From: Su Min
Subject: Practise random kindness
2nd November 1996
Dearly Beloved, Something caught my fancy that I saw on the Internet:
Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty...
Sorry if it is a bit long and repetitious in places.
Read and put into practice.
The Risen Christ - What's He Like?
Given by Pat Sleeth, Ministry Co-ordinator This message given on April 14, 1996.
When you are introduced to someone for the very first time, there are a couple of questions that we usually ask, either straight out or indirectly.
1. Fight or flight... This is an ancient protective urge. It asks us: Is this someone you really want to meet? Is this person safe and does he/she share some of the very basic values you personally hold necessary for a friendship or even an acquaintance? Religious? Not? Moral expectations, whatever they might be.
2. Qualifiers/disqualifiers? Age. Sex. Race. Socio-economic status to name just a few.
There are more things that we seek answers for. More questions that we ask, at least to ourselves, we may not communicate them. And, generally, they all have to do with: What can this person do for me? Can I somehow benefit from knowing this person. That sounds pretty cold, but a substantial number of studies and surveys will confirm this statement to be true.
INTRODUCTION TO THE RISEN CHRISTIf you haven't met Him already, this afternoon, I want to introduce you to the Risen Jesus Christ that I know. He may not be EXACTLY the same for you that He is for me; because we don't all share the same philosophy on who He is or even who we are.
In the series of exchanges between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar: Pilate is asking why Jesus is before him as prisoner, and Jesus tells him that: He speaks the truth and for this He is condemned. Pilate responds, what is this truth? Is yours the same as mine? I would answer both Pilate and you that truth is unchanging. Truth is truth. BUT not necessarily fact. Still, OUR PERCEPTIONS OF
TRUTH CANNOT BE THE SAME. The values that make up the our individual paradigm's for truthdiffer somewhat in all of us. Our life experiences are not the same. For example: if you were raised in poverty or oppression you would tend to see Jesus as the Great Liberator, in very concrete terms, which of course, is part of who and what He is. If you were raised in an extremely wealthy environment, Jesus as liberator would be less important and the spiritual aspects of Christ would be elevated. That is why Jesus is an inarguable truth, but we all see Him differently, nonetheless.
IMAGINE WHAT JESUS LOOKS LIKEWhen I tell you to, I would like to invite you to close your eyes and form a vision of Jesus Christ. I'll time you for 10 seconds. I want you to form as complete a picture of Christ as you can. Hair. Eyes. Right down to clothing and the expression on His face. Can you do that? I challenge you to experience 10 seconds of runaway creativity, and form His picture. Please begin now...
Okay. Now stop. I want you to try and hold that image in your mind for the entire time I am sharing this message with you.
Don't answer aloud. But how many formed an image of a Caucasian Jesus Christ? Blond or brown hair? Blue eyes? How many of you formed Christ in YOUR OWN IMAGE? This seems only fair since Genesis tells us that we are created in HIS image. If we look like HIM, it stands to reason that His Son looks like
US. Kind of a family resemblance. Let's push on...
THE HISTORICAL JESUSIt is important that we can distinguish between the historical Jesus and the personal Jesus. First, let's explore who the historical Jesus MIGHT have been. I assure you there were very few blond, blue-eyed Jew's in first century Israel. Just didn't happen. Our Old Testament lesson tells us that Jesus had NO beauty that would make Him stand out. He was an ordinary looking person, so if your vision of Jesus was as tall and handsome, you need to rearrange it. Average height, weight, dark skin colour, and black, curly hair and beard. He would have been average in appearance. Average that is, for some two thousand years ago. Let's hear more about the historical Jesus.
At Easter, in a frenzy to deal with Jesus, our magazines and newspapers fill up with the HISTORICAL Jesus. **SHOW MAGAZINES** Usually they come up with a wimpy little guy, who at the outside was a prophet, and more likely was simply a first century trouble maker. We have all read scholarly articles where Jesus is talked about as merely a first century David Koresh, a religious nutcase with a following. While most of the Christian world is focusing on the miracle of Easter and the resurrection of Christ, a group known as THE JESUS SEMINAR is desperately trying to liberate you, the poor ignorant and deluded church-goer, from the Jesus of FAITH and TRADITION. Let's talk about these persons a bit. Two scholars you may have read about lately.
WRONG OPINIONSFirst, we have Dr. Robert Funk, a one-time rural Texas Baptist evangelist and preacher. Schooled in religious studies at Vanderbilt University. He has taught at such prestigious institutions as Texas Christian University, Harvard, and Emory University. He was once a leader in the very respected Society of Biblical Literature, an organisation of some 6,000 bible scholars. He split from this group in 1980 over what he calls his frustrated attempts to raise the literacy of the public, insofar as religious traditions are concerned. He organised the so-called Jesus Seminar in 1985, an organisation made of up 75 self-appointed bible scholars. Indeed, some of the most respected names in the field of Religious study and Theology are in this group. What do they do? Well, they study the sayings of Jesus and vote as to the possible validity of these sayings by the age old scientific method of dropping coloured beads into a bucket. If a certain percentage is red, it is legitimate. Pink, well maybe. Grey, Hmmmmm. And black signifies, it couldn't be Him. According to them, there is very little of Jesus in the NT to salvage.
Secondly, John Dominic Crossan. One of the most prolific writers on the Historic Jesus. Born and raised in Ireland. Before his very successful writing career, he was professor of theology and religious history at Depaul University in Chicago. Crossan considers the laity of the church as having been betrayed by the church. He claims Jesus was a revolutionary peasant who resisted economic and social tyranny in Roman- occupied Palestine. He was a Jewish cynic who wandered from town to town, teaching unconventional wisdom and subverting oppressive social customs. He was a preacher who proclaimed "God's radical justice" and lived the idea so powerfully that it inspired a movement that changed the course of history. Like most of his colleagues in the Jesus Seminar, Crossan rejects most of the gospels as being inaccurate. The traditional teachings of Jesus, The Last Supper and appearances of the Risen Jesus are dismissed as being merely "the feeling of continued experience" of the presence of Jesus Christ on the part of the gospel writers. One of my favourite statements of Crossan, is that Jesus died on the cross and was eaten by wild dogs at the foot of the cross. This, despite his reading the same Good News that you and I read. I have
NEVER read anything even remotely like that in the scriptures.These religious historians base their conclusions on the same gospel accounts that you and I read. They have come to the monumental conclusions that they have reached - based on asking the questions of Jesus that they ask of themselves. Questions like: Have I ever seen a resurrection from the dead? It must not have happened. Have I ever seen a miracle? No. Then it is not possible. They conclude that THEY have never seen God, so the apostles could never have seen Him either in the body of Jesus Christ. So it is only one more step to conclude: If not God THEN merely mortal man.
What cold, and spiritless lives these men must live.
On the other side of the issue, you have conservatives like Luke Timothy Johnson, a current professor of New Testament and Christian origins at the Chandler School of Theology at Emory University. He would argue, quite vehemently, that the Jesus of history can only be salvaged by adding the faith element. He argues that one has to have some grounding of faith or one would have to dismiss Jesus as a minor figure in history with little outside corroboration, other than the gospels of the New Testament. He dismisses the claims of the Jesus Seminar as: "The Christian faith has never depended on the ability to verify details of Jesus' biography." He goes on to say: "Religious knowledge is not the same as historical knowledge. Rather, the faith of most Christians is sustained primarily by the witness of the Holy Spirit in their present day lives." What's absent in that statement? I agree with the Holy Spirit being a witness in our faith lives.
BUT WHERE IS JESUS IN THIS ARGUMENT?Now you have heard, very briefly, the argument for and against the historical Jesus. I do not argue the scholarship of any of the above. Most are brilliant and learned men. I don't argue the their scholarship, I argue the conclusions to arrive at. I say: How fascinating. I love trivia. But, what's the point? I think both sides fall far short of what you and I are trying to do here. I won't argue the validity of a historical study of Jesus Christ.
WE WORSHIP A RISEN CHRISTBut, I say:
IF YOU CAN'T BRING HIM FORWARD 2,000 YEARS, WHAT GOOD DOES HE DO US?I won't argue the faith issue that argues what difference if we study what the historical Jesus did, it only matters that we have faith in him. I have faith in Jesus Christ, but if you can't believe a flesh and blood Christ once walked AND STILL WALKS among us WHAT EXACTLY IS THAT FAITH IN?
The problem I have with these camps is twofold: They argue in the past tense, with no allowance for the Jesus of today, 1996. Secondly, these articles are rarely read as they are meant to be read. They are meant to be read as opinionated argument NOT FOUNDATIONAL FAITH ISSUES. Trouble is, very few people who read this will accept this as academic argument, they take sides for FACTS OR FAITH. That's what causes the trouble, they sometimes lead a faltering faith astray. These are strictly intellectual arguments, grounded in past research, but not present experience.
They cannot be proclamations of TRUTH.
We have just skimmed the surface of an argument that has raged for centuries. If you are one of those persons swayed by the arguments of these scholars, you probably are leaning on an historical Jesus. If that is the case, you no longer have the image of Christ in your head that I asked you to keep. It is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with an image of a man that died 2,000 years ago. I will not offer long, boring academic arguments about who Jesus is. If you listened to our NT scripture today, you heard that even Jesus' disciples had lost that image, because they thought Him dead. They didn't even recognise Him there in our midst. All too often we don't either...
If you still have that detailed image of Jesus firmly placed in your head, CONGRATULATIONS - you have a personal relationship with Christ. If you don't, there's probably not much I can do to convince you. But I think there IS a feeling and a consciousness that is spreading that CAN convince you IF you allow it.
I call it the JESUS SPIRIT. It speaks far more eloquently than I ever could. Listen to it, feel the workings of the Holy Spirit and meet Jesus moving through 1996...
A woman in a car pulls up to a toll both and hands the attendant a $10 bill. She says this is for me and the next nine cars behind me. Just tell them that a friend wants them to have a nice day.
This nice lady had read a card taped to a friend's refrigerator door that said: "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Another lady saw it spray painted on the wall of an abandoned warehouse and thought it "sounded like a message from above." She put it on all her stationery. Her husband liked it so much that he put it on the wall in his seventh grade classroom. One of his students liked it so much that she told her father who was a columnist for a local paper and he put it in his next article, admitting "...he didn't know where it came from or what it really meant." I think I know where it came from.
Some days later, the article was read by a lady in restaurant who liked it so well she wrote it down. A man named Herbert, sitting next to her also wrote it down and began forming a concept in his mind. He said, "anything you think there should be more of, do it randomly." They began to do something about it.
They began to:
- Go into poor, inner city schools and paint dingy classrooms bright and cheerful colours.
- Taking hot meals into the poorer part of towns.
- Slipping money secretly into the purse of a poor but proud neighbour.
Herbert says, "Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can." WHAT A CONCEPT! Think about that and hear the truth of that statement. Sounds like a 1996 Jesus Statement.
Now this phrase is catching on. You can find it on bumper stickers. On walls and on the bottom of letters and on business cards. A kind of guerrilla goodness - doing good without sticking around to claim praise or credit or denominational affiliation.
It is spreading. In Portland, Ore. a man walks around town putting nickels into expired parking meters. In Patterson, NJ a group of senior citizens finds a member of a local church congregation that cannot keep their house up and descends on the house and cleans it from top to bottom and cleans up the yard. In Chicago, a young man shovelling his sidewalk decides to shovel his neighbours as well, since he's already doing it.
It is contagious. A woman in Boston writes "Merry CHRISTmas" on the backs of her checks so the tellers will get her message. A church group plants flowers and cleans up a run down neighbourhood. "Just 'cause flowers are beautiful." So is Jesus when you get to know Him.
I say this is the spirit of Jesus Christ moving among His people in a personal way. Think of what this might mean. If you offer a smile of yours (and Jesus') to a friend who is down, they will usually respond in kind. I hold that you cannot be a recipient of this Jesus SPIRIT without feeling a shock, a pleasant jolt. A Jesus SURGE, if you will. Think about it, wouldn't you smile if you'd found that someone you didn't know had paid your toll AND wished you a nice day. Wouldn't you be inspired to do a random act yourself? I hope so. How about smiling at a tired clerk at the end of the day, instead of getting angry at a mistake? How would it make him/her feel? How would it make you feel? This is the description of the Jesus that is in my head right now. The leader of a gentle revolution that will change hearts one at a time. This is the Jesus I hoped to introduce you to today. The leader of a new revolution of guerrilla kindness, that springs from Jesus Christ. Like all revolutions, it starts slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours.
Introduce yourself to Jesus Christ this day & begin a relationship that will last longer than the rest of your life. Let us pray.
Holy Father, Giver of gifts. Starter of peaceful revolutions. It is my prayer that all here seek to know you better. To start a personal conversation with you that will last ten thousand years and longer; to have an image of Your Son that is so strong, it becomes the face of each stranger that we meet; and to begin practising random kindness and senseless acts of beauty this very day.
The messages are maintained by Eric Shewmaker. Send him comments.
Council on Ministries
With our news media constantly reporting random cruelties and senseless acts of violence, it is a relief to turn to the following article spotted on an American computer network. It originated in Glamour magazine (USA) and was monitored for the Institute by Chris Welch.
It's a crisp winter day in San Francisco. A woman in a red Honda, Christmas presents piled in the back, drives up to the Bay Bridge tollbooth. 'I'm paying for myself, and for the six cars behind me,' she says with a smile, handing over seven commuter tickets.
One after another, the next six drivers arrive at the tollbooth, dollars in hand, only to be told, 'Some lady up ahead already paid your fare. Have a nice day.'
The woman in the Honda, it turned out, had read something on an index card taped to a friend's refrigerator: 'Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.' The phrase seemed to leap out at her, and she copied it down.
Judy Foreman spotted the same phrase spray-painted on a warehouse wall a hundred miles from her home. When it stayed on her mind for days, she gave up and drove all the way back to copy it down. 'I thought it was incredibly beautiful,' she said, explaining why she's taken to writing it at the bottom of all her letters, 'like a message from above.'
Her husband Frank liked the phrase so much that he put it up on the wall for his seventh graders, one of whom was the daughter of a local columnist. The columnist put it in the paper, admitting that though she liked it, she didn't know where it came from or what it really meant.
Two days later, she heard from Anne Herbert. Tall, blonde and forty, Herbert lives in Marin, one of the country's ten richest counties, where she house-sits, takes odd jobs and gets by. It was in a Sausalito restaurant that Herbert jotted the phrase down on a paper place mat, after turning it around in her mind for days.
'That's wonderful!' a man sitting nearby said, and copied it down carefully on his own place mat.
'Here's the idea,' Herbert says. 'Anything you think there should be more of, do it randomly.'
Her own fantasies include: breaking into depressing-looking schools to paint the classrooms; leaving hot meals on kitchen tables in the poor parts of town; slipping money into a proud old woman's purse.
Says Herbert, 'Kindness can build on itself as much violence can.'
Now the phrase is spreading, on bumper stickers, on walls, at the bottom of letters and business cards. And as it spreads, so does a vision of guerrilla goodness.
In Portland, Oregon, a man might plunk a coin into a stranger's meter just in time. In Patterson, New Jersey, a dozen people with pails and mops and tulip bulbs might descend on a rundown house and clean it from top to bottom while the frail elderly owners look on, dazed and smiling. In Chicago, a teenage boy may be shovelling off the driveway when the impulse strikes. What the hell, nobody's looking, he thinks, and shovels the neighbour's driveway too.
It's positive anarchy, disorder, a sweet disturbance. A woman in Boston writes 'Merry CHRISTmas!' to the tellers on the back of her cheques. A man in St Louis, whose car has just been rear-ended by a young woman, waves her away, saying, 'It's a scratch. Don't worry.'
Senseless acts of beauty spread: a man plants daffodils along the roadway, his shirt billowing in the breeze from passing cars. In Seattle, a man appoints himself a one man vigilante sanitation service and roams the concrete hills collecting litter in a supermarket cart. In Atlanta, a man scrubs graffiti from a green park bench.
They say you can't smile without cheering yourself up a little - likewise, you can't commit a random act of kindness without feeling as if your own troubles have been lightened if only because the world has become a slightly better place.
'Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act'
And you can't be a recipient without feeling a shock, a pleasant jolt. If you were one of those rush-hour drivers who found your bridge fare paid, who knows what you might have been inspired to do for someone else later? Wave someone on in the intersection? Smile at a tired clerk? Or something larger, greater? Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours.
Anne Herbert, PO Box 5408, Mill Valley, California 94942, USA.
More random kindness
The articles in the last two journals with Anne Herbert's proposal - 'Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty' - produced a response in other media and amongst readers. Pauline Mumby in Manchester (23 Edge Lane, Chorlton, Manchester M21 1JH, Tel 061 881 0448) is spreading the concept and has interested the media locally. Valerie Yule writes from Australia (57 Waimarie Drive, Mount Waverley, Victoria, Australia 3149, Tel 03 807 4315):
The idea of guerrilla goodness is good, as long as you are careful not to cause trouble by cleaning up what people do not want clean up, or what turn out to be acts of random officiousness and senseless acts of interference. However, if you are fired by the real spirit, you won't do annoying 'I'm better than you' things.
George always takes two plastic bags when walking in the park, to collect rubbish in one, and recyclable bottles in the other. We look like the drunkest in the street when the bottle collection is on.
Sometimes I carry a duster in a plastic bag with me, to clean windows of bus shelters and railway stations, and wipe graffiti where it is wipeable.
Anthony Marrian writes (adapted from a letter to the Guardian, Feb. 18th '93):
With crime inexorably on the rise, with images of violence and pornography hurled at us from out TV and cinema screens and our newsagents, with drugs as available on the streets as if from a department store, why does nobody say enough is enough?
It is not the government's fault, it is our fault. These things can only happen with the people's consent and acquiescence. I believe that the people are heartily fed up with it. We have to create a fashion of goodness; we have to put innocence and joy back into lives and we have to start doing something about it now.
I urge readers to write to me at PO Box 378, 2 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3DQ, in order that, together, we may begin to turn back the tide that flows against out common humanity.
Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
Which man was the neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?
The one who showed mercy on him.
Go and do likewise.
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
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