I’m Done Being Nice

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
― Henry James

I’ve always been a nice person. By always, of course, I mean overall, not every single moment. But generally speaking, I think even people who don’t like me much probably would describe me as nice. There are many fine behaviors that I lack, but nice I can do.

And therein lies the problem. Nice I can do and have done and in-spite of all my niceness, I’ve remained fundamentally unchanged at my core.

I gradually became aware of the cracks that can’t be papered-over with niceness. My feelings could be easily hurt. I was quick to take offense. But the real tell was that I was critical of other people’s choices when they differed from my own in everything from parenting to politics. I made  character and motive assessments (i.e. He/She is so: raciest, arrogant, judgmental, moody, harsh, deceitful, critical, greedy, selfish, needy, negative etc… )

Get the irony, here? How arrogantly critical and judgmental of me to feel so free to evaluate others. While I kept those thoughts largely to myself, there they were, fermenting and staining my heart.

I’m done being nice. Instead, I want to be kind.

Niceness is a presentation. Kindness is a condition. I want a heart conditioned by grace to be kind. I can be nice in action without being kind-hearted. I can act warm when my thoughts are cold. Kindness requires a depth plumbed by God and infused with His grace.

Nice is pleasant, polite, agreeable, satisfactory. Niceness is about what I do.

Kind is having a sympathetic or helpful nature; having a forbearing (patient) nature; affectionate; loving; gentle. Kindness is about what I am, about what I hope to become.

Being nice wins favor, but being nice is transitory. Niceness easily evaporates in the light of unmet expectations. But out of a kind heart comes compassion and forgiveness and the generous act of thinking of others.

Kindness is spiritual practice. It’s a deep current that runs beneath the surface, supplying the grace to respond to both adversity and adversary with a gentleness that doesn’t come naturally. Grace is required and that grace is abundantly supplied to all Seekers.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

(She Loves Me) Like Jesus Does

I’m a long gone Waylon song on vinyl.
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival.
She believes in me like she believes her Bible.
She loves me like Jesus does.

I’m a left foot leaning on a souped up Chevy.
I’m a good ole boy drinkin’ whiskey and rye on the levee.
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy.
She loves me like Jesus does.

All the crazy in my dreams,
Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am.
She knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t.
That devil, man, he don’t stand a chance.
She loves me like Jesus does.

~ Casey Beathard/Monty Criswell

If they could only use one phrase, what would you like folks to say about you? I found my phrase in a country song playing on the radio on a one and a half- laned road in Texas.

I was channel surfing stations while driving my souped up Chevy (it’s a Silverado with duallys so I guess that’s only semi-souped) down miles of really far back, back roads. Channel surfing in southern Texas means Classic Country, Hot Country, My Country, Top Country, Hit Country or Talk Radio.

Talk Radio was out. I don’t much care for Talk Radio. Talk Radio seems to be mostly a mash-up of shtick and insults. So the only choice was which kind of Country and I’m rusty on that one.

I mostly listen to Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff at home, not because I’m sophisticated, but because I can’t do two things at once anymore. If there are lyrics then I’m listening, which means I can’t read or write or talk much. But on the road, with no other words streaming in, I can drive and listen to music that has lyrics.

The Seek button stopped on Hit Country. The song that was just beginning was Loves Me Like Jesus.

If I hadn’t been halfway lost on my way to the dentist, I would have pulled off the road just to listen and maybe pray. This is what I want people to think when they think of me, to say when they talk about me.

She forgives me when I can’t.

She carries me when my sins make me heavy.

She loves me like Jesus does.

I’m not there yet, but that’s my one phrase. That’s love wrapped in grace.

~

I’m including a YouTube video for those of you who want to hear the rest of the lyrics and the beat behind the message.

All is Grace – A Thank You to Brennan Manning

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is a gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”~ Brennan Manning (Th Ragamuffin Gospel)

Brennan Manning died yesterday, Friday, April 12, 2013. Brennan Manning once helped save my life.

I first read The Ragamuffin Gospel several years after it was published in 1990. Before Brennan, I thought grace was a nice word used in a benediction. I also thought that I was less raggedy than the average muffin.

As the years passed and the cracks in my veneer began to spiderweb, I no longer thought I was a such a fine person. I didn’t see grace as a priceless gift from a loving Father. Grace had become something you fall from and I’d fallen far. And I remembered Brennan.

Re-reading The Ragamuffin Gospel as a broken person was like reading an entirely different book. It became my Life 101 book: God loves you as you are and not as you should be… Abba loves you very much…

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough… ~ Brennan Manning (All is Grace)

I would say Rest in Peace, Brennan, but I don’t think he resting. I think the Father has wrapped His arms around him and is throwing him a party!

Time Heals All Wounds?

Time heals all wounds. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer

I was 19 0n a beautiful Sunday afternoon when a drunk driver crossed the center line doing 65 mph, hitting my Dodge Dart head on. She walked away with some minor cuts. It took the EMTs and the Jaws-of Life to get me out of the wreckage of my little sedan.

After setting my leg and putting 4o stitches in my knee, the on-call doctor began a crisscross of stitches in my jaw. An EMT who’d never left my side repeatedly told the him that there was still a lot of glass in the wound (my head went through the driver’s side window) but the doctor made quick work of it.

For 25 years, the scar that runs right along my jaw line, would inexplicably begin to bleed and a sliver of glass would work it’s way out. Time scarred over the wound. It didn’t heal it.

I’m mystified at the magical or seemingly miraculous power we attribute to time. Time is just a method of measuring minutes and hours and days and years. Time doesn’t have a will or a way to heal wounds. Time passes, period.

When we’re wounded, it’s tempting to try to make quick work of the stitching up. We minimize and deny; we eat too much or too little; we sleep too much or too little; we get angry all the time or refuse to get angry at all; we drink, repress, project, blame, agrue – anything to avoid the temporary pain of digging out the shards. But if we don’t, the unresolved emotions start bleeding out in other areas.

Time doesn’t heal our wounds but healing does take time. It’s what we do in that time that brings or blocks the healing. We can fall back on our quick fix coping skills or we can lean forward on God and ask Him to guide us through the hard work of acknowledging and grieving and forgiving and repenting and accepting and making amends – in His time.

~For added perspective, check out Jan’s post Does Time Heal All Things – Love and Forgiveness!

A Sunday Song – There is a Redeemer

There Is A Redeemer ~ Keith Green

There is a Redeemer
Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God
Messiah, Holy One

Jesus, my Redeemer
Name above all names
Precious Lamb of God
Messiah, O for sinners slain

Thank You, O my Father
For giving us Your Son
And leaving us Your Spirit
‘Til the work on earth is done

When I stand in glory
I will see His face
And there I’ll serve
My King forever
In that holy place

~

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m quiet before God, my mind is flooded with me. Instead remembering my King, I remember my past.

I’ve caused a great deal of pain. I’ve disappointed many. I’ve disappointed me. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve lost my way. I’ve failed. I’ve sinned. Then He reminds me of what I’m called to remember, There is a Redeemer, the Precious Lamb of God, Messiah, O for sinners slain

As Judi says in the very name of her blog, it’s not really about me.

When I stand in glory
I will see His face
And there I’ll serve
My King forever
In that holy place

You’ll find Judi’s post, unfamiliar land  and Deb’s post, No Condemnation here and in the 5 Star posts on the right side bar.

Protestant Guilt

Remember the story in the Imitation, how the Christ on the crucifix suddenly spoke to the monk who was so anxious about his salvation and said “If you knew that all was well, what would you, today, do, or stop doing?”

When you have found the answer, do it or stop doing it. You see, one must always get back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption. “Details, please?” is the answer.  ~ C.S. Lewis

I’ve read many thoughtful blogs tonight. It’s been interesting to find the topic of guilt frequently referenced on both what could be considered secular blogs (in the sense that they aren’t specifically ‘religious’ by intent) and Christian blogs (in that some aspect of Christianity is the primary theme).

There’s secular guilt over everything from diets and gas mileage to world hunger and damage to the ozone layer. There’s abundant religious guilt. The Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur, the ‘day of atonement’, is possibly the most angst-ridden holiday on the Jewish calendar. Atonement is the main theme in the month-long Islamic celebration Ramadan. Hindus and Buddhists worry about their negative karma.

The really famous guilt, of course, is Catholic guilt. I’m not Catholic, so I can only speak to Protestant guilt. If it’s any consolation to my dear Catholic friends, I’ve yet to meet a Catholic who can out-guilt an evangelical or a fundamentalist.

I’m baffled as to why you rarely hear about Protestant guilt, unless it’s because we believe it’s a good and necessary thing? I was a professional guilt-gatherer most of my life. I know the damage such a collection can cause.

Legalism leads to guilt. Grace leads to gratitude. I no longer believe that there’s a place for guilt in the life of a follower of Jesus. I believe in conviction and repentance and remorse, but not guilt.

Do it or stop doing it. Repent, make amends and move on. Only the enemy holds up the rear-view mirror to keep us focused on past mistakes and sins. I’m confident there’s nothing he likes better than to make lame with guilt the leg that grace has already healed.

Merciful Grace

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.              ~ St Francis of Assisi

The words are so familiar. We sing about peace and love and pardon and amazing grace. We talk about faith and hope and light and joy. We extol the goodness and sweetness of the Father’s mercy. I’m just wondering if we, if I, truly recognize the face of grace? Even more convicting, do I wear it? I read a story that made me think, possibly not.

The Bambemba tribe in South Africa has an unusual way of administering justice. A person who’s acted irresponsibly or has done something wrong is brought into the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All the work ceases. Everyone – men, women and children gather in a circle around the accused.

Then each and every person, one by one, speaks to him or her about all the good things that person has done. Can you imagine? The good things! Every incident and every experience that can be recalled is recounted. All the positive attributes, the generous deeds, the strengths and kindnesses are recited at length.

No one is allowed to make things up or exaggerate. It has to be absolutely true and genuine. The ceremony often lasts for several days and it doesn’t end until everyone has said every positive comment possible. Then the circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place as the person is welcomed back into the tribe.

If mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting what we don’t deserve, then this is truly merciful grace.