The Great UP-cycler

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photo from MarthaStewart.com

So there’s a notion that’s been bouncing around evangelical Christianity for a while that God is into recycling. I’m not talking cardboard here, I’m talking pasts. The idea is that God is able to redeem and use our pasts for His purposes when we put our trust in Him. While that is spot on, the idea of the “recycling” metaphor has always bothered me. ¬†You see, when something is recycled, it’s generally destroyed. Paper is pulped. Plastics and metals are melted down. Though it’s always remade into something, the original item is lost. For example, I have a t-shirt that was made from plastic bottles. It looks like a regular cotton t-shirt, nary a bottle in sight. ūüôā It’s a nice shirt, but what constitutes the shirt is completely lost. And, in this case, that’s okay. (Can’t imagine walking around sporting a 6-pack of Dasani.) But the point is that at the end of the day, when something is recycled, it ceases to exist on its own in its original form.

In my experience, the same cannot be said for my past. God hasn’t pulped it. He has pulped the sinful part, if you will–the part that created the chasm between He and I that only Christ could bridge. Absolutely. And it won’t be recycled or reconstituted. It’s gone. But the rest of the experience is still there. The lessons learned. The memories. All there. Not pulped. Not reconstituted. In short, NOT recycled. However, they have been UP-cycled.

Up-cycling is taking something and making it better. Sometimes it is used for a different purpose, sometimes it is used for the original purpose but is more beautiful or more efficient. For example, a recycled jar will be crushed, melted down and made into some other glass object. An UP-cycled jar will become a candle holder you hang from a tree in your back yard to offer light on a cool summer evening. (Especially if you happen to be Martha Stewart.) A broken plate becomes jewelry, a cardboard box becomes a desk organizer or even a mini scrapbook album.  Yet, whatever the items become, they are never completely destroyed. Instead, what they were becomes integral to what they become.

When I think back over my life, there are many parts that make me wince a bit. Foolish choices. Dumb decisions. Words I can’t take back. Comments I can’t “un-hear.” There are parts, too, that I’d like to call back and celebrate a little more. It’s all there. And it’s all me. Every experience, good or bad, has shaped me and made me who I am. Now, who I am is not who I am becoming. But I don’t think God has any intention of recycling my past, because He has no intention of losing the “me” that’s been created and shaped through all those experiences. What He has done, and what He continues to do, is upcyle me. He’s making me into something better and more beautiful than I am. He’s taking those experiences and reframing them–it’s not about the sin anymore, that’s gone; it’s about the lesson learned. He’s allowing me to become both a student and a teacher. There are lessons I’m still learning and lessons I can now teach because I have learned them. He adds His fingerprints, His Spirit, His righteousness and takes me from being a jar containing garbage to a jar-turned-candle-holder giving off His light. The “me” at the core is still very much there, integral to the “me” I’m becoming. It’s upcycling. And He’s the greatest Upcycler in history. Just ask Joseph from the Old Testament or Paul from the New Testament. Ask Augustine of Hippo, or Martin Luther. Ask John Newton or GK Chesterton. Or hey, just ask me. I’m not as brilliant as those fellows, but I’m alive….and I’m being upcycled by the Great Upcycler.

Just a little something to ponder….

Cheers!

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Changing with the New Year

In keeping with my goal to integrate all the spheres of
interest in my life, I’ve decided to collapse my two blogs into
one. Rather than keeping “Confessions,” I decided to tweak the
cafeanglais blog (formerly titled “The Way It’s Supposed to Be”)
and re-title it The Feast–a nod to the book/movie, “Babette’s
Feast.” This work by Isak Dinesen (Karin Blixin) is all about grace
and joy. If you haven’t read it or seen it I highly recommend that
you do. “Confessions” was all about living in grace, but lately I’ve
come to realize that living in grace should translate into a life
of joy. Life here in the nation’s capital is often such a whirlwind
that I’m left wandering about in a joyless haze. But that’s not the
way it’s supposed to be. In fact it reminds me a little of one of
my favorite movie lines of all times: Life’s a banquet and most
sons of bitches are starving! (From “Mame.”) The pace here sucks us
dry and leaves us starving for joy. This year is going to be about
feasting, not starving. I have some other changes in the works for
the blog, but they won’t be immediate. So pull up a chair and join
the feast!

“Christian,” n. lit. “little Christ,” col. “!@#!”

Today Yancey reminded me why I left the church, and why I came back to Christ. ¬†Legalism and ungrace all too common in the church are deadly. ¬†Christ offers abundant, extravagant life. ¬†Over the last 20 or so years that I’ve been a disciple of Christ, I have struggled to find some appellation besides “Christian” with which I could identify. ¬†I’ve pretty much failed. ¬†“Disciple of Christ,” “Follower of Jesus,” “Believer in Jesus” all describe who I am, but are too clunky to gain currency. ¬†Nevertheless, “Christian” has become so synonymous with hatred, bigotry, and ungrace that I cringe inwardly every time I have to use it. ¬†(Perhaps it is a bit like what Jesus might have felt being called “Pharisee” or “Good Teacher”?)

But what to do? ¬†I cannot change the nomenclature, nor can I change the broad understanding of what “Christian’s” stand for. ¬†I suppose all that I can do–and if I did it consistently it would probably be enough–is love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as I love myself. ¬†This is not said tongue in cheek, I am perfectly serious. ¬†In these two commandments lay the answer to our collective failure as a church. ¬†Yet there is no way for us to collectively obey these commands. ¬†Each of us must determine to obey them individually with the help of the Holy Spirit. ¬†Furthermore, we must each decide individually to give and receive grace and forgiveness.

I appreciate the point Yancey makes that grace is not passive. ¬†“Passive grace” is not grace at all, it is condoning. To receive grace I have to repent. ¬†To give grace, I have to receive it for I cannot give what I do not have. ¬†To love God and to love my neighbor necessarily requires me to both give and receive grace. ¬†If I can do that, perhaps people will no longer use “Christian” as the four-letter-word it was never meant to be.

Prodigious Grace

A few years ago, I wrote about the effects of ungrace in my life:

“The difference between excellence and perfectionism is grace. ¬†In excellence there is the grace of knowing you have done something to the best of your abilities, the grace to be content in a job done well (regardless of mistakes made in the process), and the grace to constantly improve, but never fully master. ¬†In excellence there is an understanding of limitations and permission to try again.

In perfectionism there is no grace. ¬†Everything must be done perfectly with no room for improvement and no chance to try again. ¬†Where excellence finds joy in the task, perfectionism finds only the cruel, exacting taskmaster. ¬†Perfectionism leads to paralysis. ¬†If something cannot be done perfectly, it cannot be done at all–and so nothing is done. ¬†The painting remains unpainted, the book remains unwritten. ¬†The perfectionist remains neutralized by the bonds of guilt for being imperfect. ¬†Every mistake that the person of excellence accepts through grace is a leech that sucks life from the perfectionist’s soul.

Perfectionism is deadly to the human heart, soul, and mind.”
I was reminded of this piece as I read Yancey’s comments on the sea of ungrace in which we swim. ¬†All around us everyday, we are driven by the demands of ungrace. ¬†For some of us, those demands have become so internalized that we sink into the quagmire of perfectionism.
Yancey and I share some common experiences with the church–from Bible school to legalism. ¬†I attended a Christian liberal arts college, and began my time there on “social probation” because I had answered affirmative to the use of drugs and alcohol prior to matriculation. ¬†(My friends that partied with me, answered in the negative and thus entered on the same footing as everyone else.)
I found grace, however, in the campus ministry at the secular university that my boyfriend (now husband) was attending. ¬†Many of the members of this ministry had similar backgrounds to mine, but they were not ashamed of those backgrounds because they were forgiven. You see, a lack of grace really boils down to unforgiveness. ¬†It had been difficult for me to accept God’s forgiveness because those claiming to be His people still could not forgive my unfortunate choices.
It struck me yesterday as I was reading Yancey’s take on the Prodigal Son, that the elder brother is really just an ironical myth. ¬†To God, there are no elder brothers. ¬†We are all prodigals. ¬†Some of us found our way home before others, but none of us came out of the womb faithful. ¬†The “elder brothers” among us are merely prodigals who have forgotten from whence they came. (Or who are still prodigals and in firm denial of their wanderings.) ¬†Sadly, I find that it is much easier to be an elder brother than to maintain the prodigal’s humility that brought me to the feet of Grace in the first place. ¬†Perhaps this is because we assume that the grace shown to the prodigal is a one-off instance. ¬†You get a big hug when you come home, but you better not leave again. ¬†I don’t think it quite works like that. ¬†In fact I think that we all feel the need to run home daily as we swim in our sea of ungrace. ¬†We are like the kid who, after a long day of pokes and jabs and betrayals by her schoolmates, gets off the bus and runs to her parent’s arms, knowing that there she will find grace.
I encourage you to run back home and find Grace. ¬†He is always there and always waiting for His kids, even if they’ve “only” been hurt through the average wear and tear of life.

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