Bob Tamasy: Compassion – Or ‘Catch And Release’?

Thursday, November 16, 2017 - by Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
I’m not a fisherman. Three times in my life I’ve taken fishing rod in hand, and caught nary a thing. If survival were based on my fishing skills, my family and I would have perished of starvation. I went deep-sea fishing. Apparently, I fed a lot of fish because my bait kept disappearing, but didn’t catch any.

As a result, I’ve never engaged in “catch and release.” In case you’ve not heard of it – which means you’re also not a fisher-person – it’s when a fish is caught, reeled in, admired (maybe with a souvenir photo), and then tossed back into the water, whether it’s a pond, river, sea or ocean. A humane practice, I’m told: the fisherman experiences the thrill of the catch, and the fish lives to swim another day.


Catch-and-release may be humane – unless those being released are humans. This came to my mind while viewing the excellent film, “Same Kind of Different as Me.” It presents several compelling story lines – including healing a broken marriage, rebuilding a strained father-son relationship, and an affluent couple’s decision to serve homeless people at an inner-city shelter. 

Based on a true story, the couple in the film (Ron and Debbie Hall) meet a homeless black man, nicknamed “Suicide.” True to his moniker, with ball bat in hand he appears a dangerous individual, but the husband and wife attempt to befriend him nonetheless.

One evening Ron invites the man, whose real name is Denver Moore, to dinner. Over the meal, Denver weighs whether he wants to be Ron’s friend. He observes, “You white folk do something you call ‘catch and release,’” acknowledging the practice seems curious to him. Growing up as an orphan and raised by poor relatives working as sharecroppers, Denver recalls times he went fishing with his brother. When they would catch a fish, the last thing they wanted to do was let it go. 

Then he asks Ron if that’s what he intends to do if they become friends. Would Denver become a hobby of sorts for a time, then released when something else comes along to catch Ron’s attention?

This is a profound question, particularly when serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to make a brief foray into ministry, whether it’s working with children, doing a project for an elderly person, discipling a younger believer, mentoring someone, or even a short-term mission trip. We feel good about our deeds, but then we “catch and release,” moving onto something that seems more interesting.

A friend calls this “mercy tourism.” We spend a little time with people, maybe talking with them about Jesus or performing some benevolent acts, and then we leave, never to return. It’s not to say this is wrong, but most of the time long-term effects of our service are minimal. People are still poor, still homeless, still living in desperate circumstances after we retreat to our comfortable lives.

Real, transformational spiritual impact in the lives of others requires more than a cameo appearance. Perhaps that’s why the book of Proverbs offers several admonitions about true friendship. For instance, it states, “A friend loves for all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). No bailing when the going turns tough.

Another verse, Proverbs 27:10, states, “Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family… better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” Proverbs 18:24 adds, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” 

Throughout the Scriptures we see examples of enduring, devoted friendships – David and Jonathan; Barnabas and Saul/Paul; Paul and Timothy; and of course, Jesus and His closest disciples. Even with fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John, the Lord never demonstrated a “catch and release” mindset.

We might argue, “But I only have so much time and energy!” That’s true for all of us. Which puts a premium on where we make our commitments, and with whom. As my favorite devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, points out, a need does not constitute a call. But when God calls us – to an endeavor, or person – He expects us to hang in there. Real compassion means not catching and releasing.

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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at btamasy@comcast.net.

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