Grow Mercy

Therefore be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. (Luke 6)

It’s not just the driven people who worship at shrines of self-expectation. We all have laws that we manage to set just beyond reach and reason. We don’t do this consciously. Somehow, by the time we notice, we’ve already been operating by them for years. They’re just there, inherited. They accuse us when ever we let up. And we twist ourselves out of shape racing away from them or rigidly adhering to them, which in the end amounts to the same thing. They remain in control.

Hope Mission, as part of our Spring Banquet celebration is honouring the Graduates of our Addiction Treatment program. There’s a good chance that the people we will hear from tonight have learned that the way through this double-bind is self-mercy. And it’s also a good chance they’ve learned it the long way. Learned as well that growing mercy is a life-long process. Learned that it goes hand in hand with God’s ever-present mercy and the mercy of others which is very nearly the same thing.

We can’t be perfect, that is, “perfect” in the vernacular. I’m not sure, but I think the perfection mentioned in the Bible is of a different variety. We can aim for excellence–a good thing–but we tend to let our aim harden into a crust that is again impervious to mercy. And when we inevitably fail to live up to ourselves, or the perceived expectations of others, we stuff justifications into the gaps and become prickly.

We need a very large garden of mercy to wander in until our prickly hearts soften, until the inner knots slacken and release. The garden needs tending but don’t over water or over weed. It grows on its own, offering possibilities.

We never really know about gardens. They’re a mystery. Except that God likes to wander in them in the evening.

So as you go…clear out the clutter you can, but accept a bit of litter in your life. Allow yourself to be angry at injustice. Visit a friend who really knows you. Have tea on a patio. Buy a mouth-harp. Find a stone or a piece of wood, rub the dirt off and carry it in your pocket. Remember the place you picked it up. Listen to real slow bluegrass…visit your garden in the evening…and grow mercy.

Called to be Non-Christian

I wonder if some “Christians” are called to be non-Christians, even atheists?

This is not a new idea, just one I’m willing to play with because of the Copernican shift (in my mind at least) my theology has taken. Or rather, the shift I have been swept up in–from fundamentalist theology to an anthropology of God.

Sure, the question as a kind of trope. But the call to be a non-Christian is not that bazaar. If you’ve been going to an Evangelical church, or a Catholic church or any conservative church that attaches a degree of gravitas to their tradition (not necessarily a bad thing), you can, using a bit of imagination, feel the indignation that the Pharisee’s would have felt when their “liturgical” systems were being flouted by Jesus and his followers. To the Pharisee’s, Jesus and his band were “non-Christians”.

Is it possible that our loyalty to the atonement system; a prescribed loyalty through fundamentalist and Anselmian weaning, (St. Anselm is generally seen as the formulator of subsitutionary atonement doctrine.) is of the same order as the strict pietism and traditionalism of the Pharisees?

So it may be that we are called to be non-Christians for a time. And as people who no longer see God as sacrificial, we are also atheists of a sort.

But really, the only important thing in all of this is the continual waking up to our own complicity in the sacrificial system. And this awakening often requires heart breaking self-honesty. Which is Christ-ianity.

Basic Premise of Faith

“I see so much in the life and death of Jesus, but I’ve always had difficulty seeing an angry God that needed appeasing, and so I try (in tiny little ways) to live by those things. But because I’ve questioned that cornerstone theology, I’ve have had my faith and in fact my God questioned, been told it’s a different God I pray to, and been asked why I would even want to call myself a Christian if I can’t accept that most basic premise of the faith.”

The task for all of us is to, ahem, “Grow Mercy”. (The web site with the verb, as my brother-in-law pointed out.) Forgive that.

But not this: Only in learning mercy, which is nothing short of a walk in the wilderness, can it be shown that the so-called basic premise of faith (propitiative atonement theory) is the same thing as our basic (premise) structure of human culture and religion.

What I mean is that the parable of the murderous labourers in the vinyard, (remember them?) and their collective expulsion of the victim, is at the root of culture and religion. This is what Christ blows up. But half blind and ears ringing, we Christians still cling to atonement theory (sacrificial ways of being and understanding) because it’s all we know. (This is as good a definition of original sin as you’ll likely get from me.) Perhaps it’s just taking this long for the right concussive ripples to hit.

Mercy and the Seven Cow Woman

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; (Psalm 119)

Mercy is the stuff of life. You can live for eleven days without the regenerative endowments of sleep, but you can’t live one moment without mercy.

We are all given life, sustained in life, held together, glued to this cosmic spinning rock, by the merciful gaze of God.

Our souls flourish through the mercy of others. We grow only in so far as we show mercy to others. Without mercy we perish, long before any life-giving properties offered by any vision. Without showing mercy, others die to us, and to themselves.

Why do we suppose Jesus enjoined us to forgive others so that we may be forgiven? (Why do we think that these words refer to a spiritual balance sheet? We compulsively spiritualize blocks of scripture and then trip over the deeper truth they hold. The truth often being anthropological rather than theological.) Do we suppose that the forgiveness command is given so that it will please God when it is obeyed? Or do we suppose reciprocal mercy is asked for so that we humans can live, and grow and experience full life? Which truly pleases God.

Our world runs down because we fail to give and receive mercy. Without mercy, in the daily rough and tumble, how are we to value or honour each other the way we all want to be valued and honoured?

Years ago, my friend Mary told this story–a story from a different time. I recall it as follows:

An esteemed and wealthy man came to an island to find a bride. Custom required the man to assess the available women and offer the number of cows that the assessment determined. Thus, there were one, two, even three-cow women.

On the island lived a dowdy, inelegant, and self-conscious woman. The distinguished suitor astounded the father of the woman by offering seven cows for his daughter. He then left the island for the appropriate period of time to allow for a decision.

When he returned, the woman, his bride-to-be, was transformed. During his absence, the woman’s father, who had given up on her, began to treat her with respect. Those who knew the woman changed their minds about her and met her with new regard. And as the story got out, people in the community addressed her with the honour due a seven-cow-woman.

And she, in burgeoning response to this change in reception, straightened her back, lifted her eyes, and having regained her own latent beauty, became truly beautiful.