By John Rieping | Published 11 Sept 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
-- Journalist and author G.K. Chesterton
One of the peculiarities of polite conversations is they tend to begin with the deepest questions that often receive the shallowest of answers.
Think back to the last time you ran into someone, whether vaguely familiar or a stranger, with whom talking was an expected courtesy. You exchanged revelations to satisfy the ignorance of the other, whether that lack of information was spoken or assumed.
Who are you? What do you do? How are you? There are those who will gladly inform you about these topics like a dog happily fetching a ball, eager to run and skillful in performance. Some offer merely acceptable replies. Then there are the ones who have to think about the answer.
Be wary. Those are the ones in danger of possibly taking your interest seriously.
We may satisfy this oft-assumed curiosity with a name, a place of origin, a job, or a relationship that binds us — however weakly — with the one with whom we speak. Yet such questions are metaphysical puzzles wherein may lurk dragons fair or foul.
In fair form, the dragon may be one of satisfaction and comfort in who and what we believe ourselves to be — a good daughter, son, spouse, student, worker, friend, lover, Christian, Muslim, atheist, athlete, thinker, etc. In venomous form, the dragon may be shame and doubt over who and what we believe ourselves to be — broken, dumb, fat, ugly, unlovable, old, addicted, useless, abandoned, etc. We find our value in our self image, regardless of how true it may be, and present it to others more than we realize.
And these dragons can sink their poisonous teeth into more than ourselves.
In late August, one such reptile showed itself at the Madera Unified School Board meeting in central California in which some parents expressed concerns about a man hired to work with at-risk students. He was a convicted, imprisoned, and released felon who in the past decade has worked professionally in gang and drug intervention.
As one parent said, “A felon is a felon, is a felon.”
Such thinking works well when speaking of inanimate objects. When I plug in my cell phone to charge it before I sleep at night, I would be a bit puzzled if I woke up and found it had transformed into a toaster. The only changes common to objects are that of decline: food goes bad, toys break, clothing wears out, and so on.
With animals, including humans, such a mindset can mislead. A gentle household dog may meet up with other pet dogs at night and roam the area together brutally attacking livestock like a feral wolf pack. A once good student may become a poor one when strong emotion grips the heart, and the reverse is just as possible. And so on.
We well know that change is possible and likely, but the dominant threads pulling on our heart — such as love of a child or spouse — make us foresee good or bad changes without cause, and distrust what does not fit our vision.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis pondered the words of the Jewish rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) in the Gospels: “Be merciful, just as your father is” (Loukas/Luke 6:36). This command of Yeshua is easier or harder to follow depending on “who” is the person involved. What of jailed criminals, Francis asked on behalf of skeptical Christians, must we be merciful to them too?
“Some will say, ‘This is dangerous. These are bad people.’ Listen carefully: any one of us is capable of doing what these men and women in prison have done. We all sin and make mistakes in life. They are not worse than you or me. Mercy overcomes any wall or barrier, and leads us always to seek the face of the human being. And it is mercy that changes hearts and lives, that is able to regenerate a person or enable him to be newly reintegrated in society.”
Mercy disturbs our clear understanding of “who” and “what” we or others may be, and it may complicate our lives. But it liberates as well. Because mercy is a dragon slayer that reminds us where our value truly lies — in our shared humanity, made in the image of God (Beresheit/Genesis 1:27).