Sunday School: Vol. 5

Sunday, September 15, 2019 Fremont, CA

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
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My mom told me recently that if I worked as hard on my attitude as I did on my career or academics, my ability to serve and uplift others would look a lot different. It's not something you necessarily have to change, she allowed, but it's something you should if you can.

I know I've practiced a lesser variant of love my entire life: the sort that, devoid of grace, casts judgment rather than seeks to serve. My brand of "unconditional" love said, I don't think you deserve this, but here you go. Truly unconditional love, I've learned, insists, it was never a question of worthiness; this simply belongs to you.

It's not an easy understanding to sustain, and separating merit from mercy will be a cross I'll bear forever. I want to be seen through my works so that I can judge others for theirs. I want the syllabus that outlines, do this to earn that, even if there are days where I literally hate myself for not achieving what is ultimately meaningless: a completed to-do list, an app-generated workout sequence, a set of KPIs. I denounce hustle porn only to breathlessly pursue its rebranded version: biohacking the human spirit, increased productivity marketed as wellness. Meritocracy is a fantasy, I wrote in college, but I'll look for it in every institution, every relationship, every opportunity. I've looked for it, it seems, even in my faith. These Sunday School posts have only regurgitated the same misled paradigm: sincerity measured by output, salvation granted by effort.

I want to tell God, I am a hard worker. I struggle to grasp that this simply isn't enough -- and what's more, in its absolute insufficiency it is no longer demanded of me. By His stripes, the scripture says. What I need to understand: and not your works. 

There's a quote I keep coming back to that suggests our surrender to God's will allows us to see His will in everything; the secular interpretation of this is mere coincidence. Either way, I finally see things fitting together. I've spent the last few weeks trying to understand grace before contemplating its place in my own life, my own desire for transformation. Along the way, unprompted and seemingly randomly, the people in my life have challenged me to amplify my impact. You can't change an environment you refuse to be in, they'll say. Or my mom, explicitly: any goodwill you might have gets lost in how judgmental you tend to be. There was connective tissue in all this, you see: because I could not understand the unearned, unmerited grace of God, I refused to grant it to others. Where grace is missing, condemnation asserts itself as a gatekeeper. No truth or conviction would compel other towards this barren, awful place. And here I was, punishing others for feeling unwelcome in the hostility I'd created.

I earnestly regret every moment (and there have been many) that I've criticized at the periphery rather than volunteered to help, thinking myself invested enough to know better but above the actual work. But only grace makes way for the twin pillars of justice and restoration; and only through understanding grace can I fully practice it.
My calling remains: not simply to have faith in the unseen, but to sustain a desire for what cannot be worked for or deserved. Below, how I'm preparing myself to do right and do better:

Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness | Jennifer Berry Hawes
On June 17, 2015, twelve members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine innocents during their closing prayer horrified the nation. Two days later, some relatives of the dead stood at Roof’s hearing and said, “I forgive you.” That grace offered the country a hopeful ending to an awful story. But for the survivors and victims’ families, the journey had just begun.
In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes provides a definitive account of the tragedy’s aftermath. With unprecedented access to the grieving families and other key figures, Hawes offers a nuanced and moving portrait of the events and emotions that emerged in the massacre’s wake.
The two adult survivors of the shooting begin to make sense of their lives again. Rifts form between some of the victims’ families and the church. A group of relatives fights to end gun violence, capturing the attention of President Obama. And a city in the Deep South must confront its racist past. This is the story of how, beyond the headlines, a community of people begins to heal.
Related, Obama's eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was one of nine victims in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

And finally, the sermons of the week:
Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 5) - Why Water Baptism

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 6) - Only God Can Judge Me (Works After Grace)

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 7) - Grace for Them? (The Power of Grace & Truth)

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 8) - Grace for the Faithful 

Much love,

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