All is Grace – Another Sort of Review

“I am inclined to believe that God’s chief purpose in giving us memory is to enable us to go back in time so that if we didn’t play those roles right the first time round, we can still have another go at it now….” 

~Frederick Buechner (as quoted in All is Grace)

When I was sixteen, I floated in a haze of denominational insularity. There were some of us, a group of burgeoning faith bearers. We were impregnated by the expectations of God-fearing adults.

Before coffee had become socially acceptable, the good kids sat at cafeteria tables over biscuits and Mountain Dew, bibles spread wide. We were sharing prayer requests on a particular Monday morning when I heard that Alice was pregnant. Our framework of grace and mercy was not yet well established, so Alice’s news came as a shock, like an ice-water bath. The girls asked, “how could that happen?” “Sex,” I explained. “Ewwww,” they responded.

Yeah, right.

I have never admitted this to anyone, but there was a sort of exhibitionism about our early faith, a constant redrawing of the lines of demarcation to the exclusion of others.  And in this holy gerrymandering, we might have believed that we were protecting God from sin, that we were being holy as He was holy.  But at the end of the day, when our good deeds were accomplished, some of us would have admitted that all this line-drawing seemed to box God out. We were just like Alice and the rest of them, floundering in a different kind of teenage awkwardness.

We were all alone together, none of us admitting that we had little more than a store-bought belief. That’s the kind of angst that is unrivaled by anything that “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  It was uncomfortable, and sometimes I wanted the other kids, the kids outside the lines, to know that I didn’t really have everything figured out. Sometimes I wanted them to know that I doubted, that I lacked confidence, that I was playing a role.

But this was weakness, or so I thought.

This is not to say that I didn’t have a real faith, an active one.  But it is to say that I did not appreciate the complexities of that faith.  So I white-washed the tomb, maintained an “attractive front door,” and carried the weight of works-based religion.

It is not easy to be the good kid, to carry the weight of an adult religion in your backpack.  I wish the other kids could have known. I wish they could have heard the truth, that I was just as crippled as they were.  I wish they could have known that, when all was said and done, we were all choking on different kinds of smoke.

We were kindred, each of us broken. If only we had taken the time to realize.


Being a teenager is hard.  I wish my frame-work would have included grace and mercy way back then.  It would have saved me from a sort of pit later.

These thoughts were spurred by All is Grace, the memoir of Brennan Manning, co-authored by John Blase.

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15 Responses to All is Grace – Another Sort of Review

  1. eileen says:

    What a great post. I definitely didn’t have it all figured out in high school and my lack of understanding led me right into several pits as well. I so wish I’d had a much firmer grasp on grace back then. I just didn’t get it. But, I am thankful for the journey and lessons that I have led me where I am today.

  2. So, SO true. It is hard to be the good kid sometimes, living with the fear that if you let the cracks show, you’re somehow letting down the team. I thank God that my parents were open to questions, allowed doubt and acknowledged the mystery. Saved my butt a whole lot! And also created some internal space to ask questions, even ones with no answers – maybe especially those. Thanks for these good words, Seth. As always.

    • sethhaines says:

      Yes, there was always this feeling of impending loss, of letting folks down. I wish I would have grown up around more mystics and such. My parents, they were good people, though. They definitely gave us a good amount of space. So, cheers to them!

  3. You just said Frederick Buechner. Sigh.

  4. Or is it *sigh*? I can never get these nuances right.

    • sethhaines says:

      Now this is a good question. I can’t ever get it quite right either. Some people definitely *sigh*. I’ve seen people (sigh), though. Once, I saw a lady {sigh}, which I thought was creative. But the stand alone seems good to me too. Sigh. I just don’t know.

      So glad you stopped by. Saw your last post. There is a sort of beauty in that, although perhaps that’s not what you were expressing. Or maybe it was?

  5. Beth Covalt says:

    Over these later, more “grown up” years, I’ve sought words to express my high school, good kid self. I think I’ve just found the perfect ones. Thank you for sharing them here.

  6. hamster says:

    I was the same kid, amped up on surviving cancer and public speaking engagements. I wore all the t-shirts, the jewelry, wrote the Christian related columns in the public high school newspaper, ran the on-campus Christian organization, lead the youth group in hand-signals for all the songs we sang on Wednesday night (Audio Adrenaline’s “Big House”? Anyone?), and I would openly criticize sinners for their signs. some friends wanted to divorce me after I broke their cigarettes and “Explicit Language” cds one night in a parking lot. Like you, Seth, steroid-faith is part of my story as well. And my wife just ordered our copy of ALL IS GRACE last night. We’ll have it by the weekend.

    • hamster says:

      Actually, I critcized sinners for their sins. Not their signs.

      • sethhaines says:

        I actually kind of wish that you would have criticized people for their signs. That actually sounds more hard-core somehow.

        When you read that there book, I’ll let you come over here and scratch out a bit of a review if’n you like. You know how I feel about your proper use of some good southern words.

  7. hamster says:

    I’m more apt to criticize Christian for their signs. Jesus ain’t never be a picketeer!

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