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By Stephen Berg



Desiring mercy in the wake of an election of retribution


In all the years I’ve contemplated upon “desiring mercy not sacrifice” — that seemingly cryptic thing Jesus said, which is at the heart of human survival, well-being and peace — there’s never been a clearer example of “sacrifice,” and there’s never been a clearer example of what is necessary for healing.

Sacrifice, here, is that ancient mode of creating and maintaining group cohesion through any form of scapegoating violence, sacrificial violence, redemptive violence — from the ritual slaughtering of animals on alters to the exiling or lynching, actually or figuratively, of some supposed identifiable guilty party, coterie, company, or community; more concretely: anything from the schoolyard or office-clique shunning of one who doesn’t quite fit, to the pogroms of the old Russian Empire.

The election south of us was won through a relentless and monstrous application of this kind of “sacrifice,” this scapegoating mechanism. Scapegoated were: Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQ people, people of colour, women, and of course the elitist establishment and its overlord.

On the other side were the avant-garde-cloaked vilifiers of the Vilifier. And with them, an entire industry setup to smear the “basket of deplorables” — the name given to the supporters of the Scapegoater, from, well, another scapegoater.

In the meantime, ordinarily better people found their baser bents and were swept up in the fascination of the old sacred. And all the cultist flare was there: the neo-nationalist chants of “Build that wall!”; the allegiance to an imagined past and the promised kingdom of future greatness; solidarity within the new salvific circle, against all those real or imagined fiends who’ve made life hell; and the mantle of a new and purer identity, gained through the expulsion of all that contaminates and opposes the good and the white.

Not that there weren’t deep legitimate grievances — there certainly were — enough to give traction to what seemed an unthinkable result, for what seemed an unthinkable candidate.

Unfortunately, tragically, there were and are real victims, and now the potential is great for many more. Already the election has given licence to a growing fringe, resulting in a surge of abuses, slurs, and physical violence toward all those targeted minorities.

And yet, thousands of people showed up at “Love Still Trumps Hate” marches across the USA. There is hope.

As naive and seemingly facile as it sounds, mercy is the only path to healing, peace and learning love. Mercy is a dynamic that allows us to see our own inner basement, our culpability, our susceptibility to the mechanism, and turn away from any kind of reciprocal violence.

While sacrificial violence always requires more violence, always feeds violence, mercy relaxes us into kindness and love, releases us to desire the well-being and joy of our neighbour here, and across the borders.

The choice, perhaps, has never been clearer — mercy or sacrifice: sacrificial violence will finally collapse on its inherent escalation, taking us with it. Mercy will bring us to the garden.

Berg, a freelance writer and poet, currently lives in Victoria, B.C., where he also volunteers at Our Place, a care facility for homeless people. His poetry and prose have been in staged performances and have appeared in such publications as the Edmonton Journal, Orion, Geez, and Earth Shine. He blogs at