A Note from Pastor David
Nice is not enough
One of my favorite religious leaders in the twentieth century was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He once said, “ When I was younger I used to admire clever people; now that I am older I admire kind people.” This week I’ve been thinking about kindness. I realized that I had confused it with being nice. Heschel escaped the Nazis days before they came looking for him at his Polish home in 1939 (the Gestapo had already deported him from Germany). In America he would argue against anti Semtism and would argue with American Jews for their lack of response to the ongoing Holocaust in 1943. He marched on the White House to try to get FDR to respond to Nazi atrocities. After the war he took on Albert Einstein for Einstein’s dismissal of God and he participated in Civil Rights marches with Dr. King (including Selma). He coached the Vatican on the elimination of anti Semitic doctrine and marched against the war in Vietnam before his death. He was not being nice; but he was being kind. I have come to see that niceness is a form of passivity while kindness is the active engagement of doing good for others.
Rabbi Jesus’ Golden Rule is about doing good not merely avoiding evil. Rabbi Paul said that kindness was a gift of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Paul was anything but nice and polite!
I have learned the hard way, in over forty years as a leader, that trying to be passively nice did not prevent critics from attacking me. I also learned that niceness and passivity did not help my staff members when they were under attack in the church. So, I wasn’t completely caught off guard when African American author, Austin Channing Brown, attributed part of the cause of systemic racism to nice white Christians (like me!). It is not enough to avoid perpetrating acts of racism, I must understand my passivity and complicity and begin to do positive acts. In regard, to Covid 19, it is not enough for me to more or less shelter in place, but I must find ways to support those most affected by the virus and be more cognizant of the issues that cause the disparities which cause certain ethnic groups, particular age groups and some workers to be hit particularly hard.
When I was in high school, I had a friend who often commented on my niceness. When he was unfairly picked on by other friends, I did not join in. But I also did nothing to stop it. He was right. I was nice. Sadly, I was not kind. It has taken many years for me to move toward kindness. I’m still moving. Not there yet.
So I stand with Jesus and Paul. This is a time for doing good. This is a time for kindness.