Weekly Message from T. J.

The Quality of Mercy

Friends, welcome to the new decade. The turning of the year in the Gregorian calendar is certainly a time when many of us take stock of the year and make plans for the new year we enter together. For me, it is my custom to take study leave from Christmas Day through the first week of January. For those of us unfamiliar with study leave, it’s differentiated from vacation because over study leave I work. But the work I do over study leave tends to have the qualities of long-range planning, reflection, and…well…study.

In other years, I’ve shared some of what I had a chance to read or otherwise consume over my leave time. And though I saw my fair share of movies as well, I wanted to highlight a few works from study leave and give you the sense of why I liked (didn’t like) them.

Doing Justice by Preet Bharara. This is a somewhat recent book by the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan and parts of Westchester County. As the “top cop” for a seat of power like no other, Bharara developed a reputation for not giving a hoot how powerful someone was. As interesting as his discussions of power and perception are, I think his emphasis on mercy and good, dedicated listening were most moving.

Dark (Netflix, 2 seasons in German, English subtitles). Some of you know I had a touch of a cold over study leave. And others of you know I am a bit of a sucker for murder mysteries (and the moodier the better). This series has all the trappings of mystery, who-done-it, and suspense. But the second season tackles the biting tension between beliefs in fate and free will. Also, the clear message that “we are not defined by the worst thing we’ve done” rings true in the telling of this story.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I think three separate community members recommended this book to me…and now I see why. A few of my sermons last year touched on themes that Harari takes a paragraph to explain, while I subjected you all to an entire sermon to explain! His style is so beautiful, compact, and confident. Reading this feels like sitting in kindergarten while tackling subjects at a graduate level. Thank you so much to those of you who recommended this to me.

I share these three works for a reason. The thread that runs through them is one I think right now that many of us can use. As we watch the news of escalating tensions, as we learn the pain that some in our community endure, as we live each of our own lives with the joys and sorrows they hold, it was deeply helpful to read and learn of mercy. Mercy is a the species of compassion that knows terrible things happen in the world–crimes are committed, people are taken from us, people wage wars we can do nothing about–and yet assures us that we are loved, we have dignity, and good people will ease the suffering they see in the world when they can.

And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.

One Response to “Weekly Message from T. J.

  1. So lovely of you to share what you learned and to summarize so movingly. I just started 21 Lessons for the 21st Century also by Harari. While it’s hard to find time to read-this book is pretty riveting. I’ll go to Sapiens next!

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