Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Kindness: The Lost Gospel

Did you know that the Bible that you are familiar with, its content was chosen? It intrigued me to understand the history of the concordance of the Bible when I was in a study in Florida.  Arguments arose about intent and particularly that of what the book said is what it said, and there could be no interpretive gesture toward it. In this I fundamentally disagree. Interpretation of the Bible has been as old as the collection of gospels itself. Interpretation has inspired wars from the Crusades on. But the collection of gospels, the Bible as we know it was decided on years and years ago by a group of male church elders at the first Council of Nicea in 325. Can you imagine the pressure and the debate surrounding this? The church elders from all denominations had to come together to agree on the gospels chosen to form the New Testament. It boggles the brain, really.

So when we hear in the news about a “new” gospel found—the Gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Judas for example, it is big news for theological scholarship. And there are all sorts of dating strategies to weed out authentic from inauthentic. I have paid attention to these as well, but if these fragments of papyrus have been located, is it so unbelievable to consider that other gospels may be hidden from light and air as well? Or given the animosity in early Church power struggles, destroyed? I leave these debates for scholars to consider, and I am sure they have. For me, it is not so much the veracity of the gospels that were included that matter, we have them and we see the story and the struggle of faith--it makes me wonder exactly what has been left out.

You see, it’s not so much as what has been pulled together but what is missing. A different perspective on Jesus’ ministry perhaps? What could the Gospel of Mary have yielded to our understanding of the role of women in the early Church? What could the Gospel of Judas have offered to our development of forgiveness?

I’ve been silent here for months, aside of a posting or two on the Facebook blog page, I have devoted time to other writing but like everyone else, I’ve watched and listened and worried and prayed about endless items in the news. As we come again in full thrust of Advent, the expectant pause of waiting for a miracle, it seems to me in the headlines, and certainly the blistering commentary that follows, what we are missing most of all is kindness, and that may be the gospel we need most.

Wherever you stand on the issues of the day, (and make no mistake, I am on the side of #metoo and reform and policy change), we have completely lost any and all nuance of kindness. Maybe the internet
shields us from the raised eyebrows or upset that a face to face confrontation would necessitate. Maybe we feel braver if the reactions aren’t immediate and therefore debatable. I have almost pulled entirely from Facebook personally due to this. I cannot bear any more animosity from people I consider friends no matter who it is turned toward. It does not strengthen my resolve to keep doing good work or advocating in kind, it makes me feel weaker and more helpless. Those feelings will not do anyone in my world any good, because it means I won’t be able to function.

We need the Gospel of Kindness to enter our hearts and minds this Christmas season. And to use Advent for preparation of that miracle. Because right now, it indeed seems like it would be one. Is there some way that you can practice kindness these days leading to Christmas? And I don’t mean just the food donation drives or those of clothes or toys. I mean to your neighbor, to the stranger that is your brother?
I have said it before here on this platform, but for me judgement is not mine. And what a relief. Because all I am required to do is to love then. That’s easy, because if we are honest, judgement is a tremendous risk. How many of us can judge cleanly without conscience of prior transgressions? I cannot. I have made so many mistakes, too numerous to count. And I have participated in judgement in order to escape its spotlight on myself. It is a losing proposition.

on bullying. on wonder.
Recently a novel I wrote about was made into a film, Wonder. In it a boy with a craniofacial deformity has to “fit in” at a typical school. The novel’s author wanted to start a culture of kindness. Schools everywhere have read it, and we agree that it is noble, and necessary, especially to instill in children where fear of the unknown (or sometimes the opposite) inspire terrible words and actions that hurt well into adulthood. I know I have my scars that I wear every day, they just aren’t as visible as Auggie’s surgeries. The call to “Choose Kind” is so important but do we demonstrate it to our children? Do we act it towards one another? How many times a day, month, or year do you “choose kind?”

I think we can first be kind every day, in every way very simply.

Do not judge.  I cannot in any conceivable way know someone else’s story without hearing it first hand and even then, the retelling will be colored in my head by own experience. Taking judgment out allows me to offer compassion without saying, “you’re right.” I can say, “I am sorry that you feel that way. I am glad you feel able to tell me about it.”

Offer a smile to the clerk, cashier and bagger in a store or take away shop. A sincere smile and a moment of thanks can brighten the day of anyone in any service industry. It is kindness, and it just might allow them to smile at the next customer instead of negative thoughts that can quickly spiral. Any tragedy we hear about on the news, it started simply with those grey and unhappy thoughts. Dispel them by a kind word. Show everyone that we’re in this together.

Failing at the Golden Rule
Allow the house to be a fright and engage with your kids. I hear everywhere that Christmas is magical for children, but in the haste to make sure their experience is perfect, we lose sight of what they want most—unscripted and messy loving moments. I chased my kids around with a barrette to clip my eldest son’s hair. I sang, we laughed and struggled, and that’s all it took to turn a really hard day for him into a happy one. The boxes of merry making are still everywhere, but my kids didn’t care. In the expectation of Christmas, it is happiness that they want most and will remember long after the game is broken.

Offer a Blessing Bag. If it makes you uncomfortable to give money to the homeless, create a blessing bag of necessary toiletries, snack bars, etc.  and keep them in your car so you can hand them out when needed. Include phone numbers of shelters and agencies that can help.

Call the Salvation Army. Donate the books, clothes and cutlery and house items that you no longer use or need. The Salvation Army will take it and in many areas you can make arrangements online. Many do pick-ups of large scale items and unlike some organizations that have controversies with regard to donation, this one has been of service to those in need for years without inquiry. I always reach for the same items in my closet. It was certainly time for me to donate those that I no longer used.

Ask a new friend to coffee. It is absolutely paralyzing for me to talk to new people. My introvertedness which began after my mom’s passing, has reached new heights where I live now. And, to be honest, I don’t have a great deal of time with kids, work, my dad, and marriage. But I want to know people, and I want to give them a chance to know me. And I want to hear stories that can realign my thinking.  It’s a cup of kindness that has NO end.

Volunteer. At anything in any capacity. If going to a shelter is too much too soon for a variety of reasons, pick something else. Every community has shelters, open pantries, and organizations that can use your help. Maybe it is as simple as just stuffing envelopes, or collecting donations for a children’s hospital. Your kindness to that organization will multiply in ways you could never have imagined. You’ll feel lighter and walk taller. No matter how little we have, we all have something to give.

Finally, look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are a good person with good intentions and are loved. The world will tell you many times in a day that you are not. The personal care industry is all about telling you that you are completely inadequate. Kindness has to start with you—within you.

I was reminded at Mass last week that for Mary, her many months waiting was the first and most magical Advent. And that, after all, is the meaning of the word—the arrival, the presentation. I cannot
Differently: A Season of Hope
imagine that she looked at herself and thought unkindness. I can’t imagine her feeling anything but sheer delight as the days passed and she looked forward to the birth of her son. That glow of expectation belongs to all of us, a gift we get each year of anticipation and of hope.
2017 is ending and whether or not it was a year you will look back upon with fondness or intense relief at its closure, a New Year is unfolding and with it a chance to live differently, with intention, with humor, and with kindness. 

Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you for reading.

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