Rise & Shine - April 23
Author Anne Lamott Releases New Book on Mercy
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when best-selling author Anne Lamott was troubled by what she called "the general toxic frenzy of modern life," she found that just hearing the word "mercy" transformed her perspective.
In her new book of nine essays, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, Lamott endeavors "to point out to people how merciful they are or used to be and can be again and the beauty of living from your merciful heart instead of your ticker-tape ... judgmental brain."
Using biblical references, theological reflection, pop psychology and quotes from mystics, poets and others, the popular writer explores the subject of mercy, which she says she experienced during her troubles with substance abuse.
She was on the path to isolation and failure, Lamott acknowledged, but "found an off-the-beaten-track means to a redeemed life, with friends whose love saves me. The odds were so against it that I can only call it mercy."
In an interview with Religion News Service, Lamott described mercy as "grace in action. ... the miracle that we’re forgiven, ... that we forgive even the most impossible people ... the extreme forgiveness of God and, of course, the wonderfully low standards of God so that even someone like me is completely adored and welcomed in the great shalom of God wanting us."
To live in the realm of mercy, Lamott states that we first have to face the "great big mess of ourselves" and learn to show ourselves mercy, which enables us to extend mercy to others.
Lamott didn't immediately embrace forgiveness after her conversion to Christianity, until it dawned on her that her spirit of unforgiveness was causing her pain. "They say we are not punished for the sin but by the sin, and I began to feel punished by my unwillingness to forgive," she wrote. "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."
"To have a merciful heart means your heart has been softened by the meat tenderizer of grace so that even if somebody is wrong or has wronged you, you feel merciful toward them," Lamott explains. "Mercy is radical kindness. It's the permission you give others -- and yourself -- to forgive a debt, to absolve the unabsolvable, to let go of the judgment and pain that make life so difficult."
More on this story can be found at these links:
The Greatest Miracle: Anne Lamott Offers Her Signature Musings on Mercy. Knoxville NewsSentinel
Author Anne Lamott: 'Mercy is Our Only Hope.' Religion News Service
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. Good Reads
'Hallelujah Anyway': Anne Lamott's Conflicted Message for a Conflicted Nation. The Washington Post
Applying the News Story
In our increasingly polarized nation, sometimes it seems that tender mercy, garden variety kindness and common courtesy are not so common as we had previously believed. Even Christians struggle to maintain civility and tolerance toward other Christians with whom they disagree. This brings the question, how can we show mercy in our everyday lives?
Here are some Bible verses to guide our discussion:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God. (For context, read 6:6-8.)
The prophet Micah here speaks to the hypocrisy of those who meticulously practice religious rituals to excess, even to the point of offering their firstborn child as a sacrifice for their sin, yet fail to administer justice, show mercy, or humble themselves in the sight of God.
Questions: What might keep you from treating others justly or fairly? Why might people find it difficult to "love" mercy -- to extend forgiveness to themselves and others? How are these three actions (acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God) related?
[Jesus said,] "Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (For context, read 18:23-35.)
In this passage, Jesus tells the parable of a slave who owed a massive debt to the king, which the king mercifully forgave. Then that same slave demanded a debt owed to him to be paid, and took no mercy upon the fellow slave who owed him.
In Luke 7:41-47, Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee a parable about a creditor who forgave two debtors, one who owed a large sum of money, and the other who owed a small amount. When Jesus asked Simon which debtor would love the creditor more, Simon answered, the one who was forgiven the greater debt.
The point Jesus was making was this: "The one who is forgiven much, loves much, and the one who is forgiven little, loves little." If you have been the recipient of great mercy, it stands to reason that you should extend great mercy to others.
Questions: What is the most difficult situation for you to show mercy? How does it make you feel when you do so?
[Jesus said,] "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (For context, read 6:32-38.)
Here Jesus turns the law of reciprocity on its head. While normal human behavior is to show love and kindness to those from whom we might reasonably expect to receive the same, Jesus instructs his followers to love, do good, lend, and show mercy even to our enemies, to those who may not appreciate it ("the ungrateful") or reciprocate ("the wicked").
The model of this merciful behavior is God’s self, demonstrated most powerfully in the generous self-giving of his son Jesus. Jesus does promise a return of mercy for the merciful, forgiveness for the forgiving, gifts for those who give generously, no harsh judgment or condemnation for those who do not judge or condemn. If the return does not come from our enemies, that doesn't mean there will be no return.
In such a case, we are to look to God who will give back to us in quantity and in quality according to the measure we used. If our measuring cup contains little mercy or forgiveness when we give it, it will contain little mercy and forgiveness when it is returned to us. If it contains a generous amount of mercy and forgiveness for others, it will return to us full to overflowing with mercy and forgiveness.
As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6: "The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
Questions: Who is the most merciful person you have ever known? What stands out about how that person extends mercy to others? What can you learn from that person that you can apply to the way you show mercy to others in your own sphere of influence?
Prayer For Times of Conflict (BCP p.824)
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.