the Benign Perogative

What happens when we lose hope of being shown mercy and receiving justice? It’s interesting that those who have been the victims of injustice seek more for mercy than justice. I think it’s because mercy is the process of being seen, heard and understood. Justice is the affirmation of true boundaries. Without mercy there can be no real justice. Justice without mercy is arbitrary a kind of pseudo-justice that is rarely just. Sometimes we fear mercy, hiding behind the excuse that we ‘want justice to be done’; the reality is that deep down we know that mercy is inordinately powerful, able to transform our simplistic notions of justice into the creative, life forming, God honouring thing that Justice really is. If we pursue mercy, our yearnings for ‘justice’ (perhaps more accurately, vengeance) may never be realised – mercy opens us up to seeing the world differently and allowing our paradigm to be challenged. Mercy is dangerous to the status quo.

It’s not surprising therefore that mercy is hard to come by in this world; that when mercy is shown, people experience the face of God, and when there is no hope of mercy, people give up the will to continue in this life. There is one exception, documented in the concentration camps of Nazzi Germany by Dr Victor Frankl, even in the face of no hope of mercy, some somehow managed to find within themselves the capacity to love, hope and live for another person or cause. Life was no longer about experiencing mercy one’s self but about contributing to the mercy of another. We were created to exist in a setting where mercy and justice are normal, but when these are missing in our immediate circumstances we have a capacity to bring them to others.

We have been made wonderfully complex, carrying eternity in our hearts yet incapable of fathoming it. We all have the power to bring hope and dash it to pieces. We each hold the lives of others in the balance whether through the weakness of dominance or the power of mercy, justice and compassion. Yet frighteningly we seem completely unaware of this. Until that is, someone comes along and demonstrates the force of agape and we catch for a moment a fleeting shadow of our own capacity to bring hope and life, or to destroy it.

I just watched the benign prerogative, an episode in series 5 of the West Wing…. and we are getting ready for this year’s British Pilgrimage of Hope which starts this weekend.

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Blame is not an option

I am currently enjoying the last series of West Wing. A recent episode has stayed with me, as a strong challenge as I approach the next year. In it Latino Congressman Santos finds himself speaking at an African American church as part of his campaign for president, just twenty four hours after the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American young man by a Latino policeman. It’s been a tense 24 hours, and as he takes the podium you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

As I look back over the last few years, there are events that have taken place, the consequences and ramifications of which are still unfolding. It is so easy to point the finger and apportion blame, to find endless means of justifying one’s opinion and claim the moral high ground. Some blame one person, others that one, still others these set of circumstances, others the system. The rolling snowball grows; feelings, judgments, opinions, prejudices cascade on. And so we carry on each of us posturing and none of us resolving.

After a day of angry wrestling with himself and the dilemma, Santos takes the podium and speaks. What comes is not some rational expose or political pandering. But in humility he shares from his core, the wrestle to find someone or something to blame, the weariness from the daily reality of racial violence, and the absence of answers. The wrestle of the day has seen him face his own questions and in that place of reality, he is able to meet others in their pain, confusion and questioning… not with answers but with a resolve and call out to compassion. ‘ I have realized that blame doesn’t change things, it never has. What we need is compassion. We need to stand together, reach out to one another with compassion, and perhaps we’ll find a way forward together.’

We Christians should be leading the way with this stuff. But truth is, life comes at us from point blank range and as we take the punches, all the theories, Christianese and church jargon evaporate and we are left with what we actually, truly believe in our hearts and are willing to choose by… me, as I stand, alone, with no one to hide behind, in this situation requiring a response from… me…

Do I believe there can be no justice without mercy, and no mercy with out justice and that compassion is the only motivation that will bring life to everyone – not just myself? Or in reality do I think that’s a load of idealistic codswallop? Am I willing to live as if its true? in this situation? Will I stake my reputation on the cross, do I actually believe that forgiveness is possible or do I live in fear that it’s all a big lie? When I say I forgive them, what do I actually mean?

When you say those words, what do you mean?

Blame is not an option. It is only as I walk humbly with my God that compassion becomes even a vague possibility, but it is the only hope if I am to love mercy and act justly in this life in which I find myself.

Happy New Year!!

Lest we settle for less

A week or so before leaving the UK for Aus, I made my first e-bay auction purchase. I placed my first bid two days before bidding was due to close, and quickly realized that was not the way to play the game. Approximately 60 seconds before close of bidding I pressed ‘enter’ leaving inadequate time for the next person to outbid me, and a box set of the West Wing television series was mine! Possibly the most satisfactory purchase I have made in a few years, I have ended many of the last 40 or so days with an episode or two. I am hooked!

It has got me thinking though, why do I and so many others I know enjoy it so much? It’s not that I have aspirations to serve in ‘the White House’ nor am I attracted to blue collar professional society. Growing up in a family of doctors, and later as a doctor myself, I rebelled against the societal norms and expectations of that professional or class circle. So it’s not that, and my guess is I wont be able to put my finger on what it is exactly, but will have to settle for exploring some of the things that get me thinking when I engage with the story.

For the uninitiated, the series follows the journey of a White House senior staff of about 10, from campaign to election and through a couple of terms of office. It’s fast moving, challenging and often heartwarming as it weaves the characters lives with that of the nation. The staff all have very different roles and are exceptionally good at what they do as individuals but also as a team. I think this is where it starts to get fascinating and attractive. Sometimes it can feel like a happy Never-Never land where powerful people have disagreements, adjust to one another and move on to continue working together with high levels of loyalty. Trust gets broken from time to time and it’s fascinating to see how it gets worked out in the narrative, sometimes over a long period of time, but it is usually recovered. Sounds like a dream world, hey?!

So Sam is pushing for a high profile deal and his colleague suddenly disagrees with him during the negotiations, they step outside, Sam goes off at his colleague for undermining him, she then explains what she has realised and how  if they change tacks they’ll land a much better deal for the team. He see’s it, capitulates and lands the new deal within seconds.

How does that happen? Well, in my experience it only happens when we all know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are all on the same team, shooting for the same goal with 101% commitment. Then we can have heated discussions whilst remaining open to one another because we want to get to clearer truth; there’s no room for hidden agendas and it’s far less about my ego, and ‘being right’ than it is about getting to where we all want to be.

It’s what we teach, but we don’t always see it amongst ourselves, maybe that’s one reason why some of us like the West Wing team; they remind us of what we can be lest we forget and settle for less.