Just Mercy

A few days ago, a friend sent me an email with this quote from the book, Just Mercy.

Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion . . . we’ve submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from our sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too.

My church has a women’s night meditation group on Wednesday night. We read a portion of scripture aloud three times. Then, we pause to reflect on its meaning in our lives. Then we repeat the reading three times again with fresh questions as we note the verses or thoughts that come up from the reading. This past week, we read the story of the woman at the well from the book of John. As you may recall, Jesus met a woman at a well in Samaria, and he asked her to serve him water from the well. She’s surprised at his request. Men didn’t talk to women, at least in public, and even more so, a woman he didn’t know. Finally, she’s suspect because she’s a Samaritan woman, belonging to a group of people who the Jews at the time were at odds with.

But Jesus talks to her, revealing who she is, and also offering her a chance of hope and redemption as he reveals himself as the living water. As the group at my church read the passage, I found myself drawn to this woman. I felt as if I were her, underserving and frankly surprised that Jesus would speak to me. I don’t deserve it. My prayer life is a quick thing each morning lately, with my thoughts scattered in a thousand directions rather than on the one thing I need – God.

Lately, I have been leaning into mercy. I watched Just Mercy, the movie. I wept for the injustice and final righting of wrongs for the wrongfully convicted Walter McMillian. Then, I read the book of the same title written by Bryan Stevenson. Unless you have a heart of stone, the book and the movie will move you. It moved me towards compassion and mercy.

It’s not that I am such a great Christian, either. I was moved because I need mercy. I need compassion. I need forgiveness. Everyday, I need it. I have joined Noom* to help me with reaching my goals for losing weight. It doesn’t require special foods or buying their stuff. I’ve lost about 10 pounds in the past 2 weeks. But I have so far to go. I am fat. I need to stop unhealthy eating patterns. Eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is way too easy for me. I need to walk, bike, or do something in my free time beside sit in front of a screen, either online or the television.

When I look at myself, I see someone who needs mercy. Mercy because of my lack of self-care, mercy for my lack of spiritual devotion, and mercy for all the other things I struggle with everyday. I am reminded of a story by Ann Lamott. She tells of visiting a friend in her kitchen, chatting as her young son played nearby. Suddenly, he whelped out a cry. She looked down and saw that his head was stuck between the legs of a chair. He cried out, “Help me. I need help with me. ”

That’s my cry today. Lord, help me. I need help with me.

*Noom is an app on your phone that helps you track your weight, monitor what you eat, and connect with like-minded people in your same situation.

Stormy Weather

A storm is brewing in the Gulf. Right now, Cristobal is meandering over land near the Yucatan. It won’t stay there forever. It is forecast to make its way toward the Louisiana coast on Sunday. It’s not likely to be a strong storm. At its worst, forecasters agree it could be a nominal hurricane.

Considering the fragility of our coastline, though, it may be just one more weapon that will be like a battering ram on our area. The boot in the picture above represents what used to be the coast of Louisiana. I couldn’t find a good image on the internet to show what it looks like today, but much of coast of southeastern Louisiana is gone. The land that I grew up on is increasingly being eroded and falling away. Open waters lap at our doorsteps, in some cases, quite literally, as people are forced to move to higher ground.

That’s one reason that I live where I live today. I didn’t see the sense of buying another house in New Orleans, after coming back here after nearly a decade in Honduras. New Orleans is surrounded more and more by open waters rather than protective wetlands, or near my hometown on the bayou where land is lost everyday. At least where I live now, a bit north and east of New Orleans, I don’t have to worry about small storms such as what is being projected for this weekend.

There are other storms. Some of the storms brewing are not tropical at all. There are political and racial storms that are raging now in our country. What do we do with the information we have about racial injustice and protests? Do we, as white Americans, just put up a social media comment in defense of justice and go along our way as if nothing has happened?

I’m guilty of doing that. I just posted a few things about injustice. I felt better. But what if I were really committed to understanding what’s happening in our country? I think I need to seek voices from the black community. I need to listen. There are battering rams of injustice and inequities hitting our nation right now. If not addressed, they will weaken our democracy.

Whenever we have storms in the Gulf, our motto is be prepared. We do what we can to protect our homes, and we ride out the storm as best we can. (Evacuation is still the best choice for large storms). I need a game plan, too, to prepare to understand my black brothers and sisters.

I plan to watch Just Mercy, a film about racial injustice in the penal system. You can rent Just Mercy for free in June through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayAmazon Prime VideoRedbox, the PlayStation Store, VuduMicrosoft, and YouTube. Join me in watching the movie.

I am also part of a book club that will be reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I want this moment in history to count for something. I was only 6 years old in 1969 when the public schools in our school district were integrated. I was too young to have a voice, but I now see what a seminal moment that was for our town. I don’t want to be in denial this time, like my parents were in the 1960s.

In my morning devotions today, from Pray as You Go, the text was from Jesus’ words about the two greatest commandments. The first is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. If we don’t grapple with social and racial inequities in our nation, I fear more storms are going to hit us. It’s time we met the storms with foresight and prudence.