Here’s a passage on grace from a very famous sermon by Paul Tillich: Sometimes … a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.
There are two aspects to grace (at least two). Tillich mostly speaks of one, though he hints at the other. Let’s call them grace 1.0 and grace 2.0.
Grace 1.0: You are loved no matter what, “accepted by that which is greater than you.”
Grace 2.0: You are loved insistently no matter what.
Grace 1.0 might lead you to believe that it doesn’t matter what you do, whether it’s loving or hateful. “Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.”
Grace 2.0 prevents you from getting stuck there. Yes, you are loved no matter what, but you are loved insistently. It won’t leave you alone. “Everything is transformed.” It nags 24/7.
Grace 1.0 means that it’s pointless to ask yourself how good or bad you are. Utterly pointless. How good or bad you are doesn’t matter. What matters is how loved you are, how accepted you are. So there’s no room for defensiveness.
Grace 2.0 inspires you to stretch yourself out toward this love that loved you first. It nags you to be more loving, not because you fear punishment, or even disappointment, but because you can’t help being filled by love, no matter how much you resist. “Everything is transformed.”
Experiencing grace allows us to be non-defensive when we enter into discussions where we may be cluelessly at fault. It allows us to take responsibility for helping to make things better, without obsessing over how much we are to blame or not for the way things are now.
This experience of grace has especially helped me in working my way through a very discomforting but eye-opening book, Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad. It hit me while I was reading this passage (p. 43):
White fragility prevents you from having a conversation about racism without falling apart. If you cannot talk about racism, especially about the ways in which you have been unintentionally complicit in racism, then you will never be able to go beyond a mere superficial understanding of racism. This superficial, binary understanding looks like this:
racist people = bad people
not racist people = good people
I want to be a good person, so I cannot be associated with racism.
This desire to be seen as good, by yourself and by others, prevents you from looking at the ways you unknowingly participate in and are a part of white supremacy because of your white privilege. Your desire to be seen as good can actually prevent you from doing good, because if you do not see yourself as part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.
This experience of grace totally undercuts what Saad calls a superficial, binary understanding of good and bad people. It’s not about good or bad people; it’s about good and bad situations that entangle all of us before we can start to make informed choices. And the more we experience grace, the easier it becomes to name how bad the situation is, to look honestly at what part we may be playing in furthering it, and to do what we can to make the situation better, because we are loved insistently, no matter what.