Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grace for All and Grace Above All

When I was in Bolivia for three years the government changed six times. With each coupe the government insisted that all persons in the country with a visa report to immigration for an update. Usually this meant reporting to the immigration office and standing in line and then proceeding to a minimum of three desks and receiving three stamps. You were good to go after that.

My final year there -1980 if memory serves me well- there were elections. These elections were preceded by some anti-American sentiment expressed by the dynamiting of the American Consulate and ending with a shoot out! It started in the plaza where the government buildings were located and moved towards the airport, as was the norm for taking a city during a coupe. I lived between the two locations! For protection I removed the mattress from the bed and went into the hallway away from any windows and waited. The next day we had a new government.

Those of us on visas were ordered to update them, but this time the location was near the plaza as opposed to the usual little government office. The line was longer than usual and the wait as well. While in the line, about three people in front of me there was a man a little older than my father. That would be my father, who lied about his age and ate bananas to increase his weight so he could get in the Navy and get out of trouble and fight the Japs in WW II. With nothing to do but watch people I notice that this man had two passports, a “modern day” German passport and a drab green passport with a prominent swastika.

My body seemed to tense and I never really took my eyes off the old guy, but never really looked at him. It was like all those Combat shows I watched on t.v. as a kid were haunting my rationality. I immediately sensed the evil. I mean, this was South America with all the legends about Nazis escaping there at the end of WW II. And one was right in front of me! I could sense that he knew I was onto him and he was uncomfortable. He “stamped out”. Then I “stamped out”. I don’t recall him leaving and do not know if he cared when I left.

Later that year the government needed money so they handed Klaus Barbie over to the French. They had taken him into custody and boarded him on a plane in La Paz. It made Newsweek and Time, both of which we could buy on the newsstands –and I did. Looking at the pictures of Klaus Barbie I realized that the old man I saw in the immigration line was him. I read the article and discovered that he ran a restaurant and recruited young people into a neo Nazi group. The restaurant was one our favorites –good beer and food and lots of jokes about neo Nazis in the Club Bavaria that now were not so funny.

Today I find that experience colliding with my developing theology. I have recently read If Grace is True, Why God Will Save Every Person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. They do not believe in hell and believe that God’s grace will save everyone.

Now Hell was an easy one for me. I never really bought into the idea except for when I had to read Dante’s Inferno. I recovered and figured Hell could not possibly be real. The grace for everyone concept seems to “jive” with my belief in God’s love.

But, what about Klaus Barbie! Gulley and Mulholland deal with it in a transforming kind of way. I recently heard them speak with a panel of religious folks. One of the panel described a situation of seeing your life before you as it effected others. Something like Klaus Barbie experienced the evil he had done to others just as they had and this would lead to a transformation. I recall Gulley and Mulholland expressing it in similar fashion.

I believe in universal grace. God will save everyone. We all come home to God. We may not come home in the same fashion that we left. We may realize that our life has not been filled with grace, but God will love us all the same.

If we all realized God’s grace in the present and lived it each and everyday, then the world would be a better place for everyone and the kingdom of God would have begun.



Blogger gawilli said...

You said it! Living Grace "here and now" is what we need. Gulley and Mulholland are right, hell is killing us.

9:52 PM  
Blogger PT said...

Amen. I concur. It is an honor to be the pastor of such a thoughtful and engaged learner. It is truly a privilege. Keep searching and I'll keep challenging.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so intrigued by your stories of South America interwoven with your thoughts on theology and politics. When Jim Mulholland spoke about Che' Gueverra's experience with lepers, I remembered fondly about your own experience with the lepers. I suspect that you personally have realized "God’s grace in the present and lived it each and everyday." Some of the rest of us may have to catch up so that the world will indeed be a better place.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great posting. All that grace stuff is good stuff. Your story is of great interest on so many levels.

5:26 PM  

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