There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

My husband is the rector, or head pastor, of a church in Houston, and we […]

My husband is the rector, or head pastor, of a church in Houston, and we live in a rectory, which is a house owned and maintained by the church. You might know it as a parsonage or a manse. In our fifteen years of marriage, we’ve lived in four different houses, but this is our first stint in a rectory. We chose to live in this house for a variety of reasons: we’d been burned on some harsh real estate transactions in the couple of years prior to the move, and we knew we couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the neighborhood near the church. The rectory comes with other perks, as well: it’s a half-block from the best neighborhood park, the closest school is fantastic, and we don’t sit in the infamous Houston traffic to get to work every day. In this ZIP code, though, there’s the chance that we’ll feel a bit like fish out of water. I called my husband during the first week we lived here: “I just saw a Land Rover run into a crepe delivery-truck. We’re movin’ on up.” For two kids who grew up in the rolling hills of Nowhere Fancy, this place can feel a little out of our league.

And so, we can feel a little bit like posers when we go to the neighborhood pool, or when we peruse the neighborhood Facebook page. The page can feature requests like, “Need someone who can REALLY clean a range hood. Danish Copper. Don’t want to spend a fortune.” Or: “Trying to figure out how to entertain in a small house. 4000 sf is just not enough space for a good party.” Or: “PM me if your nanny was wearing a red shirt at the park today. I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU.”


Recently, there was a heated dispute about whether thong bikinis were appropriate swimwear for women at the local pool. Being a melanoma time bomb myself, I am more accustomed to donning a long-sleeve swim shirt and swim leggings (yes, that’s a thing, and they’re WONDERFUL, so shut up), but I don’t have much of an opinion on ThongGate 2018. (“They’re European,” seemed to be the general consensus, which apparently covers a lot of ground, if not a lot of skin.)

Our neighborhood Facebook page (West University Information Trading) recently made it to the pages of Texas Monthly, a shiny magazine with in-depth journalism. The article is here, if you’d like to read it. (I’ll wait.) I read it three days ago, and I still have indigestion from the stress of the whole situation. If you’d rather have me summarize, here goes:

On the day before Easter, a woman (Kellye Burke) took her kids to the neighborhood cookies-and-ice-cream shop. Kellye saw a teenage girl wearing a Trump t-shirt. She apparently exploded at the girl and her friends, in front of her own kids and others. Her behavior was reported on the local Facebook page, and the parents of the teenage girls found out that she was a member of city council. She tried to apologize (kind of), and things went way downhill from there. There is currently a petition to recall her election, which apparently is going to cost more than the price of one of the delicious cookies at the shop where all of this started. Anyone and everyone seems to have an opinion about this. I think it’s notable that it happened on Easter weekend, when all of the families involved were working around their worship schedules to squeeze in an apology between celebrating the Risen Reconciler and sitting down to ham and potatoes.

I don’t know any of the players involved, but it’s a small enough neighborhood that I know folks on the periphery, and I know how upset everyone seems to be about this. The Texas Monthly article puts it succinctly: “No one can deny that what Kellye did was profoundly dumb, and dumber still given the state of the country and given the politics of West U.” The article goes into great depth about the turmoil that ensued, and how it spread: “Over the next few days, the story went just about everywhere: the New York Post and New York Daily News; the Miami Herald; the Calgary Sun; the Guardian, in London*; Fox News. Only one reporter, someone with the Houston Chronicle, contacted Kellye for comment.”

*As opposed to the Guardian in Pittsburgh?

Back at the local pool (site of ThongGate 2018), some of the petitioners-to-recall-the-election were allegedly harassing some teenagers about where they could set up their Official Petition Table. The teenagers in both of these incidents seem to be the only ones staying out of the fray, despite the so-called adults’ best efforts. Kids these days.

There are many things that are surprising to me in this story. Kellye’s initial behavior, as noted in the article, was “profoundly dumb.” That’s putting it mildly. Regardless of whose team she was on, or whose words she was quoting to the girls in the original incident, it was a bad decision. In the immortal words of my great-grandmother, “There’s no trouble like the trouble you make yourself.” What is really astounding, though, is the mushroom cloud of hostility that has followed from the entire community, even in the wake of attempted apologies. And then, there was a voice in the wilderness, from a retired school teacher:

 …a sweet-faced older woman named Sally McCandless, who has lived in the neighborhood for 41 years and is a retired schoolteacher as well as the wife of a former West U city councilman, rose to her feet. McCandless confessed that she hadn’t planned to speak that day; her voice shook, possibly from age, possibly from anger.

“This is amazing to me, what’s going on,” McCandless began. “I would like to think, as a community, we can come together on this. Did Kellye Burke make a terrible mistake? Yes, she did. Has she recognized that? Yes, she did. And I would think that the adults in the room, in the community, whether it’s through your church or Christian values or whatever, that there would be this feeling of forgiveness. But to go to the extreme of having a recall—that’s ridiculous,” she continued, nearly spitting out the last word.

“As far as the children, in terms of a learning moment: you, as adults in this room, are their models. And you are out there creating this hyperbole of this situation—you are not the good models that these children need.” Many in the audience burst into applause. Some of the opposition didn’t hear her, though, because they were out in the hallway, gathering signatures for the recall.

Sally McCandless for President! We should all be listening to the retired schoolteachers in the room.

But we don’t. We, like Kellye Burke, say and do impossibly stupid things. And then we really mess up this whole forgiveness bit. We are monumentally bad at it. Not only are we really terrible at forgiveness, we’re not really sure how it works. And if it extends to Those People, the ones over there wearing the t-shirts of the Enemies, or the one right here screaming at the t-shirt wearers, then what part do we have in it?

In the aftermath of the Facebook page blowup, a separate Facebook page was created. (Isn’t there always a spinoff?) In this new group, there would be “no censorship” and no deleted posts. OutragedFacebookv.2 lasted for less than a week, when someone criticized the words of the creator of the group. Then, it was shut down and “archived” for all eternity. So there.

Here’s some good news. You don’t need to wrap your head around what happened in my neighborhood on Easter weekend, or in the social media explosion afterward. There’s no need to keep all of the players straight. You don’t even have to understand God’s forgiveness of all of us, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it. We don’t have to understand any of it, and there’s no test at the end of the chapter.

I love this verse in the hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Frederick William Faber:

For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind. The mind-blowing carelessness of human behavior, even when there are t-shirts and teenagers and OFFICIAL PETITIONS involved, is small and insignificant next to the love of God. I am so grateful for that.

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12 responses to “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

  1. Dale Klitzke says:

    If the world would only listen to you and share your insights, wisdom and humor we could provide a much better world for our children than what we are handing them now. Keep writing, Carrie, your voice is needed.
    P.S. where can I get a good deal on one of those European thongs?

  2. Robin Bugbee says:

    I agree with almost everything you wrote and particularly the tone you have taken about this regrettable incident. I was working for President Obama’s election in 2008 in Rhode Island and while wearing an Obamacare T Shirt stopped to pick up some food at a local restaurant when a guy in a group of people passing me took one look at the shirt, and loudly sneered “NoBama”. As I kept walking by them I looked directly at him, smiled and said “I don’t think I asked for your opinion” which both stunned and shut him up. I think this elected official went waaaay too far…and as much as kids want to get into adult political arguements…they’re Kids and I think we should keep them out of it. But I do believe that Trump is a dangerous, delusional, hateful, ignorant racist. And those of us who will not stand by and acquiiese to his perverting everything good and decent this country stands for need to resist, stand up and take a stand. But we need to do it in a decent and (if humanly possible) loving way. That was the real problem here. Not that she spoke up but that she did not do it in a loving way. I will not stand for hatred or racism of any kind (embarrassed silence in the presence of either is the equal of agreement) but I always try to respond with love as the base of my comments. We can disagree even in a heated way, but we always need to remember that God created each of us and love each other (the commandment says “Love” each other not “Like each other”. We are not commanded to like each other). And as I need forgiveness we all must really work hard to forgive others. You are right on target about that.

    • Carrie Willard says:

      I completely agree. I’m so sorry you were targeted in 2008.

    • Tom F says:

      I take it that the command to love and forgive each other also would apply to our feelings and treatment of said Mr. Trump, despite that he is a “dangerous, delusional, hateful, ignorant racist” who is “perverting everything good and decent”? 🙂
      As we remember God as creator, let’s also remember and trust in Him as sovereign King – ie the outcome of the last presidential election was not a situation in which mighty Russian bots overcame the will of God.
      Though we do not know the purpose of God in this particular matter, aren’t we to pray and trust?

      • Robin Bugbee says:

        Gee Tom…did you read and understand anything that I write…or are you just taking issue with the accuracy of my description of Mr. Trump as a “dangerous, delusional, hateful, ignorant racist” and the commitment I have stated to try to test him in a loving way? I thought I was pretty clear about that struggle to love the hard to love that we as Christians are called to do.

  3. Susan says:

    Keep writing and sharing your voice of reason. God Bless and I love the comment from your father, we know where your humor comes from. Also, thanks for including the hymn- beautiful. God’s peace.

  4. Caedmon says:

    And to carry on the thought, from Brother Rich:

    There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
    I cannot find in my own
    And He keeps His fire burning
    To melt this heart of stone
    Keeps me aching with a yearning
    Keeps me glad to have been caught
    In the reckless raging fury
    That they call the love of God

    Now I’ve seen no band of angels
    But I’ve heard the soldiers’ songs
    Love hangs over them like a banner
    Love within them leads them on
    To the battle on the journey
    And it’s never gonna stop
    Ever widening their mercies
    And the fury of His love

    Oh the love of God
    And oh, the love of God
    The love of God

    Joy and sorrow are this ocean
    And in their every ebb and flow
    Now the Lord a door has opened
    That all Hell could never close
    Here I’m tested and made worthy
    Tossed about but lifted up
    In the reckless raging fury
    That they call the love of God

  5. Casey says:

    Carrie, you and I are neighbors! While I agree with the premise of your article, I disagree that the proper response to Ms. Burke’s actions is to accept her apology and move on without recalling her. We are called to forgive over and over and extend the same grace that Jesus gives to us. While I believe Ms. Burke has been forgiven and some of the behavior of the “adults” is appalling, I do not think her conduct is befitting a council member. She should be recalled. You can forgive and still enforce the rules of civility. Forgiveness does not excuse the consequences of extremely bad behavior from an elected official.

    • Oliver says:

      This is an interesting question: can Ms.Burke be truly forgiven and yet still be recalled? After all, what is forgiveness if it isn’t wiping the slate clean?
      But, one might protest, surely wiping the slate clean cannot extend to avoiding all the consequences of wrongdoing. Surely if I kill someone I must still go to jail, no matter how forgiven I am.
      But then again, the law demanded that the woman caught in adultery should be stoned. The Pharisees were very careful to point that out. But Jesus didn’t say “You are forgiven, but I’m afraid there are some consequences you must still suffer”.
      Like I said, it’s an interesting question.

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