Saving Grace – A Commentary

“He who thinks that he is finished, is finished. How true. Those who think that they have arrived, have lost their way. Those who think that they have reached their goal, have missed it. Those who think they are saints, are demons.” (Henri Nouwen)

In the pilot episode of Saving Grace, a “last chance” angel, Earl (Leon Tippy, Deadwood), reveals himself to hard living police officer, Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter). Yet, by the end of the first season, with an angel personally discipling her, not much has changed in the life of Grace. She’s still drinking, cussing, promiscuous, hard-living, and self-destructive.

Where is the virginal teetotaler that we’ve been conditioned to expect after an encounter with the divine?

Saving Grace drives home a lesson too many of us forget: there no such thing as instant perfection. We’re all works in progress. Take churches for example. They are communities of people shaped by their fellowship with one another around their common belief in Christ. Churches aren’t supposed to be creating these uniform Christians in pursuit of the ideal of community. Have you spent time with these “one size fits all” kinds of people? You get the feeling that there’s only one way to be spiritual. Reality dictates that my spiritual walk and journey isn’t like yours. Life would be boring if we were all uniform and the church even more ineffective if we all had the same gifts. We have a bond in Christ, and the result of this bond should be a loving relationship, the picture of family at its best. Unity in diversity.

We weren’t created to be islands of solitude. This self-sufficient image may work for some, but it is not what we were created to be. We’re born for relationships–be they family, friendships, or colleagues–and that is what shapes us (though the absence of relationships also form us).

Grace is on a slow and long journey. A road of self-discovery as she roots out and confronts the forces that have shaped her into the person she is and then has to unlearn much of what she has come to believe about herself.

To quote Michael Yaconelli in his book, Messy Spirituality:

“Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. it is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are NOW in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we LET GO is seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.”

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Saving Grace – A Review

“Searching for Salvation”

A few years ago we had a spate of shows that featured young women interacting with God/the Universe is special and personal ways. However, both Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls, though good, proved fairly short-lived. Now along comes the new show by TNT, Saving Grace. The opening scene alone will let you know that you aren’t exactly watching Highway to Heaven.

“Dear God, please help me.” –Grace

Set in Oklahoma City, Holly Hunter (The Piano) plays Grace Hanadarko, a wild-driving, chain smoking, hard drinking, promiscuous cop who flits from “relationship” to “relationship” using people while, at the same time, hating to be alone. As her life continues to spiral out of control, she has a life-changing moment she wishes she could have back and encounters her last chance, tobacco chewing angel no one else can see, Earl (Leon Tippy, Deadwood).

Eddie: “Do you believe in God?” Grace: “Yeah, I guess.” Eddie: “You’re an idiot.”

Dark and flawed, full of personal demons, Grace’s life is one of (earned) cynicism and abandonment of faith. While we may “know” we enjoy the comfort of ministering spirits, though we don’t get to see them. Grace’s relationship with Earl, on the other hand, is one of the highlights of the show. Watching her challenge him, annoy him, and test him at every turn, much like Jacob who wrestled with an angel, Grace fights Earl at every stop of the way. She remains unconvinced there’s a God who cares even about who she sleeps with, though Earl’s presence alone signals she doesn’t disbelieve as much as she claims.

“Do you want God’s help or not? … Are you ready to turn your life over to God?” –Earl

The show asks the questions that many of us wrestle with. Why not save Grace from some of the previous horrific experiences or the missing girl of the case she’s working on? Why let something like the Oklahoma City bombing happen? Why me? or in Grace’s parlance “Why should my ass be the only one saved?” The answer to many of her questions is “I don’t know.” Life doesn’t work that way: if you have the answers, there’s no room for faith; or, in Earl speak “You’re not ever going to understand all of this, Grace. It ain’t like God’s some sort of crime you can solve.”

“I’m smart enough to know that I can’t figure out God. But I see him working in you.” Rhetta Rodriguez (Laura San Giacomo, Just Shoot Me)

As a cop, Grace gets to see firsthand what people are capable of doing to each other, however,
Saving Grace is a cop show secondarily. Instead it is the internal journey of an interesting and desperately engaging character facing the darkness and detritus of her life. Her complicated relationships. Her need for redemption. Her choice.

She first has to define where she is in her life, examine how she’s living, and the pain that she continues to carry around. It’s all about getting on the right path with Earl walking alongside her in her journey.

“You’ve entered into the divine, Grace. Into a celestial experience that is scientifically unexplainable. You’ve gotta use spiritual language to even begin a dialogue on this.” –Rhetta

Everywhere around us, our culture keeps asking certain questions of faith. We wrestle with ideas and doubts as we go through the messy journey of our lives and this show meets us where we are. Imagine Touched by an Angel as if done by the creators of The Shield and you have an idea of what this show is like. Saving Grace explores God, faith, and sin in very real, very human ways and is exactly the kind of show we need more of.

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