This Lent, let us feast on more grace and mercy
By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
The season of Lent has traditionally been a time to give up something, to deny ourselves that which gives us pleasure, such as chocolate or binging watching TV. In my time in ministry, I have seen the 40-day penitential season, that invites us to walk with Jesus to the Good Friday cross, focus less on denying and more on “giving” of our time, treasures and talents to others.
This year, though, as the season I have so often embraced approaches — it has always been a time for me to go deeper into my soul searching and listen more attentively to the Holy Spirit’s hopeful whispers in my ear — I find myself just wanting to give up. Not chocolate. Not binge-watching TV. Not on anything that can be labeled a gluttonous sin. Just GIVE UP. Period. I don’t even want to do the painful soul searching that has always led to new life come Easter morning.
Before anyone suggests that I call a suicide hotline, I am not talking about giving up on life. Well, maybe I am — in a way. I am ready to give up on the life that I see so many being sucked into — including me. It is a life that has me concerned. It is a life where even brothers and sisters in Christ are so quick to spew forth their opinions without concern if they are valid or not. It is a life where we seem to take pleasure in accusing others of cheap grace while all the while throwing around unmerited condemnation.
If someone disagrees with someone there seems to be no space for grace for that differing viewpoint. If someone is deemed as not doing enough to dismantle racism or address system poverty or dares to remain silent when it comes to a controversial issue, they are all too quickly labeled as part of the problem in society.
I am not saying that there isn’t any work that needs to be done. There is a ton of work to do when it comes to building a beloved community where there is a place at the table for all and where everyone has a chance to speak and be listened to. But in working towards that beautiful never-ending banquet table, something is going awry. And I wonder?
Does anyone else see what I am seeing? Am I the only who is noticing that the never-ending banquet table where all are invited to pull up a chair is becoming the very table that we say we are trying to dismantle? Don’t sit near me if you disagree with me or worst yet take your chair and go create another table of like-minded people.
Voices are being silenced out of fear of retribution or out of fear of being misunderstood or out of fear of being mislabeled. I hesitate to name some of those labels for fear of the very thing I write — fear of being slammed or shunned. Is this fear healthy? No. It isn’t. It makes me wonder how many people with good hearts are deciding to opt out of the fight for justice all because the lack of grace and mercy we are seeing at that very table of grace and mercy we say we want?
As Lent approaches I find myself feeling like I just want to give up. And Sunday’s Super Bowl’s almost made me do just that. I will admit, I didn’t watch it. It’s just not the thing in my household. But the next morning, when I saw on social media outlets of those who are Christian leaders slamming Bruce Springsteen and the Jeep commercial as an example of white supremacy, I thought more seriously about a cabin in the woods and off the grid. I am not defending the commercial. Not at all. After watching it, there was many things that could have been done differently and many things that should have been edited out, like the cross and flag mingling together. (Don’t get me going with why the American flag has no place in our sanctuaries. I will be more than happy to engage in a healthy conversation about that another time.)
What rattled me the most, though, were not the creative decisions from some ad agency trying to sell more Jeeps. What rattled me were that the critiques from Christians on social media had an edge to them. The critiques seemed laced with judgment. One such writer mentioned how the very use of the phrases “common ground” and “meeting in the middle” were white supremist codes.
Really? Because I still believe in trying to find our commonality. I still have hope of not exactly meeting in the middle, but in at least trying to walk towards one another so that we find that point of connection. What I read didn’t lead us in walking toward the other. Rather it made the distance between us even greater.
Social media critiques have become dangerously toxic, doing the very thing we say we don’t want done: Keeping us divided. As one openly evangelical blogger who weighed in on the Jeep Super Bowl debacle said: The commercial revealed the most disturbing thing, that is even our divisiveness is divisive.
I guess what bothered me was that there wasn’t anything constructive in the criticisms flooding social media outlets. It was simply bringing up all that was wrong with the commercial and how Jeep failed and how Springsteen needed to repent, etc. (By the way, the need for repentance is constructive, but not when it is done with a finger pointing at someone.)
This Lent was beginning to look like one in which I just wanted to give up. I was ready to tell my husband when he came home from work that we would be moving into the woods and off the grid because civilization has lost its civility. It was Diana Butler Bass, a writer on American religion and society, though, who saved my husband from a life without Netflix.
It was Bass who restored my faltering heart. And she did so with a thoughtful and constructive critique on the Jeep ad. It didn’t condone the choices Jeep made, but it didn’t attack the company either. It brought up the many marks the company missed and did so in a way that wasn’t laced with venom. It was edifying. It is an example of how to dialog — and disagree — with grace and mercy.
Grace and mercy. Hmmm. Perhaps grace and mercy are the very things we have lost, the very things we have chosen to give up somewhere along the way on our faith journeys? Perhaps they are what we need to restore in our lives this Lenten season. Grace, yes. And especially mercy.
Ann Lamott defines mercy in her book, “Hallelujah Anyway” as compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles. She also writes that mercy is something we find in the most unlikely places, “never where we first look.” If we keep looking for mercy among those in the church, I am afraid, by the things I see on social media, that we might not find it right now. We might have to look elsewhere.
For those who are interested, here is the link to Diana Butler Bass’ Jeep ad rebuttal.