My good friend David Jones, longtime ethics professor at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, sent me a small sack of grits for Christmas. These are the high quality kind -- white speckled grits from a mill in Georgia that was established in 1876.
The gift was an expression of friendship, but also a reminder of our shared interest in the theological significance of grits. David has been encouraging me to write a book about “grits and grace.”
Our grits dialogue got going when David heard me tell a story that I had heard in a homily by a Catholic priest from New Jersey. The priest had flown across the Mason-Dixon line for the first time, and on his first morning in a southern city he went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. After perusing the menu, he called a waitress to his table. “Miss,” he said, “what’s a grit?” Her reply: “Honey, they don’t come by themselves!” The priest used that as a metaphor for the Christian life. As Christians, we don’t “come by ourselves” -- by grace we are incorporated into a community, the Body of Christ.
A year or so after hearing me tell the story, David sent me another grits tale, this one a part of the lore among folks who work in the Waffle House chain. A guy goes into a Waffle House and orders a waffle accompanied by scrambled eggs and bacon. When the waitress brought the order to his table, there were also grits on the plate. “Miss, I did not order grits,” the man said. “Honey,” she replied, “you don’t order grits, it just comes!”
The theological lessons in those stories are clear to a couple of Calvinist theologians. It’s all about grace. There is nothing wrong about explicitly asking for grits when you order your food at a Waffle House. But whether you ask or not, “it just comes.” God’s grace “just comes” to us -- not because we order it, but because we can count on grace as a sign of the faithfulness of the provider.
And the grace that we receive is not intended for an isolated “me and God” spirituality. We are called to a community that is meant to show forth the rule of God -- a peoplehood that serves as a sign of God’s larger purposes for the creation. “True grits”!
Richard Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.