Saturday, October 30, 2010

grace packaging

I asked for a glass of ice and she handed it to me in a hot, freshly washed coffee mug. The ice was quickly melting, giving me something to drink while chomp chomp chomping. I love ice.

I sat down to write and every time I reached for my mug it would warm my hand so that the ice cold water would surprise my lips and teeth.

(I know. I know. You just never know what I might talk about when you come here...bear with me...I kind of know where this is going. Sort of.)

The contrast of the cup and the ice got me thinking about how two things can be really different and both be good, maybe for different reasons to different people. For the longest time I've been fighting to believe that certain things make me uncomfortable because they should. Like I'm a warm glass and they are ice cubes packed up high to my top, cooling me down when I don't want to be cooled, changing me from the very thing I am and its out of my control. I mean, if you're all warm and cozy, the last thing you need is a bunch of get the idea.


Let me give you an example. I'm a Christian, right? But I feel like I'm constantly explaining, to people (who are new to my life anyway), that I'm not very stereotypical in my faith. I don't have a Jesus fish on my car, I've never owned a WWJD bracelet, and overall I'm not very conservative. My entire life, the Christian bubbles I floated through were places that felt pretty foreign to me, and over time I took that to mean there was something wrong with me. What I've come to learn over the years is that it isn't about me being wrong or that particular "brand" of Christianity being wrong, but rather, maybe I'm just simply not all that Evangelical.

The foundation of my beliefs at their core are definitely Christian, and for that I'm not the least bit ashamed. It's just that I continue to try to reconcile those beliefs with how things are in the Evangelical Christian world of today and I can never do it. So often, not much of it makes sense to me. So often, Christians create their own version of something good by adding or subtracting
to align their religion with their opinions. I've never been good at swallowing that, and I've even been known to rant on and on and on about how much I don't like it.

There are still many many things to get angry about. I guess I'm just finally ready to not take on those things like it's entirely up to me to scream until it's fixed. I don't like it one bit that large Christian events like the one I attended last weekend are overly commercialized, filled with excess beyond t-shirts and coffee mugs and into "get your own platinum card with our logo!" I don't like it that the speakers at this Christian event had "a person," each of them, "a person," to follow them and take care of them and parade them to their seats for security's sake. And I don't have to like that there was a garbage between each of their chairs, just two or three feet from the next one, the chairs and the garbages all in a row facing a flat screen television that sat directly in front of the stage where what could be seen on the TV could be seen in real life, simultaneously, one right on top of the other.

There were so many flat screen televisions, surrounding the base of the center-of-the-arena-circular stage, up high, down low, off to the sides, next to the beautiful glass panes that made a fence-like structure for the speakers with its glowing logo on every pane. A glowing logo that changed colors on a timer, mesmerizing my already easily distracted self.

It was done up big, yo.

And it made me itchy. Because I know far too well the places that money could go, if this event were stripped down and simplified. I know how much money would be left for those places where it's needed most if at least some of the excess was stripped away. For me, so often, sitting in the midst of all of it felt like ice in a hot cup.

I was trying to reconcile the good things of grace that I was experiencing with the logo and the products and the TV's. It was like I could feel the clashing of opposites in my soul and in the air.

Feed the hungry! Get your platinum credit card!
God's grace is for you and he loves you! Get your tote or coffee mug!

And then it hit me, as I sat right there in that chair feeling overstimulated and confused. I remembered the comment I received on the EO recently, the one that expressed frustration at watching my journey turn into what it has. How I'm traveling so much and having all of these opportunities come up and I thought Is this what I look like now? Am I doing it up big? Are my readers sitting there trying to read my heart and feeling blinded by my speaking and traveling and the writing of a book?

It hurt to think that, to not know what to do or to have all the answers for how to do this right. Because the last thing I want is to ask you to apply for a platinum card with EO on it, so to speak.

I never imagined any of the things that are happening, you know? I didn't sign up for this, and still it just happened at the same time as I guess I made it happen, by putting myself out there so...much.


The morning I attended this very large event in the very large place with the very many people and very many lights and TVs and myriad of things for sale, I went to Target, hurriedly and over-tired. It was early and I'd been up most of the night and I wanted me a Dr. Pepper. I was very focused on the Dr. Pepper. The store had just opened recently and I was the only person walking in, very few cars in the parking lot. A young man came through the automatic door as I walked up and he seemed to be walking directly for me, so I looked up to meet his eyes, his eyes with a little glint in them. He asked me how I was and I said fine and asked him how he was. He reached out his hand and I knew this was the moment when I was supposed to question what he wanted and whether or not I would say yes or no, to help without suspicion or to sheepishly decline with an excuse because my gut was telling me no. But none of that was happening, I just felt peaceful. I reached out and felt the shape of a card, one that had a receipt wrapped around it, one that was being handed to me. He was saying I got what I needed and there's a little bit left on that gift card so I thought I would give it to's not much, but maybe you can use it toward your purchase.

I walked away calling thank yous over my shoulder and fighting back over-tired and touched with emotion tears.

What a guy.

It was simple. No one was around to see it. He was fighting back a very proud smile. He was humble about all of it and this small thing changed me.

There was $2.02 on that card. More than enough for a Dr. Pepper fountain soda with lots of ice for chomping.

This experience was completely stripped of excess and just as powerful as the changing lights and booming sounds and big names of the conference I was about to attend. A conference that would end up leaving me changed just as the man in the parking lot had. Because people stood up on that stage and they told their truths, their stories, and especially when adoption was spoken of, I was rocked to my core.

So. I guess I'm more comfortable with the small things, the extraordinary things that happen in my small day-to-day life. They fit me. And yet there is something God can do with anything, anything, even things that can feel a bit inauthentic on the surface, overdone and commercialized. I don't know how this particular popular Christian event took this course. I can't judge its journey to survive and thrive. I don't know if all the money that's made is going to help the poor and the hungry, the fatherless and the widow, and maybe it is. I don't know. All I know is that it made me care more deeply about the orphans of this world, because of its fine choices for musical guests and speakers, people who are not thinking of themselves as people who need their own "person" to escort them everywhere, but people who adopt and serve and love and talk about it.

I could be wrong, but I highly doubt that the intention of creators of this event is to get rich quick. Most likely they just want to help, like my friend in the Target lot, and like me.

I don't know what's going to happen next, but I do know that I'm more of a warm cup than an ice cube. And when ice cubes make me uncomfortable, maybe it's not so bad to endure the clashing I feel inside to experience something I may not fully understand but God is certainly always using. He's much bigger than opposite clashing temperatures, in my opinion. He will use me big or small because it's true what they say...he does not send those who are equipped...he equips those he sends.

I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes I may think it's horrible to add ice, but maybe I need to realize that as it melts, I can get at least one drink out of it. A drink from a place I wouldn't expect to find quenching. Those are everywhere and in every form.

Grace is a mysterious and tricky chameleon, and I love it.


This post is a part of 31 Days of Grace at Chatting at the Sky.


Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This is lovely, Heather. And I think you're right about many things here, mostly the fact that there is as much power in small and simple love as there is in a big miracle, and God uses both of them. I believe He expects from us to create that love in our own lives and for others in whatever realm he gives us, no matter the size or temperature.

Ash said...

Living in the big flashy rhinestone buckle of the Bible Belt (Dallas), I've had an extremely difficult time finding a church to call home. I check for bands and microphones - usually a sure sign that a simple episcopalian girl, such as myself, would not feel comfortable. So I keep searching, but finding God in the everyday grace variety sustains me.

That dude at Target, totally rocked. And refilled my diminishing hope in the human race. Thank you.

Remember, the harder you work, the luckier you get. And you my dear, work very hard. Enjoy it.

Miss Erin said...

Oh gosh. I'm a Minnesota born ELCA Lutheran turned Episcopalian and I TOTALLY get this. Can't I just keep it to myself? Why am I less of a Christian because I go to church on Sundays and don't plaster my beliefs all over the place?

DeNae said...

I have a friend who recently abandoned organized religion entirely. It happened at the same time that he finally, finally found the courage - after 46 long years of self loathing - to admit that he was gay.

I've been interested in, and saddened by, the fact that he didn't feel there was a church in which he felt he could be both completely authentic and at the same time declare complete fidelity to the doctrines and practices of that church.

So I asked him where he was putting all the faith I knew he had always had. And he said, "Right now, the one thing I believe in is love."

There was a time when I would have dismissed that as trite, but not any more. If we believe that God is, more than anything else, Perfect Love, then how could anyone argue with believing in Love?

I am a devout practitioner of my faith. But my dear friend taught me a lot about what it means to be a Christian in that one, simple statement.

Paul tells us the same thing: You can have every possible gift, and if it doesn't start and end with Love, it 'signifies nothing'.

Thank you, Heather, for confirming this for me.

jodilee0123 said...

I have thought the same way about all the money that goes towards campaigning--all that arguing about what the politicians can and can't, will and won't, have and have done--they could just use all that campaign money to help "solve" all the issues!

I would love to recommend this book to anyone who is moved by this post. The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. You won't regret reading it. I promise!

Corinne said...

I read this earlier in the car... and I nodded my head and Lucas kept asking "what is wrong with you??" :) and I just smiled.
This was such a good read... and it's heart warming to know that I'm not alone. As one who is pulled back to Christianity every time I start to go elsewhere... and I try to fight it because of the stereotype in my head of "church people" but the realization that that's not my faith is hard to come to.
(ramble over... thank you for this gift of grace today :))

Pam said...

I've been out of touch but please know I've been following you here and there and loving, still, what you have to say. I think there are SO many of us who relate to what you are saying here. I too find myself conflicted over the flash and bling along with some very sincere folks just trying to reach out in love. Like you.
Thanks so much for opening your heart to us!

Anonymous said...

Until just now I didn't know of this place Heather! How did I miss it. It's funny though how things unfold and find you when you need them. This discussion and all that you say leaves me filled with so many thoughts, thoughts that I find myself longing to explore more and more as I search for a little bit oft own direction. The things that you have to say here and at The EO are meaningful to us, and you should never worry about them spiraling as long ad it is right for you. We are us. Two different things.

I'm looking forward to poking around more!

Robin said...

I'm looking forward to poking around more, too...I had no idea you wrote over here! As a new believer (1 year) and of course a recovering alcoholic, I am excited to read what you've put down. I loved this post!

Amy @ Never-True Tales said...

This place seems designed with me in mind. Truly. I feel so very much the same as you describe here: Christian, and yet so OTHER...never Evangelical and always more liberal and half the time flinching at everything I don't agree with while still trying to reconcile my faith with organized religion.

This line? I could have written myself: I continue to try to reconcile those beliefs with how things are in the Evangelical Christian world of today and I can never do it.

Thanks for writing about this here. I couldn't agree more.

rebecca @ altared spaces said...

Unfortunately I could make a list of the churches out of which I have felt elbows pushing me. That sounded awkward. It felt awkward too.

I just dont. quite. fit.

In high school it was because I liked to drink my coffee and eat my church cookies with the gentlemen who were a bit aromatic. I'd invited them as my guests. But people seemed hesitant when it was time to exchange that kiss of peace.

Then I headed elsewhere...Mother Teresa's convent in Harlem for awhile. But I lacked certain credentials there...

It kept happening. Me joining, jumping in with both feet, only to discover I was doing it wrong.

I just always felt Grace was available to everyone. I'm just not polished enough for church. I miss those trash cans, I guess, even when they're placed so close together.

I miss some of it a whole big bunch. I miss the singing a lot. A lot. A lot. And I miss communion. I miss that kiss of peace..."Peace of Christ be with you" "And with you." There's something about that I just love so dearly when I find that person who will recieve my eyes and accept the peace I wish to impart...and recieve.

Thanks for this post, Heather. It made me feel like I got to worship a bit. It made me feel a holy moment.

MidnightCafe said...

Oh Heather, this is just so true. I struggle so hard with not fitting and then not judging. It's hard to make my own journey of faith gracefully, quietly and without judgment.

LisAway said...

I really love the warm mug/cold ice analogy. You can be the mug or the ice, but I think God wants us all to melt a little. That's what happens when he teaches us to find truth and love rather than judging or giving up on or changing what we know is true because of the way some choose to talk about/display/add their opinion to it. I love the quote (but don't have time to look it up) but it's essentially that we don't change God's word (truth, law etc.), we allow it to change us.

And you are so real that I would never begrudge you all the good and big and busy things that are coming to you because of your talent and ability to touch people. In their heart-gut.

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