Wednesday, July 31, 2019

practically practicing kindness in times of scarcity

I was asked to provide some spiritual input into a gathering of denominational Ministry Educators last week. KCML was invited to be present given a warm appreciation for the knowledge and insight we are currently providing in areas of mission and innovation. The input I offered was at the end, as folk began to travel to the airport and homeward.

I begin with an ending. When I finish, I will offer thankyou cards as a takeway. They will be here on the table.

I’ve been on Outside Study leave for three months earlier this year. I had some aims. I wanted to finish a book on mission and innovation for SCM press. I wanted to present research on life-long learning at a teaching and learning conference and complete a journal article in mission crossing cultures and spend time in indigenous contexts and I wanted to walk daily.

Alongside planned outputs, I also wanted to be open to surprise, the unexpected encounters. I found this in a book by Janet Martin Soskice called the The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language. Through a set of unexpected research moments, I find myself reading, then re-reading, about the kindness of God. It was an image that stuck with me.

  • How does God relate to me? In what ways do I value and experience God as kind?
  • How do I relate to others? What does it mean for me to extend kindness?

In the Hebrew, the word for kindness is hesed. It’s a mix of God as faithful and god ask kindness. It appears in the book of Ruth, in 1:8, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.”

What is interesting is that Ruth 1 is all about scarcity.

  • physical scarcity – times of famine and the absence of food
  • cultural scarcity – moving from Israel to Moab means a crossing cultures into new language and new patterns
  • relational scarcity – moving to another community, then losing husbands means a scarcity of relationships
  • generational scarcity – losing husbands means, in that culture, the end of that family line, the line of Elimilech.

And in the middle of scarcity, there is this understanding of God as kind.

Times of scarcity can produce  other responses. There can be competition for limited resources, a hoarding of what is precious, grief at the loss of what was, fear of having no future.

Yet in Ruth 1, God is kind. This shapes how we might relate to God – as kind – and how we might relate to others – with kindness.

We live in a time of scarcity. There is physical scarcity, as the Presbyterian church declines. There is cultural scarcity as new migrants and new cultures appear in our communities. There is generational scarcity, as we see our children and youth leave our churches.  It is easy to respond by competing, by hoarding, by being afraid.

Yet in times of scarcity, God is kind and this shapes how I relate to God and how I relate to others.

kindness

So in the last few months, I’ve wondered what practically it means for me – in this time and place of scarcity – to be kind? For me, it has involved hand-written thankyou cards. It is so rare to receive a letter these days. It is so easy in the church to be critical and impatient. So I have started to send random hand-written thankyou cards – to people I see in action, to people at a distance, or in a committee that I work in – in which I use words to express kindness for what they do.

As we leave, as we return to contexts of scarcity, you might want to join me. Take a card. As you sit on airplane, why not write a handwritten thankyou card. Express in actions that Hebrew word hesed and the ways of the God of Ruth – a God of kindness.

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

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