Only Kindness Makes Sense

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

This month we are exploring the theme of Kindness. I know many of my UU colleagues, due the act of sedition we all witnessed this past week, have set aside whatever they had planned to speak about this day. 

I will not be setting aside our January theme, which is kindness. We need, I need, to be reminded that kindness is required of us as people of progressive faith, perhaps now more than ever. More than ever, we need to practice an ethic of caring that includes kindness.

I hope you received and are reading the Touchstones Journal that was sent to every member the week after Christmas. In that journal are eight dense pages to help you explore the theme of kindness, to prompt you to reflect upon what it means to be kind, how we can teach our children to be kind, why it is important to be kind, even gentle—a people who are generous and helpful, truly practicing an ethic of care.

In the Touchstones Journal you may have read the quote from William Kittredge, the author of The Nature of Generosity, who died at 88 just a month ago. He said in that book, published 20 years ago, “Many of us live with a sense that there is something deeply wrong in our society. Many feel our culture has lost track of the reasons one thing is more significant than another. We… forget the most basic generosities.” As those of you who may have read last year’s Common Read and are beginning to read this year’s know, our American culture has always been complicated, both generous and unbelievably cruel. Thinking we once were “on track” denies the experiences of black, indigenous, queer, people of color, and the poor in this our nation of ours.

To advocate for kindness must include a deeper appreciation and practice of an ethic of care that includes all.

We must act to reverse the culture of meanness that is going to remove any semblance of who we want to be, what kind of world we want for our children. The cancer of spite and cruelty, of “me and my needs first, my nation first” must end. The culture of meanness has desecrated the places we call sacred, where we worship, where we go to school, and all the temples of learning, leading, of sitting in awe of beauty all over this planet, not just of late, but since the beginning of humankind. The violent acts that dishonor these spaces have now entered our nation’s Capitol. It is too much.

We must disallow the wickedness of meanness, the me-first white supremacy that has run rampant and was on absolute full display on the same day that the first Black senator and first Jewish senator from the state of Georgia were elected.  

This battle won’t be won with simple kindness. But without it, without what some call “an organizing principle of care” that includes kindness, this battle, the war with evil, will never be won.  

Our heads and hearts must be grounded by acts of goodness and generosity, our behaviors possessive of a moral compass, our being centered in the power of love.

To be kind, we must care about someone besides ourselves. We must go beyond our self-preserving needs, and consider—no, ACT—based on the needs of another less privileged than us.   

Kindness can mean being sweeter, like my grandmother was. It can mean all the wonderful things the Sapirmans talked about last Sunday.

But today, I want you to know in your heart, in your bones, that we can be both gentle and angry. We can commit ourselves to a kindness that is fierce, relentless, and pervasive.

When I have preached on kindness in the past, I have spoken about how it ought to be motivating to be kind simply because studies show being kind makes us happier, helps us live longer, find a great partner, as kind people appear more attractive. 

But today, I find that particular self-serving motivation inadequate.

We need to be more than simply kind. We need a caring ethic.

Not just because it is good for us. We must care, but not just about ourselves, or our immediate kin or tribe, our things, or home, but for all that is. Particularly those who haven’t been cared for. For those who have been far outside the circle of care.

Caring can begin with the realization that every person we have ever met, every person/every being who exists has suffered or will suffer the loss of their friends and family, all that they have loved in this world. That realization should give us an urgency to cultivate, to practice kindness.

But caring can’t stop there. 

We must be honest, that we can’t and never will stop loss. Yet we can, we have, and we will be fully present with suffering.

We can join with our siblings to radically alter the cycle of viciousness: of hate, of anger, of wanton acts of violence. We must do that with a fierce sense of care that sees the urgency and stands firmly with loss without reacting by causing more. We are the healers.

The Rev. Traci Blackman, who is the Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ (our sister denomination in many ways), said last week on the 6th as the act of sedition and the reactive desecration of our nation’s most sacred space was unfolding:

If you’ve ever witnessed someone who believes they are drowning, you know you can’t help them while they are flailing around in panic.

They will harm everyone within reach because all they can think about is saving themselves.

White supremacy is drowning. Death is imminent.

And everyone knows it.

And those who embody supremacy are flailing… gasping for air… because they know the end is near.

…Stay out of the water ….if you can.

Death is eminent.

Let it come.

We will all die. We will all suffer the loss of who and of what we have loved. Death will come. Let death come. Birth the life that will also come.

As a faith community, we have long expounded on the power of love. It comes from the Unitarian and Universalist understanding that Jesus was a radical who “sought to extend the circle of kinship and kindness to all people, neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike.” The Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing, in his first sermon delivered on October 24, 1802, said, “Perhaps Christ, when on earth, won the hearts of publicans and sinners more by his gentle manners and offices of kindness, when he ate and drank with them, than by exhibiting his miracles.” 

It was never the miracles that impressed us. It was the gentle manners and the kindness, shown not to the powerful, but to the dispossessed.

When you print out your January Touchstones Journal and can read it, if you read nothing else, please read at least “The Force of Kindness” by Sharon Salzberg, a feminist Buddhist practitioner, who is ethnically Jewish. She says, “We have to find the power in kindness, the confidence in kindness, the release in kindness; the type of kindness that transcends belief systems, allegiances, ideologies, cliques and tribes.”

As my sister UU minister Cecelia Kingman, who has studied fascist regimes, said this week:

Here’s a tender fierce thought for you: It’s not normal, in most countries experiencing an insurrection, for everyone to feel compelled to go about business as usual.

It would be normal for regular activities to stop, for people to leave work in the middle of the afternoon and (before Covid) to go down to the corner store and into coffee shops and pubs and one another’s homes, for friends and neighbors to check in with each other, to share news and to wonder and weep and strategize and try to figure out how to explain things to the children.

It would be normal to take the toddler on your hip down to the neighbor, to tell the children to forget their homework, something big is happening, to put down the pen or hammer or computer and attend to a collective moment of turmoil.

It’s capitalism that tells us that we have to keep pushing the productivity pens, keep stuffing our feelings and adhering to the Protestant work ethic. Capitalism is a product and a tool of white supremacy systems. Part of dismantling white supremacy systems is learning to feel our feelings, which we have been taught to avoid-because they are not productive, because they are inconvenient, because they get in the way of systems and structures of oppression. If we would dismantle white supremacy, and its ugly and violent offspring white nationalism, we must feel our feelings. We must make space for grief, for anger, for confusion.

We cannot eliminate white nationalism unless we refuse to obey the toxic behaviors that stem from white supremacy thinking. We have to clear our own souls, spirits and bodies of that toxicity in order to envision a different, more whole and beautiful life for us all.

Friends, we can’t go to the coffee shop or the pub or the church fellowship hall right now but we can call each other, we can set up a Zoom support call (not a work call, a friends call), we can cuddle our children and figure out how to tell them why Mommy is crying, how to tell them about moments in history when things seem to tilt all sideways. We can go outside and look at the horizon and see that it is still horizontal, we can notice that the days are indeed beginning to lengthen, slowly but definitely, and we can absolutely make space to feel our feelings.

So here is your permission slip to slow down, to call a friend, to cry on the shower floor, to grieve and rage against the forces that are attempting to devour our democracy, to walk around the neighborhood looking at the bare trees until the numbness starts to wear off and the tears rise up. We are human beings with embodied experiences. The only way to save us all is to learn how to feel again.

J.M. Wong said in a Seattle blog post, “If care was the organizing principle of our society… it would be understood as “care that is creative and tenacious, relentless and wholesome, abundant and kind…. This would be a world where… love is the uncompromising foundation of our society.”

May it be our legacy.

If you appreciated this reflection, please text to give or visit our Give Now page to support the UUCSH Share the Plate efforts to assist those in need.