It’s difficult to live in Grace in a time of turmoil — for me, anyway.
Thoughts and feelings get tumbled around as everyone and everything clamors for attention: COVID numbers, politicians, protests, counter-protests, job hunts, healthcare providers, bills, friends and family. I easily get tumbled around and lose my center, my grounding. How can I live and show Grace when I want to shake some sense into that person and outright throttle another? When I feel threatened or even attacked?
Yet, these are the times when Grace is needed most — and is perhaps in shortest supply.
On my recent trip I had 4 days in the car to listen to audio books. The first was Ancient Civilizations of North America, by Edwin Barnhart, The Great Courses and also available on Audible. The second was Madeleine Albright’s Hell and Other Destinations, Harper, also on Audible and in print. Both are long reads/listens, but they book-ended each other nicely for me.
Ancient Civilizations of North America covers the known movements of people and their civilizations prior to European “Contact” in 1492. Not all were nomads, many farmed and built great cities (before the Mayans), most disappeared through warfare, drought or unknown causes. Albright’s most recent biographical narrative jumps around in her life, talking about people and causes she’s been working with recently, then discussing her nomadic childhood and back again.
What I realized is that our times are not that unusual. In fact, if anything is strange in the historical sense, it’s that so many people have prospered as well as they have over the last century, especially since WWII.
We seem to be creatures built to want more, to think we’re better than “others”, and to build our cultural narratives in a way to reinforce our thinking instead of admitting there might be another, maybe even better way. And heaven forbid we should acknowledge any wrongdoing or responsibility on our part should something go wrong!
Part of my personal frustration is with the question, “What to do?” I can’t march in temperatures ranging from 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. And with the general disdain around here for masks and social distancing, (and subsequent rise in COVID cases) it wouldn’t be wise for me.
I don’t have a world-wide (or even nation-wide) audience to rouse up with my prose. But, I finally realized, there are some things I can do.
I can anchor myself in Grace, in the unconditional love of a God I’ve come to trust in spite of myself.
I can treat each person I meet with that same Grace and love. A smile and “How are you?” to the grocery clerk. A thank you to the person bagging. Instead of grumbling at the person who just cut me off on the street, consider that their hurry might be due to a family emergency, not a late rising with a hangover. Waving back at the little boy who waves at me while holding his mother’s hand.
I did help rescue a kitten in a dumpster yesterday — does that count?
I can continue to talk about Grace here and elsewhere.
OK, so I’m not the Dalai Lama, or Mahatma Gandhi, or even Mother Teresa. That’s OK. I can’t do what they did, but I can do what I can do. Whether it’s giving my husband a big hug when he’s tired and frustrated, or gifting a peacock feather mask to a friend who loves peacock colors, those are things I can do, to keep myself grounded in what’s really important.
One area I need to examine carefully is social media.
Consider the lady who posted about being refused service at a Starbucks because she wasn’t wearing a mask. Social media tore into her for her attitude and supported the barista. While she certainly deserved to be called out regarding her attitude, I suspect many of the posts were downright vicious. Name calling and shaming are “normal” ways a society uses to bring or keep people in line. But at what price? Once the fifth or so person called her a Karen or used the “white privilege” term, was there any benefit to continuing the onslaught? By that point, she either saw the error of her ways or had fortified her position out of sheer self-preservation.
Just about anything has become an opportunity to tear someone down, blame someone else, or push people apart, economically, politically, socially. But Grace says to pull people together, heal the hurts, bind the wounds.
“Easy for you to say,” you might be thinking. No, not really. There are so many issues that are emotionally super-charged, with “right-minded” people on both sides — including True Believers who are sure God is on “their” side. I fear to wade into highly charged discussions, knowing my tendency to see validity on both sides is often unappreciated by either side. I find my mind turning again and again to the story of the woman caught in adultery, as told in the New Testament book John, chapter 8.
According to the narrative, the woman was caught “in the act” so to speak and brought to Jesus by some men who were trying to trip him up theologically. They pointed out that according to the Law of Moses, she was to be stoned. (They conveniently left out that the man involved was also to be stoned as well, but there is no sign of him!) Jesus’ reaction was to start writing in the sand. Eventually he says, “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone.” After the accusers trickle away, Jesus refuses to condemn her as well and sends the woman home.
Theologians love to argue about what — if anything — Jesus wrote in the sand. Some also like to argue whether the story is even valid, as it’s missing from some manuscripts. I’ll just say it fits the narrative and theme of John and go on. Because the core of the story isn’t about the woman’s sin, or even about the Mosaic Law, per se, but about the accusers. They were all sinners.
Whether you are a Christian, follow another faith or none at all, I think you’ll agree that we all make mistakes. We all mess up. We all feel guilt about things we do or don’t do, especially when we know what’s is right or wrong in the moment and do the wrong anyway.
That’s why we all need Grace. We all need to hear, “I don’t condemn you either.” We all need to know that we can go on, without a rock hanging around our neck to drag us down.
Grace frees us from the “shouldas, oughtas, and gottas” as a professor of mine described them. “I should have done this.” “I ought to do this.” “I have got to do this.” The underlying text of all these is that we must (and can) do certain things to be good enough — for others, our family, our job, our God. And when we fail (which we often do), we aren’t worthy.
Grace says: It’s not what you do but who you are. A child of Grace isn’t afraid of trying to do things, because they know that Grace won’t berate, beat or ostracize them if they mess up. And we do mess up. But we are free to get back up and try again, often getting it right.
Sure, others are quick to jump on our errors and call us out. But we have the choice of who we let define us. Will it be some equally fallible human(s)? Or God (YHWH/Allah/some other deity/a moral or spiritual Truth) that can transform from within and make us the best person we can be? I’ve chosen Grace.
Your path is different than mine, but we can remind one another who we are: Children of Grace. We can encourage each other to find Grace in the mundane things of our lives as well as the profound. And, perhaps most importantly in these tumultuous times of turmoil, we can share of that Grace to those with whom we are in contact. The world is starving for Grace and those willing to give it.