April 2, 2017
Rev. Laurie Bushbaum and Sally Schmidt
First Reading: Kindness, by Naomi Shihab-Nye
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
Second Reading: from Random Acts of Kindness
I was traveling by Britrail through England and Scotland and got caught on a weekend w with no money. (I had a bank account but couldn’t get any cash out until Monday.) I decided to ride an overnight train from London to Inverness on Sunday so I wouldn’t have to worry about staying in a hotel; the next morning I could go to the bank and all would be fine. I didn’t check the rail schedule very well thought, and the train I was on came to a dead end in Glasgow at 1:00 a.m.
At the time, Glasgow had a terribly rough reputation, I’d never been there and never wanted to be, but there I was with no money and nowhere to go. For some reason… instead o just staying on bench in the train station till morning, I picked up all of my bags and started walking down the streets of Glasgow.
The story could have ended pretty badly. There were gangs of what looked like thugs on every corner, and here was I, a, a twenty-something, American woman who obviously had nowhere to go. But them a policeman came along, He took me to a nearby YWCA, talked the matron into letting me stay, and even paid the fee when I told him I didn’t have any money! The next morning, I went to the bank, walked to the police station, and left it for him… the kindness of that policeman and also the women in the shelter who gave me breakfast and let me take a shower and wash my clothes made me think Glasgow was a friendly place
Part 1 – Rev. Laurie Bushbaum
I got to spend last week with Naomi-Shihab Nye, the author of the poem Kindness. She was giving a week of workshops in St. Paul. The theme of the week was “The Work of Words in Troubled Times.” I was so moved by hearing her read her poems, telling the stories of how many of them came into being. And so it is especially meaningful for me to have shared her poem Kindness this morning. In it, she reminds us that knowing sorrow teaches us how essential kindness is in this world. And so I will share a little story about a time in my life when sorrow and kindness were intertwined.
I had a friend, named Dan. I met him when we were in our 20’s at the UU summer camp in Northern MN: Camp Unistar. For years a group of us young adults met up there and formed a network of friends. Dan married and settled in the Bemidji area, teaching Biology at the college there. I occasionally drove up there to preach at the UU Fellowship in Bemidji and became connected to the congregation and his circle of friends. Some dear UU friends of mine from Minneapolis also moved up there. This couple, Cindy and Jack, had been friends of mine since I was in seminary. They served on my ordination committee. Over the years they became good friends of Dan and his family.
Fast forward 30 years. Dan is dying of brain cancer. I make repeated trips to Bemidji to see him and he asks me to officiate at his memorial service and I promise him that I will. The day is quickly arriving and I drive to Bemidji the night before, nearly torn in two with grief, wondering how I will lead the service with so much grief of my own. Cindy and Jack have arranged a hotel room for me. I check in and go to my room. There on the desk is a basket and a note.
In the basket are a small bottle of wine, dark chocolate, some of my favorite tea, flowers, and bubble bath. In the note, Cindy and Jack remind me that they have witnessed my ministry since the very beginning and they know that I can do this with great beauty even though it will be hard. They encourage me to take good care of myself that evening to be ready for what the next day will ask of me.
As I read their note, thinking back through the 30 years I have known them and all of the ways our lives have connected through the years, tears pour down my face. For them to understand how very, very hard this service would be for me to do… for them to take the time and effort to plan each and every item in the basket… was a kindness that nearly knocked me breathless. I did as they commanded. I took gentle care of myself that night. And I have never forgotten their extraordinary kindness. I have tried to spend it forward.
Sunday morning services get born in all kinds of ways. I may have an idea that I want to talk about. There may be something in the congregation’s life that I believe needs to be addressed. A service may be promoted by what is happening in the world. Or, sometimes, a congregation member writes you an email and tells you a story and says, “Could we do a service about this?” So, I thank Sally for her great suggestion. And now, she will tell you her story of how she was inspired to suggest this service about kindness.
Part 2 – Sally Schmidt
Kindness has a tendency in our culture to be treated with whimsy. Just as cotton candy is yummy, but with no real substance, and certainly no real nutritional value, kindness is okay to think about, but with no real substance or spiritual value. Laurie and I are doing this service on kindness at the risk of seeming frivolously irrelevant after recent tragedies in which 4 of our community members lost their lives and all their loved ones now must live lives with gaping irreparable wounds. On a week without a community tragedy, it could lack enough spiritual depth to warrant a Sunday Service; after the recent shootings it could come off as dangerously naïve and hurtful in its ignorance of others’ pain.
The terrifying moments make headlines. But not all the small pains, the anxieties, the worries, the frets, the slights, the insults, the indignities…All the small, daily, unresolved pains that led up to those terrifying moments. I wonder what might have happened if all those small pains had been tended, cared for, and healed while small, instead of being allowed to fester and erupt. In the same way that our small pains must be cared for, our small joys must also be tended. Each of our experiences is the spiritual equivalent of a handful of seeds.
We have likely all heard the term Random Acts of Kindness. Originally, this was a phrase to counter the term random acts of violence. Now I would like to posit a helpful evolution of the phrase: not random acts, but intentional acts of kindness. For all those of us feeling the pain of this recent tragedy in our community and so many other losses in our personal and communal lives, making not a random, but an intentional act of kindness can be a way of planting seeds.
This journey started for me as I planned with my cousin to march in the January 21 Women’s March in Madison, with my 11 year old daughter and my cousin’s 12 year old son. My cousin found an ad in a Madison flyer that Artist in Residence Danika Brubaker Laine was offering a seminar on Acts of Kindness: come and create artwork that you intend to give to a friend or stranger. We were curious, so we agreed it might be a nice counter-balance to the March itself. We hopped a bus and headed to the library before heading downtown to join the other marchers.
Artist Danika Laine had transformed the drab meeting room of the library, which most days could be described as utilitarian, functional, but certainly untouched by anyone with an eye for design, into a blossoming, welcoming, waiting, open invitation. Many stations around the room beckoned us to move slowly, savoring the possibilities of what to put into the world. It was a visual representation and physical manifestation of the decisions we make daily, but largely unconsciously, of what to put out into the world. So we created. Quotations or poems to decorate. Write a letter to your future self. Write a letter to a friend, thanking them for the ways they have influenced your life. Write a note to a stranger, encouraging them. Write a single word or phrase on a stone. Draw a simple design to ignite someone’s imagination. Compose a few stems in a mini-bouquet.
Tie a tag to it, and leave it somewhere for a fellow human to find. If you wish, snap a photo of your creation and post it to Instagram of Facebook with the hashtag: #fortheonewhofindsme . When found, the recipient can do the same.
It was powerful weekend, marching with thousands of others, as watched reports flood in of so many people worldwide who were also marching. The four of us, (myself, my cousin, and our two pre-teens) marched, and then kept walking, finding nooks and niches in which to leave our kindnesses. It became as much a joy to search for ‘the perfect spot’ as it had been to create them. “Maybe someone will be tired waiting at the bus stop after work and this will make their day” my 11 year old imagined. Walking back to our car from a stop at the grocery store, “That grocery guy looks pissed” said my cousin’s son as he observed a store employee braving the cold wind to retrieve carts from the parking lot “…maybe he will decide not to quit today,” said my cousin’s son, leaving a “stone with “YOU ROCK!” written on it, on the seat of the first cart in a long line of carts.
Near the parking meter, on a picnic table at a park, in the entryway of the movie theatre, under the top napkin of a napkin holder for the guy who cleared our table…each place we went that weekend, we suddenly could not stop seeing…. opportunities. A few days later, on my Instagram popped up this post: found! Real Roses!
Several weeks later, our family attended the UU Family Winter Retreat at Camp Manitowish. “Can we do Acts of Kindness?” my daughter asked? It had never occurred to me that this could be something we replicate… “Yes!” I agreed, let’s pack a bag of supplies and invite everyone at the retreat!” My 5 year old tied ribbons to flower stems and stuck them in snowbanks, along trails, and on the windshield of a parked car on the opposite side of camp, occupied by a different group. Sunday morning as we walked back from the sledding hill, we saw a young couple carrying backpacks and bags, packing up their car to leave camp. As we passed by, my 5 year old and I overheard the man say to the woman, “Honey, this is kinda cool….come look at this!”
My 5 year old’s eyes got wide, as she looked at me, put her finger to her lips, with a knowing and mischievous but obviously delighted grin, she turned and began skipping down the trail back to our cabin. “Daddy, daddy!” she exclaimed, breathless with excitement! They found it! They found my kindness! And they liked it!”
More recently, several of us were able to accompany a group of 5th grade students to the Model Montessori United Nations Program in New York City. On day one, I bought a bouquet of stems and gave each kid a tag and a mission: on our travels throughout the city, leave it for someone to find. One of the chaperones celebrated a birthday while on the trip, and her family sent her a bouquet to our hotel. On the last morning of the trip, realizing she could not take a live bouquet back with her on the plane, she offered it to the kids. “Let’s make it into Acts of Kindness,” she said! And there in the hallway of the hotel, we sat and wrote tags, and tied ribbons, and delighted in the collective imagining of who our items might find: a bus driver, a hotel staffperson, a fellow traveler. What surprised me most about this was that we all seemed to suddenly see New York City with a new lens: not only were we marveling at the buildings, the jumbotrons of Times Square, but now we were also imagining the lives of our fellow humans: Do you think someone will find this as they are walking to work? If I leave it at the train station will someone find it when they buy their ticket? Thinking about where to place it, led us all to a wider, maybe more humane kind of collective imagination: who are our fellow humans? What are their lives like? In this small way will my life touch theirs?
So, will these acts of kindness spread over Camp Manitowish or over New York City or over Wausau, Wisconsin change the world? Whether random or intentional, they are nice, yes, but do they really matter? Today we invite you to find out for yourself.
After the service today, everyone is invited to Yawkey Hall, to create acts of kindness. Pre-printed envelopes or tags are waiting for you. Poems, notes, ribbons, flowers, pens…the children have helped set up, and everything is waiting for…you.