Monday, March 18, 2013
Do No Random Acts of Kindness
We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that reads, "Practice Random Acts of Kindness." I like that. It sounds counter-cultural. After all, unexpected kindness, especially from strangers, is rare. Kindness isn't very macho and it takes time and effort. Worldly-wise people believe in survival of the fittest, not survival of the kindest.
But random acts of kindness also impress me because I know what it is like to receive kindness from others. For example, an old friend recently sent me an unexpected letter. He named some things that had gone wrong between us. He didn't blame me, even though I was not entirely innocent. He affirmed what was good in me and wished me the best. A letter seems a small thing, but it lifted my spirits.
Over the years, unexpected acts of kindness have startled me in a nice way. When I was in seminary, Irene and I sometimes received huge baskets of fruit and vegetables from people who just liked to share. Come to think of it, we've received baskets like this as recently as this Fall! Fellow church members and friends have, over the years, loaned Irene and I their tent-trailers, vans, and lawn mowers. Once, at 6 am, a group of more than twenty friends parked themselves under our bedroom window to waken us with song. We thought we had died and gone to heaven, but it was wonderful.
Churches especially need acts of kindness. Congregational life is rife with temptations to sharp disagreements. Maybe the sanctuary needs painting. “Maybe not,” say others. Maybe we should sing more contemporary songs say some. “Don’t think so,” say others. Maybe we should let nonmembers join us at the communion table, say some. “Definitely not!” say others. Christians too often speak and act as if they are falling out of love with each other.
Some people will object. They say that too much talk about kindness is moralistic and simplistic. They will say the Bible is about larger themes like creation, fall and redemption. What matters is when, exactly, the tribulation (if there is one) fits in compared to Jesus’ return (if, indeed, he’s coming back).
But the truth is, whatever doctrines we think we can derive from scripture, morality in general and kindness in particular are an important part of the gospel. Hosea says the purpose of life is to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). And, far from being a peripheral consideration, the Bible is full of stories about kindness. From God's faithfulness for unfaithful Israel to Ruth's kindnesses to her mother-in-law, from Jesus' miracles for the poor and marginalized to the early church's taking up a collection for Jerusalem the Bible doesn't skimp on stories about kindness.
Kindness is love dressed down in work overalls. Kindness is love without romance or reason other than that it is your neighbor before you, and few of us can afford to be extravagant all the time--so we are are kind, instead.
All of which actually suggests that the bumper sticker that says, "Practice random acts of kindness" comes close to the truth, but in the end misses the point. Don't practice merely random acts of kindness. Practice kindness all the time, without exception.
So this Lent, give up randomness. Practice kindness when you get up in the morning, when you bump into strangers during the day, and for your next-door neighbors in the evening. Be kind. Always.