Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Calling it what it is...

This past Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of joining two dear friends, Catherine and Addison, to lead an adult Sunday school class at Myers Park Presbyterian Church about our We Walk Together Charlotte efforts. In case you don't know what WWTC is all about, here is a brief explanation. Back in 2015, just after the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, a group called Meck Min (Mecklenburg Ministries) began a series of  conversations here in Charlotte called "We Need to Talk." Held weekly for more than two months, those gatherings drew people from all over the city of Charlotte together to talk about race and racism, and to learn about the history of race and racism in Charlotte. They were powerful conversations that pushed all who attended, black, white, Latino, Asian, male, female, and everybody in between, to think and rethink our racial experiences and assumptions and find new ways to be a community. Catherine and Mary, two of the attendees of those early gatherings decided that they wanted to do more than talk. They decided to walk. To walk together. To map out 100 miles of walks in our fair city and get to know some of our Charlotte neighborhoods and some of our Charlotte neighbors. At one of the Meck Min gatherings, Catherine and Mary announced their plan and invited others to join. I was one of the first people to sign up. We started walking a couple of weeks later - and we are still walking. Now we walk on the 15th of each month and serve at a Charlotte non-profit organization on the 30th of every month. What a fantastic opportunity to walk, to talk, and to give of our time and energy to the needs of this city we call home.

Anyway, this past Sunday, three of the four main leaders of the WWTC group shared stories and entered into conversation with some folks at Catherine's church. Great group of people, challenging questions, piqued curiosities about what we can do to be better and more engaged members of our community. 

Following that class, I attended the 11 am "contemporary" service with Catherine and her husband. By contemporary, I mean they don't sing hymns from hymnbooks. Their music is accompanied by guitars, drums, and electronic keyboard, rather than pipe organ or grand piano. The sermon was transmitted electronically by the robe-clad senior pastor who was preaching at the traditional - read, hymn singing, choir led service - in the sanctuary to those of us in the contemporary space and contemporary service. At the time of the offering - which is both contemporary and traditional - a young man sang a song entitled "Call it Grace." 

Call it Grace
It's the light that pierces through youTo the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away
It's the gentle hand that pulls you
From the judgment of the crowd
When you stand before them guilty
And you've got no way out
Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace
Call it grace

It's the breath that's breathing new life
Into what we thought was dead
It's the favor that takes orphans
Placing crowns upon their heads
It's the hope for our tomorrows
The rock on which we stand
It's a strong and mighty fortress
Even hell can't stand against

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace Call it grace Call it grace

Amazing, Unshaking
This is grace, this is grace
Unchanging, Unfailing
This is grace, this is grace

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it's a miracle
It's nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace
In those brief moments, I heard what I now claim as my latest theme song. Mind blown. Tears flowing. My entire life has been an ongoing example of what this song so eloquently expresses:
Call it what it is - call it grace. 
I have known grace. Personally. So have you.
It's the friend who forgives you after you had an affair with her husband. It's the husband who forgives you after you gave your heart away to someone else. It's the classmate you forgive when she says something racist and mean - even though she didn't bother to apologize. It's the pastor who extends the right hand of fellowship to the person who has been most critical and insulting. It's the child who forgives you after you make yet another parenting faux pas. It's the business owner that doesn't kick you out of their establishment after you make a scene. It's the deep conviction that God loves you, even when you do all of the above and more. 
It's the peace that passes all understanding, even when the kanswer comes back, when the child is back in the hospital, when the ambulance drives away with someone you love in the back, when the police car drives away and everyone in your house is still alive and well, present and accounted for. 
It's the absolute, indefensible, unfathomable certainty that Jesus was talking to you when he said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" After you say, "No one, sir," he says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." More than that, it is the unshakable knowledge that, even though I will never be able to leave my life of sin, Christ still does not condemn me. Christ loves me, forgives me, welcomes me back home, after each time I set out on my adventures in wandering so far from home. I call that what it is, I call it grace.
Grace is inexplicable.
Grace is unearned, unmerited favor.
Grace is knowing that you are seen in all your messiness - and loved anyway. Accepted anyway. Invited anyway. Held anyway.
How can you explain true forgiveness any other way?
How can you explain fearlessness in the face of injustice any other way? The ability to check your own prejudices and fears, and move forward into trust and welcome. The courage that walks back into the darkness to rescue others who are stranded there. The will to stay present when it would be far easier to say "I'm done. I'm out of here." The decision to walk away, but without acrimony, without gossiping, without inflicting damage on the one from whom you withdraw. Call it what it is, call it grace. 
Grace is miraculous.
Grace is scandalous.
Can forgiveness and welcome after infidelity be anything but miraculous and scandalous?
Can reconnection and reconciliation be anything but scandalous after acts of violence like the shooting in Charleston?
Just think about how often we ridicule and shake our judgmental heads when we think about people we know who have forgiven their unfaithful partners. Think about how often we plan revenge against those who have hurt us, our children, or other people we love. Scandalous. Miraculous. Call it what it is. Call it grace.
Lent is behind us. Easter is behind us.
But resurrection and new life, are before us and happening now.
Every day presents us with another opportunity to experience the fullness of life, the goodness of life, the grace of life. To give thanks. To stand in wonder and awe of the beauty of spring and all that it brings. It is also a time to acknowledge that not everyone is experiencing the hope of spring. Not everyone is excited about what they see ahead of them on this journey of life. 
 The mother of one of my son's former tennis competitors is dealing with breast kanswer again. One friend is back in the job market after leaving a position that left her depleted. A young mother I know is about to undergo a hysterectomy for recurrent kanswer. Anxiety issues have reared their ugly head for her. He is still reeling from the agony of divorce. They are mourning the loss of a dearly beloved dog they shared life with for twelve years. His post-surgical recovery isn't going as smoothly as everyone had hoped. He has already lost most of his mojo and isn't sure if he wants to exert any effort to maintain the little that remains. She is wondering how much more of her unfulfilling, uninspired, unsatisfying marriage she is willing to put up with. 
But grace still shows up. Grace still prevails. Grace shows up in the warm trays of delicious food that are brought by friends to feed the family. Grace shows up through conversations on phone lines and words of encouragement via text messages. Grace appears in the mailbox in the form of handmade cards and carefully chosen gifts. Grace is the ongoing prayers offered up to a loving, ever-present God by distant friends and family. Grace is the silent presence of people who know they cannot do anything to fix the problem, but they offer their silent shoulders and strong hands anyway. Grace is the wisdom of the spiritual director who listens closely, asks questions, and ushers you back out into the fray of life, reinforced, bolstered, and unexpectedly hopeful. Again and again. Call it what it is, call it grace. 
Grace is foolish and impossible.
Except that it happens every day. Every single day.
And it silences the wisest among us with its profundity.
My rescued, healed, spacious heart knows the miracle of its unfailing power and its unlikely persistence.
Grace restores my hope - which I lose huge chunks every day.
Grace reawakens my dreams - which I abandon every day in pursuit of far less noble desires.
Grace pulls me out of despair and fear,
out of doubt and rage.
Grace reminds me of the battles I have already won,
the fears I have already overcome,
and grace puts me back on the path to wholeness, healing, joy, and courage.

I don't know if there is any other name I can give it.
So I won't even try to come up with something clever or original.
Calling it what it is - call it grace. 

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