With Grace

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I have been (re) reading Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, the central idea of which is that the church has gone the way of the world in dealing with people who are different; with judgement and disdain rather than grace. For a book from 1997, it does not by any means feel dated, somehow remaining current not least for the issues it tackles; issued which defined the late Nineties but still continue to define our current epoch than anything else – homosexuality and the moral failings of people in leadership, temporal and spiritual.

Only a few short weeks – barely a month – separates us from the landmark decision made by the US Supreme Court in ruling that same sex couples can marry nationwide. The 5-4 decision was perhaps indicative of how closely fought the battle was – each of the dissenting judges wrote an opinion. Christian America has not taken the ‘affront’ lying down with a range of responses from declaring the decision the final sin that will bring an apocalytic judgement on America to a few more nuanced – and blatantly fence-sitting responses from the likes of Brian Houston and TD Jakes amongst others.

There are no simple solutions or answers to the conundrum the church faces. On the one hand, gay activists have become a lot more militant, keen to take on the supposedly disciminatory message of the traditional evangelical position of an active homosexual lifestyle as being sinful. The church has often had to respond from a defensive position, one in which it has been forced to attempt to distance itself from the discriminatory labels activitist throw about. Others more biblically knowledgeable and aware than I am have widely differing positions on the subject, but in my lay man’s head I cannot think of any context in which Romans 1: 21-26 is not a damning indictment of the homosexual lifestyle, as a punishment for turning away from God. The science, on the other hand, suggests – not quite conclusively perhaps – that nature, and genetics, play a part in sexual orientation. If that is true, then roundly vilifying LGBTQ folk is akin to racism, an equivalence quite a number of activists for gay rights have often made.

One of the more emotive chapters in Yancey’s book is the one in which he talks about his friend Mel White, and the fall out of his coming out. In the space of a short time, he went from being a celebrated evangelical icon to being a pariah. That his coming out meant the end of a long term marriage in which children were involved can’t have helped, but the vast majority of people he had been associated with – he ghost wrote for a number of high profile evangelicals – ended up shunning him, and distancing themselves from him.

The model of Grace Yancey espouses is one in which although we accept a difference in opinion and theology, rather than roundly treating others with disdain and responding with defensiveness, or even going on the attack, we treat them graciously, as people carrying the Imago Dei first and foremost and thus deserving of love and respect rather than as adversaries primarily.There are no guarantees the battle will be won by Grace – at least it will guarantee that we get the chance to speak and be listened to.

We, like the best and the worst of the earth, are sinners saved by Grace. Unless we never forget that, we will be sucked into the trap of Gracelessness.

**Update**
Since I originally wrote this, I have since read Walter Kirn’s excellent essay on Mormonism (Confessions of an ex-Mormon in which from his perspective as an ex-Mormon he somehow hits the nail on the head on what church is perhaps is (or should be) really about:

God doesn’t work in mysterious ways at all, but by enlisting assistants on the ground. Sometimes the stories don’t work, or they stop working. Forget about them; find others. Revise. Refocus. A church is the people in it, and their errors. The errors they make while striving to get things right.

Well said, Walter!!!

About Town: Slivers of summer, art in the ‘Deen and stumbling on my first Tartan Parade

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The sun is out, belatedly, and in its weakly warm, barely there, almost autumnal pall I feel a small sense of relief that summer has not passed us by in its entirety out here in our little wind swept corner of the world. Not since the back end of May have we had weather remotely resembling summer; and with this tiny sliver of sunshine comes the urge to go out and do something. Thankfully Union Square with all its delights – and sun bathed open spaces – is only a brisk ten minute walk away from work, so I make a few phone calls and get my two friends from across town to agree to a meetup to catchup over lunch.  We end up – and there must be no prizes for guessing here – at Nandos and we order our now standard fare, a platter of peri-peri chicken and a variety of sides to share. I go for a mixed leaf salad – between Sister #1 and the Irish drinkard, calorie counting has become my new obsession. My buddies, not shackled by the need to rein in bulging waistlines – both go for other less healthy options; OOO going for two sides of rice and Og going for a large serving of peri-peri salted chips. Between placing my initial order, and getting my loyalty card swiped, it turns out my last but one visit has entitled me to an extra half serving of chicken, which I add to my current order. All told we end up binging on a chicken and a half in the hour we spend there. Fully fed, with sagging guts and brains groaning at the small matter of another four hours of work, we down our coffees and leave to start heading back up to work. Having safely dispatched them to their cars, I settle in on one of the benches in front of the Union Square building to catch another half hour of sunshine before heading back to work.

This weekend the main objective is to make a pit stop at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre for Contemporary art. Nestled in the inauspicious surroundings that are the dark alleys, grey facades and, quite honestly, intimidating faces that define Castle Street in my mind’s eye (thanks to the bits I see on my daily walk to work), I have never given the sign at its entrance anything more than a cursory glance. It has taken an unlikely sequence of events – being hounded to find a hobby that involves more than reading a book in my room by my unofficial strategy consultant, then taking to twitter to search for accounts related to Aberdeen and then stumbling on the @TheKiosque account – I find out there is more to the Peacock Centre, and that Alina & Jeff Bliumis’ Language barrier and other obstacles exhibition opens there this weekend. I have to ask the young woman at the till at Barnados next door before I locate the entrance after I have dragged myself out of bed and into jeans and a crumpled shirt with a jacket on Saturday morning, but it is well worth the effort in the end. I find the exhibition small but intriguing. The collection appeared to be in three parts – one themed along the lines of having thoroughfares obstructed by books on language and identity, a second titled ‘Cultural Tips for new Americans providing witty, if over stated explanations for peculiar Americanisms like male to male hugs (they have a book too) and a final section of postcards with words and images seemingly from various immigration brochures. There was a Nigerian card too.

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Exhibition viewing done and dusted I decide I need to grab some groceries and begin to head back out to Union Street to my usual Co-op shop. I find the road closed off and a man in a Tartan entertaining a rapidly swelling crowd, alongside his partner dressed in a dog’s costume. There is also the distant sound of drums and bagpipes. It turns out that Saturday the 28th is this year’s Tartan Day, and I have fortuitously stumbled on the Tartan Parade. In short order, the marching band comes through, up Union Street to where I am positioned close to the Sheriff Court where at a bellowed command they turn left to salute the Mayor (I think), who is dressed in his own tartan of course. My groceries are promptly forgotten as I take the chance to revel in the gaiety of it all – funny happy people, music and being literally lost in the crowd – a glimpse into Scottish culture I suppose.

All told, rain or not – and it did rain in fits and starts –  I had what was arguably my most enjoyable weekend in a long time. The only downer being the nagging thought at the back of my mind that I may have discovered the joys of this city a little too late, in what -if I had my way – just might be, my last year here.