Present in the City, Part 1

On Wednesday night, The Cobblestone Project hosted Present in the City, an event to encourage engagement in local community.  Mike Foster of People of the Second Chance was invited to speak on the topic of grace. The night ended with a panel discussion.  Foster, Amber (my wife), and a local preacher comprised the panel.

***

Amber sat on the center stool quietly, almost solemnly, between Mike Foster, and the local minister.  It was a panel discussion on grace, and Amber had confessed her nervousness to me the night before.  "What can I say of grace apart from Christ?" she asked.  "What if I'm too evangelical, or too mystical, or  too emotional?  What if I can't open my mouth, can't squeak out the truth?"

"There's grace for that," I said, which seemed somehow inadequate or dismissive.

"I know.  I just wish you were going to be there."

"Me too."

After Foster finished delivering the keynote on radical, dangerous, all-consuming grace, the panel was seated.  I, being some 600 miles away on a business trip, sat in a coffee shop connected to a live video stream of the whole affair.  It's times like these when I think that technology is a grace, indeed.

Amber opened the panel recounting a bit of our story.  Ours has not been the straightest of paths, and she gave a two minute overview.  She used unflattering words to describe our meanderings.  I won't repeat them here because much of that is her story to tell, but she painted the picture clearly.  She said, "I am grace's worst offender."  As an ambulance screamed past the coffee shop window I thought, "yeah, me too."

Amber ceded the floor to the local minister, who set grace in almost unexpectedly concrete terms, and when his introduction was finished, the soundbites starting rolling.

--Forgiveness is grace with clothes on (Foster);

--I hold on to that verse that it's the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Foster);

--Our experience of grace give us authority to speak of it, to live it out (Amber);

--Grace means more than forgiveness.

It might be tempting to discount these snippets as trite platitudes levied for the benefit of an attention deficit culture. Tweetable moments, maybe.  Facebook status fillers. In the gravity of that moment, though, they were more significant.

As the weight of grace blanketed that room, as it moved across a Starbucks wifi connection, I suddenly wished I were with my wife and my friends.  I wished I were with the the adulterers,  the covetous, the pornographers, the thieves, the gossips, the snarkists, the slovenly, and the workaholics.  I wanted to be with the do-gooders, the peace bearers, the quiet, and the humble, too.  I knew that I was missing a tethering moment--something potentially galvanizing.

The panelists answered the last question, and the live stream ended.  I finished my latte and exited the coffee shop.  I held the door for an entering college student.  She was led by a service dog.  She turned to me, eyes landing somewhere to the left of my chin and staring into nothing.  She smiled wide and said, "thank you kind sir," in her best faux Southern Belle accent.  I told her that she was most welcome, and added "ma'am" with a slight drawl.  She giggled and shrugged awkwardly leaving me on a bustling downtown street.  As I hailed a taxi, I reckoned that every interaction is an opportunity to recognize and extend some small grace.

And that's the moment when I wondered whether it's grace that holds this whole thing together.