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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“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Part 3 of “Shoot Christians Say”

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“God helps those who help themselves.”

Most frequently, I hear the phrase from people in relation to the poor and/or homeless.  “Well, as the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

Except it doesn’t say that.

Benjamin Franklin said it.  And others before and after him.  But Jesus didn’t.  No one in the Bible did either.

Paul did say something like it.  What he said is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, he should not eat.”  

In some people’s minds, the two phrases go hand in hand.  Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica are even heard on Capitol Hill in debates on funding for the poor.  

I get amused by those debates.  People use the same Bible to support their completely contradictory views.  A person who wants to cut aid to the poor quotes the “don’t work don’t eat” text.

A person who doesn’t want to cut aid to the poor quotes verses like Leviticus 23:22.

Using the Bible can be so confusing!    

Back to Paul.  Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing to Americans.  He didn’t see a homeless person on the street and say, “If you don’t work you don’t eat.”  What he did see were church members not working because they thought Jesus was going to come back any minute.  “Why go to work when Jesus might come back?”  

I like N.T. Wright’s take on that:  “Jesus is coming- plant a tree!” 

Back to “God helps those who help themselves.”

Using this phrase to avoid helping the poor misses the whole point of Jesus and the Scripture.

Those who enact unjust polices are as good as dead, those who are always instituting unfair regulations, to keep the poor from getting fair treatment, and to deprive the oppressed among my people of justice (Isaiah 10:10-2).  Let’s put that on a plaque and hang it in the halls of Congress!

Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor…(Zechariah 7:10).

If you don’t help the poor, don’t expect to be heard when you cry out for help (Proverbs 21:13).

The Lord’s Spirit has come to me…to tell the good news to the poor…to free everyone who suffers (Luke 4:18).  

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do (James 2:15-16)?

So, let’s forget about this phrase absolving us of our responsibility to help the poor. 

Let’s feed and clothe. 

Let’s challenge and change unfair legislation and structures.  

Let’s identify with the poor. 

What’s good about the phrase?

*It reminds us that God uses people to change the world.  We’re partners.  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  It’s a “God plus us” thing.  

*It reminds us that we do have some responsibility.   It doesn’t make any sense to ask God to help me not eat so many potato chips unless I quit buying potato chips.   

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  J.K Rowling

Here’s my biggest problem with the phrase:  It seems to me to go against grace – you know,  “unmerited favor” – as I learned in Sunday School.  

God gives me love and acceptance when love and acceptance are undeserved.  

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Paul writes. 

I love this from Philip Yancey, “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more.  There’s nothing I can do to make God love me less.”  

Now that’s something we should be saying!