Sunday, September 3, 2017

Grace

"Room for Everyone"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Last week I was both saddened and baffled by the release of a declaration of “so-called” Christian doctrine known as the “Nashville Statement.” Issued by several prominent conservative Evangelical Christian leaders, this document essentially offered a clear-cut judgment about who is an “acceptable” Christian and who does not belong.

According to the “Nashville Statement,” If you are a heterosexual Christian, you are acceptable;  but, if you are homosexual and are unwilling to denounce your sexual orientation and live a life of celibacy, you are unacceptable, you aren’t a true Christian, you don’t belong. In fact, the document went even further by declaring that churches that welcome “non-celibate” homosexuals and bless same-gender marriages are not authentic Christian churches.

My first reaction to this statement was one of sorrow. As I see it, some of the greatest pain we can inflict upon fellow human beings is to tell someone that they “don’t belong.” I remember a time in my childhood when I was about 10 years old. We had moved into a new neighborhood where the kids all knew each other pretty well. In fact, they all belonged to a neighborhood club and I was almost immediately informed that I would not be welcome to participate in the club until I had lived there for a while so they could determine if I met their membership standards.

Those months of being on the “outside looking in” were perhaps some of the loneliest times of my life and they still hold a clear place in my memory even to this very day.

Nowadays, we seem to be inflicting a lot of “you don’t belong” type of pain upon one another as people tell other people that they don’t belong because they aren’t white enough, or smart enough or rich enough, or they don’t speak English well enough to “belong.” And then, last week, we heard a group of people telling fellow Christians that they don’t belong because they don’t have the “correct” sexual orientation.

Beside feeling sorrow and pain over last week’s “Nashville Statement,” I am also baffled by it because, for the life of me, I can’t imagine how a group of “leaders” who claim to be followers of Jesus could promote a doctrine that was so directly opposed to what Jesus actually did and taught in his lifetime.

In one word, the only “doctrine” taught by Jesus was the doctrine of “Grace.” He proclaimed that there was only one Law to be followed: the law of Love, unconditional, unbridled, radical Love and he declared that “everyone belonged.”  Jesus taught that there are no outcasts and everyone is assured a place of equal dignity at the table of life. In fact, if you read the Christian Gospels, there is not a single instance in which Jesus tells someone that they “don’t belong” and the only judgment you ever see him issuing is a judgment against hypocritical and pharisaical temple leaders.

I remember something the well-know Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, once wrote about the nature of “grace” in our human condition. He said that “grace” is an awareness of acceptance often “striking us” when we feel that we don’t belong:

Do you know what it means to be struck by grace?
It strikes us when year after year, that need for perfection of life does not appear,
Sometimes at that moment it is as if a light breaks into our darkness
and it is as if a voice were saying:
you are accepted, you are accepted.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.

As I see it, you certainly don’t have to be a Christian believer to experience grace, you don’t even have to be a believer of any sort.  Whenever any one of us comes to the realization that there are no elite, no inner circles and outer circles of people, that we all belong to the universe, we belong to a world of nature, we belong to one another, and that this is innate in our human condition, we experience “grace.”

The Sufi poet, Rumi, once wrote:

Give up to grace.
The Ocean takes care of each wave ‘till it gets to the shore.
Who indeed should be so fortunate?
An ocean wooing a drop.

We all live and move and have our being in an Ocean of Universal Love, we all “belong” and we are most human when we can embrace our fellow human beings and declare: you are accepted, you are accepted, simply accept the fact that you are accepted.  This is what it means to be fully human, this is what any spiritual journey is all about – it’s all about belonging, it’s all about grace.

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