My name – not Ada, but my real name, the one on my birth certificate – means grace. As a child, I thought that meant gracefulness, like that of a ballerina, of girls shorter and more athletic than me. I learned the meaning of grace from those who’ve extended it to me all my life.
On Sunday, Zora and I gave a ride home to two women in her small group. We were met with torrential rain and the first real chill of autumn. One of the women said from the backseat that she’d studied the biblical story of Rahab, whom she called Rahab the Redeemed, not Rahab the Prostitute. “Because,” she said, “who among us wants to be known only by the worst sin we’ve ever committed?” (Not that I consider prostitution to be a sin. But the sentiment remains the same.)
She and I agreed: not us. In a smooth Texas accent, she said that she prized grace so highly because of the grace others had shown her. I agreed again. This thing called grace, it’s given to me in infinite supply, always from God, often from others.
And yet, lately, as some Christians feel more emboldened than ever to hurt and exclude the most marginalized, grace feels hard for me to extend. Have you been there before?
Last week, someone told me after a speaking engagement that he was glad I wasn’t an angry butch – that he had dreaded coming to hear me, but he was glad I wasn’t angry while I talked about institutionalized queer exclusion.
What I said was that I love my angry butch sisters – that their anger has a place. What I wanted to say was that I wasn’t not-angry. We women – our anger isn’t wanted.
Not long after that, a new friend told me about a former life in a deeply conservative, homophobic community. She’s still bitter, she said, and either she was sad about that or I projected my own feelings onto her. Because I think both of us were taught that this anger is unholy.
There’s grace and then there’s grace, right?
I was faster at forgiveness in my evangelical days, quicker to say that no harm was done, always ready to reconcile. People who’d hurt me were misled. People who’d betrayed Zora were forgivable. People with misgivings about people like me – just immature in the faith.
And I think that it was easier to forgive in part because I saw these wrongs as personal sins. And my own wrongs were my personal sin, too. One person’s Bible-thumping: their own foolishness.
But a whole system of white nationalist Christian supremacy producing a kind of Christianity that does more evil than good: how do grace and forgiveness figure into that?
To lament the intertwined natures of oppressions and to see our birth into these original sins of white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of exclusion — somehow, this makes it harder for me to choose grace. It’s harder to bless and release those who still wield weapons.
Because it isn’t personal. And it isn’t ended. And the consequence of my forgiveness may be the emboldening of those who hurt to continue hurting others. This kind of forgiveness asks us, “Can we just go back to how we were before?” It places the burden on people harmed – in this case, on LGBTQ persons harmed by the Church – to open our fists so that those churches can go back to being the kinds of churches they were before: homophobic, transphobic, and unchallenged. And I’ve heard that forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the one doing harm, but is that all there is to grace? Was Jesus’ life of forgiveness lived only to help him sleep or endure death more easily?
For all its talk about the kingdom of heaven lying out of earthly reach, the evangelical heritage that adopted me put a lot of stock in lions laying down with lambs. But I don’t want to lay down with lions that haven’t yet learned to eat something besides lambs.
And yet, there is still Jesus, who confounds me, who forgave in his last hours even the Empire that would later kill his closest friends, scatter his co-conspirators, terrorize his people.
And yet, there is still the authority we have because of the Spirit to likewise forgive.
And yet, there is still the Mother, in whose image I am made and whose work I am tasked to do.
What do I do about this? At the end of the day, my former notions of grace feel like a one-room home: simple and lived-in and mine, though I’ve outgrown it. Forgive them 70 times 7 times. But sometimes my new spiritual home is imperfect, too, afflicted by ideological purity and a forgetfulness that we all start somewhere on this Christ-bound journey.
Grace in the pursuit of justice, forgiveness in the pursuit of thriving: I’m still a novice at this, more guarded and angry than I’d like to admit but grateful for a name that reminds me of what I should be chasing. What do I do about love and anger? What do I do about grace?
Photo is of artwork by Janaina Mello Landini