There are so many wonderful things one could say about this clip. It shows a conversation between Ellen DeGeneres and the 88-year-old Gladys Hardy, from Austin, TX. Gladys is disarming in her warmth, her obvious generosity of heart, and the way she doesn’t take herself (or anyone) too seriously. By her own admission, she is a Christian. What’s refreshing about her, however, is that she doesn’t live, as St. Paul said, “under the Law.” She seems aware, however, that there are many who do. That is to say, there are many people (including Christians) who believe that Christianity is a force for oppression, not liberation, and that following Jesus has largely to do with “sin management” and behavior modification. In this view, it doesn’t work to be a Christian who still has more than a little sin in one’s life. For people who see Christianity as a system of control, it does seem incongruous that one could be a Christian and drink, or feel envious, or lustful, or let slip the occasional F bomb in an angry moment. This is why so many Christians have secret lives behind a veneer of respectability.
But as Gladys says, “I love Jesus but I drink a little.” That is, “I’m a Christian, but I’m also a real person.” Gladys is refreshingly honest. While we don’t know the extent of Gladys’s Bible knowledge, her realistic approach to herself is right in line with Jesus’ message. He was under no illusions about the human condition: our incessant predeliction towards destruction of self and others, despite the fact that we all want to be good people. (As Bono sings in U2’s God Part II: “I don’t believe in the Uzi that just went off in my hand.”) Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” And these things don’t immediately cease for Christians. The accounts of the early Church in the Book of Acts, along with the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament (1 Corinthians, anyone?), clearly show that Christians still have a lot of darkness mixed with light in their lives.
With his realistic appraisal of humanity, Jesus allows people to be honest about themselves. You can’t fool God, since he already knows everything. So you can be honest about “that one thing” in your life, that thing that’s not getting any better—your (emotional or actual) promiscuity, your increasingly heavy drinking, your in-sane use of credit cards, your incessant sarcastic insults, your fear of failure driving you to workaholism, your blinding rage, your… (fill in the blank). And when you’re honest, it’s at that point that grace makes its entry. And people that know both their failings (one on side), and the sin-engulfing, heart-rending grace of God (on the other side), are people who are funny, loving, and lovely people. Like Gladys Hardy.