Saving Grace

Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts

About the Book

The CNN senior political analyst and USA Today columnist offers a path to navigating the toxic division in our culture without compromising our convictions and emotional well-being, based on her experience as a journalist during the Trump era, interviews with experts, and research on what leads people to actually change their minds.

“Bracing, elevating, and essential . . . Kirsten Powers has given us a great gift at an urgent hour.” —Jon Meacham

For years, New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Powers has been center stage for many of our nation’s most searing political and cultural battles as a columnist, TV analyst, and one-time participant in the thunderdome of Twitter. On a good day, there will be civil disagreement. On a bad day, it’s all-out trench warfare—nothing but a cycle of outrage and self-righteousness. More and more, Powers finds herself wondering, along with countless Americans: How are we to cope with this non-stop madness?

In Saving Grace, Powers writes with wit and insight about our country’s poisonous political discourse, chronicling the efforts she’s made to stay grounded and preserve her sanity in a post-truth era that has driven many of us to the edge. She draws on lessons offered by faith leaders, therapists, theologians, social scientists, and activists working for change today. She dismantles the widespread misconception that grace means being nice, letting people get away with harmful behavior, or choosing neutrality in the name of peace. Grace, she argues, is anything but an act of surrender; instead, it is a kinetic and transformative force.

Saving Grace offers a template for a different kind of America, one where we can engage with people who hold opposing views without sacrificing our values or our passionate beliefs in the causes we care about. It’s a culture that embraces repentance and repair, a process through which those who have caused harm can take responsibility and work toward righting the wrongs in which they have participated. It’s a place where we’re empowered to see the possibility in other people, even people who are driving us nuts.
Provocative, original, and filled with deep wisdom, Saving Grace is an essential read for anyone engaged in the struggle to live compassionately in an era of relentless demonization and division.
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Praise for Saving Grace

“In this deeply felt, compassionate, and sensible book, Kirsten Powers makes a case for opening ourselves up to the transformative power of grace and of goodness. Rooted in history, theology, and the lived experience of our fragmented time, Powers’s book is bracing, elevating, and essential.”—Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of The Soul of America

“Powers brings clarity and a fresh understanding to an idea that has been too often invoked to maintain the status quo. She shows grace to be a powerful force for inner and outer transformation, and an essential companion to anyone working for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world. Saving Grace is a light on the path during this dark time in American history.”—Don Lemon, host of CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight, author of This Is the Fire

“True to form, Kirsten Powers refuses to allow the culture wars to cost us our shared humanity. This book is a courageous call to truth and love existing side by side.”—Kate Bowler, author of No Cure for Being Human

“A tour de force . . . With the dogged curiosity of a top journalist, Powers strips the concept of grace of its typical churchy flourish and reveals bare-knuckled wisdom for our transforming world. Peppered with her typical wit and touch of whimsy, Saving Grace takes on tough questions rising from today’s headlines and reveals a profound new relationship among power, justice, and peace.”—Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, author of Fortune

“It is not often that intelligence and spirituality are put together as well as Kirsten Powers does in this highly engaging road map for pursuing a life of grace. Saving Grace is the book the world needs right now.”—Richard Rohr, author of The Universal Christ

“With passionate urgency, Powers puts grace in the center of national discussions about bigotry, division, and revenge, insisting that there is a way beyond rage toward healing. Saving Grace offers practical wisdom and the realistic hope that America might yet be saved.”—Diana Butler Bass, author of Grateful

“A bravura book that is at once a highly personal spiritual journey, a deep meditation on grace, and a fascinating compendium of hard-won spiritual wisdom and practical advice . . . With her sparkling prose and heartfelt stories, Kirsten Powers shows us how the spiritual way is the most practical way to live.”—James Martin, SJ, author of Learning to Pray
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Saving Grace

Chapter 1

The Thickness of Grace

We live in an atmosphere choked with the fumes of ungrace

—­Philip Yancey


Grace is what makes human coexistence possible.

Every thriving relationship in history—­between friends, family, communities, and countries—­has been saturated with grace. Grace is what lets us stumble, fall, get back up, and try again. Grace is what welcomes you back after you have failed someone or failed yourself.

Grace is what the Franciscan priest and writer Richard Rohr calls “the ‘x’ factor.” It knits families, friendships, and countries back together after betrayal, hurt, and even violence. It’s the father running to embrace the prodigal son when he’s starving, penniless, and drenched in shame. It’s refusing to reduce people to the sum of their worst actions. We see it in the humility of the utterance “There but for the grace of God go I.”

True grace is otherworldly. It goes against every instinct we have to seek revenge for wrongs or to shame and humiliate people who have acted immorally or unethically. It is what the theologian Dorothee Sölle, who grew up in Nazi Germany, called “borrow[ing] the eyes of God.” It enables us to see the divinity in every person, no matter what they’ve done, what they believe, or who they voted for. Grace is giving other people space to not be you.

Grace is the original self-­care. It shushes the hectoring inner critic that tells us we are too much, too little, too fat, too thin, too good, and not good enough. Grace invites us off the hedonic treadmill of relentless achievement and success, which never delivers the happiness it promises. Grace doesn’t care what size your waist is and celebrates every new wrinkle as evidence of wisdom earned. Grace shrugs at your unachieved New Years’ resolutions and teaches you to be kind to yourself, just because. Grace reminds you of the “love yourself” part of Jesus’s command “Love others as much as you love yourself.”

Grace is amazing.

It’s the sweet sound that cracks open a hardened heart. It smooths the edges of rough regret about the things we did and the things we failed to do. It gives us permission to accept that we were doing the best we could with the information we had—­or as Maya Angelou said, “You did . . . what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” Grace tills the ground so that peace, wholeness, and completeness can take root in our burdened bodies, relationships, and the world.

Reduced to its absolute essence, grace is “unmerited favor.” In the Christian tradition, it’s what God gives us free of charge. But in a country that fetishizes accomplishment, tells people they can “hustle and grind” their way to worth, and fancies itself a meritocracy, many—­like the prodigal son’s older brother—­ are offended by the idea that other people would get something they haven’t earned.

Practicing grace, in other words, can be really freaking hard.

It’s something we love to receive, but often the last thing most of us want to offer. Instead, we incline ourselves toward what the author Philip Yancey calls “ungrace,” withholding that which the world desperately needs. We become the prodigal’s older brother glowering in the background, jealous and fuming about how undeserving his younger brother is of his father’s reflexive affection and forgiveness. Ungrace has become the lingua franca of our discourse. More often than not, it’s the lens through which we view people who don’t share our religious, political, or moral values. Those people may be our leaders, co-­workers, neighbors, or increasingly, members of our own families.

“Our lack and misunderstanding of grace and shrunken capacity to give grace is one of the things that makes the world such a brutal place,” Lisa Sharon Harper, the writer and antiracism leader, told me in late 2020. “Discernment is necessary. Judgment is vanity.”

Yet our mortal daily bread is to sit in judgment of “bad” people, to call out those who hold “bad” beliefs, and to punish people who have done “bad” things. This is what the “good guys” do. Doing so makes us feel strong and righteous, like we are on the side of the angels.

Until it doesn’t.

“We will learn to live together, cooperate with one another, and recognize the dignity of others, or we will perish,” wrote former president Barack Obama in his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land.

The stakes for us really are that high, both personally and as a country.

It would be hard to overstate just how much some Americans have come to despise each other, at least in the abstract. In a January 2019 paper, “Lethal Mass Partisanship,” researchers asked Republicans and Democrats if they believed that members of the opposing party were “just worse for politics” or “downright evil.” More than 40 percent in each party chose “downright evil.” Twenty percent of Democrats and more than 15 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement “We’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.”

Online culture often reflects and feeds the hatred opposing political factions have for each other. But even within like-­minded communities, purity spirals can lead to ostracizing, bullying, shaming, and deplatforming people. When it’s at its best, social media is a revolutionary tool for much-­needed accountability, as we saw with #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. At its worst, it imitates the warped values of our inhumane criminal justice system and confuses cruel and disproportionate retribution with accountability and justice. This behavior occurs across the political spectrum and in nonpolitical online communities.

In hindsight, it’s perversely fitting that the King of Internet Trolls became president of the United States. We were already teetering on the edge, but our public discourse indisputably took a turn for the worse when Donald Trump took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The political became extrapersonal as many people started to experience serious fractures in their relationships with family, friends, co-­workers, and neighbors.

All around Washington, DC, where I live, yard signs reading hate has no home here began to crop up in 2017. Donald Trump’s name didn’t appear anywhere in the design, but the message was an obvious reference to the president and his followers. A longtime friend, a moderate Democrat who is one of the most even-­tempered people I know, joked to me that at his lowest point he felt like posting a sign that read, “Hate has a home here,” giving voice to a shared rage about what Donald Trump had wrought in this country.

My friend was worn out, and so was I. Whereas I used to go on air to discuss things like health care or foreign policy, with the election of Trump, I now spent the bulk of my time having to react to the president’s latest tweet or push back against the shameless lying from an endless succession of Trump apologists. I was emotionally exhausted, frustrated, and angry a lot of the time, like so many others around me. I was hearing more and more, “I can’t live like this anymore.” The fractures were compounding, and people were finding themselves estranged from others who were important to them. If this agitation, fear, and rage had been helping anyone or any causes I cared about, perhaps it would have seemed worth it. But it wasn’t.

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him,” Booker T. Washington once warned. Well, I went that low. And then some. On good days, I could limit my negative feelings about those who I felt were causing so much harm to mere disdain. On the worst days, I hated their guts. But feeling hate, like being unforgiving, is tantamount to drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It only deepened my misery.

About the Author

Kirsten Powers
Kirsten Powers is a New York Times bestselling author, a USA Todaycolumnist, and a senior political analyst for CNN. Her writing has been published in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, Elle, Salon, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Observer, New York Post, and The American Prospect. Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Powers lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Robert Draper, and their fur child, Lucy. More by Kirsten Powers
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