Learning Grace Along The Way
No time to read? Listen here.
It’s dangerous business walking out your front door. –J.R.R. Tolkien
“Yeah. Ok. Maybe. But what about truth?”
When it comes to grace, my internal dialogue is ridiculously obsessed with truth.
Every church I’ve been a part of or visited or thought of visiting is very adamant about teaching Truth–big T Truth–Bible studies and classes and sermon series and cohorts and seminars and conferences and the list goes on and on.
Everyone seems obsessed with teaching truth.
And I get it. Truth is important.
But it feels like it’s only half of the picture.
Because I know people who know all kinds of truths. They know the real truth, the right truth, and they can even tell you about all of the wrong truths which other people think they know and who they learned these not-quite-the-truths from and how to avoid the not-quite-the-truth. But with all of that truth and surety, they still end up saying and doing things more like the religious elite than like Jesus.
I know these people because I’ve been this person.
Maybe you’ve been this person too. If not, then this whole learning grace project probably isn’t for you. Learning grace is for people who realize that even though they know all kinds of true things, they still end up frustrated at how much they don’t live in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Full of grace and truth.
I read once (but I can’t seem to find where it was) that this order matters. First full grace, then full truth. And I’m convinced the order really matters. Our hearts were never meant to bear the weight of so much truth without first experiencing the fullness of grace.
Truth is only good within the fullness of grace.
Truth without the fullness of grace is a burden.
The biggest hindrance to full grace is expecting truth to be received in the absence of grace. Sidestepping grace to start doling out truth just isn’t christlike.
When I read the gospel accounts of Jesus, there are all kinds of truth being shared, but the stories of Jesus along the way are stories of Jesus interacting with people. These aren’t stories immersed in the careful separation of truth from the not-quite-the-truth; they are stories of grace.
Weird grace, because grace is weird.
Truth is super easy compared to grace.
Maybe that’s why churches end up doing so much work trying to teach truth rather than grace.
We can package truth up and send it over in a PDF to memorize it and internalize it. Then the next time something in the gray area comes up at a Bible study, we can trutherize it to make it all black and white and obvious for everyone.
But grace doesn’t work like that.
Truth is a meaning maker. Truth is extremely effective at helping us find meaning and firms up what we experience. When we go through some gray area, some blurry, confusing or difficult experience, adding truth firms up the edges and the boundaries of all of the confusing parts, plainly leaving us with the black and white, in and out, this and that, good and bad, right and wrong. Removing truth just muddies the waters.
Truth may be harsh. We may not be able to handle the truth. But as a meaning making device, it is extremely effective.
Grace is just weird though. Throughout our lives, we create these mental sorting buckets for these right and wrong and in and out and good and bad people and experiences. Some sorting buckets are big and it’s easy to sweep lots into those bad buckets. Others aren’t so big, but when it comes down to it, some tiny fact is just true enough that even though it’s small, it’s just not right, so it gets sorted into a black and white bucket.
But the Jesus experience doesn’t sweep people into the sorting buckets. When Jesus moves through life and finds these buckets, large and small with people and experiences that are clearly on the outs, Jesus blurs the edges. Jesus softens the space and makes it much more difficult to understand. Whether it’s lepers or prostitutes or tax collectors or sinners or religious elites or politicians or rulers or soldiers or fishermen or women or betrayers or liars–he softens all the edges, moves into the neighborhood and grace is lavished all about.
It’s like grace is for everyone.
A quick aside on this learning grace project:
Rather than research and read about how this might have looked for others, my own interactions with the HS have been a clear call to venture out into this project of learning grace and documenting the movements as I go. I hope that this project becomes something like a book to help others learn grace along the way, but for now I know that I am writing the book I need, scribbled in journals and margins and typed up and published right here on this site. Obviously this isn’t the final form, but the final form will be shaped by how this develops along the way.
As I’ve been working on giving a voice to this journey, I’ve also been dreaming about who might want a book like this, who might need a book like this, to whom this kind of a rambling journey might actually be ministry.
Besides myself, of course. I know I need this book.
And maybe that’s enough, but even so.
Maybe this journey and this book is for you, too.
We need people who will go with us and I do hope that if this is for you as well, that you will join the email list below, read along, and talk about it with your friends, and that ultimately you and I will learn grace.
Now back to it:
I don’t know the way, I’m leaving today. Return my heart to my chest.
–Joe Day, Track 9 on Halflight
Truth is the easy ascent.
Realistically, there’s nothing easy about truth, but truth is easier than grace for me. Truth is black and white. Truth is right and wrong. And there are processes and systems for figuring it all out.
Grace is the difficult dive.
One of my pastor figures rapidly expanded my definition of grace when he shared how deep grace is like being washed up in the shallow waves of the beach. There is something about learning grace that can’t be done in a book.
Grace isn’t lavished on us in logical arguments, deconstructing all of our lies and scaffolding the truth into a cathedral, standing still for all time.
Grace is poetry and pictures, people and places, heaven in a hell-scape.
The very idea that I might study and learn the fullness of grace or extend it to others, matching the pace and tenacity of the heart of God is a fool’s errand. There is no outline for grace.
Our brain uses words to say what it’s thinking the same way a heart uses words to say what it’s feeling. Likewise, the truth uses words to establish its boundaries and grace uses words to water the dry land.
Grace is not a shallow beach, rather grace is dry land suddenly finding water and the infinite depths finally finding land.
Grace doesn’t just fill the space between.
Grace starts off as the shoreline.
But full grace is the whole experience in the actual.
Grace is what is real.
If all you’ve ever known is water or land, then finding out there is something else, this boundary is where we find grace. There is something at the edges, something beyond. Full grace will allow us to be fully grounded or fully afloat, and either way, in the old or the new, we belong.
Grace is what love looks like in the spaces between one another. The shape of grace is the shoreline where we meet one another. This is true in our relationship to God. This is true in the person of Jesus, here, with us. This is true in the way that we love one another.
Grace is invasive and holy and I’m learning grace along the way.
If you’d like to learn grace along the way with me, please sign up and read and share as you go along as well.
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