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Apple & Worm

The Temptation of Graceless Living (Photo credit: cwwozniak)

I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t know that my heroes were flawed.

I grew up in the days following Nixon, Watergate, Viet Nam, race riots, and the burgeoning practice of assuming that great men and women were not perfect. Leaders could be trusted, but only to a certain extent. A prime example was Ronald Reagan. His rise to power was a renewal of trust after years of brokenness in the White House. But when the Iran-Contra Scandal broke, few people were shocked. Sure, there was disappointment. But the primary emotion in the youth of my day was apathy: Here’s another leader who has done the wrong thing for the right reasons.

The problem with disillusionment is that you were “illusioned” in the first place.

Youth became sad and cynical. Here were the beginnings of a Pessimism that characterized the 80’s.

Sadly, this attitude would eventually cause many of our nation’s hopeful leaders to adopt a “scorched earth” campaign style. The goal in nearly every election cycle? Develop those character flaws and mistakes evident in one’s opponent to the point that they are irredeemable.

Irredeemable: To the American citizen, this should be disgusting. To the Christian, this should be horrific.

In recent days, we’ve seen the dismal results of foregoing trust to assume the worst about our opponents. First mistake: Assuming that those with whom we disagree must be opponents. Next mistake, withdrawing trust in toto.

Not One Good Quality

I have dear friends who cannot find one positive thing to say about Barack Obama. Now, my point here is not to sing the praises of the President. My point is that inability to find one single redeeming quality in a human being.

Pardon me for dropping my tone and manner, but declaring a human being to be unworthy of redemption simply sucks.

Human beings are flawed by nature, not by design. And there is redemption available and awaiting each of us. Why? Because of Grace. Grace is the “possibility of forgiveness and redemption.” Both of those ideas can be conditional. In fact, forgiveness most often requires forgiveness. Redemption requires change.

Admit it or not, too many of us seek out those with whom we disagree with one goal in mind: Hammer them into submission with our iron-clad arguments, challenge their every tenet of belief, and demand that they defend themselves lest we find their faith faulty, unworthy of our fellowship and beneath our regard.

Forgotten Grace

But Grace is beyond that. Grace is unconditional in that it is offered before those things take place. Grace doesn’t necessitate forgiveness and redemption, but neither would be possible without it.

Two weeks ago, I would have said that “lack of trust” was the chief failure of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, meeting in Tampa, Florida. But I am now convinced that our failure was in “not offering Grace.” It didn’t begin with that gathering, and it certainly didn’t stop at the close of General Conference.

Grace means listening and learning. Grace means finding room in our hearts for the other person, not just in spite of their views, but perhaps even because of those views. Grace means hoping for the agreement before there is any sign of hope for agreeing. Grace means caring about the other person’s opinions because we care about the other person.

I am challenging you to join me in reaching out to people with whom we disagree. And, in doing so, I am making friends with one goal in mind: To experience their ideas and to learn from their thoughts. That’s what relationship and communication are about.

The Hope

Here’s where it gets dicey. The danger lies in the ever present temptation to reach out with the intention of manipulating opinions. But the key factor is this: I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, not in this situation. I preach for results, yes. But I engage in holy conferencing to know and to be known; to share.

Friendships should not be designed to control or manipulate. The chief desire of God is that we become more like Christ, more like the one who reached out to us while we were yet sinners. Our friendships should reflect that. We should demonstrate our willingness to love those who don’t think like we do. We should live out our belief that the greatest demonstration of grace comes before the demands of righteousness are met — especially when we are living with the danger of self-righteousness. This, you see, is the chief enemy of grace, and results in judgement and bigotry on all sides.

The goal is to grow in our understanding of one another. And, from there, to increase our ability and willingness to trust.

In the grace of Christ, we become one. Apart from Christ, we cease becoming.

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Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.