Archive for June, 2012

Mercy vs. Justice

Greg is having the summer interns read The Other Face of God, by Mary Jo Leddy.  Leddy has lived with refugees in Toronto, Canada, for about twenty years.  Her book is a reflection of the spiritual effect that “the stranger” has on a person and the way such encounters help us to better understand ourselves and our place in God’s kingdom.  So far, it has been really fascinating…especially because she includes a lot of stories!

In the first chapter, Leddy speaks of “the summons,” that thing that calls us past ourselves and into service for God’s kingdom.  Her “summons” came from specific refugees she encountered while living in a group home for refugees, called Romero House.  In speaking of such “summonses,” she says,

It is in these moments that issues of ‘justice’ or ‘the environment’ dissolve and become refocused so sharply that they are heartfelt.  There is no walking away; there is no going back.  The way ahead is not clear, but the road has closed behind you.  Justice is no longer a sometime thing, but a lifelong task.

I have participated in many earnest discussions in church groups about the difference between charity and justice, the works of mercy and the works of justice.  The works of mercy are often described as hands-on, one-on-one, direct service of those in need.  In contrast, the work for justice involves struggling  for systematic change so that there will be less need for charitable activities.

As I have reflected on my twenty years at Romero House, I have come to understand that mercy is a dynamic response that begins when one’s heart and mind are touched by the need and suffering of another person.  We are summoned by mercy.  If one begins to act mercifully, as one’s compassion deepens and expands, then one is inevitably led to an awareness of the systematic causes of such suffering.  At the reach of mercy, one is moved to act with justice…

Without mercy, the categories of concern can also be oppressive, those categories that are only the mirror image of the categories of contempt that are so easily used:  the poor, the victims, the abused, the oppressed, the refugees, the marginalized.  Even when we use these categories in describing our concern and care, it ends up reducing real people to a category of concern.”

It’s funny that Greg and I are in Nashville now, working in close conjunction with Y.E.S., because I definitely felt my first true “summons” through the children I met in that ministry.  A couple of years ago, as Greg and I were reflecting on the purpose and direction of our lives, I even remarked to him, “The time of my life that I felt most alive was at Y.E.S.”  And I think that was because for once, “the less fortunate” were not simply a category of concern to be analyzed from a distance.  They were people with names and unique personal circumstances that I came to know well.  They were people with whom I played and ate, people whom I tutored and took on trips.  And working with them didn’t feel like “doing a good work”; it just felt like life.

My interaction with Y.E.S. started with acts of mercy, and yes, they did escalate to concerns about justice.  My feelings on immigration laws and the public education, for example, have been forever changed by the names and faces that made those issues concrete and immediate, not philosophical and abstract.

Regarding Leddy’s last paragraph, I must confess that sometimes I do feel uncomfortable when I sit around with a group of middle-class Christians–even Christians from my church–and philosophize on how to best help “the neighborhood” or “the poor.”  There does seem to be something slightly dehumanizing in lumping people into a generalized “category of concern,” even though, practically speaking, it seems hard to avoid.

What about you? Have you ever felt a “summons”?  And do you agree with Leddy’s sentiments about “categories of concern” and “categories of contempt”?

Quote is from:

Leddy, Mary Jo.  The Other Face of God.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2011.  28-29.

Summer Reading 2012

Already, this summer has posed a conundrum for my blog:  as much as I love this space and as much as I love writing, I am finding that summer does not provide me with the time to think “full-blog-post-thoughts.”  I know that’s crazy, since a blog post is not exactly the paragon of complex thinking…and yet, I can’t seem to muster more than half a blog post worth of thought at a time.  Our family has been traveling, we are totally out of our routine, and we are currently in the middle of a three week marathon of camps!  Thus, the blog has been sadly neglected.

Also, I am feeling a strong need to unplug from the internet a bit.  Nothing like a full-on fast or anything, but I just want to try and limit my online activity much more than I do during my full blogging schedule.  Part of this urge to unplug stems from the growing guilt I am feeling over my unread book collection.  I have several books, for which I have actually paid money, that are currently languishing in my reading basket.  I really believe in reading the books I buy, and as a result, my current state of cognitive dissonance is reaching the breaking point.


My current plan for this summer is to unplug, read my books, and use this space to process them as I read.  I will share quotes and thoughts I have about the ideas in the books, and I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.

I hope that doesn’t sound too horrible for you, dear Reader.  I know that in my mind, nothing sounds quite so boring as discussing an idea from a book that I am not reading.

However, the content of these books is very much in line with the content of this site, and I will try to pick out interesting ideas that would appeal to anyone, whether they read the book or not.  In a way, you could consider these entries a Cliff Notes version of the books, so that you don’t actually have to read them yourself (oooh, and along those lines, would someone please do something similar for Augustine’s City of God??  Because I really want to “have read” that book!).

Okay, I think that’s all.  Why don’t we try to start this little project…um…



What’s on YOUR summer reading list?


The Civil Reader–3 June 2012

I am out of town, and my schedule is a bit crazy, but I did want to post something on here so that I don’t forget how.  I only have two articles to share this week, but I really enjoyed them both.


Why We Lie, by Dan Ariely

Okay, first of all, if you don’t find psychological studies fascinating, well…I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  Do you just not like interesting things??  Surely you do!  But even in the off chance that you a completely strange person who is not utterly riveted by such studies, KEEP READING until you get to the part about the Ten Commandments.  It is…just, wow.  I am sooo interested in fleshing out these implications.  Feel free to do so in the comments.


The Dark Side of Healthy Eating:  Diagnosing ‘Orthoexia’ Eating Disorders, at Her.meneutics

While this article is not as hit-you-in-the-face revelatory as the first, it did put words on some vague pseudo-thoughts swirling around in my head.  After reading 7, by Jen Hatmaker, my already budding interest in healthy eating was given an ethical dimension.  However, I can’t help but notice that the desire to eat in healthy, ethical ways often butts up against the als0-very-important practice of eating communally.  This article articulates that tension in helpful ways.

And that’s really all I have.  If you have something interesting that you read this week, please leave it in the comments!

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