Praying for Strangers

An adventure of the human spirit

The Good, The Bad, The Full of Grace

The mystery of how we offer and receive mercy.

A few nights ago we were at a dinner party at a friends house and talk of this and that circled the table. A movie here, a happening there. Then someone suddenly asked out of the blue, “Did you see Clint Eastwood at the Republican Convention?!” Which was quickly followed by most people asking, “What was that?!”

It just so happens that I had seen the performance. I came home late from a book event, walked into the living room, and without any prelude or understanding, saw Clint Eastwood giving his by now well known, impromptu speech at the Republican Convention. We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats. For the nature of who I am and what I do it works out best that way. As I’ve told people, half my readers watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News and half watch Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. I speak to groups from both sides of that fence on subjects that have nothing to do with politics and I truly love them all. So my Clint Eastwood moment has nothing to do with political motivation. Something seemed not quite right with the performance for me. I didn’t want Clint Eastwood, not my Daddy’s Clint Eastwood, the rough and tumble western gun-slinger to be on stage beneath lights with make-up and an odd speech that wasn’t a speech. We don’t like our heroes to step off their pedestals or put on other shoes. Maybe it was because he didn’t seem to be simply making a statement but making it as Dirty Harry. The fact is, I don’t want Clint Eastwood to be, well, Clint Eastwood. I want him to be Josey Wales, the strong, silent type. A man of few words, a stump of a cigar between his teeth, a shiny, quick gun to shoot only the really, bad people. Or Dirty Harry with his infamous one-liners carrying a really big gun with which to shoot only the really, bad people. He represents a whole lot of things to me of which the one of most primary importance is of my Daddy laughing his Mutley laugh at some of Eastwood’s antics.

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The moment the speech was over I took a deep breath, counted to ten, logged onto twitter and typed Clint Eastwood in the search engine block. Sure enough, the twitter feed was blasting the performance and it looked like fans were dropping like flies from Clint’s fan club mailing list. Out of the blue just one word came to mind. Grace. As in maybe we should just show him a little grace. Because in the middle of the twitter feed frenzy, I began thinking of all the things I’d done wrong in life and how happy I was that they couldn’t be publicized, and critiqued in the blink of an eye. I don’t make enough money for that kind of therapy. Then I started ruminating on the word Grace. And naturally it began to surface in a multitude of ways. At odd times and unexpected places.

Recently I attended a speech of Anne Lamont and picked up a copy of her book, Plan B Futher Thoughts on Faith. Reading a few chapters last night she reported that Bono of U2 fame has stated that Amazing Grace is his favorite song. There's that word again. Out of all songs of all time I find that interesting. I know that song because its sung at every southern funeral I’ve ever attended and sometimes on Sunday. It’s one of the few I know the words to and can sometimes sing although I think I’m tone deaf.

And then I happened to be watching an episode of Saving Grace, a television show that ran for three seasons that is now off the air and only available through such places as Netflix. It’s a tough detective drama featuring a tobacco chewing last chance angel there to help Grace, (Holly Hunter) find peace with herself so she can find peace with God. I don’t know if that ever happens because I’m still on the second Season. For the record, I fast forward through the nude scenes but I have friends that probably play them twice. Nude scenes are just not my cup of tea. It makes me feel voyeuristic of which I’m not. But the way that the series focuses on some hard questions of the existence of good and evil in this world, of God’s place in the middle of it all, of why the element of grace exists and why we need it so desperately - that interest me intensely.

This morning I opened one of my little books for meditation and prayer, Always We Begin Again, and it fell to the page that begins - “Grace to us and peace.” The passage continues and offers these words, “Help us this day to both receive grace and to give it.” Which lead me to thinking about the people who get irritated and downright mad at me for not being better, or meeting their expectations. Then I mentally ran through a list of people who irritate me and don't meet my expectations. They're both pretty long lists. (Word on the street is that I can now add the name of another personal hero, Lance Armstrong.) 

I cracked open my old copy of Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary and searched for the word. The first definitions all had to do with harmony in motion but it’s the one listed under the number five that hit home for me - Grace: Clemency; mercy.

And it’s just that simple. It something we need in desperate measure. It's something we need to offer as readily as we hope to receive it. Those of us who deem ourselves good and upstanding citizens of the Earth, those of us who believe only in our ability to do bad, to make a mess of our lives and others. And those of us who understand we operate best when we move in a state of grace - both giving and receiving good portions as we travel. 

Mr. Eastwood, if you have estranged your fans or confused them - I pray you may receive grace. I could certainly use a watershed of the same for every corner of my life.

River Jordan is a playwright and novelist in Nashville.

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