“We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, is the kind of person you will eventually become.” (Wayne Muller)
One of the things I learned during my year of living kindly was to be better at pausing when I saw unkindness and look for an interpretation that might explain it. I’m not always successful but the act of pausing also reminds me that we often respond reflexively to external stimuli—and our first response is sometimes not the best response, and is, in fact, often regretted.
So, when I heard that members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church were protesting vocally and viciously outside funerals and memorial services for some of the victims of the Orlando shooting, I paused and tried to think of some way to interpret their actions that humanized them. I couldn’t and I can’t.
Like the shooter himself, these people are haters and the God they purport to serve is a hating god. I went to their website to try to understand. It sickened me. I won’t insert a link—it’s that offensive. These are the same people who protested and disrupted the funeral of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard nearly 20 years ago. These are not people who are interested in kindness or compassion, or in listening to other views, and the God they portray is just like them. The best I can muster for them is pity.
It may be that some of them are kind to their families, or to people who share their distorted views, or perhaps they show compassion to stray puppies and kittens. But they are not kind people, and, as far as I can tell, kindness is not a behavior they would ever have regard for.
What sort of life is it that is so focused on hate?
I find I keep thinking about a post I wrote a year ago—one that explored the idea that we create our world by what we choose to pay attention to. If we choose positive over negative, good over bad, kindness over apathy or disrespect, we move toward manifesting the world we want to live in, and that future generations will appreciate. If we choose to hate, to repress, or to banish those who think or act differently from ourselves, we build a world of mistrust, intolerance, and hostility. Such a world is small and colorless, and devoid of joy.
The whole of last year’s post can be viewed here, but I want to retell a story I included. It’s a small story of a woman who is not famous and doesn’t want to be. In the wake of Orlando, and during Pride month it resonates with me, perhaps it will with you, as well:
[from June 2015]
Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
I was reminded of that quote when I read Jerry Large’s column in The Seattle Times. He wrote about a woman in the nearby town of Snohomish who was being removed as a volunteer leader in Young Life, a well-established Christian organization for high-school students. Pam Elliott’s “crime” was participating with other mothers in making decorations for the Seattle Pride Parade later this month, and posting the pictures on her Facebook page. She did it in support of a friend and the friend’s gay son, and because she believes in equality for everyone.
“Love is love,” Elliott said. “I am not a big activist, I’m supporting my friend. This is what we do for each other, we love each other’s kids like our own.”
The Young Life people gave her a choice. Ms. Elliott can continue her work as a volunteer leader—work which she loves—if she retracts her Facebook posting and stops aligning herself with the gay rights movement. The choice she made was to continue to support her friend and her friend’s son … and what she knows to be right. I’m not comparing Pam Elliott with Mother Teresa, but, like Mother Teresa, Ms. Elliott chose to stand for something, rather than against something else.
This has been a year of such divisiveness, and with the November elections still several months away we can anticipate even more rancor and animosity. Perhaps if we pause to remind ourselves occasionally that we can choose to stand for something rather than against something else we might contribute real and lasting value to our social fabric.
Every day, every hour, we choose who we are going to be, and in making that choice, we choose the world we want to live in, and want our children and theirs to live in. We must choose wisely … and kindly.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” (Saint Basil, Bishop of Cesarea)