The other day I was driving down the road in the lovely suburbs of Arvada and I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. An old van pulled into the lane in front of me. It took a minute for my eyes to focus on how weird it looked. Then I got a little closer and realized that huge posters of aborted fetuses were plastered on all sides of the van. They were graphic, horrific, and personally painful. Underneath the photographs were mean and disparaging words about baby killers and God’s wrath. Honestly, the ugliness, the meanness was so shocking that I had to abruptly get off my telephone call and catch my breath. It took me a few minutes to regroup, awestruck by the insensitivity of the images. I can understand the point trying to be made, but why do it this way? In that moment, I was truly embarrassed that I would be associated with this kind of “Christian”.
Lately I have been feeling that quite a bit. In recent conversations, I have been hearing a recurring theme–mistreatment by Christians. Pain caused by insensitive Christians and mean churches. Many have witnessed a huge disparity between what is said and what is done. We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but Christianity has become known in this country as the least likely help to help those with whom they disagree. Gays, liberals, evolutionists, and others perceived to have a world view other than Christian have often felt the wrath, not the benevolence, of those called Christian. Rejected instead of embraced, shamed instead of loved, ignored instead of helped is the pattern. In this past year I have become one of those people—those “wounded by the church.” Take it from me, to challenge the established, large institutional church to value kindness over growth is a sure way to unemployment. The pain is deeper than I ever could have imagined but I can tell you that thanks to the kindness of my dear and faithful friends at the Refuge and other kind Christians these wounds are healing.
This past week I was at a conference in Seattle. It was a wild gathering of radicals who believe in a different way of doing church—a simpler way more focused on what Jesus cared about–the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. But instead of slick programming, bells, whistles & buildings the higher value is kindness. I have believed the things that they were talking about for a long time but because I was so caught up in the megachurch and all its trappings I didn’t know this crazy underground movement of simply kind Christ followers existed. I felt privileged to sit next to such dedicated people….kind, gentle leaders who didn’t care about big salaries and filling cavernous auditoriums but truly cared about tangibly loving the abused, the beaten, the broken.
In the spirit of becoming more and more like Jesus in this broken messed up world, one of the speakers shared this profound thought: Being kind is more important than being right. These words stung. How often has being right been my primary objective? I have stood on tables, shook my fists, hurt other people, all in the spirit of “being right.” And hey, let’s face it, sometimes I have had a pretty darn good point and the right to feel right. But where did it get me, really? Nowhere except maybe closer to anger, resentment, isolation, unforgiveness. I have found the need to be right to be a dead-end, a lose-lose.
I want to learn to be more kind. I want to extend to my enemies, and those who don’t agree with me, forgiveness and compassion instead of hate and anger. I want to live my life well instead of worrying about how others are living theirs. I want to continually stay in touch with Christ’s radical kindness, mercy and compassion toward me (even when I don’t really understand it) and offer it freely to others. And I guess I keep wondering—why is this so hard to do? Why is bitterness, self-righteousness so much easier for me? I am pretty sure it’s just because I am a human being and inclined toward a hard, self-protective heart instead of a soft and vulnerable one. And bottom line is that extending kindness makes me vulnerable, and I hate to be vulnerable. It’s so scary, risky. But I’ve been imagining how different my world might be if I was a little bit more kind and a little less worried about being right. What if we all were a little kinder to ourselves, kinder to others?
My friend K-Lee has a wonderful tag line on her email…”Be kinder than necessary. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” God, help me, help our little community of rag-tags at The Refuge be known for our kindness.