The Bar and the Church
The neighborhood bar is possible the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they don’t usually tell others or even want to.
The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
With all my heart I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, democratic, permissive- a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I’m beat!” “I’ve had it!” Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality. Our churches often miss it.
Betting on Jesus
We didn’t have a lot of rules [at the food pantry at St. Gregory, an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco]. You could be a drunk or junkie, but you couldn’t volunteer if you were high. You couldn’t steal food, call people names, or get in fights. Otherwise anyone was welcome to jump in and start working. We were making a bet that what Jesus suggested was true: when you begin to expand your ideas of who the right people are, when you break down boundaries to share food with strangers, God shows up.
Does God Accept Us as We Are?
Romans 6 shines a bright spotlight on the dangerous half-truth, currently fashionable, that ‘God accepts us as we are.’ Will ‘God’s acceptance’ do as a complete grounding of Christian ethics? Emphatically not. Grace reaches where humans are, and accepts them as they are, because anything less would result in nobody’s being saved. Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone.
But grace is always transformative. God accepts us where we are, but God does not intend to leave us where we are… The radical inclusivity of the gospel must be matched by the radical exclusivity of Christian holiness.”
Moving the Fence
In the Second World War, a group of soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France. During an intense battle, one of the American soldiers was killed. His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a Christian burial.
They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines whose grounds included a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence. After receiving permission to take their friend’s body to the cemetery, they set out for the church, arriving just before sunset.
A priest, his bent-over back and frail body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking. His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home of two fierce eyes that flashed with wisdom and passion.
“Our friend was killed in battle,” they blurted out, “and we wanted to give him a church burial.” Apparently the priest understood what they were asking, although he spoke in very broken English. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we can bury only those of the same faith here.”
Weary after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned to walk away. “But,” the old priest called after them, “you can bury him outside the fence.” Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence.
They finished after nightfall. The next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye to their friend. When they arrived, they couldn’t find the grave site, tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church.
They asked the old priest if he knew where they had buried their friend. “It was dark last night and we were exhausted. We must have been disoriented.” A smile flashed across the old priest’s face. “After you left last night, I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence.”
The Most Private is Often What Resonates the Strongest
The pyschologist Carl Rogers, a person who would know quite well the interior lives of others, has this to say of our inmost thoughts:
I have most invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence, most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared and expressed, speak most deeply to others.
When Grace Strikes
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life…. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’ If that happens to us, we experience grace.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Acceptance. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!