The ONE THING I Learned in Church

Before he earned his Oscar in the sequel, Curly (Jack Palance) lifted his finger in City Slickers and told Mitch, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”curly

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.

2 thoughts on “The ONE THING I Learned in Church

  1. Thanks, so true


    As dawn breaches
    night’s depths
    I take up
    this spidersilk
    I am given
    to weave creatively
    through my day

    At times robust and sure
    others fragile and tenuous
    daily I spin a web
    from birth, through life,
    unto death
    oft in tatters by dark’s fall
    tomorrow I begin anew

    This spidersilk
    of hope,
    like a mustard-seed of faith,
    is sufficient
    keeping me anchored
    to the One
    who gives me life

    Never can I comprehend
    such appalling squander –
    He poured out
    his precious life
    in the hope
    of saving me
    and thee

    Kristin Gillespie © June 2014

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