Grace To Greece

July 6th, 2015

eucharisteoWe have a saying in our family, “fair, fair, fair, fair.” If someone is feeling a little hard-done-by and making comparisons, a light hearted “fair, fair, fair, fair” will usually get them back on track.

Expecting life to be fair is something most of us never grow out of. “It’s not fair. So and so has all the luck.” “They get paid more than me.” “I wish my life was easy like so and so. It’s not fair.”

Fairways only exist on golf courses and horse racing tracks. In the real world there is no fairway. It’s all rough. The problem is when we expect the rough to be a fairway. We tee off thinking we can control all the circumstances, and expect to see predictable results, across the board, and then get bitterly disappointed when a beautifully struck ball bounces off a tree and hits us square in the head.

When you think about it, fair is impossible because there is no level playing field to begin with. If you are born male, white, tall, athletic, with a good memory, in a wealthy country, etc etc you have instant advantages. What’s fair about that? And yet most of this is out of our control. Life starts from an unfair basis and swings back and forth in the ever changing winds of circumstance.

It’s amazing the shift that happens when you stop expecting life to be fair, when you accept the cards you’ve been dealt and watch for the wild cards that get thrown in from time to time. Grace is life’s wild card. If you see someone else get dealt a wild card, be glad, glad for them and glad for you because it’s wild and that means you could be next.

It’s hard to remember this in the low times, but life’s unfairness is actually the only precondition for grace. Grace is by definition unfair. And that’s what I love about it. Grace disrupts your expectations of fairness and invites you to be more generous than may even seems wise at times. After all, people might take advantage of you.

Our family went to a stage production of Les Miserables last week. There’s a beautiful example of grace in Les Mis. Jean Valjean, or as I like to think of him, the ridiculously, unequally, unfairly talented Hugh Jackman, steals the silver from a church. He is caught and dragged before Bishop Bienvenu who deals him a wildcard. The Bishop tells the authorities that he gave the silver to him because he needs it. After all, he said, the silver is intended for the poor and Valjean was clearly poor. Not only did he pardon Valjean but gave him even more silver. The only thing he asked was that Valjean pay the kindness forward.

He said, “Long ago, Jean, I learned that life is to give, not to take. Let me give. And in return, promise me that you will give, also.”

Grace is disruptive both because it’s unpredictable AND because it makes the greatest demand of all. Once you’ve been touched by grace, your whole mindset changes and the only appropriate response is to show grace to others. Grace changes everything, not least you. As Anne Lamott said, “the amazing thing about grace is that it meets you where you are, but doesn’t leave you there.”

The problem with our world is that we demand fairness. This leads to the dis-graceful state of the world we now find, where every debt must be paid. Think about what’s happening in Greece right now.

Europe is demanding that they repay an impossible debt. I hear you saying, “yes but they got themselves into debt. It wouldn’t be fair if their debt was just cancelled” and I say, “fair, fair, fair, fair.”

We demand austerity. Even the word sounds stingy. Austerity basically means that they should suffer for their debt. It’s only fair after all, and I say “fair, fair, fair, fair.”

We all know who will suffer the most; the poor who are the most vulnerable anyway because they are dependent on social services which will be hit by austerity measures. Is that fair?

Germany seems to have forgotten that in 1953, after the ravages of WWII, its debts were forgiven in an act of grace. Now Germany seems to be turning the screws on Greece tighter than anyone.

We’ve ALL been there. In some low point, someone shocked the shit out of us by cancelling a debt or a wrong or any expectation for fairness. We know how liberating it is to get a leg up, and we should offer the same wherever we can.

I’m not suggesting open season on debt cancellation, I’m not suggesting that Greece has been faultless and I’m not suggesting that we lose the sense of responsibility and consequences. I’m just suggesting we throw a few more wild cards into a dis-graceful system. And grace to Greece right now would be a great place to start.

Greece has just made a very powerful statement to claim their future by voting “NO” in the referendum on the bailout. We don’t even know the full consequences of this yet. But good on them for standing strong in their independence. And to think they did it on the weekend of America’s July 4 independence celebrations. American democracy is built on the Greek model. Greece invented modern democracy, even gave us the word democracy. What goes around, comes around, roughly speaking, with a few wild cards thrown in for good measure.

Grace to Greece. Imagine!

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  1. Michael Krainak says:

    Ian:Great food for thought.   Here’s my nourishment:Jesus said:  “If someone asks you to go one mile with them – go with them two.”  But he didn’t say – “go with them 10 miles.”.  “It’s never crowded along the extra mile.”     Wayne DyerSimilarly Jesus said: “If someone asks for your shirt, “give them you coat as well”.  But he didn’t say “give them 10 shirts and 5 coats.”  Fair, fair, fair fair.  I like it.   But to be “fair”, Jesus also aid to the rich young man whom he “loved” – “if you want to be “perfect” – sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”    I doubt the either the Greeks or the Germans (or for that matter any country or many of us) wants to be “perfect”.Shakespeare:   “fair is foul, and foul is fair”     I think Shakespeare understood the way the Europeans (and most people) typically solved their “fairness” issues.    GRACE is a wonderful thing.  Peace.  

  2. Stafford says:

    Thanks Ian, another one of your well thought out and beautifully illustrated ruminations.  I heard someone say this long ago and it always springs to mind about this subject, “You have to make your own fairness.”

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