There but for…

For me, the word “grace” is as abstract as they come. But if, as I do, you write about religion (and no, I cannot fully explain that) you need to understand Grace because it figures prominently in all Christian faiths. As far as I can tell it’s God’s whim, good things coming to us whether we deserve them or not.


Medieval people had a world view that life was a game of snakes and ladders (Chutes and Ladders I played as a kid).

The only way to mitigate bad luck (or a fall from grace) was to do good deeds that would allow you to climb up a ladder taking you quickly to a higher level. The highest level would be salvation, of course, knowing with certainty that you were destined to sit beside God and Jesus in Heaven. An element of this perspective was the idea that opportunities for good deeds and calamitous falls hung on the throw of the dice — grace. Your best shot at salvation came from doing good deeds and NOT landing on snakes.

The game is filled with moral lessons and “if” statements. Good things come through a combination of luck and effort. Bad things? Well, they just happen. And then you have to recover.

I completely get this game. All this has happened to me so many times it’s laughable. I think of 2008 when I threw out the Evil X and began the effort to rebuild my life financially. Then my Aunt Martha died and left me $20k. I fixed the roof on my house and built an art shed. After all, I was earning good money (and working constantly) so I could “afford” these two things, but then 2009 came along and the market crashed. The State of CA was in terrible debt, all state employees were furloughed and my income dropped drastically, meaning, I almost lost my house.

“Should’ve saved that money,” I thought.

“How were you to know?” I answered myself.

“Good point,” I replied to me.

But that was a long, slippery snake.

I called my mortgage company and they connected me to a special counselor they’d hired to help people in this very common predicament. “I think you might qualify for Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program. I’ll send you the paper work.”

The ladder was hard. Every month I had to send my mortgage company detailed financial reports (25 to 50 pages) about my income and expenditures. I had to go to a debt counselor. I had to teach 7 classes. I drove 100 miles/day. My mortgage payment of $1500/month was reduced to $600, and I got a new mortgage and kept my house (by the grace of?). I later learned that not a lot of people got this chance.

Protestantism is based on the idea that people achieve salvation not through good deeds but because God wants them to be saved. Medieval people truly believed good deeds (like kissing a leper) earned them Grace.

I think the game is right on. I’m not sure kissing a leper would have prevented the economic crisis, but it might have changed my perspective on my plight, because, as my grandfather was known to say, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

26 thoughts on “There but for…

  1. Out-freakin’-standing post, Martha! I’m sorry you had to endure that struggle but glad you were able to take advantage of the relief program. That damned “Great Recession” just about did us in, too.

    • It was bad and surreal. My community college classes were filled with kids who had no business there, but they were suddenly homeless and federal financial aid was feeding their families. In 2009 I taught 6th grade English to two out of 25 students in my class. The other 23 were only there for the money. It was a nightmare but not nearly the nightmare that their lives were 😦

  2. Excellent post, Martha. I certainly feel for the 23 that were only there for the money because one can only imagine as you put it, the nightmare they were living.

      • Yes, I can only imagine! You caught in the middle trying to teach, some wanting to learn, others feeling perhaps belligerent and frustrated at the home situation and in a class they didn’t particular want. No win win in that situation for sure.

  3. We did the same thing with our house about the same time for the same reasons, except apparently with a lot less paperwork. That might be because by then I’d spent months on the phone with the bank and nothing ever happened, but then I got cancer. I called back my “contact” and said “well, now I have cancer too. Can we get this fixed so I don’t have to get cancer treatments from my car?” and literally, the next day it got fixed. That was an awful time. The value of our house ALSO dropped by about $100.000 too, so it was an I don’t know how many whammies at one time, but it was a biggie.

    Ah. The good old days!

  4. I don’t believe in any gods, but oddly I still agree with the premise that in general doing more good things will cause one to have more good in life. It’s no guarantee of vast riches, but it’s important how we define a good life. Peace of mind is important to me. I’d rather have that alone, living modestly, than with a man giving me things and criticizing me all the time.

    • I neither believe nor disbelieve in God, but I think the medieval idea (though considered superstition) has the power to develop genuine compassion which can sure help us feel better about wherever we are in life and help us be more kind-hearted. I, also, would rather live modestly and peacefully than have a man weighing in on everything I do. Ugh. Just the thought…

  5. Ponder provoking, Miss Martha. As a granola-style church lady, I can see both sides. A certain percentage of life happiness/unhappiness is simply the accumulation of our choices. Leper kissing all the way. But, there are those alarming, seemingly random chutes in every person’s life. Are they a lack of leper kissing or are they mercy and goodness travelling at our shoulder in disguise? I’ll have to think about this post in the wee hours. 🙂

    • “Leper kissing” can remind us that, even in our darkest times, someone needs our care, compassion, and help. That, somehow, can lighten our load whether we carry a load as a result of our choices or the random chute. Leper kissing is never a punishment. It’s the choice to put others before ourselves. Anyway, this is what the medieval church HOPED to teach, but instead the Church got sick and the idea led to indulgences… However, I think the underlying idea has a lot of merit.

      And, as for me, I think the chutes (and the ladders) are just THERE, the result of where we are in time. However much free will we have to choose is bounded by so many things. And then there’s luck…. 🙂

  6. Have you watched that show The Good Place? Your post made me think of it–the lead realizes she is in heaven (The Good Place) but doesn’t belong there! It is a funny show about the temptations along the road to being considered good.

    • The dark ages weren’t dark at all, even in matters of hygiene. People didn’t stop bathing until the plague hit towards the end of the 14th century and decimated the population and made people all scared, superstitious and gave them a morbid fascination with the Danse Macabre and Memento Morii. The really dirty evil time is what we call the Renaissance. It’s all anti-Reformation PR from the Vatican that has given us our “history.”

      But I’ve given up correcting the world on this point. 😉

      I’m waiting for Rake to end in Australia and show up here.

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