Fresh off a visit to San Francisco last week and being that it is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, I have been thinking about grace a lot. I know you’re probably thinking, “What do Woodstock and San Fran have to do with grace?” Well, before I left for my very first visit to California last week, I read an article in the NY Times entitled Woodstock: A Moment of Muddy Grace. The author of the article reminisces about his time at Bethel, NY (that’s right! For those of you who didn’t know it did not happen in Woodstock, NY) all those years ago, and he was struck by the fact that the event really did exemplify grace among people. There was no violence and all different sorts of people gathered (estimated any where from 300,000 to 400,000) for a couple days to listen to some fantastic music. The gracious spirit stood out to the author because of the events surrounding Woodstock: Vietnam, the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the violence of the Altamont Festival just a few months later, and so on. It was a tumultuous time in our country’s history, and yet at the largest music festival ever (up to that point), nothing violent happened. People gave space to one another.

Then, while I was away in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but have The Mamas & the Papas song “San Francisco” (as performed by Scott McKenzie) pop into my head repeatedly. Remember that one? If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there. Sorry for putting that in your head:)
As I thought about Woodstock and “the gentle people” (read hippies) of San Francisco, I wondered what was so unique about grace as the Christian faith understands it. We here at Mockingbird often talk about grace and the impact it has on a person’s life, and, while it is undoubtedly true that the “grace” felt at Woodstock was memorable and formative to many of those in attendance, it is different from what we mean when we use the word. We certainly like to use such examples from everyday life, but we also know that they are simply shadows of what we are really talking about.
In the Christian faith Grace is certainly more than tolerance or acceptance or space. These are powerful forces to be sure, but if that is all we mean when we use the word “grace” we are sorely underestimating our fundamental problem as people. We aren’t simply misunderstood or a little eccentric. We are sinners. We need to be more than tolerated; we need to be forgiven. SO, this is what we mean by Grace: It is the action of mercy from God for us through the Cross of His Son Jesus as opposed to Judgment. In other words, Grace is something that we are shown by pardon. It is not given to us as a power, and it is much more than something we can give to each other. We are objects of His Grace while we deserve to be objects of His wrath. Thank God!