Grace

Matt Manry 11-05-2012
I am the way background, Genotar / Shutterstock.com

I am the way background, Genotar / Shutterstock.com

“The prevailing view in much of contemporary Christianity is more subjective. It tends to be far more focused on the happiness and moral performance of the Christian than the object of faith, Christ Himself.” –Tullian Tchvidjian

Personally I tend to always focus more on my problems when I am going through trials. I am sure that some of you reading can relate to this. It seems normal to focus on ourselves during seasons of suffering. When I look back at the most difficult time of my life, I realize how self-absorbed I was with everything that I was going through. I felt that no one could understand or relate. I felt alone and isolated. My focus was on trying to figure out a way that I could fix myself.  

The days and weeks passed by and eventually my suffering faded away with time. But when I look back and remember those days it amazes me how internally focused I was! The reality that strikes me still today is the fact that there was nothing within myself that could make my suffering go away. I read my Bible and read some self-help books, but nothing could alleviate my pain. Was I doing something wrong? Did I not have enough faith? Was God punishing me for my sins? It angered me that I did not have the power within myself to just “make life all better”. I was helpless and hopeless during that season of life. There was nothing that I could do. I was a sinner in need of a Savior (1 Timothy 1:15). 

Tripp Hudgins 10-26-2012

The Rev. Crankypants himself, trying to tune his banjo on the beach. Meh. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Reentry is often a pain in my ass. 

It's true. I get a chance to get away from it all, to spend some time with friends and begin to unwind and it's glorious. But then there's the return trip home. It always takes longer. It's like slogging through Chicago slush. Painful. Unpleasant. So, after years of dealing with this side of my personality, I've tried to develop a habit of articulating the positives of leaving.

I rise on the wrong side of the bed the day after spending time in contemplation and wonderment. It happens. I apologize to Spouse and try not to step on any toes. Rev. Crankypants is in the house. 

So, to undo the crankyness, I want to thank Brother Rob for his kind attentions over the last few days. I want to thank him for letting me use his name in such a scandalous way as I have. His coattails are long. It's astonishing how using his name in such a title can bring traffic to one's blog. It's a little embarrassing, really.

Rob is a good man trying to do some radical stuff. He has a ministry to those who understand the call to be fully awake and alive in this world as a radical posture.

Cathleen Falsani 10-11-2012

A girl from the Mary Joy organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — When I posted this photograph of a beautiful little Ethiopian girl holding a daisy a few days ago, my friend and fellow God's Politics blogger Christian Piatt responded on Twitter with a four-word comment:

"The Face of God."

Christian's remark stopped me in my tracks ... because it's absolutely true.

RNS photo courtesy www.KarenJames.com

Christian author Max Lucado talked to Religion News Service about grace. RNS photo courtesy www.KarenJames.com

Prolific author Max Lucado talked to Religion News Service about grace, the topic of his 29th book, and answered a range of questions from people who follow RNS on Twitter. Lucado, 57, is the minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church, a nondenominational congregation in San Antonio.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write that people don’t have a deep understanding of grace. What’s the difference between grace and mercy?

A: My hunch is that most people have settled for a wimpy grace. It’s something that doesn’t change their lives. There is a difference between grace and mercy. Mercy is the decision of God not to punish us. But grace is the decision of God to save and bless us.

Q: @tunde_ogunyinka wants to know: What is the one thing you can’t do without each day?

A. I think the one thing that I cannot do without each day is hope. If you put me in a position where you took all my hope away, I’m not sure I could make it through the day.

Q: @kaykay_ayodeji asked: Which book or writer has inspired your style of writing?

A: Early in my writing I was influenced by a man named Frederick Buechner. Back in the ‘90s I read many of his books and it really influenced my thinking and my writing. He has a slight irreverence that I thought was refreshing but it’s not an irreverence that’s unbiblical. It’s just real appreciation for God’s greatness. It’s like it released him to be a happy writer.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 9-17-2012
The hands of the author and ordainee, Matthew Nickoloff, in the baptismal font.

The hands of the author and ordainee, Matthew Nickoloff, in the baptismal font. Photo via the author.

Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25.  Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world  am I doing?  I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”

But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.” 

I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it.  And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.

And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.

Stacey Schwenker 9-01-2012

Ashamed No More: A Pastor's Journey Through Sex Addiction. IVP Books

Kathy Khang 8-30-2012

My sons, ages 13 and 10, spend two evenings each week on a golf course because I parent out of my own personal brokenness, which includes an acute awareness of life experiences and skills I was not exposed to growing up.

Tennis lessons. Skiing lessons. Swimming lessons. Golf lessons.

Check. Check. Check. Check.

(My daughter got the first three. She escaped golf because she has immersed herself into the world of dance for the past few years though it’s not completely out of the picture yet.)

One of my goals has been to expose my children to things I didn’t do and at one point or another felt like I had missed out on. This all despite the fact that I also wrestle with my own personal prejudices against sports like tennis and golf because they have in one way or another represented privilege and access to opportunities and networks my parents and I did not have.

So it did not surprise me to see a very diverse group of participants on our first day at the course – diverse meaning White or Caucasian children were in the minority. Golf, whether you are in business or in medicine, more if you are male but increasingly so if you are female, is one of those “life skills” that also translates into opportunities and networks that non-White communities continue to learn about and enter into.

Brian E. Konkol 8-27-2012
Interconnected heart, _Lonely_  / Shutterstock.com

Interconnected heart, _Lonely_ / Shutterstock.com

In the recent past there was a small group of children gathered in the village of Tucville, located near Georgetown, Guyana. After a few hours of games on the street, the curious crew wandered away from adult supervision and explored a nearby abandoned sewage facility. The children enjoyed their playful investigation, but as they walked a narrow path near the edge of a raw sewage container, a 5-year old girl named Briana Dover accidentally slipped, fell, and quickly sank to the bottom.

As to be expected, Briana’s friends immediately screamed and ran for help, but as neighbors and witnesses rushed to the site, they all stood in shock. Although some considered diving into the tank, no one stepped forward. The container was too large, the smell of rotten feces too disgusting, and the actions required far too dangerous. With each passing moment Briana held to the brink of life at the bottom of the sewage reservoir, moving closer to death with each tick of the clock.

In the meantime, a middle-aged Rastafarian named Ordock Reid heard the commotion. After initially thinking it was a worker dispute, he eventually examined the situation, and as he approached the tank, he was greeted with loud screams and anguished faces. When he was told about Briana’s predicament, he acted immediately. Ordock Reid – a total stranger – took off his clothes, tied-up his dreadlocks, fastened a rope to his waist (handed the other end to an onlooker), and submerged himself through the muck and filth in an attempt to rescue Briana Dover. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber 7-30-2012
Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Editor's Note: God's Politics contributor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, recently delivered an address to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, where she told the story of her spiritual journey from tattooed, alcoholic ne'erdowell to tattooed, 20-years-sober, Lutheran minister. Nadia's is a powerful tale of redemption, God's unconditional love, and staggeringly real grace.

Nadia told the thousands of Lutheran youth gathered in the Big Easy earlier this month:

Some of your parents and some of your pastors were really upset that I was your speaker tonite. They felt like I was someone who should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of teenagers. And you know what I have to say to that? They are absolutely right.

Somebody with my past of alcoholism and drug abuse and promiscuity and lying and stealing should not be allowed to talk to you. You know what? Somebody with my present — who I am now — shouldn't be allowed to talk to you because I am sarcastic, heavily tattooed, I swear like a truck driver — they're having a heart attack back there, going, "Please help her not swear."

I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to be here talking to you. But you know what? That's the God we're dealing with, people.

the Web Editors 7-27-2012
The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram is currently the only known Lutheran ordained pastor living openly with HIV. Her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness, and the shame that he felt, inspired the pastor to be open about her own diagnosis with HIV. She is known as "The HIV Minister" – a title that has helped others with HIV reach out to her for help.

Listen to Ingram tell her story inside the blog...

Justin Fung 7-25-2012

I want to point out three things, regarding Paul's analogy of the fruit of the Spirit.

1. It's not something we can acquire by simply trying harder. Throughout Galatians, Paul dismantles the idea that all God wants is for us to try harder, to do more things, to count on our achievements to gain right standing with God. The fruit of the Spirit comes when the Spirit is living in us.

To state the obvious: if you want an apple, you grow it. You plant the seed, you water it, you care for it, you allow for whatever factors you have no control over — weather, for example — and you trust and hope that, in the right time, the tree will spring up, it will blossom, and it will bear the fruit you’re looking for. It takes time and effort, and even then, we have no guarantee of what, where, when, or how something is going to appear.

Have you ever heard someone pray for patience now? It kind of misses the point of what patience is, doesn’t it? I definitely think we should be praying for these things, but don’t expect them to be just placed in your lap — “Here’s the love for your neighbor you requested!" Absolutely, there are times when God pours out a supernatural measure of peace or joy on us, but more often than not, instead of just giving us those things, God gives us opportunities to learn those things — love, joy, gentleness — and he gives us his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times, including those times, and the Spirit brings peace and joy in the midst of those things, so thatwe can cultivate the life framework to sustain it all, to grow a healthy soul, where we learn how to weave body, mind, and spirit into one cohesive whole.

Whenever dialogue about the fate of faith surfaces, which seems like always (and perhaps it’s been this way since disciples first broke bread together), the church gets hit the hardest. The “relationship-not-religion” rap remains popular on the right, the left loves to loathe abuses of ecclesial authority, and so on; thus the internal bickering multiplies like so many loaves and fishes.

When my denominational family, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), decided against sanctioning gay marriage at its recent General Assembly, I expressed support for the defeated measure on my Facebook page and reposted a blog that denounced some of the more bigoted remarks from the assembly’s discussion floor. An old friend who participates in a Unitarian Universalist congregation read my post and replied, suggesting that I might be “going too easy on the church,” perchance because my comments accompanying the reposting were not harsher and more dramatic in my critique of what many view as religiously motivated homophobia.

This phrase and image of “going easy on the church” stuck in my mind because the church has been quite easy for me — inviting me, a confessed sinner, into its doors and into its community, after years of walking on the slippery slopes and loose living of the wild side.

In my experience, the church has not just been easy on reformed sinners, it has been easy on the poor, the lonely, the recovering addicts, the very young, and the very old. The church makes life easier for a lot of people, with its marrying and mourning, peacemaking and potlucks, prayer groups and parenting classes, rummage sales and support for refugees, disaster relief and radical discipleship.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 7-19-2012
"Salome, Second Version" by the German painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

"Salome, Second Version" by the German painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

When Harper was born we decorated the nursery in a Noah’s Ark theme…images of Noah and of animals entering a large wooden boat  two-by-two. It’s a common enough decorating scheme for kids' rooms.

I mention it because this week at Bible study we discussed how weird it is that the beheading of John the Baptists isn’t a common decorating scheme for kid’s rooms.

Because this is just too gruesome a tale to show up on rolls of juvenile wall paper.

In case you missed the details, here’s what happened:

So Herod is the ruler of the region, and while vacationing in Rome he gets the hots for his brother’s wife who he then marries. John the Baptist, then suggests that maybe that’s not ok.

Now, Herod likes John, as much as anybody can like a crazy bug-eating prophet who lives outdoors and speaks consistently inconvenient truths. Truths such as it’s not ok to marry your brother’s wife, which, incidentally, is the truth that when spoken, got him arrested to begin with. 

It also got John on the bad side of Herod’s new illegal wife Heroditas. She did not like John. Then when Herod throws himself a big birthday party his daughter-in-law Salome dances for him and all the other half-drunk generals and CEOs and celebrities who were there. 

We don’t know the exact nature of her dance but we do know that it “pleased” Herod enough that he offered to give her anything she wanted up to half of his kingdom. So, you know, I don’t think it was the Chicken dance.

Steve Stockman 7-18-2012
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages

African schoolchildren celebrate Mandela's 94th birthday today in Soweto. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages

Back in 2005, Africa was a recurring theme of U2's worldwide Vertigo tour, where Bono’s campaigning for debt relief, trade justice and immediate intervention in the AIDS pandemic — each fueled by his following of Jesus — met in his music in indelibly powerful collision of faith, justice, and art.

When Bono and his bandmates played “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the most amazing mass of colors dropped from the rafters as millions of Willie Williams-designed, light bulbs descended from the rafters to form stage’s back drop and a modern-mosaic high-tech screen. Then came the flags of each African nation in the most moving light show I’ve ever seen.

During the razzle-dazzle on stage, Bono made his claim,

“From the swamp lands of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro, from the bridge at Selma to the mouth of the Nile…AFRICA…AFRICA…AFRICA…the
 journey of equality moves on, moves on…AFRICA…from town centers to townships…sacred ground, proving ground…”

The link between the Martin Luther King Jr. (the Doctor of the Deep South of America’s inequality) to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (the Archbishop and President of Africa’s inequality) was particularly potent art.

Mark Sandlin 7-10-2012

Good and gracious God,

Today, like the rest of the world, 
when I woke I wrapped myself in myths. 
They are comfortable and warming in what can seem like such a cold world. 
Yes, they are old and worn but they are familiar 
and even the most fashion forward find comfort in this thread-worn garb. 

They tell me that while it may not be fair
that 1,600 children die from hunger everyday,
I can do nothing about it.

They silence my own judgment of myself
when I put a quarter in the cup of a homeless man
as I walk on by the lack in his life
to live into the abundance of mine....

Derek Flood 7-10-2012

One of the highlights of the Wildgoose Festival for me was a sneak preview of the feature length documentary Hellbound?,which will be released in select theaters nationwide this fall.

The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.

Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:

We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.

The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films, Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.

 

 

Hannah Mecaskey 7-03-2012

It’s such an easy thing to do,
To overshoot and lose touch with You;
Surrounded by everyday anxieties,
Add to them that you’re not too sensible to me,
And then you get me giving my all,
And then some,
Stretching and hoping,
Reaching and crying out for more of you
In my everyday moments.
I think that all simply misses the point.
You are present in my flesh and blood,
My soul but my pumping heart,
My thinking brain,
My biking legs and lifting arms.
I must believe you are more present
Than I know you to be....

Erik Guzman 6-27-2012

I know I’m cynical, but I didn’t know how dead I got inside.

It was easy to give up on the world. There are way better people than I failing to pull us out of our quagmire.

It was pretty easy to give up on the church too. Pick your disappointment....

So, like I said, I knew I was cynical, but I didn’t know I was about to die from my cynicism. Then I went to the Wild Goose Festival. I wasn’t healed there. Just the opposite. I was playfully wooed to mourn the passing of my younger self.

Christian Piatt 3-23-2012

Galatians 3:22: Is it the faith of Jesus or faith in Jesus that’s the key?

Amy Reeder Worley: It is both the faith of and in Jesus that lead to salvation, which is another word for “liberation.”...

Pablo A. Jiménez: I have always preferred to speak about the faith of Jesus than about faith in Christ. Most people find this shocking and many have tried to correct my theological statements. However, I persist in speaking about the faith of Jesus....

Christian Piatt: I would tend to say it depends on whom you ask, but based on my personal experience, maybe it has more to do with when you ask someone such a question about their understanding of Jesus....

Christian Piatt 3-19-2012
Cow image by smereka /Shutterstock.com

Cow image by smereka /Shutterstock.com

Each of us is our own worst enemy at one time or another. My eight-year-old son, Mattias, takes himself to the mat more often, and more violently, than most.

My wife and I recently accepted a call to pastor a historic church in downtown Portland. When we told the kids, Mattias – my beloved resident Aspie – would go from unhinged excitement one moment, followed by tearful preemptive mourning the next. Kids like Mattias tend to have more dramatic mood swings than average, and pressure just amplifies the swings.

We took a trip to meet the congregation as an opportunity to show the kids around and sell them on the idea of their new home. The beach is a little more than an hour from Portland, so we took them out to the coast for lunch one afternoon. After searching for sand dollars for half an hour under an unforgiving canopy of clouds, we all agreed that a visit to the arcade on the main drag would be a welcome relief from the cool ocean wind.

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