I have been thinking a lot lately about kindness. My personal challenge this past year has been to improve at extending kindness and grace towards those who offend me. Working in an active role in LGBT Christian equality in the church, gives others ample opportunity to offend me and it gives me an equal shot back. I get daily tests in how I will respond. I have known God would not be able to use me in restoration work unless I learned to have gracious communications not only with those I love, but importantly, with those who are very unkind to me. Makes sense. Why let an easily riled, angry, retort-filled person act as a peacemaker? No challenge to love those that are amiable and easy. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matt. 5:46). Love the nasty ones, the sharp-tongued ones, your enemies? Now you have some jewels for your casting crowns and some works that will not burn in the fire.
I was gifted with a quick wit; that has been a blessing and a curse. I also have no fear of people; I feel comfortable engaging with anyone. Alas, every virtue and asset has packed within it the kernel of our own destruction. The combination of the two can be dangerous if I do not use wisdom. I had two personal defining incidences in the past few months that caused me to slow down and really think about interactions with others, both verbally and written.
Several months ago, a battle was raging on Facebook when Christian singer Jennifer Knapp came out as a lesbian. It was ugly and hurtful and mean. I was shoulders above some of the other combatants since I know the debated Scriptures very well. Ignorance and rhetoric are easy targets. Here was a forum in which I could shine and debate. Oh my, the comments extended to well over a hundred on a single post. Christians were raging back and forth and, to an outsider, we looked foolish. I maintained a high level of self control, but would Jesus have fully endorsed every word I typed? No.
Someone who had a bit of an axe to grind with me on an issue, (not associated with the Jennifer Knapp wars), spoke overly harshly about some things I had said online. This was done in a public, face to face meeting. She walked into the room, having never met me, not liking me at all (simple version: middle school dating drama, my friend no longer wanted to date her friend. Told you it was middle school.) She pointed out how mean I was without ever mentioning any good thing I did, or said, or accomplished in the over two week exchanges. I could list the many brownie points I earned; I will spare you. That did not matter at all. She focused on the negatives and slammed me with it. Did it hurt? Yes. Was it accurate? Yes and no. The important thing for my growth was, that she had ammunition which I supplied her with: my own words. Not much to defend when you are indeed the author.
Along with other positive influences, I took a giant step forward that weekend in self-control and kindness. I decided to clean up my online/public act even more. Just think about it. Every word you type, Twitter or blog is out there as part of the public record. Every video you record when you are agitated is filed somewhere. How many politicians are in trouble for what they said “then” as opposed to what they now profess? I was standing in my own way.
Story two. A few months back, I posted something on Facebook that would have been a non-issue 999 out of 1,000 times. Wouldn’t you know it. The one time happened. There was no cruelty or meanness in my intentions at all. Was it stupid and misspoken? Absolutely. My words hurt someone, a dear someone to me. I took responsibility immediately, apologized for it, but the words were out. It escalated taking on other issues and I lost a friendship, a long one and a close one, and two other relationships ended as well in the collateral damage. What may be casual words to one, can be bombs to another. You never know where someone else’s tender spots are at that moment. As a Christian, I need to be aware of that.
Think it is impossible to know what will hurt another person? Absolutely it is. That is the beauty of a relationship with the Spirit of God. He knows. If you hesitate long enough to get out of the way, you may well not hit “share”. So, my actions which for me were innocent and unintended, became part of the public record. More importantly, part of my former friend’s memory.
I guess being shoulders above the average is not good enough. If I say I am an ambassador of Jesus and a person striving to unify; I need to add the head too. Literally and figuratively.
This is a challenge for many of us. I know it and I see it everyday. Simple interactions in stores, while driving, at meetings. The intensity soars as you use and participate in social media. When you don’t see the person in front of you or have never met the person you are berating, the barbs comes with amazing ease. You’ve seen those poison arrows; you’ve hurled them. I have. So much of our communication is body language and intonation—both lost in the typed word.
This morning, I unfriended two men who are cutting, sarcastic and post hurtful things on line. And neither were personal attacks. One is a pastor and one a former pastor. Can you envision a pastor, ready to preach in his pulpit in an hour, posting divisive, snarky comments? I had been watching the patterns in both men’s commentaries. To me, it is not about opposing views: I personally enjoy input and insights. It was about the spirit in which they were presented. I decided the negative far outweighed the positive. “BLOCK”. Done. Maybe their words will only hurt 1 in 100; but, just remember, I hit the 1 in 1,000 and it cost me something I would have never risked given the choice.
There is a group of social media users that surpass all the rest in belittling commentary. They troll on youtube where one can hide behind an icon and multiple “personalities”. I have been the target of these aggressors many times. There is little accountability and they often let it rip. Meanness can hits a new height on youtube. Youtube is a minefield if you do not use wisdom. Battles rage, name calling hits a new low and video responses are anger filled. I engage once or twice to test the sincerity of the questions or interest. Simple assessment. I use the block function with speed. “Drive out the mocker, and out goes the strife; quarrels and insults are ended. He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious, will have the king for his friend.” (Prov. 22:10, 11). The most obsessive attackers are amongst youtube commenters. And, for the work I do, the most closeted homophobic gay people are on youtube. The old adage they “doth protest too much.” People can become completely engrossed in combat and will waste every moment you give them. Youtube can be a wonderful tool, but use wisdom.
I have a friend who sends divisive e-mail links and missive to his whole address book. I grew weary of the negativity and asked, “can you imagine Jesus, doing a cut and paste and sending this stuff around?”. He justified it by calling it “truth” that needed to be told. “The truth stops being the truth where it is not put forward and expressed in love” Karl Barth By passively participating in his crazy, I was lowering my own standards of “whatever is true, whatever is kind, whatever is pure”. Oh yeah, I blacklisted his e-mail address.
I recently went to a Beth Moore simulcast and the verse she spent the entire day teaching on was Proverbs 31:26 “She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” She had me, all ears, all heart, all spirit. The world is getting meaner and I seem to be at the center of a target of explosive discussion. You don’t need to be in controversial arenas to know that. Just walk out your door, turn on the TV, listen to the political ads or talk shows. We each think we are the sole possessors of the answers, the truth. We forgo relationships to be “right”. God is bigger than theology, denominations, interpretations, translations, nationalities, religions, laws and politics. On the other side of the questioning, deconstructing and analyzing of all those issues, there He is. And, He says to love. When I hang onto any of the issues and miss the “love” piece, I miss the God piece. That is where I need to focus.
So, kindness; what does that even mean? Does it mean being nice? No, they are different. Nice comes from “nescius” which means that you “don’t know” what’s going on, so you act amiably. Kind is from “chrestos” which means fit, good, profitable to others, good-natured, useful—all while knowing what is going on. It is a choice you make.
Jesus said “love your enemies, do good to them” (Luke 6:35). So many of us struggle with “love your neighbor as yourself”; but this command, the one to love enemies, seems so over the top. It takes great strength to not retaliate when mean and nasty comments come my way. I had one happen just yesterday. When I did not enter the fray, he taunted, “come on Kathy, is that the best you can do?” Actually, the best I could do was leave the conversation, which is what I did. Permanently. It may appear to be weak. But it takes self-control, which I am learning. The other party gets one more “victory” notch and I walk away. Could I win a battle of the wits? I’d like to think so, but for what? Someone advised me years ago: the first one to the cross wins.
Titus 3:4 says “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” “Appeared” here is “epiphaino” which means “became visible.” How cool is that? The love and kindness of God was shown in the person of Jesus. Do you want to know what kind looks like? Look at the Jesus record. Would Jesus taunt me, would He call me names, would He exclude me for theology, would He post things on Facebook that would hurt me? Would He blog about me with hurtful statements that undermine my integrity? No. Would He curse on youtube and doggedly pursue another person to wound them? Don’t think so. Christians do all these things right along with the world. And those outside the church laugh at us.
I am going to become more conscious, in particular, about what I write. Even that is a scary public declaration. Those little word wars online? I am learning when to bow out. Remember, weak people can’t do this. For me to “win”, someone else usually has to lose or be wrong. And what gain is that in God’s economy? I get to make you feel bad or less than in Jesus’ healing, loving name? When another person and I do not agree, is there any way to really battle it out in words on a wall or 140 characters of tweet? Social media is not the place to flush the tough things of life out. Ideas, links, information, causes, comments, encouragements, contacts—all good. Theology? I cannot think of one exchange where a person typed. “You know what, I have been wrong about this for decades. Thank you so much.”
I know I need to get better at being kind. Hosea 11:4 says, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” That is so beautiful. That is how we draw people. That is how God got me. I know the love of God; when I consider Him, I see compassion and healing and safety. Not an argument, with snippy attitudes of disregard.
The world is getting meaner, but I don’t have to go there. Kindness draws other in; it encourages others and it is the “epiphaino” of Jesus. I have made some mistakes, as we all have, and they are public. Over time, I think I have gained wisdom, now it is time to move onto the second part of the verse:
“She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness” Proverbs 31:26
If I stayed home and hung out with my dogs, no internet and no radio, I could be a kindness rockstar. But then, I would not grow either. With kindness on my tongue and typing hands, out into the world and internet I go. With Him.
Peace, grace and Holy Spirit wisdom to you.