Saturday, February 17, 2007

OVERHEARING GRACE

NO MORE “GRACE NOTES.” On a whim, I’m changing the name of my weekly e-journal from “Grace Notes” to “Grace Between the Lines.” The name “grace notes” is used for so many other publications and its online applications are myriad. What I set out to do over a decade ago was to try to observe and comment on grace as it is experienced in indirect ways, from unlikely sources, and in out-of-the-box settings--literally, to overhear grace or read it between the lines.

GRACE FROM UNLIKELY PLACES. I was drawn to this because I experienced grace in these ways when, in 1994, I stepped outside the pulpit to serve in the community. People who did not cross their theological T’s or dot their lifestyle I’s within orthodoxy or under the sanction of the church mediated grace to me, to others, in their communities, through their organizations and in spite of their inconsistencies, flaws, and crudities. I was simultaneously struck by how small a circle of grace I had drawn and how wide the range of grace God was evidently scribing. I set out to make notes to myself and for whosoever might want to look over my shoulder.

I’VE DISAPPOINTED SOME. Across the years, some readers have expected that I would share themed “grace lessons” in Grace Notes. Some have suggested that I should use more Scripture. Some have been disappointed in my insistence that people outside the Evangelical realm and beyond the conservative Republican mindset are sometimes more grace-full and truthful than those who have received James Dobson’s stamp of approval. It’s not that some folks inside Evangelical circles aren’t bearing grace (though often it is “grace plus”...grace plus law, grace plus “just” war, grace plus moralistic litmus tests, grace plus gay-hating, grace plus…), it’s that they usually refuse to—or cannot—recognize the grace that people very unlike them are bearing.

BIG GRACE VS LITTLE GRACE. Evangelicals tend to think they have the corner on BIG grace, which they convey is the only grace that really matters. That is, saving grace. BIG grace is the tough stuff, the meat. LITTLE grace—common grace, apparently non-salvific grace or indirect salvific grace, “kindness to strangers” grace, grace as compassion, grace as advocating justice—really doesn’t seem to matter on the Evangelical radar screen. LITTLE grace is soft and warm and slippery. Bearers of LITTLE grace, they convey, would be so much more effective and useful if they would focus on BIG grace. Mother Teresa was wonderful, but in Evangelical thinking, she was mostly about LITTLE grace. After all, just how many souls did Mother Teresa bring to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? So goes such thinking.

FAUX GRACE? What happens when you think only BIG grace matters is that you simply close your spiritual senses and awareness of grace in its more raw, simple and profound forms. Or, you see incredibly compassionate acts, observe great struggles for justice against ignorance and oppression, witness a life of rare wisdom, truth and light... but because these acts, struggles or persons are neither specifically Christian nor speak directly to the need for personal salvation, you put them in an “unspiritual” category. You box out the possibility that these, too, may be some of the most critical signs of grace in our generation and world. Narrow categorical teaching inoculates so many Evangelicals from seeing and celebrating and living with the grace that is always between the lines and ready to be overheard by any who will dare to listen.

NOT EASY, BUT JOYOUS. I will be the first to tell you that overhearing grace and reading it between the lines in events and lives and relationships is not very easy. It defies sound-byte “success stories.” It can be mistaken. The kind of “life change” one might expect does not occur rapidly. But there is no joy like being able to talk with a person about the grace you see at work in their lives, or to help someone see the divine intervention in their thought-to-be senseless situation, or to fan the flame of grace that can be conveyed through a so-called secular organization’s staff and services. What fun to perceive grace where others do not and then to try to help them see it, too. This is mostly what I’ve been trying to do since 1994.

A WINDOW TO GRACE. Maybe you have to have had the experience of being apprehended by grace to be able to recognize it in others, in situations, relationships, or organizations. Truly, some folks just don’t “get it” when I try to point it out; sadly, just as many Evangelicals don’t “see” indirect grace as unchurched. But for those who “get it,” however that happens, grace is truly “amazing.” With this fresh name for my weekly gathered readings, gleanings, and reflections, I dedicate myself anew to making this journal a window to grace that is read between the lines or overheard. Once recognized, grace can do its ongoing transformative work in the lives it touches.

Read this week's edition of Grace Between the Lines.

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