Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013.12.08 Advent: Mixed Grace IS Grace

Grace has lots of meanings and even more interpretations —a dancer’s movements, a prayer before a meal, a royal title like Your Grace the bishop of Switherington, time allowed to pay a debt, the equivalent of teacher’s pet (in her good graces), tiny notes that embellish an already darn good melody, Grace Kelly, and Gracie Storrs.

Gracie Storrs was the eleven year old girl who introduced me to the F word, without telling me what it meant—exactly. Immediately I asked my mother who paid swift attention to me, which I loved. She asked me who told me that word. Gracie, I said, and she said, Oh, Gracie, well then it’s a Gracie word. I came away still not knowing what F meant but in awe of Gracie’s power and henceforth without fear of F or other alleged tabus. 

My least favorite definition of grace is popular jargon: There but for the grace of God go I.  People sling this spiritual hash all the time. But think!  What kind of God is presented here?  Hint: your tumor turns up benign, but your roommate’s is malignant. So which of you is the grace-recipient? Really. Thank God because it’s the prayer of your soul and you can’t help it, but for God’s sake don’t sling hash—or even think it.

My favorite definition of grace is experiential. It came from a favorite seminary professor, Luke Timothy Johnson. He taught a course in which all we had to do was attend his lectures and then write in our journals about how we experienced big theological words, like grace, sin, holy, faith, idolatry. We signed up like ants to a blob of spilled honey. The course became a blockbuster—not because of it’s name, “Christian Existence as Life in the Spirit,” or Johnson's popularity, but because there was no reading! Nevertheless........such alleged gut courses actually have guts.We soon learned Whose life  we would be asked to directly experience in our flesh,  and then write our “scriptures.” 

This “gut” course re-rooted me in the God I’d first met as a child, the God who gave me “unconditional positive regard,” a term I grew to detest when I was in training as a counselor. We called it UPR. Psychologist Carl Rogers thought counselors should adapt UPR toward clients. We trainees all began to look and sound like puffy pink blobs of cotton candy. We sugarcoated without condition every ounce of client flesh. No human person worth her sinfulness can do that. (Later even Rogers got wise and removed the “positive” from his definition.)

Still, doesn't Carl look unconditionally
regarding?  Yet only Godde can do UPR grace.

Here's how Professor Johnson defined UPR grace:  an inward experience of being known and loved—at the same time. When have you experienced that?  I wrote about orgasmic sex, embodied UPR, a grace in which self and other merge so you never give a thought to being known/knowing/being loved/loving. I’d never coupled God and sex so explicitly before.

Recently, I came across another definition of grace. I like this definition because it is a merger, this time of alleged opposites. The quote is footnoted in William Countryman’s book Living On the Border of the Holy. Renewing the Priesthood of All, 1999, one of the supplemental texts for EfM.  Countryman is an Episcopal priest, professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA. and a prolific author. Good gay guy scholar.

The question Countryman posed was: does the church institutional have value? YES, as both lay and ordained live the good news proclaimed and embodied by Jesus. BUT only if it the church functions aware of its limitations and with modesty. In this context he quotes Christopher Morse, Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief, 1994. Love that title.

“That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church   . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, ‘beneath its opposite.’  From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.” 

So we’re back to Gracie and the F word and my conviction that nothing is outside the purview of divine grace even if you have to look sub contrario.