To learn more about Just Mercy, please read the introductory post. Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which has resources for those wanting to learn more about the topic.
Hi. My name is Cara …and I judge people.
I take the gavel into my own hands, and I decide to play the Great Judge.
I judge the homeless man who shouts at his reflection in the window, the one who paces back and forth after our Sunday night dinner. I judge the workers clad in orange jumpsuits, the ones who dig ditches on the side of my busy four-lane highway. I judge the woman who sits outside the post office with her four children in tow, cardboard signs propped on every lap, five sets of eyes that plead at me for mercy.
And I think: I take my medicine. Well, thank God my sin isn’t as bad as theirs. At least I’d have the decency to keep my kids in school.
I judge, I judge and I judge again, feeling justified in my judgment of others.
But when the ugliness of my own heart astounds me, my own lack of mercy begs me get down on hands and knees, and plead heavenward for more, for some, for any.
So tell me, am I the only one?
Am I the only one who forgets to show mercy to the least of these, to those who need it the most?
In Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, we are reminded that each of us is worth more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. We are not defined by outward actions and appearances, nor do we gain greater worth and value by having received the right to a “good education,” or the good fortune to grow up in a nurturing family environment. But you and me and every other being on this planet, are defined solely by our status as humans.
Our stamp of humanity – granted us by a God who is a most wholly, holy Love – gives us our worth. And this worth is only made complete by the need we have within our shared brokenness. “We have all hurt someone and have been hurt,” Stevenson writes. “We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.” For there exists not a scale to our sin or to our brokenness, but the general condition of brokenness makes us stand on equal ground.
It is a brokenness we share when the poor are denied the right to an attorney who will truly fight tooth and nails for them, who will seek to free the unjustly accused from the grips of death row.
It is a brokenness we share when we refuse to enter into conversations about race, ignoring our country’s past and current legacy of racial inequality.
It is a brokenness we share with the mentally ill, and it is a brokenness we share with abused and neglected children who are unfairly tried in the adult justice system.
It is a brokenness we share when we continue to believe that the answer lies not in reform and rehabilitation, but purely in incarceration.
It is a brokenness we share when we don’t believe any of the above to be our problem.
And it is a brokenness that cannot be ignored any longer.
Too easily, writes Stevenson, “…we condemn people and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger and distance to shape the most vulnerable among us.” We forget that we belong, one to the other, you to me to him to her, and back and forth again. And we neglect to remember that when we victimize and allow our fellow human beings to be mistreated, we condemn ourselves in the process.
If you’re anything like me, this book has boggled my mind. It’s made me not only confront my own ugliness when I judge other people unfairly, but it’s made me recognize and realize the profound power of justice and mercy that can exist in our world. It’s helped me to remember that we’re all in need of grace – of heaping measures of unmerited grace, as Stevenson sagely suggests.
So friends, might we fight for grace and mercy.
Might we be the ones who fight for change, bringing justice to those who need it most, erasing our yesterdays and rewriting our tomorrows.
Questions to consider:
- Let’s get real with one another: when have you unfairly judged another person? Have you ever felt justified in your judgment of others?
- When, in the book or in real life, did you witness extreme mercy or justice toward another person?
- How did Stevenson’s theme of brokenness affect you?
- What is the pulse toward incarceration in your county, your state or your country?
- Has your view toward the prison population changed since reading this book or participating in the Red Couch discussions? How has it changed?
- When it comes to the criminal justice system, what change do you want to see? What change do you want to be?
- What else from the book stood out to you?
Our May book is The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything by Brian McLaren. Come back Wednesday, May 6 for the introduction to the book. The discussion post will be Wednesday, May 27. We’ll also be announcing our Third Quarter book selections on Wednesday May 20. For ongoing discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.