Reminders of Dignity

Posted: April 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

I remember years ago standing on the side porch of a church and hearing news from one of our leaders that he was heading into a divorce. My immediate response was compassion – for him and all concerned. But for him something else was at stake, namely, his role and place in the community. He offered to resign, worried that his personal situation would somehow cast a poor light on the whole church. I encouraged him to not resign, to instead serve out his term, reminding him that the essence of what we were about was the pure, unfettered love of God. That divine love is realized most not when all is well, but rather when things become dicey.

In retrospect, after serving for decades in the pastoral role, I realize how much I was a dispenser of grace for hundreds of people just like this man. I was also a dispenser of grace for hundreds more who discovered that message of grace in some indirect way, through something I said or wrote publicly. I know this because they told me later, often to my surprise.

Though most of us may know something of the love that will not let us go through our religious convictions or personal experience, we need to be reminded by flesh and flood people. For some that takes the form of absolution in the confessional booth or a pronouncement of forgiveness at the conclusion of a corporate confession of sin in worship. But for most I would say it comes down to another person saying, in one way or another, “God loves you, we’re all imperfect, there are do-overs, and God’s grace is bigger than your failures.”

Most people can tell you the time and place such words were spoken or communicated to them. It may or may not have been in a religious context. But the reality of grace is always transformative. When we are on the receiving end of it we can stand our full height again, and stand our full height with a sense of freedom and power.

I believe our unique vocation is to serve up generous portions of grace – especially for those who have not been on the receiving end of it. The world is cruel. Religious communities can be as well. It doesn’t take much to stand in the breach where kindness has been conspicuously absent. If we wait patiently, the opportunity always arises.  If you have ever been on the receiving end of that it becomes perfectly natural to be on the giving end. So that people can find their dignity again.

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