“It’s about being a good man.” I knew what he meant. Being sweet and likeable in a goofy, hippie sort of way is not the difference the world should see in a Christian. Or, at least, not all of it. We’re promised enough times that we will be persecuted for our faith, rejected by our families and fundamentally different from our peers to know that isn’t true. So the “random acts of kindness and senseless beauty” that I was into as a young Christian evolved into something more serious. Living differently.
I remember thinking that the fact I didn’t have sex with all the girls I felt up and made out with was a kind of witness. And that my profoundly hypocritical and judgey attitude to drunk people during my sporadic periods on the wagon was spiritual fortitude. We’re all a little bit stupid when we’re new converts, I guess. Or was that just me?
I soon decided that there had to be more. Legalistic moral laws were fine and good, but there is immense suffering in the world. People starving and being tortured. Abuse and rape, slavery and exploitation. How could I pretend that sorting my relationship with Christ out was enough in the face of all that? Praising God for your daily bread while people starve all around seems to be missing the point of the prayer a little. I still occasionally engaged in acts of kindness, but I distinctly remember thinking, as I helped somebody open a train door at Reading station, that if this was the extent of the difference my Christianity was making, it was almost worthless to the world.
Still naïve and idealistic, but convinced I was being grown-up, I made it my mission to identify what was wrong with the world. Economic systems, political ideologies and structures of power were all pretty easy to recognise as root causes, human suffering as the symptom of a fallen world. Fighting, campaigning, writing for change became my focus. With occasional forays into actually helping people, though not too much – because, gosh, there’s so much important talking to be done.
And after a while, like so many others, I realised that, while I was making a difference, I would never make the difference. I’m never going to overthrow the rulers, principalities and powers of global capitalism and militarist imperialism that control this dark world. All I am likely to do is help one or two Christians to recognise that they’ve been lied to. And that can be a depressing moment for any armchair revolutionary. If I’m not here to change the world, what’s the point of being in it at all, right?
Lately I’ve been thinking about kindness again. Being a nice guy. Like how maybe, while I sit in my car, thinking about my next pontification of freedom of speech or the plight of the poor, I might actually let someone into the traffic flow ahead of me. Or on the rare occasion I’m actually talking or giving food to a homeless guy rather than writing about him, I might cut some slack to the people at the charity making it possible when they do something annoying.
A sweet video from Upworthy (I know, I know, they are so annoying, but this is really quite lovely) has been doing the rounds for a while, but I only watched it recently:
It shows people in London doing nice things for strangers, essentially, and being rewarded with flash-mob style songs. And while I hate to admit that anything from that thoughtless, hippie clickbait mill might have an influence on me, that video did. If only as a reminder that acts of kindness can make a huge difference to people. That they can be the way we show people Jesus.
I’m not saying they are enough. I still believe we are called to challenge the unjust structures in our world. Obviously we are still called to holiness. But if we ever become good men and women, I’d love it if we were also known, in tiny, insignificant ways, for being kind. And, dare I say it, Nice.