Wednesday, April 14, 2010
When grace is no longer grace...
In most cases, I did this to be gracious for the Church is the grace place and I did not want to appear to be an ingrate or a hard___. But through the years I have gotten a little tired of it all. I must confess that what I have done has, I believe, failed to fulfill the definition of grace and has given people the entirely wrong definition of the Church and a false conception of their responsibility as members of that Church by baptism and faith. Now don't get me wrong, there have been incredibly generous folks who gave valuable things to the Church because they thought of the Church first and not last. There are incredibly faithful folks who would do nearly anything I asked of them because in their heart they know it would be for the good of God's kingdom. I am not trying to paint with a broad brush here... but instead of appearing to be gracious, the Church (and I) have come off as wimpy and instead of being our best for His glory, the Church has become the dumping place for things no longer needed, wanted, or useful -- the worst kind of pathetic charity.
Our Senior Youth Group collected shoes for Haiti -- a goal of 400 pair of gently worn shoes for the Soles4Souls group. We ended up with more than 600 pair but 150 or so had to be discarded because holes had been worn through, they were torn, they were stained or stunk, or they were not shoes (slippers instead). The youth who worked on this project went through every pair to inspect and tie them together for shipping. They were shocked. I told them to use their own judgment -- what would they wear and what wouldn't they wear. It was a powerful lesson in generosity or in selfishness parading as generosity. When we take things no longer usable and assume others can use them, it is not generosity anymore -- it is the worst kind of selfish and arrogant smugness. We had a great discussion of real charity. We had a great lesson in what the Lord gave to us and the shallow response of those who give so much less in return (and think they are doing their best). It was eye opening, to say the least.
We still accept things but not so much for the Church as for the yard sale we hold every year. We make it clear (as much as you can) that the Church is not a dumping ground for things no longer valuable to us and try to teach that this is the place where nothing less than our best (whatever that may be) is the goal -- not as a legal requirement to be fulfilled but that which is a fitting response to the lavish generosity of the Lord to us.
I still listen when I get the excuses why children must miss catechism to play their sport but I do not offer any breaks. The assignments are still due and the test must still be taken and the student and the parent are responsible for what has been missed. I do laugh when I tell people the goal of God's house is still everyone in worship, everyone in Sunday school/Bible study, and everyone in mission. I smile but in the way that says "Of course you know this but I want to remind you this is the starting point..." and no longer shrug the stuff off.
I guess you could say I have been come a little curmudgeonly in my old age. But in the end, I can no longer justify allowing folks to put their Church and faith last on the priority list or dump off their junk upon the Church and call it grace. There are words to describe what it is, but grace is not one of them.
Grace is beautiful and powerful -- not cheap and ugly and something we walk over without knowing... Bonhoeffer is right. The cheap grace that we often portray to the world is seen by the world for just what it is -- cheap, discardable, and ugly.