Category Archives: Grace

How this Grace thing works (2)

Guitar Study 1

(Photo credit: fmerenda)

There is a new worship service at church. It kinda hurts and feels good at the same time because it looks a bit (and feels a lot) like the kind of worship I used to go to before. The formula is familiar: worship songs, fast fast fast, LOUD, slowing… slow, slow building up to fast again. There are a lot of words about love: I could sing of your love forever, More love, more power, You’re rich in love and you’re slow to anger/Your name is great and your heart is kind. The band are good (my partner is there, I can see how she is reading the room, connected with the Spirit, her fingers are fast on the fretboard). But I am anxious, vulnerable, my heart in my throat. I want to run away. My stomach twists.

What if, what if, what if God really does search you out, and know you? Run, run, run, flee from that Presence. Who can stand in front of God and live? Especially me.

I escape to the kitchen at the back, for water. I find another fugitive in there. We sip, we pause, not saying much. When she goes back to the room I find the corner of the dark kitchen, blindly. I actually open one of the cupboard doors to make the space even smaller, a hiding place. And I cry between the cupboard door and the bin from the bottom of my gut, silently. I don’t even know where it has come from but I know enough to recognise shame when I see it. And I know while I am here, unseen, unknown, I cannot defeat it. I know I must walk back out. I must be seen, known. I must choose not to be safe, alone, detached.

When I fling myself out of the door I have missed the reflection although I caught snatches of it from the hiding place: God’s love is bigger, stronger, it lasts forever. The music has started again. I find my seat. Is it too much to ask for the love to have skin on? Perhaps I should try to picture some mystical blue light, entering my soul…

As the tears threaten again, I am embraced by the friend sitting next to me. God’s love has skin on. God’s Spirit breathes as she prays for me. It is safe.

When I kneel down, Brother Jesus’s presence is in the hand of my Pastor who holds my shoulders, His voice is in hers: I’m here, it’s ok.

When I get up again to sing another sister holds my hand and we stretch our arms up together and God’s presence isn’t in aloneness, it is in togetherness.

Afterwards, I am sitting on the floor which is scattered with cushions and I begin pulling  some around me. My sisters help, building a wall of cushions around me until I am surrounded and I can lean my head on the top one and peep out. Giggling, they come one by one and fall onto my nest of cushions until we are all lying around, talking about how we should all go out together to eat sometime.

In the end, love isn’t a mystical blue light, it is the solid arms of a friend. Grace is not an untouchable concept, it is the sisters who build you a nest out of cushions, higher and higher until you feel enclosed and safe and warm.

This song, all of it:

More Posts on Middle Ground:

How this Grace Thing works (1)

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Hell Fires or Living Waters?

Recently on Twitter, I have been having a debate with someone I don’t know from Adam about sexuality, compassion and sin. I realise that Twitter arguments are not a good idea in general, but it has sparked off some serious thoughts about the ways in which Jesus talked to people – and the ways in which Christians are encouraged to talk to people – who live outside of the church context, in a position of vulnerability, or are marginalised for various reasons. I have already posted about the ways in which certain types of evangelism have made me uncomfortable in the past, but this is about more than evangelism. It is about relationships, and it is about the way we choose to share the Good News with others, and the need for compassion.

Because it is supposed to be GOOD News.

Here is a summary of the conversation:

(Context: Someone I follow posted about the Church of England’s recommendation that couples in same-sex relationships should be “given recognition and compassionate attention from the church.” M. replied to this, saying “those who wrote the report are fools who ignore what God has clearly said”)

Me: What’s so wrong with being compassionate with people?

M: It is not compassionate to encourage someone in sin

Me: No-one said encourage. They said recognition and compassionate attention. The church has ignored, misunderstood and hurt gay people.

M: There’s no such thing as gay people, just sexual sinners

Me: Oh ok, that’s made all the hurt go away. You’ve found the solution!

M: (summary). The hurt is necessary so that people will see their sin. Better they are caused pain in this world than experience the pain of Hell.

Me: We are called to be loving, not hurtful. Hurtful attitudes are not Christian. We need to be like Jesus with the woman at the well, not like Pharisees.

M: Jesus exposed that woman’s sin. She was an adulteress and he told her so.

Me: Go read that story. He used no such word. He told her of living waters not hell fires. We must imitate this. Telling her of living waters was extravagant and disruptive love. She changed for that love, not for fear of hell fires.

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Two ways to live?

In my first year of university I was part of DICCU, the Durham Intercollegiate Christian Union.*

DICCU is part of UCCF, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, which is one of the more stridently conservative organisations that operate in universities. Each year we did an evangelism week. The aim was generally to a) entice our friends to our rooms or various locations around college with food and then b) hit them with the Gospel whether they had signed up for it or not.

The actual evangelism was mostly done by people called CUGs – Christian Union Guests (Oh yes they loved their abbreviations did DICCU!), who were older people who sort of showed up around evangelism week and did talks and answered questions. But we simple members were also required to do a certain amount of evangelism. In order to help us with this, we spent a couple of weeks before the big event learning about how to talk about Jesus. One might assume that students at one of the top universities in the country would be well enough equipped in the brain area to cope with understanding about Jesus, but the general assumption seemed to be that the people we were talking to were numpties. Because of this we were encouraged to learn a sort of diagram called Two Ways to Live, which featured a little stick man being saved,  in order to help our friends understand what Christianity is all about and why they might want to join in.

Here is my attempt to remember/reconstruct the diagram:

Confused? So were we...

Confused? So were we…

You can see the whole thing explained properly by clicking here.

I learnt to draw it, dutifully, but felt pretty bewildered about why this was considered to be a more effective and easier to understand evangelistic tool than, well, just telling people the actual Good News. I don’t remember ever using it, although a non-Christian friend later described to me the strange and agonising process by which one of our DICCU leaders tried to use it on her (“…and then she started to draw this really random picture of a stick man…”)

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