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Posts tagged "Grace in Practice"

Reckless Love: Sometimes Mercy is Uncomfortable

Reckless Love: Sometimes Mercy is Uncomfortable

Our friend/favorite/conference speaker John Newton’s newest book Reckless Love: The Scandal of Grace in a Performance-Driven World puts at odds the reality of the grace we receive daily with the ways we think grace is supposed to work. Instead of something given in return for our own goodness, grace can cause outrage by the abundance with which God gives it and in the way that he “refuses to love selectively.”

Read an excerpt below:

The tax collector and all the other disreputable types in the Gospels loved Jesus’s program of forgiveness. It was the religious establishment that gave Jesus pushback. Forgiveness struck…

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Something Major Has Gone Wrong Here: Why Alain de Botton Loves the Concept of Original Sin

A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

BLVR: How are you defining broken?

ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

BLVR: That’s all of us.

ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice“Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”

Let's Not Talk About Money (With PZ)

Let’s Not Talk About Money (With PZ)

I’ve got stories, good ones, I mean, good ones. Working behind the scenes in church ministry for over a decade, even as a layperson, you build up a huge archive of unbelievable things you’ve seen. I’ve often thought they would make for a good book. Here are a few sample chapter titles:

I’m 99% sure the tech volunteer is in the witness relocation program.

Household idol trafficking in the church parking lot.

At this point, fewer guns in the sanctuary would be a win.

And many, many more. The thing is — I can’t tell these stories, because, honestly, I don’t want to tell…

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"I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!"

“I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!”

An old girlfriend of mine—let’s call her the Girl from Ipanema…no, on second thought, we better not—had a type when it came to men: blond hair and blue eyes. That worked out well for me—for awhile. Then a ghost showed up—taking the form of an ill-fated previous relationship with a man who looked remarkably like me. That, children, was when I was introduced to the wonderful world of transference.

Frank Lake describes transference in his book, Clinical Theology:

The displacement of feeling from one object or person to another, and particularly the process by which the patient shifts feelings and attitudes primarily…

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A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A friend recently noted that TV, post-Breaking Bad, seems to be getting more violent. Typically I’d discard this as your run-of-the-mill cantankerous “kids these days” complaint…but somewhere between grimace-inducing episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Netflix’s The Keepers, I realized, well, maybe he had a point. Game of Thrones fits the bill. So does HBO’s adaptation of Big Little Lies, which was much darker than its airport-thriller source material. The list goes on.

Considering all this, I was reminded of the landmark violence of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which I read way back in high school, for a project about banned books. For the (lucky?) uninitiated, it tells the story of a violent young…

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From the Archives: Law and Grace in the Competition of Marriage

From the Archives: Law and Grace in the Competition of Marriage

As with most of the provocative second half of Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, the following excerpt goes well beyond abstractions and gets uncomfortably close to the bone–in the best possible way. The language here has to do with marriage, but you could easily substitute a variety of other relational contexts:

Men and women encounter a serpent-ridden wilderness of Eden when they enter into marriage. Competition for need-fulfillment and attention squanders huge amounts of energy in resentment and suppressed antagonism. The nature of the law is to place every single marriage under the Damocles’ sword of needs to be met. The word…

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From Grace in Practice: The Problem with Christianity

Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”

otis-redding-try-a-little-tend-290448In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.

From Grace in Practice: "Grace in Everyday Life"

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

The following is an excerpt from pages 73-76 of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl. Soak it up!

Grace has the power of the mallet. Every other prong and heavy-lifting device that seeks to change people is an expression of law and accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. People fear that grace will give permission to be bad. This is the classic fear: that grace will issue in a license–“007”–to do whatever you want, without consequences.

Yet that never happens! In fact, the opposite happens. When you treat people gracefully, they always end up…

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Check, Please!

Check, Please!

Being a college student means asking for separate checks at restaurants. Generally, my friends and I wait until the end of the meal to say, “Oh yea, could you split those up by the way? Yeah that’d be great, thanks,” as if it was an afterthought and the waiter/waitress had no idea what was coming all along. In truth, splitting up checks is pretty annoying. It means more buttons pressed and cards swiped and pens gathered, and I do often feel pangs of guilt asking servers to do it. But generally they’re accommodating, and they know what to expect when…

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Political Age Gaps and Grace in Cooking in My Grandmother's Ravioli

Political Age Gaps and Grace in Cooking in My Grandmother’s Ravioli

The Pew Research Center recently released a study that showed results of something that I think we all have known anecdotally for a while: there is a significant and seemingly growing age gap between the two political poles in America. The study shows that the youngest generation, Millenials (18-33 years old in 2014), are increasingly more Democratic or liberal and the oldest generation, Silents (69-86 years old in 2014), are increasingly more Republican or conservative. Somewhat surprisingly, the study points out that this has not always been the case: two decades prior in 1994, the youngest generation leaned conservative and…

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Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children's Movies, and More Messes of Help

Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, and More Messes of Help

Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.

1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…

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Ray Rice and the Perils of Relative Righteousness

Ray Rice and the Perils of Relative Righteousness

This Ray Rice saga doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and it just keeps getting more interesting. Just yesterday (Friday September 19th) ESPN’s Outside the Lines released a report of the long, detailed timeline of events from the original incident right up until Roger Goodell’s press conference yesterday. It’s a fascinating account of the NFL’s behind-the-scenes PR spin machine, complete with new revelations (Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh wanted to release Ray Rice back in the spring?) and some of the thought process behind the original 2 game suspension.

It’s this last aspect of the story that I find to be most…

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