advent journal: a hand of kindness


One of the things that helped me today was a blog post by a woman named Katherine that made the rounds on a couple of Facebook feeds that I follow offering ways to respond to the mess of a world we live in these days. Here are some of the suggestions that stuck out to me.

3. Google a small-business florist near the site of any recent tragedy. Call and explain that you’d like to pay for flowers to be sent to, say, the staff of the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (3480 Centennial Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80907), or to Hope Church (5740 Academy Blvd N, Colorado Springs, CO 80918), where slain police officer Garrett Swasey and his family were members. When you leave a note, don’t make it about you, or your political or religious beliefs. Leave it anonymous, or simply say, “From a stranger who thought you might be sad today.”

5. There are several Dunkin’ Donuts within the general area of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school in Chicago’s South Side where Laquan MacDonald was enrolled. It’s probably a tough week for teachers and students both. Buy an e-gift card. Send the link to the faculty. Tell them a stranger bought them coffee.

6. Leave a copy of your favorite book in a public place. Trust that the right person will find it. 

8. Here’s a link to Amazon, where you can buy a ten-pack of socks for $9.99. Click the link. When you are asked for your shipping address, find the address of a homeless shelter in your community. If you don’t have a homeless shelter in your community, here’s mine

12. Go to a diner. Order a milkshake. Tip ten dollars.

13. Get a pile of index cards and a sharpie. Write down, “You are Important,” or “Breathe.”  Carry them with you as you go about your day, leaving them in waiting room magazines, on car windshields, in elevators, in bathroom stalls. Keep one for yourself. We all need the reminder sometimes, too.

What I love about the list is how handmade it is, how incarnational. Words made flesh. Here’s what kindness and compassion and even justice look like with skin on: flowers, socks, coffee, affirmation, and extravagant tips. And it is what takes me to Bethlehem every year, and then on into the stories of how Jesus interacted with people, fleshing out love and joy and hope and compassion and forgiveness with his words and his hands. He never held a national convention, developed a global marketing strategy, lobbied for his position, or hired consultants. He thought he could change the world with a meal, a touch, and a kind word. Even when he talked about things in a more eternal sense it came down to

I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. (Matt. 25:34-36, Common Bible)

Jesus noticed people others had chosen to allow to become invisible. He noticed things in people others missed. He saw beyond anger and responded to the woundedness that lay behind it. He chose belonging over blaming at every turn, and acceptance over accusation.

I know I’m not saying anything new, but then again, there’s nothing new to say, so I’m going to go back over the old, old stories and remind myself that kindness and love and forgiveness and hope are older than violence and death. I’m going back to remember the way I have felt love has been hand to hand and face to face far more than any grand gestures. I may not be able to do much for anyone in Syria or San Bernardino tonight, but I can do something for the homeless people on the New Haven Green as I walk to work from the train station, and to make sure the kindness I wish to show the world pours out first within the walls of our home and covers those closest to me. The Kindness that Became Flesh in Bethlehem calls me to do the same with every motion, every word.

My friend Bob Bennett wrote a song some time ago called “Hand of Kindness,” which you can find on this great collection, A Very Blue Rock Christmas. It feels like a good closing hymn tonight.

I have no need to be reminded of all my failures and my sins
or I can write my own indictment of who I am and who I’ve been
I know that grace by definition is something I can never earn
but for all the things that I may have missed
there’s a lesson I believe that I have learned

there is a hand of kindness
holding me, holding me
there is a hand of kindness
holding me, holding on to me

forgiveness comes in just a moment
sometimes the consequences last
and it’s hard to walk inside that mercy
when the present is so tied up to the past
and this crucible of cause and effect
I walk the wire without a net
and I wonder if I’ll ever fall too far
that day has not happened yet

‘cause there’s a hand of kindness
holding me, holding me
there’s a hand of kindness
holding me, holding on to me

and in the raven dark
shines a distant light
it seems to point at me
it burns away the night
familiar figure on the horizon
moving closer now I see
his heart is shining like the sun
he’s reaching out for me

there is a hand of kindness
holding me, holding me
there is a hand of kindness
holding me, holding on to me



  1. Early this morning, picking up the newspaper in the yard, I looked up and saw clearly the crescent moon and Venus. Doesn’t kindness shine like that in the darkness? Thank you, Milton. The song is lovely, and the thoughts about real actions are useful. I could add one: tip the worker in the airport restroom. No one sees them. And how awful it would be if they were not there! Imagine the ideas readers of this blog could add to the list!

  2. Thank you, Milton. The Matthew passage is my favorite from the Christian scripture: The judgment is not about what a person believes, it is about what is done ‘to the least of these’. a person doesn’t have to be MY kind of Christian, or a Christian at all, or even a theist, just someone who is kind to those who need it most. (Micah 6:8 from the Hebrew scripture is like it, and my favorite Bible verse.)

  3. Thanks, Milton. And thanks for reminding me of Bob Bennett. I have one of his cassette (!) tapes somewhere in my house. Need to dig for that. Peace.

  4. Milton: Another great post. I have a friend whose gift is making money. He has started multiple businesses and they all seem to prosper. His way of changing the world is to tip generously 10s, 20s, 50s, 100s, as the writer mentions, to people who least expect/(and some would say) deserve it — $50 tip for shoe shine, $20 for a bathroom attendant (he goes to different bathrooms than I do) and on and on. He literally leaves the house each day with a wad of cash with the intent to give it away throughout the day. He does it without fanfare or recognition., and without strings attached. It’s also his philosophy for how wealth should be redistributed — directly from those who have to those who have not. He is light. And I pray often that he finds ways to make even more money

Leave a Reply