When my wife and I saw “Just Mercy”, a movie based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson fighting for people unjustly convicted or sentenced, my eyes teared and heart ached the entire movie. We have this “interesting” human tendency where instead of doing the hard work to face and heal an issue head-on, we put a Band-Aid on it, ignore it, and/or shift it elsewhere. For instance, even though slavery “ended” after the Civil War, the U.S.’s real problem, the racial/economic divide, simply shifted from slavery to lynching, Jim Crow laws, peonage, segregation, mass incarceration, etc. On an individual level I’ve done much the same. From a feeling of lack, I made a practice of shifting the source of my Love from person to person, not realizing the lack was from myself! Isn’t it fascinating how often the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm, meaning the big picture (our country for example) reflects the localized view (like individuals)?
Toward the end of the movie, Bryan says: “We all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” Shortly after this he adds: America’s character isn’t revealed in its treatment of the rich and wealthy, but of the poor and neglected. To which I say not only AMEN, but add, a person’s character is also shown by how well I see and care for the marginalized and disfavored both outside and within me!
In Micah 6.8 the prophet says the Creator has shown us what is good and what we’re called to do in life: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV) I bring this up because the Hebrew consciousness this was originally written in was different from America’s, in that they had a more unified and holistic way of being and speaking than we do. While we divide (or at least act like they are) religion from politics, business from spirituality, justice from mercy, etc., they generally didn’t. With that in mind, I’d venture to say: Justice and mercy belong TOGETHER on a foundation of grace.
To act justly means to do well, right, and good for others, creation, and yourself. Mercy is to display kindness, compassion and forgiveness to one you have some measure of power or influence over. Grace is favor given as a gift. Beginning by saying I believe Grace is near to Love at the heart of reality: Healing our wounds, wrongs, darkness, divisions, and fears takes Just Mercy. The path of Just Mercy is like a nutritious smoothie for life comprised of seeing people/situations well (including ourselves) and doing good for ALL, mixed with a spirit of care, understanding, forgiveness, and togetherness, blended with an awareness that ALL life, each breath, and every moment we have on earth are incredible gifts not to be neglected, but cherished more than birthday presents!
I don’t know about you, but I’m fired up reading that last bit! Am I allowed to say/write that? 🙂 What “Just Mercy”, the documentaries “13th” (on Netflix), “Slavery by Another Name” (PBS), “True Justice” (HBO), and many other resources point out is what we call “justice” in America is way too often not at all what I describe above, but is nothing but punishment. True justice is NOT for the faint of heart, it’s healing and restorative to ALL parties involved! Please hear that I’m not saying punishment that fits the fault is wrong or bad, all I’m saying is to stop with the penalties is to end the process WAY too soon.
How do you think we can be more just in our society, especially toward the poor and marginalized? How would you like to participate in your vision for a better reality?
In processing this and further realizing how the macrocosm reflects the microcosm I did some serious self-study. What I discovered in seeing myself well was a lifelong pattern I’ve recently been receiving freedom from. My childhood experiences of my parents’ dissatisfaction with each other, their eventual divorce, and my being bullied in middle school, combined with journeying through two of my own divorces, a life-changing injury, and the resultant loss of my cherished Air Force career as an adult, led me to look for Love in all the wrong places. What I mean by that is I kept looking for my source of Love in others, be it interpersonal affection or societal/organizational approval. So, when wives, health, work, etc. “rejected” me, like the shifting sands of the racial divide in our country, I just shifted my home for Love to someone/something else!
Now, while I believe that ultimately my Love is found in Christ/God, that may not be your jam and I honor that. What is more, my main point/share here is regardless of what we make of the Source of this marvelously, messy life, what I’m finding is it is imperative that we Love ourselves. We can only truly adore others, creation, and the Spirit through it all IF we cherish ourselves. We can’t give what we don’t have. Forgive me for perhaps overstating this for effect, I say this because I’m realizing unless I esteem myself as myself FREE of charge, my kindness and care toward others is bound to have a transactional expectation to it. Even if it’s “only” giving my time, energy, and/or money with a hope of affirmation of my goodness. Big Love, though, is unconditional and ALL inclusive.
Grace and Love, in my mind, are inseparable. One could say the foundation of embodying Just Mercy is a gift mentality. The spirit is truly considering and understanding, plus doing well by all. The heart is recognizing the inherent worth and belonging of everyone. Finally, the energy is giving of oneself for collective nourishment, healing, and thriving.
The mentality of Just Mercy not only is helping me see and Love myself, it’s inspiring and giving me a framework for helping us heal as a people: (1) Recognize it’s all a gift. (2) See deeply. (3) Do well. (4) Heal toward ever greater individual and collective unity and togetherness. It’s not “easy”, but I believe in you, us, and I! Where do you see Just Mercy speaking to you today?
If you enjoyed this you can sign up for email notifications of future blogs on the top right. Additionally, I have a Facebook page where I regularly post articles, blogs, quotes, meditations, etc. to encourage us to more Light and Love. Again, to the top right there’s a link for you to “Like” the page, as well as my Instagram account if you’re interested. ❤