How do you feel about gray?
Mercy keeps us openhearted
By Chiara Catipon
Until I lived in Florence, I never noticed gray’s many shades. For Florentines, a bluish-gray shirt paired with a beige-gray sweater was a no-no. The American in me wondered, “What’s the difference?”
Eventually, in learning to appreciate the beauty of undertones and subtle nuances, I realized I had grown up with the tendency to see things either: black or white, right or wrong. Simple.
But could this mental framework actually be contributing to the anger that has polarized the U.S. today? Might it help to revisit this growing tendency of ours to make categorical judgements, thereby missing … the complexity of gray?
First stop: a look at context. It is the 21st century. Living elbow to elbow — even purely virtually — in our multiracial, multireligious and multifaceted society continually jerks us out of our mental constructs. Far-reaching revolutionary changes are happening in shorter intervals, as technology continues to evolve at a pace faster than we can make sense of its impact. The digital divide grows wider between generations.
Second stop: a check on our feelings. Let’s face it: this constant state of flux and complexity gnaws at our certainties and tempts us to hang onto convictions even tighter. With today’s frenzied pace and multiple sources of information, we grab at anything to root ourselves — a pastor’s word, our trusted media outlet. This past year’s social distancing measures have enclosed us even further within our inner circle of family and friends, amplifying our echoes.
Unfortunately, fear of what’s outside, or different, has bred impatience, intolerance and even moral indignation. Suddenly all past hurts have become fuel — understandably and not — to justify one’s fury against the other: a misguided ignoramus at best, a bigot at worst.
How dare people call themselves a Christian and not defend the unborn? How dare people not see the born whose life is threatened at every turn? It seems that all this indignation has done nothing to solve either issue but has led to a gridlock… and at a cost hard to fathom.
Why do we continue this closure to dialogue? Why not listen to a different perspective? Perhaps this can be found in the unprecedented availability of public, unchecked outlets for raw emotions: social media.
At a deeper level, however, could be the need to belong. By looking for people whose mindset categories match ours, it’s easier to answer, “Who am I?” The answer is simple: I am someone who, like Sam, Martha and Adam, believes in x, y, z.
No problem, until however we require full conformity to one fixed interpretation of those beliefs and perfect adherence to set practices, to maintain membership
If we base our identity on uniformity in world conception (black/white model), wouldn’t we be denying our higher essence as humans created in the image of God? Will I allow ideas to dictate my approach to another human person?
What if there were more gray areas than I had considered? Can I be vulnerable enough to stand corrected? Today’s issues are so complex, and no one person has the end-all answers. This doesn’t mean that we will never reach a consensus — only that it will take more patience and greater inclusivity.
Lastly, even if I were to be misjudged as lax, am I willing to pay that price out of charity for those begging for understanding of where they actually are? Basic moral standards have not changed, but their application in this imperfect world requires courage to walk with fellow sojourners in the gray.
Where then can we get that courage? Where is the meeting point of justice and mercy? Why forgive? As a Christian, I look for answers in the God-Man: Jesus who cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In that moment he entered, and thus redeemed, all negative human experiences: division, crisis, a search for meaning, delusion, rejection, failure. In his response, “Into your hands, I entrust my spirit,” he models
mercy — boundless faith in the triumph of love. In him, therefore, is the capacity to contain all that is gray, undefined.
With the peace that comes from knowing that God is precisely there where he seemed most absent, we can face any polemic, not to convince the other of our rightness but hopefully to bring the presence of an Other that embraces us both.
As Pope Francis writes in Let us Dream, “What matters most is that harmony that enables us to move forward together on the same path, even with all our shades of difference.”
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