The Rest is Commentary

By: Rev. Whitney Wilkinson

Mission trips, whether they be working in someone’s yard in our own community or leaving the familiar for what is unknown, are powerful for me. My seminary professor Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi once quoted Emil IMG_0827Brunner saying, ‘Mission is to the church what combustion is to fire.’ The church can’t exist without it. I find that I can’t, either. And so I was so glad we were headed to Atlanta. And also, a bit tired, honestly.

I spent a lot of time thinking and praying for this to be a meaningful experience for everyone involved, a way for us to ‘see church’ in a radically new way, and discover Christ among those who fall through the cracks of our society. As to myself? Well, I just sort of wanted to be fully engaged, and facilitate that experience. Of course, I wanted to discover Christ in a new way, too. I just wasn’t sure I had the energy for it.

But as I entered Mercy Community Church in Atlanta, and saw my dear friend Maggie blossom into a caring and no-nonsense pastor before my very eyes, I was inspired. When a dear woman named Barbara slept on my shoulder during worship, placing great trust in me in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel Christ. He was sitting right next to me, leaning on me. (Or she, as it were.)

Eating delicious soup made by one of their own on the streets next to people whose stories I’d begun to learn was amazing. And the one thing I took away from it all was quite surprising.

It wasn’t the overpowering need to rally against and/or navigate the systems that make it extraordinarily difficult for a person to get in, so they can have the tools to build a life so many of us take for granted, though that was learned.

It wasn’t that Christ really is present with those on the margins in a different and obvious way, though that was learned.

It wasn’t that every person affected by homelessness has a story, just like I do, and that if I wanted to recognize their dignity as a human being and a child of God, I better listen, though that was learned.

Quite simply, the lesson I learned was this: Life is extraordinarily simple, in the end. God created it to be simple. And ever since then, we human beings have been about the business of complicating it.

So these days, this morning when I allow myself the grace to work from a comfortable abode graciously provided for me, I am choosing to live my life with simplicity. Yes, this might mean de-cluttering my space, and giving away what I don’t need. But even more than that, it means de-cluttering my heart, my tired soul, my overly-analytical mind. God is good, and can be trusted. We are all children of God made in God’s image. We need to treat each other that way.

I’m reminded of a story of Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud, a sacred text in Judaism. Rabbi Hillel was around about the same time Jesus was, and legend has it, that a man came to him one day promising that he would become Jewish if the Rabbi could explain the whole of the Torah in the time it took him to stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do your fellow human. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Sounds quite a bit like something that Jesus fellow said as well. So, here’s to a simplified life, seeking grace in every moment and seeking to share it with others in every moment as well. The rest is commentary. Beautiful, raw, healing, reconciling, hopeful commentary.

Yoga=Peace

By: Derek Sean Turner

When I was a kid, about thirteen years old, I remember my mother taking yoga classes—this was at the height of the Farrah Fawcett inspired exercise craze. I would constantly harass my mom about how silly yoga looked. Fast IMG_20150901_160843forward to 2015, I am stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, and someone—I do not remember who—sent me to Highland and Ponce de Leon to ‘Mercy Church.’ I appreciate Mercy for the activities it offers—Bible study, art class, and music, especially—but above all else I like the yoga classes. Pastor Maggie leads a yoga class on Fridays, in partnership with Centering Youth—a local non-profit that offers free yoga classes to at-risk youth and marginalized populations. I really enjoy the way it relaxes me and helps me find inner peace.

My favorite yoga positions are Locust pose, when you lie on your belly and use your back strength to lift you arms and legs off the floor; Warrior pose, where you stand in a lunge with both arms raised and reaching for opposite walls—this one really works my muscles; and Tree pose, where my balance is challenged—this one helps me find a deeper connection with God. Come join us!

Communion Office Table

By: Maggie Leonard

At Mercy, our communion table is a rickety four-legged square, made of rough wood—a regular splinter-hazard, with paint and candle wax splattered upon it. It is what might be called ‘well-loved’ or ‘shabby chic’ or ‘better off in the dumpster.’ When it is bumped, it gently sways for a breath, but verily reorients itself more or less squarely on its DSC_3014wobbly legs. It is the centerpiece of our humble church space, the basement sanctuary in which we spend most of our time together as a community.

On Sunday mornings it is usually covered with cloth, hand-picked flowers, a plate of bread, a cup, and a pitcher. During the week, we decorate it for our hour of prayer with more simple cloth, a candle or two, and sometimes a cross. Really, though, our table is used so much more than just during those few hours of official worship. In a very concrete way, this sacred space is crucial to the daily rhythms of our lives—and not just spatially. It cradles un-plated bagels that are too hot to hold. Coffee cups, Bibles, and magazines are artfully strewn across it’s top. Backpacks are unpacked and repacked on its surface. Folks gather around it as we make sign-up lists for food or clothes. It is the heart of our space.

It is also the spot were we do administrative work for the community—like renewing food stamp certifications, finding directions to a social service agency, searching the online directory of inmates at the local jail for one of our own, writing a letter which will allow someone to receive healthcare, or editing our latest publication. Surrounded by the vitality of the community—the laughing, musing, chopping, and snoring of congregants—and looked upon by Jesus himself, who hangs from our wall on the cross, work gets done.

Our sanctuary is just that—a sanctuary, a safe place, a shelter from the cold and from accusing eyes, a space in which we can practice living fully and together, a haven of comfort, a place where needs are met. Our table is at the center of it all.

Ten Years at Mercy

By: Johnathan Wells

The past ten years have been a pleasure to watch and experience. Mercy has undergone many changes, and I have been there to witness all of them. We at Mercy are blessed to be fed and clothed with good, orderly IMG_6571direction. For many of us, we are aiming for a more disciplined life, though each member is given freedom of choice in all their affairs. Pastors Chad Hyatt and Maggie Leonard have been wonderful in their contributions to growing Mercy Church. We are also blessed that other churches mingle with us and serve along side of us as volunteers. I personally like participating in the youth development with church groups from across the country—experiences with groups from North and South Carolina have been particularly meaningful for me. Pastor Maggie is a wonderful yoga instructor and does well with crisis management. It is my hope that the members of Mercy Church will encourage their leadership team to broaden the church programs to emphasize self-dependency. May God grant and give us at Mercy God’s wonderful grace to better our choices and to serve each other for many years to come.

Celebrating Ten Years: We Are Mercy

By: Chad Hyatt

It catches folks by surprise when they first hear us use it. Frequently they even ask us about it. If they stick around long enough, they use it too. Theologians sometimes debate what constitutes the ‘marks’ of the church—IMG_2038those essential characteristics that make a church really church, in the big-C sense. One of the distinctive marks of Mercy is the way we use a pronoun.

It is not unusual for us to talk about a wide variety of community struggles using the first person plural. Our surprising use of the language of ‘we’ may be as good a way as any to describe the essence of what God has done in this little community over the last ten years.

We are homeless, even if some of us live in houses. We are alcoholics in need of recovery, even if some of us have never sipped more than the wine of communion. We are in danger of deportation, even if some of us were born here. We are prisoners, even if some of us have never been convicted of any crime. ‘We’ is the natural pronoun when something more powerful than difference defines who we are.

When people ask me to describe Mercy, I just say, ‘We are a church.’ Many people do not immediately think of us as a church. They may see us as an expression of church—like an outreach, or a mission, or a ministry. And, yes, we do incorporate all those aspects in one way or another. But none of those things alone get to the core, the absolute essence, of who we are. Church does. We are a church, a congregation, a visible community of the much larger, much older, much more ‘catholic’ body of Christ. We are part of that—a particular, tangible expression of that—the mystery that is church.

Metaphorically and in reality, Jesus Christ is at the center of our community, calling us from many scattered places to gather together around himself. Every Sunday, like an old-fashioned revival, we form a meandering circle of sisters and brothers holding hands around our communion table, where Jesus himself holds out open arms of invitation to all. To me, that’s a powerful image of what it means to be church.

But at Mercy, we believe there is more to the call to be church. Imagine you are operating a camera in a movie, and what we have just described is a close-up, focused on Jesus and then slowly moving out to see the crowd that is coming from every direction to gather around him. Now imagine the script directions are for the same camera to pan outward, moving away from Jesus so that we can now see where he and the group around him is situated in the broader landscape. Jesus and the people who stand with him are seemingly at the edge of this bigger picture.

Jesus goes to the margins—what Pope Francis calls the ‘peripheries’ or we just called the ‘edge’—in order to show he is the center of all things. And unless we go there, following him where he chooses to be in our world, we cannot be held together. We certainly cannot be held together as church in any real sense, and perhaps not even as any kind of authentic expression of human togetherness at all. I honestly believe any other way of forming human community will eventually disintegrate into little more than a barely disguised defense against our deepest fears of chaos.

Our use of the language of ‘we’ at Mercy surprises others. But I don’t think it is because a group of people feel a shared sense of community. That’s unexceptional, in and of itself. I believe it is because this particular group of people have the audacity feel it. We have crossed long-held lines to get to where Jesus has called us. These are the lines that separate folks who live under a roof from those who live on the streets. These are the lines that continue to segregate children of God on the basis of the color of their skin, or their nation of origin, or degree of education, or gender—or any of a thousand different lines of division we have devised for ourselves. But the lines that once divided us have now been redrawn into the sign of the cross, binding us all together. The world believes we are too different to ever become one community. But the truth is we have grown into a very non-traditional family, freely talking of one another as sisters and brothers—with an all-inclusive and liberating ‘we.’

Am I papering over the very real and sometimes exceedingly painful differences we still experience? Am I trying to force our rich and beautiful diversity into a bland, tasteless ‘melting pot’? I don’t think so. We are gloriously and dangerously diverse. Such is the true nature of the call of Jesus. But once gathered around him and led into genuine relationship with one another, we discover we are one. We are one in our brokenness and one in our beloved-ness, one as ‘sinners’ and one in our ‘call to be saints.’

This is the hard-earned grace of making a commitment to ten years of community. You might glimpse it, but you probably will not take it fully to heart on a week-long mission trip or in a summer ‘urban immersion.’ These are baptismal waters into which we are being plunged, and they require at least a lifetime to live out.

I don’t think there is anything new here. But there is something to see. Just flip through any Lives of the Saints. You will read, more often than not, the story of someone who discovers anew the life-changing love of God, and quite completely undone by it all, sets out in humble but very tangible ways to share in and perhaps in some small way to relieve the suffering of our sisters and brothers. The result is that often a small community is formed and the truly radical and revolutionary heart of the gospel is rediscovered once more.

At Mercy, we do not believe that we are the answer to every problem the church or the world faces. We are not so foolish as to think our way is new and novel or best or that history has been waiting on us. We are just following Jesus to where we sense that he is and trying to be church as he would want us to be. And, quite frankly, that is something to see.

Helping us to see is what this particular, special issue does best: it is packed with photos, pulled from across our ten years together. We have included a few favorite articles from previous issues. And there are new reflections, too—just to show that this celebration isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, no matter how wonderful the past has been. We are still moving ever onward, following the path down which Jesus is leading—in ways always new to us, always hopeful, always overflowing with mercy.