weaponizing grace

a gunner for grace

To be successful this year, we need to be generous with grace; we need to be able to show kindness to ourselves and to others, to forgive ourselves and others for shortcomings, to empathize with those around us.

~Sean Decatur, Being Generous with Grace

As my kids (can I still call them kids at 17 and—gulp—21?) head back to school the myriad messages from CEOs, telling me exactly-what-their-companies-are-doing-about-the-pandemic-so-please-keep-buying-our-stuff, have been replaced with missives from educators.

I love the sentiments Kenyon’s President, Sean Decatur, expresses in his blog post on the topic of grace.

There was an odd moment when I posted the link to it on my Facebook page, and a high school friend posted a one-word reply: Gunner.

Huh, I thought—I’m not sure I know what he means by that.

So being a language geek, I set off on a hunt (haha) through the dictionary. The obvious Merriam-Webster definition, “someone who operates a gun,” didn’t quite feel right, so I kept digging.

I found myself in the land of Urban Dictionary, where I generally go with great trepidation because I usually find something I really didn’t want to know.

(If you’re over 40 and not familiar with the Urban Dictionary, tread carefully—you probably don’t want to know just how foreign our own language has become and how some really common words and expressions are used by the younger generations!)

Anyway, in said Urban Dictionary, I found this: “A person who is competitive, overly-ambitious and substantially exceeds minimum requirements.”

Was my friend saying that we should be gunners for grace?

That sort of makes sense but only if we ignore the second part of the definition, “A gunner will compromise his/her peer relationships and/or reputation among peers in order to obtain recognition and praise from his/her superiors.”

So I just replied with a question mark and moved on.

grace and the tip jar

As I’ve said before, when you start paying attention, the Universe delivers miracles on a daily basis. They’re the little things you might pass off as interesting coincidences until you really start paying attention.

The same day I got the “gunner” comment on my post, another friend reposted a wonderful story about something the original writer witnessed in a coffee shop: as one customer roundly abused the barista, the next customer in line stepped forward and dropped change in the tip jar on the counter.

The abuser paused, stared, then resumed the abuse. The next customer dropped more change in the jar. Rinse and repeat. The longer the barista patiently continued to give good service in the face of the abuse, the more money she made.

The story ends with the line, “The teen smiles at me. The woman can’t think of what to say to me and stops yelling because I’m looking at her dead in the eye like ‘ATM is over there, I can go all night.'”

Huh, I thought, a gunner for grace.

grace and the Zoom meeting

Last night, I participated in a Zoom meeting for parents of my son’s high school.

As expected, hundreds of parents showed up, and hundreds of us watched as a handful posted completely inappropriate questions in the chat.

What do I mean by inappropriate?

I mean the ones that start with, “My child…” and end with a question that is 1) confrontational in tone, 2) has very little to do with the the evening’s stated agenda, and 3) wastes the time of everyone else on the call because they need to be addressed to and answered by a teacher, counselor, or other staff member not even present.

I have questions. A lot of them. Most have to do with why my senior only got into two of the six classes he requested, why he was put in physics and engineering when he has no interest in either subject, how he can either get into ecology or take it elsewhere since that is the science class that is relevant to what he would like to study in college.

But this was not the time for those questions.

As I felt my blood pressure rising, I thought of Decatur’s words again:

As we manage the difficult strains and stresses of this year, our own imperfections will regularly be on display, as will the imperfections of those around us. Gracious recognition of our shared vulnerability will be essential for our collective health as a community.

Breathe. Don’t react, respond.

Dean Marci managed to keep her cool. No, she did more than that—she displayed the most powerful vulnerability as she maintained her cheerful demeanor in answer after answer (I’m paraphrasing here):

“You know, I can’t answer that right now, and I know we’ll figure it out soon.”

“I don’t know that, either, and it’s all going to work out alright.”

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen for the spring semester—my team and I feel pretty good if we can see two weeks ahead at this point, so we’re working with that.”

And as the inappropriate questions in the chat multiplied, another miracle (again, paraphrasing):

“Thanks for all your work.”

“You and your team are amazing.”

“Thank you for everything you’re doing to make the school year work virtually.”

Apparently, there are a lot of gunners for grace in that community, and grace runs top-down and bottom-up.

weaponizing grace

I consider myself a pacifist. I try not to used words or imagery that are violent or militaristic—to the point that I ask clients to not think about their health journey as “a battle” or even “a struggle.”

I thought long and hard before using the image above on my blog.

I’m not against guns when they’re used to hunt for food—not for sport—and when the animal’s life is honored by eating it nose to tail.

I’m for defunding the militarization of our police forces and for funding their training in truly protecting all citizens—teaching them more social work and peace keeping skills. Perhaps some day we can abolish the police force as we know it today.

I’m also against handguns and assault rifles being available to the public. You are welcome to disagree with me—respectfully if possible.

I’m for leaders who seek peace, not through funding military might and conquering others but by truly seeking to understand and compromise with others, irrespective of their beliefs and traditions.

Those who are gunners for grace, who extend an open hand in response to a closed fist.

By the way, my friend replied to my question mark on Facebook.

“Oops,” he said, “I was mistakenly responding to another post where we were telling people what our dog’s name is. Sorry, I’ll remove my comment.”

“Don’t take it down,” I said, “Post a picture of your dog—I like the idea of weaponizing grace.”

It turns out that Gunner is an adorable beagle: as with most dogs, his eyes stare back brimming with grace.

make the connection

If you’re wondering how (whether?) we’re going to survive 2020, consider this: even in the most dire of situations, we have a choice—sometimes it’s the only choice we have.

That choice is in how we act: we can react with anger or we can respond with grace.

We can choose to honor another’s need, fill someone’s tip jar, thank them when we aren’t inclined to, stand up against injustice.

We can weaponize grace and get through this and in doing so come out healthier—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—on the other side, as individuals and as a community and as a nation. Wherever and whenever that “other side” actually is, gunning for grace will get us there.


  1. Kate Borneman

    What a great story. Little miracles indeed. Thanks Liza!

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Sometimes a cardamom rose latte can be all the miracle we need?

  2. Audrey Acton

    I love this so much. Needed this today very much. You rock my friend.

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