The Quality of Mercy

Talk about parent/child relationships is always a bit fraught. This is in part because we know what we are supposed to be doing in them: loving one another, and how constantly, chronically and even spectacularly we fail. And then there are the abusive families. The ones where physical, emotional, and spiritual lives of the smaller and weaker are subverted, dominated, and ultimately destroyed by people whose calling is to to cherish and encourage them.

One of the answers to this devastation is mercy and I tend to use the term fairly freely but using a term with internal meaning without explaining that meaning is unhelpful. Thus, this posting.

Forgiveness is a fairly basic component of Christianity. An unfortunate assumption about forgiveness is that it somehow exonerates the guilty or declares that what they did is OK. This is bogus. Abusing a child is never OK. Murder is not a cause for celebration. No he didn’t “need killin’.” Rape is never right. Period. Paragraph.

And yet we still talk about forgiveness as an important part of our life of faith. So what gives?

The Greek word for forgiveness includes the sense of “to let go of, drop.” We do not drop the hurt, the violation, or the truth of injustice. What we are dropping is the expectation that the person who violated us is going to fix that violation.

For some things there simply is no apology profound enough to fix the break. Some people are too broken to ever admit that they were wrong. Some people are genuinely convinced that what they did was right and “you deserved it.” (They are wrong by the way, you DID NOT “deserve” any of it).

In the 12 step programs, people “make amends” in the best way they can but even amends to not change what happened. They may be a concrete attempt to put down a marker to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry” but amends do not “fix it” either. So what do we do with this forgiveness stuff?

We drop the (quite understandable and justified) demand that the other person “make this not have happened” (because they can’t do that anyway) and turn our healing over to someone who actually can guide us out of the darkness.

My childhood was violent, but my dad can never make me “unbeaten” again. For one thing, he’s coming up on a decade dead, for another, he denied all memory of the beatings. If I wait for him to get his heart in a position where he could even admit that he DID this stuff, I’m rather screwed (I did mention that he’s dead, right?)

Forgiveness then, is dropping the claim that he has to fix what he did. It’s dropping the expectation that a two year old kid had the internal fortitude to stand up to his dad and make the big man stop this bad thing. It’s dropping the expectation that a frightened and confused mother should have intervened and protected her child. These are legitimate violations of life. They are wrongs that should not have been but hating myself for not stopping my dad is pointless. Carrying a claim against my mom for failing her calling is just as pointless. Demanding that my dead father somehow stop a beating that happened 45 years ago is just as pointless.

Ultimately, justice is not in my hands. There is no punishment I or anyone could mete out that can change that history. There’s no way to “make this not have happened.” The works of life that have been written in my being have already gone down on the page and no eraser will make them go away. The choice for my future (and for yours, dear reader) is the shape our future story will take. We can choose the form of our healing.

To demand that someone else fix us puts our healing in the hands of someone outside ourselves and leaves us, as Epictetus pointed out, at the mercy of external actors. It leaves our healing to the dubious mercy of a (most likely) untrained and (possibly) clueless person. Since that describes us already, why add ANOTHER clueless and inept person to the equation when our own cluelessness and ineptitude should be enough?

We did not receive mercy in our past, we do not however, need to continue that mercilessness into our future. Mercy then is letting go of the demand that someone else “owes us” or is “going to fix us” and turning our kindness upon ourselves. Mercy is choosing where we’re going to go from here.

What happened was wrong. Period. Paragraph. We are not God to make the past go away. We cannot command another to make perfect amends. If we remain holding this event, these events, like some sort of claim ticket against the universe, we are going to end up wandering the halls of bureaucratic frustration because there is no one who will pay our claim. The answer is mercy.

Instead of demanding that our claim be paid, we drop it. Instead of insisting that They must Fix This, we let go so we can fill our hand with a future in healing. In a sense, the longer we hold onto that ticket, the longer some part of us will remain trapped in the moment that ticket represents, endlessly and fruitlessly seeking some way to escape.

This is not the perfect and best answer, that would be for it never to have happened or for the one who did the horror to magically be able to fix what they broke (but as Plumb reminds us “you can’t take back what you’ve taken away“).

Given that the perfect and best answers cannot be had however, we can have mercy. We can let go of the claim check and, in the weakness and power of our own cluelessness, seek the work of becoming whole after horror.

In case the title still doesn’t make sense, try this quote from Shakespeare.

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Love in a Hug

John 3.14-21

The text is deeply familiar to us and well publicized at sporting events everywhere. The danger is that, like some catch phrase heard over and over again, we can lose sight of what it actually means. So, for the sake of re-seeing the beauty that has always been there, a little Greek.

Outos gar agapesthe o theos ton kosmon, is the phrase with which we are so familiar; “for outos loved God the cosmos.”

The key for today’s understanding of this text is outos. It has three meanings “thus,” “so,” and “in this way” and each one can be valid here. We’re used to the “God loved the world sooooooooooo much…” translation. It emphasizes the depth and greatness of God’s never failing love and is a perfectly workable and valid sense of the Greek. It is simple, popular, and because it points to God’s love for the whole cosmos, it is perfectly fine. I however, want to look at the two other translations.

“For thus God loved the cosmos: he sent his son.” Thus it came to pass that God loved the cosmos by sending his son. At the right time and moment, God loved the cosmos thusly. This translation begins to go in the direction I like because the focus begins to move from “God loved ME soooooo much” stative view of God’s love impelling God to “do something” to “God’s love is an active, reaching out to the whole cosmos” kind of thing. But it’s the next translation that really makes this clear.

“For in this way God loved the cosmos: he sent his son.” Jesus is then not a marker, a poker chip on the table to say “I value you more than this” Jesus becomes the way God loves. Jesus’ incarnation starts to make sense because in order to love a physical cosmos, you have to be able to touch it deeply. Immaterial woo-woo “spiritual” love is just not going to cut it. Jesus is the way God loves and God loves with a person.

We can touch him and he can touch us. We can feel the concrete, physical love of a concrete, physical person. This is a powerful understanding because we suddenly have to accept that God loves more than some oaty-floaty, Caspar the Friendly ghost-y “soul” in us but actually the whole of us. If God loves through a being with ears, nose, and toes, then God loves our ears, nose, and toes too. If God loves with a being then God wants to interact with us being to being, face to face, and breath to breath. If God loves the whole cosmos by sending someone into that cosmos, then the whole material shootin’ match is beautifully, concretely loved.

In other words, if God loves by sending someone who can hug, then that love we sing about actually must want to hug us face to face, heart to heart.

Jesus, as the Way God Loves, loves perfectly. He loves concretely, he loves people, he weeps, he enjoys parties (in fact, his most famous story was told at a wild party), he’s serious about loving God, and he shows mercy and attention to the “great” and “small” together.

A concrete person, he loves concretely. This then leads to the sting in the tail of this story. God loves concrete beings by means of a concrete Jesus. We are united in Jesus by baptism into faith. Therefore (here’s the sting) we are part of the way God loves the cosmos.

Jesus shows us that God loves by touching people. How do we touch others? Are we creepy, grabby, stupid? Do we avoid touch? How do we touch this world of beauty around us? Do we use respect, delight, joy, and hope? Do we see in the people we meet a beloved one in whom God delights or do we see a monster who must be destroyed? (If that last reference doesn’t make sense, look at the online comments section of your local paper or any flamewar on your preferred social media platform).

Jesus is the way God loves and he loves concretely. He touched physical beings because God loves physical beings and one of the ways we see touch today is in the hug. It may be the side hug, the I’d-rather-not hug, or even the oh-God-they’re-hugging-again hug, but still it’s a hug. It could even be considered a beginner hug, a training-wheels version of the full and loving one. Add in that some people don’t hug “just anyone” because hugs are special. That’s perfectly valid and OK, not everyone has to do everything the same way. In fact, if we did, if this stuff was mandatory, it’d quickly become evil.

That said, the deeply desired and treasured hug is the one where we are open to the other and they to us. These are just flat out amazing fun. Add to that the timeless hugs and the never letting you go hugs, and the warm, comforting I love you for you hugs and these too are ways we show love to each other.


God loves the cosmos through Jesus. Jesus is the Way God Loves. We are part of Jesus through faith and therefore we are part of the way God loves. Jesus is a physical lover who loves with his entire being therefore we are to use our being to love both ourselves and others.

We are going to fail at this, sometimes spectacularly. We are going to suck at loving concretely and physically because we have little clue about how to love without being an idiot about it. But we are not doing it on our own and it’s not middle school (where our teachers scattered ‘stuff that you need to know” in front of us and hoped that we’d pick it up). We have Jesus to guide us because he loved concretely and he loved real people. Therefore, with his example to guide and his life in us for power, we can, guided by the Holy Spirit, learn how to love and then to love well.

We may even learn how to give good hugs. 😉

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You did NOT just say that.

Numbers 21.4-9

There are moments in life when we say something so unutterably stupid that it echoes in the stunned silence of the room for hours. A “totally not a racist” uses a racial slur, an “ally” shows their -phobia, a half-baked, poorly thought out but deeply visceral truth comes out in the air and even the speaker stops in horror. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can be a door to powerful growth.

Hearing ourselves being out loud flaming idiots is one of those challenge moments in life. We can hear it, say “THAT’s not who I want to become” and choose a new way of life. We can also double down on stupid and say “it’s just a joke” while hoping the storm dies away soon. Regardless of our choice, that moment of absolute out-loud idiocy remains and shapes the consequences of our life.

The children of Israel had one of those moments and the consequences were… painful.

They were out of slavery, away from Egypt, and on their way to the promised land. Sure, they were in the desert, but again and again God had given them what they needed, and sometimes even given them more than they needed. They were eating the manna of God and there was always enough for everyone, even the weakest among them.

And yet, in spite of the endless gift God was giving, they just weren’t ready to be filled with grace. They complained, they did so loudly, and they said something so unutterably stupid the heavens must have rung with the disbelieving sound of “you did not just say that.”

There is no food and no water here” they said in the midst of another manna morning. “And besides, we loathe this detestable food.”

People of God,  are you actually listening to yourselves? You complained that you hated the food that you just said did not exist… Really?

Apparently yes. They hate the food they’re eating because there is no food. Let us all pause for a moment to appreciate the breathtaking stupidity of this. They are eating a miracle, a food that comes each morning as a gift from God. In other words, they are getting a very clear lesson that God Will Provide. And not only provide but Keep On Providing, day after day after day. But this is not enough.

Surrounded by pizza they complain teenager-like that “there’s nothing to eat.” Drowning in toys and distractions, they complain of boredom. Bathing in miracle they proclaim their life barren. And (entirely predictably) something bites them where it hurts.

And yes, scripture does say that God sent the serpents. That bugs me a lot less than the issue of what people do about them. Serpents bite and are often poisonous so their bites are not against nature or even all that odd. People are often stupid and unobservant, wrapped up in the story inside their head instead of seeing the world in front of them. Pestering snakes is practically a pastime in some places (in Arizona a large proportion of snakebites are on faces and arms, not legs. And as there are no snakey Michael Jordans, somebody is picking up those snakes, and it’s not God).

Regardless of the mechanism, here they are biting people, and it’s bloody painful.

So the people do what we always do when we’ve tried every other option, they prayed. Specifically, Moses prayed and he got a word. “Make a snake model, put it on a pole and when people look at it, they’ll live.” Totally counter-intuitive and unreasonable. An action that makes it clear that the result is not grounded in human effort.

“Look at a statue and be healthy” is absolutely not the sort of thing we’d get from a reasonable doctor. In fact, if a doctor told us that, we’d promptly leave and find someone who wasn’t a total kook. But there you are, put a fake snake on a stick and people who look at after being bitten it don’t die.

It’s all quite wierd and silly and ‘does this mean anything to me?’ (But would you be surprised if I said it did?)

You see, we too are wallowing in miracles all day while complaining that our life is “so booooooring” (or busy, or hopeless, or something). And, while surrounded by the daily miracle of life, we do often find ourselves bitten by the stuff we didn’t see/didn’t think of/were poking with a stick “for fun.”

When the pinch comes, we run off to the usual places to make it stop hurting but because we can’t see the world around us clearly, we’re going to go back to being soo booooored. Sure, that bite hurt a whole lot, but this time we’re going to get a longer stick when we go poking about. And surprise, surprise, we’re going to get bit again.

We’re going to address people as things to meet our needs, treat stuff as a neccesity of life that could be taken away at any minute so we’d better get two and, basically act like God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, or both. You already know what’s coming next, right?


What’s the answer then? Stop poking things with sticks? Pay attention to where and how we walk? Learn the ways of snakes so we can predict how they’re going to act and thus avoid them? Could I suggest the alternative of paying attention to the rain of miracles that fall around us daily given by a God who cares?

A wise learning from the twelve steps is that one of the steps to sanity is giving our lives into the care of God; letting go of the worry for tomorrow into the hands of a Power that Cares. Note that we are not giving up control here, this is not a “Jesus, take the wheel” moment where we give up our direction. It is a moment to give the care of life into bigger hands than our own.

The antidote to our concern about “not enough” (whether that be our not being good enough, there not being enough stuff, or enough space for us to live) is to know that there is a positive power that will give enough. The hard part of faith is not accepting certain doctrines, it’s trusting that there is a caring Person there paying attention to us.

The people of Israel got into trouble and said some aboslutely stupid things because they didn’t trust that God would actually be there. We fall into the same trap and have the same answer. Lift up your eyes and see the gifts of God. Look and see that there truly is good in the world around you. Stop watching your feet, imagining snakes around every corner, see the gifts you have been given and be healed.



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Honor THEM?

Exodus 20.1-17

We’re used to the notion of the Ten Thou Shalt Nots as a long list of all the things we can’t do. In the ‘States we often end up treating this as another reason that ‘God is such a downer’ because all we’re told is “no, no, no.” (So far, so totally put upon teenager). But if you think about it for a minute, God has just said “you can do everything but these couple of things, so have at it” and we’re ‘like majorly bummed, dude.’

Seriously? Are we that much in love with killing, stealing, and lying that being told not to do that is bad? And I get that capitalism is at least in part, based on the notion of wanting what we don’t have (coveting) and then working to gain it but are we that much in love with envy that the idea of giving it up is a true horror? And while the threats can come off as pretty blood curdling (although, see the later reconsideration for more on this). Is it really awful that the God who made the world and all that is therein, seeks from us a love as boundless as the one given to us?

Overall the commandments, if we take them seriously, are a whole lot less grim and depressing than our inner “you can’t tell me what to do” wants us to believe.

Except that one command, the really hard one.

The one that goes “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

Now that one, I don’t know about. (And I’m hardly alone in this). You see, the sticking point is going to be what it means to “honor” these two fragile, brilliant, stupid, human beings who did the best they could with what they had, but did a rather poor job of it (in my entirely unbiased opinion).

I’ve posted elsewhere about how hard it actually is to be a Good Enough parent in this world of Hallmark perfection and impossible standards I’ve even made noises about how the whole thing is an impossible task that we give to imperfect human beings and that it’s a flat out miracle that we come through the process only as warped as we do. I even joke that the best argument for the existence of God is that any of us manage to graduate High School. (Because between the things we do and the things we drive our parents to, that we are still alive is a flat out miracle).

But none of this deals with the harder reality, the shadow side, of being kids: how do we honor our abusers? Because yeah, if statistics are even vaguely accurate, in any group of ten people, one was abused somehow by their parents or caregivers. So what are they to make of this commandment to honor their father and mother and does it help us understand something more about what it means to honor human beings in a humane way? I think it does.

But to get to what true and good honor will be like, we’re going to have to get one mental cobweb taken care of right now. Honoring does not mean abject adoration of the other.

Some abusers assume that this is exactly what God means and thus turn God into a club to beat more grovel out of their victims. In its own way, this is like the way the idiots have misread the notion of submission in Ephesians 5 (about which I have also posted elsewhere). And just in case anyone wants to harbor the notion that either of these approaches are “God’s Will” let me remind you that claiming that “God Said” something God did not say is mentioned in the Big Ten and has a harsh penalty.

So if honoring our parents is not grovelling, what is it? As usual, the Hebrew helps.

The word for honor is kaved which is a pi’el (intensive) form of kavod (glory, weight, splendor, honor). So the commandment ties to a positive value for these people. Plus, in the Hebrew both “father” and “mother” are set off with a direct object marker, making it clear that this kavod we are doing is a thing done to rather than given to these people. For that matter, the verb “to give” is only in this sentence at the end when it is used to describe the land that God is giving in the future.

So honor is what we do and our parents are the whom to whom we do it. So how do we honor our parents?

We honor them by starting from the assumption that they are frail, human beings asked to do the impossible (be perfect parents) with incomplete information (perhaps because we wouldn’t talk to them [hint, hint]) with tools (their lives) wholy inadequate to the task (because their parents weren’t perfect either). In other words, we start to honor them by seeing who they truly are, neither pure good nor pure evil but instead as confused, inattentive, but probably well-meaning people.

Note that even the parents who do great evil probably have good intent, it’s simply that they are making rational decisions from irrational assumptions, fouling what should be fair. After all, how many people would say that their life goal is to be an evil parent?

Given then that these parents are neigher angels nor demons but actually a confused mix of both (and a few other things) how are we to honor them? By taking what good they were able to give us and make that part of the people we are becoming. We honor them as well by giving them the thing they may well not have given us: mercy. We find the treasures amid the trash, the gold among the dross and make of that a garment of splendor.

This garment reference is deliberate by the way, because in Old Testament times, one’s mantle was in fact, one’s splendor. It was often a cape or similar outer garment, embroidered and decorated with the best of who you were. It showed you to best advantage and was your “glory.” Thus you wore your glory, you inhabited your splendor and while most parents and children would have difficulty explaining this, in a sense: you, the best you-that-is-becoming, are your parents’ glory.

So to honor father and mother we give them mercy for their failure, thanks for their success, and then mine the lives they gave us for the treasures with which we will adorn our lives going forward. Now that is an honoring I can do.

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Being Blameless

Genesis 17.1-7

It’s a phrase we associate with the most inflexible self-righteous jerks we might ever meet. These folks take blamelessness to such heights (or depths as the case may be) that the notion of blamelessness becomes repellant.

We rebel at the idea that we have to “be like those insufferable jerks” and any notion that blamelessnes could be a positive gets chucked out the window. Alternatively, we conclude that our life is so thoroughly screwed up that reaching this level of being is simply absurd and depressing.

Understandably, neither option actually leads us to a positive and hopeful view of this divine command. So what are we to do here? Do we just put it in the box marked “Old Testament, do not open” or assume that it only includes Abram and the “perfect people” of that time? Perhaps we just shrug it off with a casual “Jesus made that stuff moot” or “thank God we don’t have to do that stuff anymore.”

All of these are historically valid responses though each one has its problems. This is because for each of them to work we have to start by cutting up Scripture or ourselves. Neither of those things should be done lightly, so before we get out the scissors or reach for the “ignore” button, let’s take a look at what we’re cutting just to be sure we know what we’re doing.

… the Lord appeared (lit “was seen”) to Abram, and said to him ‘I am El-Shaddai cause yourself to walk before me (lit “to my face”) and be/become tamim.” (personal translation)

Hmm, there are some interesting nuances here, let’s explore:

was seen to Abram: God comes to be seen, to touch, to be known in the concrete world and Abram sees.

El-Shaddai: From El a name for “God” and shaddad “to break/shatter.” Amy Grant has done something of a disservice here because that song takes “God the shatterer,” “God the breaker” and most darkly “The God who breaks me” (because the -i ending means “my/to me”) and turns it into Fluffy Bunny Deity. Just to drive that home, this name for God is seen most frequently in Job, a book not exactly known for “be not afraid” non-thundering deity. The point for today is that this is God the powerful, God the sovereign breaker of what needs to be broken, the Lord All-Mighty.

cause yourself to walk: Hebrew doesn’t use the helper verbs of English, it changes the stem to indicate “this verb is used in the sense that it causes what it says.” The verb here is “walk” the stem change shows that it is actually to be understood as “cause yourself to walk” or “make yourself walk.” Abram’s will AND action are involved here. Also note that “walk” is commonly used in both testaments to describe the way we live our life. And the earliest recorded name for the Jesus Movement was “the Way.”

to my face: this is an idiomatic phrase for “before me” but at base it means “right in front of my face.” Since the face is considered the full pressence of a person (“your face, O LORD, will I seek“) and there is nothing as intimate as standing face to face, breath to breath, being before the face of God is intimate pressence.

be/become: Hebrew doesn’t actually have the static verb “to be” in the way English uses it. The word carries a sense of “becomming” in it that makes the declaration “I AM” a statment that God both is and is becoming (or as my irreverent Hebrew prof. used to say “I am the Happening One.”)

And finally, tamim: This is it, the word translated “blameless.” So what does it mean at root? How about: complete, sound, integrated, integrity, innocence, simplicity, and finished (having finished a work/achieved a goal). Sure, blamelessness is in there (see also: innocence) but this is more complicated than than the mere ‘scrubbed clean and perfect’ nonsense we’ve let culture and language foist upon us.

The rest of the language stuff in this verse is fun, but here is the crux of it. God the mighty and powerful,  shatterer of barriers, breaker of chains, tells Abram (and, I believe, all of us) “cause your life to walk right up in my face and be/become.”

All at once, this command is not to moralistic perfection or awesome acts of “Godliness” but to living a complete, sound, integrated, simple life that is innocent of evil. We’ve allowed the 19th century preachers to focus our minds too thoroughly on hell and the avoidance thereof. That’s certainly part of the story of faith but it is not the WHOLE story.

The whole story involves tamim. It involves living as integrated, entire people who have become and are still becoming the people we were made to be. While it is true that the resurrection and our baptism into that resurrection are defining change points in life, they are in a sense, just the seeds of what is already becoming in us. The morning after our baptism we were profoundly different people than before and yet we were still (to over-draw it for a minute) jerks.

Our transformation in God is a long process that has both been fundamentally done when we recieve our new name AND is still ongoing. We are, one day at a time, one decision at a time, one hope at a time, becoming more fully the integrated, sound, solid, true, beloved people God has made us to be and is loving us into becoming.

“Being blameless” is thus less about ‘keeping ourselves unspotted by The World’ (i.e. whatever the speaker doesn’t like) and more about the positive work of seeking, choosing, and becoming.

As anyone who has wrestled with “that which I should not” can tell you, obsessing about what you don’t want keeps it firmly in your mind and thus more likely to happen. Spending that energy on becoming a hopeful, life filled person instead helps you avoid the evil almost reflexively. In other words, it helps you become blameless.

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Beseeching Consciousness

1 Peter 3.18-22

The relentless movement of life encourages a certain level of (for lack of a better term) being asleep on our feet. We call it “autopilot” and chalk it up as some part of the ‘cost of doing business’ in the world. It comes to us most forcefully when we’re getting ready for bed only to realize that we don’t actually remember the day we just led. As if we are only now just waking up to life before falling back to sleep.

At best, this is the sort of unfocused but accurate living out of our habits. We don’t worry about getting it right because we’ve done it so many times before that the basic variability of life doesn’t get to the point where we need to take active control. Like a well oiled, well practiced machine, we can go through life following our instincts because everything is ‘within parameters’ and thus ignorable. We’ve developed an unconscious mastery of life.

At worst, we are just a mass of stimulus-responses reacting at seeming random to whatever’s happening to us (and it is always to us, we are slaves to our responses and not masters of being). We don’t even know why we respond as we do because the whole of our emotional and spiritual life is hidden behind a cloud. We find ourselves saying “that’s not who I am” when it very clearly is because we just did it.

In both cases, we are unconscious of life. In one case unconscious masters running on autopilot, in the other, unconscious and unreasoning beasts. In both cases however, we are un-conscious as in “un-aware” and “not-awake.” This does not exactly make us spiritual giants now does it?

We can live this way and make it to quite an advanced age without building anymore maturity than that into which conflict may force us. Plus, in this day of the ‘unfollow’ and ‘unfriend’ buttons, we can simply remove the conflict rather than resolve it. Thus we find ourselves ancient in body while still spiritually toddlers.

Part of the work of Lent is to “keep awake” (yes, Lent is like Advent that way. Both seasons prepare us for the high holy days by waking us up from gentle slumber and getting us to do spiritual housecleaning to make room for the life that is coming). So if part of our work is waking up and the social world in which we live wishes to lull us to sleep with the siren calls of distraction, how are we to wake up at all?

Peter is talking here about baptism and its connection to both the flood story and the way we are connected through it to Christ. Right in the middle of this he says that this is “an appeal for a good conscience.” Everyone who suddenly has jimminy cricket singing in their ear needs to get some Greek in them.

We’re used to thinking of our conscience as the wagging finger telling us not to have that other piece of chocolate cake. Or perhaps as the thing that wakes us up at Oh Dark Stupid to make us rethink all our bad life choices. Perhaps we may hope for the conscience to be a positive guide as well, encouraging us to go in a good and hopeful direction. Regardless, if we assume that this word is pointing to what we understand as “conscience” we will find that conscience truly “doth make cowards of us all.”

The Greek word is better translated as “consciousness” however, a totally different thing. It’s the being awake and aware that are critical to our being alive. Our consciousness is the part of us that looks and sees and knows so we would most likely want that part of us to be good (agatha in Greek). The thing about the Greek concept of good is that it quickly becomes part of the process known as “the Good” a philosophical measuring stick against which our lives can be measured. The Good is a goal like The True and The Beautiful, a measure against which we can evaluate our lives.

The appeal for a good consciousness then is more than just a hope for Ethic-eze to make us feel better about the lives we have lived to date. The good consciousness for which we appeal in baptism is a good, true, and beautiful way of being alive. The word for “appeal” is a formal one in Greek used when one is asking something from God and, as Peter makes clear, this appeal does not go unanswered.

Far from bouncing off the ceiling, this appeal for a good consciousness is answered through our union with Christ and thus by the risen and living Jesus himself. Our “once was lost but now am found” is centered in our being found by Jesus, being found in Jesus through our baptism into his death and resurrection. This Lenten journey is then a journey further into wakefulness and consciousness and thus most healthfully away from our un-awake, un-conscious, autopilot life.

Hurray for a good consciousness!

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