Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fifteen Days of Gratitude 15.14: LES MISERABLES (OR: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE)

Justice: getting what we deserve.

Justice is the thing we seem to have a firm handle on, but not in the way I'd like. I see a lot of people determined to right the wrongs done them. Reality TV seems to zero in on this retaliatory, reactionary way of life. This impulse is natural. But so is going to the bathroom, it doesn't mean we do it whenever and wherever we want. We do as infants and toddlers, and then we train our impulses. Somehow we don't always train our emotional impulses though. And we don't refine them as we should.

Justice is one of my favorite ideas, an attribute of God that I used to identify with the most. But then I realized that justice on it's own is a little dismal. We're always ready to dole it out but never ready to receive it when we have done something wrong. It is 'right' and it is the best that we can come up with: the justice system. So useful; and that is why our crime rate is plummeting.

False. Our crime rate is not plummeting. Even if it was stagnating, it would not be an argument for cold, stark justice. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." What we need is something that transforms. Justice is not transformational. Righteous, but not transformative. Everyone expects it, so justice has no surprises.

You know what? I've been a Christian my entire life; never left the church, never "fallen away." And I used to think that Christians were some of the most justice-oriented (read: judgmental, cannibalistic, ruthless) people around. I developed this opinion after going to bible college. I figured that outside of church circles, there would be a lovely, soft-hearted, non-finger pointing club, people who had been hurt by judgment, by religion, by pharisaical blood-lust. I thought that in non-Christians, I would find a club of people united by their mutual distaste for the feeling of being criticized and judged. Maybe a little solidarity.

There is no such club. I was legitimately shocked and disappointed by what I found instead. I found backstabbing. I found people who were intolerant of others' mistakes and failures. I found people who were quick to point out the speck in the eye of their neighbor while they had a plank dangling from their own. But this didn't prove to me that non-Christians are worse than Christians. No, this showed me that the most basic desire for justice is inborn. That even people who deny the existence of God, demand justice (interesting). Too bad justice isn't enough. And justice for the sake of following the rules... that will kill you. The law will bring you death. We've all broken rules.

Mercy: not getting what we deserve.

Mercy is the most beautiful thing.

Mercy is not retaliatory.

Mercy is the story of Les Miserables, my favorite story in the world; I will do it no justice here, so read it yourself and watch the films! (I saw them four times in theatres, and am watching it now.)

Jean Valjean is lost in the "justice" system... 20 years imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to save his nephew from starvation. Once released, he finds that the world is a cruel place for ex-convicts. No one will give him a job, or a room to sleep. The first person to offer him mercy is a priest who welcomes him into his rectory to eat and to sleep. Jean Valjean, realizing that he is going to face living as a convict the rest of his life with no one willing to give him a job, or a roof, decides to steal the priest blind. Old habits die hard.

When he is caught by the authorities and returned to the priest -the man he just robbed- he is stunned by the mercy he is given: for while the just thing would be for Jean Valjean to go back to prison, not only does the priest, the victim, have him released... he gives back to Valjean the items he had stolen, and to sweeten the pot, throws in the last bit of silver that Valjean had neglected to steal. Does anyone else find this incredible!?! The only human who had the right to accuse Valjean, absolved him. And in return, he asked only that Valjean become a better man and live his life for God. Valjean stops reporting for parole, and reinvents a new life for himself as a man of mercy, patience, and kindness.

Mercy is transformational, but only if we can quit being so stupidly blind that we fail to recognize it. Mercy seems like weakness to those blinded by the repetition of "an eye for an eye."

The world doesn't know what to do with mercy; it's otherworldly. That is why we need more of it.

Inspector Javert, the policeman, is aware of Valjean's failure to report for parole. He cannot see that Valjean's life is reformed, that he is a kind, generous man. He can only see that a rule has been broken. And that has consequences. He doesn't think outside the box. He's not a "think-for-yourselfer." But Valjean repeatedly shows mercy to the man who hunts him relentlessly. Yet this does nothing for Javert, ever the ledger keeper; when the tables turn and his life is in Valjean's hands, he is spared because Valjean is not a murderer, and he is not vengeful: although he has every reason to rid himself of this insanely legalistic blood thirsty inspector, he is merciful.

Mercy shatters his paradigm, and he has nothing left to live for.

He is an example of a person who lives for justice and cannot fathom mercy when he sees it. He's given it, and despises it. I've seen people like this. Given every mercy, they receive it and don't let it change them. They just take it, like a greedy beggar, and they abuse it. They have no eyes for mercy. This is the mystery to me. A guilty and hardened convict can be transformed by an act of mercy, and a spoiled rotten sorority girl with a vicious tongue can be shown the same forgiveness and mercy after she has betrayed a trust or slandered another, and take that mercy in a stride, as though it were nothing more a decoration or a trinket.

Entitlement is what I think I've discovered here. Blinded by our own self-righteousness, and desiring to punish those who've wronged us, we fail to see that our own hands are filthy.

Grace: getting what we don't deserve

If we viewed ourselves through the lens of grace, we would realize that not a one of us are innocent. Realization of our own failures should free us from the self-appointed task of judging others for theirs. It's far less stressful, seriously. Just breathe. We then remember that without grace, none would be spared what we're due.

Justice is a demand of the world. It is not a demand of the church. So the fact that the world demands we answer for our wrong doings is not something Christians can take the blame for. Desire for justice is not wicked; but we are failures when we shriek for it while forgetting to carry that same concern for justice to the rest of the oppressed. We all would suffer the consequences of our actions in the hands of justice, and you would think- YOU WOULD THINK- that the reality of our own guilt and imperfection (raise your hand if you're perfect. That's what I thought), would keep us from pointing fingers.

Grace is unearned. You can't be good enough. You won't be good enough. Justice demands that we all pay a price: on this earth, we pay different prices. Some of us pay the cost of friendships lost through careless words, selfish actions, and inconsiderateness. Some of us pay the cost demanded by justice when we lose relationship with those whose trust we have violated. Some of us pay for our laziness with poverty. Some of us pay the cost of cheating by being kicked out of school. There are 6 billion price variations. Everyone pays a price for something we've done.

But one of the best moments in life is when we are given a second chance. Or a third. Or a fourth. If you've made more than four mistakes, you need to pay it forward in granting forgiveness and mercy at least four times.

"To love another person is to see the face of God." -Victor Hugo

I'm so grateful for mercy and grace. Because you know what? I NEED IT.

You are a much-loved child of God. Learn what that means, and then act like it.

In Jesus' name.


Joel Glenny said...

"Blinded by our own self-righteousness, and desiring to punish those who've wronged us, we fail to see that our own hands are filthy."

And she does it again!

The greatest judgement we can ever give is to ourselves, through the lens of the work done; receive what was given freely but paid for with a life and in return extend to the ones around us!

That's what I took away from this goodness!

Nice work Hils!

HM said...

preach it!