My go-to music on my drive to-from work is usually Mumford & Sons–mostly because I can easily tell Siri to “play Mumford” and get at least an hours worth of soul-soothing or fast-driving tune-age. But the lyrics also require me to confront the concept of grace more often than I ever have in my life.
I’m not a theologian, nor a minister, nor a student of the Bible nor of other religious texts. More unfortunately for the context of this piece, I do not consider myself a Christian. I do, however, consider myself to be a religious person, one who can get behind the concept that a group of people can bind together to accomplish things that are good for the common purpose as well as for the individual. I also recognize that people can and have used religion to bind together to destroy great things or to do great wrongs.
Here’s my dilemma about the concept of grace (and I gratefully extend an invitation to those who wish to correct my understanding to do so): my dilemma is that if grace is the gift we did not earn and do not deserve, wouldn’t that, in essence, make us all more tender-hearted toward those in need of that unearned gift?
I have been granted grace in my life–people hold doors (metaphoric and otherwise) open for me all the time that they might not hold for others and often times I know it is not because I am particularly good or deserving, but because I am white, middle-aged and have a clean driving record. I’ve had grace extended to me not only in the mercurial, day-to-day understanding of second chances, but also in the large spectrum of understanding that I truly have not earned the grace of living in a country that is not currently and consistently under siege. And then there’s the grace of being loved, wholly and fully, despite my flaws.
What I don’t understand and would like someone to explain to me is: can you be a Christian and opt out of the concept of grace?
You praise God and say, “there but for the grace of God go I,” but then you close borders and opportunities and second chances for others. Is it possible, then, to be Christian? I’ll ask in another way: is it possible to follow Jesus, claim him as your Savior, and then be hard-hearted to those who not only don’t have bootstraps but wouldn’t know how to wear a boot if it was handed to them?
I know I’m mixing policy with doctrine, but since that is the norm now, I would like to know how a religious group that says they follow the teaching of Jesus can just say “no” and “no” and “no” again when everything I know of his teachings was to say “yes” to those most in need.
When I say I consider myself religious but not Christian, I am not rejecting the teachings of Jesus, nor of the power of believing in his teachings. What I object to is the doctrine of Church leaders who bend the legend in order to meet their small needs. It is so frightfully difficult to care for the needs and rights of others–of other people whose lives will not impact ours, directly–but as I understand it, that was what Jesus called on others to do. We do it with love in our hearts and anger in our soul so that the Kingdom of God can be realized here on earth. We do it for high, exalted reasons as well as for the low and selfish reasons, but we extend grace because some day we will need it to be extended to us, to our children, to the children of our friends.
So, I ask the question again: can you be a Christian and opt out of the concept of grace?
Because I know it is possible to opt out of Christianity and still believe in grace by other names. You can believe in second chances, and the hope that, given opportunity and access to it, great things are possible. Great changes in individuals and in communities. I know it is possible, but there has to be the ability to imagine it to be so.
I believe in the power of grace and in the power of love, but I also believe that these, alone, will not transform a world so greatly in need of a moral imagination that binds people together willingly and with purpose: to nourish, to clothe, to shelter. It takes hard work and a willingness to be wrong and be corrected by someone who understands the concept of grace, someone who not “but for” but because of the grace of God, can help lead us all on, toward the Kingdom in which we already live.