Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Radical Grace

Grace is a radical thing. 

It upends my perceptions, changes my priorities, and challenges my assumptions.  Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you: these are not commands that mesh well with my sense of entitlement.

Then I read the stories of Troy Davis and Ross Byrd, two men whose lives serve as testimonies to this radical grace.  Troy Davis' last words were a prayer for mercy and blessing for the men taking his life.  Ross Bird fought until the end to save the life of Lawrence Russell Brewer, the man who killed his father by dragging him behind a truck for miles, and who was unrepentent to the end.

Still, this radical grace escapes me. 

I can find grace for all kinds of unlikely candidates.  I rejoiced the day the death penalty was abolished in Illinois, even though the two men sentenced to death for murdering a family member were among those granted a repreive.  I have grace for the "enemies" whom I tried to kill and who tried to kill me when I was in the Army.  I have no problem finding grace for Troy Davis, for Russell Brewer, for Osama bin Laden.  I have grace for the oppressed, for the addict, the prositute, the orphan, the unloved, the marginalized. 

But I put grace in a box, or more precisely, in boxes.  Some of these boxes are consistently full, some I find frequently running low, and the one I find empty most often is the box of grace for professing Christians.

Yes, I have no grace for Christians.

When I have a disagreement with a professing Christian, especially one so profound as one over opinions on the death penalty, I want to lash out, to tell them how wrong they are (or more precisely, how right I am).  I want to set the record straight.  I want to burn their palaces and their empires to the ground.  I want to shove their hypocrisy in their smug, smiling faces.

Mostly, I want to throw stones.

But herein lies the problem.  As @HaleyKristine writing for @Deeperstory this morning points out, He walks past my pile of stones and looks past my own imperfections every day, and embraces me where I am, where I was, and where I will be.  In staying my hand, it's not the soul of the object of my ire He is saving. 

It is mine. 

Ironically, death penalty arguments are a fitting analogy.  Just as violence begets violence and hate begets hate, grace begets grace.  In calling me to let go, and to drop my own stones, He is confronting me in the midst of the cycle of violence that I am an active participant in, and bringing me into Grace.  When I seek to reengage the cycle, it is an affront to Grace, and more damaging to me than to those I would seek to harm.

So in the end, I am Troy Davis, and I am Lawrence Russell Brewer.  I am both capable of being a conduit of this radical Divine Grace, and at the same time I am desperately in need of the same. 

Help me to show Grace as You have shown me Grace.
Help me to walk in Greater Love.
Help me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly in You.
Help me.


  1. Wow. I can SO relate. Even though I'm sure our pasts look very different I totally get what you're saying about withholding Grace from Christians in particular. I reluctantly admit that I have the shallowest of mercy for my Brothers and Sisters in Christ~ judgement comes so easily. And yet, how wrong am I. I am no better than any man on death row(and perhaps even worse as I have failed to reconcile these issues)....Thanks so much for this post. Your raw truth is refreshing in a very hypocritical , politically correct world.

  2. Luke,

    Thanks for penning this. It resonates deeply. The other day I was reminded of a lyric from Sufjan Stevens' song "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." which I keep coming back to time and again in the midst of the last few weeks of events surrounding the death penalty, justice, murder, guilt, etc.

    The lyrics that close this song blow my mind. Just thought I'd share.

    Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

    "His father was a drinker
    And his mother cried in bed
    Folding John Wayne's t-shirts
    When the swingset hit his head
    The neighbors they adored him
    For his humor and his conversation
    Look underneath the house there
    Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
    Oh, the dead

    Twenty-seven people
    Even more, they were boys
    With their cars, summer jobs
    Oh my God

    Are you one of them?

    He dressed up like a clown for them
    With his face paint white and red
    And on his best behavior
    In a dark room on the bed
    He kissed them all
    He'd kill ten thousand people
    With a sleight of his hand
    Running far, running fast to the dead
    He took off all their clothes for them
    He put a cloth on their lips
    Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth

    And in my best behavior
    I am really just like him
    Look beneath the floor boards
    For the secrets I have hid"

    - Joel

  3. @Juanita D Perhaps it's an issue of feeling "they should know better," but it is so easy to rush to judgment, isn't it? And there is no better/worse. Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself or your shortcomings to someone else's. They are all the same. We are all the same when it comes down to it. On the one side, there is only sin, and more importantly, on the other, there is only grace. Walk in the fullness of it, both receiving and giving. Be blessed.

  4. @JoelI freaking love that song. I was 13 when Gacy was executed here in Illinois, and I remember it being one of the first times I can ever really remember recognizing what evil was. I remember both the grizzly details of Gacy's crimes, and the glee with which people in Illinois greeted the news of his death. I distinctly remember my reaction to both being a similar feeling of disgust.

    I remember even in my church, people were literally thanking their god (certainly not mine) for his death, and even as a 13 year old, I remember thinking, how is this any different from the greed, pride, envy, anger, etc we see from people even within the church, and within ourselves for that matter? I remember asking my youth pastor how I was any different from Gacy, and I remember hearing some nonsense platitudes about how his sins were worse than mine (I know, solid theology, right?) but I was never satisfied. It's a lesson that's stuck in the back of my mind my whole life. I really think we deceive ourselves into thinking we're somehow better than the other, when in reality, we are the other.

    Miss you bro.

  5. Exactly true. I have struggled with this a lot - and have at times absolutely hurt other Christians who were being judgmental in an effort to protect others. But realized later, they were young to Christianity, and honestly were trying to do right. I have been convicted a lot lately for judging other Christians for being judgmental, it has taken most of my blogs recently........

    It's so hard to offer grace to everyone. Grace to the judged and those who judge. I have been trying recently though. I understand, they are all growing and someday down the line, hopefully they will also come to understand the greatness of God's grace.

  6. @joysthoughtsonstuffIt's impossibly hard. I'm reminded of an (admittedly one-sided) exchange I had with Rick Warren on twitter the other day. He said "People irritate you less if you remember where & how far they've come from instead of how far they still have to go." That bugged me. A lot. In applying it to my own life, it seemed to have a bit of a paternalistic feel to it, like those other "people" were immature Christians, and I had somehow arrived, so I should pat them on their little heads and make excuses for them. But the fact pf the matter is, we're all screwed up, so I replied "Funny thing is, I find that people irritate me less when I remember how far I still have to go." It's all just a matter of perspective. (and I'm TOTALLY sure he read it) :)


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