November 25, 2015

There Is No Fence

“You will do well.” That was what James (likely the brother of Jesus) said to a group of people when he told them to quit the various rituals involved in their pagan worship in Acts 15. Things like sacrificing to idols. Fornication (a churchy sounding word if there ever was one). That stuff. He said things would be better if they stopped.

What strikes me is the lack of harshness in the voice of one of the prominent members of the church at that time. Earlier in that chapter, Peter spoke and said this: “…we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus…”

That’s it. At least in this instance. Which begs the question: why is grace so difficult to accept?

We need a different perspective on grace (and a lot of other things). Not a worldwide movement. Just a personal, inward look at what is being offered and why we think 1) it cannot possibly be for us and 2) why we’re so particular about who else can get it. As if either of them were up to us.

Let’s look at the first one: why I believe I’m not worthy of grace and, even if I do finally accept it, why it’s so difficult to receive. Brené Brown said that the opposite of shame is empathy, and I think that’s what grace offers us, among other things: empathy. We can be so full of shame from something we have done or something that was done to us that we wrap it around us like a comforter on a cold night and don’t want to unwrap in the morning (not that I know anything about that). But empathy offers a counter. Empathy says, “I understand. It’s going to be ok.” It doesn’t say get over it and it certainly doesn’t blame. Grace does the same thing. According to the U2 song, “she covers the shame.”

For whatever reason shame is so resilient that it is difficult to accept grace. Even when we do, it doesn’t feel right. It’s like learning to unlearn. It’s counter-intuitive and shame will blame you for accepting grace rather than than remaining with it. Shame toxic nature must be abandoned, but it often takes empathy and grace from others to help you recognize it’s even around.

Then there’s the whole doling out God’s grace rations by people who should be offering it in full and pointing to the source. As if God would think, “Yeah, that sounds good. And make sure they’re giving to the poor, too, before they are offered any of what I’ve got to give them.” Does it help you to stop doing the things that take you away from goodness, away from the kind of life Jesus led? Yes. “You will do well,” James said, to cut out of your life the things that don’t bring you together with God. But he didn’t say God would not offer grace. He did not say that your error last week or last night or a minute ago, that sin (or whatever word you want to put there) that is making you feel shame, is going to suddenly push you to the other side of the God fence on which you’ve been balancing. Here is the good news: there is no fence.

I speak with friends and acquaintances and I often hear the same thing, an undertone of hope that God will forgive what they’ve done, or (more often) that God will forgive what other people have done. (I’ll note that I don’t often hear people praying for, say, terrorists, other than praying that they are stopped). For the people that simply aren’t sure of their acceptance by God, my heart breaks. I spoke with someone after a class and he was desperately torn as to why he could not stop sin. He gave more detail, of course, but that’s the summary. Why can’t we just stop it? What I hope I communicated to him is what I hope I communicate here: there is no fence. It’s going to be ok. I believe, like Peter, that we are saved by grace. Forget the where-do-we-go-when-we-die talk for a minute. I believe that we are saved, right now, and can participate in bringing heaven to earth, right now, because of grace offered to us that we then extend to others. There is no fence.

So, what next? Maybe take a good, long lunch break. Or, my favorite, go for a walk. Just think about the idea that there is no fence. Think about what grace you can accept, and what grace you can now offer to others.

Grace and peace, friends.