Saturday, June 16, 2012

Low-Fat Grace

I make fun of worship songs.

There. I said it. Sure, I know, everyone has an annoying habit. Mine just happens to be sacrilegious.

I’ve ruined several worship songs (and even—gasp!—a few hymns) for my friends by making sarcastic comments related to lines of fluff or bad poetry.

One of my favorite little gems is in the song “He Loves Us”: “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” It makes me picture a giant whirlpool of death, which is not the image that usually comes to mind when I think of Jesus saving us. I mean, if grace is a riptide ocean, who’s the lifeguard, Satan?

(I’m probably alienating a large portion of my audience. So let me make this disclaimer: I do believe He loves us, oh how He loves us, oh how He loves us, oh how He loves. I’m just not crazy about the song, whether or not the version contains the “sloppy wet kiss” line.)

The people who defend the line tell me it shows that God’s grace is vast and overwhelming. At which point I snobbishly point to a stanza in “The Love of God”: “Could we with ink the ocean fill / And were the skies of parchment made / Were every stalk on earth a quill / And every man a scribe by trade / To write the love of God above / Would drain the ocean dry / Nor could the scroll contain the whole / Though stretched from sky to sky.” And I say something like, “Top that, Chris Tomlin.”

They’re right, though. God’s grace is vast and overwhelming and beyond our comprehension and description. Maybe it’s a little bigger, a little more dangerous, than we like to let on.

As you can probably tell from my critique of worship music, I am a spiritual analyzer. I run sermons through the exegetical grid of Scriptural integrity before deciding to apply them to my life. I’m suspicious of megachurches, megaministries, and megacoffee-bars-that-might-be-churches-or-ministries. I argue with authors of Christian nonfiction, even authors who are dead (sorry, Deitrich Bonhoeffer).

But the love and grace of God scare me. They’re too limitless. Paul was right in saying that God’s love is wide and deep and long and high—too wide and deep and long and high for my grids and logic and analysis.

Instead of responding to this radical love with worship, I take God’s grace down to a level that I’m comfortable with, like I’m adjusting the volume on the radio.

Since I don’t know how to love a God who loves eternally and perfectly, I try not to ask for much and I don’t give much in return. I accomplish things for God. I follow rules. I give to others like it’s going out of style. And I love God with my mind and part of my strength, but not my heart because that’s hard. That’s not comfortable. I can do disciplines but not dancing, intellectual assent but not intimate adoration.

If grace is an ocean, I want to wade in the kiddie pool instead. Won’t that be fun?

I’m like the person who goes into Starbucks with a coupon for a free drink and orders a small low-fat latte without the whipped cream. (And, yes, I know the technical term is “tall,” but I refuse to use it because it makes no sense.)

I’m Cinderella who sees her sparkling ball gown and says, “Well, that’s nice, but I thought the pink dress the mice stole from my stepsisters earlier was serviceable. Can’t you give me that one instead?”

I’m writing half-hearted valentines and eating stale doughnut holes from last Tuesday's meeting and reading vacation brochures with my suitcases firmly tucked away. And I’m okay with that.

Except when I’m not.

Because sometimes, I wonder if I can really love other people if I don’t know how to love God. Sometimes, I long to be able to read Scripture and feel it instead of just understanding it. Sometimes, I read Jesus’ parables and see myself, but in all the wrong characters.

Like the story of the Prodigal Son. In that story, the other brother was just a few yards from the door. He hadn’t wandered off to distant lands like his brother. He never left home.

But he was so much farther away.

How could someone be so close and still so far?

He forgot how to celebrate, that’s how. He forgot how to love, and that’s probably because he forgot how to receive love.

That’s me. I’m the other brother, getting splinters from the porch and wishing the partiers inside would tone it down so I can ponder how much more spiritual I’m being.

Maybe that’s you too. Maybe the porch is getting crowded.

But guess what? The party’s still going on. The Father wants us to join.

And I know this is going to sound pathetic, but I’m afraid to go in alone. When I said God’s grace and love scare me, I meant it. It’s not comfortable for me to be emotional in worship or personal in prayer. I don’t know what to do next, how to grow, what a deeper relationship with God looks like.

Another songwriter said, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.” Which is true, I guess, but rather lonely.

So I want to ask: will you come with me? I don’t know what you’re learning right now, or what God is nudging you to do differently. All I know is, the porch is pretty lonely. Nobody wants to stay out here, on the fringes of grace—at least, they shouldn’t.

Okay. Here it goes. Deep breath.

It’s party time.


  1. Sometimes, I wish I was really dumb, so I would know for sure that I'm a Christian in my heart -- without the mind as a distraction.