I imagine him saying to me, “Krin, what is the one thing you learned from decades of being in church?”
It wasn’t the existence of God. I found this in other faiths. My own spiritual experiments helped me intuit the all-encompassing presence of an “otherness.”
It wasn’t the importance of worship. I found this hiking at alpine heights, gazing into the Milky Way, opening my soul to sunrise at the ocean’s edge.
It wasn’t the story of Jesus; I found this in films and books on comparative religion.
It wasn’t a Golden Rule, the common sense of every human culture.
It wasn’t living in community. I found this in other civic organizations.
It wasn’t the Fruit of the Spirit, those admirable traits of character. I found them in the wisdom of many writers, artists, organizers, even the tenets of human potential movements.
It wasn’t love, since love springs from even the most depraved hearts.
No, it was something far more powerful. It was love with an earth-shattering twist. It was GRACE, a gift of love to the undeserving. Even now, I can track its presence in my life like a golden thread.
I remember sitting next to my parents in the Lutheran church of my childhood. It was a Good Friday service, shrouded in shadow. I was 12 years old. We saw Jesus kneeling in Gethsemane, crying out “Take this bitter cup!” We cringed at the bloody injustice meted out by powers of state and religion. We read of his mercy to a condemned criminal. And then, those immortal words rang out, uttered with his last breath, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And it struck my young mind like a bolt that he was willing to accept this sacrifice on my behalf. MY BEHALF. By that time, I was aware of my baser motives. I was struggling with my identity, filled with self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy.
And yet, on my behalf…
I don’t believe in substitutionary atonement. Jesus wasn’t a ransom paid, as if God required blood to balance some great Levitical scale of justice. To me, the cross cries out “Grace!” It’s a scandalous, counter-culture glimpse into the nature of Divine love. It is on our behalf because it is meant to be the Star of Bethlehem, ever guiding, ever instructing.
It led me to a calling and vocation. It compelled me to serve the unloved, those living not just in physical poverty, but in the impoverished notions of their worth based on society’s lies.
And when I stumbled, wrestling with self-centeredness, my demons and addictions, I heard the words Christ spoke to Paul during his own dark night, “My grace is sufficient for you. Because my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Grace. Often untested. Unpracticed. Impractical in a world of pyramids, politicians, and powder kegs.
But you know what? If all of us could live more fully by this one thing – GRACE – I’d agree with Curly. Nothing else would seem as important.