Kindness over cruelty.

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kindness

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Lessons from Harvey.

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You are a strange species. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are at their worst.  —  Starman, 1984

The above quote is from an almost forgotten science fiction movie in which a visitor  from another planet is confronted with the human condition for the first time.  He was right.   We are a savage and violent species, but when we face a common threat, we have always been able to put our differences, even enmity and hatred aside — and work together for the common good.   If it weren’t for that, I doubt we’d have survived for long.

Last week Houston was hit by what many are calling the worst storm to ever make landfall in the United States, maybe the worst storm in 500 years.   Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane, but it wasn’t the high winds or even the storm surge that caused so much devastation — it was the fact the storm sat in virtually the same place for days, dumping 50 inches of rain on the Gulf city of Houston, Texas, leaving hundreds homeless and stranded, with no way to escape.

In spite of the current political mood of divisiveness and hatred that threatens to tear our country apart, all that seemed to be forgotten during the days following Harvey’s arrival.    Hundreds of Texans who were able to unselfishly donated their time and risked their lives to rescue others.    They brought out their own boats, worked all day and night without pay,  in very dangerous conditions, to rescue complete strangers —  in some cases strangers who were very different than them.   No one cared whether the person they were rescuing (or was rescuing them) was white or black, Christian or Muslim or atheist, gay or straight, rich or poor, or conservative or liberal.    For a few days, we were all part of the human family, and nothing else mattered.

One of the most touching stories I heard was of a Mosque that opened its doors to everyone, including non-Muslims, and even stranded pets.   The mosque volunteers offered food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support to the people (and animals) who came to them for help.       Another story that touched my heart was the help Mexico offered to help the flood victims — even after our president repeatedly insulted our neighbors to the south and wants to build a wall to keep them out.  Their repayment for this insult? Only compassion and kindness.

I kept hearing other stories from Harvey that proved kindness and caring are not dead after all.   It occurred to me that maybe, as terrible as Harvey was, we needed something like this disaster to show us that we are all brothers and sisters, all part of the human family, and instead of hating groups of people who are not like us, we need to work together to help each other and promote the common good, regardless of petty differences like race, religion, or creed.

God among us.

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God is everywhere, but sometimes it seems like he’s nowhere in the universe when we’re depressed or in emotional or physical pain.

You don’t have to go to church or read the Bible to find God.    God doesn’t live on a lofty cloud always passing harsh judgment on us underlings far below on this little planet.    He isn’t a being we can only know after we die, or only in religious settings.  He can’t always be found in that hellfire and brimstone preacher in the megachurch on the outskirts of town, and He certainly isn’t present in those television evangelists who prey on the poor and gullible by insisting you make a large donation to their organization in exchange for salvation.

In 1977, there was a little movie called “Oh, God” starring John Denver as an assistant grocery store manager, who was searching for meaning in his life.  God (played by George Burns) appeared to Denver as a kindly but slightly eccentric little old man who was one of his customers.   At first, Denver was unbelieving, but over time it became clear this old guy was the real deal, and his life began to change.

Twenty years later, there was a popular song by a singer-songwriter named Joan Osborne called “One of Us.”  The lyrics speculated about the nature of God, and whether He (or she) would appear as “one of us” —

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see?
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

He’s trying to make His way home
Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in Rome

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

Just trying to make His way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to Heaven all alone
Just trying to make His way home
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in Rome

Joan Osborne – What If God Was One Of Us Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The song in its time was somewhat controversial, because it had the temerity to suggest that God might be just a little too much like us — eg, too human (and therefore, not perfect).

While I don’t believe God would take up permanent residence in a human body, as He does in Osborne’s random stranger on a bus or as Burns’ unremarkable old man buying groceries,  I do believe God (or Jesus, if you are Christian) can use each and any of us as a vessel (for a short time) to touch the lives of others, and sometimes even change them.    We are all made in God’s image, and sometimes, when we least expect it, after feeling disconnected and ready to give up on spiritual life, God is suddenly right there, speaking to us, encouraging us,  or offering comfort — through another human being, often a total stranger.  That other person doesn’t even have to be Christian or believe in God, because I know from my own experience that sometimes God can even use a nonbeliever as a vessel to spread his love and care.

Here are some examples from my own life of times I knew God was there, using another person to communicate with me or perform those “random acts of kindness” that seem so rare in today’s complex world:

  • When I was buying groceries a few days before Christmas a few years ago and my debit card was run through and showed I had insufficient funds, a man behind me suddenly handed the cashier the $40 I was short of.
  • A customer of mine who recently bought me four new tires because he didn’t want me driving on the old ones (the man happens to be an atheist)
  • Every time my therapist  is able to feel my feelings with me and due to that high empathy (which is a gift bestowed on him by God, even though he is a non-Christian), know exactly what I need from him emotionally.
  • A hug from a random little girl of about 4 who told me, “don’t be sad.”   I wasn’t crying, but was going through a dark time in my life and was being abused at home.  Somehow she knew how much I needed that hug.
  • A man with Down Syndrome standing in line at the store who was pointing to things, smiling and laughing at everything he saw.   His eyes sparkled and he just seemed so excited to be alive.  People around him were laughing too, but not at him.  They laughed with him, because he was so happy and made everyone just feel so good (as an aside, it’s interesting how often God appears through people standing on line at the store).
  • Random thoughtful gifts or kind words from my children when I didn’t expect it and other people I never expected a gift or a kind word from.
  • A woman I met online and wrote about last November who offered to pay for me to attend a 4 day seminar addressing trauma from a spiritual/Christian perspective, after I told her I didn’t have the funds and couldn’t go.
  • Another woman I met online and became friends with, who sent two thoughtful gifts to me exactly when I needed them, without my asking.

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There are so many other examples, but these are the first ones I thought of.

Think about the times that God has reached you through another person — who either gave unselfishly of themselves, or just made you feel comforted or happy during a dark time or when you least expected it.    Make a list of those times and refer to it when you feel like God has forgotten about you.

Think about how you can touch the lives of others.  Ask God to show you how He can work through you to help others in need.

“What would You Do?” is both addictive and gives me hope for humanity.

I never heard of the ABC TV show “What Would You Do” until last night, when I stumbled upon it on Youtube (I do a lot of random Youtube browsing–there’s gold there). I don’t know if it’s still being aired or not (I don’t have TV), but I started watching one episode and that led to the next, and the next, and the next. I’ve probably watched 30 of them now.

It features actors playing out unusual situations in public places (almost all are filmed at locations in the greater New York metro area), often involving some form of abuse, discrimination, or bullying. The camera follows what happens when bystanders get involved, and they do get involved more often than you’d think, often standing up to the bully or abuser, and defending the underdog or victim. At that point, the host comes out and congratulates them on their charitable or kind actions.  It’s like “Candid Camera” with a conscience.

Here is one episode involving a thin, glamorous (but obviously narcissistic) mother, berating her young daughter for being too fat and not allowing her to eat normal foods, and the kind strangers who come to the girl’s defense.

Here’s another one with a much more abusive mother, who makes the one in the first video look like Mother of the Year. I will warn you that this video could be very triggering. Many of the people walking by are outraged by the verbal abuse.