Lessons in Grace
This photo that Fans of David shared made me smile. It also made me wary of those fans who may be troubled by the sheer religiosity of this image, a David on his mission, a David “trying to be a lot like Jesus,” which is exactly the point of this feet-washing meeting.
But how many of us can distinguish between mere religiosity and simple grace?
I’m thinking about this of late since I was inspired by the story of Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk in Atlanta, who single-handedly prevented another Sandy Hook mass shooting school tragedy earlier this week, as she talked down the perpetrator and got him to surrender his ammo. Just listen to the 911 call and judge for yourself.
It’s a beautiful story. And in her many interviews, Ms. Tuff constantly gave credit to God. “It’s only through his grace and mercy,” she said about the situation: about how she engaged the shooter, Michael Hill, calling him “sweetie” and “baby,” and telling him that she loved him, that she understands him because she’s been through her own personal tragedies.
How many of us could react in a similar fashion? More than that: how many would draw on love and grace and faith and put it into action through this empathetic display of human touch and compassion?
As James Wellman notes on the Patheos blog, Ms. Tuff “was loving this man back into being; treating him not as an object to be manipulated, but as a soul to be healed and saved.”
He also said this, which I think is critical:
Why did Michael listen to her? One can imagine that he has heard every single type of psychological language used on him to deal with his mental illness. He knew the script by heart. But with Antoinette this again was no script, it was the language of love in action. Antoinette recalled the pain of her own life—her severely disabled son, her recent divorce, her despair and attempted suicide. She too had seen the dark side of life. And yet, in the midst of it her pastor had taught her, to “anchor” in the Lord.
This idea is a spiritual one—it appeals to a type of consciousness in which one focuses on a source of power and love, “the Lord,” who opens up space in a person, both psychological and spiritual, so that grace, or unconditional favor, can flow through… Antoinette has experienced a radical sense of grace that gives her space to survive tragedy, and this in turn makes her able to speak and love Michael with a deep and radical sort of empathy. She loves this lost soul because her soul has been loved.
This is such a poignant argument that many, especially those who don’t come from a faith background, tend to dismiss and even scoff at (if you can believe the uncharitable comments online that are quick to pull Tuff’s “hero” card because she dared give credit to a higher power instead of to herself).
While different journalists and pundits are quick to use Tuff as an example, even a “textbook” case on how to talk down a madman bent on mass murder, they all keep missing the point: This is not behavior that can be “trained,” you either have the capacity to love and empathize, or you don’t. And sometimes, we have to reach beyond ourselves to find that radical care, that radical love.
The picture of David washing an elderly man’s feet and the story of Antoinette Tuff are lessons in grace. I know I’m not anywhere close as these genuine souls are to letting in divine grace into my life, but their powerful examples remind me of what is still possible if I would only open my heart and let the soul work begin.