Tag Archives: mercy

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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the OY! at the heart of all things….

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 11.00.03 AM

I love stumbling upon word treasures…

After eleven chapters of Paul’s most systematic presentation of his God-thinking (aka theology) in what we know as the book of Romans, Paul now is perched to make his appeal to action – for with Paul, all true, healthy God-thinking must lead to true, healthy God-doing.

And he begins with “please.”

He could order, he could hammer, he could harangue.
But he begins with “please.”
The “please” is actually obscured beneath the traditional rendering, “I beseech” – although I would actually love to see a rejuvenation of “I beseech,” as in, “I beseech thee, kind sir, to make me a caramel vanilla latte.” Yes, do try that with the barista next time around.
Paul says, “please” – and then he says, “my brothers.” Family, connection, embrace, kiss. If we perceived Paul in a pulpit glaring down at us, we must now re-envision him next to us, his arm embracing, his tone close and endearing.

To be living sacrifices is his appeal, but it’s the motive behind it that arrests me now.
It’s our word. οἰκτιρμός / oiktirmós / oyk-tir-mos’.

I could have been satisfied with the gloss of “mercies,” but dictionaries are dens of discovery for me rather than tedious depositories to be avoided. I love authors who make me look up words. It slows down the read, and we’re all in so much need of that. So I looked. I wanted to catch the flavor, see from whence it came, examine its verbal swaddling clothes.

οἰκτός. It goes back to οἰκτός. And οἰκτός goes back to οἰ.

Oy! The interjection of extreme pity and compassion that can’t help but move us to get up and do something about it. That’s the kind of compassion we see in οἰκτιρμός. And it’s plural. And it’s what’s at the heart of God that drives the appeal for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

At heart of God, at the heart of all reality is “Oy!” More than that, a chorus of multiplied “Oys!” “Oy” is the engine that drives all things. Much more so than “woe!” The Greek interjection for “woe!” is οὐαί! (oo-WHY!) which is one of those onomatopoeic words imitating the cries of vultures circling their prey. οὐαί is filled with a grieving denunciation, it’s filled with death. There is a time and place for it, to be sure, in this broken world. But the exclamation at the heart of the Story, at the heart of Reality, at the heart of all true religion and healthy God-thinking isn’t οὐαί! but οἰ! It’s not shame, death and denunciation, but a relentless pity that shapes restoration and healing.

Pivotal, this.

For herein lies the practical difference between the offering of our bodies as sacrifices that build the world,
or the offering of them as sacrifices that burn it.


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Posted by on October 17, 2015 in haverings


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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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nice wins

It’s a popular thing to say in some religious circles:nice_5

“Nice” is not a fruit of the Spirit.
“Niceness” is not a Christian virtue.
Anyone can be nice.
Nice people “nice” other people straight to hell.
God is not nice. God is tough. He is harsh. He’s a consuming fire of meanness! (for maximum effect use Monster Truck voice here).
Ranting is next to godliness, not niceness.

This is then followed by copious references to John the Baptist screaming “brood of vipers” (note, at religious people) or Jesus yelling, “Hypocrites!” (once again, at religious folks).

Someone forwarded me a blog post by a pastor with the latest example of slamming “niceness,” shredding in the process a few prominent opponents he regards as too “nice.” He has a point. But he got me thinking (which may or may not have been his point) and realizing, that, well, God is nice (at least he can be). Niceness is even a fruit of the Spirit. We just don’t usually translate the pertinent family of Greek words with our “nice” one, even though that would be, well, a nice translation.

Consider the definition of our word “nice.”nice definition

“Showing or requiring great precision or sensitive discernment. Subtle.”

So that’s what we mean when we say “nice sermon” or “nice post.”

“Respectable. Virtuous. Friendly. Attractive.” An “intense, extreme” to the nth degree, even.

Antonyms: “vague, insensitive, blunt, indecent, unfriendly, unattractive, unbecoming, inappropriate.”

Now, I look at those antonyms, and yes, I can see all of those fitting the Bible at one point or another and the nice (1)portrait of God captured there at one point or another, particularly the further back we go. Actually, we don’t have to go any further back than the Old Testament prophets.

Isaiah walking around naked for three years? So not nice. Point taken.

But now consider the definition of the word translated “kindness” in Paul’s famous “fruit of the Spirit” listing (Galatians 5:22-23). χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) from the root word χρηστός (cray-stows) – just one letter off from “Christ” in Greek. Definition?

“Fit, fit for use, useful; virtuous, good; manageable; mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp, bitter); of things: more pleasant; of people: kind, benevolent.”

Gosh, that sounds nice.

Now for a quick tour of biblical niceness

nice_3“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) unto the unthankful and to the evil.” (Yes, I’m just in a KJV mood today, what can I say! Luke 6:35)

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the χρηστός (easy, kind, niceness) of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

All together now: God is nice. And his niceness is the definitive divine draw into the ultimate paradigm shift that is “repentance.”

And another: “And be ye χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Yes, we are commanded to be nice. χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) niceness is the fifth of the nine listed fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – which puts nice right. in. the. middle.


Is nice the whole picture? No. I know this may be a bit more Bible than some of you are used to, but bear with me, just one more: “Behold therefore the χρηστότης (niceness) and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, χρηστότης (niceness), if thou continue in [his] χρηστότης (niceness).” (Romans 11:22)

Niceness and abruptness in alternating rhythms – with the charge for us to continue in the rhythm of niceness.  And for the most part we are told to leave abrupt and blunt severity to God, probably because if it were left up to us we’d end up nuking everyone.

Think about that.

play nice

So play nice

Why are we so eager to embrace anger and ranting as Jesus values and dismiss “nice” as a work of the devil? We talk about people leading others smilingly to hell – but isn’t it just as absurd to imagine leading others sneeringly and snarkily to heaven? And does anyone really want that heaven? Aren’t we inundated with enough of that here?

Perhaps this is a simple way to determine which rhythm is the best choice: which do we want back? – not just from each other, but when it matters most: as we stand naked before the Source of all Reality (which is, if we could only see it, where we all are right now)?

“Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Nice wins.



Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Mercy, musings


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palimpsest eyes

I just had to go back and visit the bishop in Les Miserables. Kind of the same reason I need to read another Brennan Manning book every once in a while.

I need to remember.

To remember who I am. To know the eyesight I must cultivate. The heart habits I must nuture. I am always too easily otherwise. Far too easily. Bishop, you are Welcome. Make your abode here.

We are not obliged to sound the Bishop of Digne on the score of orthodoxy. In the presence of such a soul we bienvenufeel ourselves in no mood but respect. The conscience of the man should be accepted on his word. Moreover, certain natures being given, we admit the possible development of all beauties of human virtue in a belief that differs from our own.

What did he think of this dogma, or of that mystery? These secrets of the inner tribunal of the conscience are known only to the tomb, where souls enter naked. The point on which we are certain is, that the difficulties of faith never resolved themselves into hypocrisy in his case. No decay is possible in the diamond. He believed to the extent of his powers. Moreover, he drew from good works that amount of satisfaction which suffices to the conscience, and which whispers to a man, “Thou art with God!”

The point which we consider it our duty to note is, that outside of and beyond his faith, as it were, the Bishop possessed an excess of love. What was this excess of love? It was a serene benevolence which overflowed men, as we have already pointed out, and which, on occasion, extended even to things. He lived without disdain. He was indulgent towards God’s creation. Every man, even the best, has within him a thoughtless harshness which he reserves for animals. The Bishop of Digne had none of that harshness, which is peculiar to many priests, nevertheless. He did not go as far as the Brahmin, but he seemed to have weighed this saying of Ecclesiastes: “Whoso knoweth wither the soul of the animal goeth?” Hideousness of aspect, deformity of instinct, troubled him not, and did not arouse his indignation. He was touched, almost softened by them. It seemed as though he went thoughtfully away to seek beyond the bounds of life which is apparent, the cause, the explanation, or the excuse for them. He seemed at times to be asking God to commute these penalties. He examined without wrath, and with the eye of a linguist who is deciphering a palimpsest, that portion of chaos which still exists in nature. This revery sometimes caused him to utter odd sayings. One morning he was in his garden, and thought himself alone, but his sister was walking behind him, unseen by him: suddenly he paused and gazed at something on the ground; it was a large, black, hairy, frightful spider. His sister heard him say:

“Poor beast! It is not its fault!”

His universal suavity was less an instinct of nature than the result of a grand conviction which had filtered into his heart through the medium of life, and had trickled there slowly, thought by thought; for, in a character, as in a rock, there may exist apertures made by drops of water. These hollows are uneffaceable; these formations are indestructible.

Palimpsest“With the eye of a linguist who is deciphering a palimpsest” Love this line! A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been rubbed and scraped clean so as to be reused. Linguists will strive to decipher the older text underlying the more recent. Thus to see with the eye of a linguist deciphering a palimpsest is not merely to read between the lines, but to search for the nearly invisible text lying beneath the obvious.

Yes. May I see with such eyes!

May I suffer from such an excess of love that sees beyond the hairy beast before me to the deep-sixed subtext.

May the difficulties of faith never be resolved into hypocrisy in me.

Drip by drip, Life, drop your waters on me. Create uneffaceable hollows of grace in me, indestrucible formations of mercies fresh and waiting.

Bishop, you are Welcome.

Make your abode here.



Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Mercy, musings


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