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Written by Gradye Parsons

Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.

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March 1, 2016

March 2016 - The hard work of reconciliation

God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us—as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray. ~John Calvin

There appears to be a math equation in this quote from John Calvin. Toleration plus pardon plus mercy equals freedom—the freedom defined as children being able to ask their parents anything. I wonder if this formula cannot be applied to our life as community.

Helen Keller says that toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle. It is the opposite of a winner-take-all position. It means holding opposing viewpoints lightly in your head. In a community it provides for debate and discussion that can lead to better ideas.

“Where there is injury [let me sow] pardon,” said Francis of Assisi. In almost every discussion about servant leadership, I have heard at least one person say, “but don’t be a doormat.” The comment comes out of the concern that putting others first somehow makes us weak. There may be some truth to that, but putting ourselves first does not make us strong either.

When I do the hard work of reconciliation with another, I can get unstuck from that emotion-filled space. That reconciliation may have to confront injustice and injury in a community. That confrontation may create change that will be fertile ground for those seeds of pardon.

From the great Herman Melville we have this quote: “Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” A community is made up of people who are all dreadfully cracked about the head. Honking our horns at the car that hesitates at a green light is useful venting, but doesn’t display much mercy. The person may be wrestling with a whale of a problem.

What is your community like? Is there tolerance, pardon, or mercy? Can you and your congregation change that?

화해를 위한 힘겨운 일

La difícil tarea de la Reconciliación

Tags: gradye parsons, helen keller, john calvin, monthly, reconciliation, saint francis of assisi, stated clerk, toleration


  1. Toleration must be constantly exercised in spite and despite of consistent abuse by its counterparts while the Spirit of peace moves one to a positive, constructive, productive plan of action geared to change that paradigm; it's healthy for everyone especially for the activist for faith in practice is hope in action. Peace!

    by William Reyes

    March 24, 2016

  2. "Toleration plus pardon plus mercy equals freedom—the freedom defined as children being able to ask their parents anything. I wonder if this formula cannot be applied to our life as community. "Thank you for this post, Gradye.

    by Clare Kelley

    March 5, 2016

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