Strange Mercy

"... and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

Location: Mid-Atlantic Sprawl, United States

I'm a former idealist turned 'defensive pessimist' who has concluded, after living on two coasts, two continents, and an island, that most of us spend our lives as prey, economically and psychologically. Awareness is the key to understanding this; but once we understand it, we may transcend it, choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Village: A Parable of Faith and Safety

(hommage à Theodore Sturgeon)

Once upon a time, in a quaint little village where all the villagers believed they were safe and loved each other, there lived a little old lady whose eyes were sharp, whose wits were sharper, and whose tongue was sharper still.

One of her neighbors was a young man who talked a lot about what he believed, but didn't believe much of what he could see. He thought that this was because he believed much more in things that he couldn't see. He talked to the little old lady, and she talked to him. Sometimes he would chide her for her sharp tongue, and sometimes she would chide him for not believing what he could easily see right in front of him.

The little old lady could easily see that the villagers weren't as safe, and didn't love each other, as much as they liked to believe they were and did. She could also see, and more to the point her sharp little old wits could understand, that while the villagers were believing they were safe and loved each other, gangs were moving into their village. The gang members pretended to love the villagers, and the villagers went on believing they were safe.

Every now and then, one of the villagers had his or her house burned down by the gang, or was caught outside alone on gang turf and beaten, or simply said hello to a gang member in a tone that didn't meet official approval, and was beaten more harshly still. The villagers believed that these things happened because the villager who was beaten, or lost her house, had made the gang members angry. That meant they deserved to be beaten, which meant there was no need for change. And they believed that if everyone could just avoid making gang members angry, then everyone would be safe, because they all loved each other, even the gangs.

But houses kept being burned down, and beatings kept happening. So the villagers decided to believe that they weren't. Better to believe they were safe and loved each other. They ignored the beatings, they ignored the cries and screams outside in the night, and they kept telling each other how safe they were, and how much they loved each other, because, after all, everyone knows that we create our own reality.

The sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady talked to her neighbor about the gangs. She talked to the village about the gangs. She could easily see who the gang members were, and who the ringleaders were. And she didn't merely have sharp wits and a sharp tongue; she knew exactly how to use them.

Her neighbor, who liked to talk a lot about what he believed, didn't think the gangs were anything to worry about. He was sure that they really loved the villagers deep down inside, and he was also sure that the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady would be happy if she would just believe she was safe, like everybody else, and believe that everybody loved each other, and ignore the cries and screams outside in the night.

The villagers didn't know what to think. The little old lady, after all, had a sharp tongue; but the gang members always spoke sweetly, and always told the villagers how safe they were and how much they loved them.

Time went on. The sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady became, if anything, sharper and sharper. The gangs became, if anything, meaner and meaner. And the villagers became, if anything, more and more confused.

One day, the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady finally lost patience with her neighbor, who liked to talk a lot about what he believed. She insisted on talking to him a lot about what she could plainly see. And her neighbor decided that it would be better to hate the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady for making him uncomfortable, than to take any kind of stand against the gangs, because that would require him to admit that they were there, and after all, some of the gang members were really kind of cute.

One night, luck ran out for the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady. Two of the cutest gang members beat her and kicked her and left her lying in a mud puddle, with mud smeared on her clothes and face and hair. Her neighbor, the young man who liked to talk a lot about what he believed, found her there, and stood over her glowering, with his fists clenched. He was furious at the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady, because she told him who it was that beat her, and it was two of the cutest gang members. How dare she, he snarled, insult such cute girls like that? And how dare she ask him to give her a hand and help her stand up, call the police, take her to the hospital and help her file charges against the gang? NOBODY stood up and called the police. NOBODY charged the gang. Everybody was safe, and loved each other.

As her neighbor, who liked to talk a lot about what he believed, spat at her and turned away, another man stepped out of the shadows nearby. This man was very ordinary. He had no beauty that anyone would envy. He appeared to be a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief... he wore plain, decent clothing, clean but old blue jeans, a faded chambray shirt, work boots. His hair was long, his beard was full, his hands were muscled and calloused, and his arms strong from a lifetime of physical labor. Those hands were deeply scarred - as though he had been badly hurt, perhaps by a slipping chisel, once, long ago. At one moment he seemed to be no more than thirty-three, but the very next moment he seemed ageless, older than time itself, as if time somehow began and ended with Him.

This Man stepped over to the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady, who was still bogged in the mire, unable to stand. He looked at her with sorrow and love, bent down to her, and lifted her up. "The truth shall make you free," He said to her, "and your faith will make you whole. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who are you, to judge another? The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise them up; and if they have committed sins, these shall be forgiven them. Now go and sin no more; shake the dust off your feet when you go from this place, and let the dead bury their dead." And he kissed her on her forehead, and smoothed her muddied hair with one strong hand, and let her go.

And the sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued old lady discovered that nothing hurt... her clothes were clean and no longer torn... and she no longer felt a need to try to save the villagers from the gang. She no longer felt a need for the village. It was no longer her home; her Home was now, and forever, in this Man's heart.

The man who liked to talk a lot about what he believed was still standing nearby, shocked that this Witness heard and saw him mock, revile, and spit upon the old lady, his neighbor. He had done it to impress the cute girls in the gang; he certainly hadn't wanted this Man to see. The Man stepped over to him, and looked him directly in the eyes. There was no anger in His gaze, and no fear. There was no judgment in His gaze. There was only complete clarity, and much sorrow.

"Why do you call me Lord? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," said the Man.

And then, in an instant, He was gone.