Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cheap Kindness

Bonhoeffer is famous for arguing against cheap grace. He says that cheap grace is the sort of grace that is sold in marketplace with the cheapjacks wares. It is grace that demands nothing at all of those who receive it or give it.

As a part of the Life on the Vine sermon series I have been studying kindness and I think it is time that we argue against cheap kindness and call one another to the sturdier, richer kindness that Scripture describes. What follows is a edition of a post I placed on another blog:

It seems to me that we often accept simple politeness for kindness. In our culture we describe a kind person as someone nice. Being kind is about being nice to someone else. Kindness rooted in the nature of God shows that there is more to kindness than being nice. Taking off on the "Life on the Vine" agricultural metaphor, kindness must be some sort of ground cover vine or grass. It is the raw material that makes up the social fiber. Kindness is at the root of hospitality. I think most of us understand how the concept of hospitality has become reduced in our culture. In ancient times hospitality was more than just being nice. It was required by the gods. Those who did not show proper hospitality were as bad as horse thieves. To deny hospitality was to violate basic covenants of human co-existence. When you think about it, especially in the ancient context, it makes sense.

Self-sufficiency is the alternative to kindness. Take self-sufficiency to its extreme and you have a sort of Mad Max Thunderdome world. I saw glimpses of this world on the streets of London where beggars stole from beggars. Thunderdome is fiction, but the Superdome isn't. One of our newest members at West-Ark was in the Superdome during Katrina. I asked him if it was mob rule and he corrected me. A life-long resident of New Orleans, he told me that gangs are absent in New Orleans, it is instead a city of "every man for himself." There was no kindness among those who attempted to be extremely self-sufficient.

Thinking of kindness and New Orleans, I cannot avoid thinking of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. So often her famous line ("I have always depended on the kindness of strangers") is ripped from its context and used to compliment nice people. The truth is that Blanche is adrift in the world looking for another to show her genuine kindness. Like so many she enters into relationships that are more contractual than covenantal. She gives herself to strange men so that she can get what she needs to survive. The kindness of strangers that Blanche experiences is cheap kindness.

Against the cheap kindness that litters our culture is the kindness of God. David demonstrated this sort of kindness when he showed his devotion to Johnathan's son, Mephibosheth. (2 Sam. 9). When kindness is mentioned in Scripture it is more often equated with love, mercy, goodness rather than simple politeness. I choose to believe that this sort of loving kindness could come to fruition among us.

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