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Kindness is Making a Comeback

2016-06-11 12:27 PM | Dave

I remember Mose Allison, one of my favorite jazz pianists, singing, “Everybody’s cryin’ mercy when they don’t know the meaning of the word.” I’ve pondered this often since I chose the path of a spiritual truth-seeker. His song seemed to say we know it’s important but we don’t act on it, rarely tendering loving-kindness to each other. Nothing could be more true about our current political and social climate. I remember back in the nineties, a popular faddish bumper sticker urging us to “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” (Anne Herbert)

I first learned about God’s mercy in high school when taking a catechism class preliminary to joining the church; “his mercy endures forever,” (Psalm 136) but I didn’t really know what it meant until God’s son reached out to me personally with his proffered gift of grace. I had my first inkling while hitchhiking from Philadelphia to Toronto one spring. The meaning of the 23rd Psalm was revealed to me as I wandered down the solitary highway; “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;” I repeated the words to myself and this sustained me on the journey. (Psalm 23, The Urantia Book, The UB, 131:2.7)

On a day of anxious prayer, on a hilltop when I felt lonely, unloved, full of despair, I experienced both the meaning and the value of mercy for my future, my life on earth to come. I was conscious of the gift, another chance to make some sense of my life, to realize some kind of purpose, and redeem myself in all eyes including my own. So comforted and strengthened was I that I recovered the will and energy within myself to make progress in my goals—goals that included improving and deepening my relationship with this great being who had reached out with mercy and love, Jesus, our Creator Son.

At the Harvard Divinity School Commencement this year, our friend, Angie Thurston, graduated with her Master of Divinity degree. The address by Kimberley C. Patton,professor of the comparative and historical study of religion, featured the major theme, “Kindness is so often dismissed as the anemic, saccharine twin of its more robust siblings in the terminology of world religions: compassion in Buddhism, mercy in Judaism and Islam, love in Christianity. Worse, kindness is often seen as a cowardly way to duck agonizing dilemmas that involve a surrender of power, privilege, or capital; of systematic violence against female, brown, child, or gay and transgender bodies; as a way to hack the gnarly challenge of injustice while racking up gold stars for being nice. But kindness is not niceness. It is, instead, a powerful and subversive thing. It is something that anyone can practice, even if she cannot bring herself to feel compassion, or mercy, or love.”

Her words echoed author George Saunders (New Yorker) commencement speech of 2014, which also struck a nerve, “went viral” as they say. “Certain virtues, like kindness … compassion, somehow got a downgrade to … optional virtues. Yeah, you can be kind after you’ve won.”

The Dalai Lama’s famous motto is, “Kindness is my religion.”

So what of kindness? Does it differ in some way from mercy?

Many times in sacred texts it is written that God shows both mercy and loving-kindness to his children. In fact, Bible scholars say the same Hebrew word was translated into both words in English; therefore there must be no real difference between mercy and kindness, at least in the original language (Dr. Reuben Torrey). In The UB, the inclusion of the evolving Supreme Being has greatly expanded our language about God in many ways. From the perspective of the Supreme, I’ve had the insight that mercy must proceed from the forever-ness of the Absolute. Although absolute and transcendent, the Eternal God is personal and loving at the same time. As the Sikhs have it, “The Supreme Lord God extended his mercy and confirmed his innate nature,” (Sikh Holy scriptures). From the God of the Trinity, mercy comes down to us as a fact. But kindness becomes actualized as a “living truth” in the loving acts of the present moment that we do for each other. Our actions contribute to the growth of the Supreme on this world. “Mortal man, being a creature, is not exactly like the Supreme Being, who is deity, but man’s evolution does in some ways resemble the growth of the Supreme. Man consciously grows from the material toward the spiritual by the strength, power, and persistency of his own decisions.” (117:3.6)

During his personal ministry in Rome, Jesus taught this message, picturing one (loving-kindness) as a fact, the other (mercy) as a truth, a living “continually moving” (130:4.15) truth. He spoke of, “the fact of the heavenly Father’s love and the truth of his mercy, coupled with the good news that man is a faith-son of this same God of love.” (132:4.2)

Jesus predicted we would be empowered to put mercy into loving action by the bestowal at Pentecost of “the Spirit of Truth … the personal gift from the Master to every mortal,” (194:3.5) “When power from on high, the Spirit of Truth, has come upon you, you will not hide your light here behind closed doors; you will make known the love and the mercy of God to all mankind.” (191:5.3)

No matter how the political strains of the day may trouble us, kindness is destined to renew its power, to come back into our midst again and again. Through the anger and dissension, loving-kindness will prevail.


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