In a religious culture that taught me I was a worm, a wretch, a sinner undeserving of God's love, compassion, and forgiveness, I had no problem believing that, when God looked at me, all God saw was my filth, my brokenness, and my utter irreparability. I was shit, and despite my best efforts, that was never going to change.
The last will be first. The first will be last. The meek shall inherit the earth. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Turn the other cheek. The Gospel news is about turning things upside down and changing the world for the better. It's about recognizing that things aren't the way they should be and trusting that Jesus came to make all things new. What it isn't about it is tooting our own horn of righteousness and presuming that we are better, holier, than anyone else.
...it's easy to say that I love my neighbor, my enemy, or anyone in my life I might consider "other," but actually making that love manifest is beyond difficult. I can't keep simply talking about emptiness and selflessness and justice unless the way I live my life starts showing signs of these things. Quite frankly, from my own glance in the proverbial mirror, I have a ways to go.
I hate leaving. I hate feeling as if I'm losing a relationship, as if someone I love dearly is abandoning me. This is what transition can feel like for many people. This reality makes it necessary for the transition process to be handled with care, offering space for both grief and celebration. Without room for all the emotions that become tangled up in transitions, the shifts that individuals and communities face can lead to excessive pain, bitterness, resentment, and much more.
The point is: while some like to harp on God's righteousness and holiness, separating those traits from God's graciousness and mercy, as far as I can see it, the various components of God's character are as tangled up and hopelessly inseparable from each other as the souls in Harper's apocalypse. If anything, God's holiness is subject to God's mercy, and God's righteousness submits to God's love. We as a human race are still here. There hasn't been fire yet rained down.
One word comes to mind when I read this passage: helpless. When it comes to garnering favor from the Creator, there is not a damn thing I can do to increase my odds. The fact is that God's grace is already being poured out on me (and in my opinion, all of us) to its maximum capacity: infinitely. Unlike what many of us have experienced with other members of the human race, there's nothing we can do to make God love us any more—or less. As far as God's goodness, kindness, love, etc. are concerned, we don't have access to the control panel.
Nearly two years ago, I started studying at Garrett-Evangelical as an M.Div. student who had finally given in (albeit kicking and screaming) to the call to ministry. I thought I was going to be a pastor, an elder to be more precise. I thought my call was to the parish. I thought I was going to preach every Sunday, wear a stole that went around my neck rather than across my shoulder and chest. I thought I would be under the appointment system instead of being left to find my own gainful employment. I thought I would be responsible for handling the administrative details of a church, brainstorming sermon series, running church council meetings, and any number of Elder-ly duties.
Here I am two years later and one major realization has come to mind: I do a lot of thinking, and not all of it is very rational, much less very right. By the summer between first and second year, I started to think that maybe I wasn't called into the parish. During my first year, I realized just how much pain still existed from my past history with the church. I asked questions and came to personal conclusions that might have made my Southern Baptist grandfather roll over in his grave. I began recognizing my strengths and my weaknesses as a minister.
Two weeks before I started my field placement at Irving Park United Methodist, the realization of my call to deacon started to solidify. Two weeks after I started, the concrete had dried. Working with Rev. Vickie Hadaway was an amazing experience. Over the course of the year, my personal love for the sacraments grew; at the same time, my realization that I was called to assist with and not preside over them strengthened. I preached several times, most of them good sermons, with a couple of not-so-good ones thrown in here and there. I led small groups and found myself more deeply fulfilled and engaged. I had weekly conversations with parishioners and became more strongly connected to the happenings of their lives.
I fought coming to seminary for a long time. Although I first felt the call to ministry at the extremely young age of nine, other things were present that kept me from answering it... darker things, painful things. I was scared that seminary would be a repeat of previous Christian education experiences. I was fearful of being rejected, outcast, ostracized. I came to Garrett-Evangelical, and to Irving Park, and found welcoming and affirming places. I found fortresses of love where mistakes happened, and so did forgiveness. I discovered a realm where I could ask questions and had the freedom and resources to find my own answers. I entered into communities where people saw a broken world and a broken system and decided to come together to do something about it. I came into a family where, yes we drove each other crazy, but we were soldered together by the common thread of our love for Jesus and our desire to experiences God's radical transformation of the world.
Garrett-Evangelical is an amazing community and institution. Granted, like any system made up of flawed human beings, it has its cracks and dents. However, I don't think a day has gone by in the last two years where I wasn't able to see God's grace filling up one of those cracks or God's love buffing out one of those dents. People here at Garrett are different. People here at Garrett know how to show love, offer grace, give mercy, and seek truth in ways I've never experienced before. Perfection won't become a reality until God's kingdom is fully realized. In the meantime, people at Garrett are just trying to live into their calls and learn how to love God personally and help others find a similar love for God.