As a child, I attended a Baptist church in deep southern Louisiana. The preacher there was all fire and brimstone. A yeller, he worked to put the fear of God into his small congregation.
Mostly, he succeeded. I was a curious child, but when I asked questions about faith that weren’t part of the preacher’s plan, I’d get no answers. Be careful what you ask, or you’ll go to hell, he cautioned.
I never, not once, heard about the concept of grace in that tiny church in Gray, Louisiana. Indeed, it was decades later, when I was part of another congregation in Birmingham, my new home, that I first heard a minister talk about grace. Amazing grace. And yes, how sweet the sound.
If we don’t have grace, we’re going to be pretty mean.
This, dear readers, is not a religious column. You don’t have to be a person of faith to show grace. And truly, there are plenty of religious people who don’t show grace, either.
I don’t know a time in my life when I’ve seen less grace than in the campaign of Republican Donald Trump, who accepted his party’s nomination last month in Cleveland.
Remember, without grace, we’re going to be pretty mean. Trump has no grace. He’s a bully. He and the Louisiana preacher would really like each other. Like that wayward Baptist preacher, Trump yells from his pulpit. He’s alienated, in a most disgraceful way, many groups—women, Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community.
But we don’t have to look past Alabama’s borders to see other politicians—Republicans all—who, even as they wear their religion on their sleeves, have no grace.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has already been removed from the state Supreme Court once, is suspended from the court again because of his disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court over marriage equality. Moore’s anti-gay rants, cloaked in his brand of religion, have no grace. They are, quite simply, ugly and mean. He may yet be thrown off the court for the second time.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, also an avowed Christian, ended his 50-year marriage by fooling around with his top aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who is young enough to be his daughter. Bentley also has gone after his critics in ways that may be illegal. The apparent rage that Bentley directs toward those who disagree with him reveals no grace and a passel of paranoia.
Grace comes in many forms. We witnessed one of those instances in June when the last surviving 9/11 search-and-rescue dog was humanely put to sleep. Bretagne, a 16-year-old golden retriever, had stopped eating and was suffering from old age. Her handler and owner Denise Corliss knew, for Bretagne’s sake, the time had come.
Yes, grace comes with death, and Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”) was honored by firefighters and rescuers when she was taken to be euthanized by a veterinarian in Cypress, Texas, on June 6.
The moving scene—I cried as I watched—was covered by most media outlets. The rescuers saluted as Bretagne slowly walked into the veterinarian’s clinic; her coffin was covered with a U.S. flag after she died. “Taps” was played in her honor.
No dog is “just a dog,” but Bretagne was certainly special. After 9/11, Bretagne went on to serve in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and at other natural disasters on the Gulf Coast. When she retired, she was a therapy dog, going to an elementary school every week so young students, shy about reading out loud, could read to her.
Showing grace to another person or, yes, to an animal, is a strength, not a weakness. It’s simple, really: Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be kind to animals.
Donald Trump has so little grace, if any. Same for Roy Moore and Robert Bentley.
And all those many years ago in south Louisiana, the preacher yelled at us sinners from his angry pulpit. No grace at all. And, later, after my family left that church, we learned that he was shot in the leg by the husband of the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.
That preacher so needed grace, and I hope he found it. We all need grace, whether or not we’re people of faith. Grace is God’s love, and grace is how we show each other our own love.
Grace is, indeed, amazing. Grace is our humanity.