Revisiting Our Stories, Part One
Every day we’re reminded what it means in this odd and heartbreaking season to live well the Gospel story and the story we have been uniquely called to live. That being said, we feel right now is timely to revisit a podcast series we recorded last year about the qualities of a well-lived story. Stories so deeply influence how we respond to crisis, events, the people around us, and how we live in the world, particularly as we talk about the qualities of courage, commitment, care, and that deep need for kindness. Throughout this series we talk with our spouses, friends, and colleagues that we’ve looked to to say, “this is someone who’s living well in the midst of their story,” and it is our hope that you’ll be invited to engage these themes in your own life and story.
- Watch a video about Wendell Moss on the Unique Honor of Story Work with Dr. Dan Allender
- Listen to a podcast series about a deep dive into one of our online courses, Story Sage
- Listen to a podcast episode, What If I Fear My Story?
- Read a blog post about “The Courage of Kindness”
Rachael: In these days of what feels like endless ache and wave after wave of trauma and demand for resilience, we feel like it’s so timely to spend some time revisiting a podcast we did about qualities of a well-lived story. And story so deeply influences how we respond to crisis, events, the people around us, how we imagine the world around us, and therefore know how to live within it.
Dan: This was one I needed to hear again. We’ve done one on not doing well, and I needed to hear that, but I need to be reminded as to what in this odd and heartbreaking season it means to live well the Gospel story, and the story that we’ve been uniquely called to live. So I am looking forward to hearing this again, particularly given the fact that as we talk about those qualities: of courage, of commitment and care, and that deep, deep need for kindness, we will eventually get to introduce our spouses through this process. So we’ve got a lot. A lot to hear.
D: Rachael. I am so excited about what we’re going to do over the span of a number of weeks. We’re going to talk about what it means to live a well lived story. The bottom line is, look, our own story is never enough to in one sense, guide us into living well. We need others, we need models, we need pictures. We need examples of people who draw us, who in many ways almost unnerve us with the level of their life, and to begin to see that the very qualities that make them so unique are the very things that our story is meant to reveal. And look. A well lived story is not about being in exotic places with well known people with exciting endings. A well lived story engages the very reality of living in a fallen world in a way that offers and engages justice and mercy. I love that passage in Psalm 85: justice and mercy kissing. And so what for you, draws you to a human being? What are the qualities, Rachael, when you think about, just in a broad sense? What are the things that draw you to someone and you say: I want to be like you?
R: Well, I think integrity will always be a category for me that is really helpful, just when there’s a sense of I know that I’m in the midst of someone who has integrity. And I don’t just mean moral integrity. I mean, the sense that they have come to know that they are made in the image of God and that all parts of them get to be along for the ride and that they are in a process. And I think about courage, and this capacity, not bravery just for the sake of bravery, but a kind of courage to lean in to the tension of the already, not yet. To follow Jesus into places that are scary, that are not without fear, I never ever think of courage as being without fear. You know, obviously kindness. Not niceness, kindness. The capacity I think about the kindness of God that leads to repentance, a movement toward another that extends grace, but also invites a kind of engagement that I actually think brings profound healing. Yeah, those are some that come to mind for me.
D: Courage, curiosity, kindness, I think I would add, I like people who stay with the process, not stupidly, not with a kind of just utter stubbornness, but maybe something akin to it with this notion of commitment. So we’ve got at least a number of categories. But let me contrast it pretty quickly. I think a lot of people live dull lives, not because they’re not in an exotic place, dull meaning, small. They do little with their life other than in many ways, sustain themselves and perhaps a few people around them. I think of that as insipid. We know life is dangerous, and for the people who are trying to live a safe life period, I’m all for safety. I want a refuge. But if all you have in your life is a commitment to that small, safe, insipid life, already, I don’t want to be like you. And I think that sense of often those who live a small life often live with a level of–I don’t know how to put it more kindly than this–sort of dogmatic presumption bound into self righteousness, that they’re right, and and the people, they don’t agree with, they’re wrong, and whether that’s over white privilege or whether that’s over a particular view on sanctification, they know what’s right and they are right, and everybody else is pretty much wrong. That insipid, self righteous life, I just want to go, ehhh. Does not lead me to want to model my life after you. And anything else for you that you look at and to go, no, no, no, I don’t want I don’t want to go in that direction.
R: Yeah, I mean, I think these are such hard categories, right? Because even as I hear you say those things, I’m like, what are the stories that have led to that kind of living? And what are the encounters with I would say a false Jesus that has kind of lulled people into, you know, I would say something that looks like safety, but it’s actually quite dangerous. But I think about, I find cruelty and contempt to be characteristics, a way of being that I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be near, I think it brings harm. I actually think it is like a cancer that eats at you. Not just when you experience from other people, but when it is what fuels you and fills you. And again, I’m such a mercy person that I’m still always curious like how did these come to be weapons that have again given you a false sense of safety but actually kept you from community, kept you from receiving what you’re most meant for. I think other categories of stories that I mostly just feel sad about are where convenience and comfort, and I think you’ve already named this, but just a sense of needing to be more anesthetized and maintaining of the status quo, not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to be disrupted even if pervasive injustice is like right in your face. I guess what I’d want to own is I know there are places in my own lived story where these characteristics have been true or this is probably one that you and I might differ on in our own story, like where this shows up, because I don’t think I choose danger for the sake of danger. But I have a really hard time with people. I mean I actually get mad when people live with a need for danger that is not translating into courage for justice and mercy and bringing about and participating in the Kingdom of God. So when danger exists almost like a badge of honor, like I pursue these really dangerous things because you know, I need to overcome, but that danger and that capacity for danger isn’t actually showing up in how they live their life in community and how they live their life in the church, then I probably that is a place where I am at risk of getting super self righteous, super judgy. I mean, I don’t, I’m not the #SafetyFirst person for nothing.
D: Let’s stay there for a moment. Like I would say of myself that my being is wired for danger and I need danger! I drive a motorcycle, I hang out with bears in the summer and, and yet I think it is imperative to hear that if that kind of danger doesn’t move into relational danger, like I thought I was marrying a moderately safe woman. Not so much. But I think I knew! That I think I knew I was marrying a very dangerous woman who would tell the truth. And I know that sounds contradictory, but I’m full of contradictions. So the fact is any story that is this deep commitment to move away from danger already is a life not worth emulating and so the question though, is, do we become experts at a kind of danger and then live with incredible cowardice and 100 other areas? And I think that’s where courage in one area is meant to be a spilling over, an invitation into far more so if you’ve got, in one sense, a willingness to play in danger and it’s not relational and it’s not systemic, that is, engaging the larger issues where you’re going to have to tackle perspectives, ways of being that actually are bringing harm. Look: the world is harmful. If you don’t step into that, you’re not living a story that’s actually emulateable.
R: Yeah, I mean, I think I would just say the whole of these characteristics are characteristics I see in the life of Jesus and ultimately like as cheesy as it would sound–his story and the story we get to be a part of with Jesus, to me, is the ultimate example of a well lived story. And so, I look forward to kind of unpacking what we mean by these characteristics. Andyou know, one of the things we’re going to be doing in the coming weeks is actually inviting some of the people, some of whom you’ve already met, to share with us some of how these characteristics have come to be in their life and story and that I think is going to just be really fun.
D: Yeah, we’re not going to tell you, I almost slipped right there, it was now, we’re not going to tell you yet, but these are people we look at and go: I would like to be more like person X, Y or Z. And I think with courage particularly it’s that willingness to risk limb, life, wealth, reputation, to invest in goodness. I mean to stand against injustice and to grow beauty, that requires an ongoing interplay of courage and a growing humility. And once we open the door to the word humility, I think we’re into a second category and that is, I don’t know many courageous people who aren’t also willing to learn. You know, the people who I know who love danger but don’t want to learn. I keep away from them as far as I can because they’re going to kill me. They may not kill themselves, but they’ll kill me. I need to know that you have a heart to learn, to grow, that you already know that in many ways you may know a lot, but the more you know, it ought to open the door to how much you know you don’t know, which means that you are curious to discover far more about the nature of the world, yourself, and others.
R: I mean, curiosity is a word I use a lot when I’m working with people, when I’m preaching or teaching and almost almost probably ad nauseam to the point where people might be like, okay, we get it like yeah, be curious. This is one of the things I love about my husband. He is a man of many questions and time and time and time again, his curiosity has actually invited both of us to a deeper level of trust and love and repentance. I think of curiosity as the openness to ask, to seek, and to knock with a deep sense that there is more of God to be found in every nook and cranny of this universe. Also a keen awareness that what I know is only partially good and true and I need a hermeneutic of suspicion that is kissed with kindness.
D: Okay, okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What do you mean by–what do you mean by that?
R: [laughs] It’s fair. You know, I think first of all, part of being made in the image of God is being inherently relational. And I think one of the greatest, actually, I would say deeply destructive and maybe even heretical realities of some of our inherited theological framework is this sense that the image of God can happen in individuality. I actually think that is heretical because part of being image bearers is this intrinsic relationality. So curiosity helps us remember that even though I am good and made in the image of God, I am still bound by my particularity. I am bound by my own bodily and embodied experience of the world, not just how I experience it, but how the world experiences me, and how that informs how I see in my imagination. So it’s a deep commitment to know that even as much as I know, even as much as I see, even as much as I seek and ask and knock, if I’m not doing that in community, if I’m not open to, you know–here’s something I’ll say very, very clearly. If I’m not open to feedback from my black, indigenous, asian, latinx, and other friends and loved ones of color to hear feedback about what I don’t know, then I think I’m intrinsically bound. Again, curiosity–without curiosity, without the capacity to receive what I don’t know, then I will become self righteous. I will become indifferent to the suffering of others because it’s not my suffering. So when we use language like a hermeneutic of suspicion. Hermeneutic, we’ve used this language before, but a hermeneutic is just a way of interpretation, a way of making meaning. So this sense of I need to be in my curiosity, also suspicious and curious about what I may not see. And how, no matter how much my intentions are good, that my impact could actually be harming. So that sense of being kissed with kindness, a hermeneutic of suspicion that is kissed with kindness, which I’m actually just going to own our words I’ve heard from you Dan, is a way you’ve played with language. This sense of, I don’t have to be cruel to myself or to others in that suspicion, I can be kind, but there is a goodness and a boldness in being in community and knowing that we’re never going to arrive. So curiosity is a characteristic of a well lived story that I think positions us to be lifelong learners and not just learners for the sake of learning and accruing information, but wisdom, cultivating wisdom. And wisdom inevitably, if it’s actually wisdom, will shape us to love better.
D: I love it! I mean, look, we are not the center of the universe. Let’s just state the obvious, but we are contextualized. I’m a 68 year old male white person. And it is both binding and limiting. But it’s also where we begin to ask the question, how am I to live with others? How are others to live with me? And so that notion of curiosity is own your context, don’t don’t condemn it, own it. But also know that you have to have eyes from outside of your own centeredness to decenter you so that you can join a larger core. And that core is the ultimate worshipping all languages, all races, all ages, all gender. In a way that allows us to actually become more of who we are. So yeah, let’s just say as we move, I mean, do you know many people who are courageous and curious who are not kind? I mean, I don’t. I’ll just say– it’s not like you can have a kind person who’s not courageous or curious, but I think that’s a different category you brought up earlier in terms of saying there is a kind of compassion. It isn’t niceness, it isn’t just I feel for others kindness. When I think about kindness, I think of the word ferocious. There’s a kind of ferocity that comes with the ability to bless, honor, delight, and bring goodness to the presence of another. And that ability to enter heartache and to know, oh my goodness, the suffering of the other. But as well to see the honor and glory in the other. The refusal to be bound by contempt, but to bring blessing. That’s how I consider kindness to show itself. And again, I won’t tell you who we’re going to interview here. But let’s just say they’re two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And so, that quality, literally when it’s bound with courage and curiosity, there’s nothing for me that just gives you more of a taste of the presence of God like kindness.
R: Oh, and it’s just like I’m just so looking forward to getting to expand that category with other people. Because I do think when we hear a word like kindness, we hear niceness, we hear: be polite. Don’t make me feel bad, don’t name truth that’s exposing. Some of the kindest people I know really piss me off. And that’s when they’re offering kindness because they are inviting me further up and further in. And they’re exposing enough to say, I think you’re meant for more and I want to I want to offer it to you. And sometimes kindness is really tender and sometimes it is really ferocious. And to me, this is how I experience the kindness of God. I don’t experience a placating, patronizing, pitying God, I experience a God who oftentimes feels all up in my business in a way that is like, ugh it’s so exposing. And yet I know that that movement to imagine more from you than I can imagine for myself, to want to provide comfort in a way that sometimes I’m like, I don’t want to be comforted! To disrupt in ways that kind of invite me to love more deeply. So I think it’ll be really fun to play more with that.
D: Well, we’re back to that Romans 2:4 passage of: It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Not His holiness, not His wrath. It’s the fact that kindness unnerves us. I mean, people who enter into danger, courageous, I’m drawn to. People who are curious I’m drawn to, but I’ll tell you there’s something about kindness that terrifies me and I think you put words to that, but that’s one of those notions that when a person really gets ahold of what kindness brings, it is powerful. But we have one more category, one more. And it sort of links all three together. In that, you know, I know a lot of courageous, curious, kind people, but I think one of the hardest to stay with is this notion of commitment. Being able and willing to acknowledge you’re exhausted, you are burned out, you are overwhelmed and yes, there are times and seasons, You need rest, you need Sabbath, you need to take three months off. But that kind of, you stay with it. That word, commitment, it’s a very crucial word to describe a well lived story.
R: I think it’s in some ways, another way to talk about faithfulness. It’s the capacity to persevere and to do so not just not just– I think in the realm of trauma, one trauma response is to just power through, right? To do more work. And so we’re not necessarily talking about, we’re not talking about powering through, we’re talking about a capacity to persevere with care for one’s own body and other people’s bodies, to the larger body, to stay on the journey for the long haul sustainably. Right? Because I think part of faithfulness is sustainability. Part of commitment is sustainability. Not just to produce something, not just to get something done, but to actually lean in. This is where hope comes into play, right? To be about building sometimes in really small ways, and that’s why I think it’s important to just keep nuancing a well lived story doesn’t have to be grand in the way that sometimes we perceive a story being grand. Some of the most well lived stories I know will be people who never make it onto a stage. Their story might not be told to millions of people, but you see the fruit of their courage, their curiosity, their kindness, and their commitment to see justice roll down, to see grace change people, this capacity to remain loyal through a heart to receive, and offer forgiveness. Not cheap forgiveness. The committed people I know, I follow them because they have cultivated a kind of resilience that brings life, and I want to learn from them. I want to, I want to know not only what have they gained, but what have they suffered? to come to a faithfulness to something that they truly know and have tasted. Um there’s something about losing your life to find it not unto annihilation, but I think our true, like baptismal identity as Children of God.
D: Well, this is huge because I think of my own life, others where I’ve seen false loyalty, where you remained loyal longer than what was wise because you were actually afraid to lose a relationship. And so commitment isn’t just remaining on a task in a relationship interminably when there are deep and good reasons for there to be change. What I see to be the core of commitment is that I have the courage to return the openness to actually be curious and therefore hear more indeed to let kindness rule. And when those factors are at play and a person remains committed, I think we’ve got four factors that’s life changing. I mean these are categories that we can look at and say, look, I think too often I live an insipid, dogmatic, contemptuous and convenient life and I don’t want it. And I can look at periods, I can look at times where I’ve lived a life that does not bear what I want to be. But when I look to those others that I see, I think they probably would say some of the same sentences, nobody lives a life without their own dark, difficult periods. But you keep coming back, keep on the path. And in that we’ve got someone to model. So Rachael where we are, we’re gonna be talking to some amazing people in the next number of weeks. And also that as I think about people who fit these categories: My dear co host, you are one of those persons who fit all four categories well.
R: I could say sincerely likewise.
D: It is an immense privilege to have our spouses, whom both of us believe to be some of the kindest people on the Earth. And it is kindness that changes the human heart. Without kindness, we are all drawn more deeply into fear, into anger, and ultimately into a kind of dissociative refusal to engage. And so kindness invites us to life, and no one has invited the two of us to more of a taste of life than Michael and Becky.
D: Rachael. I love this series because to think about what it means to live a life worth not just living, but inviting others to the goodness of the story of God. We’ve captured a few key elements and the one I’ve been looking forward to maybe the most is this concept of kindness. And we’ve been interviewing some remarkable people, but I think we’ve got two of the most remarkable people I know, especially in the realm of kindness. And I wonder if you want to interview well, do you want to just introduce one of those persons?
R: Sure. So sitting beside me to join us in this conversation is my incredible husband, Michael S. Chen. I’m sorry, the Reverend Michael S. Chen, and I would say he is an incredibly kind man, and I look forward to talking more about kindness as I mentioned in a previous podcast. Like I think kindness is so disruptive for our good, but I think we often think about kindness as niceness or hospitality, which I think are a part of kindness, but so when I say is an incredibly kind man, that means something.
D: And I’ll introduce my beloved, and that would be Becky Allender and I have said publicly and privately that whatever I have learned about kindness and however I have changed, it has been thoroughly related to the nature of her life and how she has loved me. So we’ve got two very kind people and let’s just let me just state and obvious and that is, we’re not asking either of them to debate this. It isn’t an issue of, they need to let us know that there are times they’re not kind. I live with one of them. I know that’s true. I’ll let you deal with the other one on the other side. But the bottom line is to be a kind person doesn’t mean you are universally and 100% kind and there have been failures of love, but I know in both your beloved’s life and mine that there is this consistency, a kind of invitation into the kindness of God. So what we want to do is to ask the two of you and again to say welcome, Michael, welcome Becky
M, B: Thank you.
D: That was a nice duet. [laughs] What we want you to begin at least thinking with us about is how did you become as kind as you are? We don’t think it’s accidental. Obviously there are factors of each of your lives, but there has to be some sense of intentionality for kindness to grow in the way that it has in both of your lives. So how did you become both of you? How did you become kind?
B: Michael, You Go first.
D: That’s clever!
M: [laughs] Yeah, I love this question because you know, as you look at social media and a lot of conversation and dialogue out there, there’s just the admonition to be kind and I think that comes with the assumption that being kind is not easy, it’s not taken for granted and why is that? Exactly? And I think about, over the last couple of years, as I’ve been listening to The Allender Center podcast and the talk about trauma. And I find that my thoughts go toward understanding kindness in relationship to trauma and the need to kind of hold onto ourselves in those moments of fight, flight, and freeze, not only to extend kindness but to receive kindness for ourselves in the sense of if we haven’t tended to those traumas, I’m not sure if we can really give it in a true way. And so I’ve really appreciated the last couple of years and thinking more deeply about my own personal story and trauma and regards to what it means to heal. And I think the language of kindness and the kindness of God that leads to repentance for me has been really learning to tend to trauma, to listen well to others, to be able to see that in others in a reciprocal kind of way.
B: I really like that because I think with my work at The Allender Center that versed the kindness of God leads to repentance was always somewhat of a mystery to me, and then through tending to my story and understanding the trauma within my story, I realized, well, I had to cooperate with God in being kind to myself. I had to realize it’s actually okay to buckle my shoes, rather put on a pair of flip flops. Like I could take 30 seconds and buckle one shoe and 30 seconds for the other. That’s how unkind I would be, you know, with all sorts of details. And now I know that it’s okay to take 30 seconds to buckle a nice shoe and look nice, if that makes sense. It’s kind of the brass tacks. Again, with the work with trauma and my own story. It was easy for me to recognize that my mother was a difficult and impatient woman and I always would focus on her reasons why she was that way. Many people’s parents of the great depression know that it was a hard time and they didn’t have a lot of attunement they didn’t have tending to, and even the fact that she had, she skipped two grades I think kept her very anxious, kept her always trying to strive and keep up. And then once marrying my father, like there was so much to try and do in her new standing and I received a lot of her anxiety. Her impatience, it was such that my father was really the one who would wash my sisters and my hair or if one of us were sick, he would get up with us. So he was more of a picture of kindness to me and in the unkindness of my mother, but as a child, you love your mother. So it’s really hard to separate the two. But realizing a lot of her trauma and difficult ways of being in life was because of not being tended to, but it gave me great understanding for empathy, not only for the other person, but eventually for myself.
M: And I think for me, um, thinking about the trauma that’s related to immigration, my parents came over from Taiwan, both out of poverty and came over to work hard for education and to make a better life. And so when I think about the level of fragmentation and cut-off that they experienced in the trauma related to immigration, I just think, you know, they did everything they could and yet, I think I and probably my siblings also felt a sense of lack and that emotionally spiritually, even linguistically, it was very hard to connect as a family. And I think out of that trauma, looking for places where I could process meaning, what it meant to be asian, who I was as a person. Those places weren’t found in my family. I started to find them in the, in the body of Christ and the church in other places. And so I started to experience a real kindness in it that I think gave me freedom and safety to connect the dots of who I was, who I am, who I am called to be. And so I think the contours for me, I think you have been thinking a lot about just the heartache of immigration and leaving one’s sense of home to try to create another one, comes with so many different complications and you know, I honor my parents for all of their hard work. And yet there was such, I would say so many deficiencies as well.
D: Well, the wars that you both suffered, obviously I hear both of you say that in many ways the heartache opened the door to desire and to offer kindness, certainly to others. But a lot of us would not initially say of ourselves that we were kind and we also had trauma. So I would want it to be the case that trauma set up people to be kinder as it did in both your cases. But that’s just not often the case. So what else within both of your lives would have drawn you both to become very kind people?
M: I think of–I do think as I mentioned, I think the local church body to me was unusually gracious and kind and I was someone who really kept the church at arm’s length for as long as I could. And I, I think back now just to the faces of youth pastors and phone calls from, you know, youth volunteers that pursued and wanted to make space for me to process. And to me that was an incredible kindness and that I can connect names and faces to the experience of kindness that’s connected to the body of christ. And so I really hold that kindness and the resilience that comes from kindness is really a communal endeavor.
B: Yeah, and I would say that I love Jesus from as long as I remember, I was in the church a lot. I loved Jesus. However, I felt embarrassed of my parents often in the way they would speak to people and to me that was a disconnect with what Jesus would have wanted, but yet I would say also in my teens and young adult life, there really weren’t any people from the church or the body of Christ that were connected to me. So that’s a little different. I I wish there had been.
D: Well, in some sense defiance, at least I see that in your life Becky, that you saw what the lack of kindness brought into people’s lives. And I think there was something in you that just said, you know, hell no, I’m not going to operate in the same kind of demeaning manner that often came from your mom. But I think it is as you two ponder this, are there times that your own kindness unnerves you?
B: Well, yes, I mean in good ways and bad ways. I remember one of the very first nights I was volunteering on the streets of Seattle with late night outreach and we would be on the streets from 9:30-2:30 AM. And the first or second time I was there, my supervisor said: shield her! And I knew right away which prostituted woman young teen that I needed to stand in front of. And I remember thinking well I felt called to be there that evening. We had all prayed as a team and I thought this would be an unusual way to die because all I could think of bullets coming, but you know, you do that in the moment. And so that is one extreme that astounds me.
M: I think just my experience as an Asian-American growing up in the midwest, I’ve known kind of some of the just the heartache and the loneliness of not having a lot of people who look like me, who share the same story, and I have thought very deeply about identity and belonging and, and so I’m very sensitive to, I think the outsider and kind of people on the margins and remember walking up in Philadelphia, walking kind of late at night and heading toward me was a was a was a man looking for a confrontation. And I try to step out of the way, but he stepped with me and I said okay, this is my moment here, to try to extend some kindness and and so I just said, okay, what’s your name? And he had kind of a wild, almost drunken look in his eye, but he was startled, he was very startled by my question when I asked him his name and he said my name is Africa King, and then he asked me my name before I got a chance to answer, he said you are China King. And he probably got down and started kissing my feet and I thought this is the strangest. I hope someone is videotaping this because this is the most ridiculous thing I think I’ve experienced. And he said he got up and he offered me a drink of his beer and I said no that’s for Africa King. And we left and and we hugged, we embraced. And this moment of you know it started off as just asking his name I think sort of unnerved me and him, disarmed me and him, in ways that I couldn’t really imagine how that would unfold. I’m not sure if it, I wasn’t sure if it would go well but I think just my sensitivity growing up and feeling quite lonely in many parts of my youth sort of sensitized me to wanting to extend kindness and know people who aren’t usually known.
D: Mhm. Well, the obvious sentence of he was wanting a defensive response. And if you had defended in any form, I don’t mean just aggressively defend. I mean just tightened and pushed back it would have been in many ways a dark confrontation, but the reality is your kindness offered one of the most important gifts that we give to the world and that is a name. You know, when you look at so many of the protests, there’s been this call, say the name. Don’t just talk about the harm that has come to an individual or even to a community, speak the name. So that I don’t know how to say it better, that you can’t plan to be able to do that. There has to be something within your own heart that knows that defensive responses are always going to elicit, and in many ways entice, some degree of violence and for you to do that in that context. I just think it is uh for both of you, so, so sweet. So from the more abstract two, in one sense very specific, how have you both seen kindness engage your spouse and certainly as the spouses were glad to encounter your kindness, but how have you both seen your kindness change your spouses?
B: Well, I think it’s through this knowing, like if you come home a certain way, I’m gonna meet you with lots of kindness. And do you want this? How is your day? I mean, I can read your face or your mood and I think that was just very natural. I don’t know if you’re wanting me to say more, but I mean, I don’t really like fighting with anyone but let alone you. So it comes, I love you. It comes because I have a heart of love for you and I see all that, I see a lot of what you do and I really respect you well.
D: And again, this is where I would probably push back a little bit to say that. There’s times you are so freaking playful with me and undermining my irritability, my arrogant presumption, et cetera and you catch me off guard so often with this interchange of not being defensive, but on the other hand, pulling the rug out from under me. So do you?
B: Well, I mean, I think when we were first married you would lose your keys twice a day and you still lose them. And so like you have to be a little playful like you know the one where you left your keys and the freezer with the ice cream because I could hear you open the freezer from being upstairs. So yeah, I mean it is sort of, it is fun to be playful and I think yeah, yeah, I mean I like harmony so I don’t really like to keep angry towards you, so I’ll figure out a way.
M: But Becky I think you said there and I love that you have learned to read him well and to me that is such a great kindness to have someone read your life to read your face and ponder.
B: Yeah. Oh, thank you. So, I mean there’s telltale signs at the end of every semester he’s been teaching for a long time, so I know the seasons of, oh, I’m not gonna say anything because he’s at that end. I know when it’s okay to be playful and not usually, and sometimes I’m ready for a fight, don’t get me wrong, that would happen too but thanks. Yeah, I mean we found attunement in one another in ways that we’ve never we never had in our childhoods or in our young adult years, so that really helps a lot.
M: What I’ve seen, I think we’re talking a little bit about just the experience of one another, kindness and I think what I loved hearing from you Rachael was a sense of when you are experiencing just my attunement and really kindness in parts of you and your story that I’ve either really been neglected or dismissed in in bringing some of those, I think things to the surface, I think kindness, I’ve seen you Rachel feel more free, more safe and secure and being able to integrate different parts of your life. You don’t have to leave those things at the door. And to me, I think that’s I think the beauty of kindness that we can start to um cohere different aspects of our lives.
R: Can I just, I just interject something here um only because I think it’s a point worth making when you tell the story of Africa King, I see something about your fierce kindness, like how fierce you are and and calling someone to a different opportunity and I think of some of our interactions and how I haven’t been much different in my posture of looking for a fight in a moment where maybe I’m experiencing shame or um fear and so I kind of come at you maybe a bit like in my own ferociousness and I think those are the moments when your kindness really undoes me because it’s not, it’s like you kind of stand in my way with a seeing and the naming of something that I still even subconsciously feel like I’m keeping my vulnerability really far away and you’re inviting me to a different possibility. You’re inviting me to bring my maybe more scared parts into the space. And so I deeply appreciate how fierce your kindness is, and it’s changing me. And I think that that’s an important thing to name about kindness that sometimes it’s really fierce and it’s really courageous.
D: Well how would we differentiate, how would you all differentiate kindness from niceness?
B: Well, I think that’s the very part of what you were saying, Rachael, that with kindness when you see someone not being treated right, you can be very fierce because you have empathy for that person who has been shamed or mocked or overseen. And it’s like that’s where you stand up against giants, right. You know, you’re just not going to stand for a bully. And I think that comes from the heart of empathy, of seeing the other, of seeing how words or actions have hurt someone who’s not accepted or in the in crowd or whatever. I’m thinking of playground situations there, but that goes even in a church setting when someone’s overlooked. I’m gonna be so fierce to get over there and talk to that person who was missed. So I think you have eyes because I think that I’ve, I’ve been missed a lot and I’ve been hurt a lot by just living life. And so to see the other is the other part of kindness.
D: With that bottom line of niceness is a commitment to ease, to comfort, to almost the convenience of having no conflict. Whereas kindness, I think you both have stated very clearly. It literally means covering the body of somebody who might be harmed or stepping into a relationship with someone who’s threatening there is that ferocity that I think differentiates kindness from mere niceness, because niceness is in many ways an effort to plaster over conflict to hide it rather than in some sense reading it and knowing you have something to offer.
M: Yeah, I would add to that. Just niceness isn’t very costly. And I think kindness, I think it’s very costly. And takes a lot of work again. I think just to name what we have the ways in which we have been judged and hurt, dismissed, abused and wanting something so much different. And there’s, I think, a great deal of fight and ferocity in that. Costliness.
R: Well and I think, you know, there’s a certain, you know, “no” can be very kind. And I think nice sometimes feels like you can’t say no. That that’s cruel and mean, and you know, I just like even thinking about some of these interactions that Michael and I’ve had in some ways, his kindness is standing in front of me saying no, I’m not going to join you in that violence towards yourself, but here’s what I will offer you. Or I think about like, um just that capacity to know that sometimes not enabling someone is an incredible kindness, sometimes speaking the way someone has impacted you with particular clarity and clarity, even if it’s really hard to hear, even if it’s being shared with anger is in some ways a profound act of kindness, to want to have authentic, genuine like, connection and love that were fully seen and known to the extent that we can be.
D: Well and Rachael. Let me turn the question back to you, where have you seen Michael’s kindness change you?
R: [laughs] Well, it’s been really fun to ponder this conversation because I think we’ve gotten to reflect on moments, but you know, I will, I will share a particular moment. I mean there have been so many, in our journey of getting to know each other and falling in love where again and again and again, I needed to be able to trust myself that I was choosing a good man because of my story and there were just so many moments where Jesus was like, look at this really kind man who’s like, who has a good heart. But I think I shared on this podcast about how we had our sump pump in our basement backup and part of that was my fault. I was flushing those of you out there who like to use flushable wipes because it just feels kinder to your body even though some might call them adult wipes whatever. I don’t care when you have trauma and gut issues. You just want like, like tending to your body, not like sandpaper. So, you know, it says flushable. So I was flushing them down the toilet, um and it backed up our sump pump and sewer water backed into our shower. And I just felt so much shame and my embodied my bodily expectation was I was going to be punished. And, and so I just went into fight flight or freeze because of the exposure. And I’m a fighter. So, I mean, I was coming at Michael like, you know what, I’ll just pay you out of my personal account, it’s fine. Or like, you know, I’m sorry, this was all my fault, basically putting a lot of words into his mouth. And always in, like, a fight, let me just go jab you, and then I would, like, run up the stairs, you know, like, and I’ll also leave so you can’t really engage me. And I just think at some point, he was like, I don’t need any of these things from you. And I’m really curious, like, what is happening for you, because you’re trying to fight me and I feel like you’re trying to invite me into violence, and maybe that’s not exactly how you said it, but that’s how I experienced it. And it led to me having to really ponder how much safer in some ways contempt would have felt, how it would have reinforced. Just the contempt I was already pouring on myself, and how scary it was to move towards vulnerability to not quite know how to ask for what I needed because I didn’t I don’t have a lot of imagination yet for what kind of care I need in a moment where I feel really exposed and like I made a mistake, and I’m going to cost us money and and that for me was a moment of just his kindness really undoing me and inviting me to a different possibility. And then that led to a lot of grief, because I had to reflect on why is this why is this the way I respond so instinctually? So yeah, that’s a moment.
M: Kindness can disrupt the familiar. And I think that’s a really hard, really beautiful process.
D: Well, I think that sentence is worth the whole podcast because the very nature of kindness is that power to disrupt, but in the disruption at least what I’ve sensed with Becky so often that it can’t be even named, it’s a desire in the disruption to bring something good um around father’s day. Becky said as we were taking a walk, you have been a really good father and my sentence at that point was very dismissive and she stopped mid walk, look square me in the eye and said, you listen, you have been a very good father. I don’t want you to dismiss not just me, but what you brought to your children and that moment of just looking and going okay, I mean I wasn’t terrified, but there was something in her voice, face and honor that just felt so difficult to receive and yet in the receiving, I–in one sense it was the best portion of Father’s day. I love the phone calls from the kids, but the blessing that she brought and the ability to disrupt the dismissiveness. So I hope people are getting a sense that there is this complexity to kindness, the ability to read, the ability to interact, the ability to disrupt, but also to invite into a goodness that we are all to some degree, um as much as we may desire, we’re also reluctant to receive. Well, before we end, I’m just curious as to how kindness has drawn the two of you, but all four of us obviously can respond. How has kindness drawn you into the heart of God?
B: Well, I think you–when you are kind, it reflects the father’s kindness. I don’t deserve kindness all the time, but often I get it from you. And it’s just such a great gift from Jesus that he allowed us to meet and fall in love. And it’s like the biggest thing in our lives.
D: [laughs] Yes. Well, uh, for me to add that, I just don’t believe that God is kind. I mean, I do, yes, I do. No, I don’t. And the fact of my ambivalence with regard to kindness, there’s no one who continues by the presence of kindness to disrupt my deepest desire. I mean, in one sense, I would prefer kindness to any honor in the world. I would prefer your kindness. You know, after I finish a talk or any other engagement. You know, the only eyes that matter are yours. And because you’ve told enough truth, I know that the niceness isn’t nice. The kindness actually tells the truth. But when that truth comes, there is something in my own heart that just says I can rest in a way that a rather frenzied man like me doesn’t tend to have a lot of rest. But that kindness lets something of my soul receive and let down in a way that nothing else, nothing else quite ever brings that level of joy.
M: I love the, well the Greek word for kindness. Krisdos is the Greeks used to talk about that in terms of um vintage wine, old wine that has aged well. And that’s meant to be in contrast to kind of the harshness of new wine and the harshness of the Pharisees. And I think about the experience of kindness in Jesus as one I think very similar of knowing that there is a sense of safety, a gentleness that will lead to, I think a new imagination and new experience more playfulness. So I just think there’s a lot of you know always think about kindness in terms of what safety brings and what gentleness can bring.
R: And it just feels like that. I mean just that sense of kindness changes us, it provokes and evokes hope it invites our imagination to not only want more but to want to create more. And so I think for me that language of the kindness of God leads to repentance. It is meaning more more and more and more to me as I experience kindness in the tangible of what it means to be welcome, of what it means for someone to want your goodness. And I think the yeah, the rest that comes with that kind of grace, but then also the change and the transformation and the desire to risk more, to live more courageously in kindness with others. I think it is a very, very powerful human capacity that obviously flows from the heart of God.
D: Well, for all of us to be able to say your kindness, Michael, Becky, it’s been a presence and I won’t speak for you Rachael, but certainly for me it has revealed my own absence of kindness, but also exposed that I longed to be a very kind person. And so that contrast of, I’m not kind, I want to be kind; actually, I’m far kinder than I would have known. And to have the presence of people like Becky like Michael in our lives. I don’t think there’s any simpler way of putting it: It draws us to the kindness of God and what would it be if we were as individuals, marriages, friendships, but in a broader sense, as a culture, If we were kinder, what would be the transforming power not only in terms of trauma, but the larger category of racial trauma. The categories of a culture literally polarized into levels that some people are arguing is the basis of an eventual civil war. I mean, if there’s not kindness that grows within us and in our communities, we will be ongoingly divided in a hostility that only creates even more adversaries and more debris. So what we’re putting words to, I hope people can hear, opens the door to the kind of transformation that only the kindness of God can open us to, but that kindness needs a face for it to become even more real than what we know to be true as the scriptures speak, we need one another’s kindness. So thank you both of you and thank you, Rachael.