A few weeks ago, a strange convergence of faith-related things happened in the public eye.
Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, died in hospice care.
Mark Driscoll, outspoken writer and pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, posted a public apology letter for some of his actions in leading his church.
World Vision, a Christian child sponsorship and world relief organization, changed their hiring policies to open employment to those in same-sex marriages...and then promptly reversed their decision.
I could spend many words on any one of those three events. We have the death of a man who led his congregation in truly hateful acts, picketing and protesting funerals of soldiers and celebrities, standing outside public events with damning anti-gay signs. We have an apology letter and a "signing-off" of social media from a man who has said terrible things about women, and especially women in leadership, though his apology seems most aimed at his own actions within his own church. And we have a relief organization who, whether you agree with their methods or not, does much good in the world, who opened the doors to more just hiring practices, and then, under pressure from donors, closed that door, and in the process still managed to lose much funding...funding that is crucial to saving the lives of children and families around the world.
What has been most interesting in watching these stories unfold is the gracious response to all three stories by those who, if we're being honest, were most theologically inclined to engage in a bit of Schadenfreude.
I watched Christians of all stripes pray for Mr. Phelps's peaceful passing, and for comfort for his family and his congregation. I watched progressive Christians offer up support and kindness for Marc Driscoll. I watched Christians in support of same-sex marriage say things like "if we think it is wrong for Evangelical organizations to pull support for World Vision when they opened up their hiring practices, then it is equally as wrong for us to pull support when they closed them."
And I was amazed at all this grace.
For as much as I believe I am a compassionate, caring person, I also know that I am stubborn. And when I get into the thick of things with those with whom I disagree, I can become oppositional for opposition's sake. And it is in times like that when I need the Holy Spirit, or my conscience, or someone who knows me well, to gently tap me on my shoulder and whisper into my ear, "Grace, Melissa. Grace."
And when I slow down enough to take a breath from my own stubbornness, then I find myself doing things like rooting for the underdog (or at least feeling empathy for them), taking seriously the real hurts of others (even if they are caused by inaccuracies or misunderstandings), looking for the best in others, and taking seriously the notion that even those with whom I disagree are often also working out of deep-seated convictions and good intentions.
I preached a couple weeks ago about God's call for us to seek loveliness in one another and in our world, rather than setting our sights on one another's sins, limitations, or brokenness. I am thankful for all those in my life who model grace; who look for the holiness in one another, who remember that God has called us all "beloved."
So what does grace look like? I think it looks like taking each other seriously. Taking each other at our word. Looking for points of agreement rather than disagreement. Listening often and listening well. Being bound to one another by our shared humanity, by our shared neediness, by our shared salvation. It's like compassion plus empathy plus being self-aware enough to realize that you aren't right all the time and you certainly don't always need to "win."
May you see grace in one another today, and feel grace extended to you, and be graceful and grace-filled in the people and places you touch.