Feb 28, 2005
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank


Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      It went on for years before I even noticed it. You can become acclimated to anything, I guess. After a while, if you're expecting it, you develop a standard repartee ... and engage in what looks like conversation, although it's really quite unconscious.

      Here's the routine: Travel. Away from home. Meet new people. "Where you from?" (bad grammar, but pretty typical get-to-know-'em talk) " Southern California. Orange County. Tustin Hills." (I keep going with the satellite zero-in until their eyes glaze in ignorance.) " California? How's the weather out there?"

      No kidding; that's the drill. Southern California: "how's the weather?" If there hasn't been a brush fire or an earthquake in the last 30 days, the outta-towner's brain links " Southern California" with "weather" and wants details.

      Why is that so bizarre? It's simple, really: in Southern California, we never talk about the weather. It's so not the issue that the weather element of the nightly news is the time most dedicated to channel surfing. How many times do you need to hear: "clear and sunny; highs in the low 70's, with patches of morning fog near the ocean." People who own snow shovels, storm windows and tornado cellars often give us that "but you don't have seasons" garbage. I tell them that's not true: in a convertible, you put the top down in the Spring and Fall. In the Winter, you have the top down ... with the heater on. In the Summer, you wear a hat ... and turn on the air conditioning to blow in your face, just to take the edge off.

      When you live in Southern California, you never talk about the weather ... you just live it. When you don't live here - and you meet someone who does - you only want to talk about the weather. Let someone see the Rose Parade while huddled in front of their fireplace, wondering if the blizzard will stop long enough to go to town for milk and bread ... and the topic is anchored in memory. So Cal. Weather. Done.

      I'm finally used to it. When you live with great weather, you forget about it. When you live with lousy weather, you dwell on it. When great meets lousy, lousy wants to talk about it ... and great doesn't understand what the big deal is.

      What weather is to the physical world, grace is to the spiritual world. People who live in bad weather fantasize about good weather; people who live in bad religion fantasize about grace.

      If a spiritually-sophisticated observer were to do site-surveys among church communities, it wouldn't take long to come up with the spiritual weather patterns. I visited some Christian enclaves recently where the weather is abysmal, all the time: it didn't appear that they've had any grace fall in quite a while. How can you tell?

      Absent grace, folks become dry and cracked. Bad spiritual weather makes people edgy and judgmental toward other people. Show me a bunch of Christians suffering from a grace-drought, and I'll book the next flight out. Grace - the most-offered definition is "unmerited favor" - is the rejuvenating hydration that God uses to bring life and vitality to the soul. Grace jumps to positive conclusions about people; it assumes fellow believers to be inherently good, instead of suspicious. It embraces difference, instead of Pharisaically condemning variations of preferences as somehow values-deficient. Grace is fun to be around; the absence of grace is increasingly repulsive.

      My all-time human hero - Paul, the former Pharisee who was thrown off his high-horse on the Damascus road by the God of grace - usually opened his letters with this phrase: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:7, and many others). Paul spent the first half of his adult life opposing grace ... and the second half dispensing it. It became his trademark transferable, sourced in the life of God.

      I don't know how I'll be remembered when I'm over, but - if I could write the script for the eulogy - it would include "gracious" in prominent terms. I want to live in Southern California for the weather ... and in the downline of the Lord Jesus for the grace ...

Bob Shank


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