Grace: a disposition to mercy, clemency and goodwill.
Each Sunday from the late 1950’s until 1967, my old friend Arno and other faithful would gather at the foot of the high, walnut pulpit where Carlyle Marney would preach the gospel. It was a time when the blandness and comformity of 1950’s America was on the wane. Elvis was shaking his hips and Marilyn was showing her “slips.” Vietnam was heating up and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was inspiring a new generation to protest in the manner of Gandhi, peacefully but forcefully. A revolution was brewing and Marney was one of its prophets.
The Baptist congregation Marney ministered to in those years was wealthy and powerful, composed of the community’s movers and shakers, the decision makers who determined the future of Charlotte. In some ways, Marney couldn’t stand that. Part of him could not tolerate the divide between the simplicity and generosity of spirit the church was founded on and the paucity of spirit and exclusivity shown by many white churches of the day. He wouldn’t tolerate it, if he could help it.
He said, more than once, “My job here is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” He prodded his wealthy parishoners to become more generous and more open hearted in their relationship to each other and to the community. Some of them did not take it well. After 9 years Marney left to form a retreat center for ministers, a place to escape the tyranny and “sins of the ministry” and try to find their own humanness in the midst of constant demand from others.
I can only imagine the frustration Marney must have felt on this day. After all his booming sermons about striving for compassion and justice, a church member let loose with a racial slur. Marney locked in on the man with his hawklike gaze and said, “Good God man, can you not give grace?!”
For me, this perfectly summed up the whole of Marney’s worldview and the one I’ve tried to emulate over all these years since. Give grace. All of us suffer at one time or another, and far too many suffer almost continually. Most of us are doing the best we can under the circumstances. The last thing any of us needs is the judgment and condemnation of another. The way to allow grace into our own lives is to give it, openly and without reserve.