If Kindness Came First

11 02 2017

pexels-photo-969612:00 AM. A deserted stretch of Texas highway. My five younger siblings and I stand amidst the tumbleweeds watching our widowed mother pray over our broken-down car.

Finally, we spot some headlights approaching. We desperately wave our fourteen hands. A red sports car slows, and pulls over behind us. Praise God, we’re saved!

Out of the car climb two of the biggest black men I have ever seen. Media stories about highway robberies bombard my mind. I’m the oldest male—what would I be willing to do to protect my mother, younger sisters and toddler brother?

“You guys need some help?” one of them asks.

After trying unsuccessfully to start our car, those two put their bulging muscles to good use, pushing our car a mile down the freeway to an exit ramp where we roll safely into a gas station adjacent to a motel. Then they walk the (extra) mile back to their car.

Twenty-five years later, that extraordinary act of kindness to strangers still causes me shivers of sheer wonder. It was one of those God-encounters that chipped away at prejudice in my heart, and led me down the peacemaking path I’m on today.

Thomas Cahill reminds us of a similar story where the hero turns out to be someone the audience would never have expected—the Good Samaritan:

“As we stand now at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications—if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else’s wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite—the world we inhabit would be a very different one.” (from Desire of the Everlasting Hills, New York: Doubleday, 1999. p.185)

In the midst of our theological debating, our crusading for justice, and our pursuit of the next great Christian conference, we’re in danger of provoking our culture to close their ears to our message, which sounds like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” because their eyes don’t see our acts of love (I Corinthians 13).

People will never see Jesus in us apart from kindness. Let us be humble enough to learn from Samaritans—from those of different ethnic or religious backgrounds than us. Some of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered have been Indonesian Muslims and Japanese Buddhists, both of whom revolutionized my concept of showing hospitality to strangers.

Or perhaps we could be humble enough to learn from those Americans we’re not likely to meet in our church, such as talk-show host and stand-up comic Ellen Degeneres, who says, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.”

Let’s have the humility to recognize that there are people who don’t believe the same theology we believe, but are following Jesus’ example of compassion, mercy and kindness better than we do! I think we should honor them (as Jesus did in his story), and get inspired. If Jesus can’t take us to a higher plane of self-less love than the world already demonstrates, what do we really have to offer?

How about we confront the world’s issues of prejudice, violence, racism, sexism, xenophobia and terrorism with a movement of 2 billion Christians showing extreme kindness to everyone? Wouldn’t that rock our world!

As one of the kindest people our generation has ever seen, Mother Teresa, once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

By pushing a stalled car, helping a crime victim, or even telling a joke kindly, thousands of people are already out there making the world a better place. It’s time we joined them.


America–land of the fearful, home of the no-longer-brave

3 06 2016

fear[1]I want to talk about fear. About how fear is robbing America of its greatness and its destiny. And about how to find our courage again.

We have become a nation of panicky, terrified, paralyzed wimps. We’re so afraid that our confident, well-adjusted, highly educated children will lose their job to a Latino man struggling to provide for his starving children that we want to build a wall to keep our affluence in and keep others’ suffering out. Why not use those several billion dollars to help build the Mexican economy so people don’t resort to the desperate act of risking their lives to cross our border illegally? Whatever happened to “Love your neighbor (country)”?

We’re so afraid of violence one day affecting us that sweet old grandmothers are buying guns to “protect themselves.”  Do we really think that putting guns into as many hands as possible is the best way to live a safe life? Whatever happened to “If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose it for my sake, you’ll find it”?

We’re so afraid of one terrorist sneaking in, we want to close our borders to all Middle Eastern refugees, and send them where exactly? Send these desert dwellers to the uninhabited frozen tundras of Canada—where at least their visa applications are accepted? Whatever happened to “I was hungry and you offered me food, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”?

We’re so afraid of lawsuits that when we see a child crying in the park we refuse to pick him up, give him a hug, or sometimes even get involved at all. If anything, we’ll call a cop to come interrogate the child, who also being cautious not to touch him, will try to find his parents to come and get him. Mark 10:16 tells us that Jesus took the children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Whatever happened to “If you welcome a child in my name, you welcome me”?

We are in danger of becoming the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story—dedicated, God-fearing people who saw someone in need, but refused to get involved.

We want a love that is safe, that has no element of risk involved, that won’t be misunderstood, that won’t come back later and cost us something, that is clean and sterile. Only one problem—that’s not loving others, it’s loving ourselves.

Meanwhile the people around us live messy lives, are often misunderstood, and take risks just to survive each day. They exhibit far more courage than we do.

America didn’t used to be like this. There was a time when the whole world looked to us as the nation ready to help the down-and-out. They flooded to our shores, and were met by Lady Liberty, on whose statue are engraved these words:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

We once carried the heart of God for the hurting: “Though you are poor or hungry or homeless or in prison or rejected or messy—My love is bigger than that.”

The Bible says that “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) The Good Samaritan’s love was stronger than his cultural taboos, and gave him courage to help the very person who feared him.

Oh, that we would be filled with such a love of God that we could silence the whispering “What will people think?” and the “What if I get hurt?” and hear His Voice speaking: “How would Jesus love the person in front of me?”

Any coward can build a wall, point a gun, or turn their back and walk away. It takes true courage to risk loving at a personal cost. Following a Savior who was willing to lay His life down for even his enemies ought to stir us to open our arms as wide as His were opened.

May God give America the courage to once again say to the hurting of every age and color and nationality and religion and gender and social status and personal mess of a life—“Send these to me. My love is bigger than that.”