Do you let God teach you lessons that you don’t want to learn? Has God ever put a difficult person in your path? Have the wounds inflicted through trauma in your life become the weapons used against those you love the most? These questions are posed in the movie The Grace Card. Released in theatres February 2011, the film was a first time collaboration between Hollywood and Memphis based Calvary Church of the Nazarene. Bringing together veteran screenwriter Howard A. Klausner (Space Cowboys) and award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. (Grandpa George), this faith-based film not only explores the issues of forgiveness and grace but also the core lesson of being accessible to God –giving Him the opportunity to hold up a mirror and show us our true selves — whether we like it or not.
Sam Wright is an aspiring part-time pastor of a small church in Memphis. His heart’s desire is to impact his community and continue the legacy passed on by former pastor and mentor Grandpa George. His church, however, is not growing.
To support his family, Sam works as a police officer. When Sam is promoted to Sergeant he is unwillingly partnered with the ornery Mack McDonald. Sam does not know the story behind Mack’s rough and racist disposition but he feels its full effect, and, as a black man, it’s personal. Their exchanges prompt Sam’s anger and hatred to rise to the surface. Seeking the counsel of Grandpa George, Sam begs the question, “I haven’t felt these things in a long time,” he says. “I’m a pastor. Why do I feel this way?” As a Christian, Sam understands we are called to love the unlovable but questions how to respond when it is no longer a concept but rather is embodied in a person that you feel you cannot love?
Grandpa George then shares a true life parable of Sam’s great-great grandfather, Wendle P. Wright. As an eight year old boy, he stood with 100 fellow slaves and listened to their owner, Mr. Eskue, free them and ask their forgiveness before the end of the Civil War. Grandpa George then unveils “The Grace Card” – Wendle’s simple hand written response to his former owner’s heartfelt plea:
I promise to pray for you every day, ask your forgiveness, grant you the same and be your friend always. Wendle P. Wright
Grandpa George then explains how this one kind act changed the future of those two men and wove a legacy for countless others. “Never underestimate the power of grace,” Grandpa George counsels.
Later Sam asks his wife, Debra, why God brought Mack into his life. “You have it backwards,” Debra insightfully responds, “God didn’t bring him into your life, He brought you into his. Figure out why.”
Mack McDonald is a man who survived every parent’s worst nightmare. Or has he? A drug bust in his neighborhood sets off a police car chase that claims the life of his five-year-old boy. Although the black drug-dealer is sentenced for the murder, Mack’s personal guilt and grief slowly eat away at his psyche. In recurring nightmares, Mack relives forcing his unwilling son to ride his bike, blaming himself, in part, for his death. He seeks redemption as a police officer but does not find it.
Seventeen years later, Mack’s bitterness imprisons him; his collapsing family a barometer of his wretched, inward demise. Mack’s seventeen year old son Blake, who was a baby when his brother died, is a stranger to his father and is making choices that imperil his future. After learning that Blake is failing the 11th grade and facing expulsion from school, Mack’s wife Sara enlists the help of a Christian counselor. During a session in which Blake is spewing anger towards his father, the Counselor challenges him with a wake-up call, “How much do you have to hate someone to let them die in hurt?”
In response, Blake attempts reconciliation with his father only to be vehemently rejected when Mack learns about Blake’s failure and expulsion. A vicious quarrel ensues and a distraught Blake disappears.
What happens next is an unimaginable twist of fate in the lives of Mack and Sam. Faced with a life and death scenario, a series of events play out that reveal how Mack’s bitter heart has broken him physically and spiritually. Sam challenges a despondent Mack – curse God and die, or stop fighting God and seek strength beyond himself. Sam walks Mack to the church alter and bows down with him in prayer. Mack’s walls come crashing down and at long last the light of redemption penetrates the darkness of his soul. The transformation is powerfully seen in the wordless exchange between him and his wife. Mack’s countenance exudes the peace and love that had eluded him for so many years. As they gaze into each others eyes, all is understood.
As events continue to unfold, Sam is tested once again. Given the choice to make a personal sacrifice for Mack, Sam willingly extends his grace card thereby setting the example for the divine appointment still to come.
In the final scene, Mack faces his ultimate test when he is face to face with his son’s murderer who is broken and begging for forgiveness. From the pulpit, Pastor Sam and his congregants anxiously await his decision. The parallel to Calvary is clear. The murderer represents all of us who share in the blame for sending God’s one and only Son to the cross. Can Mack forgive as God forgave us? You will just have to see the movie to find out!
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23-24). Every day we have the opportunity to rebuild relationships and heal deep wounds by extending and receiving God’s grace. To whom do you need to offer The Grace Card?
For more information on the movie and accompanying Life resources go to thegracecardmovie.com.