Dear Grace Church,
Thank you for welcoming me back into your family for a second time this summer: I’ve always been so blessed by the way you’ve graced me with your hospitality and lavished your kindness on me – and I always feel loved by your deacons and your leadership, and I’m honored that you would allow me and place upon on me the yoke of your leadership, and I’m so excited to do life with you. And thus I promise this:
I promise to always serve you, unwaveringly.
I promise to be humble, and to not feed my pride.
I promise to never lose my temper.
I promise to be kind and to be patient.
I promise to meet your every need.
I promise to know the answers to all of your questions, to be a good resource and a fount of wisdom.
I promise that I will be a leader that meets up to your standards.
I promise that I’ll love you unconditionally.
I promise to fail you on all of these accounts, and so much more – without fail.
I will fail you.
I think it’s so much easier to brush off my faults and to polish my strengths and present myself as some sort of super apostle, than it is to tell you the whole truth. And it’s easy for me to think that I’m completely responsible for any failures and successes, and it’s easy for me to present myself to you as some person who’s pursuing Jesus all the time and has unwavering faith and has his life all together. But the truth is:
I’m scared of what you’ll think when you see all of me, and I’m scared that I’m going to mess up and do something wrong. I’m scared that you’ll see all my faults and be disgusted and revolted. I’m afraid you’ll see that I’ve been stretched way too far, and you’ll see all the cracks in my mask. But I think honesty speaks more than a mask.
There’s a song by Bon Iver named, “re:Stacks,” that says,
“This, my excavation and today is Qumran/Everything that happens is from now on…/This is not the sound of a new man/Or crispy realization/It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away…”
Qumran is the excavation site of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and upon the discovery of the literature, it changed the face of Christianity forever – some people’s faith pushed forward, and others’ got shattered.
I think we’re all Qumrans in one way or another, we’re afraid of unearthing the bitterness and the disbelief in us and being transparent with one another. We don’t like to feed the notion that we’re broken, and we’d rather cover our flaws with dust and earth – safe, tucked away, swept under the rug that is the mask called, “I’m fine,” that we put on in front of other people, and especially in front of the mirror.
But we know that brokenness is not new to us. It’s not something life-changing or this stunning realization – it’s something that we need to lift up from the place where we’ve earthed it and brush off the dust.
One thing I’ve realized is that our excavations are not something to fear, but to be embraced; knowing our brokenness will change everything.
I’m an Asian-American with immigrant parents, just like you are – I know full well what it’s like to go to church just for the sake of keeping up appearances or “doing the right thing.” The expectations and the standards for perfection loom on us – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just how we’re raised.
But it’s easy to hide our brokenness, our flaws, our mistakes. We paint over everything and sweep it under the rug. We act like we’re fine.
We often forget that it is because our brokenness that we draw near to God.
My pastor at the Church of the Beloved says that there’s this danger that we often face of “Gospel and…”
“And” could be followed by anything:
Gospel and Church
Gospel and Works
Gospel and Retribution
Gospel and Expectation
Gospel and Reputation
What does this mean? It means that we add to the Gospel, we add to what has already been done. And this dramatically affects how we treat ourselves, how we view God, and how we interact with others.
If we had really believed what the Gospel tells us, there’d be no need to keep face or hold some sort of reputation:
My pastor eloquently put it like this:
“We are all filthy bastards.”
Ouch. But he’s not wrong.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” states,
“You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.”
There is nothing that we can do to obtain salvation or God’s grace on our own. No matter the amount of good we do or the piety we claim to possess: there is absolutely nothing that can stand before the Holy God before his court of Law.
To say that of our works merit our salvation would be like this:
Let us say that there are two men: Jimmy and Bobby. Jimmy and Bobby are standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon before a Supreme Being at the end of their lives, and this Being tells both of them they have to jump to the other side. However, in its graciousness, the Being allows them to have a running start depending on their devotion to itself and their good works. Jimmy doesn’t really care about religion and about doing good, so Jimmy doesn’t get a headstart. Bobby, on the other hand, attended religious services and gave food to the poor and read the holy books every day and prayed to the Supreme Being three times a day. Bobby is allowed a thirty-step headstart.
So who will reach the other side?
Even if our works could give us some merit, it all amounts to absolutely nothing to a Holy God – nothing of what we could ever conceive to do could ever bridge the gap that is between us and God. That is not to say that giving alms to the poor and reading the Bible is not good, these things are so good, but they’re not the basis of our salvation. Grace is.
And Grace changes everything.
So why do we point the finger? Why do we tear each other down based on arbitrary things?
Once we realize that our brokenness is irreconcilable apart from the goodness and kindness of God, it changes how we act.
There no longer becomes a reason to put up walls with one another.
There no longer becomes a reason for gossip.
There no longer becomes any barrier to love each other well.
There no longer is a gap between experiencing and falling in love with God.
It’s because Grace and unconditional Love are given to us that we are loved well. Thus we love other people, unconditionally, perhaps, undeservedly.
This is hard: it means that we don’t love people because they deserve love, we love people because they need it. And we need it as well. People’s merit no longer becomes the basis on which we bestow Love, but simply because they are.
And this is the picture of the Church – a collection of broken people pursuing Wholeness.
We love the broken because we are broken.
My friend, Hope Wood, and I were chatting over breakfast one day, and she said something to the effect of, “To be the Image of God is to Love.” We love in our brokenness. And in Love we find Wholeness.
Brokenness is the human language and by it, we grieve, we rejoice, and we know each other. We long for our ribcages to collapse, for it’s then our hearts crumble into each other. To recognize our brokenness gives way to greater love: I love people more because I know how awful and how broken of a human being I am. We know the aching of tired bones and crushed hearts. How could we not stretch out our hands when we know the pain we all feel? All we want is to be loved, and to be loved well. And so I love you. I really do.
I love you.
There’s a band I really like, and in one of their songs, “Nothing, Save the Power That They’re Given,” they sing,
“These words might mean nothing/But it’s a chance I’m willing to take/Cause maybe I’m wrong and lives can change/I’m singing out of my insecurity/So someone, somewhere might be impacted by what I’ve made…/God, we’d give anything just to feel safe/Deep down, we all know our worth/We just need someone to truly love us first/So we tip toe around these crowded rooms/Hoping someone in attendance might be able to dress our wounds…”
We just need someone to love us first. And God loves us first. Thus, we must love in our brokenness.
And we are loved perfectly, in our brokenness.
So I don’t want to be your leader and be all that and be extra, or act like I’m sort of pious “better-than-you.” Because the reality is that I’m just like every single one of you.
I doubt. I fidget. I fail. I get angry. I get sad. I have problems. I feel wrecked. I mess up. I feel unlovable. I cringe with the pain and slip-ups of my past. I hate God sometimes. Sometimes Jesus just becomes a sedative I take to numb the pain when it gets too tough. I’m honestly so broken.
These words that I pen are not the words of a new, flawless being, or some profound revelation. These are the words of a cracked and stretched man who craves Grace.
So, I don’t want to make all these promises on the premise that it’s me that’s going to fulfill them: that’s God’s place to completely satisfy them. And that is not to say I won’t try to satisfy them, but I know that no matter how hard I try, I’ll fail you. And I think that’s okay. God is in the failures just as much as he is in the successes. And the more I realize I’m so inadequate, the more I need God to fill in my gaps and to be my strength. So I’ll try my best – because I love you, and I know what it’s like to be broken – and it’s God’s place to fill your needs and wants. We are often left wanting when we place our hope in the things of Man.
St. Augustine of Hippo says in his Confessions, “…You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”
We are made to draw near and find ourselves quiet, content in God – in all of our brokenness. And God makes beautiful things out of the broken things, out of the ashes and the dust.
We forget about 1 Corinthians 13 a lot. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Love is patient. It’s kind. It’s not proud. It’s not dishonoring, nor self-seeking.
It doesn’t keep record of wrongs.
So be it far from me to be this Pharisee, a harsh man, and crush you under the weight of Jesus: I should know not to do that more than anybody else – I know how painful and deep the wounds are that the Church inflicts. I know what it is to be let down, time and time again by the Church. And I am sorry. Let me instead be as our God, who stooped down from infinite heights to wash dirty feet. I am not above my Master.
I want to Love with and Love you. I want to share in your ups and your downs. I want to share in your joys and your grievings; to eat and to drink, to share in your lives with you. I want to be a part of your lives. I want to Love you if you’ll let me. I’ll scream it from the rooftops, and I won’t hesitate to tell every single one of you with pleasure:
I love you.
Jesus loves you.
To quote the same band, from a different song called, “We Will Never Be the Same,”
“Let the Kingdom fall on this place/Those who have never felt Your love/Feel Your warm embrace/We will proclaim Your continuing creation/Made evident by our many reconciliations/The blind will see/The deaf will hear/Loving with every ounce of our being/We are made whole as we draw near./We will see Your purpose brought about on this earth…/…we can pick up our tools and chisel away at this life/Revealing a perfect plan/This world is not past redeeming/Creating perfection will take quiet patience/And a love that’s enduring/We will not stray/We will not tarry/And in the end, we’ll see all unbelief dead and buried.”
Let the Kingdom fall on our church, our family. And let others know God by our Love.
Let us adore Truth, and love the Law with Love and with Grace – the Gospel is powerful enough without the rules we presume so harshly upon each other.
Isn’t it lovely that the first of Jesus’s miracles in the Gospel of St. John is the Wedding at Cana? It isn’t a miracle focused on simply the well-being and the health of people, like his other miracles of healing. But it’s a miracle focused on the abundance and the providing nature of God. He provided for the joy of the wedding, for the pleasure of the bride and her bridegroom. He doesn’t want us to just survive. He wants us to thrive. And so we make merry with the wine of Cana – “Ah, Jesus of Nazareth! Truly, You have saved the best for last!” we sing. And the wine of the Nazarene pours down through the ages, into our yearning and tired souls. He cares for our brokenness. He cares for our joy, not just our salvation. Truly, he has saved the best for us – Love. And Love commands the new day and Love commands the Church. And Love changes everything.So let’s run this race together.
And let’s be broken together.
It’s God who loves us and
God who makes us lovely.
Let’s fall in Love with Jesus.
Love from Your Future Resident Dweeb,