Friday, November 18, 2005


Some people don’t like Community Coffee’s New Orleans Blend with Chicory with lots of Splenda and half-and-half. I know it’s hard to believe, but it cannot be denied. Tell them about the antioxidants and the social advantages and they still don’t like it. People are funny that way. We have our own tastes. Our own interests. Now, here’s the quizzical thing about us. We can draw a line with Community Coffee, for instance, and say, “No thank you.” And, trust our own sense of taste and decorum to guide us to a different drink, without asking for directions to what we should drink. But, then, writhe and cower inside in fear of the judgment of those who might look and find us lacking in some other area of our lives. We cannot draw lines with confidence and assurance everywhere. Coffee is about it with some of us. Some of us live at the mercy of those who are, or might be, easily offended by us, put out with us, all our lives long.

Some of us cannot live on the basis of the presumption of grace. We do not think grace will be granted. We think it all depends upon how carefully we live our lives, on how well we please those who must be pleased, or else. We think we will never be given the benefit of the doubt. We do not believe in grace.

I wonder if we who do not believe we will be the recipients of grace can easily be its grantors. Can we grant grace graciously, if we do not believe it will be freely given unto us? How gracious are we who do not presume that grace will be extended to us? What about you? Do you give more grace than you receive? If you were to grade your life on the basis of its graciousness, generosity, and hospitality, what grade would you give it—both in terms of what you receive from life and in terms of what you give to life?

Here’s the key. How gracious can you be AND draw appropriate lines? Gracious can be just another term for victimization. Door-mat-ness gives rise to various kinds of symptoms and ills. We equate “being nice,” with being gracious. “Being nice” leads us to plot the deaths, or the eternal misery, of those who are a plague and a toxic presence, or to think fondly about our own. “Being nice” leads to bed rest and heavy medication. There are times when “being nice” is all we can muster, but we cannot sustain it over time without breaking down under the pressure. Grace presents us with an entirely different way of being.

We cannot be gracious if we cannot draw lines, set limits, establish boundaries, say “No,” with grace, and kindness, and compassion, and firmness, and resolution. Grace encases us in a protective shield of personal immunity. We are free from the angry reactivity of those who encounter our lines. We know that beyond them the world is a gracious, kind, safe and nurturing place to be, and that their angry tirade, or cool distance, regarding our insensitivity and selfishness is just a passing blip on the long line of our life. And, we can be gentle in response, knowing that there is relief in the wings, and our boundaries are intact, and we are actually quite safe and secure. Believing in grace enables us to be gracious.

If we do not believe in grace, we have to be hard and unyielding, which is a life posture that leads to brittleness and disintegration. If you are going to believe in anything, believe in grace. Expect to be graciously received. And, when you are not graciously received, grant the ungracious ones among you the benefit of the doubt. Tell yourself they would be more gracious if they weren’t so brittle and rigid and incapable of taking “No” for an answer. Don’t spend any more time with those people than you have to. Surround yourself with those who exude grace, and make it easy to believe that grace is everywhere. Grace begets grace. Living graciously will increase the grace quotient of your life. And, make it easier to be you.


Grace isn’t just, according to our view of justice. When grace calls for justice, it does so without demanding retribution, or, even, apology. Grace does not need remorse; does not require public censure; does not insist upon full disclosure of wrongdoing, does not lay blame and assign responsibility. Grace just says, “That is wrong. This is right. We need to stop doing that and start doing this.” Period. End of discussion.

The popular idea of justice requires us to get to the bottom of things, at which time someone must pay. No payment, no justice, in our view. We are sure that amends must be made, or justice is not done. As if.

But, we do act as if amends is an actual possibility. Juries award large settlements as if cash can do it. Or, we sue the people who have wronged us for a one dollar bill as if the verdict of guilty can do it. We aim for retribution, for retaliation, with firm belief in the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye,” except that we settle for an eye-substitute, a surrogate eye. Public humiliation will do.

Tibetan Buddhists were expelled from their homeland by Chinese Communists. Those who did not escape were killed, with numbers perhaps in the hundreds of thousands. The Pol Pot regime in Cambodia executed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Cambodian Buddhists. During the time of these atrocities, and through all the years following them, we never once heard a Buddhist demanding justice. The Dali Lama talks without ceasing about the need for compassion, an essential component of grace. Thich Nhat Hanh preaches the same message. Jesus called for blanket, compassionate, gracious forgiveness for those who carried out his death.

These three people, the Dali Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jesus of Nazareth are all very clear about what needs to stop happening, and about what needs to start happening: “Not that, this!” None of them thinks in terms of retribution, revenge, retaliation, or in terms of extracting remorse and requiring restitution—in any form. With us, justice is a power play. With us, it is about making someone sorry, about making someone pay. With them, justice is grace in action.

No comments: