I think at times we tend to hold people in a constantly precarious position, so that if they fall even slightly in any direction, we crush them with a label and rush for the exit and burn every bridge and ramp and highway. It’s like we deliberately keep everyone off-balance so that they’re never really in and good with us, unless they do exactly as I want.
It’s sort of a desperate anxiety in relationships, where if the guy or girl says one stupid thing: it’s over.
It’s the fear of trying to say all the right things or you’ll die.
It’s waiting for someone to fail so you can confirm your preconceived presumption.
It’s instantly dividing over a single disagreement, even over a simple sentence or opinion.
It happens everywhere, especially in the “church community.” We tend to analyze the particulars of everyone’s faith. Any wrong theology will get you killed. Secondary doctrines become primary battlefronts. The preacher is graded by his rightness of speech instead of his character (when both are needed). Even “not being gracious” is sort of a new legalism, where if you don’t tolerate everything, you’re a bigot. And if you’re neither a cool hipster liberally progressive Jesus-follower or a conservative button-up soapbox picketer, then you’re apparently not a Christian either.
I would think that knowing Jesus would make us more gracious, and not less. But even “faith” has a way of making us jerks, because we so anxiously cling to any dividing line and stab our flags into each others’ sides.
This sort of thin ice will —
1) rotate a new set of friends every season,
2) make everyone nervous and uncertain and neurotic,
3) shoot a convulsive ripple of self-righteousness in your bowels all the time, and
4) enslave others with a never-ending internal exam, which we all eventually fail.
The truth is that not everyone thinks the way I think, so my conflict with someone’s thinking is my conflict, and not theirs. It’s downright tyrannical to bend everyone else to my will. A world full of my mentally implanted opinions would be a horrible, diminished, dehumanized world. And we do this to people everyday. We cut them off at a singular point of difference and pretend it’s a “stand,” when really it’s an ivory tower.
When we scrutinize every person’s word to wait for a mistake, we are then idolizing our ego into an impossible chokehold that will strangle others under the weight of our narcissism.
You know what I mean. We just wait for failure and we kick the wounded. I think we like to join in backlash because it looks smart. It’s like we’re hunting for an angle to attack because we like to be on the right side of things. There is no shortage of theology-watchdogs and church-gatekeepers and political pundits and picketing fundamentalists that are simply looking to pick a fight — and their blogs get the most views. And I include me in this bickering. I’m no better than “them,” and them is all of us, who are all just as guilty of imprisoning others with unfair expectations that were already set up to lose.
Jesus wrecked all these expectations by calling us all equally guilty and all equally in need of grace. It means that we don’t get it right most of the time, or even half the time. We get it wrong like all the time. And when we do get it right, it’s purely by grace: and that’s worth celebrating. Instead of waiting for us to fail, Jesus cheered us on to succeed. Not a success by human standards, but a success that embraces humility and understanding and the ability to laugh at ourselves. Jesus saw how we are: but he gave us grace for who we could be. It’s a reversal of expectations.
I think maybe we could show this kind of vision-casting grace for others when they say something really dumb. Because we all say dumb things that we look back on later with a stomach full of regret. And still, Jesus keeps showing grace when our lips move, and we’re called to do the same.