One of the privileges of being in ministry is the opportunity to spend time in local schools. There are a number of schools in Ilkley that welcome ministers from the town to lead collective worship. The children are invariably engaging and the staff encouraging.
My memory of “school rules” in the 1970’s and 1980’s is a rather negative one. Most of the rules, as far as I remember them, were couched in terms of prohibitions: “Do not run in the corridor”; “Do not interrupt when a teacher is speaking”; “Do not bring mud in from the playing fields”. Whilst the laws were clear and specific they almost felt like a challenge to a mischievous schoolboy!
I was very impressed when visiting a local school recently to read the “school rules” which we were displayed in the welcoming entrance hall. The rules were articulated in a very different way and style from those I remember. To give just a few examples: “I will be kind and helpful at all times”; “I will be honest and polite and treat everyone with good manners”; “I will be a good ambassador for the school”. These “rules” seemed very much about nurturing virtue in children and creating good habits and attitudes to take into adult life.
Christian theology has long sought to differentiate between “law” and “grace”. Life is almost always better when we can approach one another with an attitude of “grace” seeking to cultivate virtues in ourselves and one another by our kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity and selflessness. Resorting to “law” is always second best for to recite a prohibition or fall back upon statute is a recognition that grace has failed.
It is a deceptively simple but difficult truth that to live by grace rather than law transforms the world we inhabit. We so often blame the gracelessness of the world on others but ultimately it can only begin with me and you.