Cathedral

 

_PRS0244
Whether someone  chooses to worship the teachings of Jean Paul Sartre or is convinced that the risen savior is embodied in the plasticine statue in front of Bob’s Big Boy, I cast no aspersions. I may be amused but I would never condescend.

The ever widening diversity of faiths in the world make it clear how prevalent is our hunger to believe. Whether we invest ourselves in an inner power, a higher power, or a philosophy of benevolence, I cannot hold criticism for anyone with a sincere and loving heart who wishes to reach out in their own way to the universe.

The lotus position in the solitude of a wooded glade may be the ideal for some, while others require the tradition and ritual of a large assembly, and still others find their best comfort in the company of a close friend or good book. For many it is the place in which they choose to practice their beliefs that defines the expression of their faith.

The fine lines and foundations of architecture have always held a place of reverence for me, whether it was a mosque, a temple, or the New York Stock Exchange. I am frankly staggered by the imaginative designs of artists and engineers who have given us the likes of the cathedrals at Chartres and Notre Dame. There can be real majesty in a hallowed place of worship, although some buildings make it difficult to discern whether the design sprang from hubris or from humility.

The circumstances and environment help, of that I am certain, but it is worth asking ourselves, “Did I come to this place for its facade or for my faith?” In the end, divinity is something an individual must define for himself.

In the grand manner of ancient monuments to faith where centuries of wounded souls have sought solace, asked forgiveness, and sent their prayers aloft like embers, even a small community church or the quiet corner of a garden can be your cathedral.

It is not the edifice that matters. It is our willingness to be small.

.

.

.

 

Kindness

For years I’ve seen bumper stickers that promote random acts of kindness. I absolutely get the concept they’re going for and the phrase moves well across the palate….. “Random Acts of Kindness.”

But from a strictly clinical perspective, an act of kindness is anything but random. Real kindness requires genuine consideration and the very deliberate execution of a heartfelt deed.

To me the words “Random” and “Kindness” constitute an oxymoron. The two terms are mutually exclusive, kind of like “Blind Faith” or “Microsoft Works”.

Maybe I’m too much of a literalist but all these phrases have troubled me for years. Yet everyone still embraces their core concepts — as well they should. Kindness and faith are always well worth promoting in any form, although maybe not so much the Microsoft thing.

Being kind falls squarely within the province of the human experience because it demands compassion. Other animals in nature can be nurturing by instinct but behavior-wise, the similarity ends there.

Only people can be truly kind, or for that matter truly cruel.

I think I identify easily with kids because I recognize their compassionate behavior more readily than I do that of grown ups. That’s not to say adults are unkind. I am personally acquainted with many sweet-tempered, accommodating folks who are the very soul of kindness. At the same time we’re so much more concerned with how a considerate gesture might be misinterpreted.

Adults are just too weird to get an honest read on them when they’re being nice for no apparent reason. Modern Americans have sadly devolved into a rather untrusting breed, which makes grown up kindness a little harder to spot, and a bit more of a challenge to pull off, even though it’s still very much alive out there.

Kids on the other hand, have no problem being candid with their feelings, which is really the essence of being kind. Still, when you teach them to share and they want to offer the neighbor’s Rottweiler a lick of their lolly pop, that’s when you have to start reining them in a bit. The impulse is right but it has to be tempered with sound judgment.

Although I missed getting to know my older daughter until she was grown, I dearly enjoyed teaching my younger one about being kind when she was small.

Children mimic behavior instinctively and are adept at learning by example. So demonstrating kindness as an adult is critical to a child’s interpretation of how to treat others — and how to be kind to themselves as well, an equally crucial part of their upbringing.

Occasionally kids take our lessons too literally. Once when Courtney was four, she wouldn’t let me apply a plain band-aid to a cut on her elbow.

I didn’t want to force it but I didn’t have time to explain about bacteria and infections. I wanted to be gentle — gentility is a big part of how kindness works.

“Why do I need that sticky thing on me?”

“Band-aids hold the kisses on, sweetheart.” She loved that idea.

Of course she knew where we kept the band-aids and the next morning I found she had applied six or seven of them to her cheeks and forehead — every place we had kissed her good night.

When she didn’t want to eat cucumbers I sliced some up and told her, “They’re garden cookies.” She’s almost 28 now and she still calls them garden cookies.

Kindness. It’s the great convincer that you really do want the best for them.

I suspect all of us are born with the germ of kindness already inside. It only requires the encouragement of expression and a positive direction.

Though I’m not particularly a fan of her novels, many years ago I did enjoy a slender volume of philosophy by Ayn Rand titled “The Virtue of Selfishness”. One of the key precepts of the book is that, when we do something inherently selfless for another person, like bringing flowers to your mother or girlfriend, your true goal is to make them happy so that you can enjoy the feeling of wellbeing that comes from their happiness about your thoughtful act. This is a good kind of selfishness. And while it can be construed as a bit self serving, there’s really nothing at all wrong with the enjoyment we derive from being nice to others. It’s healthy.

Following that logic, sort of, I also endeavor to be kind to as many people as possible for no more reason than to simply confuse them. You provide a welcome service, exercise a Christian value, and entertain yourself all at the same time. It’s great fun, especially if it’s someone who’s been really mean to you and knows they don’t deserve it. They get all perplexed and start looking around like someone moved their food dish.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoy going out of my way for someone very deserving who didn’t see it coming. That’s the best.

Now that I think of it, perhaps I was wrong about random acts of kindness. Could it be it’s not the kindness that’s random, but rather the person, time and place in which I choose to act?

Wow.

I love it when I talk myself into this stuff.

But I’m standing my ground on Faith and Microsoft.

.

.

.