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This won’t fix anything, Ashlee, I thought to myself. Why do you think ever-loving treats will fix anything?
But it was too late. I’d already taken a risk. I’d taken the risk to hold space and have a conversation with people I’d already admitted I’d feared. I’d taken the risk in expressing my intention to people who knew cops, loved cops, were cops. Tensions were high in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. I was sure “real” racial reconciliation and justice advocates were probably rolling their eyes at my sweet, sweet naiveté.
Who was I to think this would fix a single thing?
Midthought, a knock came at the door.
Two on-duty officers who’d parked their car down the street from our house actually showed up to talk to us. My husband and I answered as our friends sat on the couch, silent as church mice—making sure we could concentrate and they could hear.
We went outside to our porch, closing the door behind us. With a shaky voice, I spoke: “Officers, I— I mean, I know it’s been a hard week . . . um, in our country. And, um . . . “
I stammered on and on, forgetting words and feeling foolish but somehow expressing our sorrow for what had transpired and our desire to know more about how events like riots affected their roles and responsibilities. We talked a little about community relations, and they made it clear, in few words, that they realized we were one of very few black families in the neighborhood. They talked about how quiet our community was and how they hadn’t really needed to intervene in any major ways, which admittedly, made my heart sink.
Then my daughter walked out with a tray of cookies.
The conversation shifted from rallies and protests to baseball and our upbringings. It wasn’t long, but in looking these officers in the eye, in imperfectly expressing my truth and my concern—in offering a rickety olive branch in the form of convections and coffee—I couldn’t fear them. I turned around and went back into my house.
Perhaps it was still true that I feared racists and unchecked power. I still cringed every time we passed by the Confederate flag waving wildly in a neighbors’ yard. But I no longer feared those two police officers who knocked on my door and ate the cookies we’d baked. I couldn’t fear them, because I’d met the fear with risk. As simple as it sounds, the risk was worth it. Even if just for that reason alone.
Shortly after the visit, the police department sent my kids police stickers—and then that Christmas we exchanged Christmas greetings through the mail.
We didn’t see those officers again, but I knew they were around, somewhere. And I knew that just as we’d shared space with them, they’d shared space with us.
These days, taking a risk to step closer and share space can seem so small and insignificant: not grand or creative enough, not loud or witty enough. Risk can be a bold statement. Or it can be a quiet and bumbling peace offering, something we stumble and trip and stagger our way through, just trying to take a half step toward courage and harmony.
In this way, when it gets us closer to humanity and the stories that humanity tells, risk, no matter how small, is the greatest display of defiance.
Rather than stay comfortable behind our computer screens and newspapers, risking kindness pulls us into the open, vulnerable and unsure, and helps us combat our fears with real human flesh.
In my book, Human(Kind), I wondered if biblical kindness could actually change the way we engage with one another, particularly in times of tension.
In our everyday actions, even when we’re cautious and afraid of what the future might hold or an interaction might entail, remember:
• Proximity wins. When we draw nearer to one another within the boundaries of healthy relationship, we’re choosing to say “yes” to seeing the image and likeness of God in one another.
• Take risks. In order to combat fear and find our way through both natural and intentional lines of division, we will most likely need to be strong and courageous in doing things we’ve never done before for the sake of unity.
• Small is worthy. Start with what God is calling you into for today. It may not make headlines or necessitate a post on social media, but small and meaningful steps are worthy ones when it comes to the work of reconciliation and peacemaking.
Allowing the fruit of the Spirit of kindness to grow and transform our lives is everywhere throughout Scripture. When Jesus drew near in proximity to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he said “yes” to a great risk that put his reputation as a rabbi on the line. In another story, he centered a Samaritan—one who was despised and outcast to the fringes of society by the Jews—as the example of neighborly love. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4, charges us with the same call he posed to the church at Ephesus to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Kindness is part of our calling as followers of Jesus. No matter the tension, no matter the obstacle—may we say “yes” to the powerful potential of kindness in our lives and in our world.
Adapted from Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together. Copyright © 2020 by Ashlee Eiland. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Used by permission.
Ashlee Eiland serves as the formation and preaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ashlee and her husband, Delwin, have three children and after living in the Chicago area for nearly 10 years, they now reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, visit:
AshleeEiland.com. You can also find Ashlee on Instagram or Twitter at: @Ashlee_Eiland.