Under the Influence
Under the Influence: California's Intoxicating Spiritual and Cultural Impact on America
June 1, 2010
192 pp., $14.98
We do not have to compete for grace, mine for it, earn it, or pay for it. It does not come and go. We can only rest in grace, thus becoming agents of grace. The translation of Sabbath to the word rest does not describe the kind of rest that's meant. When one is being rescued from drowning, the lifeguard shouts, relax! That's one notion behind Sabbath. When we rest from our frantic labor, we are being asked to trust another that everything is going to be okay. We don't have to save ourselves; we are being saved. We do not have to fret and flail and snatch. We are being cared for.
Living in grace is itself the work to which we are called, and hard work it is too. We must fight for the gospel of grace today harder than the Galatian church had to fight in the days of St. Paul. Happily, and emblematic of our state's potential, it was a native Californian, the community-minded Josiah Royce, who coined the phrase "the will to believe." At our best, this is who Californians really are—not gullible and silly, but people with the will to believe. As I tell my theater students, unless we are children, it is hard work to make (ourselves) believe. It is hard work to be nice to others when we have been warned against them. It is hard work to rely on the goodness of God when the evidence appears otherwise. It takes years of practice.
I'd give anything if Californians really could be as the nation has stereotyped them: laid back. To me, the California sea otter is the perfect symbol for the truly gracious living always inherent in our state's best possibilities. Once land-based animals, otters were slaughtered by the thousands for their fur in the general blood bath of economic expansion. Like other Californians, they went west, to the ocean, where they adapted, "went with the flow," and became stronger and more resilient.
An otter once bumped against an aquarium window I was staring into and nearly knocked me down. It was the most powerful sea creature I'd ever encountered. Yet in its migration to the sea, the otter also became more charming and seemingly more playful and relaxed. Resting on its back in the ocean, the otter drifts along tossed by currents so tumultuous that it disappears beneath the waves for minutes at a time before bobbing back to the surface, one tiny arm behind its neck, looking for all the world as though it should be resting a martini on its chest. This is the California waiting for us: this state, and this state of mind.
Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
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Previous book excerpts in Christianity Today include:
Mere Churchianity | Finding your way back to Jesus-shaped spirituality. (August 25, 2010)
The Christian Atheist | Believing in God but living as if he doesn't exist. (July 19, 2010)
Blinded By Stuff | Radical: Taking back your faith from the American dream. (June 21, 2010)