Today, February 17, is both President’s Day and the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness week. Initially, that sounds like a weird combination, but maybe not.
Think about food combinations. What sounds awful may actually be delicious.
*Ice cream and French Fries. Dip your fries into a Wendy’s Frosty. Salty and sweet. Hot and cold. What’s not to love?
*Strawberries and Balsamic. Now, I’m all over that.
*Banana and Bacon. Thank you Elvis for this one.
Let’s add President’s Day and Kindness Week to the list of weird but totally doable combinations.
Our favorite President, by almost every poll every year, is Abraham Lincoln. I wonder if his kindness is one thing that pole vaults Lincoln over the others. In Lincoln, we see a combination of strong leadership with pervasive kindness.
We respect that. We like someone who “leads with kindness.”
“Kindness” includes, but goes way beyond, sweet little acts of kindness.
“Love is kind” is what Paul writes in the “Love” poem of 1 Corinthians 13. But he frames “kindness” in the context of relating to the “problem people” in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a community in conflict. They were angry with each other. They were at each others’ throats. They were divisive. They had fallen into the dualistic thinking of “us-vs-them”.
To that group of fighting folks then and to the fighting folks today, Paul says “Love is kind.”
In an environment of hate we are to love, and that love looks like kindness – kindness to all.
We see such kindness in President Lincoln.
Historian, Paul Boller Jr, writes about Lincoln that, “No president has been vilified the way Lincoln was during the Civil War. He was attacked by all sides: by abolitionists, Negro-phobes, states’ righters, strict constructionists, radicals, conservatives and by people who just did not like his looks or resented his storytelling…”
Yet, the direction of his life and response was kindness. “Kindness was,” Donald T. Phillips writes “the very foundation of his personality.”
Here are two examples out of a life-time of examples:
Some weeks after the 1860 election, Springfield banker John W. Bunn met Senator Salmon P Chase coming out of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield.
“You don’t want put that man in your cabinet,” he told Lincoln.
“Why do you say that?” Lincoln asked.
“Because,” said Bunn, “he thinks he is a great deal bigger than you are.”
“Well,” said Lincoln, “do you know of any other men who think they are bigger than I am?”
“I don’t know that I do,” said Bunn, “but why do you ask?”
“Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.”
Ok, that story is more about “humility” than “kindness,” but I like it. Humility and kindness is a natural combo – like peanut butter and jelly.
At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln refused to execute Confederate Generals for treason. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once asks Lincoln explicitly whether he wanted Jefferson Davis captured or allowed to escape. Here’s Lincoln’s response. It’s a good one:
“I’ll tell you, General, what I think of taking Jeff Davis. Out in Illinois there was an old temperance lecturer who was very strict in the doctrine and practice of total abstinence. One day, after a long ride in the hot sun, he stopped at the house of a friend, who proposed making him a lemonade. When the friend asked if he wouldn’t like a drop of something stronger int he drink, he replied that he couldn’t think of it. ‘I’m opposed to it on principle, ‘ he said. ‘But,’ he added with a longing glance at the bottle, ‘if you could manage to put in a drop unbeknownst to me, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much.’
Now General I am bound to oppose the escape of Jeff Davis; but if you could manage to let him slip out unbeknownst-like, I guess it wouldn’t hurt much.”
Abraham Lincoln was not a vengeful person. And in his Second Inaugural Address he challenged the nation to move on “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”
In February 1865, Lincoln told his friend Joshua Speed, “Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best to say that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.”
He died from an assassin’s bullet 2 months later, April 15, 1865.
In honor of President Lincoln, let’s plant flowers of kindness, not just this week, but every week until we are united with Love.