In my former life as a teacher participating in an experiment — to see Grace-based education incarnated in a real classroom setting– at my school, we had many little sayings that tried to encapsulate the truths about Grace-in-education. One of my favorites, borrowed from the words of the ever-wise Cheryl Martin is this: Grace always costs the giver.
My life-journey these past few days has tossed several opportunities to reflect on that truth. I’ll muse for a bit….
The first was an article posted to me on FB from a friend. Daniel Starkey wrote a column called “My Mother, Commander Shepherd.” He describes his experience with the trilogy Mass Effect, one of the best video game stories I’ve ever experienced. The series also offers one of the few truly-rounded female main characters in recent video game history — maybe ever, I don’t know. (There were some awesome stories told by the early games, which don’t get any attention now because their graphics aren’t up to snuff.)
After explaining why he chose to model his main (female) Shepherd character on his mom, a woman who loomed large in his consciousness for the way she selflessly cared for many other people in their lives, Starkey found his passage through the games becoming more and more poignant as his mom began to battle arthritis and other problems.
Starkey writes about his attempt to walk in his mother’s footsteps of altruism:
I lost myself. I learned that when you spend all of your time living for others, when you dedicate everything you have to those around you, when you fill yourself with the selfless, agapic love of an altruist, some element of your being has to suffer.
My mom tried to never show weakness. She tried to suppress her own humanity so that she could be an unflinching symbol of perfection. I didn’t figure this out until I was past 20. I didn’t understand how little of herself she still had until I tried to live that life—however briefly – and burned myself out in a matter of months.
[My game character] Shepard was burning out too. She’d been resolute and she’d been unyielding, but you can only wear that mask for so long. The game was drawing to a close, and I knew how it was going to end. I knew what was going to happen.
Picking up the thread of Starkey’s column — and there are spoilers in here, so stop reading now if you plan to play the Mass Effect series —
[At the climax,] the child gives Shepard a choice; one choice and one chance to try and end the conflict.
Tired and weakened, [Shepherd] chooses to create a new kind of life. A new beginning for the people and the artificial intelligences that are left. In so doing, she had to sacrifice herself.
It was here that I think the potential implications of the manner in which I’d been playing affected me the most. In a sense, I’d just watched my mom, the most important person in the world to me, die to achieve her goal. That reality is disturbingly poignant now.
A few weeks ago, I called one of her best friends and asked if there was anything my mom had been doing that would fall within the realm of “self-destructive behavior”.
“Yeah. She has. She’s been running herself ragged.”
Somehow I thought that’d be the case. She’s been taking care of several people and helping them out when and where she can. A few members of our family have been in out of hospitals recently, and she, as she does, has taken it upon herself to make sure that everyone has the care and the support they need. She makes one hell of a mother, but she’s awful at being a person.
And THAT all got me thinking. … “Grace always costs the giver,” to quote the eminent Riven Della.
Jesus said, if we want to save our life, we must take up the Cross and follow Him. The person who tries to save (preserve) his life will lose it instead. (Matthew 9)
Is Starkey right that there must be a demarcation between life-sucking altruism and life-affirming altruism? Or is this what we are called to — “Unless the seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth any fruit.”
Sounds like his mom is a very fruitful lady.
Later, Mark Wells posted an amazing article on my FB called “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard.” Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of this whole deal …. I guess Haggard cheated on his wife or whatever, bought drugs, dinked around with homosexual sex, who knows. Whatever. Lost his pulpit, lost his ministry….
…and then repented. Asked for forgiveness. Began ministering to people around him. And the church as a whole has thrown a fit. People won’t talk to him; people won’t talk to people who talk to him. He’s not fit for ministry now or for eternity, it seems. The author Michael Cheshire starts asking questions about why Christians wanted Ted to repent when he was sinning, but now they won’t have anything to do with him. Cheshire writes,
I had a hard time understanding why we as Christians really needed Ted to crawl on the altar of church discipline and die. We needed a clean break. He needed to do the noble thing and walk away from the church. He needed to protect our image. When Ted crawled off that altar and into the arms of a forgiving God, we chose to kill him with our disdain.
I wrestled with my part in this until I got an epiphany. In a quiet time of prayer, Christ revealed to me a brutal truth: it was my fault. We are called to leave the 99 to go after the one. We are supposed to be numbered with the outcasts. After all, we are the ones that believe in resurrection. In many ways I have not been aggressive enough with the application of the gospel. My concept of grace needed to mature, to grow muscles, teeth, and bad breath. It needed to carry a shield, and most of all, it needed to find its voice.
Flannery O’Connor said somewhere, more or less, that her stories illustrate the way Grace has a backbone.
Real Grace is tough. It has teeth and claws. Sometimes Grace is a swift kick in the nuts rather than a nice pat on the head, and in Flannery’s stories, it’s always the self-righteous ones who get it in the nuts.
….more tomorrow.…. I know you internet people have short attention spans.