May 26, 2011

Kindness & Human Dignity (part one)

Lately I've been reading several books.  One, a book on kindness, is by Nawang Khechog, who spent a number of years as a Buddhist monk and who studied with the Dalai Lama.

I chose this book for several reasons.  One reason is that I heard an interview on the radio with Sylvia Boorstein.  At the time I didn't know who she was, but listening to her talk, her gentle voice that emanated wisdom and gentleness, I was captivated.  Sylvia Boorstein was raised Jewish and now practices Buddhism and has written several books herself including one on finding happiness, and another titled, That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist.

Now it happened that I was in the car when I heard this interview, but I couldn't hear very well what she was saying because the rest of the family was in the car as well.  Even the dog!  And everyone was talking (except the dog), and asking to listen to something else, and complaining about why we all needed to be going where we were going ... and finally I yelled, "Shut up!  I'm trying to listen to this!  Just shut up!"

And then it got real quiet, except for Sylvia Boorstein on the radio; and she was talking about kindness.  And I realized that maybe I should learn a little more about kindness, and try to practice it more.

Another reason I chose a book on kindness is that I realized that kindness has been the most overlooked of all virtues for me.  The call to act with kindness is everywhere, but I didn't see it.  It's in my church's vision statement, which is based on Micah 6:8:  "What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly..."  It's the sixth point of the boy scout law:  "A scout is kind."  It's one of the fruits of the Spirit Paul writes about in his letter to the Galatians:  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness...."

And not too long ago, at the end of one of our worship services here, I almost stopped cold in the middle of the benediction, because I was startled to realize that kindness is one of the blessings mentioned in my paraphrase of Numbers 6:26, which I use quite often:  "May God bless you and keep you, may God's face shine upon you and be gracious to you, may God look upon you with kindness ... and give you peace."

I had always thought that kindness was kind of wimpy when compared to other virtues, like love, boldness, justice, and peacemaking.  But suddenly realizing that the call to kindness surrounded me, it seemed to me that perhaps I should explore that.

Another book I've been reading is a book on the moral vision of César Chávez.  My daily prayer book featured some quotes from César Chávez recently, and it seemed to me that I should learn more about this influential and inspiring Californian of the 20th century.

Normally, I try to focus my attention on one book at a time; but for some reason I found myself alternating back and forth, reading one chapter from the book on kindness and then one chapter about César Chávez's moral and religious convictions.  And in my mind, these two books started conversing with each other.  César Chávez's Catholic faith taught him that every human being has worth and deserves to be treated with dignity; and recognizing one's God-given worth, I realized, is made possible when we learn to practice kindness.  Treating people with kindness, and treating them with dignity, are almost the same thing.

And they are much more important than I realized.

This is the beginning of a sermon that I'm working on for June 5.  Hear the rest (which I've not written yet) by coming to worship, or by following the link at the top of the right-hand column.

No comments: