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Bring Back Mercy!

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BRING BACK MERCY!

Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

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Learning From Our Racist History

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LEARNING FROM OUR RACIST HISTORY

If we make it through our trumpian crisis without a civil war or a nuclear blowout, perhaps we will learn from this mess.

On a good day, I have a half-written blog in my head about how we’re going to recognize and repent of what we’ve become; we’re going to see where greed and selfishness have brought us; we’re going to reign in corporate power and learn to care for and lift up our poor; we’re going to treasure this beautiful planet and begin to accept and even embrace our differences, etc., etc., etc.

Today is not a good day, though, so I can’t write about that. I am too sad. The man-child’s behavior since the racist rally and murder in Charlottesville has shocked and shaken me, which is, in itself, shocking. How can I still be shocked?

I suppose it’s just the degree of ugliness that flattens me. I honestly did not know that a human being could get like that. If he was a main character in a novel, you would put down the book halfway through because it wouldn’t be believable.

“Very Fine” Neo-Nazis

I won’t dwell on his remarks yesterday calling neo-nazis “very fine people” and comparing our nation’s founder George Washington to confederate generals who committed treason and waged war on the United States. You probably saw that highly alarming press conference.

 

The worst of that spectacle was the backstory, which I also won’t dwell on because it’s all over the news. Basically, after not clearly denouncing the neo-nazis and white supremacists on Sunday, his advisors all but forced him to do so on Monday. But then he just couldn’t stand not getting his way so he reneged on the renunciation and dug deeper into his racist trench on Tuesday while his aides tried to melt through the floor.

His ego is so twisted and poisonous that even with his polling numbers and political career at stake (not to mention our country’s stability), he had to spew that, that . . .  whatever it was he spewed yesterday. Which does not bode well for the moment when the Vice President is telling him not to push the nuclear button. “Don’t tell me what to do!!” the man-child will wail.

Remembering — Not Honoring — the Confederacy

Anyway, my purpose for this blog today is not to dump more negativity into the world, although I will confess that I succumb to that temptation far too often. Writing is therapy for me, and I’m afraid I must vent and rage and grieve for my country from time to time. 

Today though, I want to make a constructive suggestion. When I was in Budapest some years ago, I visited a statuary park where they had moved all of the old statues of Marx, Lenin, and other Communist leaders — sort of an outdoor museum. It is a haunting place.

Photo attribution Yelkrokoyade

I think we should do something similar with all these confederate statues that are coming down one way or another. While it’s tempting to destroy them, we should not erase our history but rather learn from it. There’s a reason they did not tear down Auschwitz.

Here’s a link to a short and powerful video about a slavery museum in Louisiana that sounds like a great place to process some of our collective pain and shame. I’ll bet they would take a few statues.

Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

Hindered Healing

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HINDERED HEALING

Funny — I am asked to write about healing and I draw a blank, despite the fact that only a few weeks ago I gave an entire sermon on healing and prayer.

I think it must still be the Syrian bombing that has blasted my brain and made me unable to write. And perhaps the fact that President Tweet has now experienced the adrenaline rush of military aggression and couldn’t resist sending a Navy “strike force” speeding towards the Korean peninsula.

For whatever reason, I have nothing fresh to say about healing. Some days I feel as if I haven’t healed at all, even after years of spiritual practice, therapy, and support groups. The dangerous man-child in the White House has caused me to revert to a scared and desperate kindergartner hiding behind the couch while my drunken father rages around the house with his slippers on the wrong feet.

So I am going to cheat and simply share a bit of my sermon. I didn’t have to tell you that. I could have just regurgitated these words as if they were hot off the presses. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about healing, it’s that honesty and vulnerability are step one.

So:

PRAYER AND HEALING

One of the first things we discover when we begin a life of prayer in earnest is that we are not well. We need healing. As we experience God’s amazing love through prayer and worship, our eyes are opened and our hearts get softened. We see more and more the darkness in the world around us and also the brokenness and imperfection in ourselves, in comparison to God’s vision.

Prayer opens our eyes to the truth that we are unwell, that we are sinners, which is a word a lot of us don’t like because it’s been used in unhealthy shaming and controlling ways. But the word in Greek — hamartia — simply means we are missing the mark, missing the target. And because we are all missing the mark, the world is missing God’s mark.

Step one in getting back on course after prayer has shown us that we missing the mark and need healing is — more prayer. Prayer opens our eyes to our need for healing, then as we continue praying, it gives us the courage to become willing to heal, willing to change, which is what “repentance” means. Because it feels risky to change and we need to pray for courage.

Do we even want to get well? Because getting well entails honesty and vulnerability. We spend a lot of time trying to avoid the painful reality of our brokenness and our imperfections. We don’t like admitting we are unwell.

We might choose denial, we may numb our pain with food or alcohol or Facebook or TV or self- important busyness. Or — one of my personal favorites — by deciding how other people should change because we can’t bear to focus on our own need for change. We don’t want to be defenseless and vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes our brokenness can define us and become so much a part of our persona that we don’t even know who we would be without it.

That’s why the silence and solitude and reflection that’s so important to our prayer lives can be tortuous for some people. We don’t want to hear the call to change. We read in the Bible that God will turn us into a whole “new creation!” That’s scary!

So prayer helps us recognize that we need to heal, and prayer gives us the courage and willingness to heal. And then deeper prayer gives us the power to heal through the Holy Spirit.

And that power to heal is God’s Love. God’s love and compassion is what heals, and our faith is made real and tangible when we open ourselves to be channels of that healing love.

Assisi, Italy

Syria Sadness

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SYRIA SADNESS

I would like to write, but we are bombing Syria. So it’s probably best that I leave it alone for now. My heart hurts too much, and I had dreadful nightmares last night.

If only I had gotten off Twitter thirty minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have known about President Tweet’s latest misadventure and I could have gone to bed and read my silly fantasy novel until I drifted into oblivious, dreamless sleep.

In my pre-dawn rush to get to work this morning, I wouldn’t have had time to listen to the news. I would have spent my day in blissful ignorance. Instead, I woke up twenty minutes early to catch the latest news. Maybe we had bombed North Korea, too? Oh no, we are just having a crisis with Russia. 

So today I watched my second graders with a certain amount of sadness. What is going to happen to them and their bright eyes and fresh skin and boundless energy?

What in the hell are we doing?

I will write when I can.

The Focus of Desire

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THE FOCUS OF DESIRE

One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

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