Shadow Side and All

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

“I’ve done my one good deed for the day.”

You’ve heard the phrase. I’ve heard it countless times. Probably said it more times than I care to admit. Sometimes with irony. Others with true pride.

As if there’s nothing left to do for the next twenty-four hours.

As if a compassionate life requires more than this.

As if compassion isn’t a moment-by-moment decision. As if it’s a one-off act that gets us off the hook.

And yet, compassion. True, deep, compassion is a posture rooted in the humility that comes from acknowledging our own brokenness.

It’s a posture with which I’m not always comfortable. It’s a posture that requires continual practice.

My muscle memory is weak.

And yet I know. Deep, deep down, I know that I must continually practice. I must continually be attentive. And I must be attentive to God, to place, to the others I encounter.

Because compassion, if it is to mean anything, if it is to go deeper than the surface, requires deep and rooted relationships. It requires deep understanding, and it requires vulnerability.

Without these things, compassion manifests as mere pity.

And you know? I think it’s true that we live in a truly pitiful society. We major in pity.

Rarely do we enter into each others’ sufferings. If I can avoid it, I’d rather walk on the other side of the street, rather ignore the scuffle on the sidewalk, rather ignore the man on the street, head-bowed, arms lifted up, asking for change.

Could we spare a little change? Just a little one. We’re not talking about systemic transformation here. Just a little change. Even still, in the weakness of my spirit, I find it so easy to walk away.


And yet, in this Holy Week. In this Holy, God-Awful week, as we walk with Jesus towards the cross, we are called to enter into another’s sufferings.

This is precisely what we’re asked to do.

Not simply to pity Jesus. Not to preemptively revel in victory, even as he makes his way towards ridicule and humiliation, pain and separation, and torture.

A friend cries out from across the street. He cries out, asking us to join him in his sufferings. “Pick up your cross and follow me,” he says. “Pick up your cross.”

I can’t even imagine what it would mean to enter into the story of Simon of Cyrene. To be the one walking down the street, pulled out of the crowd by the Roman thugs for just such a task. Would the RCMP do such a thing? The Vancouver PD?

It’s so hard to imagine myself there. Can you do it? Is there anything that stands in the way?

Maybe it’s the mile-a-minute-stream-of- self-important-bravado. Maybe it’s the I’m-in-a-rush-so-get-out-of-my-way manner in which I’m used to walking down the street.

But what would it take to come up for air, to look someone in the eye, and enter into their story. To pick up a cross. To enter into that journey, not merely in a symbolic way, but truly. Actually. Picking up someone’s burdens. Someone trampled underfoot by this North American culture of death.

This week we need to enter these stories, to live them out, to try them on. Spend our week in church. Spend our week intentionally embracing the sufferings of others.

I don’t know how it is for you, but I need this week.

I need the ecstasy and the tumult of this week to take me deep into the conflicted heart of God. I need the shadows and the glory of this week to put me face to face with my own defiant brokenness, and to be embraced by the one who welcomes me home, shadow side and all.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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