Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    mother hugging child

    Plough Quarterly No. 7: Mercy

    Winter 2016


    Featured Articles

    All Articles


    The Gospel at the Margins Living on the Isle of Man means existing on the margins. At a drop-in center and emergency shelter there, staff and guests alike feel the reality of Christ’s love to those who know they’re on life’s fringes. Snapshots from Lesbos A volunteer who spent three weeks with a relief organization aiding migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos writes, “Any attempt to draw tidy conclusions would be as inadequate as the makeshift haven we sought to provide...”


    Forgiving the Unforgivable? Are there any limits to forgiveness? Gerl-Falkovitz helps us plumb the depth of that question, showing why forgiveness is not something to be taken lightly. The God Who Descends The incarnation, from the manger to the cross, is the very opposite of our wishes. It defies our logic and exposes our self-righteousness and bankruptcy. Restorative Justice A simple question was put to the two young men who burned down the church: “Why did you do this to us?” There was a long pause, and the question sat heavily in the room. The victims needed to make better sense of the situation... Rediscovering Wonder Looking past the partisan debate, Knepper focuses on the awe and mystery of creation that Pope Francis hoped to awaken through his encyclical, Laudato si’. Why is this sense of wonder so vital to environmental conservation? Educating for the Kingdom Gerhard Cardinal Müller talks to Mount Academy students about two themes: the kingdom of God, and the importance of education. Learning from Sister Charis Can simply living amongst poor people and showing them love be called mission if it is not accompanied by tracts and sermons? Does the number of converts or the strength and charisma of its leadership determine a ministry's success?

    Personal History

    Forgiving Kim Jong-Il The remarkable story of a former private tutor to North Korea’s ruling family. While on a visit to Moscow, circumstances forced Kim Hyun-Sik to defect. Jong-Il subsequently ordered the execution of his family. How could he ever forgive? Forgiving Dr. Mengele “For most people there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge. We need to honor and remember our victims, but I always wonder if my dead loved ones would want me to live with pain and anger until the end of my life...”


    Poem: Twilight When we are gone, will all the places we know so well continue to hold our presence? A gentle meditation on time and timelessness.


    Bard of God’s Circus Who was Robert Lax? A compelling new biography tells of this poet’s search for the “pure act” – a life of simplicity, poverty, and joy, lived completely in the moment.

    Editors’ Picks

    Editors’ Picks Issue 7 Nadia Bolz-Weber writes about a community in which repentance, confession, and absolution are real; Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer document the desperate survival strategies of American families who live below the poverty line.

    Family and Friends

    Family and Friends: Celebrating Marriage To mark the release of a book of essays by Pope Francis and diverse religious leaders and scholars, Plough hosted an interfaith panel during the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Family and Friends Issue 7 How could ordinary people far away from the refugee crisis respond rather than simply feel helpless? For a church in Derby, England, the answer has been “welcome boxes.”


    Coward, Take My Coward’s Hand The life story of Chris Farlekas, a veteran remembered not only for his goofy glasses and his hot red car, but also for the pies he baked for families low on money and the red suit he donned at Christmas to deliver presents he’d collected.

    Another View

    The Good Samaritan Ferdinand Hodler’s moving interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan takes us to that dusty road where a man lay dying...

    Community Snapshot

    Our Daily Bread “Does God make the bread you get from the store?” My daughter’s question baffled me until I remembered how several evenings earlier our family had read the Lord’s Prayer together...


    Readers Respond: Issue 7 Plough readers respond to “Learning to Love Boko Haram,” “What Is Marriage For?,” “After Obergefell,” and other articles.


    Insights on Mercy “You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”


    The Courage to Forgive A retired police chief and an ex–gang member have teamed up to address dozens of school assemblies in New York and New Jersey. Their message to young people: forgive. Plough asked them to reflect on their unlikely friendship. The Weapons of Grace Despite a long public career, author Philip Yancey has written surprisingly little about his own story. Who is the Yancey we never knew? Being Obedient to Christ Müller speaks about secularization, Laudato Si’, ecumenism, liberation theology, and the faith that keeps him going in troubling times.


    Mother Maria of Paris No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words: Love one another.

    Featured Authors

    refugee mother kissing child

    About This Issue

    Dear Reader,
    It’s rare for a national leader to court political risk in order to help strangers. Yet that’s what Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did in September when she opened her country’s borders to refugees from the Middle East, especially Syria.

    Merkel’s actions weren’t purely selfless, of course, but based in part on political and national interests. And German cities and villages must now house up to 1.5 million newcomers by year’s end, sorely testing the public’s acceptance and goodwill. All the same, this was a brave decision carrying real moral clarity. It showed the world what mercy looks like.

    “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Jesus’ words cut through our excuses, mixed motives, and timidities. Of course, caution has its place; many public policy questions are complicated. What’s not complicated is the desperation of families fleeing terror in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In cases like these, mercy is easy to recognize – as is the lack of it.

    What would it look like if the United States followed Germany’s lead and offered mercy to the throngs of Central Americans, many fleeing horrific violence, who seek to cross our southern border? No doubt this would involve risk, expense, and disruption to our way of life. Yet Jesus’ words hardly leave Christians the choice of looking away. (See Tolstoy’s story, “Three Questions.”) Couldn’t the challenge of mercy draw out what is noblest in our traditions and in our youth?

    painting of man chopping wood

    Mercy, surely, doesn’t stop there. To take a few examples, what does mercy look like in relation to the 2.2 million people being held in US prisons and jails? Or the working poor unable to adequately care for their families? Or the millions of children paying the bitter price of the sexual revolution and its erosion of lifelong marriage between a child’s father and mother?

    Pope Francis, who has brought many of these concerns to the world’s attention, has announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy starting December 8, 2015: “We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.”

    Nowhere is mercy more concrete than in the act of forgiving, as shown by stories from North Korea, New York, and Auschwitz. Is there anything that cannot be forgiven? That’s the question that Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz grapples with in her essay.

    God’s limitless mercy showed itself in flesh and blood in the birth of Jesus. In all we do in 2016, may we make his priorities our own. To our readers who have encouraged us and pointed us in this direction over the past year, our sincere thanks.

    Warm greetings,
    Peter Mommsen, Editor

    Cover photograph by Sean Gallup / Getty Images. Painting by Camille Pissarro, Père Melon Cutting Wood.


    About Plough Quarterly

    Plough is an award-winning international magazine of stories, ideas, and culture that appears weekly online and quarterly in print. We also publish a line of books, including literary nonfiction, fiction, and graphic novels. Founded in 1920, Plough asks the big questions: How can we live well together, and what gives life meaning and purpose in a complex world?