Gravitas and grace
The events of the last few days have impacted me in ways I did not expect. President George H.W. Bush’s passing and that which has accompanied it were filled with two of the qualities that I fear we may never see again in those who occupy the nation’s highest office in such measure: Gravitas and Grace. While no one is perfect, and there were of course any number of issues with which many may have rightly disagreed with our 41st President, no modern chief executive in my opinion has so consistently, in both his personal and public life, embodied those two great and needed qualities for true leadership. My greatest sadness is that many today seem to ridicule those very qualities which he possessed with such abundance — and which we find so hard to locate today in the halls of leadership.
Gravitas is the sense that the work we are engaged in within any high and noble office has tremendous consequences and do not merely satisfy some personal desire or accomplish some selfish victory. Gravitas understands that the decisions made by the President of the United States carry with it great impact, both helpful and hurtful, to every citizen in the nation, and even around the world. Gravitas seeks the wisdom of others, learns from missteps and errors, and moves with great care. Gravitas acts with great passion, but realizes that the impact of our decisions carry with them lasting influences and its ripples reach every corner of the world.
Grace walks with humility. But not a humility in which one looks in the mirror and sees a doormat or a person of no worth. Rather, grace looks in the mirror and stands amazed that such opportunities for good might rest with the person who is looking back. Grace understands that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Grace is not about “winning” and chooses never to describe another as a “loser.” Grace does not imagine that somehow I might be in possession of some kind of supernatural abilities, but rather I am a person who, having known grace repeatedly, longs to show the same to others. Grace is patient. Grace listens to and honors others. Grace believes that the accolades given one are in fact dependent upon the many efforts of those countless heroes who sacrificed before us and upon whose shoulders we now stand.
These recent events reminded me that both Gravitas and Grace lived in our 41st President — and in his beloved wife. It was modeled to his children. It was given in service to his country. It was expressed in his Christian faith.
I write this particularly to those who claim the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I pray that the model of President Bush would be one that we would seek and strive to emulate. I pray that we cease joining in with any who would speak evil of another. I pray that we would listen, be patient, and walk humbly. I pray that when we disagree we would never demonize or demean another human being who has been made in the image of God and for whom Jesus Christ gave His life and love to save. I pray that we would show the same level of grace which we ourselves have been shown. When anyone, of any party or tribe or persuasion or faith or practice might choose to “pick a fight” or speak ungraciously, may we be those who speak tenderly and speak words of comfort.
In a recent sermon, I focused on the words from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, Comfort my people Israel. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem...” Comfort is not always comfortable. Comfort is knowing that even in the most difficult of moments and trying of circumstances, God’s promises are true and that He is faithful to His promises. He proved it by speaking tenderly to the people of Israel and to all who have trusted in His promises.
He spoke tenderly to them 700 years later in an infant child, whose birth we celebrate in a few short weeks. As the author of Hebrews notes: “In many and various ways God has spoken to us by His prophets. But in these last day, He has spoken to us through His Son.” The disciple John also: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory... full of grace and truth.” The most tender words of God were spoken in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
For those who bear the name of Christ, is is unbecoming when we join in with the scoffers, the mockers, the gossipers, and the quarrelers. It is becoming when we speak with Grace... and Gravitas. Knowing that that of which we speak and the words we use should be reflections of the great Word of God made flesh, whose perfect life and loving sacrifice was made in the face of those who chose to ignore God’s good will and show hatred to those He redeemed. There is nothing greater than showing such grace to others as has been shown to us. I challenge all in leadership to study the model of our recently passed president — who clearly saw his model was the Prince of Peace.
The Rev. Jonathan M. Dinger is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Pocatello.