As the town gathered to recover, the president of the board of firefighters gave a speech honoring the firefighters, and then referenced the community itself.
"He talked about how in ancient times, people who did damage to a town were sent to live outside its walls, beyond community, beyond inclusion and protection. He mentioned the four young men who had started the fire, and that he had heard that their families were thinking of moving away. His opinion was that the town should make it clear to the families that they should stay, that they were wanted, that they were needed. There was sustained applause. People who houses had burned down came up to say they agreed with this plan. The town wanted these young men inside the ring of protection." Anne LamottThat?
That is grace. When we fall, when we make mistakes, when our judgement is poor, when we let ourselves down, when we let others down. When we fail. To be welcomed back into community, into the 'ring of protection' - that is breathtaking, awe-inspiring, overwhelming, too-good-to-be-true grace.
And it's all well and good for someone to hope and pray and long for such grace; but if the members of the community are unwilling to offer grace in a tangible, audible, visible way, there is no win. Grace softens and inspires. It makes people better. When grace is withheld, bitterness and doubt take root. It is a hard, hard thing, for a broken person to have to claw themselves out of the well of shame and self-recrimination without a hand to hold. Or two.
Indulge me for a moment, and forgive me any offense. I intend none. And I write not from a position of holiness, for I have missed the mark myself on many occasions. Just consider this a heartfelt request and reminder.
When the circumstances of life present to you the opportunity to extend grace, consider carefully how you will respond. For those who ascribe belief in the words of the Bible, remember this passage from James; paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, it reads:
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
Whether you believe the Bible or not, it's quite simple: Be kind. When you have an opportunity, choose to be kind.
Grace can change the world. You can change the world if you choose to extend grace. Take a step. Say the word. Be kind. It costs you nothing.
Except, perhaps, your pride. And whatever slight joy you might derive out of talking about the faults and failures of others.
It's personal for me today. So be kind.