Friday, November 04, 2005

The Mean-ing of America

Last Sunday, in his Reformation Day sermon, my pastor talked about how we are quickly becoming a Zero Tolerance society. Survival of the fittest disguised as "personal empowerment" or "compassionate conservatism." Shredded safety nets. One strike and you're out. No room for screw-ups.

Things are getting meaner -- meaner in business; meaner in the public sector; meaner in churches.

The nature of my own work brings the Mean-ing of America up close and personal, as it touches the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. And all of us, I think, are feeling the unease that comes from perceiving that having the right education, or picking the right career, or doing the right things with our time and money, no longer guarantee us any security in this world. Nor will we, I suspect, be able to count on rights and legal protections that we have enjoyed in the past, at least without a fight.

The Reformation, at its best, was about affirming grace -- God's unqualified, crazy love and mercy. My pastor suggests that now, more than ever in our recent history, the people of God are being called to counter the culture of Zero Tolerance, and make our faith communities places of grace in a grace-less world. We have, in our understanding of grace and our desire to live God's love into the situations in which we find ourselves, what people need right now. Not a bogus compassion, but one that rolls up its shirtsleeves in earnest. When Christ tells us, "Follow me," this is the direction he's leading.

There are times when I feel that I am hanging onto the Church by a cracked fingernail. But as I listened to the sermon this Sunday I was, as my evangelical friends might put it, convicted that this is right where I need to be. And, God help me, where I want to be.

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