Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sin Boldly

A few weeks ago a friend and I were painfully wondering about the future of a local church community we both hold dear; echoing Genesis 18:16-33 that records Abraham's pleading with YHWH not to destroy the city for 50, then 40, 30, 20, and 10 righteous, my friend wondered if God found 9 faithful, only 9, would the community survive, would God keep covenant—but the question is wrong!

From Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, check out Sin Boldly her latest delight. Sin Boldly cover Writing to Philip Melanchthon from Wartburg Castle, Martin Luther, described by Cathleen as "that great theological hoodlum and father of Protestantism" advised his friend and colleague, Pecca fortiter, sed fortius et gaude in Christo—"Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly." On Facebook I've included that in my list of favorite quotes! Cathleen Falsani has written Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace in an easily flowing style without annoying asides or trite clichés; if along with most people you've ever wondered what God possibly could do to transform your pitiful attitudes and pathetic lack of alignment with the demands of the commands, this collection of stories from the author's recent peregrinations will give you hope and keep you keepin' on, since God lovingly reigns with showers of mercy-filled grace, no matter who, no matter what, no matter when.

Wrapping up a nicely compact just-right size for backpack or purse, the dust jacket of Sin Boldly presents in tawny earth tones and features a transparent-wingèd dragonfly. I couldn't find any information about the friendly rounded serif with easily readable tall ("big x-height," as we'd say in the trade) lower-case letters set in sepia. A small dragonfly demarcates some chapters into separate divisions and like a sage printer's mark announcing "I was here; I typeset this book," a dragonfly hovers around the concluding epigraph of each chapter. There's a bright turquoise foil-embossed dragonfly on the spine, too. Wiki confirmed some lore and symbolism I'd heard about dragonflies, including the way they reflect and refract light as they symbolize enlightenment, truth, change and transformation. Dragonflies originate in the water and immigrate into the air as they grow and mature, but are at ease in both elements throughout their lives. Dragonfly mythology suggests summer's warmth and sunlight finds dragonflies at their most mellow and influential as they effect prosperity, harmony and a sense of self. Not only do these ancient insects adapt well to the natural elements, but in the midst of flight dragonflies can change direction and fly backwards. Like the dragonfly we are birthed and re-birthed in water and we need to keep returning to the water as an unceasing source of sustenance and renewal.

On page 57 Cathleen cites a couple of "grace" examples that especially resonate with me: "Sometimes it's having the guts to rebuild, to take a chance, to follow your nose and your heart rather than your head." "Sometimes grace is finding out that your preconceived notions are dead wrong." "And sometimes it's a bowl of watermelon gazpacho when you were expecting Taco Bell." Yep, but Taco Bell is very right around the corner from where I live as well as tasty and inexpensive.

Relating some of her experiences and feelings in Kenya, on page 63 Cathleen realizes "how mzunga I really am," finding herself challenged "to understand with a heart not colored by my nationality, class or skin tone." Is that not part of everyone's journey? Having lived in many different socioeconomic, geographic, cultural (and ecclesiastical) milieus, I often wonder how my view of the world would look to someone else, at the same time realizing how I'm completely unable to track the subtle ways my worldview keeps changing. Sprinkled here and there throughout Sin Boldly I found a word my grandmother used frequently: lagniappe, a Creole word meaning an unexpected extra, a real surprise someone gives you at no cost. "In other words, a lagniappe [like grace] is getting what you don't deserve." [page 56] Here's Lagniappe Presbyterian Church's site—doesn't the name make you want to visit and find out what they're doing?

Discussing the possibility of following precise recipes for spiritual and religious experience and renewal [page 85]—well, there aren't any, also reminiscent of my grandmother, Cathleen describes herself as rhubarb pie with pistachio ice cream. I love both of those and I'm remembering bounties of rhubarb in my grandmother's garden, her fabulous rhubarb cobblers and how we all screamed for hard-to-come by pistachio ice cream. For too long now I've again been in a discernment phase but at the moment I can't figure out how to describe myself in food.

Cathleen's book chronicles God's "audacious" grace, as she sometimes styles it; I've named one of my blogs that's not currently public (due to its being even less active than the others) "Wild Grace," and in its free, elusive, characteristically unanticipated and unexpectedness, Grace is Wild as well as bold and audacious. But just as much, grace often is physically tastable, audible, visible, aromatic (...sometimes "odiferous," too) and touchable: incarnate and enfleshed; in that case, where can grace lead us?

God created each of us in an imago dei, in the Divine Image. To complete his genealogy, Luke the gospel-writer names "Adam, son of God!" In Christ Jesus and in baptism God endows us with another measure of divine identity; the Spirit of Pentecost irresistibly confirms our divine birthright enlivening the privilege of servanthood and the surprise of resurrection from the dead. Imago Dei?! Us, acting and just plain being like God, like Jesus, God's most definitive self-revelation? Yes, us. Taking risks, not expecting payment or even thanks in return, astonishing people in spite of themselves in the same way God has amazed us; keeping the redemption flowing and the goodness growing. Gifting people with the matchless grace of hospitality, just being with them without invading or overtaking their space while letting them be. Cathleen refers to her own [179] "moody faith" that could be grace for someone else, just as others are grace for her, and if we do this only a little of the time, it's right in line with Cathleen's suggesting [page 108] we can "hold space" for one another, rather than imaging fixing or controlling them into behaving the way we want them to. Doesn't God spend reams of time holding space for each of us, waiting until we finally sort of begin to get it? I cannot count the times I've realized only a few months, or weeks or days or possibly hours ago I'd been so clueless about whatever it was while at the same time extremely grateful God hadn't bonked me over the head (even with a copy of the Book of Confessions or Book of Concord) so I'd turn around and do or acknowledge whatever it was, because it's about growing into high summer's purposeful sense of self in our own time. Jesus exhorts us to be perfect, meaning not unattainably precise inhuman perfectionism but to reach our goal of becoming who we were born to be: teleological purposefulness! Like the multi-elemental, near-infinitely adaptable dragonfly, responding to wherever and whomever we find ourselves.

If only 9 remain righteous, simply 9, will God keep covenant? If God found only 9, or possibly only 2 or 3...? The question is wrong! If God found not one, not a single person faithfully righteous...God would keep covenant, God would shower grace on creation, God could do no other than to have mercy. God, the gracious, covenant-maker is endlessly covenant-keeper, lover of all creation in Jesus Christ. If we find only a few faithful or maybe perceive none as faithful, will we dare risk claiming the Divine gift of Divine image and audaciously dare to be agents of grace and means of grace? I hope so!

Here's my Amazon review of Sin Boldly.