Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's 7/11 Post

The Parable of the Loving Father and His Two Sons probably generates more commmentary than any other parable, with the possible exception of The Good Samaritan. Both speak to "mercy."

We seem to be in broad agreement as to the meaning and necessity of mercy. In God's kingdom mercy is both given and received. You might say mercy is the coin of the realm.

We may differ over institutions. Perhaps now is the time to unpack the matter and see if this is so.

Humans build community and institutions. It matters not whether one relies on biblical accounts, evolutionary theory, or historical study--all three suggest humanity's bent in this direction. The same sources, though, also confirm and affirm the importance of the individual. Both individuals and institutions may go bad, that is become self-centered, defensive, and dedicated primarily to self-protection. Conversely, both may be instruments of grace and mercy. Individuals usually run far ahead of institutions in this regard. The institution may, in time, be reformed by such individuals.

Take the matter of slavery and the Quakers in the United States. Colonial era Quakers generally supported slavery and some owned slaves. John Woolman, a Quaker, came to believe slavery to be a sin. Over the decades of his life, he traveled throughout the colonies, challenging his faith community to abandon slavery and any economic practices that supported it. To say the least, he often was not well received. Yet by the end of his life, Quakers in the United States changed, community by community. They adopted Woolman's stance. The institution had been reformed, so that it became a force for abolition.

I am not fond of institutions. They are big, given to support of the status quo, often impersonal, and self-satisfied. This is certainly true of organized religions, and I suspect it is true of any institution. God, though, seems to be out to redeem (reconnect, recall, awaken, etc.)the entire creation. Institutions are part of the human world, so I find myself compelled to focus not only on the individual but institutional redemption.

That's a long way of saying we are called to practice mercy, certainly toward others and most likely toward institutions as well. Our previous discussion about the interplay of justice and mercy comes into play and should not be forgotten.

No comments: