time for a time out.

How many arguments end with both people still believing the same things, and just hating each other more?  You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.  People yell and rage at each other until they run out of steam and then they retreat into their respective corners to lick their wounds.   The inevitable result is that while no one “wins” the argument, their disdain for the other side grows increasingly strong, and the next time the topic arises the furor with which it is debated is only stronger.

Pretty soon, all you have to do is mention the topic and all the sudden you are drowning in a sea of bile, which once expelled leaves everyone exhausted and in pain.

I saw this recently with gay rights.  Someone posted, on Facebook, a fairly innocuous plea for people to show Christ’s love and compassion when discussing the recent outcry over Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty’s comments. Within seconds, what unfolded was not a “he who is without sin may cast the first stone” show of support, but a heated and bloody argument that left the original poster in tears.

“What’s left,” another friend later said, “but the “unfriend” button?”

I have to wonder, whose needs are met by this disturbing trend?  What is really being served?  We often assume, when we retreat to our respective corners, that out there is a world that agrees with our assumptions.  Yet today I’m feeling like it’s far more likely that we are actually alone.

corner

I think we need to take a time out.  I think instead of rushing from our corners like a prize fighter hungry to land the killing blow, we need to take the time to look around us and simply be aware.  Who are we fighting?  Why?

A dear friend of mine said, in the midst of the heated discussions of the past few days, that’s it’s easy to say something isn’t all that bad if it’s not being said about you.  Often the kneejerk response to her quiet plea to be understood was further defensiveness or accusations that she simply took things to personally.

I have to wonder why, never once that I heard or saw, someone didn’t turn to her and ask, “can you help me understand why you’re upset?”

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open.  Instead of viewing every argument as a chance to bury our own hatchets, why aren’t we seeing an argument as a chance to further our understanding of the world around us?

I believe this is doubly, triply, infinitely more true for Christians.  After all, as Christians we act not as ambassadors of our past grudges but ambassadors of the love and grace of God.  When we see an argument, our first response should never be to start drawing lines in the sand and throwing punches.  We should see them as opportunities to express a unique grace and compassion, defending those who are in pain and showing compassion to our enemies.

So why are we still fighting?

Photo by Nasrulekram

If grace is only for the saved, heaven will be a lonely place.

“God is holy and in him there can be no sin,” said the man.  I was to understand, from the context of the conversation, that by extension the Church was supposed to be pure if it wanted to be in communion with God, and that’s why all the gays and punks and drinkers need not apply.

My heart has been broken recently, because in conversation after conversation I have confronted a kind of contempt that floors me, often from people of whom I would have never expected such a visceral dislike of certain members of our society.  That contempt has been time and time again defended by the Bible, and I find myself less and less able to respond.  Is this really what the Church has become?  When I was first introduced to the Gospel, I heard it preached as good news.  Call out the trumpeters, there is no longer a system that privileges the elite by making salvation something that must be earned through purchased sacrifice.  Christ died on the cross, and all you need to do is to respond to that sacrifice in love and you, me, all of us can be saved!  This is a miracle!  Holiness is our loving and natural response to our salvation, we become better people simply by loving God and understanding His love for us!  Once we understand the price of sin we’ll leave it gladly!  There is no reason to despair or die in guilt and shame!  Tell the world!

No, wait, don’t tell the world.  Because if we did THAT, ANYBODY might think they are welcome here.  So now the message is changed.  Grace is, apparently, something that people think that we earn by being holier than our brethren.  Gay people need not be welcomed, because simply by being Gay they have demonstrated their complete reaction of the “natural order” of things.  Poor people are either lazy and thus rejecting the Bible’s command to earnest work, or they aren’t “prospering” because God won’t “bless them” because of sin.  So we don’t need to worry about the poor people, either.  All of the punks and scattered remnants of society aren’t welcome, because their rejection of the popular way of thinking and life shows a contempt that must mean they’ve rejected God’s spirit, too.  Pretty soon there’s no one new coming to the table, and the people who are there whisper and plot to try to gain position.  The Disciples did that, too, but Jesus had a pretty crazy response to that, “the last will be first, the first will be last.”

There’s something missing, here.  When Jesus was going around performing his miracles, he was constantly telling people their sins were forgiven.  He told them that before those people did anything to earn his forgiveness.  The people whom he told to sin no more were people on the verge of destruction:  the lame man at the pool, the woman who was about to be stoned.  What he did was an act of mercy.  He told them to sin no more not out of condemnation, but out of concern.  If those people had gone back to their old ways of life, they would have ended up back in the same place at death’s door.  Jesus didn’t need to preach them a sermon about the risks of their old lives entailed, he instead  lived out the sermon, he showed them they could receive God’s mercy and they responded in joy and love.  We see this in the story of Zacchaeus, who gave half his possessions to the poor and promised to repay everyone he’d cheated by double after Jesus asked to stay at his home and embraced him.  Notice that Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ community prior to Zacchaeus’ acts of repentance.  The repentance was a loving response to Jesus’ fraternity, not the other way around.

The places where Jesus does offer some kind of teaching, or puts pressure on people to change, are places where they come to him asking what they need to do to be saved.  One example of this is the rich young man in Mark 10.  When he asks Jesus what he needs to do to be saved, Jesus tells him to give all of his possessions to the poor.  The man walks away sad because of his immense wealth.  Why would Jesus show such mercy and extravagance to some, and such difficulty to others?  Or is there a lesson for us to learn in both of the ways that Jesus acted with the people that came to hear him teach?  For some, the destitute who came out of hope and desperation, Jesus gave much so that they, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7, would “love much because they were forgiven much”.  For others, Jesus tested their motives, as well he should have.  If the rich young man came to Jesus not out of sincerity but out of greed, isn’t the best lesson Jesus could teach him the necessity of generosity?

I feel like there should be so much more to say, at this point, but I can’t think of what it is.  Gay people ought to feel God’s grace.  Poor people ought to receive his blessing at our hands.  The punks, the goths, the rejects and those who reject society all ought to know that they are desired in God’s kingdom.  There is a place at the table for everyone who comes wanting a meal.

Where is the Gospel?

I find myself more and more at a loss for words.

There if not but for the grace of God, go I.

Otherwise known as: we all sin.  Don’t we?

My dad has a great philosophy about judgment.  He says that judgment is any time a person looks at another person’s choices and says “if I were given the same set of circumstances, I’d do better.”  It’s easy to judge in that kind of way when you know you’d never have the same sort of circumstances.  Actually, it’s easy even when you’ve got the same set of circumstances and you make the same bad choices.  I can’t count the amount of times that I, as a mother of toddlers, have winced when I witness a mom going through a store ignoring her child’s tantrum when I myself have been that mother a week before.  When given the choice between leaving (and not getting the groceries I need to make that night’s meal) or taking my child into the bathroom to calm down (knowing that they will just start screaming for cookies again) or just ignoring the behavior and hoping that at some point they wise up to the fact that it’s not effective, I choose option C.  Not because I’m a bad mother, but because of the fact that at some point I had to accept the fact that no matter how well I do my job, my kids are still free to make their own bad choices.  And sometimes kids behave badly.

Don’t we all?  I may not be two anymore, but there are still times where I figuratively see the cookies, know there’s not the money for the cookies, still want the cookies, and have to whine “but I wanted COOKIES” all the way home.  Truthfully in my case it’s usually not really cookies but the strawberries and blueberries I want to plant, or the new clothes I could really use, or the extravagant meal I want to cook, or just the success that other people seem to have that I crave no matter how successful I am in my own ventures.  Let’s be honest, dear readers:  no matter how much older we get, in some ways we never grow.  I look at my daughter looking at the other child screaming in the cart, I see the glint in her eyes and I know what she’s going to say.  “Mom,” she says, “why can’t he just stop screaming?  He’s loud.  It’s rude.”  I have to keep my smirk to myself as I quietly remind her that last week she was the loud child, and sometimes when we’re tired and hungry we make poor choices.

And then I go to church the next Sunday, and I think about all the times I’ve seen people ready to throw some poor soul out because of the bad choices they’ve made, and I wonder when we’ll all learn.  We’ve all thrown tantrums.  We’ve all disobeyed out of selfishness and silly motivations.  We’ve all had our moments where we didn’t care that we were sinning because we felt it was our right, or it would hurt too hard to quit. We all want sympathy for our own failings, grace and compassion, understanding and temperance.  But when it comes to the failings of others we’re all too quick to stamp “failure” on their foreheads and send them away.

There if not for the grace of God, right?

I think we hear that saying and we miss the real meaning.  We look at it as proof of God’s devotion to ourselves, because we’re the ones that got the grace.  But that’s not the point.  We need to fully realize our own responsibility to pay out the grace we’ve been given, to live it out in full.  Grace offered is grace lost if we don’t give it away.

So don’t keep it for yourself.