Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Shifting Blame

Blame shifting holds us back. We simply cannot move forward while looking backward and assigning blame on another person.

I first learned how to drive a manual transmission while my husband and I were living in Spain. Many of you reading this blog or listening on the podcast, might be unfamiliar with manual transmissions. Here in the United States the stick shift is not that prevalent. but when we lived in Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were very few cars that were automatic. So, it was quite out of necessity that I should learn to drive a ‘stick’. It was much trial, error and practice, but I finally got the hang of when to let out the clutch, move my foot from the brake to the gas pedal and boom! off I go. Timing is everything in shifting between gears. You could not move forward without shifting the gears to the next higher gear. To slow down and eventually come to a complete stop, you must reverse the process to down shift. shifting up to move forward and shifting down to stop.

I recently watched a parody intended to put shame on the Gen Z’s. It was designed to poke fun at their blaming everyone for the problems they are facing- like increased student loan debt, poor wages, a bleak economy and social and environmental injustice that they are left responsible for. It was light- hearted, but close to the truth as well. This is how many Gen Z’s see their world.

The truth is, we all have been guilty of shifting the blame for all of our problems on others. I recently came down with a cold, for which I blamed my husband- he had it first. And I became quite miserable. So, it was all his fault. Or so I concluded. But, honestly, I can never be completely sure. I might have picked it up just about anywhere. But, he was the easiest to blame, because he was the most logical source.

It is so easy to find others to blame, and some of that blame is justified. We are human beings. We are not human doings. and most of the time we really mess things up. Oh, we get it right sometimes, but we also make mistakes. We try to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and we fall short. We try to keep up with others and be like them, instead of being ourselves. Being the people God uniquely created us to be. We make decisions that aren’t the best for us or for others who we are responsible for.

If we look for the mistakes in others we will find them. If we look for the mistakes we ourselves make we will find them- and then point to the other person as the reason why we made the mistake in the first place. We really have a problem with admitting it could be our fault. We also shift the blame to others, because we don’t know how to fix our mistakes, or the mistakes of others. We want to move forward, but we get stuck looking back and placing blame, instead of shifting the focus on the solution to fix the mistake or shortcoming.

We blame others for our financial situation, rather than looking for a solution, by creating our own businesses, going back to school, or reducing our spending. We blame our parents- I did too!- for how we turned out, but do not try to learn who we are and how to grow and change- How to overcome the past- sometimes difficult and painful pasts- by learning from others who have walked a similar path before of restoration, healing and growth.

It is easier to complain and blame than to ask God for wisdom in overcoming the past and how to move forward. Blaming can become comfortable to us. It keeps us from bearing any responsibility. We sometimes like to stay stuck in first gear, than risking letting out the clutch and pressing forward. I am not just speaking to Gen Z, as I am speaking for myself as well. I am a recent college graduate who, like Gen Z is facing mounting student loan payments and many employment application rejections. I, too, see the injustice in the world and want to do something about it, but not sure what to do. It is easy for me to blame the employers who won’t take the time to view my application because I am a woman, or I have been out of the workforce as a Stay at Home Mom, and lack experience. As my youngest says ” You can’t get experience until someone hires you and they won’t hire you without experience.” Yes, it is as much a dilemma for me as for a Gen Z. And that is my point here. We all can blame others- younger people or older people, but the truth is, if we work together, forget about differences in ages, economics, gender, stop labeling and stop blaming- we could do so much more.

Blame shifting is not new. Check out the Book of Genesis and you will find it started very early with the first married couple. And they didn’t have parents to blame. Or co-workers, or even children. They were Gen Alpha. Adam realized the mess he now found himself in- working crazy hours with hard work and thorns and thistles,a messed up, broken relationship with his wife, the realization he did not have clothes and needing to hide so God wouldn’t see him naked, and now he would die, like get old, get wrinkly and die. And he blamed his wife and then God. It was all their fault. Not his. He just stood back and was minding his own business when his wife brought the piece of fruit to him. I mean what is a husband to do? Make his wife mad and not take a bite? Or take a bite and take a chance, ’cause she wasn’t dead yet, right? So, yeah. According to Adam it was God’s and Eve’s fault. God because He gave Eve as his wife and Eve because she picked the fruit, took a bite, and talked him into following suit. But… Adam too was to blame. Where was he when Eve was confronted by the serpent? Did he really have to eat too? I mean God had told him not to eat. So. yeah the first default blame shifting happened right there in the first few pages of the Bible. It is not new. You can find other examples in the Bible, but you can also find a solution. It’s called grace. And that will be on next weeks blog- Stay tuned! God Bless- Nancy