Tag Archives: grace

a violently gargled grace

chetThis letter encompassing struggle, this violent gargling and gurgling letter chet

…is the first letter of the key Hebrew word for grace.


It’s a word of zeal, passion, and ardor; a word filled with desire to embrace, to protect, not for a moment but for a lifetime. It’s frequently called “covenant love.”

Just don’t sterilize it into a legal transaction.hebrew-mercy-grace

Don’t forget to gargle violently when you say it.

For the first sound of grace is the sound of struggle – and the first sound is the one that’s stressed.
What’s the struggle?
I see mercy and justice squaring off, hands raised in a test of strength.
Which will prevail?
Which will win out?
James answers for us: “Justice will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy, but mercy triumphs over justice.”

Mercy wins.

Though I prefer to see this not as a smackdown with justice tapping out.
I hear the violent gargling, the clash of the bottom and top of the Divine throat in conflict, until the clash, making a thorny passage, leads to an open door where mercy and justice kiss, and thus begins the great Divine dance.

And all this, before we even realized it was happening.
Before we were even a breath or a sigh.

Chesed ultimately has everything to do with the triune essence embedded in all of reality, little to do with us, nothing to do with any sensed suitability within or without.

Yes, mercy wins.

Just don’t forget to gargle.


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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in haverings, Uncategorized


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religious ruckus

This week’s installment of the MAV…John 7:53-8:11…a religious ruckus involving a disreputable woman in a disputed passage...

Meanwhile, Jesus made his way to the Mount of Olives outside the city.

But not for long.

Early the next morning he was right back at it in the temple. All the crowd flocked to him looking for more, and he obliged them. Having taken his seat, he began teaching them – until a major religious ruckus broke out, Scripture pundits and strict sect types showing up, a woman in tow, a woman caught red-handed in the act of adultery.

They sought no private audience with Jesus, they pushed her right into the center where Jesus was teaching, challenging him,

“Rabbi, this woman was caught red-handed in the very act of adultery! We know what Moses in the law says must be done to such a woman – death by stoning. But what do you say?”

And in case you hadn’t figured it out, this whole thing was a set up; they were just looking for ammunition to nail writingindirtJesus to the wall.

But Jesus didn’t bite or budge.

He just stooped down and started doodling in the dirt with his finger.

The religious lynch mob didn’t budge either.
They stood there and kept prodding him with their own pointed fingers of accusation.

Jesus finally looked up at them and said,

“The only one with a rock in his hand is the one with no sin in his heart.”

And then he was back to finger doodling in the dirt.

Stunned by what they heard, they began to clear out, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest of them, until she was left
alone –
just the woman,
right there in the center.

Looking up again, Jesus spoke to her.

“Woman, where did they all go?
What, no judge and jury to condemn you?”

She said, sheepishly, “Lord, none at all.”

“Well then, you won’t hear any condemnation from me either.
On your way – only, from now on,
how about avoiding the ruts of sin
and aiming higher.”

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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Gospel of John, MAV, Mercy, Religion


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finish flossing, now rinse

Following up my flossing the “God hates you” husk from between my teeth…I rinsed with Merton:

this picture is just wrong

this picture is just wrong

The human being down here in the darkness of his fleshly state is as mysterious as the saints in heaven in the light of their glory. There are in him inexhaustible treasures, constellations without end of sweetness and beauty which ask to be recognized and which usually escape completely the futility of our regard. Love brings a remedy for that. One must vanquish this futility and undertake seriously to recognize the innumerable universes that one’s fellow being carries within him. This is the business of contemplative love and the sweetness of its regard…

Yes, we are all of us Shreks. We have layers.

What a contrast in how we view people. Reminds me of Paul’s confidence in the community of believers in Rome most of whom he had never met: “I am confident that you are full of goodness.”

We all have our bad days when we hate people in general and go sour on humanity, chanting with David, “All men are liars” and with our brother, “God hates you.” And yes, there are liars, and yes, evidently, God gets really ticked off at us at times – perhaps as often as we get ticked off at him. But still we speak in haste, as David acknowledged after the fact.

We miss the larger view of the Good News that God makes lovers out of his enemies by dying for them. God is in the friending business, and he’s fairly extreme about it. The Divine really doesn’t like blocking or unfriending us.

I think I’d rather spend a month with a Merton than a day with a Jansenite.

Just saying. Funny that way.

And it’s a Merton I will seek out every time when my own insecurities and imperfections are staring me
in the face.


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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in haverings, Nature of God, Religion


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I’m Achan…or…He Still Hangs with Thieves

To be connected to the church is to be associated with soundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description (and that’s just the clergy! mf). It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race, and gender. To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest herosim of soul…because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion. God hung among thieves.  – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

You could call it a Spartacus moment.

Traversing in devotions through the story of Achan – the thief nailed with stolen goodies hidden under his tent and subsequently stoned to death, then burned, and buried along with his family under a huge pile of rocks whose story you can read about in Joshua chapter 7 in your Old Testament – I was stirred.

I was dissatisfied with what I wrote in the church devotions about it.

More stirring.

Can’t really respond to the sermon preached about Achan this past week because I listened to it horizontally (call me Anemia Man). But then I read a friend’s thoughts about the story and sermon in a Facebook post. For him it was an Old Testament Smack Down with the message “Don’t be an Achan!” with blistering judgment and footnoted grace. Whether that’s a fair characterization of that particular sermon, I can’t comment on. But I know that over the course of twenty years I preached the sermon he perceived. Over and over and over again.

Blistering judgment. Footnoted grace.

Look what happened to Achan. Are you an Achan? Don’t be an Achan! Achan only suffered stones and temporal fire; for you it will be brimstone and eternal flames!

Yeah. Kinda been there. Have a collection of t-shirts, too.

Which brings me to my “Spartacus moment.”

I’m Achan.

Not because I stole candy and magazines and hid them under my bed when I was ten. We love our pastors to talk about their sins – you know, the ones that happened a decade or more ago. As long as their sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are back there somewhere in the foggy past. We don’t love it so much when the sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are right here and right now – like the rest of us. We might not stone them and burn their bodies. But we do fire them. But back to the point:

I’m Achan.

And more than that, so are you. That’s right, this should be a wonderfully freeing Spartacus moment for each of us. Imagine the story that way: “Are you Achan, son of Carmi?” “No, I’m Achan.” “No, I’m Achan.” The entire congregation, pastors first, rise to their feet, each in turn. “I’m Achan!”


Now, I know, we’re only supposed to confess our own sins, but if Paul can say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” then I can say we are all Achans.

And we are. Each of us. All of us.

We all have things buried under our religiously tidy tent floors that we pray never sees the light of day. Like the thoughts you had just this morning or even while you were reading this sentence. That apathetic stare in the face of human need as you saw yet another one of those cardboard signs on the street corner. That anger that boiled up inside at that perceived slight – but fortunately never made it to your face. That self-satisfying pride that flooded through you when you won that argument, the doubts that plagued you, and – good God – did you see what she was wearing?

I’m Achan.

It’s said that Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, used to say that the entire Bible could be summed up with two sentences: (1) Cheer up: you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and (2) Cheer up: God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.

Not bad.

I’m Achan. Outwardly, religiously respectable – “What a fine Christian young man you are,” as my mom would always say to me when I was in my Sunday best. “Oh holy Mike” as one of my friends often sings to me (like the carol). But I’m a thief. And good thing: he hung with thieves. He still does.

He casts no lots to nail down my guilt and then to pass judgment. No stolen goods are dug up and laid before the congregation’s watching eyes. No stones. No fire. No family swallowed up with me (have you noticed the contrast? Under the ministry of death [religion] whole families were consumed, swallowed up, devoured along with the erring parent; under the ministry of life [Jesus] whole families are rescued, redeemed, healed; just a thought).

Instead, in his mercy he collapses the tidy religious tent over all that it was hiding, then reaches out his hand and says, “Come, child.” And so Achan’s valley of trouble and judgment, of bloody rocks and fire, is transformed from dead end tombstone to a door of hope. Sonship. Inheritance. Home.

And that, in a word, is the difference between Joshua and Jesus.


That’s the devotional intro I should have written.


Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Joshua, musings, Old Testament


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