When People Who Talk About Grace Aren't Gracious With Me
So, loving Jesus doesn't mean you magically start enjoying the sort of people who annoyed you before you knew Him. I've been in and around ministry for twenty years, and the fact is, birds of a feather tend to flock together -- even in the body of Christ.
Cute and coiffed women tend to gravitate toward safe, disciplined religious atmospheres.
The bohemians tend to find artistic, creative outworkings of their faith. They smoke pipes, drink a little bourbon, bend the rules, and generally go against the norm for the sake of the gospel.
Mommy-types tend to form play groups to discuss family-oriented resources. As those women get older, their nurturing instincts tend to transition toward mentoring younger women.
Social advocates tend to find one another and rally to make strategic plans for rescuing the desperate.
Academics tend to gather over buckets of walnuts with hammers and nutpicks, sitting for hours, reveling over little pieces of meat they have dislodged.
Salt-of-the-earth types go wherever they are needed; the spine of the body of Christ, moving without announcement into hospitals and prisons, mowing the yard of the neighbors down the street, and picking up hitchhikers.
Loners tend to wander into deserts for meditation, and in their solitude they find truths to bring back to the rest of the body.
Faith doesn't turn us into a robots, see. It often works from within our natural personality, and I don't see how that's a bad thing, really. In almost all of these groups, lovers of Jesus will say that the resources of heaven allow them to do what they do on earth. In all their many shades of activity, they speak about the grace of Christ.
Still, it's hard when I hear people talking about the grace of Christ, but they don't extend that grace to me.
When the natural bent of others doesn't jibe with how I'm wired, when they see the worst in me, I can feel shunned. And I'm sure I've made those who aren't like me feel the same way. Because frankly, there are just some people in the body of Christ who kind of bug me.
How honest should I get here? Hmmm..
Okay, I get irritated with the "roar and swagger" folks. The Jerry Fallwell Jr. types. The Bob Jones types. The John Waynes. The Donald Trumps. People who cite Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter. They embarrass me, and they make me mad.
I also tend to get uncomfortable around the hyper-sentimental crowd. Now a lot of my best girlfriends are affectionate... but I'm talking about the sticky sweet cooing women who use phrases like, "This blessed my heart today," or "I feel a sense of peace about this." There's kind of a permanent sigh in their voices, and they call me "Beloved," even though they don't know me at all. Just describing them makes my palms sweat.
I also get antsy around artsy types who are super into their own personas. Beards on men who don't know how to change the oil in a car. Social media posts that feel like ETSY crashed into Pintrest, and then again into Anglicanism. There's a hyper awareness of image management that feels like insecurity, or maybe the need to climb ladders... I can't tell. But when I'm around this, it makes me want to go buy mom jeans, eat at McDonalds, and shop in Wal-Mart just to cleanse my palate.
Male, twenty-something seminary students who learn a couple of languages and a couple of things about theology and suddenly believe they are God's answer to everything wrong with evangelicalism. Especially when those guys start acting rude around dear, 70-year-old pastors. I want to knock 'em down. Pow pow.
Spelling and grammar snobs irritate me, too. I like it when friends tell me I've missed something, because that's just the loving thing to do. But you know those people who roam the internet day and night, just looking for an opportunity to tell someone, "You used THERE instead of THEIR!" I do not like them in a box. I do not like them in their socks. I do not like them here or THEIR, THEY'RE, THERE, I do not like them anyWARE.
I could go on, but you get the idea. When I run into some of these folks, grace isn't the first thing that comes out of me. What comes out first is sarcasm, or maybe anger. Almost always I run and hide from them.
But let's push into this more... if those same people were to describe me, what would they say? How would I bug them? I can imagine them saying at least this much:
"She doesn't even brush her hair about two days a week. Have some dignity, for gosh sakes. She's too fierce for a woman. She has too many opinions, and she certainly doesn't mind sharing them. She's reckless. She's all over the place. She posts too much. She doesn't even take time to proofread. She goes into these melancholy holes. She criticizes everything. She's too rebellious. She's too sensory. She acts too confident without enough information. I don't trust her. She's a disaster waiting to happen."
I can imagine this because there are people out there who don't click with me. Our chemistry is bad. We aren't a natural match. And you know what? They are justified in letting this stuff irritate them. Seriously, I need to start brushing my hair. Yeah, I'm too fierce. I share too much. I'm reckless sometimes, and I need to care about proofreading. I get sulky, and critical, and restless, and indulgent. I'm overconfident. I worry sometimes that I'm a disaster waiting to happen.
Soooo.... guilty as charged. Now what? What do we do about all this mess?
It's not just a problem for individuals, either. In the church as a whole, we have traditional folks who tend to roar and rage over gay sex and abortion but who don't talk much about greed or insular living. Progressives tend to hate on Western aggression and consumerism while not giving much notice to couples sleeping around outside of marriage or coarse speech. All of our individual differences push us out into ideological clans where we tend to be tender toward certain sins and rough on others.
But guess what? None of this is altogether new.
Why is there so much written in Paul's letters about getting along with other people? Maybe it's because trusting Jesus isn't some sort of magic pill that turns us all into Stepford believers? Maybe life in Christ doesn't suddenly blank our our personalities? Maybe part of the beauty of the gospel is that it helps us (in slow time) figure out what to do with those spiritual siblings who (frankly) bug the poop out of us on long car trips. ("Stop touching me! He's on my side! He's looking at me funny! He called me that name again! He's got my Boba Fett, and he won't give it back!!" He's breathing weird! Tell him to put his shoes back on! His feet smell like something died!)
When my sweet little daughter was in kindergarten, there was a boy whose face bugged her. She said she didn't like round faces, and besides, he cheated at Duck, Duck, Goose.
Now my daughter is one of the most tender children I've ever known. She is almost endlessly forgiving. Generous without bounds. I once saw a mean girl scratch her cheeks until they bled, and my daughter was immediately tender toward that child. She's not the kind of person who holds grudges, and she sees the best in even the most difficult folks I know.
But in all of her many loving years on planet Earth, there was one kid she just didn't like. She didn't like the round-faced kid when she was five, and she came home from homeschool co-op every day telling me how she wanted to punch him in the nose.
We never really got to the bottom of that, but to this day we laugh about it. I'll say, "What was it about that poor little boy that bothered you so much?" And she will say, "I have no idea. I just didn't like his face."
And I get that. Don't you? (Admit it. You get that.)
But Jesus said:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Why would he even say that if it came natural? If it happened without our participation, without our working through it, without it being difficult sometimes... well, he would have never needed to put it into words for us.
But how? How do we do it?
I'm reading through some of the epistles today in light of the people whose faces I just don't like. I'm thinking about how these words apply still, and how it's possible to move through an initial negative reaction into gospel sufficiency. Somehow I'm relieved to hear that some of these feelings are just flat normal.
Why is that comforting? Because beyond the feelings, there's hope. There's a good strong plan for extending grace to those who aren't gracious with me.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
From Colossians 3