Dysfunctional Greeting Cards
I’m convinced some company today could make a killing if it had the guts to market dysfunctional greeting cards. Most birthday or holiday cards gush with flowery sentiments such as, “To the greatest father in the world,” or, “Mom, you are my best friend.” Yeah, well, what if they weren’t?
What if your dad was an angry jerk and your mother abused you? What if your brother backstabbed you and stole the inheritance? Where are the greeting cards for reality?
Just once I’d like to see a card that reads, “Mom, you blew it . . . but I love you anyway. Happy Mother’s Day.” It’ll never happen. Even if such cards existed, few people would have the cruelty to send them.
So instead we shop for cards that are blank inside and do our best to scrawl some positive words. There are no easy solutions. Only godly ones. After all, on some level we all deserve to open dysfunctional envelopes since we each contribute our own family defects.
The FaceBook Version of a Family Dinner
In a television commercial for Facebook, a large, gregarious family sits down to a meal. It is a Norman Rockwell moment. In our positive associations to family dinner, myth and science come together. We know that for children the best predictor of success later in life is the number of meals shared with their families. The dinner in the Facebook commercial looks like one of those dinners that everyone knows they are supposed to love.
Just as the viewer locks on to this image of unconditional “good,” the narrative is disrupted. An older woman at the table—let me call her “boring Auntie”—begins a painfully dull story about trying to buy a chicken at the market. A teenage girl at the table does the predictable: She pulls out her phone and goes onto Facebook.
Immediately, the scene is populated with scenes from her newsfeed: A friend plays the drums, another performs ballet, yet others are in a snowball fight. The teenager is no longer at dinner. She is elsewhere. We once taught our children to ignore a ringing phone at dinner. We became annoyed if telemarketers interrupted us. Now, Facebook suggests that it may be a good thing to interrupt dinner ourselves.
Kin and Kindness
…I started reading The Kindness of God by Catholic theologian and philosopher Janet Soskice. In her examination of the etymology of the word kindness, Soskice helped me see it for the first time as a strong virtue rather than a weak one. “In Middle English,” she writes, “the words ‘kind’ and ‘kin’ were the same—to say that Christ is ‘our kinde Lord’ is not to say that Christ is tender and gentle, although that may be implied, but to say that he is kin—our kind.
This fact, and not emotional disposition, is the rock which is our salvation.” I paused after reading this sentence to try to take it in, to try to peel the sentimental layers off my definition of kindness and replace them with this fact: to be kind meant to be kin.
The word unfolded in my mind. God’s kindness meant precisely that God became my kin—Jesus, my brother—and this, Soskice said, was a foundational truth about who I was. Not only that, but for speakers of Middle English, Lord had a particular meaning—a lord was someone from the nobility, the upper social classes. To say “our kinde Lord” was to say the difference in social or economic status between peasants and nobility was also erased through Jesus the “Lord” being of the same “kinde” as all, landowners and peasants alike. Jesus erased divisions that privileged some people over others.
If Soskice is right, then practicing kindness requires, at minimum, a willingness to see the image of God in, and to find a point of honest connection with, every person—even, and especially, those I dislike.
A Little Girl and The Founding of World Vision
In 1947 huge crowds came to hear a thirty-two-year-old Californian preach at mass evangelistic rallies throughout China. Although Bob Pierce had no knowledge of Chinese language or culture, his message of American old-time religion was warmly received, reportedly reaching tens of thousands and even converting twenty members of General Chiang Kai-shek’s personal bodyguard. But despite these impressive results, Pierce’s trip to Asia would be most remembered for his brief encounter with a single little girl.
In Xiamen, Dutch Reformed missionary Tena Hoelkeboer invited Pierce to preach to four hundred girls at her school. When one of her students, White Jade, informed her father that she had converted to Christianity, he beat her and threw her out of the house. Hoelkeboer was distressed at the prospect of taking on yet another orphan and demanded of Pierce, “What are you going to do about it?”
Deeply moved, Pierce emptied his wallet of the five dollars it contained and promised to send the same amount every month. When he returned to the United States to report on his evangelistic exploits, Pierce told the story of White Jade in churches across the United States. In 1950 he founded World Vision in order to sponsor more needy Asian children like her.
By the turn of the century, World Vision had become the largest privately funded relief and development NGO (nongovernmental organization) in the world, and White Jade’s story continued to be used both in advertising and in recounting World Vision’s history. Even at the time of this writing, White Jade remains central in defining World Vision’s identity and approach for its employees and donors.
Because of its deep rhetorical resonance and staying power, Pierce’s encounter with White Jade and Hoelkeboer might possibly be the single point at which North American Evangelical Christians began to reprioritize compassion for the poor.