“There are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, even disliked. It accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself and get others to please it too. Nature likes to lord over; have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. Love, and grace, smiles through all things.” — Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
The late George H. W. Bush was a gentleman, in the fullness of the word. With the stoic resolve of the Greatest Generation, he held his Episcopalian faith close, as deeply animating as it apparently was. My father, an Anglican Bishop, had the opportunity to explain to the elder’s son, George W. Bush, their shared faith confession in “evangelical” terms. I imagine the President was able to accept this interpretation as true to his beliefs, but chose to define his faith publicly through his articulated desire for a “kinder, gentler nation.”
The cover story of the current issue of The Atlantic asks: Why are we so angry? The answer is, as one would expect, not simple. But one thing is clear: there are people who profit from outrage. As the article concludes, “corporatized outrage is fundamentally manipulative and tends to further the interests of the already rich and powerful. Rarely is [outrage] a force for social good.”
In contrast, a kinder, gentler society defends the weak, protects the innocent, welcomes the stranger and cares for its most vulnerable … the sick, the orphan, the widow. It is defined by grace and forgiveness, a willingness to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge.
Those of us who celebrate Christmas are reminded of the value of the weak and unwanted … of the swaddled baby, born to an unwed teen mother, homeless and living as a refugee in a foreign land. This baby not only mattered, He changed the world.
Back in 2016, in response to then candidate-Trump’s mocking of a reporter with disabilities, I wrote an essay focused on kinder, gentler views of Americans toward people with disabilities. I’ve been blessed by several children with special needs; as godparent to Bella Santorum, the remarkable youngest child of Rick and Karen, who was born with Trisomy 18. And, uncle to Elsah and Pete, special needs children of my two sisters.
Elsah has a rare X-linked genetic disorder called CDKL5 that results in early onset, difficult to control seizures, and severe neurodevelopmental impairment.
Pete has Down Syndrome, which is caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. I am deeply moved by the grace that their parents express, but equally by the love that their children offer.
Each Christmas, Clapham supports a charitable effort. This year we supported John’s Crazy Socks, co-founded by John Cronin, a young man with Down Syndrome and a big dream. John’s goal is to spread happiness with socks and show what is possible when you give someone a chance.
There are two ways through life, and our choices will shape the culture in which we live.
Our Christmas wish at the Clapham Group is that our nation will choose well, and that we neither give up on being a beacon to the least of these, nor on the aspiration that everyone be treated as equal. It is our prayer that this New Year, we will live together as a gentler, kinder nation than we have been, and in doing so let love and grace smile through all things.