COMMENTARY: Seeking grace in an ungraceful time

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

(Kathleen S. Hurty, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,is General Director of Church Women United, a grassroots ecumenical movement of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian women in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.)

UNDATED _ Ball fields are not usually known as sanctuaries of grace.

Yet we have recently witnessed a remarkable display of grace between two friendly rivals, giving high-fives and cheering each other on as they vied to break a 37-year long homerun record.

But recent images of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa embracing just moments after McGwire hit number 62 to left center was soon overshadowed by images of a different sort _ the release of the 445-page report of the independent counsel. Soon, those who had not already downloaded the Starr report off the Internet could read the full, explicit text in their local newspapers and, at the same time, hear a shaken Bill Clinton quoting the psalmist and expressing remorse before an audience of the nation’s religious leaders.

By the time Sosa tied McGwire’s feat, the nation was far less concerned with the national pastime than with the details of the soiled navy blue dress and precise legal definitions of subjects our mothers taught us not to discuss in public.

It’s really no surprise that our collective interests and imaginations have been so thoroughly captured. For the last eight months, the world has tuned in to a continuing saga whose plot is more complex than most daytime soap operas.

Spokespersons representing all sides of the socio-political spectrum have weighed in with opinions and recommendations, while opinion polls indicate nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to support a leader many regard as morally flawed. The theological debate continues as well, as prominent religious leaders and ordinary lay folk argue over what constitutes the right measure of repentance and contrition.

But can it be something is still missing from our civic conversations? That in our eagerness to know all the sordid details, in the rush to assign blame to one party or another, we have failed as a society _ and as persons of faith _ to hold ourselves accountable for allowing this sad and unnecessary tragedy to divert our attention from the substantive issues of our times?

The reality is that key national priorities affecting the lives of women and children have been all but forgotten as our attentions have turned toward the Beltway. The United States continues to have the highest poverty rate among older women among the world’s industrialized nations. The disparity of median income between men and women is still exacerbated by race and ethnicity. The risk of poverty increases dramatically for the families of women who are abused, divorced, or widowed.

But we are consumed with another list: Who is at fault? Whose sin is greater? When is contrition genuine? What kind of punishment fits the crime, whether legal or ethical?

These are questions without pat answers.

The Christian scriptures call us to humility, reminding us that”there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All.

Whether our sins are infidelity, or greed, or blindness to the needs of others, or any of the other grievous ways in which we hurt, harm, or demean others, we all stand accountable.

These are contentious and ungraceful times. We must, as citizens of a nation with massive potential yet growing poverty find ways to have respectful civic dialogue about the values of economic justice, fairness and equity.

We must, as citizens of a nation rich in cultural diversity yet blatantly racist in so many ways, find community in mutual hospitality, in accessible quality education, in the upholding of indigenous treaties, and in human rights.

These are issues the media could well focus our attention on. These are sketches of an unfinished agenda pleading for national and international attention. Shame on all of us _ president, House, Senate, citizens _ that we have fallen so far short of living up to our ideals as a nation.

As persons of faith, we are called to continuously bring voices of candor, grace, and compassion into the tumultuous, raucous and mean spirited clamor that so pervades our civic conversation and our lives as citizens. It is, then, our moral duty to call our elected officials, and ourselves as citizens, to a renewed commitment to what is truly important and to the benefit of all.

With all people of good will we can seek a civic moral integrity that sets its eye on shared values. Civic moral integrity focuses on mutual trust, honesty and fidelity, mutual forgiveness, and mutual responsibility. These are the touchstones for building just, faithful, and hospitable families and communities.

Above all, we are called to reflect the generosity of God’s compassionate grace _ the grace of unmerited, forgiving, healing, reconciling love that alone has the power to make all things new. That kind of grace can be reflected on ball field or in boardroom, in homes or halls of governance, in congress or in congregations. It is worth cheering on!


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