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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Justice and Mercy and Brokenness

Non-fiction books like Just Mercy are tough to read because they are true. And it is really depressing to think about all the persons who are wrongly incarcerated in this country and who are always unjustly executed. It's unspeakable. But in this book, Bryan Stevenson makes the reader really SEE the lives of poor black men, women and children who constantly feel a  "discomfort too longstanding and constant to merit discussion but too burdensome to ever forget."  He makes these people real and help us understand their vulnerability enough to cry alongside Stevenson. We get to know Walter McMillan and Joe Sullivan  and Marsha Colby and Charlie through Stevenson's eloquent writing. We feel - along with Stevenson - as one character seems to say, "I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black, but I'm here. I'm here because I've got this vision of justice that compels me to be a witness. I'm here because I'm supposed to be here. I'm here because you can't keep me away." Once you read this book, you'll be a witness too. 

Stevenson started the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law center, in Montgomery, Alabama when he was in his early 30s on a shoestring budget with the lofty goals of ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable in American society. As you will see in this book, which puts a human face on these issues, he has succeeded in many ways.  But there is still much to do, especially in these Trump years as hatred is encouraged in the courts. The documentary 13th and the book The New Jim Crow also add more stories and information to this issue. But Stevenson's book really brings the issue home. 

Toward the end of the book, Stevenson tells us that he does this work because he's broken too. And he reminds us that we are all broken by something. "Our shared brokenness connects us," Stevenson says. He is truly doing God's work for the most vulnerable people in our society.  When one person suffers, we all suffer. We are all tied up in our humanity. He says," The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent..." And as he says at the close, "..all of us can do better for one another."

Brave men and women like Bryan Stevenson are leading the charge to change laws and show mercy to the vulnerable and the oppressed.  He did the hard work. Now we have to face these tough truths and do our part. Read this book and then support the Equal Justice Initiative