So when I step out on to the front porch this morning, there’s a Bible right there at my feet, ripped up into a million mocking shreds.
The Sermon on the Mount is torn and chewed and spit out by the BBQ, like the whole thing could be tinder for some kind of burnt sacrifice gone terribly wrong.
Fragments of the slashed-up gospels look like papery ash fallen on all the hostas.
The spine of some kid’s Bible left out on the porch on a Sunday is splayed like a ruptured mess on Monday, like the intestinal innards have been gutted and left for a circling swoop of lazy, misguided vultures.
Our new red Lab puppy, who’s grown more into a gangly, vandalizing teenage canine, is the guilty who sprawls himself unashamedly and smirking across the pages of Isaiah.
And all I can hear is what I’ve been hearing all summer — this deafening echo that I can’t shake in the face of a miserable stream of headlines, in the noise of guffawing comment threads, in the crowd of running Facebook commentary:
You know they’re laughing at us all, right?
You know they’re laughing at us all, right?
They’re laughing at us because some evangelist has been out panhandling a campaign this summer for his own 65 million dollar private jet because apparently there are people going around proclaiming personal jets are “necessary to spread God’s word,” because a luxury private jet is, in his words, “standard operating procedure for people of faith” — when in developing countries every second pregnant woman and about 40% of preschool children are estimated to be anemic and 1 billion poor people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less.
They’re laughing at us because some hackers slapped a site named Ashley Madison too hard on the proverbial back and the old girl, with her brazen tag line, “Life is short. Have an Affair” —- she coughed up the names of more than a few million account holders who paid bona fide bucks to hook them up with someone to aid and abet them in their premeditated decision to make a sham of their marriage vows. Ashley Madison hacked up more than one or two names of some well known, soul-hurting Christians.
You don’t want to know how the gossip and social media sites howled. Maybe I read to0 many of those sites and heard their ringing howling… maybe my own howl isn’t one of anger — but of heart-rendering grief and broken lament.
I have no idea where to start cleaning up the mess of this Bible that’s been pulverized across our front porch, the lawn.
For a thousand torn and slivered reasons, I want to slump against the door and just cry.
Don’t think for one split hurting minute, that heaven’s not weeping.
I’d heard it last week, through some choking grapevine or other, about these new adult colouring books, about how there’s these 4 adult colouring books in the top 10 at Amazon, millions selling like hot cakes for the burnt out, a way for a harried world to decompress and destress, by pulling out some Crayola.
So what if — the idea went — what if somebody married the idea of pretty adult colouring pages with some calming, soothing Jesus quotes, with a bit of the very Word of God — and packaged the whole thing to hit the shelves by Easter?
What if — while there’s nothing sinful or wrong or detrimental about the colouring itself, or about colouring books, because a creative God uses creative ways to draw Him to Himself — but just what if our motivation, our basic framework, was not ultimately about slowing people down to reflect on Christ as they coloured, but in about us ultimately making a quick buck?
Yeah, just in time for that gravy train headed toward Easter— you know, that time of year when we fall flat on our faces before the Cross of Christ because the Creator of the Cosmos rent open a vein and drained Himself dry for a hemorrhaging-to-death world. Which, you never know, might be the perfect time for us to go around peddling pretty colouring books?
You know they’re out there laughing at us all, right?
They’re laughing at us because we make the Gospel a comedy with our hypocrisy, and our lack of monogamy, and our puffed up religiosity and dishonesty and our self-righteous animosity.
They’re laughing at us because we trivialize the Gospel because we monetize it… because we cheapen it and we sell it, because we make ourselves comfortable with it —- instead of dying for it.
In the midst of a lot of messes out there and in us, the world’s laughing at us because:
Christians grant all kinds of grace for one of their own men down —- but they cast all kinds of stones for anyone they look down their noses at —— anyone who doesn’t live like them, make choices like them, believe like them.
How can we shield our own from the media, but take to social media to sling more than an arrow or two at those with different lifestyle choices, different politics, different beliefs?
How can we have amazing grace for all of our own people — but have amazingly quick finger pointing for all who aren’t?
Sometimes we could howl for the ache of all this aching world.
When we are against abortion but are for the cutting of social safety nets, when our political agendas are loud but our daily schedules are pretty quiet about serving people different than us, when we get up on our soapboxes about morality but don’t get out of our comfortable boxes to make real friends with those who live a different lifestyle —— we look like we’re more about pro-birth than we are pro-life, we look like we’re more about self-preservation than community transformation, we look like we’re more about judgement than Jesus.
The life of Jesus would radically suggest: The most conservative in theology, should be the most liberal in loving.
The life of Jesus would radically suggest: Don’t advertise your beautiful faith without advertising your broken-down faults — because those broken-down faults are the exact reason why you need your beautiful faith.
The life of Jesus would radically suggest: This Cheap Grace is costing the Church its voice.
Cheap grace is this bland vanilla comfortableness, that only wants to taste remorselessly palatable, only wants to gain societal approval and popular acceptability and robust bank accounts — and risk nothing.
Like Bonhoeffer said: “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion —- are thrown away at cut prices.
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Well, then —- let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life…” [Bonhoeffer]
Just because grace is free, it is never cheap — but because it is free, there are too many who have held it cheaply.
So what of costly grace?
Costly grace will cost you absolutely nothing, but it will demand that you risk absolutely everything.
Costly grace isn’t some lucky door prize we win so that we can become bullying bouncers at the door. Costly grace comforts us in our sin — but never once confirms anyone in any sin.
Costly grace will cost you nothing — and it will cost you your credit-card comfort, your immediate-gratification, your hidden self-stroking pleasure-idols, your financial ladder-climbing, and your lone-wolf, self-made man self-sufficiency.
The Gospel will not dare be mocked: Costly grace is completely free — and it will cost you your complete life.
Those pages of that Bible blowing out across the lawn and in the garden—- The Bible is full of hypocrites — the Bible is full of liars and cheaters and mockers and deceivers, adulterers, peddlers, panhandlers, elitists and hypocritical crooks — and the Bible is full of a costly grace for every single one of them — which gives every single one of the likes of us appalling, relentless hope.
It’s never our unwavering clinging to God in our brokenness, but God’s unwavering carrying of us through our brokenness — that holds all the broken in a healing love.
Grace like this reads like a cosmic joke — that is absolutely no joke. It’s a cosmic lifeline and there isn’t one of us who doesn’t need it.
You can laugh your way all to the bank with this one: Grace has completely bought out karma — but it wasn’t cheap grace. It cost Jesus everything — and it will cost us our whole lives to thank Him for it.
“The call of every Christian is to come pick up a Cross and come die.” [Bonhoeffer]
The call every single day is to stop the trivialization and monetization and humiliation of the Gospel — and instead internalize it, to incarnate it, to inflame it. To be healed by it, because you are indebted to it.
And because there is more than enough healing Jesus-grace for those fallen inside our Church doors —- we could be the people who will brazenly have enough healing Jesus-grace for those fallen outside our Church doors.
The paper-chewing dog circles my legs like a kid begging love… like the whole hurting tribe of us begging love. I pick up the torn up Word. And draw that beggar canine close in all this loving light.
The laughter at us could become laughter with us, all of us laughing — the way it is when a costly grace rains down relief on all our open wounds —-
and you can’t help but dance, all the broken and busted tearing up the dark.