how glorious a human heart

grace jealousy.

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, down we go, faith shifts, healing, identity 19 Comments

I started writing this post over three years ago but never got very far. However, this thought has come back to me a lot over the past several weeks I thought I’d finish this half-baked thought.

Plus, today’s my birthday and I have been a bit nostalgic, thinking of the things I wish I had learned earlier, the things I’m so grateful I’m learning now, the things I am willing to stand on tables for, and the things that I just don’t have the energy for anymore.

One of the things I’m willing to stand on tables for is advocating for the marginalized, the oppressed, those-whose-voices-are-silenced, those whose dignity is constantly being stripped in different ways, and for healthier systems.

One of the things I don’t have the energy for anymore is getting into circular arguments about scriptural interpretations and up-in-the-sky theology (which we spend countless hours on while the world’s crying out for hope) or trying hard to convince churched people they have brokenness, too, that they are just like “those people” that they want to try to help or save.  It is just too tiring.

It reminds me of a fight I had over a decade ago with a big-wig leader at our old church over use of the word “desperate.”  He said it was offending people and making them feel uncomfortable. When I look back, it is all so comical, having to defend that the word “desperate” would be acceptable in a church.  (Oh, yeah, and “messy” and “broken” were off the list then, too, too offensive and not where the people-who-gave-a-lot-of-money lived). But in the moment it wasn’t too funny, and I kept advocating for it.

There are some things worth looking dumb for…for a while at least.

I don’t think desperate is a stretch when I read the gospels. I think of all kinds of characters finding their way toward Jesus for healing, like a moth to a flame. And then even the put together ones are desperate enough to seek him, too–the Roman centurion in Mark 8, desperate for his daughter to be healed. Even Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, sneaking off in the night to find out more.

When I was told not to use the word “desperate” anymore, I knew my days were probably numbered at that church. In that moment, across the table from this put-together, considered-one-of-the-wisest-leaders-in-our-church, upstanding Christian citizen, I had this thought that has lingered all these years afterward–I wonder if he just might be jealous of grace.

Grace jealousy.

What I mean by “grace jealousy” is that when we have worked our butts off for years growing in our faith, attending church, abiding by the “rules” of the systems we came from, applying biblical “truth” a certain way, and then all of a sudden people break out of that and start doing things we weren’t supposed to do and still get “in”, it can piss us off in some weird, probably-beyond-words way.

I don’t bring up that story to point the finger at him; that wouldn’t be fair, and it was years ago, a distant memory. But it has made me wonder if grace jealousy is at the root of the resistance to people’s faith shifts. To the heated conversations about LBGQT and the church. Or part of the reason why recovery ministry is so difficult to integrate into the wider church. And maybe an underlying reason the divide between “us” and “them” continues to be perpetuated.

I keep thinking maybe it’s maybe at the heart of a lot of the battles in the conservative-progressive conversations.

It’s a “wait a second, I’ve been adhering to the law and then they get an easy shortcut? That’s not fair!”

Hmmm, sounds like pretty much everything Jesus was talking about related to the law. And reminds me of the story of the woman who busts into Simon the Pharisee’s house and the tension between pride and humility.

Just like way back when, we human beings still struggle with radical grace, radical inclusion, radical honesty, radical freedom.

Grace jealousy really can ruin us, individually.

And as systems, too.

When we are people pleasers, rule followers, law-adherers, it can trip a wire in us when other people get away with not playing by our internal (and external) rules. It feels unfair and wrong somehow.

“Hey, if we don’t get to be free, you don’t either” rears its head in all kinds of crazy ways.

I am wondering out loud if somehow this is the reason so many people fight so hard for “the law.”

Maybe it’s about being jealous of grace and freedom.

I know I can be jealous sometimes, especially when I have a voice in my head that says, “You should _______” or “Hey, you are working so hard; how come they get off the hook?” or “But, what about ______?

I know, more clearly than ever, that I never ever want to be jealous of another person’s grace or freedom.

It’s a glorious thing to celebrate.

I think grace jealousy might point to something deeper inside of us, inside many church systems, that is afraid to receive, afraid to let go of, afraid to be free from.

What do you think?