Julie Hardison Green is a member of Greystone Baptist Church and has been since she ran in the doors at the age of three. She’s active on the Children’s & Preschool Committee, the Stewardship Committee, teaches the Young Adult Sunday School class and is active in conversations about guiding the church’s social media presence.
Greystone has kicked off its Kindness Campaign for 2020 and as a congregation we’ve set the bar high for ourselves. Kindness Starts Here. On the surface it seems simple enough, right? We’ve challenged ourselves for kind to be the center of our new perspective in 2020. Kindness starts within the walls of Greystone, yes. But more than that it starts here, with me. In our day to lives as we go about the chaos and within the walls of our home as I’m raising my two growing boys. It starts with us as humans in our day to day interactions at work. It turns out there are a big difference between being nice and being kind.
I work in marketing and social media for a living, so a lot of my life is spent on the internet. The reality of it is, though, that we all do. The average internet user now spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online each day. That equates to more than 100 days of connected time per year. If we consider about 8 hours of sleep time, that means we spend more than 40 percent of our waking lives online.
I think you would agree with me that our freedom through easily accessible social networks have, without a doubt, been a blessing. It connects us with friends that are no longer geographically close to us (or even ones down the street!), it gives us up to date news when we’re on the go, and we get to experience the views and cultures of those that lead much different lives than we do.
However, it doesn’t take spending much time on social media or the internet to see that it also has the capacity to make us less patient, sometimes hurtful and overall…unkind. Sometimes it can feel as if the keyboard or phone in our hands allow us to become a different person when we take a step into our virtual worlds. We find ourselves with the ability to use words that we’d never use over a cup of coffee in face to face, we feel a need to quickly throw our opinions in and prove others wrong. When our devices disengage and distract us, they make it more difficult for us to become the people we are meant to be. Who are we meant to be?
Paraphrasing Isaiah, Jesus answered, “The first is, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus didn’t say “Love your neighbor who looks like you,” or “love your neighbor who loves like you,” or even “Love your neighbor who thinks like you.” No, he said to love your neighbor as yourself.
I just finished leading a series of discussions in our Sunday School class centered around Mr. Rogers and the lessons he taught us as children (and let’s be serious, still teaching us as adults). So, this scripture immediately took me to these conversations and the lessons of Mr. Rogers. Rogers, an ordained minister, never called us boys and girls, men and women, or even ladies and gentlemen. He called us neighbors. Looking back at his show and his legacy, it was and is a strong calling to us to leap out of the small pond of sameness we relegate ourselves to and be good neighbors.
The neighborhoods of today extend beyond the streets we walk, our workplaces and our homes. Our devices place us on a speeding online highway to anywhere in the world, right at our fingertips. But, on these highways are obstacles and many speed bumps. How can we take the kindness we are called to extend to our neighbors into the world of tweets, comments and viral blog posts?
A safer and happier internet includes more uplifting and encouraging tweets, posts, and comments. Spreading love online can be done in many ways, like posting a positive message, liking a post that is encouraging, or sharing an inspiring article. If you’ve ever been on the job hunt, you know how frustrating it can be, so help friends and colleagues find a job by connecting them with potential employers or by giving them a good recommendation on LinkedIn. Did you enjoy a particular service or a product? Write a positive review on the vendor’s social media page.
And when you do run into something that feels bad, it can be tempting to add your two cents to the online chatter, but does it really help or move the conversation forward? Moving around the negative and focusing on the positive can be a simple step to keep your sanity.
Create groups and online communities to bring together people with common interests, needs, professions or locations to support and share knowledge with one another. Coordinate with local non-profits to see if you can help spread awareness and drive your contacts to volunteer or collect supplies.
If Mr. Rogers taught us anything, it’s that it starts with our children. Just as Mr. Rogers tried to do with his show, maybe if we get to our kids while they are young and tell them again and again that they are lovable and so is everyone else, that everyone deserves grace and mercy, then maybe teaching those lessons gives our kids the tools to be great neighbors, and reminds us along the way.
Have conversations with your children about the aspects of their lives and create a dialogue for them to feel comfortable talking to you about what IS happening in their digital worlds.
It seems strange and possibly a stretch to think of those we meet online as neighbors, but that’s what we should have been doing all along. If each of us were to take the time to think of the person on the other side of the computer AS a neighbor, would we be quick to respond in anger? Would we still share that joke that is knowingly offensive? I know we wouldn’t.
Greystone Baptist Church has been in my life as long as this brain of mine has been forming memories. I was loved in these nursery rooms, I was taught in these Sunday School rooms (I still hold the record for saying the books of the Bible the fastest) and I was baptized in these waters. These lessons of love and kindness were so ingrained in me that my youth minister was the one guiding my husband and I through taking our vows and promising forever. And once my husband’s active duty military service came to an end, we found ourselves back here with our boys in the same rooms being taught the same lessons. They’re going to be raised on the same foundation of love and kindness and nothing is more important to me. Our Kindness Starts Here 2020 is a love letter and invitation to those in our community to join in. I can’t wait for the world to see what I’ve seen for over thirty years.
Create Your Own Kindness Starts Here
The Greystone Kindness Starts Here campaign can go as far and wide as we take it. That’s one of the amazing things about social media – we get to take our message to people outside our church walls and into their offices, homes and lives. Whether that’s people we see in the pews each Sunday, a visitor who has been a few times or someone we’ve never even met, will you help us infuse kindness into their and our lives? We’d love for you to post your Kindness Starts Here social media posts and let us know what you’re up to. Tag the church and use the hashtags #gbckindnessstartshere and #gbckindness2020.
Love Your Neighbor
Sometimes I like to imagine Jesus walking among us as he did thousands of years ago. Would he have Twitter? Would he be the top followed “influencer” on Instagram? If he were a part of this digital age, I do know one thing for certain. He wouldn’t be worrying about rebutting or being right. He wouldn’t invest the time and energy in negativity and hate any more today than he was preaching on a mountainside or from a boat. He’d be imploring us today to love our neighbors just the same. So, for 2020 and Kindness Starts Here, let’s take it beyond the walls of our churches, our offices and our homes. Take it with you to your phones and your computers and remember, we’re all neighbors and kindness does indeed, start here.