Having lived with the idea now for a few weeks, it’s still buzzing round my head like residue. Because I’m not sure what I had was a complete idea; I’m not sure it was entirely fully formed. It’s still not fully formed, but I can’t shake the thought that Mercy is about more than something transactional. That is is more about the humanity of the recipient and the choice of the giver to actively be part of God’s Kingdom in seeing another person’s dignity.
How above all, Story can encourage our practice of Mercy.
I’ll come back to that idea…
I can’t stop thinking about Mercy because of the perceived tension between Justice and Mercy. I just can’t help thinking that our idea of Mercy has been skewed because some of our greatest thinkers and Theologians have essentially been lawyers – so of course they see the world in terms of punishment versus leniency. Perspective is everything. Their perspective has influenced us in ways we still don’t fully know. I think we’ve also been influenced by the dominance of the language of commerce – hence where so many of our transactional ideas about God come from – put the coin of adhering to a certain behaviour in the God slot and out comes a blessing.
That’s not how it works.
I can’t stop thinking about Mercy. I can’t stop thinking about my discomfort with the transactional language and idea of “just desserts” being withheld. I am simply coming at all this from a different perspective (I really need to talk about Perspective – next time!). I’m coming at this from the perspective of instead of us all deserving “punishment” for the “rules” we’ve broken, that we all deserve to be treated like princes and princesses who bear the image of our creator. If I follow the logic from the previous post that sets aside old definitions of Mercy as “Not getting what we deserve” and instead embraces the definition that Mercy is ” A person of power and privilege treating someone less powerful and privileged as just as mush a bearer of the image of the Divine as they are”, then Mercy becomes a fulfillment of Justice, not it’s contradiction. It becomes the powerless, vulnerable and marginalised finally getting what they deserve.
I can’t stop thinking about Mercy and how it is not the responsibility of the one who is powerless and less privileged to be Merciful to those who have more power and privilege, simply because it is not theirs to give. Think of it this way. If two children have a crayon each, one red and one green and the parent says, “The one who draws a red circle will be happy for there will be a red circle” – only the child with the red crayon can do this. For the one with a green crayon it is impossible and therefore not their responsibility to ensure there is a red circle. Likewise it is the powerful who are called to show Mercy and are responsible to create a culture where being Merciful is the defining characteristic of the community. And of course when I say “Being Merciful” I mean seeing the person in front of you as a person and treating them as the Divine Image Bearer that they are. For me this also crystalises the idea that following the Way of Jesus and living as if we are in a different Kingdom is less about “following the rules” and more about relationship; more about honouring the image of God in others; more about ensuring that image is not exploited, harmed or denied. It crystalises (for me at least) the idea that “sin” (or whatever you want to call it) is denial, exploitation and erasure of the image of God in another person.
And so I come back to Story. Back to rejecting the narratives of “those people over there” and no longer characterising anyone as a cockroach or an abomination or a scrounger. Back to building Empathy through Representation – it’s why Representation matters so much. (Yes, I am repeating myself, and that’s okay.) It’s through telling the stories about folk who are different from us, who are “other” than us that the narratives of “us and them” becomes the narratives of “We”. It’s only through seeing and hearing the stories of someone we might judge as being a failure or defective that we see them as just as human as we are. We have to dig into their pain and joy and normal every day and see that the blood inside us all is just blood. For, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” It’s so much easier to deny access, to deny pity, to deny succour to someone if you’ve neve been exposed to stories of their exclusion, hurt and need. It’s easier to deny someone their achievements and victories if you’ve never been shown those achievements. It’s easy to dismiss the fact that a group of people who might be very different than you can be called by God if you’ve never been blessed by the calling of someone unlike you. Easy to say God doesn’t call women if you’ve never been taught by a woman; easy to say God won’t accept praise led by a Queer person if you’ve never been led by a Queer person; easy to say someone with Autism has nothing to offer if you’ve never watched an Autistic person dance or worship or heard them teach.
And so I come back to Story to feed my own Empathy, to really see someone, to hear them. I come back to Story to demolish the Shibboleths that keep us apart and to embrace the Shalom that bridges the gaps. I come to Story to expose myself to strangers, to Others, to Outsiders. I come back to Story to expose others to my own Strangeness, my own Otherness – to try and get those with more Power and Privilege to see me as a fellow Human Being, as a fellow Disciple of Jesus, rather than seeing me as an enemy.
My powerful reliance and belief in Story as a builder of bridges and forger of fellowship can be challenged at times – it has been challenged. When those with Privilege and Power have so much of themselves invested in the narrative of “us and them”; when their investment and identity is in the narrative that “sin” is about breaking the rules and not how you treat someone; when they have been so damaged themselves by the absence of Mercy and investment in the “scary daddy” version of God; when their own worth is built on the exclusion and demonisation of the enemy; when Jesus’ call to Love your Enemy is merely toleration of those I consider less than me through gritted teeth as opposed to choosing to not have enemies – well, Story can only go so far. Story can only encourage Mercy when the hearer of the Story wants to be Merciful.
What I found most profoundly hurtful during the “year of hell” in my former church was by own Story essentially being ignored and twisted. It was my Story being brushed over in favour of “none of that matters, because we think the Bible says this..” It was people so invested in the Status Quo and a traditional view of Faith that meant Getting Into Heaven = Keeping the Rules that they refused to see me as a person. They refused to let the power of Story reach their hearts and be the compost that grows Mercy. They heard me speak the phrase “The first time I tried to commit suicide…” and still went on to vilify, dehumanise ,exclude me, to deny my calling as a Worshipper and even go as far as to question my relationship with God.
However, although they had some level of Power at the time and their actions resulted in me leaving the church I had attended for around forty years, they have now lost a voice with a particular perspective that was vital in the community being Merciful.
And they were in the minority.
For in the same room were folks who had already heard pieces of my story, who had heard almost all of it, some who had never heard it. There were some who were already eager and willing to be Merciful to LGBT+ folk, they just needed a gentle push; there were some still very much on the fence, some still in a place of balancing what they thought the “rules” where with an open-ness to seeing a person, some didn’t really know why they were there. There were some who were already way ahead of me on the journey, there simply to cheer and support. Every Single one over the last two and a half years has shown me Mercy, has seen the person I am, has seen the Divine imprint on my soul. Every Single one has declared their allegiance to the upside down Merciful Kingdom of God by acknowledging my humanity and dignity, by not treating me like a project to be fixed or an issue to be discussed or a contagion to be avoided.
This is Mercy and I am grateful for it. This is Mercy and it has shown me the way I can be Merciful in situations where I have the power and privilege – where because of my skin colour or education or experience I have the edge on someone else. This is the Mercy that characterises an upside down Kingdom full of diverse voices and experiences, of different perspectives, of No outsiders. A Kingdom of We.