Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Mercy, Justice, and a Whole Host of Other Things

I've always joked that when God was conferring spiritual gifts, he gave me a sprinkling of mercy and a scoop of justice.  I am far more likely - most of the time, anyway - to go to bat for someone who is being mistreated than I am to feel like I should visit you at the hospital.  In fact, the highest compliment that I can pay you is to come see you in the hospital (unless you've had a baby and then I'm so there).   But today I had a revelation.

The two really aren't that far apart...mercy and justice.  It is a razor-thin edge, actually.  I'd just never seen it before.  Both provide feelings that seem to be almost the same...the difference is in the execution.  You we normally handle things in the name of one or the other.

And while I have attended church for the better part of my existence, I have also not really been great at formulating those one or two word descriptors of spiritual truth.  I tend to get them confused.  Such as "mercy is love with its work boots on" or something like that.  Honestly, I don't think that is even right...but you know what I mean.

(For the record...any scripture that I didn't memorize before I turned twelve has been impossible for me to learn.  I can tell you where it is, but I cannot quote it.  Ridiculous, I know.)

When I stand up for somebody who is being run over, the motivation is mercy.  When you visit someone in the hospital, the motivation is mercy.  When you are kind to someone who doesn't deserve it?  Again...mercy.

Previously, I would have attributed the first to justice, the second to mercy, and the third to grace. Now, I'm just a little bit confused.  Which, for me, isn't really completely unfamiliar territory...just so you know.

In investigating the three definitions, I believe that justice - the concept that I had aligned myself with most a desire for fairness and moral rightness.  Why does this matter?  Because although life isn't fair...when it can should be.  We aren't all born with the same advantages, skill sets, talents, or even experiences...but there is no sense in making life any more difficult than it needs to be.  For me...this means that if I see something that needs to be set right...I'm going to try to do that. 

Especially if it involves someone who will not or cannot take care of it themselves.  Or someone I gave birth to.  Or married.  I'm pretty much all over that in a big way.

Mercy is "compassionate behavior" and grace is "unmerited favor."  I had previously felt that "compassionate behavior" was equated with acts of service that involved hospital visitations and other unpleasantries.  Grace, of course, I felt, was God's domain...and that all I was responsible for doing was what God expected me to do using his examples.  You know...all W.W.J.D.

(By the way, I saw a grown man at the post office with a W.W.J.D. bracelet on the other day.  He was probably in his 40s or 50s.  It has been years since I've seen anybody with one of those on.)

But justice, mercy and grace are all interwoven with a golden thread called kindness.  And as long as that thread remains intact...all is well.

Justice on its own can become a usurper of the rights of other people in the name of protecting a class of people.  That is when other people start demanding their "rights" at the expense of someone else.  Mercy on its own can easily turn one into a "martyr" that draws the attention back from the person being aided to the person who is doing the aiding.  And grace on its own can allow people to not face the realities of their shortcomings and the work that God intended to do in their lives because we've been enabling them.

So, in essence, wind that golden thread of kindness around justice and it protects.  Wind it around mercy and it cares for someone.  And wind it around grace and it forgives and includes.

Kindness.  That's the missing ingredient.  And what fuels kindness?  Love. 

It always comes back to love, you know.

Today, I was on Facebook reading posts like I always do...trying to catch up on what happened over the past 24 hours.  I love being in touch with so many people from my past and present and seeing the faces, reading about the joy, and praying for people.  It is now a part of what I do each day...and a part that I truly enjoy.  Yet something caught my attention and made me very sad amidst all of the happy graduation photos, inspirational quotes and Memorial Day rememberances.

A person (who shall remain nameless) was angry about an incident involving someone with an EBT card (food stamps) who had "waddled in front of him and cut him off in line."  He's been ill this week and his patience was probably running pretty low...but he was remarking on two things: that she was using an EBT card (that she left in the car...which was another source of irritation) and that she was fat.


I know a little bit about that.

Okay, I know a LOT about that.

I understand why people who work out, have a great metabolism, have wonderful discipline, or just were born fortunate think that all fat people are lazy.  I probably thought the same thing at one point in time.

Filtering this through what I understand...there's a part of me that wants to be upset.  But honestly?  I'm not.  I'm really not.  Why?  Because sometimes people cannot understand the struggles you have.  And they have enough of their own to deal with, if truth be told.

I have been trying to be more kind this past week...because when I am holding onto the last bit of my patience...I tend to be a little less kind than I believe is socially acceptable.  My temper and self-centeredness takes over in a big way.  The cloak of "my rights" and "my feelings" and "my way" hides my love for other people.

So, no, I will not be "unfriending" the individual who went on about this fat, inconsiderate, lazy person who was living on the dole.  Because honestly?  I don't know her story. 

Most of us have a tendency to see people who are caught up in something and wonder why they cannot extricate themselves from this or that.  Why they can't quit eating chocolate chip cookies, or why they can't stay out of a bar.  Why they cannot resist passing along a juicy tidbit of gossip, or why they cannot have a relationship that doesn't involve sex.  Why they buy things that cannot afford, or rein in their children who seem to be reeking all sorts of havok.  Why they lie to impress people or take something that is not theirs. 

My point?  Perhaps we don't know the story.

I do know that from now on I'm not going to label myself low in mercy or high with regard to justice.  I want to be just a kind and loving person who employs whatever tool is handiest to help someone out at that point in time.  I want to stretch my capacity to love people and to forgive them for saying boneheaded things that they haven't thought through.  After all, I've done that.  Some of it has even been put in writing on this blog.

I am not a politically correct person...generally either speaking my piece or remaining silent.  I don't like labels like "high maintenance", "African-American" or "fat."  While you might have to use the latter to describe me to give someone a physical description...I'd also hope that you'd include words like "merciful", "joyful", "kind", or "loving" if you are describing my spirit.

That's going to take some work, of course.  Which probably explains why I am still here.

So, I'll be visiting a hospital this weekend...although it is not my "happy place" by any stretch of the imagination...but because it is where I need to be.  I'll also be trying to make things easier for people who deserve that consideration.  That's kindness, right?

Wish me well. 

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