My church is growing on me, and not like an unwanted mole that rouses suspicion for cancer. My wife turned to me on the way home from worship yesterday and said, “You’re a good fit for this church.” She meant it as a compliment and I took it as the same, but must confess that I was not so sure from the outset of our sojourn here. We are an eclectic blend. I cannot remember knowing and counting myself a part of a more disparate collection of individuals, but our differences provide a clear view of grace in relief. Highly educated and largely uneducated recite the Lord’s Prayer with one voice, cowboys and city slickers kneel near one another on the same maroon velvet altar, women and men stand on equal footing before the Lord and the church, and young children pass the collection plates to the elderly each Sunday. One of my favorite moments in worship comes just after the offering as we stand to sing the Doxology and I choke back emotion while the nine-year-old usher to my right, who comes from a less-than-ideal environment, sings out at the top of his voice, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” I love this menagerie, and what’s truly amazing is that they love me in return.
Grace is immanently practical. One example of its relevance in ordinary circumstance is how grace instructs and empowers me to deal with “irregular people” (my wife’s clever phrasing). Yes, there are some who grind on my nerves like grating Parmesan cheese, and I imagine that the feeling is mutual. I find it entirely possible on the basis of God’s grace to fully forgive, refuse bitterness, refrain from criticizing, even though I may still not like someone or want to be around them. Not quite as easily, grace empowers me to forgive myself, even though at times I’d prefer to be anyone but me. Whether I am learning to forgive someone else or to pardon myself, God’s grace is the touch point that changes everything. Such self-awareness may not be politically correct, but is essential to getting at the meaning of grace. Until I honestly ‘fess up to who am –thinning hairline, thickening stubbornness, depraved nature, et al — I will never move beyond intellectual assent and dive deep into relishing and reveling in God’s unimaginable mercy. Whether or not I can answer this question largely determines what I do with grace: “Who am I?” I’m talking deep contemplation here, soul searching, mind boggling honesty. The kind of self-disclosure I’m advocating cuts and heals all in the same stroke. Honesty is generally painful, perhaps even brutal, but sincere contrition ushers in reparation. The moment I become honest enough to admit to myself the full extent of my own depravity, I am able to gain a glimpse of God’s glory and the wonder of grace. Only those who stumble in the dark fully appreciate the miracle of light.