There, but for the grace of God

In memory of my late grandmother, Nita Pearl
who loved poetry & the colour purple.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, it once was said,
For another’s path of darkness
Could be mine or yours instead.
No soapbox to be stood on;
No high ground to be claimed;

I daren’t think too highly of myself
Lest I be shamed.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, it once was thought,
For I know not of his story,
Or the battles he has fought.

Was birth or creed or race or greed
At fault most in her past?

Did she choose the leading role,
The script in which she’s cast?

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we used to say;
My heart may not seem quite as black,
But it’s at least a shade of grey.

Perhaps his script was golden,
But he improvised for worse;

Does he deserve redemption,
Or forever to be cursed?

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we rarely think;
“Perfect? No, but good at heart,”
We say without a blink.

Pride and greed and lust and rage
Ignored at least in part,

When visit unexpected,
Betray the blackness of our heart.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we’d think once more;
That before we speak our hearts are scanned
For blackness, to be sure.

For if we wish to throw a stone;
Point out another’s sin;

We might first see the roles reversed,
And find grace for love to win.

You make a good point, but…

As intelligent humans, we like to think we’re right. Confidently interacting within the world around us is most certainly more helpful than constantly second-guessing ourselves, preserving an environment of insecurity. For many of our thoughts & decisions, we can generally navigate life without dislodging others from their chosen tack.

This may be true for the vapid elements of life, but should some audacious soul trespass on our more considered judgments, heaven help us all! If you’ve spent any time on social media or watching politico-cultural television programs, you’ll have experienced more than your share of both passionate and vacuous commentary from the self-declared morally superior side of the fence. The side on which you’re not standing (or sitting, should you find yourself atop the fence). All sides have their zealots in the fray; some of us may have even found ourselves holding the loud-speaker at one time or another.

Whether the topic be politics, society, religion, schooling, or the fashionable mother-lode: diet (more specifically, sugar) we humans have an uncanny ability to sacrifice principle in favour of a side. Entrenched opinions & emotionally-charged rhetoric too easily capture our sensibilities so that our capacity for intellectual purity is impaired.

But of course, the way we see the world makes absolute sense. And if we are completely honest, at least with ourselves, many of the beliefs we hold really are superior to others’; if this weren’t the case, no one would argue for anything, whether expressed or thought.

Joseph Joubert quipped, “The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.” Does there exist an approach, then, by which we can positively engage those less-enlightened than ourselves?  One that progresses society, whilst avoiding the use of verbal or virtual bombs laced with insult & self-righteousness?  I believe there is. It requires us to draw on the core human characteristics of humility, empathy, & compassion, all summed up in one word: love.

When I wish to engage in changing another’s viewpoint, instead of lobbing over a grenade laden with sanctimony, love requires me to climb the fence with an open heart & open arms; I may even come to understand why they are so seemingly erroneous. From my new vantage point, I am sure to discover previously concealed weeds within my own garden bed of thought; but should I fail to see why the other person persists with such perceived delusion, love requires me to whisper quietly… even when they should know better. Love calls me to move first, to place myself squarely in the comfort zone of others, regardless of the disquiet within my own soul. It implores that I would first understand before seeking to be understood.

Whether we are arguing an important point or championing a good cause, it is quite possible to be right, yet wrong, all at the same time. Whilst we may have loosened the grip on our opinions or escaped the lure of emotive rhetoric, it’s all too easy to unconsciously side-step into zealous moral superiority. Love requires humility, sometimes appropriately displayed by a silent mouth & an untouched keyboard… a lesson hard-learned & all too familiar to some of us.

But conviction sometimes asks us to have a voice, either for ourselves or for those who cannot be heard. When it does, may we always wrap our words in love so that those who receive them are enlarged & that the only victory won is mutual progress.

Enduring in love is the principle that when abandoned, causes untold misery, yet when pursued, brings immeasurable prosperity to all within its reach. Paul wrote it well to the Corinthians: “So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”