Grace, Wellspring and Compass

‘Tis grace shall bring me home.         –Amazing Grace, Spiritual 

My Lutheran heritage brought me in contact with a theological tradition that talks about grace. We defined it as undeserved love. It was one of the things that demarcated Protestant faith—no penance, praying rosaries, no elaborate ecclesiastical hierarchy. Just grace, plain and simple, accessible to all, given to all, accepted by faith.

But it went deeper than that. It was a whole outlook on life, a way of being that gave forgiveness and compassion because you yourself were forgiven and deeply loved. I felt this from my parents. I was taught to look for it in scripture. I sang about it in church, and later, taught it from the pulpit.

Grace is a powerful thing. As a concept, its theological roots run deep, and it can be found across religions. As a practice, it is a both a spiritual wellspring from which to draw and a moral compass for how to treat others.

Christians anchor God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus. The importance of the crucifixion story, as I now understand it, is as an expression of a universal consciousness of grace as lived out in a singular life, in a particular place and time, and how that life and that time can be in a way redemptive for us all.

There is much to be gleaned from the Bible when it is read from the lens of grace. If by meditating on the Word we find grace, we are the better for it. When the Bible is not read from a place of grace, and for a message of grace, it is easily subsumed by fundamentalism and fearful, protectionist dogma.

But more than that: it needs to be said that the Bible and the story of Jesus are not the only narratives of grace. In a time that seems to be ruled by the grace-less (in every possible sense of the word), we need as many narratives of grace as we can find. I’m looking for them, from all sources of religious thought, as well as from atheist and non-believers.

~~~

What are your stories of grace? Take a moment and share one here. Especially if it involves a character from a non-Christian background or source, I’m deeply interested in hearing that story now.

 

A New Goodness

It’s been a year of new beginnings.

The winter was harsh this year. Spring and summer have seemed especially nice this time around. With the advent of those seasons has come a willingness to allow a new start in myself. Toward some new beliefs, a new community in the Unitarian Universalist faith, and toward a new involvement in ministry.

I used to be a Lutheran pastor. In my Lutheran tradition, being good was about responding to something God has done. We are all born sinners and are completely dependent on God’s work through the sacrifice of Jesus to be saved. God is the initiating actor, who lovingly provides His grace in creating and sustaining us. Goodness was defined as those actions instructed or inspired by God, received through the sacred texts of scripture and through the preaching heard in church.

“Good” means something different to me now. Goodness for me is no longer based in sacred text, or in revelation, or in the actions of a heroic figure on my behalf, or in the creedal codes or commandments of a church. Goodness is based in a grounded view of the real world, the one we actually observe in the present moment, and in how our actions in that real world affect others. (My actions have not always affected others in the best way, but looking to another world for forgiveness does not solve that problem, it only takes our focus off of really understanding our own actions.) Goodness is not based in something that comes from the outside in, but is based in the way we interact and adapt to our world.

Goodness is a way we make meaning for ourselves. We are generative beings, each of us as humans are good in that sense, that we are part of the vital natural world. Goodness comes from within us as we live out our lives, choose actions, and reason over those choices.

Goodness is about being happy, about finding our true potential. It is about being honest and self-expressive. It is about finding the best in every belief, every tradition, and every person. It is about becoming empathic, about caring for those who are Other, especially those who are less privileged or who are abused by those in power.

I believe this to be a more self-expressive definition of The Good. It is creative, loving, and genuinely pluralist.

In this blog I would like to share more about that journey toward a new goodness. I appreciate the chance to explore this new sense of goodness, to unpack what I have said here, to say more about why I have found myself in a different place spiritually. I also want share more about Unitarian Universalism and its faith and practices. My engagement with that community has been a large part of my recovery from my own harsh winter, of discontent with what I had formerly believed.

I've felt a new start this spring.

Shedding beliefs that are no longer relevant to who I am has allowed room for new directions

Winter may be harsh, but it makes spring seem all the more lovely. Thanks for joining me on this journey of self-discovery. I hope that it opens up new vistas of what is “good” for you as well.