Learning to Love My Loony-bin Neighbors

Kindness.  It is the best calling card of The Church.  Of all the commandments that Jesus gives us, ‘going and doing likewise’ in terms of showing mercy, has to be near the top.  It is a virtue in and of itself.  Ideally, the Christian needs no other motivation to show mercy than Jesus commanded it.  Thanks be to God there are other good reasons to show mercy.

It is a rare occasion when the good of showing mercy isn’t returned to the mercy-giver.  While making pastoral visits, I am often moved by the way people give thanks for my visit.  It is almost second-nature for people to give sincere, verbal thanks.  On occasion someone will give a gift (a potted plant, a Christmas ornament, etc.).  My favorite gift is gratitude.  Ideally, I would be fulfilled just by making a visit.  In my humanity, I respond well to gratitude.

Kindness pays dividends to The Church as a whole.  First of all, mercifulness validates our faith.  People rightly want to know what good is faith anyway.  Often, a direct, intellectual explanation is less effective than a gracious demonstration of mercy.  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  Ultimately, I am less interested in others’ intellectual acquiescence to my way of thinking as I am in their coming to know and love God.

Secondly, kindness edifies the reputation of The Church.  Show up for Habitat for Humanity‘s Building on Faith Week and see the work teams’ T-shirts.  I use to think it was hokey.  Now I know that those churches want people to know who they are and what they are about.  It is a public witness to God and to The Church to swing a hammer and befriend a partner family.  For all the scandals that befall the public persona of the church, kindness-as-witness is probably our best path to renewed respect.

This brings us to the Rapture.  I saw the Family Radio group in Wal-Mart a few weeks ago.  A haggard lady was buying supplies while sporting a t-shirt proclaiming that the Bible “guarantees” the Rapture will happen this Saturday.  I now know that she had been on the road a long time, banking her entire existence on the fuzzy math of a guy who’s been wrong before.  Undoubtedly she has endured tons of derision in recent weeks.  Nevermind that she brought it on herself.

I, myself, have jumped in on the fun-making.  I’ve tweeted disparagement, even using my name and a pic of me in my alb.  I am wrong to have done so.

Mr. Camping is my neighbor.  When I’m in kindness mode, the disparagement is not funny.  Moreover, my perspective on Mr. Camping is not one of anger or opposition, but actually of pity.  How sad life must be to hope, beyond reason and despite past failure, that the entire creation will cease to exist on Saturday.  How weird to place one’s self-value in fuzzy math and biblical hocus-pocus.  What shame he must have felt 15 years ago when prediction #1 didn’t pan out.  How little regard he must have for his fellow man.  I am concerned that he is really lonely with very few friends, living in a self-manufactured world where nobody respects him, save for the planet’s most gullible.  I understand that he’s really old.  I hope that when he finally meets God, the kindness and goodness of the Lord just drowns away all of that earthly sorrow and self-deception and Mr. Camping can just bask in being loved.

Kindness, finally, adds a layer of protection to The Church.  Follow #rapture on Twitter and you will see The Church taking on more than her fair share of damage thanks to Mr. Camping.  Whereas there will always be an element hostile to The Church, we cannot ignore the collateral damage we’re enduring.  Rather than taking Mr. Camping on directly (and thus fueling his circus of attention), The Church best counters Mr. Camping and other fear-mongerers by lifting up the poor and the vulnerable.  Such active kindness adds resiliency to The Church so that we can weather moments of derision and shame.  Come Tuesday, the world will have forgotten about Mr. Camping.  But what then will they be saying about us?  The reputation I HOPE we have is that of a wise, resilient bunch that loves God and loves our neighbors with truth and action.

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