April 23, 2014
A few years ago, my partner John and I were driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and were having no luck finding anything good on the radio. We knew it was going to be a long trip and so we were desperate for good driving music. We stopped at every gas station and rest stop we came across until we’d found a CD of Appalachian folk music to play along the way. The entire CD was wonderful but one song, in particular, captured my imagination. It’s an old gospel song sung by Rhonda Vincent. Here are some of the lyrics and refrain:
There are many people
who will say they’re Christians
and they live like Christians on the Sabbath day
But come Monday morning, til the coming Sunday
They will fight their neighbor all along the way…
While it’s not what many people might think of as great driving music, I found myself humming the tune and reflecting on the words long after the drive ended. It’s a song about the way that mercy and everyday human kindness distinguishes those who ‘walk the talk’ from those who only act like Christians on the Sabbath day. And quite frankly, it’s a song I needed to hear both then and now. The refrain goes as follows:
Oh you don’t love God, if you don’t love your neighbor
if you gossip about him, if you never have mercy
if he gets into trouble, and you don’t try to help him
then you don’t love your neighbor, and you don’t love God.
One of the things I love about this song is that the word ‘mercy’ is embedded right in the heart of the refrain. Mercy is an old fashioned word that seems to have fallen out of use in many places. I don’t remember it ever being mentioned while in seminary – though other words related to it like forgiveness, truth and reconciliation, and compassion were – and I’ve rarely heard it used in sermons since. Furthermore, when I think about some of the most frustrating and difficult conversations I’ve been part of over the past ten or so years, I’ve realized that they were frequently high on righteousness and profoundly lacking in mercy. Or stated differently, they were merciless.
To me, mercy is about having enough space within one’s self to hear another person – friend or otherwise – with a spirit of generosity. It’s about giving people the benefit of the doubt and a willingness to forgive people lightly though directly. Taking a cue from the lyrics of this song, mercy also has a community dimension to it. It means not seeing other people’s troubles as just them getting their due. More basically, it’s about helping others out. In this way, having mercy is an act, a personality trait, and an orientation to the wider community.
And in keeping with the point of this blog, I happen to think that mercy is also pretty fabulous. If this season of Easter is about God’s generous act of reconciling love toward us all, my hope is that God’s act would open up in us a newfound tendency to show mercy to one another. How can this season of celebrating God’s love help us hold one another with a greater spirit of graciousness and mercy than before? And what role does mercy play when it comes to those fierce conversations that we need to have?
I hope you’ll find a bit of time to listen to the song below. It’s everything a good folk song should be – catchy, simple, yet profound. At times I’ve found myself convicted (to use another old word) by its critique of Sunday morning Christians and I’ve wondered how I might live the Gospel out more fully from Monday through Saturday as well. Most of all, however, my hope would be that in this season of Easter we consider the word ‘mercy’ and where it’s gone to. I think it’s a word that merits dusting off and trying on again for size. What song captures your experience of Easter? Share it in the comments or tweet with #Eastersong.
The embedded music was such a great addition to help the message stay with me. Maybe other bloggers will sometimes underscore their thoughts with music too!
Loved the music. While I don’t always listen to country music, sometimes it is right on target because it’s spoken simply and to the point! Loved this addition.
Convicted right down to my toes!
It’s Shakespeare’s birthd:
The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21707#sthash.4AfWakky.dpufay, and he has his own way of making the case for mercy
Eek, bad paste job–I meant to say it’s Shakespeare’s birthday and it seems appropriate to add his take on mercy. He is making a similar case to the one in the song: The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21707#sthash.4AfWakky.dpuf
Rev. Lucy Porter
Thank you so much for this quote. These days we need more mercy and less self-conscious righteousness, judgment, and scorn.
Thank you Peg for sharing this wonderful Shakespeare quote. Really beautiful!
Mary Alcuin Kelly
Thank you bringing mercy into our conversation this morning. I have been using the word mercy as a conversation response where it is apt. For example I will say something like, “that was a merciful response” or “that was a very merciful thing to do, thank you”.
Your question about an Easter song-I have always thought Morning Has Broken had an Easter feel to it:
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning,
God’s recreation of the new day.
I loved that song so much I have to commit it to memory. Thanks so much for sharing.
Mary Alcuin Kelly
Can you remove, Your comment is awaiting moderation from the posting of Mary Alcuin Kelly?
Makes me think of Louisiana singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier’s song, “Mercy Now.” She wrote it before Katrina, but she recorded this version of a video for it after Katrina. http://youtu.be/k2uHsKHrcS8
Thank you for sharing the song. I agree with Rebecca, the music will help the message stay with me.
Thanks Gillian for sharing this song!