Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”
In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.
The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]
One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to he specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.
Just how “effective” are collective expressions of grief? Do they work?
Every time I see a vast concourse of people gathered at the site of a massacre, I honestly “feel with” the grief; and yet remain a little skeptical. It’s one thing if you yourself lost someone you love as a result of the crime; or if you know someone that lost someone. It’s another thing if you are grieving by association or in relation to a category or collective identity.
Do you think you’ll be thinking about instances of collective loss that took place in your life, when you are dying? I wonder. I know you’ll be thinking about instances of personal loss that you suffered.
This podcast asks you to consider “exiting from history” (Milan Kundera) in order, well, to really live. Focus on the individual instance — on you, in other words! I cite the novels of Rider Haggard in this connection, who understood as well as almost anyone the persistence of the eternal in the life of the individual. There’s the rub, and there’s why Haggard’s “Zulu” novels are a kind of summit of racial reconciliation in English literature. These novels understand human beings as one, due to shared suffering, shared loss, and the shared aspiration to love and be loved. I wish Haggard were here today to write about Orlando.
Oh, and listen closely, if you can, to Dave Loggins at the end. Loggins said that after he wrote the song — in one night — he realized he hadn’t written it. He didn’t know where it came from, but he knew it didn’t come from him.
The following is an excerpt from pages 73-76 of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl. Soak it up!
Grace has the power of the mallet. Every other prong and heavy-lifting device that seeks to change people is an expression of law and accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. People fear that grace will give permission to be bad. This is the classic fear: that grace will issue in a license–“007”–to do whatever you want, without consequences.
Yet that never happens! In fact, the opposite happens. When you treat people gracefully, they always end up…
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We’re just awash — aground! — in “narratives” these days. “Narratives” are conceptual stories or frameworks that are designed by the ever-grinding mind to organize and categorize realities of everyday life. Many of the realities faced by the ordinary person, starting with me, are unsatisfactory and distressing. “Narratives” are a form of mental control, to vitiate and diminish some of the distress of life..
But “narratives” don’t work! They are seldom completely true; and more often, they are cataclysmically partial. In both senses! This cast examines two “narratives” — one regarding an apparently neglected English hymn writer and the other being racism — and comes up with a caution.
I then expand the caution to account for irrational experiences within personal relationships. I had a vision a year ago, at a lovely beach wedding in the Carolinas, which invalidated almost everything else in front of me. (And it happened to be a great wedding.) But my vision rendered null and void the entire situation. “Let me take you there.”
Let’s hear it, too, for General Johnson.
The text is from a leading Presidential candidate, but it applies to two of them — two persons who are ideologically apart but have one main thing in common.
That main thing is: They are exposing the Cook’d Book of life, which is designed — “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” (S. Wonder) — to sign, seal and deliver YOU over to utter captivity and soullessness.
The New Testament is not a world-affirming document. On the contrary, it pits the human being against the world. Or rather, it posits the world as being against us. Our task, an impossible one without Help — “Help!” – The Beatles, 1965 — is to dodge the world. Kerouac wrote that we are born into this world in order to be saved from it.
The Cook’d Book of the world is not only true of political parties. It is true of institutions generally, job environments generally, schools and universities generally (which is why youth is eternally looking for the ‘Mr. Chips’-type altruist — one in a million), you name it.
I’m glad that Bernie and the other one are cutting to the nerve. Je repete: this is not about ideology, it’s about control. And this world’s control is not — I repeat, not — designed to enable and deliver. It is designed to suppress and captivate. LUV U!
What are we all looking for in this life…? The new being, rebirth, meeting your inner child again for the first time. However you name it, whatever you make of it, the truth of reality is this: we all withhold a few things from everyone including and especially from ourselves. We lose so much in the withholding and the repression, which is quite understandable. But there is hope! You can go forward through going backward. Aldous Huxley did it. He became a theological psychologist par excellence, and we can follow his lead. A graced archeological excavation can produce so much in the way of the teleological imagination.
The introduction to this cast is done by Bill Borror and Scott Jones, co-hosts of New Persuasive Words. Scott also hosts The Mockingcast.
EPISODE 214: How Do (Men) Get to Heaven?
There is this observable difference in the way most men and most women process romantic love affairs. Men tend — with exceptions — to live in the past and in past memories of love, especially as they grow older. Women tend — with exceptions — to desire to live in the present, with openness to the future, in the experience of romantic love.
The song that opens this cast, “How Do I Get To Heaven”, performed by Dave Mason, is a touching instance of the male processing. The lyric lurches, with no warning, from…
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Episode 213: Glamour Boy
Communication, I mean, real, person-to-person communication, is the name of the game in just about every relationship. It is also the name of the game in that Game of Love (1965, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders) which is preaching.
So this podcast is for politicians; for all who aspire to love another person — like Jean Valjean; and for everyone who undertakes to preach the Word of God.
You’ve got to “blow deep” — Jack Kerouac was never wrong about this — and thereby connect with the subterranean part of every potential listener or reader. That means blowing deep…
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Episode 212: Cursed Objects
There was a silly vicar in an English stage revue entitled “Beyond the Fringe”. His sermon was a total send-up. (You can Youtube it easily.)
Recently, however, I was in a situation in which that spoof came across as gravitationally serious. I was engaging — unsuccessfully — a problem of some long standing, and nothing was working! Not my spiritual director, not my small group, not my meditations, not the dharma, not my flesh and blood nor my friends. Nothing was working. Then I remembered an illustration from the satirical sermon in “Beyond the Fringe”, the one about…
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Episode 211: Son, This Is She
There is this amazing supposed contrast between the God Who comes to us from without, and the God Who speaks to us from within.
Historic Christianity generally hears the First. Eastern religion generally hears the second.
Personally, I hear both — by which I mean, a lot of Love is “channelled” or “made flesh” in the inspirations I feel to love and to cherish that are indistinguishable from my own best self. (“I’d like to know where you got the notion” (Rock the Boat) — The Hues Corporation, 1974).
Yet when I’m in a jam, when I am…
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A couple of brand-new bonus recordings to which to draw your attention on this Tuesday afternoon:
- Scott Jones and Bill Borrer interviewing Paul Zahl about “The Essence of Christianity” for their stellar New Persuasive Words podcast (which you can subscribe to here). You might think of it as a preview of the in-person conversation they’re going to have in April:
Sometimes these things don’t turn out as well as you’d hope. But sometimes they do, which seems to have been the case here. Or so we’ve been told, thank God.
When you were in a tight spot, how did help get through to you, assuming help did get through to you?
Did God speak from out of the whirlwind — of crisis, panic, and despair? Or did aid come from inside yourself — a ‘how-to’ or random thought that proved serviceable in the midst?
If you’re a regular listener to PZ’s Podcast, you may well answer, the former. That’s certainly what happened to PZ!
Nevertheless, your source of inspiration, and help, and salvation in the imminent immanent sense of the word: what was it?
You won’t be surprised that I’ve been thinking, in…
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