Justice or mercy?

Michael Chapman shares on Micah 6:8 in this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, a verse that his wife, Melissa, cut out and hung “on our wall while we lived in Guatemala. It is a reminder of God’s call to service that we hope to live out in our lives.”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Michael writes that he remembers reading this passage with his oldest daughter “and reflecting on the words. I realized how hard it is to hold all of the pieces of this verse in equal tension.” 

There is a tension between justice and mercy, for instance: “If we act justly, we can become consumed in that pursuit . . . and this can overshadow our need to be loving and merciful.” Michael writes of “helping communities fight for their land” or of trying to help “people devastated by drought.” The work “can be all-consuming,” an end in itself.

How do we resolve that tension?

Michael suggests that the answer is “to walk humbly with God . . . bringing those issues of justice to God through prayer.” Because God isn’t asking us to pursue justice, but not too much. God isn’t asking us to be merciful, but only to the point that justice isn’t impeded. And God doesn’t ask us to do the work on our own. God wants to do it with us.

“Reading this verse aloud with my kids helped me to see,” Michael writes, “that God’s heart is to see all three of these things carried out in our lives.”

Justice and mercy go together. If we are willing, God shows us how. 

Eric Muhr

On touch

Chris Friberg shares in this morning’s Fruit of the Vine a story about her husband’s father, Carl, who had “agreed to join a small group from our church.” The group was exploring what it means to be a Christian, and at one meeting the question up for discussion was, “If you could have anything in the world, what would you ask for?”

“Carl said, ‘I’d get a drink.’ When he saw their puzzled expressions, he went on to explain that he was an alcoholic – so desperate for a drink, he felt like he was on fire.’”

Members of the group surrounded Carl and prayed for him. Some “put their arms around him, praying earnestly.”

That’s what we do when we’re overwhelmed. We pray. Or we offer to pray. It can feel empty. But sometimes it’s all that we have. And something happened to Carl.

“He confessed to me,” Chris writes, “that the group’s physical touch moved his heart as much as their prayers. Although he was kind, hospitable, and generous, he was also very lonely. ‘Other than your family,’ he said, ‘I can’t remember the last time anyone has actually reached out and touched me.’”

Being together is such an integral part of being human that we don’t necessarily think about how we do it or why. It just is. 

Unless it isn’t.

There's this pendulum that swings through our lives. Acceptance and rejection. Belonging and isolation. Love and loneliness.

Jesus touched lonely people with his words. Jesus also touched them: “the blind man, the children, the woman who touched the hem of his robe – even the leper.”

We can do the same for each other.

Chris offers this prayer for us: “Lord Jesus, give me wisdom for the right words when I’m encouraging a hurting person, and when it’s right, remind me to put my arm around them.”

Eric Muhr

Publishers of truth

I’ll be in Georgia this coming weekend for the annual conference of Quakers Uniting in Publications. The gathering of Friends publishers, booksellers, editors, and authors this year focuses on the question, “Are Quakers still publishers of truth?”

This is an important question.

For instance, Elbert Russell writes in The History of Quakerism (1979) that “in the seven decades after 1653 there were 440 Quaker writers, who published 2,678 separate publications, varying from a single page tract to folios of nearly a thousand pages.”

And in Quakerism of the Future (1974), John Yungblut claims that the urgency of early Friends to write and publish makes sense: “If one has been visited by a direct sense of inward presence, he is driven to tell everyone who will listen to him.”

But more recent publishing efforts among Quakers, valuable though they may be, are missing two elements, according to Johan Maurer: “The first is the excitement and urgency of a movement that once believed it was bringing something new and crucial into the world, that lives and destinies depended on getting these new experiences and insights expressed persuasively.... The second missing element is the expectation of an external audience. [Today] we issue timid mating calls to try to attract people as much like ourselves as possible, and nobody else.”

We can do better.

This coming weekend, I’ll be enjoying what’s predicted to be a warm spring weekend at the Penn Center in St. Helena. I’ll be working with others on how to embody truth, how to speak and live truth, how to live as modern-day Quaker pamphleteers. I’ll be listening and talking and writing. I'll be paying close attention to how the Spirit shows up in our midst.

Because I’m convinced that God isn’t done with us yet. Many have not yet experienced “a direct sense of inward presence,” and the world still needs publishers of truth.

Eric Muhr