Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

Grace For The Season We Are In

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Thinking much about Peace. How do we discover, uncover, live in Peace?  I love the idea in the midst of broken lives somehow we can find “the grace of the season we are in.”  That peace is discovering grace in that season, whatever season that might be.

Weeks fill this way … moments of deep blessings.  A new baby arrives.  A couple calls about a wedding. A son texts a message of sweet connection. And weeks fill this way… moments of deep breaking.  Someone dies.  A couple calls about divorce.  A daughter texts a message of broken heart.

And if I am honest, I am addicted to one season, and one season alone. Summer.  I crave clear skies and warmth and relaxation. Away.  Away from it all.  Loving only in bounty.  And that is not the truth of human experience, your’s or mine.   Nor is it as much a gift as I would imagine.

All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. (Anne Lamott)

So the journey is to find the God given grace in the season we are in.  That I imagine is more than the silver lining.  More than the “one good thing.”  More than is the glass half full or half empty.  It is grace. In every moment.  God’s good gift.  Sweet and vulnerable.  And somehow always pointing to love.

Taking Mannequins Out of Windows: The Battle of Rules Vs. Grace

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

A recent article in the New York Times spoke of the “Modesty Squads” in certain Hasidic neighborhoods in NYC who have taken a form of vigilante justice on themselves in order to establish what they deem as “modesty” in their neighborhood.  These informal groups make no pretense of their agenda … to enforce through direct coercion the maintenance of what they hold as the proper standards of modesty, down to even asking several stores, with veiled threats just underneath the surface, to remove mannequins from their windows.

This is pat of the sad legacy of most faiths including Christianity  … a toxic element within bent on some sort of enforced purity that it mistakenly believes appeases God.  They act darkly, as one commenter noted, out of a a belief that they are “protecting God and have to do this kind of stuff, and that is sickening and gives us all a black eye.”  Such a faith is attractive to a certain type of marginalized outlier but proves to many, unfortunately, the very achilles heal and hypocrisy embedded in organized religion.  Religion is seen much more as “rules” than as “grace.”

And grace is where the power of faith, I would hold, lies.  In a recent survey, it was the top word people who like religion used to describe their faith.  Grace-in-action is captured in these moving words by Anne Voscamp.

That thundering question of Where is God?

Is best answered when the people of God offer a hand and whisper: Here I am.

That thundering question of Where is God?

Is best answered when the people of God tear everything else away and take the time to show it: Here’s His love for you – beating right here, right here in me, right here for you.

Such reaching moves lovingly away from rules to grace.

When you figure out what is important, you will realize you have just time to accomplish it.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We awaken at different times.  In this denomination, the “Second Coming” we hold to be deeply personal – a “Second Coming” that is not a physical return of Christ but in a rebirth of God into our lives, a rebirth where we open our eyes for a second time.

Our lives desperately need that second opening.  We are so bloody self obsessed!  One friend told a rather pointed joke.  ”So this guy demands of God proof of God’s existence. God responded somewhat perplexed, ‘I thought creation was enough.’”  I certainly have been in that place and find myself in that place still, a place where  all the beauty around me lies unseen as I obsessively stare into the mirror, caught in the narcissistic hell of painting my own self portrait again and again.

Thankfully, that particular approach to life inevitably fails.  I know as a Pastor, that is why I am far more relieved when someone calls in tears than in almost any other emotion.  I know when they “break” and gaze up and beyond the canvas of their thoughts and feelings they will see – and experience – a grace and beauty beyond words.  Then we see what is important and we realize we have just enough time to accomplish it.

What can you learn in 20 minutes?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Returned this weekend to our old “home” – the Pocono Mountains.  We spent our first years as a couple and family here – teaching at Pocono Mountain High School.  It was the birthplace of friends and connections that last to this day.

We have so much impact on one another.  At times the blessing of that simple fact almost overwhelms.  This has been a week of it.  The 9/11 service gave birth to over a 100 connections.  And these connections -  many are very real – including grateful thanks as well as requests for prayers and just simple reaching out. Paulette, for example, sent a beautiful prayer for peace for her parents, one that just sang in my heart this morning.

And then there are the old Pocono Mountain students and swimmers from days gone past.  They are now often getting married (congratulations to Jenn and Pat who are getting married today!)  or now have children of their own.

Spent time last night with a dear family.  I used to teach Theresa – over 15 years ago. Her and her husband Neal are doing an incredible job raising a rather outgoing young son, Brayden, who is courageously moving forward through health challenges.  As a fellow Star Wars fan, I can safely say, “The Force” and “The Phillies” are with this crew!

And all of this just brings me to my knees.  Because the fact is, no matter how many times as a teacher or pastor I get thanked, I KNOW in an absolute way that I have received infinitely more than I ever gave.  You can’t be around the Walsh’s of the world and not think “courage” and “grace.”  You can’t be around Jenn and Pat and not think “joy.”  You can’t read Paulette’s prayer and not think “peace.”

So what can you learn in 20 minutes?  I sat by the lake for 20 minutes in simple prayer.  Of course my brain skittered away from the task at hand – distracted by silly in-my-brain debates and construction noise – but there were a few moments of quiet clarity, times where the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork in this world gently spoke to a world far deeper than words.  It is a world that connects with Neal, Theresa, Brayden, Jenn, Pat and Paulette – with Life.  It breaths into that place of depth – where “deep meets deep.”   My normal hampster-wheel of ego driven noise is silent there.  And what do we learn in place?  Do you have 20 minutes?

Hurricane Homework

Friday, August 26th, 2011

We may just be sitting for awhile without electricity, so here is your homework.  Use it if you’d like.  This Sunday may actually be a true sabbath – a day of rest, a day of making sacred, a day without pursuing, doing, or achieving. (Actually a pretty ingenious part of the plan on God’s part!)

Reading: Read the selection below on “Grace.”  (Print it out if you would like before Sunday due to possible power outages)

Questions: After reading, answer/ discuss the following questions.

  1. When you hear the word “graceful” who do you think of?  Who do you consider “grace-full?”
  2. How do you see “grace” connecting to empowered forms of “humility?”
  3. Where are you most prone to “cheap grace?”
  4. Where have you experienced or witnessed “true grace?”
  5. What does it take, for you, to move from one to the other, from “cheap grace” to “true grace?”

“Grace”: Cheap Grace vs. True Grace

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned of “cheap grace”, a grace we bestow on ourselves.  This is where he believed many Christians had gone astray.  Faced with the cultural pressures to simply “get along” with the Nazi regime, a regime that was promising and delivering economic and political security, as well as scapegoats on which to focus the source of all problems, many not only gave into the Nazis but were actively complicit in the party’s rise, war, and the Holocaust.  Grace for many of these individuals became cheap grace with no cost attached, without a price.  Theology then becomes hollow.  One author spelled out this challenge, one which institutionalized faith faces often.  What occurs is that “We largely stop reading the Bible from the side of the poor and the oppressed. We read it from the side of the establishment and, I am sorry to say, from the priesthood, instead of from people hungry for justice and truth.”  Church then simply settles into a convenient game – one that asks nothing, and is used to add a religious patina justifying acts of oppression and violence.

What then of real grace?  Real grace is “true”, “free”, and comes with a cost.  The price is a willingness to give oneself to the process of life.  Restated, cheap grace is grace without the process.  Real grace is turning oneself over to the process. Bonhoeffer phrased that turning over to process out of which true grace grows this way….

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”

The miracle growing is a blessing – a blessing in which we discover “the Lord’s presence and grace.” (Heavenly Secrets)  Bonhoeffer’s imagery is deeply profound – of living completely in this world, living unreservedly in life’s dues, problems, successes and failures.  That is not obviously giving oneself over to hedonistic pursuits, but something far more profound – giving oneself over to God.  That is living into Incarnation theology.  Think of this in light of what Bonhoeffer felt were some of the most profound teachings in Christianity – the Beatitudes.

    • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    • Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
    • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
    • Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
    • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
    • Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
    • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.

Beautiful stuff!  And please note, the life we talk of with true grace is a life of real joy.  It is not dour.  This is a life of full engagement and deep purpose.  And we are fully engaged, fully present to life’s textures, involving ourselves in deep purpose, a place in turn where our joy will be full even in the midst of great suffering.

“Cheap Grace is the Grace We Bestow on Ourselves”

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the words, “Cheap Grace is the Grace We Bestow on Ourselves.”  Bonhoeffer spoke movingly of the danger of “cheap grace” as opposed to the real grace modeled in Jesus.

It is easy to commoditize “grace”, treating it as a thing to be had, or gotten, or bought.  In other words, treating grace as something we bestow on ourselves.  Yet God’s grace is far different.  True grace arrives as something loving bestowed not clutched and held.

It’s arrival I picture as a soft, still blanket, gently placed, as we humbly bend to the earth and compassionately serve.  The Irish poet John O’Donohue penned these words, words which for me, capture some of that essence of grace, true grace.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Those who I know to be grace-full carry that “invisible cloak”, “words of love” wrapped around them which mind their life.

Last night, as we often do, we cooked dinner for the families at the Ronald McDonald House.  I have traveled there dozens of times and each time is new.  The newness comes from a witnessing of grace.  See here is the paradox.  There is nothing as difficult as what one sees or experiences at a place like the Ronald McDonald House – sick, very sick children.  And, at the same time as awfulness beyond measure becomes apparent, so does grace – not cheap grace but real grace.

Now the grace comes in many ways.  One wheel chair bound girl wore slippers, not just any slippers but doggy slippers – brown, floppy ears sown on.  One of our group asked what she wanted for dinner – her reply – “tacos.”  His response “Is there a Taco Bell nearby?”  (Unfortunately there was not.)  See right there are two examples of simple, profound, quiet, overwhelming grace.  A deeply loved child for whom someone had made or purchased these smilingly goofy slippers.  And a stranger very willing to simply serve with no agenda.  Two examples of grace.

And the night abounded with example after example.  In the midst of unbearable breaking – blessing after blessing.  Grace after grace.

That does not of course mitigate the pain of the children and their families.  It does however, give a glimpse into God’s grace: “..words of love around you,
an invisible cloak to mind your life.”

“I Know” and Blindness

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Jesus warned – because we “know” we are blind. Interesting stuff especially given our immersion in a culture where knowledge is critical. What then is Jesus really saying?

He is warning us I believe in the kind of “knowing” that morphs into a rigid “rightness” – one in which no spaciousness exists.

That type of rigidity actually leads to ignorance. We avoid the question, “What can I learn from this person, from this situation?” and replace it with the need to convince the other, to make the other wrong, to prove ourselves right.

By its very nature that perspective pushes the world into smaller and smaller slices of “rightness” in which “wrongness” is discounted.

That is a daily battle – knowing what we know, standing for what we stand for, while at the same time retaining the plasticity of spirit that allows others to feel safe and at home even in areas where perspectives differ. That kind of grace is the grace whose light we can rest in!