Surpised By Grace


I have had more than a few brushes with celebrities in my life.  

I've met all kinds of people I have admired from afar, from authors to musicians in famous bands, celebrities, and politicians, who have turned my former opinions about them upside down. 

Some of the sweetest celebrities I have met include Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, John Stamos, Jim Henson, John Lithgow, and Paul Sorvino, to name a few.  

I expected them to be aloof, but they were not.  

I will never forget guiding Robin Williams through the Backstage Studio Tour at Walt Disney World and how beautifully gracious and kind he was.  

Those are pleasant surprises because we always hope the celebrities we admire will be good people worthy of our admiration.  

But there are moments in our lives when the rubber meets the road with that kind of thing a bit more personally.  

The other day, I was reading one of the Daily Meditations I received via email from Fr. Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation, and I read a quote from Fr. Richard that hit me right between the eyes: 

Have you ever spoken ill of somebody, actively disliked somebody, or put someone down in the presence of others? Then they approach you, and it turns out they’re not only nice, but they’re really nice. They wish you well. 

Ouch. If you are like me, that might have landed on you.  I've had that happen more than once, most often to people I had never gotten to know.   

Years ago, there was a pastor of a large church in my presbytery, and I would often see him at Presbytery Meetings as he got up to protest one thing or another, ask provocative questions, and generally act like a pain in the butt. 

When he or one of the other pastors on his staff would get up to the microphone at the meetings, you would hear an audible groan from the crowd. I was one of those people who groaned.  

He and I couldn't have been more different, so I thought I had him all figured out until I went to lunch with him one day.  The lunch was my idea because I wanted to see if he was as big a jerk as I had decided he was. 

He wasn't.  In fact, he was warm, open, and curious.  I was amazed at all of the mission projects that his church was doing to improve the lives of the people in their neighborhood and surprised at his humility. 

Even though we had theological disagreements, we bonded over our common calling and desire to follow Jesus as best we could. 

And then I felt really awful.  

Fr. Richard had this to say about that awful feeling we get when we realize we were wrong about someone we had poor opinions about: 

That feeling is called remorse; we used to call it compunction. We are reduced to silence and confusion. Let’s be honest, grace is always a humiliation for the ego. 

And that is precisely what happens.  Our ego gets humiliated as it ought to be in moments when we let it run the show.   

Because the truth is, we don't know anyone all that well, or at least as well as we imagine.  The only way to do that is to have proximity to them, allowing us to listen to their stories, share our own, and find common ground. 

This doesn't mean that disagreements will fade, but it does mean that we can get a chance to glimpse their humanity and realize that most of our preconceived notions about them were mainly about ourselves. 

Will some people affirm our poor opinions of them?  You bet.  But even in those moments, we ought to realize that even they are worthy to receive grace, even as we are, despite our ego.  

May we find ways to let our ego be humiliated by encountering the image of God in those we struggle to find connection with, and may we be surprised by grace. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.  

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