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The world is spiraling out of control. We are not evolving, but de-evolving. Every day things become more vicious, more divisive, more hopeless.

Here’s where you’re expecting me to say, “Have hope! God is with us!” I am not going to say that.

I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing, “hope and pray that things will improve.” I’m not sure that’s enough. It feels to me as if God is pushing our buttons lately, with a very intentional agenda in mind: What will it take?

What will it take for you to call your senator? What will it take for us to understand that we are all human beings and need to take care of one another? What will it take to stop blaming and start working on solutions? What will it take for us to wake up?

It is all very well and good to hope and pray. In fact, prayer can be powerful action. But there is more to be done, and it starts with making our actions congruent with our beliefs. Do you claim to be a Christian yet don’t care about (or actively work against) the welfare of the poor, the immigrant, those standing on the margins (like the LGBTQ community)? You might want to re-evaluate. Do you hate liberals? Conservatives? Hating is not a Christian value. Spewing that hatred, whether online or at a “rally” is not a Christian activity.

Which is not to say that Christians have a corner on morality; we don’t. And part of God’s wake-up call to us is recognizing that we, in our diversity of faith traditions, are more alike than different, that Sharia law doesn’t hurt me any more than someone keeping kosher does — just follow your own beliefs and be considerate of others’ beliefs. Religion isn’t the enemy; it’s people who misconstrue and misinterpret religion, who forget that God is love — above all else.

I firmly believe that Jesus was a radical. He didn’t come to soothe anybody’s spirits; he came to shake things up. And that’s what God is doing now. God is shaking and shaking us, trying to make us declare exactly who and what we are and what we believe is right and just.

So…are you ready to stand up? If not, what will it take?

There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?

We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.

Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.

I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.

I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.

chuchill

Looking at some of my old yearbooks, I’m struck by something — the number of times someone has written, “Thank you for listening.” One of my eighth grade friends called me her psychiatrist. Several high school friends note with embarrassment some of the topics they’ve obsessed over, but say they feel better having been heard. I guess that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be heard? To be thought of as special and worthy and listenable?

Pope Francis, in an interview about The Year of Mercy in the Catholic church, talks about “the apostolate of the ear,” the ministry of listening to others and giving them needed reassurance that they have been heard. This is a ministry that anyone can be a part of; it is not limited to clergy. When we give people space to pour out their feelings — even if we don’t agree with them, even if we think they are wrong — we help them. We might even help others, too, by helping to obviate anger and frustration that might boil over in ways that are destructive to the community.

This practice benefits the listener, too. In opening our ears, we are opening our hearts (even if it’s only a crack), and allowing ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It is the start of compassion, which feeds into the infinitely powerful grace of mercy. Maybe what the world needs now is “love, sweet love,” but what people seem to need most is empathy.

So I’m putting the call out to all of you introverts out there: Join me in the apostolate of the ear. Let’s face it, we don’t much like talking anyway, so why not provide a service that costs us nothing and might save someone’s life? Unheard frustrations, anger and sadness can roil up into a hurricane — they can even lead to war. But once heard, those wounds — like the words that describe them — are exposed to air and can finally heal.

It’s easy to get started. Just open your ears.

just-mercyAre you a stone thrower or a stone catcher?  You may not have heard of a stone catcher before but I think we are all familiar with the concept of a stone thrower. These are the people that Christ was talking to when the crowd planned to stone the adulteress woman.  “Let he who is without sin among you throw the first stone.”

I learned about stone catchers this week reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer who started the Equal Justice Initiative. The group started out defending those on Alabama’s death row who didn’t have legal counsel. Soon they worked nationwide, trying to stop the killing of men, women and children simply because they are poor and uneducated. Or mentally ill. Or handicapped. Wrongfully convicted or unjustly sentenced.

Society and the justice system pitched stones at these people, burying them beyond hope or light.

Stevenson is a stone catcher.  He didn’t coin the term himself.  He learned it from an older woman he had seen in the court room. He thought she was related to one of the defendants. When they spoke, she told him that, no, her grandson was one of the murder victims. Seeing his killers sent to prison “forever,” didn’t give her a sense of vindication.  It only made her sadder.

rock-1533825_1920Finally she realized that she was to spend her days at the courthouse.  She was there to listen to those no one else could hear – the mothers, grandmothers and daughters.  She was there to hold them up when they could no longer stand.  She was there to catch the stones thrown at them and those they loved.

A stone catcher.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by the merciless.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by the unjust.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by those in power simply because they can.

What an amazingly powerful image.

Christ was a stone catcher.  He listened to the widow.   He sat among the fallen.  He saw and he heard and he healed.

Catch or throw.  Throw or catch.  Which would Christ have you and I do today?

–SueBE

This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.

Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.

Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?

The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:

Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
unread.

  • Father Jacques Hamel, 85, was celebrating Mass when two men entered his church and murdered him in the name of ISIS. A servant of God, a man who could have retired long ago and not continued the active shepherding of his flock, was killed in cold blood doing sacred work for the people of God. This priest died because of his faith. That makes him a martyr. You know what doesn’t make someone a martyr? Dying in a hail of bullets after cutting the throat of a priest. That’s not dying for your faith. That’s committing a criminal act and getting the reaction a criminal act receives.
  • In happier news, Pope Francis is in Krakow today celebrating the 31st World Youth Day. His message? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). It is one of the Beatitudes, the great and golden rules taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is a particularly timely message. In this period of political divisiveness, mercy is hard to come by. Pope Francis reminds us again: If you want to get it, you have to give it. Even when it’s hard.
  • The Vatican sent out an Apostolic Constitution on women in contemplative life — i.e. cloistered nuns. These are nuns whose life consists of prayer for others. While the Pope praised the nuns, insisting that “The Church needs you!”, he also warned against “listlessness” and suggested ways to run a tighter ship. I find myself saddened by this. First, with all the problems in the world today (and within the Catholic church), listless nuns do not figure prominently, if at all. That these women, who have devoted their lives to God, need to be chided like children strikes me as the height of patriarchal nonsense. Come on, Francis. You’re better than this. (See above.)
  •  The Nuns on the Bus continue their journey apace. Their message? “Mend the Gap” — that is, the economic and social gaps that keep people in positions of inequality. The sisters’ focus is on seven areas: tax justice, living wages, family-friendly workplaces, healthcare, housing, citizenship and democracy. I am rooting hard for these women and their message of inclusiveness and fairness. We seem to have forgotten, as Americans, that “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” (That’s Ben Franklin I’m quoting.) In other words, please try not to listen to people who want to divide us, to cause rifts instead of understanding. As the 2016 election process careens into Fall, it is the best advice I can give.

reaching outEarlier this week, I read a news story that didn’t make it past Facebook.  It just wasn’t sensational enough.  It didn’t bleed so it didn’t lead, but I thought of it again when I read Lori’s post about mercy.

Early in the morning, a woman in my community heard a boom as the sky lit up. We get a lot of thunderstorms this time of year but the sky was clear.  She hurried to the front of the house and saw a car had hit a tree and an electrical box.

The driver was sitting on the ground and she hurried over to see if he was okay. He was very drunk.  It would have been so easy for this woman to go inside and call the police. Who wants to mess with someone whose drunk first thing in the day?  But she introduced herself and asked for his car keys. He handed them over and told her his name.

A crowd was gathering and someone yelled that the police were on their way. Again, this woman could have chosen not to get involved. But the young man was scared and she stayed by his side.  She told him that she knew that a lot of bad things had happened lately between the police and the black community but he just needed to cooperate.  She explained that she was worried that because he was so drunk he would make bad choices.

As the police arrived, people called out that they were about to see some police brutality. The woman didn’t argue with them. When the police arrived, she introduced him to the officers and handed over his keys.  She told him that the police were there to help.

He showed them respect.  They showed him respect.

And I have to wonder how much of this should be credited to one woman who stepped out of the crowd. She didn’t see a criminal.  She saw someone’s son who had made a mistake. She didn’t see the opportunity to make a video and gain fame on YouTube or Facebook. Instead, she acted in mercy as the hands of Christ.

Blessed are the peacemakers.  For they shall be called the children of God.

–SueBE

Pope Francis, in his great wisdom, has named 2016 the Year of Mercy. Yet a number of us seem confused by what exactly “mercy” means. It’s like forgiveness, but not quite. Like empathy, but not quite. Like forbearance…but not quite.

The world is greatly in need of mercy right now. Mercy takes us out of ourselves and causes us to look with compassion at those around us. If we all did that — and then acted on what we saw — in what grand and spectacular ways might we change the world? It is a thought worthy of poetry.

What is mercy?
Nothing much. An eye
turned outward. A seeing.
One heart bursting
its home of bone
to say, “I see you.”
To say, “I’m sorry.”
To say, “You matter.”

What is mercy?
It is a choice of roads:
one narrow, one broad.
It is leaving home
for a foreign place,
learning the language,
feeling it on the tongue.
Grasping the verbs, the adjectives.

What is mercy?
It is a bearing of burdens,
balm, bread, blood.
It is entering the wider door,
apprehending the aerial view.
It is naming each stone,
tenderly, but letting it lie,
in the manner of itself.

mercyI’m not sure why it is but I also feel God’s mercy as I see the earliest of the spring flowers.  These are crocus and they will bloom right through the snow.  They are almost done blooming but then we’ll have the daffodils and forsythia.

What is it about the bright yellow, the violet and the white that makes me realize that in spite of the bleakness of my soul, I am truly and deeply loved?

–SueBE

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