Monday, September 22, 2008

Grace as Credit.

One of the short detours in my life took place during college. My Grandpa Owen had connections in the banking business, and somehow he got me hired -for the summer- by a South Bend bank. They figured that if I was Bill Owen's grandson I must have something on the ball when it came to numbers and finance, and they foolishly put me in their "officer trainee program." The bank survived two summers' of my well meaning but inept performance, and then they decided never to have me back.

So not my thing.

The current financial crisis in the United States, right now, seems to be profound. I wouldn't pretend to understand what has caused it and what the details of the government "bail out" should be. As near as I can figure the real critical moment was the drying up of the credit markets.

One financial expert said that credit is to the economy what oil is to an internal combustion engine: it keeps everything moving. So the credit market tightened to the point where no one was going to be able to do buildings, hire new workers, buy land.

I've been thinking about the role that credit (appropriate, responsible credit - not out of control "anything goes" kind of credit) plays in the economy, and wondering if there might be some parallels with the Christian notion of grace. Forgiveness...unmerited love, that's what grace is about. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, talks about a kind of love that doesn't keep track of wrongs but rejoices in the right. That doesn't rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the right.

Grace is the oil that keeps relationships going...that helps us hang in there with one another over the long haul. We are well into my 13th year as senior pastor at Trinity Church, and I find myself remarking -now and then- "We've been together long enough that I have given you all sorts of reasons to write me off." Give someone like me long enough, and I am going to stumble...make bad calls...until my humanness becomes almost more than anyone can bear.

We won't make it together if we don't extend the relational credit -grace- to one another. Grace "primes the pump" for a new chapter. Except that with grace there is no compounding interest we have to pay back.

One of the opportunities I have, as a Christian pastor, is to meet with engaged couples. They often tell me that they want to be passionately in love with one another after 50 years. They tell me that they want to be holding hands when they are 80. They tell me that they want their kisses to be tender and passionate decades after the day of their wedding.

A key to that is living by grace. Forgetting the junk of yesterday, giving the other person another chance, and moving on. Because when the credit market we know as "grace" dries up then everything stops. The relationship, like earth dried by the merciless sun, cracks wide open and blows away.

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