Accepting Grace and Human Fallibility
by J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin | August 16, 2017
Repeating history is painful… I am writing this column for myself. To always remind me that I am a very imperfect creature.
Confucius once was asked “How do we gain wisdom?” He said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
This past weekend was bitter. I continue to be deeply troubled by the collapse of the American ability to discuss, learn, and grow from meaningful discussions about our collective past.
Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) showed our country the way out of this conflict during the civil rights protests of the 1960’s. Through his letters from the Birmingham jail and consistently through his actions and those of other prominent African American leaders, they chose to meet God’s greatest challenge and in so doing, blessed the rest of us through their example.
It is an example worth remembering today.
“The best way out is always through.”
- Robert Frost in A Servant to Servants
I have written many times in this space that the only thing we control is our actions and reactions. In today’s instant media age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and minute-by-minute 24-hour news coverage – I pray that we all learn to breathe, slow down, listen and contemplate as the blast furnace of reactionary rhetoric and images pour forth from purveyors of hate to the reactionary political elements who fail to follow Dr. King’s example and His calling. Only by attempting to control our own actions and reactions can we begin to get a handle on how to control the vitriolic public environment we live in today.
The most difficult passage of wisdom that I struggle with every day is in Mathew 5:44, “But, I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But that struggle is the most important part, because it causes me to pause and to reflect and to listen and obey.
I consider myself a student of the Civil War and American history in general. At its core, this weekend’s protests were about a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. There have been calls to take it down. The statue of Lee in his military uniform astride Traveler, his horse, depicts him during a period of the greatest conflict in American history.
President Lincoln actually offered the command of the Union army to Lee, but Lee did not want to fight against the people of Virginia – his home state. Lee made a historically understandable, but terrible decision to join the Confederacy. Had he chosen not to, perhaps the cost in blood of our nation’s Civil War would have been much less staggering.
Every human being is flawed, even those we honor as a nation. It is only through this understanding of one another that we can come to grips with God’s greatest commandment.
President Obama did not always hit the right notes when trying to deal with conflicts that beset our nation, but he certainly did when he eulogized Reverend Pinckney at the memorial service for parishioners of the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.
Grace is not something that is earned; it is a gift given to us by God. It is my hope and prayer that this week we can all extend some grace to everyone and attempt to live up to the calling to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The ancient Hebrew word ‘tzaddikim’ describes people who disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community, who put the community needs above their own. That is the true definition of righteousness. May God bless those who practice grace in a silent and humble manner that disadvantages themselves for the benefit of others.
Taken at a recent protest that happened prior to this weekend, this officer in Charlottesville is a depiction of ‘tzaddikim’, someone who is sacrificing of himself for the benefit of others. May we all lead such righteous lives.