I’ve been sitting here flipping through my worn-out copy of Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace?
(Have I said enough times on this blog how much I love Philip Yancey? No? I mean, I can always say it again: Oh, how I LOVES me some Philip Yancey!)
Anyway, I’m just in the mood to throw out some random quotes and stories from this great and, for me, life-shaping book. And I can find jewels on literally every page of this book. For instance, here’s one I love — with C. S. Lewis! — that Yancey included:
During a British conference on comparative religion, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s all the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.
A quote Yancey uses from Frederick Buechner:
People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart. They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the Lamb ….
Oh, and if you haven’t read this book, read it — read it for the chapter called “Grace-Healed Eyes” about Christian author and Yancey’s friend, Mel White, a gay man who stayed in the closet for YEARS, was married, was a ghostwriter for very prominent Christian figures and what happened when he eventually came out of the closet. That whole chapter just staggers me, what it says about grace and “ungrace,” as Yancey calls it. Here’s a brief story:
A network television crew did a segment in which they interviewed Mel, his wife, his friends, and his parents. Remarkably, Mel’s wife continued to support him and speak highly of him after the divorce; she even wrote the foreword to his book. Mel’s parents, conservative Christians and respected pillars of the community (Mel’s father had been his city’s mayor), had a tougher time accepting the situation. After Mel broke the news to them, they went through various stages of shock and denial.
At one point, a TV interviewer asked Mel’s parents on-camera, “You know what other Christians are saying about your son. They say he’s an abomination. What do you think about that?”
“Well,” Mel’s mother answered in a sweet, quavery voice, “he may be an abomination, but he’s still our pride and joy.”
That line has stayed with me because I came to see it as a heartrending definition of grace. I came to see that Mel White’s mother expressed how God views every one of us. In some ways we are all abominations to God — All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God — and yet somehow, against all reason, God loves us anyhow. Grace declares that we are still God’s pride and joy.
And lastly (for now anyway!) here’s a description Yancey includes of a scene in the movie Ironweed. I love this:
The characters played by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep stumble across an old Eskimo woman lying in the snow, probably drunk. Besotted themselves, the two debate what they should do about her.
“Is she drunk or a bum?” asks Nicholson.
“Just a bum. Been one all her life.”
“And before that?”
“She was a whore in Alaska.”
“She hasn’t been a whore all her life. Before that?”
“I dunno. Just a little kid, I guess.
“Well, a little kid’s something. It’s not a bum and it’s not a whore. It’s something. Let’s take her in.”
The two vagrants were seeing the Eskimo woman through the lens of grace. Where society say only a bum and a whore, grace saw “a little kid,” a person made in the image of God no matter how defaced that image had become.
Maybe that’s what all the rumpus is about.