I’m certainly not shouting Avengers Assemble! by any means, but it is the assembly of the church. This upcoming weekend will be the NC Synod Assembly in Hickory, NC.
And here’s the scary part: the bible study. You see, I will be the one leading the bible study for the assembly on Saturday afternoon. Who on earth thought that was a good idea? Oh yeah, it was Tammy Jones West, so if I make a colossal mess of it, we can all blame her for choosing me.
When I first received the invitation to do this, I was so excited to hear that the scripture is a quintessentially Lutheran text: Ephesians 2:1-10. Saved by grace through faith. Yup, that’s great! And then, after thinking about it, I realized that I’m going to be leading a bible study comprised of pastors and lay leaders who are quite likely all too familiar with that text and its impact on Lutheranism. Every one of them are well versed in grace-language. My hope of saying something meaningful about this text is pretty much non-existent.
GASP! What Was I Thinking?????
Oh well, it’s too late now. I’m doing it!
I asked some of my non-Lutheran and even non churchy type friends what they thought about the word Grace. Their answers have been amazing. Here are just a few bits and pieces:
“grace is the space between you and… God.. where all things are possible.. it is that simple… more words only muddies the truth..that is why it is amazing”
“style and grace, classy, elegant. Beautiful, even. Doing something with grace… the word gracious is related to grace… it’s all about elegance and thankfulness, I suppose. Grace is in how you handle things. How you handle yourself. How you present yourself to others. Having grace is holding yourself together in not-so-wonderful situations. Even when things don’t go your way, you can still maintain composure. Grace isn’t really a word I use a lot… I think I’d be more likely to use graceful or gracious.”
“Grace, to me, is the calmness exhibited under stressful or pressure packed situations; resulting from moral, ethical, or external conflicts, in which a strong belief in one’s self is needed to guide you through the “unforgiving minute.” Grace is not passive, it is very active. It is more than being calm; calm is not panicking. Grace is actively working toward a solution; whilst maintaining control of an uncontrollable situation.”
“Grace is that moment, that sweet spot for an athlete that is magical. It isn’t about talent or skill or training or even willpower. It’s that place where the runner, swimmer, dancer, boxer, gymnast, pitcher, kicker or, perhaps best of all, the whole team can be more than they could have ever been before. No, not could be…. actually are. When one is somehow more than all the talent, skill, training or willpower combined. It is a place of magic.”
“Just days before birthing my girl I had a dear friend say to me: ‘I wish you grace’—-it meant so much. It seems so difficult to define though. Why is that? Perhaps because it is more in the gray area of living. Something about ease and sweetness. somewhere between the gritty and the smooth…”
So here’s the thing I learned from all of that: Grace is beautiful, grace is not passive, grace holds us together and gets us through the unforgiving minute, grace lies between us and God, grace also lies between the gritty and the smooth parts of life, grace is what allows us to have appropriate confidence, grace is ease and sweetness, grace is not what we could be but what we are when we are more than we could ever be through our will alone. It is magic.
It also seems that grace is not about black and white but about connecting, showing up in the grey spots of life not so much because grace itself is ambiguous but that grace does not fear the grey area. Grace is moving us through the difficult to the safe, building up, giving strength. It definitely seems that grace is not a passive, intellectual concept or something static that is given as though it were an object to which we might cling as we would a life-preserver in a stormy sea but rather a force or action. A quality, certainly, a descriptor of persons or character or behavior, but not in the sense of “tall” or “strong”. Rather, as a quality or descriptor it seems to be in how we relate to the world around us.
Surprisingly, I think this is remarkably different from what I believe most Lutherans would define as grace. Grace is God loving me even though I do not deserve it. Grace is God’s merciful love which I could never earn but is still granted me freely based on God’s nature and not my own. Indeed! Certainly! Amen and amen! However, this does have a somewhat truncated and static feel, particularly when compared to what these non-churchy and, in some cases, non-religious persons have described.
This Ephesians text for the synod bible study ends with Paul’s words: to be our way of life. The text is directly pointing to good works as being our way of life (a way of life made possible by grace), but this makes me ponder that a bit more. What if the grace that, as Paul says, God uses to make us alive is also a description of what is to be our way of life? What if grace actually is more than static gift alone but is also something God has woven into our very nature? What if this grace which God has extended to us has become ours to live and move within; has become our descriptor, too?
What if it is grace that is to be our way of life? What if a beautiful, active, strong life, unafraid of the grey and gritty places, is in fact our graceful life we are gifted by God to live?