Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

People keep asking me the same question, “What do you think about …?”

I don’t love these moments. Why? Well, to often the  interlocutors are a bit too tense for my taste. They lean forward, or back. They have anxious hands. The skin above their eyes wrinkles and twitches.

“What do you think about gays? What do you think about marijuana? What do you think about women in church leadership? What do you think about the war? What do you think about politics? What do you think about religion?  What do you think about global warming?”

To me these questions sometimes feel like traps. I am being asked to step on the sticky paper, under the spring-loaded metal, into the cage. I am being trapped into giving the “right” answer, or getting the hammer.

More often than not, these discussions also feel like triangulations. “Let’s whisper together for a moment about “those people — you know —  that monolithic block of people who who don’t think like we do but aren’t present to defend themselves.”

I am not with it. Too many over-generalities, cliches, biases and harsh judgments for my taste.

I  suspect that when we discuss our “positions,”  on people, we are often doing damage to good thinking, to ourselves and to those not present.  It quickly becomes clear that we are bent on testing each other and them. We want to know if they are a common, correctable enemy or if we are like-minded, mental “friends”  who will “like” each other’s posts on Facebook.

The questions we are really asking of each other is, “Are you one of us?” Are you a conservative, are you a liberal, are you Republican, are you a Democrat, are you a Christian, are you a Muslim, are you  responsible, or not, are you in favor of being straight or gay, do you hold to the true faith, are you tolerant, or intolerant, after the fashion that we all “should be”?

The questions are usually about a law in question, a particular moral issue, a person or set of people who we think have broken a law, a view of sexuality, a position on gender, a use of money, a politician who is under scrutiny or a political party’s platform. 

We get quite exercised over such stuff, we tend in our position-making to stop thinking clearly, we too often lose sight of deeper matters that underlie such discussions.

We lose sight of our callings.

I don’t know what other people’s callings are. I am beginning to discover mine.

I am not called to law.  I am not a good law maker, judge, lawyer, police officer, sheriff, soldier, correctional officer or moral sheriff of the world. We need those people. They serve important roles. I’m glad for our protectors, our legal people, our legal teams, when they do what they do well, it’s just that law and enforcement are not my passion, my gifting, my desire, my inclination or most importantly, my calling. 

I’m not so good at making laws, even at making rules. I’m not even good at keeping them. I’m not saying we don’t need them. I just find myself drawn to other ways of approaching life, of other motivations, other passions, other delights.

I met some people recently who it seemed, felt that they were called to be the sex sheriffs of the world. They seemed to know what the sex laws and the sex rules should be. I don’t know too much about this area of specialty. I know that harmful decisions can result from poor sexual choices. It’s just that I really don’t feel called to legislate, monitor and punish other people’s sexual behavior.

I’m no sex sheriff.

My calling is more in the direction of redemption. I know people do wrong things. I know because I’ve done them too. I know people make bad choices. I’ve made them too. What I find myself fascinated by is how we move forward after harmful choices, not how we charge, judge, punish or condemn people for having done wrong things. My experience has educated me in this direction.

I find that my calling is to redemption, to renewal, to recovery, and in this calling I am drawn to understanding individuals, not categories of people,”getting” the person in front of me, not by critiquing groups off to the side of me. When faced with a moral crisis, I like a one-on-one dialogue with the specific brokenness right out there on the table, and the question of the hour right at hand.

“Now, let’s  talk openly about who you are, what’s been going on with you, and where you would do best to go next.  What is the most reasonable, healthy, spiritual option for you now?”

I am not a relativist, but I don’t know all the legal and moral answers concerning right and wrong.

I know this: The older I get the less I have it in me to want to be a legal and moral expert, a judge, and the more I  have it in me to be a physician. I have a passion for an accurate diagnosis. I thrill over understanding each patient. I burn for the exact proscription for the each precious, imperfect one.  I am ramped-up to help people recover and move on, and to use their pain as rocket fuel to empower a new, if yet imperfect future.

For me, too many of the questions, discussions and generalizations about moral or legal failure feel like military ordinance, explosive, and fraught with collateral damage. On the other hand, specific curatives, custom designed remedies, patient-centered therapy  — this is my line of work. I’m not saying we can’t generalize about right and wrong. I am saying I do my best thinking when I am dialoguing with individuals about getting well.  I am better at medicine than law. 

I know now that I am at my best when I’m affirming people, not condemning them. I am a supporter of people; not a opponent of people. I like to talk super-honestly over coffee, not to carry a placard in the street.  I’d rather ask questions than make judgments. I want to make a mark on the world by triumphing what I am for, not what I am against. Others have the calling to bring the judgment; they must do that. I have a calling to bring about compassion. This is my delight.

I am at my best when I am thinking along the lines of forgiveness, when I am bringing mercy, when I am focused on understanding, when I am bringing healing to individuals, not when I’m judging others or sparring with interrogators who want to see if my moral and legal judgments are in alignment with correct doctrine —  as they know it. I am probably not in alignment.

Here is the deal with me, and I am comfortable who I am: I don’t care to think too much about what people have done wrong.

I do care a lot about helping individuals who are open and ready to see what might be wise and healthy for them to do next.

You Got Me Beggin’

Posted: December 7, 2009 in rules
Tags: , , ,

I love the rules.  I love the rules that bring order and safety to intersections, business and games. I love the rules that protect, that have regard for what is true and good.

I want regulation of the food industry. I want a no-face-mask rule in football. I love a red light that keeps someone from crashing us both where the streets cross.

I hate the rules. 

I hate the rules that exclude, the rules that crush difference and diversity, the rules that hammer people who don’t fit the mold.

And I hate it when we beat people up with exclusionary rules.

When I see that, I hope to see someone bring to the table, something different, something like mercy.

Duffy, the Welsh singer and songwriting phenomenon, gives modern expression to a mercy cry. She sings,“You got me beggin’ for mercy, why won’t you release me.” 

Portia, in the Merchant of Venice speaks of the salutary benefits of it, saying,“[Mercy] is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

 The church sings, “Kýrie, eléison. Lord have mercy!”  

What is mercy?

Mercy is an antibiotic for failure, a remedy for our failures to keep the rules, and for our failures in applying the rules.  When we fail, mercy has power to restore.

Recently I had an infection in a tooth. The doctor gave me Erythromycin. The pain and infection stopped.

I like to think of mercy as divine Erythromycin.  Where there is the infection of failure, mercy can lessen pain and punishment. When guilt from mistakes attacks, mercy can help fight off condemnation. Mercy is compassion, made visible.

When we break the rules, mercy applied has  antimicrobial action; by forgiving it brings  amnesty to suffering, and by acquitting it brings healing to crushed psyches.  Mercy begets mercy. It inspires a future of magnanimous choices.

This isn’t abstract. Every day we choose.  Every day we judge each other and when there is failure we chose, consequences,  no consequences, punishment, no punishment.  And when all is said and done, in the aftermath, we forgive or we don’t forgive. We keep jumping on the mistake, or we erase it with mercy.

The opposite of mercy is harshness. Somewhere between the two is justice. We must constantly be deciding, to stick to what is right, to figure out what is fair, to apply consequences where this is appropriate, to make exceptions where this is right and good, to judge, to acquit and to live with each other afterwards — or not. 

It is a judgment, when to apply mercy and when to punish. 

But the thing is, history would suggest that most of us are not in danger of being to merciful.

There is a kind of circle to this thing too, to keep in mind. The mercy that goes around comes around. And the harshness that goes around comes around too,  hard and fast and blunt.

We often get what we give. It’s enough to make you pause before you swing.