None of us can have failed to have been appalled by the brutal stabbing of the MP, Sir David Amess, in a Methodist Church in Southend. Watching the news on Monday evening, after his family had visited the church, I noticed a sign on its wall saying ‘all are welcome here’. It was powerful in the face of the contradictory messages of hate and love we have had over the last few days.
Just before their visit to Belfairs Methodist Church the family released a statement asking people to ‘set aside their differences and work towards togetherness’. In the midst of the horrible pain they must be coping with their plea for kindness and unity is hugely significant; it echoes the Christian principles which under-pinned Sir David’s understanding and career.
For them to choose to practice kindness and gentleness when there is every reason for them to hate and seek revenge, takes courage. We live in a world that at times seems polluted by animosity and cruelty (you only have to look at so many social media posts to see this in action) that to resist the seductive lure of hatred is a an amazing and Godly act.
The gift industry has quickly jumped on the bandwagon; today the ‘be kind’ slogan, along with Sir David’s face, is imprinted on everything from mugs to t-shirts but if it is to be more than a well-intentioned catchphrase on cheap merchandise then we have to think about what it really means to be kind.
It can’t just be a glib response, equally quickly shared on social media as the hate that preceded it, as kindness is a discipline to be grown in the depths of our beings.
Radical, meaningful kindness is what Paul writes to the believers in Galatia telling them to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Galatians 5.14). This isn’t easy though; to love as we are commanded is a costly endeavour; it won’t cost most of us our lives but it might mean putting aside differences of opinion and outlook and examining again our personal, political and theological boundaries.
Paul goes on to write that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22)
I hope that we can all develop those good fruits and, in doing so, be able to sit alongside and serve those we struggle to love as well as those we love already.
To love our neighbour as we love ourselves is easier said than done. I well remember my grandmother in a hugely well-meaning way telling me as a child that ‘kindness costs nothing’. As an adult I know that is not true. Sometimes, as the family of Sir David Amess know only too well, kindness can be the costliest thing of all.