In my life, I’ve heard a million different descriptions about the nature of grace. I’ve heard it referred to as unearned love, like a fat tip for the server. I’ve read Brennan Manning who described it as being “seized by the power of great affection.” And the other night I finished Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies, and she said:
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
The other night I found grace at the door of my anger.
It was my birthday night and I was in an argument with my brother over Francis Chan. A really bad argument. My brother is a pastor and I tend to lug all my spiritual baggage to his feet, perhaps unfairly, hoping he’ll help me sort it all out, maybe empathize with me, expecting him to try his best to not do that Devil’s Advocate crap he does.
But when I told him just how furious I was with Francis, that’s exactly what he did.
The whole thing started as a small crack in the heart, as it always does. After I watched the youtube video, I tried thinking of plausible reasons for why my beloved Francis would do what he did and I urged myself to not get angry- because it’s not anything personal or intentional. It’s not as if he saw my heart laying there when he stepped on it.
But it hurt. And it did feel personal and intentional. I did feel wronged.
I just found out that Chan went and spoke at the International House of Prayer, IHOP as it’s commonly called. It’s a place that has a reputation for cult-like behavior, uncontrollable charismatics, and where anyone can promote themselves to God’s PR person as long as they say, “God told me this ___, in a vision, just now.”
IHOP is run by a man named Mike Bickle. Mike Bickle thinks Oprah is the harbinger of the AntiChrist and he also really, really doesn’t like gay people. In an interview once, he noted our departure into the “demonic realm” where the demons like to touch us. He said gay marriage is a missile rocketing straight from the pit of hell.
And so imagine the inner stab of betrayal I felt when Francis stood on his stage and gave the most syrupy vow of undying love for Mike Bickle. Over and over, gushingly, he said it. It wasn’t enough to attend the controversial conference, he had to embrace my enemy in the most over-the-top way.
I am supposed to be about forgiveness, I know that. Christians are required to forgive friends and enemies as well as once-beloved authors. But even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I’m not sure I could forgive Francis Chan. I am not nearly there. Not now anyway.
Having said that, I’ve also been reading Anne Lamott and I’ve been learning about the balm of grace. About the poison of bitterness. About why I need to learn to calm and nurture my choleric heart.
I can’t do forgiveness with Chan, not genuinely, but I can let grace come in because it comes in gently. It takes me by the hand and walks me back aways, with time, through thoughts and conversation until I can quietly see the panoramic picture. After I declared Chan blacklisted from my private Christian collection of books and wisdom, my brother pointed out that Chan, besides budding up a romance with an Ass-Hat, has also rescued many of the homeless in San Francisco, and he’s distanced himself from the Mega-Church industry. He wrote a book once that gave me a glimmer of hope that God might possibly love me.
But I am not a side issue to the homeless, I snapped. Neither are they to you, he replied.
Grace is good for me and I feel it. I feel it fine-tuning things in my heart. Softening me up, little by little, one adjustment in perspective at a time, pulling me to a place where I can truly forgive not just Chan, but many in the faith that have hurt me like this. Maybe even, one day, because anything is possible, I could find it in me to forgive Mike Bickle.
And I’m starting to understand that we are all sort of in the same boat in striving for goodness. Chan hurting me, even unintentionally, does not make him lower than me. Me getting angry and incapable of forgiveness does not make me lower than him. We’re standing on the same ground, still, always. Even when we think we are kinder, holier, better people, it’s all merely delusion. We haven’t gained a foot on the other person. Grace keeps us down like gravity. Lifts us up like equality.
As Phillip Yancey once wrote:
“Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.”
We stand on a ground flattened by grace. And grace lifts us. And grace tends to us. And it points us the way forward, the too-long path of forgiveness, and given the space to breathe a bit, we all will make our way there. Some stomping, some skipping and some dragging their feet. No way better than the other.