Grace is a Choice

Turns out it’s not all umbrella drinks and movie-worthy sunsets in paradise.

For the last few weeks I’ve been visiting my home state of Hawaii, where there is an increasingly critical issue of affordable housing and more people than ever living on the streets and the beaches, homeless.  And while there are large homeless populations in the more rural parts of the island, now even areas frequented by tourists are filled with makeshift homeless villages.

ABP July 27 2015 - Honolulu Star AdvertiserWith scenes like these as backdrop, a story has been unfolding on the front page of the local Honolulu newspaper these past weeks.  State representative Tom Brower (D) was allegedly attacked by a group of homeless teens a few weeks ago, when he was visiting an area of the city he represents.  Stories are mixed about what exactly happened and why, but it’s clear there was an altercation that left Rep. Brower with “a laceration near his right eye, facial swelling, bruised ribs and scrapes on his leg and left hand.”

The story making the headlines now is Rep. Brower’s decision to press charges against the youth implicated, one of whom is 14 years old, despite the young man’s mother’s plea for another solution.

Recently, the mother of one of the young men involved begged Rep. Brower to speak with her, during which she apologized repeatedly, broke down in tears, took responsibility for her own mistakes that had left the family homeless, and described the desperate situation from which they could see no way out.  She said, “[I have] no education, no nothing … I cannot get off the street if I have to go through all this.”

Despite her pleas, Brower intends to press charges, claiming he has no choice.

Watching these events unfold in the news these past weeks, I can’t help but think of another recent news story that broke in South Carolina recently.  It happened on July 19 at a Ku Klux Klan rally at the state capitol, where more than 2,000 people showed up in sweltering heat to profess white supremacy and wave Confederate flags.

ABP July 27 2015 TWP Version - SC Cop White SupremacistIn a picture that appeared in several news outlets, Leroy Smith, a black man and South Carolina’s Director of Public Safety, noticed an older white man struggling with heat exhaustion and stepped up to help the man to a shady spot, water, and first aid.  Though the man was there at a rally wearing a shirt with a swastika on it and chanting racist slogans, Smith helped him anyway.

It occurs to me that each of us has an opportunity, at every moment and in every interaction with another, to choose behavior that reflects grace and selfless love, to live out the undeniable truth that we belong to each other.

Further, those who hold power and public positions that land them on the front page of the newspaper have a unique opportunity and even responsibility to demonstrate grace, to live out reconciliation, to refuse to use their power to dominate and subjugate those who are vulnerable, even though they can … even if they have every right to say, walk past a hate-filled protestor suffering from heat stroke.

Rep. Brower has a unique opportunity to model reconciliation, to lead the way in showing how we can relate to each other in community, but he’s choosing another way.  He’s in his rights to press charges, of course.  I suspect, however, that wielding the heavy hand of the criminal justice system will effect long term change about as effectively as one of his previous attempts to address the homeless situation in his district – the time he decided to personally patrol the streets with a sledgehammer, destroying homeless shopping carts.

What might happen if Brower chose a grace-filled forgiveness instead?  What kind of message would he send if he worked toward reconciliation and empowerment instead of punishment and further alienation?

We would be inspired to do the same, that’s what would happen.

We can’t make our communities safer, or more just, by taking Brower’s approach to legally or physically sledgehammering the most vulnerable among us, even if they make poor choices.  Instead, it’s Leroy Smith who speaks volumes and offers hope for our broken systems: grace and love, forgiveness and kindness, acting as if we belong to each other … because we do.  All of us.


Published first at Baptist News Global!

6 Comments on “Grace is a Choice

  1. Our nation’s response to the events of 9-11 jumped into my mind when I read your words “to lead the way in showing how we can relate to each other in community, but he’s (our nation) choosing another way.” Until we can show love, grace, and forgiveness to those we encounter on our streets and in our neighborhoods, we’ll never be able to show these God like attributes to those who live in other parts of the world. Thank you for your sensitive words.

  2. Aloha Amy,

    The problem you raise is not the problem of homelessness, per se, but the problem of grace and forgiveness in our society. We lack more of it. What we forget is that forgiveness does not abdicate accountability, forgiveness does not have to let the other person off the hook, rather forgiveness is the deliberate choice to release yourself from the feelings of resentment or revenge against a person or group that has done you harm. You forgive, not for their benefit, but for your own.

    In accepting that you have forgiven someone, one is then able to move forward with a deeper sense of compassion for yourself and for others. This is the genius of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By asking for Divine grace (ie God’s forgiveness) we ask that God release us from the weight of our heart and that God will no longer “hold it against us.” And because God is of abundant mercy (or through substiutionary atonement if one subscribes to that sort of thing), forgiveness is granted. This opportunity for grace has the chance to change our hearts and turn us around (metanoia); our turning may have happened before our confessing.

    But even deeper than forgiveness is the notion of reconciliation. And I think that Brower misses an opportunity here to go one step further and be reconciled with his assailant. Reconciliation is about relationships, and it seems from the articles at least, that he has little interest in being reconciled with the homeless. As recent as 2010, he expressed, that ” government needs to remove the homeless from areas of aesthetic, cultural and economic importance for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.” The proposal then was to create “safe zones” for the homeless to go- places where they would not be bothered, but ostensibly places that were out of the public view. In essence the creation of ghettos or barrios where the “homeless” would have a “home” until they could transition to something else.

    But back to reconciliation: there is a real opportunity to be a part of something deeper. He claims to have forgiven the boys, yet he is still pressing forward with charges. If I allow my own definition to prevail, then perhaps that is still possible. I am not convinced and neither are others (see the Huffington Post Op-Ed below). If the the reasons for his assault are rooted in homeless teens- why not help them, the boys, to see a different way.

  3. Pingback: The need for reconciliation | Versicle

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