konrath argued that people either show the presence or lack of empathy when they go online. And people are generally who they are, whether online or not. In the case of the Facebook Group created by Bridget Quinn and her colleagues, empathy is expressed in persons using Facebook to connect in helpful ways.

Perhaps empathy can be awakened within each of us. After all, a complete lack of empathy is a strong indication of a more severe problem. A psychopath is incapable of feeling empathy. A condition requiring professional intervention.

In a reflection about the story of the first church, Eric Law writes that “We live in a world dominated by the voices of the powerful and rich, who use their power and money to influence our media and spread divisive information.” Intentional divisiveness is the antithesis of empathy.

Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams.
Acts 2:17

Social media giants, like Facebook and Twitter, are caught up in this battle. How far should they go to police content? Twitter, in particular, is under attack by the president. His threats are in response to Twitter’s decision to expose the president’s blatant mistruths by adding a pointer for readers who want to know the truth.

Law goes on to argue that we can feel defenseless against such overwhelming odds. Yet, this Sunday, we celebrate the beginning of the church. A day when a handful of diverse people, faithfully following Jesus Christ, gathered for prayer and worship. And God took action on that day, filling all present with a divine Spirit that gave them power beyond anything possible on this earth. They remained ordinary people, but with superhero powers.

Their first leader was the colorful Peter, who often surprised onlookers with his enthusiasm and lack of fear. On that day, Peter spoke words of truth that each listener heard in their own way. Peter reminded the crowd of God’s promise that “Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams.”

The Spirit opened the eyes and ears of everyone who chose to investigate the commotion that begged for attention. And this same Spirit is present today, orchestrating, empowering, and surprising anyone who dares to be courageous enough to believe that God is not done with us. Offering superhero power to ordinary people.

I thought a lot about this time in church history when ordinary persons began a movement that is so prevalent today. There are daily stories covering news about church activities as part of the conversation about life in a post-pandemic world. At Asbury, we are busy implementing changes in our worship center complete with disposable masks and hand sanitizer, in preparation for the new normal.

I thought about the first churchgoers accepting God’s gift of empowerment and how their new normal emphasized the need to share resources and struggles. Their community was characterized by empathy. And I wondered how you and I can learn from their experiences as we move ahead into a new normal.

I wondered how these three individuals living a short distance from us feel about the prospects of a new normal built on empathy. After experiencing an overwhelming response to their request for people to help each other was a great success. People with resources to share are connecting with people in need of support.

What if accessing superpowers begins with empathy?

How far is the distance from a Facebook Group that facilitates sharing from a community where every person has access to healthcare? How much empathy do we need to build a community where inequality is no more? Can you and I utilize divine superpowers to build a community that resembles the kingdom of God?

Let’s be clear. The power comes not from within each person, but from the Spirit of God. The limitation of such power is that God’s will determines how and when this power manifests itself. What if accessing superpowers begins with empathy?

For more information our series, Live, see the article, Coming up in worship on our website.

I invite you to join us this Sunday. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy

1 “Speaking of Psychology: The Decline of Empathy and the Rise of Narcissism,” © Psychology Today, Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy.

2 “Empathy,” © Psychology Today, Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy.

3  Jennifer Medina. “Where Coronavirus Help on Facebook Is ‘Inherently Political’,” © NY Times, May 28, 2020, Retrieved from :https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/us/politics/michigan-coronavirus-help.html?referringSource=articleShare.

4 Eric H. F. Law. “Spirit and Breath of Power,” The Upper Room Disciplines 2020: A book of daily devotions. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books. © 2019 by Upper Room Books.