I am conflicted.
Last week, mainstream media exploded with the tragic story of twenty-six people who lost their lives to a – literal – madman.
Social media imploded with a smorgasbord of response –
Shame on him. Shame on his mother. Shame on all those who said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Shame on guns.
Shame on all you who carry guns.
Shame on gun control.
Shame on the President.
Shame on all of you who voted for the President.
Shame on all of you who didn’t.
Shame on all of you who don’t feel shocked.
Shame on all of you who don’t feel anything.
Shame on all of you who feel anything different than I do.
That’s a lot of shame.
Notice we’re casting it on everyone but ourselves.
Which leads me to wonder – what if we are more to blame than we realize?
And by we, I mean you and me and everyone who pokes their nose a little too far into other people’s business.
And by too far, I mean, just far enough to pronounce judgment
but not far enough
to know the heart, the history, and the humanity of those we’re judging.
Eighteen months ago, I awoke to clenched teeth and aching heart.
Not only had my beloved Canucks lost another chance to bring the Stanley Cup home to the city who actually has a statue of the Lord Stanley for which the Cup is named –
Oops, I’m sorry. I forgot this one wasn’t about hockey.
But really, where is hockey? Every day since October I’ve woken to an alternate universe. My TV screams American football. My husband cries, oh the humanity! I giggle indiscriminately at cartoons mocking Gary Bettman and company. And no, those of you ready to cast the you-shouldn’t-wish-someone-harm-shame-bomb – to quote my friend Karina – I don’t mean any of those giggles seriously. They’re giggles, for the love of … Lord Stanley.
And, in case you’re curious about my mental state, trust me when I say that this is a sport. A past time. It’s supposed to be fun. If there’s one thing cancer taught me, it’s to believe in fun.
But, by all means, please judge my fun. That is what fun is for, after all.
Back to the point.
Not only did my favorite team lose that night, but the rest of the city decided to destroy our beautiful downtown core in their rage.
Did I condone it? No.
Did I like it? No.
Was I embarrassed? Yes.
But, more than that, I was angry.
Not at the score (okay, maybe a little),
not at the game (except really, Canada needs to be able to win once every few years, dear Mr. Commissioner),
and not at the people who destroyed the city.
I was angry at the media.
In the weeks that followed the ides of June, 2011, these talented, educated, insightful and very visible people used their very visible world stage to cast epic shame-bombs. Coast to coast, from Baffin Island to the Florida Keys (okay, maybe to New York, because despite housing two NHL teams, we’re still not sure how many people in Florida care about hockey), they showed footage after footage and pronounced opinion after opinion of how bad we were (and ‘we’ extended to every British Columbian and Canuck fan, not just those caught on camera), how they couldn’t understand it and
how they would never dream of doing something so despicable.
To that I say:
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Here’s the thing.
We are all capable of despicable things. Humanity is messy, a collection of frail, broken creatures with potential for great beauty –
and great evil.
Pretending we’re immune isn’t the answer.
Exploiting the shock value isn’t either.
Despite our reckless subscription to the guilt culture, shame on you’s just don’t work. Shame begets shame. Anger begets anger. Judgment begets judgment.
Only grace breaks the cycle.
For ten years I’ve been stuck on a scene from the Liam Neeson version of Les Miserables. I’ve talked about it at parties. I’ve shown it to friends. I’ve used it as an illustration for speaking engagements.
You who’ve seen it know what I’m talking about.
At the beginning of the story, Valjean, a thief, is released from prison but not from convict status. Unable to find lodging anywhere else, Valjean finds mercy at the hands of a priest who takes him in for the night. Unable to see a better future for himself, Valjean steals the priest’s silverware and escapes into the night.
He is caught.
When returned to the man whom he attacked and burglarized, Valjean expects nothing but judgment.
In fact, judgment would be appropriate.
But Valjean does not get what he expects. Neither does the audience:
For years I’ve been scared of grace. I’ve seen it perverted. Twisted, uncoiled, re-packaged, this permissive anti-grace says not only its okay to be you, but everything you do is okay. Uncomfortable with the collision of ideals and reality, jarred by their inability to live up to the standard, those who espouse this truth-less grace hold themselves and others to no standard at all, except one: you can’t judge me. Everything I do is okay, even if it means I hurt you doing it.
I’ve heard this version of grace throbbing in my ears to point where I became scared of the word itself. I surrounded myself with those who believed in high standards and truth. I’ve poured myself into the lives of those who continually strive after high standards even – or especially – after they fail. Just because we can’t meet the standard, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.
Perhaps our failure to meet it makes the standard even more relevant.
But in this pursuit of justice, I’ve wandered to the left – or right – of a pendulum that was never meant to be so polarized. Our current populace polarizes issues in ways that remind me of my seven-year-old: There are good people. There are bad people. That is all. No Venn Diagrams. No crossovers. No shades of gray.
(Except for a book trilogy whose appeal I have yet to understand.)
But maturity – nay, adulthood – demands we grab those poles and keep them in tension.
We don’t tend to do that because we don’t like tension.
We like being comfortable.
Tension has kept me ‘quiet’ on this site for weeks.
I am changing. I am not the woman I was. She was horribly imbalanced. She did not understand grace.
I am… beginning to understand.
Grace does not permit all things. Grace loves, even in horrific tragedy. Grace knows we are all capable of causing others great harm. Even me. Even you. Even your friends, your parents, your kids.We are all capable of great evil.
But we can’t just leave it there.
As we see in Les Miserables,
Grace also demands change.
Only grace broke Valjean’s past. Only grace will break mine. Only grace will break yours, and Adam Lanza’s, and every other person who stumbles around on this fallen planet.
This grace is neither truth-less or powerless. This grace is revolutionary.
This grace demands a response. To be better, to be different, this grace will motivate us in ways guilt never could. This grace will overflow to those around us. This grace will so consume us we will not ever be the same.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, I hope – I pray – you see it very soon.
And I hope at least some of you will see it from me – at least some of the time.
And when you don’t, know that
I’m still changing
I think I’m on track to a better place – of restoration and growth, joy and laughter, tears and peace.
That is what I wish for all of us this week – not presents, not trees, not music, not lights, not shopping or Santa, not family togetherness or Hallmark cards, not Norman Rockwell paintings.
I wish you grace –
For all of the things that miss the mark in you and me and everyone else.
I wish you peace –
That though you are not where you should be, you are heading there.
I wish you love –
A truthful, intimate love that knows you as you are and not as you pretend to be on Facebook.
I wish that you, like me, are becoming something new.
Because that’s a reason to be merry.
I am still conflicted about what happened last week. I have no answers, only questions. But I’m realizing that’s okay.
Conflict demands a commitment to balance.
It also demands a commitment to grace.
Peace, my friends.