Monthly Archives: December 2015

What happened?

I didn’t set out to be that guy. 

Today, in a work meeting about implementing a new campaign, in a discussion of using social media, a colleague who is also a Facebook friend and Twitter follower talked about my social media presence saying “you post about…your faith, and stuff.” I could tell he was looking for safer ground but couldn’t think of anything else I posted on. 

A few hours before that, another Facebook friend sent me (via Messenger, so private) a link to a phenomenal article by a Christian pastor from a Muslim family that was poignant in its reflection on that tension and beautiful in its theology. 

I often hear, when having coffee or lunch or meetings with friends who know me online, Pope Francis’ latest escapades as an ice breaker. 

I had a friend tag me in a discussion of mortal and venial sins. 

I’m cool with all this. I have no regrets and at least a little joy in this. But I’m not sure how I got here and certainly didn’t intend it. 

I’ve become that Catholic guy or the Christian guy for my little social circle. 

I’m definitely not qualified. I’m a convert who studied theology a little in a Methodist seminary, but I’m still weak on the saints and often confuse Fatima, Lourdes, and most of the other Marian stuff. And I’m nowhere near the holiest person in my house. 

I’m big on not talking faith at work, because I agree it’s not appropriate as a boss to bring theological discussion to the office. (Though when other people talk about their faith, I’m fascinated.) And for a good little while I kept my observations on Pope Francis to Facebook and Facebook for friends and not coworkers – that is, people I would have a drink with or share our non-work lives with. 

But along the way, I gave up on those barriers and, with the occasional caveat emptor let in all comers. For better or worse, this is who I am. I am that guy. 

What happened? 

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What does mercy look like to…

What does mercy look like to me? Every time I’m confronted with my own failings, which is a lot, it’s remembering that God loves me more. It’s also every small kindness I receive and every chance to offer one to others.

What does mercy look like to my family? It’s every person who lets on that they know that this first Christmas, New Year, round of birthdays, etc. without Dad is going to be tough and offers Mom, or my sisters or nieces a little extra TLC.

What does mercy look like to the too many people I know who are battling – battling cancer, battling addiction and mental illness, battling tough times of all sorts? It’s the hug, the casserole, the pithy words of encouragement, the break that finally comes.

What does mercy look like to the refugees desperate for a better life? How can it be anything but the welcoming of a stranger that Jesus has on His short list of what His followers will be judged by in Matthew 25?

What does mercy look like to the people living in daily terror in Syria, Iraq, and too many other places we don’t even notice? It’s someone with power risking their life to make it stop. I’m almost a pacificist, but I know that much.

What does mercy look like to Muslims here and abroad who have nothing to do with these people who claim their faith to do unspeakable things? It’s embrace, friendship, acceptance from Christians who have their own issues with people hijacking our religion to spread hate.

What does mercy look like to people who live in fear in Paris, in California, in just about anywhere? It’s the comfort of knowing that the Christian Bible says 365 times “Do not fear” and not once says “get so afraid that you’ll be a sucker for any tough-talker eager to lead you away from who you are, which is God’s child.”

What does mercy look like to the fear-mongers? It probably looks horribly naive. But I also hope it looks like the nagging conscience of the right they know is true. And it definitely looks like the offer that, while it may not be easy and certainly won’t be without some shame and loss of face, God wants them back in His love, only at the cost of letting go of their hate and fear and the phantom power it brings them.

What does mercy look like to the radicalized? I honestly don’t know how, but my faith tells me that God holds out hope even for them, that they will come to know the deception they have bought for what it is. Mercy always offers the chance to exchange false idols for real God. Even when the rest of us have written you off.

What does mercy look like to you?

What do we do with mercy?

Today, Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy to help us bring to the forefront the role of divine mercy in our life and to “rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”

Mercy is the place where God’s perfect love meets our brokenness, be it sin, failure, lack or imperfection. It is also where we seek to be like God, to embody the spirit of Christ that we confess lives within us, by extending that same love to the brokenness of others. It seems to me that, over the course of the next (almost) year, we can do the following to grow in mercy:

  1. Understand it. To truly grasp the depth and power of God’s love for us, personally, we need to come to grips with the brokenness we each struggle to hide from others, from God, and from ourselves, and fully understand that God’s love for us surpasses the scars of that brokenness. That in itself is tough.
  2. Accept it. It’s not enough to cognitively understand mercy.  We can do that without fully accepting, in our hearts, that this love of God applies to me, to my particular brokenness. There are a lot of people walking around carrying a lot of stuff not because they don’t know in their heads that God loves them anyway, but because they can’t love themselves past that stuff.
  3. Offer it. We Western Christians can get really wrapped up on the one-on-one, me-and-God component of faith and completely overlook its communitarian dimension. In his homily today, Francis underscores that the reason to dwell on mercy is to empower us to go out beyond ourselves and share it with others. Read the news. Look around. We could all use to offer a lot more mercy, a lot more love, to others this year.*
  4. Receive it. Consider this the flip of #3. Even if I accept God’s love, I can still throw up walls to prevent other people from reaching to me, especially if I hold on to past hurts. Receiving the love of others can be harder than it sounds.
  5. Share it. So, the secret to this year of mercy is that it’s all about spreading the Good News of God’s all-surpassing love with others. Once you’ve experienced it, you’re better able to testify to it. As this is timed to the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, which among many other things fundamentally changed the relationship of the Catholic Church to other religions from one of sullen superiority to respectful encounter, this is not a license to go proselytize the already religious under someone else’s flag. But the “nones,” they are everywhere, as are the disaffected former believers. Bringing them some genuinely Good News about what God wants of them — to love them — is our calling.

* Looking for a way to show mercy? Here are 14 from Catholic tradition. The seven corporal works of mercy:

To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To Shelter the Homeless
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead.

And the seven spiritual works of mercy:

To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive offences willingly.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead

Try to play blackout bingo on these instead of picking and choosing.  And as you delight to instruct the ignorant and admonish sinners, remember that the #1 ignorant sinner is usually in the mirror.