How Do You Draw Mercy?

dock into ocean mercy of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of mercy what would you draw? How would you take the tools of pencil and paper and use them to craft a concept like mercy? Would you draw an event in your life; an event where you were shown mercy and after that you would never be the same? How do you draw mercy?

But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” William Langland

Though crafted with words and not a drawing, this quote has given me a picture of mercy that I never want to forget. I found the quote through Madeleine L’engle’s book One Live Coal to the Sea; a book where she explores mercy in the life of a family. Mercy in the midst of evil and dysfunction; mercy despite selfishness and betrayal; mercy when life demands justice.

In the midst of life’s journey, in the middle of hearing, seeing or thinking about evil, it is easy to forget the mercy of God. Mercy for apathetic teens and adults, mercy for passionate teenagers shot out of evil intent, mercy (dare I say it) for the men who shot her, mercy for me.

Today I picture that live coal, burning hot; a coal that can ignite a fire or burn a body, causing great pain and damage. And I picture that red, hot coal hitting the vast ocean where it can no longer do damage; where it is overcome by something so much more powerful. It is so far beyond my understanding, so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Evil confronted by the mercy of God and in that confrontation losing its power — one live coal to the sea.

How do you draw mercy?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

Series on Suffering #8 – A Pause

Rain drops

Suffering: A Pause by Robynn. Click here to read more posts by Robynn.

I’m pushing pause on the series on suffering today.

This past weekend my dad was admitted to hospital in excruciating pain. He was given generous doses of narcotics to help bring him some relief. Xrays and CAT scans revealed three large kidney stones, one lodged in the ureter. It was determined that surgery was the best option. During surgery the doctor made every effort to remove the three stones but was unsuccessful. He was able to crush the three stones into considerably smaller pieces and prescribed medication that would hopefully dissolve the stones.

This weekend a dear friend of mine discovered painful news about one of her children. It left her reeling and angry. Later in the weekend her child tried to end his life. They ended up in the hospital too.

Yesterday late afternoon I received word that my dad was rushed back to the Emergency Room. His pain was once again out of control. He was also experiencing disturbing psychotic episodes. The nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office suspected a septic infection. The doctors at the ER began treatment for that but they think a morphine withdrawal is at work.

Meanwhile his shingles, that he had this summer, flared up again. He is suffering on every side.

My friend and her pain wracked family are trying to re-establish routines. How do they parent past this? They are numb and worn thin. Children still need to be dropped off at school. Supper needs to be cooked. Jobs, appointments, obligations on the calendar need to be attended to.

I can’t write on suffering today. I’m grieving with my friends. I’m worried for my dad. The suffering is too deep. Words today would sound hollow. They’d echo back at me. Today is a day for pause. It’s a day for prayer. It’s a day for pleading for mercy. Today I wrap my friend and my dad in gauze-prayers, gently spiraling around them, praying for protection and comfort and gentleness. I pray for healing for bodies marred by pain and hearts that are crushed like kidney stones. I pray for restoration for bruised souls and broken bodies. Tears run down my face. I wish I could do something.

There’s an old story where four men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They carry him on a bed. When they get to the place where Jesus had been staying they realize they aren’t going to be able to get close to Jesus. There are too many other people there. It’s too crowded. They lug him up onto the roof, place him down, and start removing tiles or thatch or whatever the roofing materials were between them and the Healer. They eventually make a hole big enough to lower their friend down, still on his bed, right in front of Jesus. Long story short– Jesus looks up at the faith-filled faces of the friends peering down through the roof-hole, and then back at the man immovable on his bed, and he heals the man. The friends really believed that if they could just get their friend to this Divine Healer their friend stood a chance. Jesus recognized that faith in them and in response healed the paralyzed man.

And this is the something I can do. Today I’m bringing my dad and my friend to Jesus. Both have reached the end. Both have endured long past their capacities. They can’t bear any more hurting. They can’t handle any more suffering. Their pain has paralyzed them. I’m dragging them to the roof and I’m digging a hole. I’m lowering them down to Jesus. Because I still do believe that if I can just place them in front of Jesus they stand a chance of being healed.

Today I pause to pray. Dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers.

Picture Credit: word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Fred Phelps is Dead — A Response

By Robynn

Fred Phelps, the most notorious Kansan, is dead.

Fred Phelps started the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas in 1955. Westboro Baptist Church is most known for their picketing presence at the funerals of dead soldiers, funerals of homosexuals and at concerts or ballets or plays. Their message is predominantly a message of hate. Phelps was convinced that God hates lesbians and gays. He felt certain that all disasters—whether manmade or natural—were indication of God’s judgment against America for tolerating homosexuality.He preached and pronounced hate in the name of God.

And on Wednesday, March 19th, at 11:15 pm, Mr Phelps died in Topeka of natural causes.

I’ve always been embarrassed to have Fred Phelps share my adopted state of Kansas. His hatred has coloured Kansas and I’ve deeply regretted that. People who barely know where Kansas is, know Topeka, because they know Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. Thursday waking up to the realization that he had died I felt, I admit, a little relieved. Let Kansas be cast in new colours. Let Mr Phelps memory fade quickly. Let the hatred also die.

It’s Friday now…and I’m processing it in better ways….

Here’s one Kansans response to the death of Mr Phelps:

• It’s certainly time to strip Westboro Baptist Church of the words “Baptist” and “church”. The congregation is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. They took that title, I suspect in part, to honour what Mr Phelps told Tim Miller, a professor of Religion at the University of Kansas, “to hold to the old ways”. They may be a group of like-minded people and they meet in a church building but calling them a “church” in my mind calls to mind the Body of Christ and it’s hard to associate their behaviours with those of Christ-followers.

• When crossing cultures we often tell ourselves, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” Sometimes the opposite is also true. Sometimes, “It’s not different, it’s just wrong”. That’s the case with the community of Westboro (I’m no longer calling them Baptist Church). On one level they don’t look any different. They get together once or twice a week at church to do churchy things. But on another level it’s very very wrong. When they gather in the name of God to spread hate, to promote abhorance it’s not different. It’s wrong. Plain and simple.

• The message of the gospel is one of love. From the core to the extremities, Christ’s message was built on love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart…. Love your neighbor as yourself…. Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers. Love foreigners. Love the poor. Love your enemies. Love your children. Love your spouse. Love sinners. Love saints. Love justice. Love peace. That’s all there is to it, really. Love. Love. Love.

• If it really is all about love (and it is!) it’s impossible to hate in God’s name. Doing so is a sure sign that God is not involved. Claiming he is, indicates it’s a different god. A False god.

• Evil lurks in the hearts of men and women around the globe. It’s really our job to submit that evil we see rising up in our own souls to God who alone can redeem it, and even, miracle of miracles, transform it into good and a desire to do good. Those who do not work against their own evil will hate and give way to their hatred in one way or another.

• My husband Lowell likes to quote a professor he once had in college, “Don’t judge the man by the moment.” While it is true that Phelps gave us a lot of moments that are easy to cast judgment on —we forget that he was once a popular civil rights lawyer in Topeka. He studied Engineering. Once he felt the “call” to ministry he studied at several reputable Bible Colleges and schools. He stayed married and fathered 13 children. And yes…his license to practice law was taken away. His engineering degree wasn’t utilized. His Bible College hopping was motivated by a theology that didn’t align with what he was being taught. At least one of his children is estranged and has radically departed from the faith. Perhaps there are moments of redemption in his story. We are best to suspend judgment whenever we possibly can.

• Hatred will not pass away. It will not die. We cannot bury it and move on. We must recognize it when we see it and name it.

• In 2006, in a sermon Fred Phelps preached, he joked about the possibility of protesters picketing at his funeral. He reportedly said he’d welcome it with joy. He invited people to hate him back. He told the Wichita Eagle that “If I had nobody mad at me what right would I have to claim that I was preaching the Gospel?” I will not give Phelps the satisfaction of my anger. I will choose to not pay back evil with evil. I will choose to love and pity this man who spent his life in this way.

• The maddening reality of the good news is that we are given, mysteriously, miraculously, the capacity to love those who hate. We are called to forgive them and to pray for them. It’s how God reacts to haters and sinners. He asks us to do the same. Certainly it’s not an easy request. It takes work and time and a thousand little heart-level miracles. But God himself calls us to it.

There will be no funeral for Mr Phelps apparently. His daughter told CNN, “We do not worship the dead.” It’s true. We don’t. And I don’t normally pray for the dead either, but today I am saying a little prayer for Fred Phelps, for his family, for his wife, for the community at Westboro, for his son who is estranged, “Lord have mercy .” It’s the only prayer I trust myself to pray in the face of a story so soaked in hatred. It’s the only prayer I trust myself to pray in the face of my own temptation to hate back, “Lord have mercy!”

Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.

Malala-style Grit and Other Responses to a Rant

It was with a fast pulse and flushed face that I pressed ‘publish’ on yesterday’s post. Whenever there is a passionate rant there is a chance that it won’t be received as intended.

I am grateful to the readership of Communicating Across Boundaries for the thoughtful responses and sharing that the post received. I’ve picked some of these comments to highlight in today’s post.

Jessica wrote: I had hoped you’d blog about Malala! I read her story yesterday and it hit home for me… my ESL students this year are mostly all from the Middle East. Every day I learn from them. I learn what it means to sacrifice for something you believe in. To give your LIFE for something that some students in America would do anything to skip out on! I spoke with one of my students this week, and he shared that he feels like we Americans don’t know what it is to be free; we’ve grown up with freedom all of our lives. He hasn’t. He knows what it means to be oppressed…to fight and dream and sacrifice for something we consider so basic. When he spoke of freedom, it was as if he were cradling the most precious jewel in his hands. And he spoke with tears of how he would rather die than to give that up. We Americans have sold ourselves so cheaply… and we live for the basest of causes. I think it’s time we get some Malala-style grit, bravery and passion!

My brother Ed responded with this: 

Oh my – no wonder my laptop was smoking this morning… (!)

But in response to your line, “a 14 year old girl is a threat in what universe?” I can only think of Psalm 8:2 – “Through the praise of children and infants, you have established a stronghold against your enemies…” and I Corinthians 1: 27ff “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…”

It is the 14-year-old brave ones, and a million others who have none of the power or wealth of this world but still stand up for what is right and just and good and beautiful who will win in the end. But there’s going to be a lot of pain between now and the end…

Finally Brother James with three phrases that are known to many – an appropriate benediction: 

I heard her story this morning.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

And that’s it – may we go with Mercy into this day. Thanks for reading.

If you missed yesterday’s post, please take a look at 14-Year-Old Courage to get context for today’s article.

God Through the Lens of Les Mis

Queens Theatre, 51 Shaftesbury Avenue, London,...

Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief at last at last behind you
Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy!
Forgive me all my trustpasses
and take me to your glory
Take my hand, and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting
And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God!”

Of all the musicals on ever earth, Les Miserables is my favorite. From the opening chord of the orchestra to the ending ensemble lines of “Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” I am in another realm, a place where wrong is trumped by right and grace and mercy triumph over vengeance.

For those who don’t know the story, Les Mis takes place in the 19th century in prerevolutionary France. A prisoner by the name of Jean Valjean, but better known by his number 24601, is granted parole after 19 years of imprisonment. He was initially given 5 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for a starving child but because of many attempts to escape ended up being there for 19. Seen as a pariah because of his prison past, he struggles to find work or food.  He is ultimately taken in by a man of the cloth, the Bishop of Digne,  and given food and lodging. He returns this kindness by stealing the silverware in the middle of the night, is caught by police and taken to be accused by the clergy. Instead of accusations, he is vindicated as  the Bishop claims they were given to Valjean as a gift and wonders aloud to Jean Valjean’s captors why he left the silver candlesticks in ‘his haste’ .  This act of grace is given with a challenge by the clergyman to ‘Become an honest man‘. He journeys through his life doing just that, though continuously haunted by his past in the form of a police inspector named Javert.

The contrast of the two men is apparent as one is consumed with the need for justice and retribution and the other attempts to live out his life in grace but secrecy. Like all good stories there is the protagonist, a conflict, and a critical climax that I will not spoil for those who have not yet seen the show.

This year Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, winner of four Oscars, takes Les Mis to the big screen. I had the pleasure of seeing it last night – and though I will always prefer the live performance, I loved the show. Anne Hathaway as Fantine brings on tears as she struggles to survive on the streets of Paris; Eponine’s poignant “A Little Fall of Rain” catches in your throat; and you want to get up and wave a flag during “Red – the blood of angry men, Black – the dark of ages past”. It’s a great show.

With great theology and irresistible truths it feels like a holy experience. 

More and more I am grateful for the compelling lessons I learn on God and Grace, Mercy and Justice from the world around me, whether it be award-winning musicals or encounters on a crowded, dirty street.These glimpses of the character of God move me from wanting to know ‘of’ God, to wanting a relationship with God himself, walking in faith that the words “Come with me, Where chains will never bind you. All your grief at last at last behind you” will at some point be sung to me.