Bringing Kindness Back in Style

Kindness Stories

I read two stories Monday, October 7, about kindness. 

Story #1 was from USA Today.  The story in the print edition is titled: “Kindness is trying to make a comeback.”   

 

It’s kind of like that Ella Moss Bell-Bottom Button Down Jumpsuit that I bought for Denise last Christmas, 2018.  The fashion world said Bell-Bottoms were making a comeback. Not for Denise.  They’re hanging in her closet with the price tag still attached. 

 

Well, she’ll be ready for Halloween!

 

Kindness has been out of style for a while.  But a few people are bringing it back.  

 

A Los Angeles police officer recently posted a video of a homeless woman singing a Purccini aria in a deserted subway station.  The video went viral.  Emily Zamourka, the “subway soprano” is a classically trained violinist from Russia.  She moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Three years ago she became seriously ill.  That illness bankrupted her, forcing her to the streets.  

 

Now, thanks to that video taken by the police officer, Emily, with a recording contract in hand, is on her way to becoming a professional singer.  In the wake of this overnight turnaround, Emily said,

 

“I want to thank the police officer who was so kind to me and  made me gosh, I don’t know, so famous.”  

 

Then she gives us all a sobering perspective and challenge:

 

“I am so grateful, but I also wish that the kindness I am experiencing now I might  have felt when no one knew of my singing…There are people out there and do need to be reached out to, and they’re waiting to be helped.  We’re all the same, and some just need to be reached out to and given an opportunity.”

 

Story #2 is the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the famous Preacher of Hate at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Megan, in a Ted Talk, reminds us that “We are all a product of our upbringing and our experiences.”

 

Her upbringing was in a religion of:

  • “Us vs. Them.”  The “good guys” were her church.  Everyone else made up the group of “bad guys.”
  • Fear. Her mother summed up the Bible in three words, “Obey. Obey. Obey.”
  • And hate.  Such hate. Megan joined her family on a picket line for the first time when she was five years.  In her little hands, she held up a sign that she was too young to read, much less understand: “Gays are worthy of death.”  Maybe you remember other signs: “God is Your Enemy,” “Your Rabbi is a Whore,”   “God Hates Jews.” God Hates________Just fill in the blank), on and on.  

 

The hate coming out of her family and church was so vicious and disgusting that even   the KKK called them extreme!  Now when the KKK calls you hateful, that’s saying something.  

 

Megan has written a book, “Unfollow” – her story of growing up in hate but choosing love. What turned Megan around? Kindness.  

 

Megan was in charge of the church’s Twitter account.  While others attacked with protests and signs, Megan would attack with Tweets.  

 

She said she was prepared to argue online with the same passion, anger, and self-righteous assurance she was used to when picketing.

 

“What I wasn’t prepared for was kindness,” she said. 

 

She reached out to David Abitbol, the founder of Jewlicious.  

 

She says, “I got to tweeting about how Jews really need to repent for their sins…I accused the Jews of killing Jesus.  David’s response was swift, cunning and angry, exactly the response I expected…but soon after his initial foray, something changed.”  

 

She said she kept sending hateful messages, but he replied differently.  “His responses went from angry insults to friendly bars.  He started asking me questions, and I started asking him questions about Jewish theology, both of us genuinely curious how the other had come to such different conclusions about the Bible.”  

 

Kindness led Megan from hate to love.  

 

Here’s another story of kindness from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was riding his horse in the countryside when he saw a leper walking toward him.   His instinct was ours – to turn around and head the other way – to avoid the leper at all cost.  But something happened within Francis. He rode directly toward the man with parts of his face and hands eaten away by the horrible diseases.  Fancis got off his horse, walked to the man and then, hugged him and kissed him – on the lips.

 

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure, but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them…After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  

 

No, he didn’t die.  That’s not what he meant by “leaving the world.”  St. Francis left the world of meanness to live in the world of kindness. 

We live in a mean world of harsh words and rude behaviors.  

Let’s leave that world (kingdom) and become residents of another.  

Let’s write our own stories of kindness.

…of kissing the leper.

…of listening.

…of seeking to understand.

…of showing kindness.

 

Let’s bring kindness back in style.  

 

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A Wrinkle in the Sheet of Immigration

Fitted Sheets

Did you know that Ruth, the lady whose story is told in a book in the Hebrew Scriptures that bears her name, was an illegal immigrant?

How does that fact affect your view of the immigration issue that heats up our country?

I talked about Ruth in my teaching last Sunday in our series “What Would Jesus Say About…”. 

The issue about which we tuned our ears to Jesus was immigration.  Christians often agree with the many  “be kind to foreigners” verses in both the Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, but they also often add this caveat: “Yes, but those were legal immigrants.  Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers they shouldn’t have any rights.”

Then, we read the story of Ruth.  And she throws a wrinkle in our position (Have you tried to fold a fitted sheet?).   People think they have a Biblically wrinkle-free position on immigration until they read the story of Ruth.  

Ruth was an illegal immigrant.  She’s from Moab.  One of those countries.   Check out Israel’s policy toward immigrants from Moab:  

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

“Forever”  is a long time.  

Still not convinced that Moabites were excluded…that Moabites were to be kept out? 

Look at Deuteronomy 23:6: “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”  

There’s that word “forever” again.  

The Hebrew of this verse is colorful.  Check out these different translations:

Never pursue their welfare or prosperity – CSB

Never promote their welfare or prosperity – NRSV

Never seek a treaty of friendship with them – NIV

Never seek their peace or their prosperity- NASB

Don’t wish for their peace or success – NCV

Don’t be concerned with their health and well-being – CEB

 Ok.  I get it.  The message is clear.  Don’t give a hand to help the Moabite and Ammonite.  They’re not good people. 

Here’s the wrinkle.  Boaz, the hero of the story, flagrantly disobeyed Moses’ law.  He showed Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, kindness, provided food for them, pursued their welfare, helped them succeed.  And friendship?  

Oh, Boaz went way beyond friendship and got intimate with Ruth.  

Follow that intimacy down the family tree and we arrive at Jesus – Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).  Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents of David.  Jesus was the “Son of David”, and David was the great-grandson of an illegal immigrant mother and a law-breaking father.  

Boaz, like his descendant, Jesus, chose love over law.  Kindness and compassion over keeping the rules.  

What would have happened had Boaz obeyed the law?  

He wouldn’t have been kind to Ruth.  He wouldn’t have provided care for and to them. 

He and Ruth would not have fallen in love.  They would not have had sex and conceived a child, a grandchild…and if you keep going, Jesus would not have been born.  

That was my point in the sermon.  Afterwards, a good, wise friend pointed out to me another way to look at it: If Boaz had kept the law, God could have found another way to bring Jesus to the world.  True. Then my friend said,  “But isn’t it cool that God chose to use an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us?”  Cool indeed. Thank you friend!

I get that nations have a responsibility to protect their borders.  I’m not campaigning for illegal immigration.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

* Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world.  As a follower of Christ, I am, foremost, a citizen of that kingdom. For me, that citizenship takes precedence over my U.S. citizenship.  I am to embrace and express the values of His kingdom – values of love and service to the least of these.  How can I live in the  kingdom of the U.S. and live by the principles of the kingdom of Heaven?

*What should be my motivation?  Respect for the law or love of people?  Let’s not forget that it was famine and death that compelled Ruth and Naomi to migrate to the land of Israel.  The same story can be told millions of times today.  Think about the words of an immigrant from Kenya, Warsan Shire,

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Maybe I should have more compassion for people in horrible situations?

So, if God broke the Mosaic law, or used a law breaker and an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us, lifting love and compassion over law-keeping, what might God think of people today who challenge the law for the cause of love?  Think about it.  

Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

The Teeter-Totter Connection

Teeter Totter

Have you seen or read about the “Teeter-Totter Wall.”  You had to look fast because it was only up for 30 minutes.  

 

In contrast to the tensions that we feel surrounding what’s happening at the wall, seeing a teeter-totter through the wall with kids of all ages cooperating and connecting, made me smile.  And that can’t be a bad thing.  

 

The teeter-totter was designed 10 years ago – yes, you read that right – 2009 – by Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Virginia San  Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University. It was installed July 29, 2019.

 

Not everyone liked the teeter-totters.  Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border control agent gave this commentary: “Stunts like this do nothing but try to paint a narrative that frankly is false and try to get the public sentiment on their side.  They don’t work in the real world and don’t know how the real world goes – frankly, they shoudn’t be doing this.”  

 

I get what he’s thinking and saying.  But his statement makes me consider the question, “What is really real and what is false?”

 

Maybe he’s wrong and Carole King was right when she sang “Only Love is Real”.  “Everything else illusion,” she wrote.  Maybe all this hate, violence, racism, fear, economic deprivation, is not who we are.  Maybe they are imposters who have stolen our true identity.  

 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), was a Doctor of the Church – not the M.D. kind, more like the PhD kind.  The Catholic Church gave the title of “Doctor” to those who made a “significant contribution to theology or doctrine though their research, study, or writing.”

 

Check out this “contribution” from Doctor Thomas: 

 

“All things love God.  All things are united according 

to friendship to each other and to God.”  

 

“Come on Dr. Aquinas.  Get real. Don’t be so naive.  That’s not how the real world is or how the real world works,” some may think.    Well, maybe the premodern saint and sage is on to something. Maybe the mystic recognized what science tells us today:  “There is an interconnection of all things.”  And, if all things are interconnected, isn’t there wisdom in seeing all things as friends?  We have science and spirituality teaching us, drawing us to look beyond the surface to the core.  At that core we find connection.  

 

Sesame Street gave us “The Rainbow Connection.”  

Why not a Teeter-Totter connection?  

 

Look again at the above picture and let it remind us that we are all connected.

 

The Creative Power of Words

Words create worldsWords matter. 

Words have power.

Words are creative.

 

The poetry of the Bible colorfully expresses the creative power of words:

And God said, Let there be light… (Genesis 1:3).

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made  (Psalm 33:6).

…the worlds have been prepared by the spoken word of God (Hebrews 11:3).

 

With our words, we create worlds.  

 

I had a phone conversation yesterday with someone very close to Denise and me.  The call was on speaker so Denise and I could both participate. We are both involved in the sad, tragic situation which was the topic of the conversation.  The voice on the other end of the call told me that he was “done with me,” that I am, “dead to him,” that as far as he is concerned, I “no longer exist.”  

 

When the “goodbyes” were said. Denise and I looked at each other – in a state of disbelief – and she asked, “Does your stomach hurt?”  “Like a mother,” I answered. 

 

Words wrecked my world – at least my stomach. 

 

We create worlds with our words.  Maybe our words are not just a response to the world around us.  Maybe the world around us is a response to our words.

 

What kind of worlds are we creating with our words?  

 

A lot has been said and written since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton about our “environment of hate and racism” – our “world of hate and racism”.

 

Here’s my question:  

Have words created this world of hate and racism?

 

Yes. How can that be denied?  

Just read the manifesto of the shooter involved in the El Paso massacre.  

In it are words.  

Words of hate and racism. 

He refers to Latino/a immigrants as “invaders” who could only be stopped by deadly force.  He argues that interracial relationships are a reason to “send them back,” referring to second and third genertion Mexican-Americans.  

 

His words were fueled by hate.  His actions were fueled by words.  

 

Luke records the story of another terrorist in the 1st century who was fueled by hate.  The objects of his hate, the victims of his hate, were people of the Way – the Way of Jesus. Christ-followers.

Luke writes in Acts 9:1 that Saul was breathing threats and murder. The Greek word for “breathing” is “empnueo” from “en” and “pnueuo” – “in breath.”

 

Saul breathed the air of hate. He breathed it in. He breathed it out.

Inhale hate.

Exhale hate.

Commit acts of terror. 

 

Saul was a terrorist who lived in an atmosphere of hate.  His atmosphere changed when he “was blinded by the light” (Acts 9:3).

 

Whenever we speak we put words in the air.  

We create the air that others breathe.  

There are homes, schools, places of business and houses of government and worship where the air is polluted with hateful words. 

 

We can change the air quality.  We can create a better world.  Shed a little light. 

Yes, I am a master at mixing metaphors.  But you get the idea. 

 

Remember, this is not so much about the other guy as it is about me.  As it is about you. What are you and I doing to create with our words a better world?  

 

A Call to Love in a Culture of Hate

Shootings

I went to bed Saturday night after having read the news of the shooting in El Paso, Texas.  I awoke Sunday morning to news about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. As a pastor, I felt a responsibility and an urge to talk with the Sunday morning congregation about the events. It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t part of the “order of service” that had already been set and sent out to the team.  

 

But neither had we planned on these shootings.

 

So, before I arrived at Sunday Morning Venues, I wrote these thoughts and then shared them during our services:   

 

Today we mourn over our country that has once again witnessed the evil of hate. 

We grieve over the state of our land. 

We humbly open ourselves to the real possibility that we have ignited  the flames of hate. As James writes, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”  (James 3:5-6).

We confess our sin. 

We long for the day seen by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in the Christ we see in Jesus, when, “Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end. Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there (Isaiah 60:18).

We express our hope.

As children of God we accept the call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We renounce every expression of violence.  

Violence of the tongue.  Violence of the gun.  

Violence in the heart.  Violence with the hand.  

Violence with a post.  Violence with a text.  

Instead, today, our mouths will speak blessings not cursings;  love not hate. (James 3:9-10).  

Today, …our feet will move to spread the good news of peace (Isaiah 52:7). 

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.