A Picture of Grace?
So in case you haven't heard, a local church here in Missoula made headlines last week when they responded to three kids (ages 18 and 19) caught vandalizing the church property by "giving them Xboxes instead of exile."
Reaction has been rather mixed overall - some positive, but much negative (or at least 'puzzled'). If my kids' experience is any indication, the buzz on the playgrounds at school is largely to the effect of "Hey! Now I know how to get ahold of one of those cool new Xboxes that I've been wanting for Christmas!"
Hmm... So what do we make of this?
Looking at things as charitably as possible, I think we can at least appreciate SHEC's desire to respond differently rather than in typical knee-jerk, throw-the-book-at-'em fashion. Of course, those who are a bit cynical might call this a publicity stunt, but I doubt it - I'm willing to assume that their intentions were noble, that they really desired to respond in a biblical, gracious manner, in a way that actually helps the kids that did this.
Of course, that raises some key questions.
Is this really a helpful response? (I'm not convinced that what these kids need is an Xbox).
And is it really loving? (It's easy to pass the plate and toss in a couple hundred bucks to make us all feel like we've done something significant - like putting off our Christmas shopping till the last minute, and then simply dropping a big wad of money on a gift to cover up for the fact that we really didn't put a lot of thought, or love, into the whole endeavor).
I have a feeling that the really loving response would be a whole lot cheaper (in terms of dollars), but a whole lot more costly (in terms of time and personal sacrifice) - what would it look like to actually invest in these kids lives, on a personal, individual basis? What would it look like to show up at their trial? To follow up in person? To talk to their parents? To take time and get to know them as people? To understand why they would do something like this? To learn what makes them tick? Of course a response like this probably isn't going to generate headlines...
[As an aside, the author of 4&20 Blackbirds astutely observes a difference in how SHEC responded to these guys, vs. prostitute J.C. Nouveaux. What would it look like to respond the same way to both, by reaching out personally to both? I for one would love to sit down and just talk with someone like J.C, or these guys, in both cases to get to know them as they are, where they are...]
All of this leads to perhaps the biggest question of all - is SHEC's response really a picture of 'grace' at all? I'm not sure that it is.
For starters, 'grace' is not simply "a second chance" (because after all, if we're all really damn messes deep down, chances are we're going to blow our second - and third, and fourth - chances as well).
'Grace' is also not simply "unconditional love" or "blithe acceptance"(because after all, God's love is not simply unconditional either) - no, real grace cares so much about people that it is not content to simply leave them where they are, wallowing in the consequences of their bad decisions. Real grace cares. Real grace rescues. (And let's be honest - how many of us really give a rats ass about these kids, anyway? How many of us actually care whether or not they make bad decisions and screw up their lives? I suspect it's very few of us do...)
No, grace actually brings something to the table - something necessary, valuable, essential, lifegiving. I'm not sure an Xbox qualifies in that regard (maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I have a feeling most 18 year olds would benefit more from hard work and a father worth respecting than from more time in front of a TV screen).
Real grace is also costly. Not in terms of dollars and cents, but personally. Real grace is a wife refusing to leave her lusting husband (even though he probably deserves it), not because he's great, and not because she's great either, but simply because of who he is - her husband, the man she made a commitment to when they were married.
You see, whatever grace is, it's a long term proposition - it doesn't just offer the possibility of favor, on the condition of change; instead it starts with favor, and that actually brings about the change. Real grace actually accomplishes something, like a chinook in February. It melts hearts. It breaks logjams. It brings change. And it's often very, very messy.
It's almost certainly not very worthy of much public attention, at least not until years later when hindsight reveals just how much change grace has wrought.
So where does all this leave us? I'm not sure that SHEC did the wrong thing by responding the way they did, but I'm not at all convinced they did the right thing either. Not simply because I don't think that what they did is going to accomplish anything, but rather because I don't think it's a picture of what grace really is.
So what would I do instead? I'm not sure. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't involve an Xbox.