Sunday, September 30, 2018

City Notes '18 | Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Grace: Umbrellas and Unmerited Favor


Grace on the receiving end is free, no doubt. Grace on the giving end may cost you everything. 


This post continues some notes from one of the top books I have read in 2018: 
Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing and How We Can Revive Them by Jonathan Merritt. Below is a previous post of notes from Learning to Speak God from Scratch:

City Notes '18 | Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Sin: A Mountain of Metaphors

Sin, grace, neighbor. These words have been used, abused, and accrued by many throughout the centuries in relation to religious and irreligious discussions. 

Grace is a word that is used a lot today, but as often happens, powerful words can lose the incendiary potency of their origins when we broaden or water down their application.

In Learning to Speak God from Scratch, author Jonathan Merritt helps unpack the word, "grace," with curiosity, consideration, and application. 

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 16: Grace: Umbrellas and Unmerited Favor from Learning to Speak God from Scratch:

When I began to research common understandings of grace among modern American Christians, it struck me that while popular definitions vary, they also share a common thread. Each definition of grace I encountered, without exception, contained at least three components:

1. Something that flows from God to humans, usually leading to "salvation" 
2. Something that God offers freely—an undeserved gift 
3. Something that God offers joyfully

But what about the kind of grace that humans offer to each other?

The idea that we are called to be people of grace, by some mechanism in which God's grace fills us up and spills out into the world, is both ancient and Christian. The Bible encourages us to infuse grace into our actions and even our words. If we are the offspring of a gracious God, it stands to reason that we are to be gracious children. Grace is woven into our DNA.

Unfortunately, modern American Christians haven't much to say about this kind of grace. Which is probably why when you ask nonreligious people what they think of Christians, they will often say "judgmental" or "hypocritical" before "gracious." Twenty-first century Christians desperately need to develop a more robust understanding of this important word. But trespassers beware. Talking about grace may not be a comfortable conversation.

Grace on the receiving end is a lovely flower.  
Grace on the giving end is the pits. 

Grace on the receiving end is free, no doubt. 
Grace on the giving end may cost you everything. 

Grace on the receiving end is joyful. 
Grace on the giving end is often painful.

Just a few months after relocating to Brooklyn, I encountered the second kind of grace. This marked the first time I remember despising the city. I was only five blocks from my apartment, en route to meet a friend for dinner, when thunder clapped and the sky fell. As a New York newbie, I wasn't yet in the habit of checking the weather each time I ventured outside my apartment building. I was unarmed and unprepared, in desperate need of an umbrella.

In the distance, I spotted a grocery store and dashed in its direction. Twenty-nine dollars seemed like hefty freight for an umbrella, but I was desperate. I paid the cashier and ventured back into the downpour. I had walked only two blocks when I noticed her. An elderly woman walking in stride with me as the rain pelted her sideways. She had also apparently forgotten to check the weather before departing, and she was now soaking wet as a consequence. The fabric of her dress was bunched up and dripping, and her drenched silver hair fell like a dark curtain around her head. With each step I took, the good ole Christian guilt welled up inside of me. By the time I reached her, a spring fired in my elbow and I handed her my new umbrella, the price tag still dangling. "Here you go, ma'am," I said. "Why don't you take this?" Without a word and avoiding eye contact, she snatched the handle as if entitled to it and lumbered off.

I rolled my eyesHow could she have been so rude?—but I had no time to dwell on the encounter. I was back where I had started, wet and exposed. With haste, I jogged to a bodega on the approaching corner and purchased a second umbrella. Another two blocks, another helpless person approaching. The man sat in a motorized wheelchair that appeared to need a tune-up. With one arm he steered, and with the other, he held a plastic shopping bag over his head to shield him from the storm. A few more steps, and I felt the nudge again. Upon reaching him, I handed him my second umbrella with a kind of encouragement. He didn't even slow down, grabbing the umbrella like it was a baton and he was an Olympic runner. Not a word to me.

Ingrate! By this point, I was seething and grumbling and miserable. My fabric shoes were squishing beneath me, and my feet were bone cold. I was late for dinner, and there wasn't another store to procure an umbrella between me and the restaurant. I broke into a sprint and raced toward my destination. One block away—I could smell the restaurant already—I was forced to stop at the crosswalk. Water dribbled down my face onto my already soaked shirt. Well, at least it can't get any worse, I thought. Just then, a speeding SUV bolted through the intersection and barreled through a muddy water puddle so large you'd need a boating license to cross it. Like in a movie, a wave of water waist-high slapped me and forced me to stumble backward. The light turned green, and I walked the final distance. Denim clung to my legs, now colder than cold.

I entered the restaurant brooding in silence. While my friend surveyed my rain-soaked disposition, I removed my shoes and hung my socks on the coat rack. He didn't say anything at first, and neither did I. But he finally broke the quiet and asked me what had happened.

"Grace happened, that's what," I replied. "And I hate it—and I love it."

Next post: City Notes '18 | Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Neighbor: Mister Rogers and the Global Refugee Crisis

Here are links to previous City Notes books:


2017 | Gospel Fluency; Moving Towards Emmaus; Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalFaith Without Illusions

2018 | The Eternal Current; Learning to Speak God from Scratch Part 1

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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