Book Review – Risky Compassion by Ash Barker

by Mark Votava


This is a wonderful book by Ash Barker.  I loved the stories of a risky compassion throughout the narrative of this writing.  Inspiring, insightful and prophetic in all kinds of ways.  In this book, Ash shares his wisdom of embodying a risky compassion for twelve years in a slum in Bangkok where he lived with his wife and two children.

As I read the book, it seemed to draw out in me a deeper longing to find solidarity with those struggling with poverty.  I was moved to want to risk loving others enough to help them see what they have to offer their own liberation.  Compassion is a risky word that is often times unfamiliar to the American way of life in the West.  It seems that people in the West are becoming vindictive toward almost anyone who wants to live out anything more authentic than just what is about status quo progress.

This vindictiveness makes me sad.  The United States is becoming so individualistic and has virtually forgotten that life is communal, interconnected and relational at its core.  We are becoming the loneliest, wealthiest country in the world.  Risky Compassion speaks to our world in a deeply honest way of truthfulness and serenity.  Ash Barker and his family are incarnational expressions of love, compassion and vulnerability for our time.

I loved the parts in the book that talked about the vulnerability of compassion.  That sometimes the biggest miracle is being shaped and changed ourselves in the process of compassionate action in the world when nothing much seems to be happening.  It takes courage to love and show compassion to others who are facing poverty and are marginalized by others.  This book really moved me to allow the compassion of Christ from the example of the good Samaritan to live in me freely, openly and honestly.

Highly recommended reading for anyone who is disillusioned with the shallow spirituality of the West and wanting something more authentic.  If you want to start facing the reality of poverty in our world this book will help you to find the courage to do this.  Read Ash Barker’s book at your own risk of becoming more human and compassionate.  Dare God to live in you to make you more alive within.

  • Compassion will not be wasted

“…no act of compassion will be wasted…”

  • Every person is worthy of our love

“No matter what the status a person, Jesus maintains that every person is worthy of our love.”

  • Finding our mutual liberation

“When we see only ‘us’ and not ‘them’ as a basis for life together, we find our mutual liberation.”

  • Sharing lives of compassion

“Danger is an essential quality for finding and sharing lives of compassion…”

  • The more we feel genuine compassion

“The more we feel genuine compassion for others, the bigger the risk of hurt there is for us…”

  • We are the ones transformed by seeking to love

“While we hope and dream for change in others as we share compassion, another kind of miracle often happens in our lives.  We are the ones impacted and transformed by seeking to love…  Others don’t always change the way we hope they will, but we are transformed as we cope with them not changing…”

  • Something mystical about hospitality

“There is something mystical about extending hospitality…”

  • Afraid of becoming ourselves

“Poverty, in so many ways, is that state we are afraid of becoming ourselves…”

  • God lamenting with us and through us

“As we begin to express lament, crying out to God in frustration, something mystical can happen to us.  We find God lamenting with us and through us…”

  • Love with a deep, costly compassion

“Real compassion is simply not intuitive.  As we get to know the world’s potential dangers, a sense of fear and flight becomes a far more natural response to those suffering.  Will we suffer too?  Will we be inconvenienced?  How can we avoid the misery of others and its impact on us?  If I am honest, there are times when I want to drown out the sounds of my neighbour’s screams with other thoughts and, in my head at least, go to another happier place.  Yet Jesus invites us to love with a deep, costly compassion like his.”

  • Costly direct action in solidarity

“Fidelity and tenderness with those who are suffering calls for solidarity, which in turn calls for costly direct action, which in turn opens up further committed, even political responses.  Without starting with a sense of personal responsibility and power to act, however, compassionate action is undermined before it starts.  A sense of responsibility and empowered reliance on Christ steps out in faith, believing that even the smallest acts of kindness can be used to help instigate a cycle of change…”

  • Personal solidarity and presence

“Personal solidarity and presence is one of the key gifts we have to offer others…”

  • Help people see what they have to offer their own liberation

“When people you love are in crisis they often don’t think they have anything to offer.  It takes some real time to find a way to love people enough to help people see what they have to offer their own liberation…”

  • Recovering and relearning basic practices for community living

“Some of the basic practices for community living have become lost arts and worth serious investment to relearn and recover…”

  • Justice is what is required

“Incarnational theologies point out that God’s very nature is justice, and so justice is what is required…  Justice simply can’t be separated from God’s nature.”

  • The least individualistic response to alleviate poverty and suffering

“Community building is one of the least individualistic responses a Christian can make to alleviate poverty and suffering because it expressly involves joining with others…”

  • Place is associated with meaning, identity, vocation, and destiny

“Space is empty, out there, ready to be filled, but place has historic meaning, where identity, vocation, and destiny are envisioned…”

  • Compassion is communal

“…compassion is communal…”

  • Grown in new levels of vindictiveness toward people stepping out in faith

“I am noticing myself becoming more fearful about a Christian community in the West that seems to have grown in new levels of vindictiveness toward people stepping out in faith…”

Have you embodied a risky compassion in your own life?