Ragamuffin Musings on Grace & Truth

In the first chapter of the gospel of John the writer tells us that Jesus came to us as the Word – the Logos of God and that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In the Cotton Patch Gospels translation, Clarence Jordan translated that phrase as the “Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”  It goes on to say in this gospel that this Word Who became flesh – Jesus – was “full of grace and truth.”  What a lovely and mythic combination.  The very embodiment of grace and truth came as flesh, as one of us, to show us exactly who God is and how God lives: full of Grace & Truth.

Beyond the definitions of the words, I know very little about grace and truth, aside from the fact that I am desperate for the former and usually run from the latter.  But when I look at how Jesus lived and acted and treated people as we have on record in the four gospels, I begin to see just what God’s grace and truth look like: love towards enemies; speaking truth to corrupt power, religiosity, and delusional hypocrisy; mercy for the poor and the sick and broken – the perfect embodiment of compassion and mercy in flesh and action.

Jesus says the Truth will set me free; and I have been told by others much wiser than me that the truth will indeed set me free but not until it is finished with me first.   The truth will set me free but it will also crush me as well.  In my reading, in my life, in being with others on their spiritual journeys, it has also been my experience that the truth is always about death and resurrection simultaneously.  I am set free by it, but ego and flesh are sometimes crushed by it as well.

Grace.

Well, grace is that disquieting and uncomfortable reality that God loves and accepts us as we are where we are and with or through no effort of ours.  What is so raw and unnerving about God’s grace is the truth that there is nothing I can do to add to or take away from God’s grace and love for me and others.  God does not grow to love me more, for God is in perfect totality, so divine love is expressed in perfect totality.  It is me who comes to love God more and more (or less and less); it is me who surrenders more (or less) the love that is without merit and end.  God does not change, I do.  God’s love and grace do not change; my openness and acceptance of them does.  God’s grace is now as it was in the beginning – eternal and free flowing.

I have also learned that it is in that space, that creative tension between where I am (finite and wounded) and where God’s grace is (perfect and healing) that the amazing gift and work of transformations begins.

 

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Words from another…

“Flannery O’Connor put it well when she said that “people don’t realize how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross. It is much harder to believe than it is not to believe.”

Blessing carries with it not the promise of a trouble-free life, but the promise of God’s active presence among the people who seek to do God’s work in the world– even in the face of the worst the world can give.”

-Kimberly Long, The Worshiping Body, page 64

“Mysticism” (Frederick Buechner)

MYSTICISM IS WHERE RELIGIONS START. Moses with his flocks in Midian, Buddha under the Bo tree, Jesus up to his knees in the waters of Jordan—each of them is responding to Something of which words like Shalom, Nirvana, God even, are only pallid souvenirs. Religion as ethics, institution, dogma, ritual, Scripture, social action—all of this comes later and in the long run maybe counts for less. Religions start, as Frost said poems do, with a lump in the throat—to put it mildly—or with a bush going up in flames, a rain of flowers, a dove coming down out of the sky. “I have seen things,” Aquinas told a friend, “that make all my writings seem like straw.

“Most people have also seen such things. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of their lives, most of them have caught glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, they tend to go on as though nothing has happened.

We are all more mystics than we choose to let on, even to ourselves. Life is complicated enough as it is.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

“Vulnerability, Shame, and Courage – The Path to Gratitude and Generosity” (Rev. Roy Howard)

Everyone knows that there are many ways a conversation about money can go wrong. That’s especially true when talking about faith and money.

The most common way a conversation about money goes wrong is when people hear guilt and shame rather than grace and gratitude. Although shame is not a helpful emotion, like weeds in Spring, it usually emerges when talking about money, whether a person has significant wealth or a person has very little. More often than not, the consequence of shame is silence. This is why conversations about money are the most difficult of all conversations at home, in the workplace, and in faith communities.

Conventional wisdom suggests that sex is the most intimate of all conversations. Research indicates that, in fact, money is the most intimate. Why? Because when we talk about money it makes us vulnerable. (Again, this is true whether one is wealthy, poor, or of modest income.) The vulnerability exposes our money stories that often raise painful family histories, mismanagement, fear, and even survival. Shame is the emotion that seeks to stop the conversation and shut down vulnerability.

The antidote to shame is courage. Vulnerability is the pathway to courage, and courage is the pathway to a whole-hearted joyful life, filled with gratitude and generosity, that goes far beyond money [emphasis added].  This is what I have learned from renowned author, speaker and University of Houston Research Professor Dr. Brené Brown. Building capacity for courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations about money. I have learned this from work with congregations around the country and in my work as a pastor with a local congregation. As I become vulnerable to sharing my “money story” with congregations, it helps create a safe space for others to be open
about their struggles. This spiritual practice of open story-telling reduces shame and increases the capacity for courage in communities of faith.

I take a cue from Saint Paul when speaking about money. The apostle tells us that everything that is good in our lives springs from the well of grace–God’s undeserved and unmerited favor–and the only appropriate response to this grace is gratitude.

Begging to Give

Saint Paul is emphatic about God’s goodness toward us. Encouraging the churches in Corinth to give generously, Paul says, “God has given grace to the churches of Macedonia.” As a result of this grace, the churches were compelled to overflow with generosity toward others. Even though they were suffering what Paul described as “extreme poverty,” they were begging to give to others. Their generosity came from a deep well of joy. What is most remarkable is the utter absence of talk about how much money is available to give. That was beside the point. It’s beside the point for us, too. Paul is talking about a desire to give that comes from joy. Increase the joy of the Lord, and people beg to give. Joy is the opposite of shame.

Can you imagine people begging to give?

A poor Haitian farmer told me this proverb, “The one who never eats alone, will never go hungry.” It was his way of saying when you share what little you have, you will always have enough for yourself. Saint Paul is saying the same: when our hearts are rooted in God, trusting in God’s faithfulness, you will always have enough to share. And notice what happens when we share: everyone has enough; no one suffers (II Corinthians 8:15).

When you and I share what we have with others, it creates a groundswell of gratitude in the hearts of many, who in turn share what they have with others. Our sharing becomes part of a much larger work of God among people in the world.

Don’t you want to be part of such a movement of God? There is no shame in sharing. It’s not about the amount you have, it’s about the joy of giving.

-Rev. Roy Howard, Faith and Money Network 

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Rev. Roy Howard’s workshop on September 11, 2018, will enter the difficult conversation of money through the work of Dr. Brené Brown, Researcher, and Professor at the University of Houston, who has written extensively about vulnerability, shame and courage. Building capacity for courage to be vulnerable is what reduces shame and fear in discussions of money. This courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations. We will discuss how Brené Brown’s work applies to money, share our own money stories, and develop strategies for deepening the courage to be vulnerable. The purpose is to grow in gratitude and generosity in all areas of our lives and in particular the financial area.

 

Workshop Event: Vulnerability, Shame, and Courage – The Practice of Stewardship
September 11, 6:00-8:00 pm
Potter’s House in Washington, D.C.
Workshop Leader: Rev. Roy Howard