Unwritten Grace

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When I started this blog I was really new to this whole “online brand” thing.  I thought all you had to do was create a page, give it some nifty, trendy title that includes a pop Christian buzz word (like “grace”) and people I didn’t know would flock to it.

When they clicked on over from wherever in cyber space they found my link, they would read the entertaining musings of a unknown pastor.  His very intricately and detailed life experiences would strangely mirror their own but he would stay a disembodied soul without a name.  They would rush to their social media accounts to share the link, and through it, the experiences of this poor, faceless pastor stuck in a church somewhere in America whose life is full of grace.

Online brands don’t work that way.  It turns out, you have to share the link first, which means you are effectively branding yourself through your family and friends and parishioners.  This means 90% of people who click over here know who I am, where I am and, unfortunately, who to complain to if they don’t like my writing.  Strangely, the random compliments at conferences and events make me the most uncomfortable.  Seriously people, these posts are not that great!

I bring all this up to say that sometimes I experience things that are chock full of grace but still cannot be written.  After all, I am a pastor bound by confidentiality clauses and desires for privacy and good common sense.

Several times in the last months I have sat down to write about an experience I had, only to finish half the post and realize, “I can’t post this for oh so many reasons.”  The people involved know who they are.  The people not involved know who the people involved are.  Their are too many ways that the post could be misread as offensive (though I never intend it).  Mostly, my interpretation of the “grace” in their lives would be unwelcome, especially in a public forum.

I wrote such a post this morning and it hurt to delete it because God’s grace was so evident.  Instead I decided to post about that post as a reminder to myself and all of you that some things don’t need to be written, just appreciated.

Even though I can not write about these graces I can still pray about them.  I can still think over them and ponder them anew in my heart.

That last phrase reminds me of the Virgin Mary whose humility is a hallmark of the advent season.  After the wonderful birth of the savior, sung by angels and praised by shepherds, she did not join the shepherds in proclaiming the good news, “but she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

In closing, I would welcome you to join her, in praying over the unwritten and hidden grace in your life.  Count your many blessings and ponder anew the love of our God and treasure it up in your heart.

Have a graced Sunday!

What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: Volf’s Free of Charge

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Two significant things happened this week.  First, I read Miroslav Volf’s “Free of Charge.”  I bought it for $3 which I thought was a ripoff considering the title of the book.  The second was that my 1 year old IPod was stolen out of my unlocked car.

These things were not all that significant in the grand scheme of things.  I read books all the time and stuff gets stolen all the time.  Still the two were related.  Whoever stole my IPod wronged me and Volf’s book is about what to do when wronged.  So they are maybe worth writing about together.

The fun thing about my IPod disappearing was how complex the situation was.  It was not just a thief finding an easy target.  Instead everything about our world gets pulled into this event.

First off, you have my invincible naivete that wholeheartedly believed because I live in a small town things like IPods won’t disappear out of cars.  This naivete remained even after a conversation I had with a police officer who explained to me that stuff disappears out of cars all the time in Elgin.  I didn’t believe him and that was my bad.  So am I to blame?  My wife thinks so but I won’t go there.

Another layer surrounds the Toyota Motor Company who built my car.  The engineer who designed the locks put together an impossibly complex automatic system that sometimes locks the doors after 30 seconds of inactivity and sometimes keeps them unlocked for days on end.  I am sure there is a method to the madness but I haven’t figured it out in the 2 and a half years since buying my Rav4.  Either way, it feels as if the doors should have locked themselves because they do at other times, which means I got out of the habit of locking them myself which means the doors were unlocked which made my IPod easy prey.  So maybe Toyota wronged me by hiring dumb engineers.

Or, just maybe, it was the thief’s fault.  Stealing is wrong, after all, whether the doors are locked or unlocked.  But also, just maybe, the thief was an 8 year old who never learned better because they had bad parents or no parents.  Maybe they were taught what our culture seems to teach any more and that is it is the victim’s fault for not locking their car doors or for buying a car that pretends to lock itself and then does not.  Maybe the thief has been irreparably damaged by what Volf calls, “a culture stripped of grace” and they themselves are the victims while simultaneously also being the criminals.

All that happened was an IPod disappeared and yet the very event calls into question the decisions of myself, a group of engineers in Tokyo (or wherever), a teenager (or kid or young adult) and the entire culture(s) in wVolfhich all of us live.

Considering this, Volf’s book was quite endearing because Volf recognizes our world is anything but simple.  We do not live in the black and white fantasy of absolute right and wrong, world which Sunday School teachers indoctrinate into young children.

Instead, Volf faces the complexity head-on, even concluding at one point that as we peel back the layers of a wrong, we might find that we are the ones needing forgiveness, not giving it.  Still, Volf confronts the complexity with the simple image of God giving and forgiving on the cross.  The cross means that despite the complexity surrounding us, we should still give forgiveness when we feel wronged.  This is because the cross reminds us that only God gives complete and perfect forgiveness.  We just participate in a less complete and imperfect way.

Perhaps the most significant statement in Volf’s book came at the very end, in the afterword.  Volf states, “Some people like to keep their spirituality and their theology neatly separated.  .  .I don’t.  Spirituality that’s not theological will grope in the darkness and theology that’s not spiritual will be emptied of its most important content.”

This is a wonderful sentiment.  It reminds me that even something simple like the disappearance of an IPod is deeply theological.  My reaction to the event cannot be a vague spirituality that attaches all kinds of religious buzzwords to the event.  “They were a hurting soul who did not know better and I hope the love of God overwhelms them and the Scott Daniel’s sermons saved to the hard drive saves their lost souls.”  Gag me now.

Neither can my response be theological affirmations that seek to explain the event.  “By violating one of the sacred Ten Commandments, this teen is now guilty of the condemnation of God.  They haven’t just offended me but the very system that seeks to dispense true justice.”  Even typing that makes me roll my eyes.

Instead what I believe about God and my own acceptance of the God’s forgiveness has filled this event with meaning.  It is not enough to be spiritual.  It is not enough to hide behind theology.  Instead my spiritual response has to be infused with the content of the gospel, a content that says, “Forgive as Christ in God forgave you.”

So with that said, you who stole my IPod, I forgive you.