I just came across Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace in conclusion of his eulogy of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I don't know how I missed it, it was understandably big news.
But I'm almost glad I came to it late because of the central message of his eulogy-- grace. I'm not a Christian, and the word grace does not trickle through my mind or out of my lips often. It's not a concept that I use to arrange my thinking or to organize my world. In fact, I tend to grimace at words from scripture, more from a reaction against a spiritual mindset than from the off-taste of unfamiliar terms. So, hearing President Obama, a personal pillar of reason and respectability, use the word grace over and over again captured my attention far more than his typically captivating oratory.
A particular element of his speech grabbed me:
But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual -- that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change -- that’s how we lose our way again.
Almost three months later, I came to this speech from within that comfortable silence. Donald Trump has overtaken the news cycles, and when before I was fired up about racism, I've slipped back into head-shaking complacency.
But Obama talked about grace.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God -- as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace. As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. -Wishful Thinking: a thinker's ABC