Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Norris, Kathleen

Riverhead, 1999

pp. 296 - 297

Norris tells of a woman from a small Methodist church in Montana. She had been a drunk and a “cocaine whore.” “Her self-esteem was so ragged,” said her pastor, “that he suspects she was sleeping not only with anyone who could provide her with booze or cocaine, but also with anyone who simply showed her the slightest bit of attention.” Then she sobered up, joined AA, and then joined church. She had uphill work there in church for a time. Not everybody wanted her there. But she won people by volunteering for everything that nobody else wanted to do. “She signed up for every Bible study the church offered, volunteered to work at every church project, from visiting shut-ins to teaching Vacation Bible School. It was as if she had tasted salvation and couldn’t get enough of it, or of the new relationships which these activities had led her to. Salvation took such hold in her that, as the pastor put it, he began to wonder if Christians don’t underrate promiscuity. Because she was still a promiscuous person, still loving indiscriminately. The difference was that she was no longer self-destructive, but a bearer of new life to others.” Our virtues are but splendid vices. They are US–now turned in a new direction. Our virtues and vices come from a common root—the same impatience, ambition, or pride used for evil may also be used for good, as in impatience with sloppy work, ambition for the kingdom, boasting of the Lord.

p. 317

When we try to uproot our vices we have to be careful not to uproot our virtues along with them–i.e., careful not to pull up wheat when all we wanted was to do some weeding. Jesus had a parable about that. We are like Jacob, “the most Jewish of all the figures in Scripture,” whose reunion with old hairy Esau gets engineered by “manipulations” that are, this time, for good.Jacob schemes for good because he has had to wrestle with God.