Lord have mercy

Lord, Have (No) Mercy upon ISIS!!??

Yes, I must write on this too. Please read one more piece on this event. 

I spent much of last night following the reportage of ISIS over the last few months. Unspeakable cruelties, against women, children, fathers, girls, boys. Against Yazidis, Christians, other Muslims. I felt sick, angry. I felt hatred. I did not know what to say except

Lord have mercy, have mercy .  . .

But----NO! In my next breath, No mercy. Lord have NO mercy on this evil! Do something! Yes, Lord, have NO mercy and DO something!

Such challenges never go unanswered, it seems. In my gospel readings, I realized the Hebrew people in Jesus' day felt the same. The injustices and unspeakable cruelties against them! They wanted what we want still and now----a Winning God. 
 A triumphant God, an arm-raised victory-fisted God!!

And this is just who they got! The Messiah they were waiting for, look who He chose! He didn't go to the seats of power; he went straight to the poor, the hungry, the pathetic, the unworthy, the victims.

And there it happened: Healings of every sickness. The dead raised to happy life. Massive feedings from a little lunch. Demons screaming out. The blasting wind and sinking waves scolded into peace. . And finally they got it, these men trailing behind his cloak, watching everyone who touched it get healed. 

"Who do you say that I am?" he asks them.

 Peter answers, knowing for the first time the truth of his own words, "You are the Christ."

Finally, after so many head-spinning victories and miracles, Peter sees him for who He is. 

He is THE CHRIST, the anointed one! They know, finally! What can't this man-God do?? He has done all things well, healed every disease. There is nothing, no demon, no force, no wind, no Pharisee that can take Him down, this Christ!

There He is. I want THIS God, this two-fisted, truth-tongued, all-healing God, who will vanquish all His enemies!

But then, what does Jesus the Christ, the anointed one do, immediately upon that recognition, those words? Listen again:

Peter: "You are THE Christ."

"And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things . … and be rejected . . . and be killed . . . 

Do you hear this? Can we hear this through the ears of those men? Now that you know who I am---finally (O ye of so-little faith!)----this is the kind of Who-I-Am I am. I am the Christ, the anointed one who will suffer and be beaten and will die. 

No! No! No! Not THAT kind of CHRIST! We want the Winning God, the Victory God, the Vanquishing God! 

This is where Peter rebukes Jesus, saying, Never Lord!

And Jesus sees Satan in Peter's human words, which would have been our words. 

But of course, Jesus IS the winning God, the victorious God, the Everything-Good God who accomplishes all this with the greatest display of power ever: the power to lay down his life. The power to suffer and die. For us.  For evil. For sickness. For his friends. Yes, for his enemies. 

And He gives us the power to lay down our lives. Even before the knife, kneeling by the Mediterranean Sea, moments before death. Those men, speaking the name of Jesus until they could not . . . .

ISIS believes they have destroyed these men. ISIS believes they have proven the strength and superior power of Islam over "the nations of the cross." They could not be more wrong. In every act of brutality and murder, ISIS proves their weakness, their evil, their own already-destroyed hearts. 
And the ones they kill, attest to the victory of a suffering Christ who lay down his life that we may also lay down ours. 

And finally, these men are not dead, but living still. 

Lord have mercy? 
He already has. In so many ways.
In mostly Muslim Egypt, because of these murders, there is an unprecedented openness and sympathy to the Coptic Christians. 1.65 million tracts have been printed and distributed with Bible verses about blessing in the midst of suffering. And this poignant, powerful poem in colloquial Arabic as well:

Two Rows by the Sea

Who fears the other?

The row in orange, watching

paradise open?

Or the row in black, with minds

evil and broken?

(for more on this, see CT's fascinating coverage here)

I believe there will be much fruit around the world from the words on those pages, from the blood of those men. (Even if the photos were photoshopped and they were not killed "by the sea" but in some studio. No matter.)

Lord have mercy?  

He already has.  The poem reminds us how.

Because of His mercy, we're freed from 

the row we were standing in, the row 

 in black, knives in hand, 

     "with minds 

                  evil and broken."

Because of His mercy, we ask now 

that we too would be given 

 the courage, the faith, the love

to kneel in the sand in orange,

before those who hate us,

                 paradise open,"

and whispering, 

with our last breath

the name that can save them too,


Lord, have mercy. 

He already has.

The Appalling Strangeness of Cigarettes+ the Mercy of God

"You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God."

   ----Graham Green, Brighton Rock

               I never connected cigarettes with the gospel before. But everything became strange then. When someone is dying, there are mercies so odd you hardly know what to do or believe.
                I am remembering  my first visit to my father in his new nursing home. I hadn’t seen him for 8 years. I opened the door and winced at the olfactory cocktail of urine, chlorine, and Febreze. Survivors sat dazed and blank in their wheelchairs in the living room, but no one who lived here was at home here, I suspected.

                  I came because God had tied a noose around my heart and pulled it tight. I could no longer escape the words from Micah : “And what does the lord require of you but to love mercy, to do justice and to walk humbly with your God”?
               I came wanting to love my father near the end of his life—for the first time. I came wanting him to love me—for the first time. And even more—I came wanting him to know the love of Christ. This above all. 


  The visit, five days long, did not go as I hoped. He proclaimed his atheism. I was defensive. I remembered why I had never liked him. I felt like a failure. But I began to see . . . He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? I knew, as I left, that I would be calling, writing, praying. I knew I would come again. Was that enough? How would he know about God’s love?
               It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.

 I hesitated, then came over to her table. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “
            It was strange to even say the word "friend" in relation to my father. He had had no friends. Ever.

        “Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.
         “Does my father talk to you?”
         “He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk. We talk mostly out in the smoking shed."
          Ahhhh, my father still smoked. Of course he did. My lips tightened. He had smoked all of his life, hiding the cigarettes in his car, where he spent most of his days traveling around trying to sell things. He bought cigarettes, hiding them and lying about it, while we ate and lived on a skeleton budget, always hungry. Whenever the cigarettes were found, there was war. We hid, shaking, every time. 
No wonder she was his friend, then. It was the cigarettes.

           I sighed. "He's not supposed to be smoking. He has a weak heart, and I think emphysema too. The doctor said he couldn't live much longer."
           Sally shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't supposed to be smoking, either, of course. Who was supposed to smoke? 
            I smiled ruefully, then was curious. “Are you back there every day? What do you talk about out there?”
             “Yes, we're out there every day.  We smoke and we talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure. She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.
                My eyes widened. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.
                “I sure do,” she said, smiling her beatific smile.                
                My vision changes. Now I see Sally with my father out back, leaning against the shed walls, sharing cigarettes and the gospel.  I try to forget how much I hate cigarettes. The smoke curling over her head suddenly looks vaporous, almost beautiful.
           I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.”  We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.
              Are God’s mercies really this vast---and this strange? How have I not know this? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster and more appalling than ever I knew. And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last. Even through his killing habit, a loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father.

                I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air.  But he saw the gospel as Sally offered him a light, a smoke, a word.
               I could so easily have missed it all, these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. 

       And so can we all, if we don't look beyond what seems ugly or small or hard or trivial or impossible. 

             Narrow is the gate, but wide, wide are His mercies---and, strangest of all,  you and I are part of them! Believe it. Put on your shoes or take off your shoes. Go, with cigarette in hand, or with whatever gift speaks love and life to those who are waiting, dying.  
          Wide, wide are His mercies.