Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grace Is Free (Marts)

About the Author: Pepper Marts is a member of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a deep interest in the Church’s polity, he is a founding director of the Episcopal Information Network and editor of Network News. As a reporter he has covered General Conventions of the Episcopal Church since Philadelphia in 1997. The article below was written just over a decade ago as the introduction to a resource booklet for the first “Beyond Inclusion” conference at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Sad to say, the piece required very little in the way of updating. Nevertheless. . . Excelsior!

Grace Is Free – Lunch Is . . .
(by Pepper Marts)

choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua 24:15( NIV)

… I say to this Church that there will be no outcasts.
Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning

When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Joshua climbs the mounded rocks at Shechem and speaks to the crowd. Canaan’s conqueror recounts salvation history and makes the ringing declaration: “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Imagine his sigh of relief: Thank God that’s over with! Now imagine Joshua’s surprise when he discovers that the decision cannot be taken once, for all; it will be a daily challenge.

How easy it is for Anglicans of a certain bent (I like to think of it as the gospel bent: an inclination toward love) to consider Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Right Reason, then come down squarely on the side of inclusion. But can even this decision be taken once, for all? At his installation as Presiding Bishop some two decades past, the Rt Revd Edmund L. Browning declared: “I say to this Church that there will be no outcasts.” How many times afterward was that dear and gracious man forced to take that decision again? What opprobrium and calumny did he bear for deciding each time that the Episcopal Church would consign not even one human person to the darkness?

Early on I learned that decisions have consequences: trusting my weight to a rotten branch; ignoring a parent’s caution; saying to myself “Surely, just this once…” Ah, friends, pain hurts, and most of us try to avoid pain. Sometimes, however, we cannot avoid it. And there are times when even to make the attempt is an act of unfaithfulness.

When an informed conscience leads us to stand against those with authority over us – or more dangerous, those with power over us – we must be prepared for the logical consequences. First, and easiest to identify, is the injury that a dominator may inflict on us and on those whom he identifies with us. Second and far more dangerous to the soul is the temptation to respond in kind: to encourage and become part of a continuing cycle of violence and hatred.

Do not think that I counsel even passive acceptance of domination. No, not at all; for therein lies the sin of complicity. Indeed, failure to name the evil I see and to take action against it is to put my sisters and brothers (and myself) at ever greater risk.

Gandhi, the modern non pariel of proactive non-violence, said he’d rather work with a warrior than a wimp. The warrior can be converted to non-violence; the wimp has courage for nothing – and the courage to be gentle is certainly needed if the opposition are to participate in their own redemption.

Yes, Gandhi was angry with the British: angry with what they had done and with what they were yet doing. But he did not hate the British. We want them to leave India, he said, but to leave as friends.

So we are called to expose evil and hold it up to the light. We must refuse always to countenance evil, whether by silence or by acquiescence or by willful blindness.

And all the while we shall remember that God loves our opponent no less absolutely – and forgives our opponent no less completely – than we ourselves are loved and forgiven. Only in the grace of this certainty can we avoid the snares of objectifying and demonizing. Only so can we plan and build and bind, committed to the glory of love.

The grace of discernment – of insight – lets us identify evil. The grace of congruence – of faithfulness – calls us to name what we see. The grace of hesed – God’s steadfast love – picks up the tab for lunch, then treats us to a double-fudge brownie for dessert.

The story is not yet over. Attempts at domination continue in Communion and Provinces, in dioceses and congregations. Pray for all of us, even as we pray and work for a whole church and a whole creation.


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