Long time friend and fellow United Methodist pastor Pledger W. Parker died last week and I had the privilege of preaching the eulogy at his memorial service. I called attention to Pledger’s kindness and gentleness, two oft-overlooked character traits which the Apostle Paul identifies as gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Kindness and gentleness are in short supply these days. People shoot first and ask questions later; lay on their horn at the slightest perceived infraction of another motorist, curse or lift the finger in an obscene gesture to any imagined wrong-doer. I saw a father relating inappropriately to his 3-4 year old child. He grabbed her by the arm, sarcastically yelled, “So you want to be in charge, do you?” slapped her hard and thrust her into the back seat of their SUV. His merciless display humiliated his daughter, revealed his immaturity and his dependence on brute strength, bullying and verbal abuse.
Gentleness and kindness are on the endangered list because they rarely deliver the instantaneous results we crave. Physical and verbal abuse, violence in varying shades, belittling of a friend, spouse or stranger: these actions often produce immediate results, deluding the practitioners of them into thinking they have won the day.
What is not so readily apparent is that physical and verbal violence, anger, dissension and the like are tools of the devil that – even if they accomplish the short term goal – build up layers and layers of resentment, hatred and even revenge.
It appears that many of us have made the choice to use physical, verbal, mental or fiscal violence in the world to accomplish our purposes; as a result we are eating the bitter fruit of negative ways of relating to each other. Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria immediately come to mind.
Closer to home Georgia has finally finished its electoral primary season. We now know who will face each other in this November’s general election, which means that the meanness, divisiveness, lying and distortions can begin in earnest. Very few candidates can long resist the temptation to get ahead by resorting to these tactics.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Kindness, gentleness – in common with their opposites- effect the world slowly; just as stalagmites and stalactites take centuries to grow in caves, one tiny drop of sediment building on the previous action. Our daily behavior produces monumental, long term results. The choice is between whether by our behavior we want to build a better world or a more hostile place.
Each of us probably knows somebody in our circle of friends, family and larger community who has been unusually kind and gentle, their consistent witness gradually, incrementally making our world a better place. The way we treat each other, positively or negatively, will eventually result in a return on our behavior. Today is a good day to seek God’s help in cultivating the simple gifts of kindness and gentleness.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.