Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can We Just Be Kind?

Be kind.  That seems so easy, doesn’t it?  Be kind.  Be nice.  Treat other people the way we would like to be treated.  It seems really easy.  I am sure we all can imagine how wonderful the world would be if everyone would just be kind to each other.  If we all were kind, things would just be so much better!
If it is so easy to be kind, why do we have to be continually reminded about it?  Why do we have to have people tell us to be nice?  I hear mothers telling their kids, “Now be nice!”  Shouldn’t it just be something that we do?  It SHOULD be, but obviously it is not.  We can look at the big things like the murders in the Sikh church last Sunday and know that people are not being kind to each other.  We can look at the theater in Aurora and know that people are not being kind to each other.  We can look at these big things and KNOW that people are not being kind.
But these are the big things, right?  And these are people who are probably not quite hitting on all cylinders, right?  Yes, these are fringe people, but to attribute all the unkindness in the world to the fringe people is to stick our head in the sand and ignore the problem.
Be kind.  Our epistle reading gives us this command.  I generally don’t like the word command, but I will use it here.  We are commanded to “be kind,” period.  This is not, “be kind to people who are kind to you.”  It is not, “be kind to your friends but forget about everyone else.”  It is not, “be kind to the people who look like us, act like us, and believe like us.”  It is a simple, direct, command:  “Be kind.”  And, you know, we really seem to have a hard time with it.
Now, this is not to get down on our world, our epistle reading comes from 2000 years ago.  People have been having difficulty with this whole “kind” thing since before then.  You would think we would have it figured out by now, but we don’t.  We keep walking about through life missing all sorts of opportunities to be kind.  I would say that, quite often, we do not even intend to be unkind; it just sort of happens.  We get caught up in the routine of life and the next thing we know, we find ourselves being rude and pushy.
One thing we need to remember is that kindness is not just some kind of knee-jerk reaction.  Kindness is not something that we do innately, it is something that we must work on.  Kindness means moving outside of ourselves and looking around at those who inhabit this world with us.  Kindness means that we move beyond our unthinking reactions and taking time to RESPOND to the situation.  Kindness means that we stop and consider the needs and wants of others along with the needs and wants of ourselves.
In the epistle, we are told to be kind, tender hearted, forgiving.  I see these things as removing the stumbling blocks from the path of those around us.  When we see someone struggling through life, we are called to help remove those things that are getting in the way.  We will not be able to remove all the stumbling blocks, but maybe we can remove some.  Tenderhearted means that we are to empathize with the other person and find a way to give them rest.  It seems as if society keeps looking for ways to put more roadblocks in peoples’ way instead of looking for ways to decrease the roadblocks.  We seem to look for ways of getting more for ourselves instead of looking at ways we can assure enough for everyone.  Keeping the best part for ourselves my be totally human, but it is not what is required of us as Christians.
Some may consider what I am saying to be some kind of liberal communism, maybe it is.  But I find it sad that people will weep over the death of a dog and turn around and scream that a starving person is “getting what he deserves.”  Where is the kindness in that?  Or when people say that the poor and homeless are lazy; we never take the time to look at how we may have deprived these people of a chance to thrive.
We really need to thank God that God does not judge us by our sins.  We need to thank God that God, for the sake of Christ, HAS forgiven us and continues to forgive us.  We have been forgiven in our baptism and that forgiveness continues through our lives.  Now, just because we have received this forgiveness does not mean that we never sin.  Just a quick question to prove this: How many of us would like to have people from church go through our house, our bank accounts, or our computer files?    See, we all fall short; it is just the way of life.  We are not as loving as we could be.  We are not as kind as we could be.  We are not the perfect people we would like to project to the world.  But even thought we are not perfect, we are still forgiven, and that is what we need to remember.
This forgiveness that we find in Jesus is the basis of our desire to be kind.  Even in the face of evil, we are called to be kind.  Even in the face of nasty drivers who we have to wonder if they even passed the driver’s test.  (Because, of course, I am the BEST driver EVER!)  We are called to be kind.  In the presence of those that have hurt us, we are called to forgiveness and to be kind.  To all people, to one another, we are to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” and be kind.
What makes me sad is when I look at the world today, I have a hard time finding kindness.  I find lots of fear.  I find lots of hatred.  I find a lot of people doing all kinds of verbal gymnastics trying to dress up evil as kindness.  I find people getting angry when their lack of kindness is exposed.  I find people segregating themselves into smaller and smaller groups.  I find so many people looking at “them” and responding with fear.  Maybe it is unkind of me to say anything about what I see around me, but I find it difficult to keep quiet.  
Wow, who would have thought that something as seemingly simple as “be kind” could be so difficult?
So how do we make a change?  How can we turn the tide of fear and hatred that we see throughout the world?  It seems so big!
I had someone say to me, “If you can’t fit it into a wheelbarrow then you need to shrink it down.”  So taking on all the extremists would be just too big.  But we all can do smaller things.  We can smile at the cashier.  We can thank the grocery bagger.  We can be patient if the lines are long.  We can let someone merge onto the highway.  We can stand so someone may have a seat.  None of these things cost us anything!  (And as someone who has worked with the public, a kind, smiling, face can make the whole day better.)  We might choose to not pass on that snide Facebook post.  We can be compassionate to the plight of others.  We can assume that people are trying to do their best, just as we are trying to do our best.  (Why do we assume that others are slackers?)  It is NOT hard!  However, it does take presence of mind and involves responding as opposed to reacting.
We can forgive.  I think this is one of the hardest things to do and could be a whole sermon unto itself.  We can present our feelings of hurt and being wronged to God and ask God to heal them.  We can realize that the people we strike out against are often not the ones who hurt us.  The man in Wisconsin may have felt that he was hurt by Sikhs, but even if he was, it is more than likely that he was not hurt by the particular group of Sikhs that he attacked.
Hate and fear create more hate and fear.  It is when we RESPOND in kindness instead of REACTING in fear that things begin to change. 
Now, this could end up sounding like some kind of new-agey, self-help thing unless we remember what Christ tells us in the gospel reading.  Christ is the bread of life, and it is through this bread, through this promise that we are give the strength to persevere.

1 comment:

Harpers Keeper said...

Often I find myself getting very frustrated and angry with people for acts of selfishness; large and small. the I encounter. A little focus on kindness might help them understand the consequences of their actions and make other choices. It mght also help me be less judgemental.