I once led a children’s chapel service on the subject of “generosity.” This was during the annual fund drive at a previous church. As the grownups were asked to give money to support the important work of the church, the children and I talked a little about what generosity really means.
When it came time to do the message portion, I began by asking all of the children to come up with words that began with “gen-” just like the word generosity does. I had a lot of words I expected to hear: genesis, generation, genuine. And I was floored when out of the mouth of one of the youngest children came a word I had not thought of: “gentle?” And it was indeed asked, not told. This tiny brilliant human wasn’t quite sure if her word counted. But I stopped when I heard it and said to her, “Aw, Yes!” and I put a hand over my heart as I melted a little.
This past weekend, many in our community took part in Jubilee. This was a weekend-long training for individuals to begin to adopt truly anti-racist identities. Many of the discussions and activities throughout the weekend called on those of us participating to look deeply and intentionally at parts of our lives we try not to think about, including white supremacy and how its manifestations enrich and empower some people at the painful and unjust price of damaging other people. And many of us were called on to begin the work of approaching our church’s ongoing program for A Dialog on Race and Ethnicity (ADORE) more with our hearts than with our heads.
Whenever we take to the roads that intersect in our heart, it is hard. And when faced with seemingly hard spiritual work, some good teachers and traditions encourage us to adopt the ways we might have acted or responded as children more than how we might act or respond today. It is good to engage our hearts the way we did as young children, a heart that is teachable, that is creative, a heart that feels. A heart that when prompted with a question, responds with gentleness.
I would never suggest that an external response of our community to systemic race-based oppression should be gentleness. But in our internal work together to dismantle forms of oppression, remembering that we all have a childlike inclination toward a gentle heart and we all can offer a gentle word might take us farther than we imagine. In a way, this genuine approach is the most generous way we might behave to one another and could be the genesis of a new spirit that will enrich the generations to come. And who knows, you might just melt someone’s heart…a little.