I’m gutted to hear of the tragic resignation of Margot Käßmann as Bishop of Hannover and Chair of the EKD Ratsvorsitzende, following a drink driving incident when she jumped a red light. Bishop Nick Baines’ account here, and DW press roundup (in English) here. The local TV headline was “Bearer of Hope explains her resignation.”
As leader of the Protestant Church in Germany, Käßmann has engaged passionately and intelligently with culture and society, and won much respect at home and abroad. The respect is undimmed by her resignation, indeed the journalists at her resignation press conference applauded her for her honesty, sense of responsibility, and dignity. We can only accept her decision, I suppose.
Still it leads me to ask, in Lent, what is grace, and what is it not?
When I worked in a prison I had to reflect for the first time in my life, if I’m honest, on how grace really worked among people who had often done criminal, some would say things. The colour, contrast and volume were certainly higher in prison, but amidst much that expressed the worst side of what we call human nature, I did also see some clear and present demonstrations of the Grace of God powerfully redeeming people and turning their lives around.
20 years ago, only the Chaplaincy and uniformed staff worked Saturdays, so the reception board that morning was always busy and somewhat mob-handed, with a crowd from Isleworth Crown Court the day before. Amongst them would be middle class prisoners, often with fraud or drink driving convictions, who had been bailed on remand and told they would never be imprisoned, and had honestly not believed they would be, until they found themselves in prison the night before.
Sometimes, in the night, I still recall these prisoners’ bewilderment, anxiety, embarrassment, rage and distress. It was no part of my job to pretend they had not done what was criminal, wrong and foolish. But neither was it my job to add to their shame or distress. Being deprived of your liberty is the punishment, not cruelty or disrespect whilst you are inside
Quite apart from the humiliation and pain of the moment, often careers or relationships were kicked into touch by the conviction. I was in absolutely no doubt what Jesus would do, and tried, stumbingly, to do likewise. So did the screws, in that sometimes hard but essentially humane world that is gone of Ronnie Barker Porridge.
So how real is Grace? Is it like borrowing money from a bank, where you only get it if you’re rich enough not to need it? Assuming Jesus being ironic when he talked of “righteous persons who have no need of repentance,” we may assume the idea is that the sick need the doctor not those glowing with health.
How do the sick receive the doctor’s help? And when Jesus implied hating someone was as bad as murdering them, lusting was as bad as adultery, was that “as bad as” or “as good as” or... both? And so what?
Over to you.