Friday, April 25, 2014

the lost art of kindness

I've been reading comments on the musings of two public figures over the last few days.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has started something by saying that the country should be proud of being Christian, and that he himself has felt the healing power of Christian faith in his own life. The Humanist Society complained about how 'divisive' this was, Alastair Campbell saw it as fakery for purely political ends, and Giles Fraser (in the Daily Mail of all places) critiqued DC for being a bit wooly (pot, kettle, black, anyone?) because to be a really good and fair preacher of the Word would mean he'd lose votes.

And, of course, actually be a clergyman and not be a politician. Sorry - I may just have thought that last bit; I suspect it wasn't in the article.

Meanwhile, in Wales, at the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, the shocking news was that the Most Revd Archbishop Barry Morgan is a theological liberal.

Who knew?

Oh - that's right; all of us.

Barry's opening address at this year's synod in Llandudno has been presented as welcoming same-sex marriage and questioning traditional orthodoxy. It's well-known that he holds those views, and he is patron of certain pro-gay Christian groups. There are Welsh evangelicals who feel that Barry, as archbishop, loses his role as a 'focus of unity' when he heads into this territory.


I sort of think that there is a lost art of kindness which might help all of us live a bit better.

I've no idea about the depth and reality of David Cameron's faith, but I genuinely welcome politicians who wish to come to my church. I welcome everyone who wishes to come. If they come with mixed motives, they'll fit right in. And if their explanation of Christianity and their living out of Jesus' words is less than perfect, again they'll be in very good company.

Why should a politician/actor/footballer/whoever be expected to be a brilliant theologian and preacher? I'm delighted that Jesus matters to them. If they come, I hope over time Jesus will matter more. I rather think that if (the first time they express interest) I'm a bit snooty about their imperfect grasp of matters that are my professional life, they may not come too often. I wouldn't go to them too often if the tables were reversed. But if I manage a bit of kindness, and a genuine welcome, who knows who might come - and come back.

As for the humanists' hasty retort: I think several of them will look back with regret at that letter. It makes them look ungenerous, and I'm sure that's an unfair reflection on them as people.

Christians, however, should not look at their negative response to a politician with regret but with shame. Love your enemies, says Jesus, not just your friends - don't the pagans manage that much? Bless those who persecute you, adds St Paul. I get the cut-and-thrust of party politics, though I don't participate, but really: when a political badge matters more than the command of Jesus, we Christians need to pause a moment and then repent. We have nothing to say to anyone till we go back to ground zero and ask forgiveness again. People are always more important than badges, and loving people is our business. Loving everyone. Even those we find pretty difficult, for whatever reason.

We get hot under the collar (whichever way around we wear it) and forget to be kind. A little grace, a little patience, a little gentleness. These fruit of the Spirit go a long way, and bless us beyond reckoning.

I do know Barry Morgan, and I do know the truth and vitality of his faith. I've read the news reports about his words and think they seem fair. Barry and I sit in different corners of the church and although I admit in many ways (for differing theological reasons and for similar ones) we may agree on the issue of sexuality, that's not my only reason for wishing there was more kindness flowing here too.

Barry doesn't come out with a conservative line. Well - amazing! He's never going to do that. But actually, he doesn't come out with a desperately liberal one either. He talks about how people approach the debate with different perceptions and experiences and starting points, and frankly that's simply true: there is no theology in a vacuum. On any subject. And then he takes time looking at Biblical approaches (as a liberal, but still - the majority of his speech is about Biblical approaches; he doesn't jettison the Scriptures, he discusses how people might work together to value them) before putting forward future options, and asking liberal campaigners not to get ahead of where the Church's common mind actually is.

I do feel that some remarkably good people forget to be kind to Barry as a leader. It's hard being a leader. When I was young I used to hope I might find preferment one day; the older I get, the happier I am that that wish will never come true. And the more I pray for those above me. They have it rough - mostly from 'friendly' fire.

You know, I worry that as soon as people hear Barry start to speak on some subjects they presume they know what he has said sometimes.

I guess we all feel that way occasionally. Pre-judged.
It's a difficult art to actually hear what another person is saying, to pay them full attention and not to presume they mean one thing despite the words they use indicating another. It's a kindness that shows love to listen and take in the truth of another's words because they reveal another's heart, and I suppose the process also reveals our own hearts too.

Kindness: a lost art? Let's hope not.