i-love-mankind

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Image result for koosh ball image

Kathy is not usually confrontational. And I used to think she was nice. 

By nice, I mean sweet and agreeable. Maybe a tiny bit superficial. Sunny and seventies and no clouds in the sky. I like your shirt and Have a great weekend. Sugar cookies and sweet tea. That nice.

But one conversation with Kathy last week confirms it. Now I know better.

Kathy is not nice.

Not Necessarily Nice

Niceness isn’t bad, per se. But in an age when conviction’s sharp edges cut down bridges and at the same time truth mutes itself and neuters love, we really must get to know kindness. 
In his praise for Barry Corey’s new book, Love KindnessRandy Alcorn nails it. There shouldn’t be this dichotomy. Grace can coexist with truth. But, writes Alcorn, 

Too many Christians choose between standing for truth and demonstrating grace, and the result is self-righteous meanness disguised as truth or indifferent tolerance disguised as grace…The church today desperately needs the humility that rejects mean-spirited religion and exemplifies kindness while upholding biblical truth. 

Many of us equate kindness with niceness. I did. We think kind means spongy and soft and never upsetting. We see nice as milquetoast and mild-mannered and never hurt a fly.

But it’s not that.

It’s a firm core of truth and soft edges of grace. Kind of like a Koosh ball. Remember those?

My brother would dangle it by its stretchy rubber strings. Sometimes, I’d fumble around with the filaments until my fingers found where they connected.

Flexible met firm at the core. Kind of like kindness.

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Corey doesn’t mention Koosh balls. But they kept tossing around my mind as I raced through Love Kindness. I saw them first in the book’s introduction, where Corey explains,

In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme of the other, soft centers or hard edges…Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges. 

Kindness enables us to negotiate in a time when negotiating is dying and friendly discussions are yielding to rancor.  

Whereas aggression has a firm center and hard edges, niceness has soft edges and a spongy center. Niceness may be pleasant but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. 

Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love. David believed this, writing, “Let a righteous man strike me-that is a kindness.”

In short, kindness is living life with a firm center and soft edges. It has real power to influence others for good, because it deals in that precious, divine currency-grace joined to truth. 

Useful And Profitable

Kindness in Greek is chrestotesIt means useful and profitable. It’s more than sentiment. It’s a quality of being helpful and beneficial, of seeking to improve and bless others. It’s much more “Let me carry that for you,” and “Need a shoulder rub?” than “What a tough load,” and “I’m sorry you’re stressed.” Kindness is more like Let me watch your kids than I’m thinking of you while John travels this week.

Not that tender-hearts and sympathy aren’t good and healing. They are. But they’re not kindness. They’re not chrestotes. When Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden,” he appealed with kindness. His yoke, he said, was easy- chrestos, kind- and his load was light.

Soft edges anchored to a firm core sounds a lot like Paul’s becoming all things to all men that [he] might save someAnd like conversations full of grace and seasoned with salt, and doing good to all men and a being quick to listen. It is an others-focused way of life that spills out of a Christ-centered, rock-solid core of biblical conviction.

It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And the promotion of his own kindness is the very grounds of our salvation. The very reason God made us alive with Christ, Paul wrote, was so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Who was overflowingly full of grace and truth.

This is kindness. 

Being Receivable

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Being receivable, for God’s sake, was front-burner for Hugh Corey. In Love Kindness, Corey recounts just how close this uncommon concept was to his dad’s heart.

“Barry,” he said, “if the lives God intersects with mine don’t have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the love God has for them? I’ve got to live my life so strangers, friends, aching, lonely, family-they receive me,” he said. “And through me they see God’s inexhaustible love.” 

Clearly, Corey’s father was a very kind man. He is quick to clarify, though, that living to be receivable is not the same as living to be received. Being received is out of our control. But we can make ourselves receivable.

This is living kindly. This is aiming to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles those around us have to faith. This is pre-eminent in my parenting prayers: Lord, help me live so that the boys see you for who you are. Help me not to be a stumbling block to their seeking you. The Apostle Paul lived to be receivable. We endure all things so we cause no obstacle to the gospel of Christ

The way of kindness, explains Corey is often self-effacing, Koosh-strand flexibility, receivable kindness, does not get hung up on looking perfect. People are far more receivable, Corey writes, when they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Even so, living a humble, receivable life is no guarantee we will be received.  In fact, Jesus promises that his own will be rejected and hated. “Whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). There’s union with Christ even then.

Conversing With Kindness 

When kindness walks into a room it isn’t thinking, Here I am. Instead it’s thinking, There you are. That is the way of kindness. Kindness listens to understand rather than waits to interject self. 
Kindness, writes Corey, calls us to enter conversations with those whose perspectives differ from ours. He details a candid conversation he shared with a lesbian friend, and adds,

Sometimes in our zeal for a firm center, we default to lectures from the sidelines rather than initiating gracious conversation with those whose standards are different from our own. When we respond this way, our edges calcify, and grace is lost in a fight for truth (p. 54).

This builds walls not bridges. Bony-hard edges don’t make for a good hug. But soft centers with soft edges isn’t kind either. In Jesus’ way of kindness, we can be confident in our beliefs and be comfortable listening to those with differing views.

The point isn’t to be respected or even to become friends. It’s also not to avoid awkwardness or to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes discomfort is just what the doctor ordered to set things right.

The point of kindness, says Corey, is to represent Jesus. When we are genuine and winsome, we are able to point them to their greatest good, which is found only in the gospel (p. 54). Love is patient and kind and true love, John Piper asserts, is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy. 

Which means that conversations borne of kindness are not simply for shooting the breeze. Instead, with patience and humility, we do aim to convince.

But that after listening and learning what we didn’t understand.

Why Kindness?

As President of Biola University, Barry Corey walks this talk. In 2012 some Biola alumni formed the Biola Queer Underground (BQU). Its goals were to raise awareness about same-sex attracted Biola grads and to pressure the university to change its sexual behavior policy. 
Talk about a prime-time for Corey’s receivable kindness to shine. 
And shine it did. Barry Corey called some of the more vocal gay alumni a few weeks after the BQU rocked the Biola world, even placing it, and him, in the national news. Over lunch one day, thousands of miles from his home, they talked. And Barry Corey listened and learned. 
Corey was so moved by the conversation that he invited a same-sex group of alumni to share their stories with Biola’s faculty a few months later. They did. And there were tears and pleas, he writes, but no fists or raised voices. Biola did not change its stance on sexuality. It did express kindness. 
Corey explains, 

Reach-across-the-aisle-kindness is not meant to affirm each other’s choices, but it does mean we listen to each other’s voices…Kindness does not mean we assent to cultural norms or that we give people a pass to feed their own moral appetites under the guise of individual choice or because, “God loves us anyway.” God’s kind of kindness is far different from niceness or tolerance because it leads us to see his holiness and purity and from their it leads us to see our own depravity (p. 66). 

In short, God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. As imitators of God, ours should too.

Humility, Not Dichotomy

Kindness is not anything goes. And it’s also not talk ‘atcha and fly. Kindness is way harder than both of those. Way more supernatural. It’s our task to keep a firm core, but to accentuate our soft edges. External flexibility, writes Corey, does not have to equate to internal weakness. 

Corey concludes his very personal chapter four this way.

Kindness that bends to accept as valued everyone else’s viewpoint is not kindness. We can be kind and strong in our perspective. We can be kind and encourage one another toward purity before God. We can be kind and lovingly persuade someone to at least consider our perspective on what the Bible teaches (p. 73).

Kindness pairs well with humility. Paul puts the two together in Colossians 2, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility. Just like kindness, humility is often confused.

Jon Bloom explains that,

[H]umble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

Which brings me back to Kathy.

Hard Core Kindness

Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness. Let him rebuke me- it is oil on my head; let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5

Kathy is a gentlewoman through and through. In the decade I’ve known her, her words have never wounded. They only ever nurture. Kathy is ever calm, never loud, always and forever gracious. I only ever enjoyed brushing against her Kooshy soft edges when we walk and talk.

Kathy listened. She was, as she always is, soft on the edges and truly present when we walked and I talked last week.

Oh, was I angry! He knew that Friday is Gabe’s party. We wrote it on our calendars a month ago. Then last night he told me he’s got a golf outing with his friends all day. Which means he’ll miss most of the party. The whole family’s coming at four and he won’t get home until six or seven o’clock. It just burns me. 

When came up for air and sweet Kathy caught me by surprise.

Abby, can I give you a challenge?  

Gulp. Oh, dear. Of course. Firm core incoming.

When you get home tonight, why don’t you tell Jim to go golfing as planned and to have fun with the guys? Tell him you’ll be just fine without him. And the days he goes to golf, give him a big kiss as he heads out and a warm hug when he gets home. 

These words were not nice. Implicit in Kathy’s challenge was the truth that I was in the wrong, that I was not acting in love. And her willingness to challenge me-that’s the firm core of kindness. 

Nice doesn’t speak truth so boldly. Nice doesn’t call out sinful, selfish attitudes so plainly. Nice doesn’t rebuke and dump much-needed, healing oil on my head.

Centuries ago, Matthew Henry wrote, of this precious oil,

This oil shall be as an excellent oil to a wound, to mollify it and close it up; it shall not break my head, as some reckon it to do, who could as well bear to have their heads broken as to be told of their faults; but, says David, “I am not of that mind; it is my sin that has broken my head, that has broken my bones,” The reproof is an excellent oil, to cure the bruises sin has given me. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart.

Now you know why. My friend Kathy is not merely nice. She is not just a great listener and a sweet friend. She is something way more courageous and influential, way more strong and loving.

Kathy is kind.

He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 
Micah 6:8