Seeing the word “grace” in several recent newspaper accounts about the school district, was a welcome change from the cruel words that have washed over us and difficult situations in which we have found ourselves over the past year. “Grace”? How do you live with the word “grace”? It is different from the word “service” which was the key word for last year’s school year as selected by the district. “Service” is an active word. We can do something with service. But what do you do with the word “grace”? To me, “grace” is an attitude that colors all of life. In common parlance we might say it is “cutting the other guy some slack.”
It isn’t a word we hear very often unless it is associated with a description of a “gracious and loving God” or the “grace” we receive as forgiven people of God.” A word used by the Christian church. No, “grace” is harder to twist into a secular situation and particularly in these days. And yet it is a word that was never needed more.
How do we meet people who have survived the west coast fires or the east coast hurricanes? How do we approach people in the middle of protests and times of racial injustice? How do we look eye to eye with the folks who come to the Food Bank or apply for assistance in these days of economic recession? How do we honor peoples’ pain and the suffering and the struggles of their lives both in our own country and the world, unless we become a grace-filled people?
That is a huge order in these days of tightly held and frequently parochial belief systems. As our days shorten, may we pray to have lived a grace-filled life. Grace-filled means looking at the lives of others with understanding, with a humility that shows I know I do not know what their lives are like. I cannot make decisions for them, but in humility allow them to show me what they need and more importantly tell me who they are without my own prejudices attached.
Many years ago I remember attending a discussion about poverty in Dawson County. Several of the people at the gathering were women who were poor — single moms — joblessness was a key word in the discussions. How to accept food commodities in order to feed their children and do it with grace even though they were angry at the circumstances that had put them in this place. Those of us attending needed the grace to keep silent; needed the grace to honor their anger and accept the integrity of their lives.
“Grace” does not judge another. “Grace” accepts the situation and those involved and then moves on from that point. For the school district to take the word “grace” as a key word for this year lays a responsibility on the whole community. The word is not only for the students in their dealings with each, but for we adults to look at our lives in this time and place and to attempt to live a grace-filled life as we journey with those around us.
Over twenty years ago, attending to my first funeral service, I found a prayer that described the life of the deceased. I have used it often over the years as I came to know and serve many “grace-filled” people. “We thank thee, O God, for all the goodness and courage which have passed from the life of this your servant into the lives of others, leaving the world better than it was; for a life’s task faithfully and honorably discharged, for gracious and kindly generosity, for sadness met without surrender and weakness endured without defeat. Glory be to you, O Lord Most High.”
I thought the day I discovered toilet paper missing from the shelves of the grocery store, the country had reached a level of absurdity I never thought possible. But now I am learning that people are messing with the United States Postal Service and I am reaching beyond absurd to find a word that describes how I feel. I guess for me the USPS is as close to sacred as things can get in this country. When I enter the post office I feel as though I am entering a tradition that is as old as our country. In some ways it is more important than Congress because its sole purpose is to link the people — that is us. The Post Office is about serving US. A current book on the history of the post office by Devin Leonard notes: “The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, 40 percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service–more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper.” That old adage "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I believe it. In Glendive you see the rural mail carriers heading out on their routes, getting stuck in snow drifts and fighting through blizzards; in town there are the icy streets, the snow-covered sidewalks, the dogs, the heat of the summer sun. I mean nothing stops the U.S. mail from being delivered. Postal carriers know the people on their routes and they are often the first to notice when something is wrong. We can depend on mail service in spite of everything else that goes wrong.
The national news tonight (August 14) brought in Montana for reports from Missoula, Billings, Bozeman and Helena concerning the removal of mail boxes from various locations and this is happening throughout the country. Senator Tester spoke first and then Daines and Gianforte followed with letters to the Post Master demanding an explanation. The upshot was they stopped taking down the mail boxes and said they would reconsider this after the election. Because of the news reporters in Montana, the USPS stopped this nation wide. No one knew why they were being taken out. They were just gone making mailing more difficult.
The slowing down and back log of mail we are hearing about is holding up prescriptions, pension checks and social security checks, all of which are life blood to many people. There is a new postmaster general who appeared out of the grab bag of multi-billionaires who seem to have more influence in this country than ever before. He has no experience and he immediately started to make changes of some magnitude which will slow down the delivery of packages and mail. The Postal Union is bringing all of this to our attention.
I have heard some folks say that with the Internet so important these days we don’t need the post office as much. Certainly the big semis with USPS I see on the highways tell me mail is still important. I find I use it more than ever and if I order something from the internet I need the post office to deliver it to me.
Hand writing letters and sending cards to people are very important in this time of pandemic. It shows you care when you take the time to write, address and stamp an envelope. Many people still pay their bills by mail and this year more than any other time we will vote by mail. The USPS is one of those things in our lives to which we pay no attention, just assuming it will always be there and always operate as it has for over 200 years. I believe in our Postal Service and I think most Americans agree. Leave it alone.
Years ago the Coca Cola company had a Christmas advertisement. A choir of rosy-cheeked children holding candles would sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…”. You can’t miss with kids, Christmas good will and a choir, but somehow, no matter how much we devoutly wish for peace, it never comes quite as we would like. And “perfect harmony”, well, not in this lifetime.
I never could understand why so many people say they “hate history”. Having taught history I get that no student likes to be told they “have” to learn something for which they can see no immediate value. But as we gain a little history of our own, as the years fly by and the grey hairs appear and the aches and pains multiply, a study of history should be central to our understanding of how human beings operate and the role of the individual.
There never has been a time of “perfect harmony” on earth. Humans’ earliest civilizations were characterized by war and conquest, by murder, torture and slavery. From the evidence found there has been a constant rise and fall of civilizations - the victorious and the defeated. Some people disappear into the mists of time, are swallowed up by other peoples. The gene pool adjusts itself and time marches on.
Even though peace is an elusive concept, humans seem to never stop working toward that ultimate goal. To be able to bypass color of skin, cultural differences, religion, gender is something devoutly to be wished for. How to get to that point, however, that’s the problem. In the middle of these disturbing times people say to me, “What’s happening? Things have never been this bad before. How do we ever get back to what we once had?” History tells us life has never been perfect. Every generation has faced what they conceived to be Armageddon. And history is linear — it just keeps moving forward.
In our own time growing up as a ‘Baby boomer’ life was pretty good. The soldiers were coming home from World War and settling in to marriage and families. After the atomic bomb was dropped people really thought that would bring people to their senses, but within a few brief years the Korean War and the Cold War piled disaster upon disaster. The assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King; the Vietnam War which made everyone uncertain — should we be there or not; “End the war” riots in the streets; Civil Rights and the burning of Detroit and Watts among others; the following years brought us into Desert Storm, the Oklahoma City bombing, Isis, the 9/11 horror and a group of presidents who grew in power, but not always in truth telling, justice and honor.
We are once again being challenged to look at our history. The pandemic has given us time to examine our world and the rough spots we have ignored in our mad dash to nowhere and nothing. The greater part of courage these days is recognizing where we have failed and being willing to bend our backs to begin again. History shows us every generation is called to practice justice, love kindness and walk in humility. How well this generation does depends on — guess what, each of us.