For almost a year, construction crews have been busy around our house, which abuts a street being reconstructed. Some of the work is on our property or on property we recently sold to the city for construction.
The supervisor on the site is a 6ft. 5 in., 250-pound seasoned worker named Larry. He has a big mustache partially hiding a sun- and wind-weathered face. I would guess he’s in his early to mid-60s. His voice is deeper than the sound of the bulldozers whose drivers he oversees. He seems never to rest, always on the job, consulting with workers and gently directing them.
I use the word “gently” above advisedly because Larry is a Teddy Bear. I’ve had to meet with him at least once a week, often with his supervisors or workers, and I’ve never heard him raise his voice or speak with anything less than courtesy and kindness.
Early on he provided me with his cell phone number and often urges me to contact him with any concerns. Much to his credit, the project appears to be finishing on-time.
So much for the theory that nice guys finish last. Larry, in fact, is a one-man exhibit on the benefits of goodness and kindness. I have no idea about his religion or lack of one, but to quote Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, responding to a scribe who exhibited God-like qualities, Larry is “not far from the Kingdom of God.”
That’s because if you are good and kind, you have captured the essence of Christianity and many other religions. And in the search for God, you’re at least half-way there. The other half may be adopting a religious belief and faithfully practicing it.
I know that religion, including Christianity, has an image problem. When they think of him at all, many people see Jesus as a wimp. Others as a fanatic. Neither, of course, captures the reality of Jesus as presented in the New Testament, the only way we know anything about him.
Jesus proclaimed his message fearlessly, openly criticizing the Jewish authorities, though he knew it would lead to his death. He stood up to the Jewish and Roman officials, saying little at his trial because he knew the outcome was predetermined.
Throughout his public life, which required incredible physical and mental endurance, he called a spade a spade. That’s not the behavior of a wimp.
The image of a fanatic is equally off-base. This idea’s latest incarnation is in a New York Times best seller called “The Zealot” by Resa Aslan. I read it last year and found it to be a classic case of an author starting out with a theory and making the evidence fit. His theory is that Jesus was one of many
revolutionaries at the time whose main interest was overthrow of the Romans and the Jews that supported them.
I don’t see how you can read the gospels and draw those conclusions. It’s obvious that Jesus was first and foremost interested in the spiritual, in connecting and reconnecting people with his Father. When he opposed the authorities it was to promote an authentic relationship to God. When he defended the poor it was all part of the message that you can’t love God without loving your neighbor.
But in so many people’s minds, Jesus is not the material of a modern hero, not somebody to look up to or emulate, let alone worship as God. No, give us a Trump, a Clinton or even a Kardashian.
I can’t help but think that it’s because the Bible also has an image problem. It may be the ultimate “unmodern” book, ranking right up there with Shakespeare. People don’t read the Bible so they don’t have an accurate image of Jesus, who was courageous, compassionate and kind.
Much is written about how those attributes are fading in our society, and I believe there is some evidence that’s the case – though people in the past may have said something similar about each succeeding generation.
So how do we restore these qualities to our public and social lives? First, by being good and kind ourselves. They spread by example like the contrary qualities of meanness and rudeness. With all the sentimentality about goodness and kindness on social media and elsewhere, it’s easy to be cynical about them but they may be all that will save us from ourselves.
Second, goodness and kindness should be important in how we choose spouses, friends, employees, and candidates for public office. Making choices on the basis of anything less brings much more grief and problems than do choices made on the basis of talent, skill, knowledge or brilliance.
Finally, goodness and kindness bring happiness, to ourselves and the people around us, and put us on the road to God. Larry, it seems, knows as much about that as about road construction.