Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“We’re All Bastards”

Ten days ago my post was about Will Campbell (and his book Providence). Since Campbell is such a colorful figure, I expected to receive more comments, but I am pleased that two people did respond. Both who commented made reference Campbell’s The Convention: A Parable (1988), which I have just started to read for the first time. One also mentioned Campbell’s most widely acclaimed book, Brother to a Dragonfly (1977).
I read Brother, an autobiographical work, many years ago, so I don’t remember a lot of its content. But there is one significant part I have not forgotten. One of Campbell’s Mississippi friends was a man who went by the name P. D. East. On one occasion, P. D. asked Will, “In ten words or less, what’s the Christian message?” Here was his pungent answer: “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway” (p. 220).
I can’t remember when it was, probably ten to fifteen years ago, but I had the opportunity at some meeting to talk briefly with Will Campbell. I asked him whether after these many years he would change his summary of what the Christian message is. He quickly said he still thought that summed it up pretty well. It probably does, for it is a strong statement about God’s grace.
The only way I can understand what happened to Sara Miles (see the previous posting) is by seeing that as an example of grace. Some of you will be interested to know, and others will be put off to know, that Sara is a lesbian with a “bastard” child (her word, on p. 175 of Take This Bread, and used literally rather than figuratively as Campbell did). It was because of her “radical conversion” that she started a highly successful “food pantry” at her church. It was also a few years later that she and her partner were legally married (partly at the insistence of her daughter Katie) when that was possible in California.
Sara Miles didn’t write much about grace in Take This Bread, but what happened to her can’t really be explained in any other way. In her latest book, Jesus Freak (2010), which I have yet to read, she says more about grace, referring to “God’s radical grace” in the first chapter (p. 11). It is that grace which makes Christianity good news. It is failure to affirm grace that often causes us Christians to seem judgmental, unaccepting, and unattractive to many non-Christians.
I am now more than halfway through writing the first draft of my next book Thirty True Things Every Christian Needs to Know Now. At this point, I am still planning for the title of the thirtieth chapter to be “The Last Word is Always Grace.” That’s truly good news for all of us b…!


  1. Philip Yancy's book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?" illustrates the concept well. Grace is such a drastic form of love to comprehend, and stirs up emotion because it goes so far. The "bastard" always seems welcome, yet a total 180 seems to be the caveat. I imagine most can embrace the metaphor, but arrogance impedes its implementation.

  2. I appreciate the insightful comment above--and the reference to Yancey's book, which I have already noted to use in the thirtieth chapter I mentioned. It is a great book.

  3. I am reading Sara Miles' book now, at your high recommendation. I really like the way she is able to accept all the ragtag people who come to the food pantry, and I also like her principle of saying what she really thinks. When she said, "I hate the Russians." in the food line because they were so pushy, I was a little jarred and read it 2-3 times to believe she had been so un-pc.

  4. A Thinking Friend who is a former missionary to Japan made this comment on an e-mail:

    "Those of us who grew up in Christian families and were nurtured in the church know little about grace as compared with those who grew up in non-Christian environments -- like many of the Japanese I have known and others from even worse backgrounds."

  5. The email from your thinking friend in Japan hits directly at the point that I struggle with daily. Will Campbell's definition of the human condition and the corresponding good news hits like a bolt of lightening. Until one sees and is horrified by the abyss that each of us faces and is, grace is not understood or appropriated. In many ways doing church has the opposite result in that it shields us or hides us from the hideousness which we have become. It is pride (the penultimate sin and ultimate death of the soul) that makes us think that the pig in the mud is actually a prince that deserves and warrants the Creator's attention and respect. It is only by grace that my pig nature (no offense intended to those of the porcine persuasion) has any chance of being transformed into the new nature of the Christ.

  6. A review article by John Wilson about Sara Miles and her two books was published today on the "Christianity Today" website. The address is http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/july/23.51.html