When Generous Grace is Greater Than Outraged Protest
We are living in contentious times, so I want to be careful not to stoke fires even further. But I do want to lean into a sentiment I have been feeling lately in the midst of so much rancor, which is that sometimes generous grace is greater than outraged protest.
To be sure, there are seasons for outrage and protest, and we are surely living in the midst of one. Disengagement and rebuke are necessary tools we needn’t shy away from using when appropriate, and I don’t begrudge anyone from considering current events worthy of their full use. I get there are people and decisions and opinions that are so abhorrent that they don’t deserve to be engaged with nor do they warrant anything but stinging rebuke. However, I wonder if, if the goal is to change people’s minds, change policy, and ultimately change the world, we might consider using generous grace instead of outraged protest.
Take, for example, the recent kerfuffle over White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reporting that she was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant by the restaurant’s proprietor. Responses to this incident fell along expected lines, with some crying foul while others defended the proprietor’s right to refuse service, found irony in the outrage over not feeling welcome, and used the opportunity to heap even further scorn upon Ms. Sanders for her own behavior and for the behavior of the person she is speaking for.
I contend that everyone who has participated in this incident and ensuing discussion is well within their rights to act and express as they have. What a country we live in, that we can freely do so. However, just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do, if what you want is to change minds, change policy, and change the world.
What if, instead of showing Ms. Sanders the door, the proprietor said something to the effect of: “Ms. Sanders, I vehemently disagree with the position of the administration of which you are the spokesperson. And I do so because I am in the service business, and in my line of work hospitality is everything, and I think this administration has demonstrated the opposite of that in its cruel and narrow-minded policies. So to show you the power of a welcoming spirit, I am rolling out the red carpet for you. I have instructed everyone on my staff to pull out all the stops to give you a wonderful meal and an unforgettable evening. Please enjoy with our compliments.”
I can hear you rolling your eyes. “You are so naïve.” “This won’t work.” And, of course: “She doesn’t deserve it.”
Ah, but that is what generous grace is, is unmerited favor to the undeserved in over-abundance. You may think Sarah Huckabee Sanders (or the Republicans or Donald Trump) don’t deserve to be treated so nice, or even that they don’t deserve anything but disengagement and rebuke. And you might be right. But that doesn’t mean that that is the best way to effect change. Outraged protest can be powerful. But generous grace can be even more powerful.
It calls to mind a story in the Bible (2 Kings 6:8-23 if you want to look it up), in which Elisha’s servant wakes up one morning to an invading army that has assembled against Elisha. The servant fears for his life, but Elisha calmly reminds the servant that those who are with them are greater than those who are against them. Then Elisha prays for God to open his servant’s eyes, and lo and behold an even greater army appears to surround their attackers. The marauding enemies are struck with blindness, and the servant asks Elisha if he should kill them. But Elisha says to prepare a feast for them and send them on their way.
The attackers were out for Elisha’s head. Did they deserve to be spared, let alone fed a feast? Not at all. But that is generous grace in action. And it has the effect Elisha intended; the story ends by saying that those invaders never entered the land again.
Of course, central to the Christian faith is that none of us are worthy of God’s love, but that through the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus His Son we who deserved condemnation now live in God’s favor. Because He knew the power of generous grace, Jesus could accept the scorn and abuse heaped upon Him, knowing He didn’t deserve it but needed to endure it in order to fulfill a grand purpose for humanity.
Generous grace is hard. I won’t speak for others, but I am not naturally generous or gracious. Why, just this week, Amy and I had an impromptu lunch during the work day. I ordered a very large burrito, which I couldn’t come close to finishing, so I wrapped it up and asked her to bring it home. But she was planning on walking a considerable distance to get home, and didn’t want to lug this heavy burrito all the way home, so she half-jokingly but half-seriously said she’d give it to the first needy person who asked for food along the way. I said that would be fine, but in my mind I was thinking to myself, “But I have a long work day ahead of me, and I want to be able to go home and finish my burrito!” In my heart, it wasn’t about not having enough resources to give away the burrito and get another one for myself, it was about who deserved to get to eat it. I realized then how hard it was for me to let go of a stupid half-eaten burrito. I am not naturally generous or gracious.
But, with God’s help, we all can practice generous grace. And, if I may mix metaphors, generous grace can move mountains. It can get marauding armies to stop invading your land. It can secure a salvation story for humanity. And it might even get a president and his team to change their tune on immigration policy. Maybe your heart is softer than mine in terms of being able to share half-eaten burritos. But maybe you are having trouble extending grace to people you disagree with politically or find morally repugnant. They may deserve your harshest words and more. But maybe what will change them, and the world, is generous grace instead.
PS Let me append one more sentiment to this already too long post, which is to revisit the time Vice President Pence attended a performance of "Hamilton" and the actors took the opportunity to publicly appeal to the Vice President and to disagree with the Trump Administration's policies. Some thought this an inappropriate interruption to what should've been a night out for the Vice President and others in attendance. But art is inherently expressive, and sometimes that expression takes political voice. Indeed, throughout history it is often the artists - the musicians, the poets, the movie directors - who are on the front lines of political discourse and policy change. I hope my recollection of that night at "Hamilton" is not faulty, in that I remember the passion of the actors and the respectful acknowledgement of Vice President Pence. This is what is great about our country, not that we always agree (because we don't) and not even that when we disagree that we do so cordially (because sometimes it is warranted to be "rude"), but that we uphold most of all the freedom to express ourselves, to hear and be heard. When that breaks down, and we can't even eat in the same restaurants together, somebody has to break through with generous grace in order to make a way forward.