A Prayer: So Damn Inclusive

I want to pray honestly, transparently. This is an attempt. Also, here’s the article by Volf I reference in the prayer below:

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Lord, why is heaven so damn inclusive? Being honest here: this tends to piss me off.

I just read a book about Vietnam. What a horror. The book depicted a massacre of one village that US soldiers believed sheltered VC. One scene is scared in my memory: an old man, member of the village, is dragged out of his hut and beaten by two soldiers. Then they light him on fire and throw him down a well.

Are you really going to tell me there’s room in heaven for those two soldiers?

(The irony, oh God, is that I often pray with equal indignation: “you say you are a good God! And yet you would damn a person to hell?!” How inconsistently self-righteous I am!)

I recall, oh God, an article I just read by your servant Miroslav Volf. He reminded me that I am believer in your redemptive grace so I must prepare myself to see my enemies in heaven. And not just to see them but to be reconciled to them.

Which is all fine and dandy for me, a white male living in America. I have few enemies beyond the jerk in a Jaguar who just cut me off in traffic. But you’re telling me that I might see that old Vietnamese man hugging those two soldiers, his murderers?

Karl Barth said that we must study theology in one hand and hold a newspaper in the other. How can I possibly do this and fall in love with your grace? How contrary to my gut desire for retributive justice. If I were to create heaven, if I were standing at the pearly gates, then I would be sure to keep out the bigots, killers, the hateful, molesters, rapists, and certainly those two soldiers (and certainly the self-righteous, white males!).

And so, Lord, I confess today that I have no real grace. I have only theoretical grace, but no real, practical, living grace, outside my indignation in critiquing your theoretical lack of grace when you tell us that the journey to salvation follows a narrow road.

Drown me in your grace, that I may be risen in the baptismal waters to a creature who is merciful because he has been shown mercy. Offend me, the same way you pissed off Jonah, with the inconceivable depth of your love. Allow me to rejoice dear God, in the news that heaven is so inclusive that it might include a prideful (indignant, self-involved, self-righteous) wretch like me.

Amen.

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Raw Grace & Cigarettes

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I went for a run the other day. It was a warm day. I was on a gravel backroad, one that hadn’t been plowed too thoroughly. The sun had transformed the remnants of snow into several inches of slush. Running on slush is like trying to use a treadmill that’s moving-not only backwards-but also out on each side: my feet flailed and my hands waved in numerous directions trying to keep balance. It was not my most eloquent moment; I must’ve looked something like a moose galloping while on crack.

With such a gait I constantly looked over my shoulder, worried not so much that a car coming from behind might plow me over, but more so that the driver might witness me in such a buffoonic state. If I heard a car coming, I’d slow down to a controlled and dignified stroll, tipping an imaginary hat to passer-byes and whistling a fine tune. This instead of appearing rabid.

I grew up quietly. I suppose that is an apt way of putting it. In that I think my childhood flew under the radar for any grand humiliation of my own ego. I was benched in high school football. I lost my bid for student body president. But these were just dents in the armor, so to speak. My pride was bruised, at worse. But I was always able to regain composure, adopt a facade of propriety, before the car came up behind me.

But if marriage is anything its the voice of reality calling ‘bullSHEET!’ on our facades of humility. It’s the car driving up on me slowly, quietly, so I don’t notice until its too late. And then the driver smirks as he goes by.

My wife and I are in a hectic season of life, working while also full-time students. We survive on ritual, keeping ourselves sane with our own nightly routine; it consists of a small cup of frozen yogurt and watching our favorite TV show (I’m not saying it’s Gilmore Girls, I’m just saying that if it was… then Lorelai is really starting to piss me off). It’s liturgies like this that fuels our life together, silly as they may seem.

But the other night we had a fight. It takes two to tango but sometimes one partner takes the lead. And on this particular night I had two left feet and was going out of my way to stomp them on my wife’s toes. We’d had a miscommunication, you see. And I’d responded with stubbornness, anger even, retreating to a corner of our apartment whence I muttered and fumed. It was as if I was smoking an emotional cigarette. Every breath added to the stench in the room.

My wife tried to make peace:

“Can we move on? I’m sorry. Please? I’ll get out the ice cream. You set up Gilmore Girls Band of Brothers.”

I acted like I didn’t hear. She said ‘peace?’ and my ego said ‘never surrender!’ I’d been caught off guard with my armor lying at my feet, but now I had it on I wasn’t about to withhold any blows.

When she tried for a third time, I swung my blade. I walked into the bathroom and started brushing my teeth. Such abrasion was like popping some Milk Duds in the face of a priest holding the Eucharist. No ice cream tonight; my armor’s staying on.

But there are moments of raw grace in life. These are not so much our pride breaking down as it is Grace entering the conversation, stepping between the knights, catching one sword in each hand, and- as if we were five- telling us to stop.

Then Grace looks at me: “Quit being an ass.”

Thus I recalled that day running in the slush. I imagined hearing a car coming behind me. As it passed the driver smirked at me, my pride flailing like an inflatable wavy hands character. But this time, I look back at the driver and say: “Screw you! I know I look like an oaf. But I’m trying.” He smirks again and drives on. But I feel lighter; he’s dragging my facade behind the car.

I finished rinsing and returned to our family room. She was curled up on the couch.

“I just want our night back,” she said.

I kissed her on the forehead then took dessert out of the freezer, remnants of toothpaste on my tongue.

And the ice cream-toothpaste mixture tasted how a moose on crack looks: bloody ridiculous. But sometimes repentance does. And there’s a lesson in that, I believe. Raw grace is hard to swallow; the final puff on an emotional cigaret leaves a morbid taste.

But she set her head on my shoulder. And her grace began to remove my armor. Slowly.

The night was ours. Again.

But for $@#!’s-sake, Lorelai…

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Sunday Quotes: Life with God

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

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Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things, not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things- unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

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You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

-Annie Dillard; Teaching Stones to Talk