Her church dean read the parable of the vineyard. And the children at Vacation Bible School protested the rules of the game.

“Grace is not attractive,” she thought. “It’s not fair!” [Watch the video.]

Once upon a time, I shared Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and shame with some relatives. The blowback I got in return was epic.

I may never know whether they were reacting to the content. Or to her casual self-effacement. Or to her language (the Work of the People site flags this clip with a “language warning”).

Some respondents thought her talk profane, as if there is anything in the universe more sacred than the vulnerable, intentional connection of two made in the image of God.

And dismissing her could even have been a proxy for dismissing me, the niece who refused shame and preferred integrity. I don’t know.

From Susan Morgan Ostapkowicz's Painting "The Outsider"

From Susan Morgan Ostapkowicz’s Painting “The Outsider”

But listening to “Grace isn’t attractive” today made me wonder if the blowback wasn’t about any of these things; if instead it was a kind of resistance to what Brown points to here: what’s “fair” and what’s “just,” who earns rights to be “in the circle” or defined “out,” and who gets to “own” the group and keep others from messing it up…

Fundamentalist religion has very strong ideas about this—about fairness, justice, and the boundaries of good and deviant. It also resists and shuts down challenges to those ideas, regardless of their source. It can’t stand the idea that maybe it isn’t the gatekeeper and maybe its understanding isn’t the measure.

If you’ve ever read one of the parables attributed to Jesus and completely disagreed with the punchline of the story, you’ll understand what Brown is talking about when she says: “It’s not fair! I still don’t get it; I still don’t like it! I like stuff you can earn.”

Grace is polarizing. It’s horrific. And it’s exactly what we need in a culture that’s been stripped of it.

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