Living Grace

I’ve spent a lot of time referring to “technical” grace and the “Age of Grace.”  But experiencing, living in and dispensing grace is another matter.  In this blog site I’ve mostly dealt with head knowledge, but what I am speaking of here is heart knowledge.

I recently acquired a “new” used car.  Not from the local dealer, you understand.  An Internet search turned up exactly what we wanted — in St. Louis, MO, about 700 miles away.  Somewhere along the eleven-hour route back to central Nebraska I tuned into a Christian radio station and caught most of a Focus on the Family interview with Tim Goeglein, author of The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era. (The radio episode is entitled Grace and Redemption: My Life in Washington and can be replayed at http://www.focusonthefamily.com/popups/media_player.aspx?MediaId={F384ADAF-A63C-4994-944E-F06C6739959E} )

The interviewer and Mr. Goeglein focused on a very small part of the book, an account of his fall from the halls of Washington DC power because of plagiarism in a column he wrote for his hometown newspaper while working on President George W. Bush’s staff.

Mr. Goeglein was contacted by a reporter and asked point-blank if he had plagiarized certain content in his column.  He admitted having done so, and knew in that instant that his political life was over.  His thoughts turned immediately to how this would hurt his wife, his children, his parents… and President Bush, who he had served with devotion through two campaigns and most of two presidential terms.  He went home that night and confessed all to his family, knowing that the next workday he would have to resign in disgrace.  He expected to be “taken to the woodshed” both by his immediate superior, Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, and by the President.

He went to work and began making his exodus as seamless a transition as possible, and soon received a phone call form Mr. Bolton, who asked him to come to his office.  Expecting the worst, he experienced quite the opposite.  The first question asked was, “How is your family doing with this?”  They talked for several minutes, and then Mr. Bolton said, “The boss [meaning President Bush] wants to see you.”

Once again expecting the worst, he was ushered into the Oval Office.   He closed the door and turned to face the President, and said, “Mr. President, I owe…” and got no further.  President Bush interrupted him, stating, “Tim, I forgive you.”  He tried to apologize again and was again interrupted.  ”I have known grace and mercy in my life, and I’m extending it to you.”  A third attempt at apology was answered with, “Tim, I’ll say it again — you’re forgiven.  We can spend the next few minutes talking about the last eight years, or we can talk about all of this.”

Mr. Goeglein turned to take a seat on one of couches at the side of the room reserved for aides and staff members.  President Bush redirected him to one of the two chairs in front of the large fireplace over which the portrait of George Washington hangs, a seat reserved for the Vice President and visiting heads of state.  It is a seating arrangement specifically designed to put the President of the United States and his guest on a peer-to-peer basis.

They spent the next twenty minutes or so rehearsing the successes of the past eight years.  As their time drew to a close, they prayed together (!) and hugged.  As Mr. Goeglein opened the door to leave, thinking it would be last time he would see the Oval Office and President Bush, the President said to him, “Oh, and by the way, I want you to please bring your wife and sons here so that I can tell them what a great father and husband you’ve been.”

Mr. Goeglein continued the radio interview by saying, “It is a remarkable thing to have the leader of the Free World validate you at the nadir of your life.  I was not in the cellar at that point, I was in the sub-cellar.  And the President knew as a Christian that it was important to extend grace and mercy, forgiveness and love to me at a moment when I needed it most.  He also knew it was important that he show my wife and children that in all of this brokenness and failure, that there was something and someone whose dignity and redemption was important.  And he knew this intuitively. [emphasis mine - JAI]  Jenny and the boys came with me back to the Oval Office for photos and gifts.  I cannot get to the bottom of it, it’s actually difficult to put into words.”

“He knew this intuitively.” These words really took me aback.  The reception Mr. Goeglein received when the worst was expected is astounding enough, but to realize that it was intuitive and not contrived on the part of President Bush is indeed something we all would have difficulty “getting to the bottom of!”

We know so little of the actual nature, personality and modus operandi of our Presidents. And what we do know is warped and twisted by news media that seldom tells that side of the story, tells only what serves their own agenda, and never tells the whole story.  One doesn’t know what to believe, the isolation from reality is so great.  I can tell you that by the end of President Bush’s second term my evaluation of him was clouded by doubt.  But Mr. Goeglein’s halting and humble description of his treatment by both Josh Bolton and President Bush has been a thunderous clarification and validation of my support for George W. Bush.  I cannot speak with certainty, never having met President Bush, but for what it’s worth, here’s why…

There was no doubt advance planning for handling the eventuality that some staffer sometime would face scandal resulting in their departure, and that advance planning included the Chief of Staff as witnessed by his own treatment of Mr. Goeglein.  No president worth his salt would want to be caught flat-footed in such circumstances.  And yet Mr. Goeglein described President Bush’s approach as stemming from intuitive understanding.  What the President understood intuitively was Mr. Goeglein’s personal need for forgiveness, love, validation, grace and mercy, and that both he and his family would need encouragement and reinforcement of a balanced perspective in a terribly unbalanced time.  And that those things far outweighed any deserved judgement.

Mr. Goeglein’s description of all of this as being intuitive seems to indicate to me that this apparently well-thought-out approach stemmed from President Bush’s very nature — that to do otherwise would never occur to him.  And in this we have an amazing window into President Bush’s very soul.  Had I been in his shoes that day, would I have responded in this manner intuitively?  I suspect not!

Many in the media (and some in Christian circles) have raised doubt about whether or not George W. Bush is a genuine believer in Jesus Christ.  It seems to me that Christ should be easily visible in those of us who claim to be His followers.  This vignette, for me at least, has “easy to see Christ in you” written all over it.  Above all things, it places the concept of redemption of sinners in the forefront, and then adds to it everything that is undeserved.  Love.  Mercy.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Encouragement.  Validation.  Hope.  Acceptance.

Is the presence of Christ in my life, after 49 years of faith, this evident in my dealings with my fellow man?  Sadly, no.  Unlike most, I’ve had opportunity from a position of power as a church elder, to put it to the test.  Here is an example before me where a man with ultimate authority could have “lowered the boom” righteously.  But instead he responded humbly out of his own personal experiences in which he had also received bountiful grace and mercy, and was now simply passing it on.  How many times have I participated in church board decisions that “lowered the boom” on someone, even when it was scripturally justifiable?  I have referred to this elsewhere as the “Ananias and Sapphira Method of Church Discipline.”  In which of those situations, if any, did those believers under my oversight depart with the sense of love and understanding that Mr. Goeglein received?

Yes, there was error.  Yes, there was confession of error and repentance.  Yes, there were consequences.  All too often believers caught in error in churches today obstinately refuse to recognize, confess and repent of their sin.  But even in the absence of such repentance there remains a need to recognize the worth and dignity of the offender as fundamentally a brother and a “trophy of God’s grace,” and to continue to care for and about them with an understanding of what they are going through, now matter how low.  Any believer who cannot treat their brothers in Christ, however errant, in this manner has forgotten just how low they were before they were redeemed, and just how great a redemption was given to them freely.  And it is most likely that it is pride and power that has caused them to forget.

Mr. President, if by some strange quirk of fate you should ever read this — thank you for not only “getting it” as a Christian, but for actually living it out at an intuitive level, especially from the highest halls of human power.  It’s easy to see Christ in you!

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