Monday, December 31, 2007

The geography of grace.

The geography of grace.

I think there are only two types of people in this world, those that can sit in someone else’s seat at an event and those that can’t. I’m talking about people who have horrible seats and decide to sit in nicer seats until they’re kicked out.

I can’t do this. I can’t enjoy the event knowing that at any moment I am going to be exposed as an imposter, ousted by an usher and another attendee that is frustrated at me for daring to dream of having such a nice seat. I was reminded of this the other night when I went to see the North Carolina Tarheels play in Chapel Hill.

A group of guys told us we were in the wrong section when we tried to move them from what we thought were our seats. So I grabbed the usher and gave him my ticket. He walked down the stairs a few rows and then basically eviscerated the guys. The sentence he said won’t seem like much, it’s not that boisterous or neon with sarcasm, but I promise, when he said it I cringed inside.

He bent low, held my ticket about a foot in front of the guy in my seat and calmly said, “Do you have this ticket?”

There is only one answer to that question. The gentleman in my seat could not have that ticket because as the world could see it was clearly in the usher’s hand. The guy fumbled for a few seconds and then cleared out in a general air of embarrassment.

I’ve thought about that simple sentence for a few days. It stuck inside, left a thumbprint on me and I’ve figured out why. I’ve heard it before.

Maybe not exactly those words. Maybe not in the middle of a college basketball game, but I’ve heard that question a thousand times. It is the question I ask myself when I get drunk on doubt. “Do you belong here?” It is the question the world asks me too often. “Are you sure you should be a writer?” It is the question the enemy asks when the night is dark and long and I’ve messed up somehow. “Are you sure you should be where the Lord is, look how dirty and broken you are?”

What a crippling thought that is. That you’re in the wrong place. That the ticket in your pocket isn’t really yours. You are an imposter. You are in the wrong seat, the wrong job, the wrong marriage, the wrong college. You are not where you are supposed to be.

The question of where do I belong is one of the central ideas dissected in the story of the Prodigal Son. There are three viewpoints expressed, three different looks at location and the sense of belonging.

The first is from the Prodigal Son himself. He thinks he belongs on the farm, but not as a son. He believes he should be a servant. His sense of belonging comes with conditions, a performance he must accomplish in order to be where he wants to be. Have you ever done that? Tried to get closer to God by performing the right way? Tried to belong through activity?

The second point of view is from the older brother and his comes with consequences. He rejects the idea that the Prodigal Son should be on the farm at all. In his mind, where you belong can be irrevocably lost. In his mind, there is no putting back together the pieces once they have broken. Once you’re out, you’re out for good. This kind of thought is one of the reasons that when pastors make big gross mistakes and are kicked out without any sort of support people often say, “the church is the only army that shoots it’s wounded.”

The third point of view, the one that matters, is completely different from both of the first two. The father dismisses the idea of letting the son be a servant, in fact he won’t even let him say that. He also rejects the idea of bringing the consequences to the Prodigal Son when the older brother lays out his case. No, instead of conditions or consequences, the father throws a celebration. The only condition he sees is dead or alive. The consequence he believes in is that something lost that is found must be honored. In his world, it’s not just that you belong, you are the guest of honor. The day is yours. It’s the equivalent of having an usher tap you on the shoulder and instead of kicking you out he brings you to better seats. Instead of being rows up from the action, he walks you courtside and makes sure you get all the free food and drinks you want. He gives you the best seat in the entire building.

Conditions. Consequences. Celebrations. I don’t know which word best describes how you’ll spend the last day of the year. But know this, you belong, despite what you feel, despite what you’ve heard or been told. You belong.

This is the geography of grace.


Hope said...

Let me be candid with you. I've only been reading your blog for about a month or so now. Each morning I read I say to myself, "This is his best yet." So, point #1 - you definitely belong. I think that when a Christian hears those words, that's normal. The difference is found in whether we choose to believe them. We know the truth. The truth is we all deserve to eat pig slop. But the greater truth is that Jesus died because He and God believed that even if we "deserved" to eat with pigs, those loved by them shouldn't have to just because they are loved. The guy who got kicked out of your seat, knew he didn't belong there. The sting for those of us who "have the tickets" is that we know there's only one difference between us and them, the Ticket. Thanks so much for not listening to that voice, or at least for hearing it, but choosing to claim your ticket anyway.

Jason said...

I'm currently in a place in my marriage that I had always hoped I would be. It's so new to me that I feel like it is going to end any day (not my marriage, but this great time) and I should savor it as much as possible. I realize intellectually that it is an incredible work of grace and that God can sustain this. However, it's hard to feel like I'm not going to be asked to leave my seat.

Jon -- next time you're in the Triangle please drop me an email. I live in Cary.

cmwood45 said...

I believe I've experienced all three of these in just this one day. Loved this essay and the title....

JJ said...

Great end to the year for this blog. Looking forward to a new book at the end of 2008.