“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
These words have been attributed to a 16th century English Reformer and martyr named John Bradford, spoken as he watched a group of prisoners being led to execution at the Tower of London.
Bradford was known as Holy Bradford in his youth–not as a sign of derision, it seems, but to show respect for Bradford’s dedication to God and his unselfish attitude.
Whether or not he actually said those words–and there does seem to be some doubt– it’s a sentiment of which Bradford would have likely approved. He’d had certain advantages in life. He came from a well-to-do family and received a good education, showing a talent for numbers and words. He seemed to have a successful career in law ahead of him when he became interested in the church and chose a different path. His embracing of the Church of England led to his imprisonment and execution at the hands of Bloody Mary.
Now, why do I bring this up on a blog dedicated to Richard Armitage, a blog generally of a light-hearted nature? Because I think he would relate to this sentiment as well. I have no idea as to his religious inclinations or indeed if he has any; but he does strike me as a man with an unselfish attitude. A man of humility. A man of compassion.
It’s so easy to look at the mistakes, the faults, the sins of others and give a superior sniff and pat ourselves on the backs because we haven’t succumbed to the temptations, the weaknesses, the bad habits they have.
Perhaps they didn’t have some of the advantages that we have had. Supportive families that were able to provide a comfortable home. Natural intelligence and talents. Good educations. Caring role models. And sometimes, just plain good luck.
Of course we all have choices in life; but some things are thrust upon us over which we have little control. Think of all the children who have suffered the stigma of illegitimacy over the centuries, as if they asked to come into the world under those circumstances. Life is not an even playing field.
I was brought up in a conservative Southern Baptist household, and I found that some of the tenets taught by the denomination, I could not accept. There was the rejection of women as ministers, the condemnation of homosexuality (honestly, would anybody choose that path for themselves?) the tendency of legalism to creep into the picture, for example.
If I don’t drink or smoke or chew or fornicate or play cards or associate with them that do, my place in heaven will surely be secured. But what about the qualities of mercy and compassion? The ability to put oneself into someone else’s shoes?
The Puritan forefathers in my country believed that if you had a fine house and clothes and property, you must be favored by God; if you were struggling in poverty, it obviously meant you were wanting in the areas of character and morality as well.
Life isn’t always clearly black or white, or people, distinctly heroes or villains. No one is all good, or all bad. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Sometimes there, but for the grace of God, go I. And you. And we need to make certain we are not placing ourselves on a pedestal with a slippery surface, or living in a glass house that isn’t shatterproof.
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