…and a frustrating one.
It is hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up in church the kinds of things that go through your mind when it comes to the way you look at the world, and at life. There’s a culture that develops inside churches and Christian communities that is built on having a religious faith in common. If you grew up with that, then there are some ingrained beliefs and practices which will, more or less, always be part of your life. One of the things that I’ve learned from having had that experience is that faith is a powerful force in the lives of people, but its principles and foundational doctrines can be manipulated to fit what people want to do, if they so choose.
Something that came from my early Sunday School upbringing that I have remembered all of this time is the use of the word “Joy” to teach the simple principle of Jesus first, others second, yourself last. Selfishness is the enemy of Christian belief and it is the opposite of a Christian lifestyle. Other people and their needs come first, unconditionally. Grace, I’ve always been taught, isn’t grace if it can be earned, or if it isn’t used.
But in practice, what I find as I observe people who wear their Christian faith like clothing, is that there are ways to put basic Christian principles aside, in order to do what you want to do, and then find something that looks and sounds Christian to use in order to justify what you are doing.
There’s a fine line between judging someone’s action, and feeling conviction about something that is wrong. In this particular situation, it is a question of drawing a line to create a boundary in the extension of grace. Where do you draw the line? And who makes the decision about where to draw it? The disappointment comes in seeing the claim made that, because some grace was extended, those involved have done their duty, and fulfilled their Christian obligation. Those who needed the help will still have to consider a painful decision, and will still be left with a need that needs to be met, though it will have to be done by someone other than those with the ability to meet it immediately. But is a partial extension of grace, in the minds of those who extended it, really grace? Isn’t the Christian principle of grace a 100% proposition?
The frustration is the result of my own actions. I allowed the circumstances of the situation to keep me silent when I could have spoken up, and excused myself because the decisions that were made were not part of my responsibilities. By not speaking up, I am following correct procedure, as far as organizational principles go, but that’s as much of an excuse for not doing what I know is right as what I observed. However, I’m going to correct that mistake.
There are places in the Bible that are very difficult to understand, and even more difficult to find a way to make the principles that are illustrated fit into the life we live in our culture today. The first few chapters of the book of Acts describe a church that had been established by Jesus’ disciples beginning at Pentecost. I have always been taught that the way they cared for each other, ministered to each other, and loved each other is an example we should follow. It was quite a powerful community, and the combination of relationships linked to other people who shared the same faith, and who were filled with the Spirit, enabled the early Christians to endure and survive the most severe persecution, and attempts to wipe out the church before it had a chance to become what God intended. Point to that passage now, and people–Christian people with leadership responsibility in the church–will tell you that’s just not practical, or we don’t have the resources to do that, or if you treat one person with grace, you’re going to have deadbeats with their own sob stories lining up for handouts.