Mercy!

Mercy!

I’ve just finished reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  To give you an extremely brief introduction that really doesn’t do the book – or the man – justice, Stevenson is a lawyer who has dedicated his life to representing men and women on death row, people who were sentenced to very severe punishments as children, poor folks whose court-appointed counsel completely dropped the ball. This book centers on one particular case but also incorporates many other cases Stevenson has worked.

I don’t unreservedly commend to you all of Stevenson’s ideas, but I think the book is powerful and compelling. The most significant, eye-opening thing here is the histories. If you don’t know about these injustices, it’s easy to think they don’t happen. But when you learn about ways that justice has been miscarried and perverted, you start to appreciate that maybe there’s a lot you still don’t know. Maybe just because I am don’t know about something doesn’t indicate that it’s fictional. Knowing real stories about injustice should both soften our hearts toward one another and galvanize us to pursue justice through the law – to make the law an agent of true justice.

All that said, this quote is not about someone’s history – I don’t want to spoil  any of the stories for you. This is a powerful concept – the concept of where grace comes from between people.

[I want you to know I’m not spoiling any of the stories in this book by sharing this great quote with you. Read on without fear.]

Whenever things got really bad, and [my clients] were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. I told myself that evening what I had been telling my clients for years. I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us….

[…E]ven as we are caught in a web of hurt and brokenness, we’re also in a web of healing and mercy…. The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it is most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering.

This mercy to the undeserving that Stevenson is describing is a miniature of Gospel mercy. It’s no surprise, given the way he talks about it, that he is very aware of this fact, that he is a recipient of Gospel mercy himself. We who have been shown mercy are marked by mercy toward others – if we aren’t merciful toward others, we have a disconnect that may indicate that we haven’t received that mercy. And, as my pastor said in his sermon on Sunday morning, for believers, as recipients of such great big Gospel mercy, caring about justice and extending ourselves towards others in mercy are not optional hobbies. It is our business when injustice is done – not to take justice into our own hands, but to pursue justice as best we can through the system and to treat everyone, not just whichever victim we perceive more clearly, with mercy.

Being merciful must include seeing and respecting the personhood of every human (including ourselves) – which includes what Stevenson talks about above, refusing to identify a person solely with one act, or, taking it a step further, one characteristic. We must see the dignity in others and ourselves; brokenness and wickedness cannot completely shatter the imago Dei, the image of God stamped on each human being by our Creator.

Seeing people this way is a challenging thing for most of us, I think – perhaps it’s harder for me to think of myself that way, and harder for someone else to think of others that way. But as people who are solidly loved and whose eternity is guaranteed, we are free to pursue this way of seeing. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal” – no brokenness either. Our job is to bring that healing into the future.

This is not something I am proposing we adopt as some sort of legal policy; instead, I think it is supposed to be the defining characteristic of the way we as individual Christians as well as the church interact with other humans. If other folks think it sounds good too, that’s great, but the call is specifically on us. If we really are just beggars telling other beggars where we found bread and where they can too, this kind of mercy should be dripping off of us.

What Is Even Happening Here?

What Is Even Happening Here?

Warning: This post is one of them “awareness raising” posts. It’s about “women’s issues.” Endometriosis, PCOS, periods, ovulation kits, sonograms, all that stuff. It’s not gonna be that gross, but there will be a fair amount of gross. So if you’re easily queasy on account of good ole Aunt Flo, you might want to pass on this one. 

You want to know something crazy? Last Sunday was the seventh Sunday in a row I’ve made it to church. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t happened since I hit puberty.

So you would think that means I’m doing well, right? But unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The trend of late has been fewer days in debilitating pain, always a good development. (My normal the past few years has been about 8 days down, and recently I’ve gone from 11 bad days down to 3! This month has been worse though.) But my cycles are all over the place – the last three have been 37 days, 44 days, and 26 days. I’m on Day 24 of my current cycle, but I’ve been in horrible pain for several days and spotted from Days 17-21. This premenstrual spotting thing is new, as of last month. As in, it’s never happened before.

I’m not ovulating, and according to the vaginal sonogram I had done on CD* 14, my body isn’t even really trying that hard.

This is so freaking confusing and frustrating. I used to be able to reasonably predict my bad days. I used to be able to prepare. The apple cart may have had some sketchy looking apples in it, but at least it was upright. Now the dang thing has flipped over and I don’t know how to do life like this. I barely sorta knew what I was doing before; now I’m all at sea again.

The next step involves something I didn’t know existed: meds to force my body to do what it’s supposed to do. We’ll force a period, force ovulation, and find out whether, once my body is doing what it should be doing, life isn’t less painful.

But – and here’s the really fun part – it looks like we may not have much time to work this out. The parent organization of the hospital where my doctors work is in negotiations with my insurance company, and if an agreement is not reached by May 1, I’m gonna be back at Go without collecting $200 when it comes to Houston doctors.

“Normal is just a setting on the dryer” indeed.


*that’s Cycle Day, for you normal people

 

On Memoirs

On Memoirs

I’m a picky reader when it comes to memoirs. Perhaps this is due to my standards being set by Augustine’s Confessions, CS Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Tough acts to follow. But here are some great memoirs:

My Life in France is the deliciously-told story of bringing French cooking to American kitchens, but it isn’t really about cooking. I mean, yes, it will make you so hungry and deepen your appreciation for beurre blanc, but the story told here is really of a beautiful life, not just the making of delectable food. Julia Child is an inspiration for a lot of reasons, but one is surely that she threw herself into pursuing a new career as a chef at the age of 37 after a successful and storied career as a US diplomat.

Walk-On by Alan Williams is about Williams’s four years as a walk-on member of my favorite college sports team, Wake Forest Demon Deacon basketball. Even for people who aren’t into sports, it’s got a lot to offer.

The Opposite of Fate is about the life of accomplished American novelist Amy Tan, but also about the mental and emotional and the effects of Lyme disease on such a mind, on such a life.

Another great memoir that deals with chronic illness is A Walk with Jane Austen, a book most likely to delight people who love England, Jane Austen, and Jesus.

Rescuing Sprite is heartwarming for us dog people, especially if you have (or want) a soft spot for rescue animals.

Three Weeks with My Brother by Nicholas and Micah Sparks provides a unique twist on the genre – the memories and reflections of siblings recounting their past together give this memoir a different feel.

You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again was interesting – who doesn’t love a little peek into everyday life in Hollywood?

Despite skipping a couple chapters that were too much for me, I count Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Dry among my favorites. It has given me some essential tools to understand addiction.

Anna Broadway’s Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity was raw and real and hilarious and beautiful and hard. I read it when I was single and just as frustrated as Broadway (a pseudonym), and it was so refreshing to find out I wasn’t alone, that there was someone else struggling with the whole “sex drive with no outlet” phenomenon experienced by a Christian woman committed to chastity. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sadly, celebrity memoirs typically don’t quite hit me right. Even Bossypants was only mildly interesting to me, and just not funny. Maybe it’s because writing funny things to be read in silence and writing funny things to be delivered aloud require somewhat different things? I don’t know.

But right now I’m flying through Danielle Fishel’s Normally, This Would be Cause for Concern, and y’all, it’s delightful. It’s fluffy and silly and humble. Fishel’s writing is peppered with too many trying-to-be-funny asides, but I do that too (right?). I’m still enjoying it. And I wanted to share this passage with you, because it describes my sister SO PERFECTLY and I just love it when that sort of thing happens.

Fishel apparently went to college at 27, a decision that took courage and openness to failure. And she worked hard, enthusiastically pursuing academic excellence. She explains that her academic drive came partly from how badly she wanted to be there: “It took determination, courage, and overcoming years of fear for me to be on that campus, and I wanted to make the most it.” And this is where we get to the part that sounds exactly like my sis:

I’m also competitive and looked at getting good grades as winning in the imaginary game of college. That’s what you do when you get older. Make up imaginary games so you can win them.

I mean, y’all. She once made up a game in which someone would ask a question, and whoever answered it first won – and the question-asker could answer the question. At one point I remember her asking “Who’s our mom? MOM! I WIN!”

She was almost 21.

*drops mic*

The Creative Imagination of God

The Creative Imagination of God

I was recently reading Tony Reinke’s Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. To be honest, I was quite unimpressed except for this chapter, “Chapter 6: The God Who Slays Dragons: The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination.” The following two paragraphs are magnificent. I felt quite compelled to share them with you.

But God’s imaginative genius is also displayed in the gospel. Think about it. The gospel weaves together a genealogy of dodgy characters into an unlikely ancestry for the Savior. The gospel was foretold by centuries of ancient prophecies, many of them fragmented and scattered throughout the Old Testament, to a people who could not make sense of it all. In time, the genealogy and the prophecies merged together into a cohesive plan that lead to the birth of the incarnate Son of God.

So ingenious is the gospel plan, that when men and Satan conspired to kill and bury the Savior, they only hastened the Father’s plan for his Son’s victory. This entire plan developed in God’s imagination long before the world existed. (Eph. 3:7-10; 1 Pet. 1:18-20)

I love viewing the Gospel from this vantage point. There are so many things we know about God’s character from His redemptive plan and actions, but it’s easy to lose sight of this creative side of Him. I mean, in creation, sure – everything from subatomic particles to the platypus to the Horsehead Nebula  reminds us of it – but there’s more to divine creativity than that.

Just Say ‘No’ to Trump as President

Just Say ‘No’ to Trump as President

Last night’s debate was a freaking circus, and the clown was indubitably in center stage.

Donald Trump was clearly in peak condition. He was a jerk to the three lucky folks* who got to ask the questions. He was the King of Excuses. He was arrogant and annoying and awful. When he would go on and on about how smart and likable he is, how great he’s doing in the polls, my friend kept saying, “Oh my gosh, STOP. TALKING.” I wish he had.

We was at a debate-watching event hosted by the local Young Republicans…and Telemundo. So the whole anti-Telemundo rant he went on seemed especially absurd. But the whole thing was absurd, way more SNL segment or sitcom debate than real life, especially whenever Trump was on screen. Which was practically all the time. I get that that makes for great ratings, but this is the future of our country. The presidency is not a role for a comedian.

There are a lot of reasons I don’t want Trump to be President. Here are some of them.

Looking at Trump’s past, I see little reason to believe he is an honorable person. To quote Anglican priest Thomas McKenzie, “this is about his character.” (Read McKenzie’s article “This Isn’t Funny Anymore: Why I’m Voting Against Donald Trump” here.) People make decisions – and conduct themselves – out of who they are at heart. Character is relevant, especially when we’re considering someone’s candidacy for President. That role demands so much of a person, all the time. What is inside them will come out. What is inside Trump is bad news.

Now, if Trump were saying he’s put his past behind him, if he were saying he’s changed his mind or grown somehow, and if he were acting in a way that might suggest that. But the man doesn’t feel like he should apologize. Nor has he, according to him, ever. Even to God, at least in the last few years. The fact that he thinks that way – that he’s unfamiliar with being sorry – would be very comforting… if he were perfect. But he’s not, and that means he is incorrigible. Literally.  Three year olds are incorrigible. In case you hadn’t noticed, three year olds aren’t so great at being told things they don’t want to hear. They aren’t good at accepting advice. They are stubborn like proverbial donkeys. They use whatever resources they have at hand – teeth for biting,ˆ feet for kicking,˜ voice boxes for screaming bloody murder. Trump, he has bombast and money to throw around. Do you want an incorrigible man to be President?

There’s also the fact that the Christian life is one of repentance, and without repentance, sinners don’t have access to God. Trump doesn’t think he’s got anything to be sorry for, so why would he need someone to save him from his sins? I don’t have a problem with someone who isn’t a Christian running for President, but I do have a problem with someone claiming a religion they don’t really believe in to win votes. (This is an interesting article about this.)

With all the garbage things he’s said about non-white people, Muslims, and women, I think it’s not overstatement to say he’s a sexist xenophobe. I think that is a extremely big deal. He treats women like we should be pretty wall hangings or fun playthings, rather than recognizing us as actual human beings with minds and hearts and personalities and capabilities (this article gives some examples in its fourth point, but I’m sure you can think of plenty yourself – including the dismissive, insulting way he treated Maria Celeste last night). His insistence that illegal immigrants are the dregs of humanity, and that “the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the US. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.,” a claim which is factually untrue (see this Washington Post article from last summer) suggest a bias that defies reality. The same can be said about that awful post he retweeted last year full of false crime stats. Trump is doing what so many have done, which somehow seems to gain some popular support every time – playing to our fears by making everything about “us vs. them,” making the “them” out to be some specific group, which by necessity has to be a minority group. The “outsiders” are to blame for our problems: illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs; black people are killing “us” (because “us” is just white people?? what??). This way of thinking is disastrous. And as you may recall, a certain infamous regime in the last century used the same tactic, blaming their Jewish citizens for their economic problems. We all know the evil that came from that.

Trump also has a disturbing tendency to throw money at all problems, especially people problems. He buys influence. He buys friends. Heck, he bought the Clintons’ attendance at his wedding. That’s really concerning to me. I don’t want America to be a place where you have to bribe people to get what you want. (I do think it’s cool that he is self-funding his campaign. But that is such a minor thing compared to all these bigger issues.) Money talks, sure, but our country is designed to give great weight to ideals and principles, like freedom, justice, and the equality of all people.

And then there’s the whole international relations thing. I could go on and on about his arrogance, his self-serving approach to life, his bluster. Trump’s foreign policy goes like this: make Mexico build a wall, and “I’m gonna get along great with all those people.” I mean, really?? I think President Obama crossed a line when he bowed to foreign dignitaries – America was founded on the principle that nobody should bow to anybody – but Trump will go so hard going the other way. We expect him to advocate for women’s rights in Iran? We expect him to negotiate with Putin in a way that doesn’t start Cold War II or bomb the heck out of Russia? I don’t want Trump speaking for my party, let alone my nation. And he would be our face everywhere.

Super Tuesday is coming, and if you’re voting in the Republican primary, please vote for someone else. President Trump would be a huge disaster. Do your part to make that not happen.


*That was sarcasm. At this point I think that job is more burden than privilege.
ˆIf you’re dealing with this in your child, let me recommend Teeth Are Not for Biting.
˜There’s also the excellent Feet Are Not for Kicking, if your three year old is up to that.

The Fear That Makes Us Judgy

The Fear That Makes Us Judgy

 

Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks that in many areas our culture has gone bananas with the harshness.

You know what I’m talking about. Trump makes a nasty comment about Fiorna’s looks. People say negative things about Beyoncé’s thighs after her Super Bowl half-time performance. (I mean really. Body-shaming BEYONCE? Are you insane?) Somebody posts a picture of the gorgeous slice of cheesecake she got, and several folks weigh in below, commenting on her weight and the importance of a healthy diet.

Think of all the Mommy Wars stuff. Breast-feeding or bottle-feeding? Vaccinate or don’t? Public, private, religious, or home schooling? To spank or not to spank? Should your teenagers get jobs or do extracurriculars? Pick the wrong answer and you’ll be summarily shot. (Spoiler: there will always be somebody who thinks you picked the wrong answer and is willing to tell you all about it.)

It’s everywhere. If you drive a Land Rover, you must be an entitled snob who doesn’t give a rip about the environment. If you have a Kindle, you are trying to take down the publishing industry. If you serve your kids box mac and cheese, you are contributing to childhood obesity. If you are comfortable in your skin, you are a mean person shaming anyone who doesn’t look like you – who isn’t your body type or shape or size or color. If you say Black Lives Matter, you clearly think all the other lives shouldn’t. If you are a Republican, you want to oppress the poor; and if you’re a Democrat, you are clearly a communist, and lazy to boot.

We are so quick to jump to judgmental conclusions about each other based on tiny amounts of data – like our choice of vehicle or where our kids go to school. And I think what it all comes down to is that we are afraid. We are afraid that if someone is doing something different from us, one of us must be wrong. 

There certainly are plenty of wrong things to do out there, and I’m not saying that we should just let those go. (That is often more appropriately done in private in the context of a friendship, not Tumblr, and especially not to someone you don’t even know.) But when we keep the main things as the main things, and stop making everything else so doggone black and white, we’ll start to see things differently. Breast- and bottle-feeding parents are both lovingly feeding their children.

If you’re a Christian like I am, then there’s another layer we can see going on here. God calls different people, different families, to different things. Maybe the Hoopers are buying that big house for the kingdom, planning to use it to serve their community as they host events, house missionaries on furlough, and become family to foster children. Maybe the Maxwells are sending their kids to that pricy private school with a missional mindset – private school families need Jesus too, after all.

People who are shopping at Whole Foods are just trying to feed their families well, just like the folks shopping at Kroger and HEB and Walmart and Central Market and the farmers’ market. And sure, there are people blindly buying  – and you can share cool articles about avoiding preservatives and or eating organic. That’s great. But hopping on somebody’s Facebook post about the amazing deals they got at Walmart to lecture them about the evils of “cheese products” smacks of a harshness and judgment that we have way too much of right now.

That podcast I’m really into, Sorta Awesome, celebrates the idea of “sorta.” We can’t do everything, y’all. We can’t raise chickens AND read the classics to our children AND work full-time AND run the community garden AND have a profitable Etsy shop AND be PTA president AND take our kids to all the national parks AND sleep 7-9 hours a night AND run marathons. So we figure out what works for us, and we do that as best we can. We do sorta. For me lately, that looks like embracing the fact that eating an apple is better for my body than eating a box of Mike and Ikes, even though there’s obviously sugar in the apple too. It looks like trying to move my body more, even if I can’t really pull off a proper “workout” most of the time.

Would it be so hard to give other people the benefit of the doubt? To assume that they have actually thought about these things? Do we really so desperately need to be right about every little decision to the exclusion of all other options that we are a bunch of meanies? Is Mean Girls our new model for adult behavior, but instead of keeping nasty comments in The Book, we publish them far and wide?

Our quickness to condemn others shows our fear of condemnation. It doesn’t smack of grace, y’all. It doesn’t even smack of justice. Instead of wanting to assess the situation for what it is, this disposition is actually looking for faults, hypercritical, and often hypocritical. Word Hippo (my favorite thesaurus) brings words like censorious, carping, hair-splitting, persnickety into the conversation.

I’m not okay with being persnickety, and for a person who has been given immeasurable grace, it’s exceedingly unbecoming. Remember Jesus’s parable about the servant who owed the king an obscene amount of money and, when he pled for mercy, saw his debt forgiven? But then he went and got a colleague who owed him a comparable pittance thrown into debtor’s prison? And the king found out and revoked his debt-forgiveness program? It is a warning to us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That should to reorient our hearts and make us gracious. If the Gospel is deep in our hearts, then it will ooze out of us. So if you, like me, recognize this harshness in yourself, the answer is the Gospel.

The answer is always the Gospel. Drive it deeper into your heart.