Tuesday, November 28, 2006

embracing grace 11: diminished by exclusion

Books could be written from each chapter of Scot McKnight's Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. (I would strongly recommend purchasing A Companion Guide to Embracing Grace.) I was struck by the newness of my reading of this chapter yesterday. Unfortunately I was not able to type down thoughts at the time. I will give reflections I have from, again (again) reading this chapter.

We as humans are created as Eikons. To see a human is to see, in our case as fallen humans, a cracked picture or representation or view of God himself. In Jesus Christ one finds the perfect Eikon, in whom all other human beings can be restored into the fullness of their status and reality as Eikons. Of course this restoration, while real is also gradual. We are heading toward that goal, together in Jesus, as we each live out this life in him.

This chapter helps us see that humans abandon their Eikonicness, when they live lives of exclusion. This often comes from hurt in wounding from relationships. It's also one "natural" (really unnatural when viewed from creation) result of the human fall. When humans sinned (and sin) we now instinctively want to hide from God. This can manifest itself in denying God in one way or another. Maybe as "an atheist". Or into partying, etc.

We turn inwardly, embracing ourselves. But in this embrace, losing our very selves, our souls. Because we wither and die, being made for relationship with God and with other humans.

Only in Christ can this embrace be fully turned out toward God and toward others. Because of his work for us in the Cross, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit- we can begin to truly embrace God and others. This does not usually, or most of the time, for most of us, come easy. It is a process of unlearning what we had found to be "safe" and "nourishing" in days past. I know this use to be true in my own life. Instead of wanting to be a part of "the Jesus community" even as a Christian, though I loved other Christians- of course, my ideal of the "spiritual life" was to be off somewhere alone, in the woods, reading, seeking to draw near to God. Good in its place. But not good if it really is a turning inward on one's self, away from others, and too often distanced from God, as well.

God made us for himself and for each other. We begin to experience the fullness of life in God only as we begin to embrace God and others. This means a turning away from exclusion and towards inclusion. For me it has meant a new and normally ongoing sense of nearness to God and to others. Though certainly growing in that, and at time finding myself wanting to withdraw into my old way of inclusion. But those can be good times of soul searching before God. And of finding sources of pain to bring before God for his forgiveness and healing.

Scot shares the examples of some people who have been diminished by this exclusion. What about you and I? Do we find it easy to turn inwardly? Is there legitimate times for being alone before God? And are there times when people need space for healing, during which they are not necessarily turned in on themselves? (As Scot points out from Ecclesiastes: "There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.") But what can we do to break this exclusion that diminishes who we really are?

I was amazed yesterday morning. When reading this chapter, it was like reading it for the first time, striking me in its newness and truth. Yet as I begun my day, I found myself wanting to withdraw from most everyone in general (seems not normal for me, anymore) and one person in particular. I broke that, in the course of the day. But it shows how this embracing is not easy, but possible only in Christ, and by grace.


L.L. Barkat said...

Ted, this has come at an interesting time... I'm trying to rewrite my chapter on exclusion/inclusion and satisfy the question that's been posed by editorial (and they are right to pose it): "is exclusion really part of everyone's Christian experience?"

The thoughts here are the thoughts I was juggling last night... yes, it is part of everyone's experience... being isolated from God, before we come back and are "included."

Susan said...

Hi Ted,
Good post. A question about this is... why do our brothers and sisters in Christ seem to make this exclusion so... easy ? Shouldn't pulling away be rather difficult to do? I mean, didn't Jesus personally have his eye on loners and go out after the wandering, isolated sheep and carry them back in?

If a person who is hurt is not finding the love of Jesus IN and AMONG the community, doesn't it make sense that they perhaps even unconsciously conclude God is not there, and seek Him outside in "alone time"?

Ted Gossard said...


I think Scot's thoughts and stories on this subject in this chapter are very helpful. He touches on hypocrisy as another way of diminishing our Eikonicness by exclusion. Hiding our real selves to project something else. More too.

A good subject to study and ponder on. Thanks.

Ted Gossard said...

Hi Susan,

Good point. We need to be on the lookout for those who may feel excluded. This move into the inclusive embrace of God and others needs to be something that Christ's Body is engaged in helping others do.

In my case I can identify with those who don't feel included, and therefore would hide. Because I felt the same way, largely so, for many years.

We need each other in this. In this goal and in doing it. And it definitely needs to extend out into the world. Where we, both individually, and especially as part of a community, ARE Jesus to the world. Big words. By grace and faith -prayer- hopefully over time we'll regularly see this.

Thanks for your great question and thoughts.