I occasionally receive invitations to a rather diverse array of events, and increasingly find it difficult to decipher in what capacity I am expected to attend them: as a reviewer, an editor, a random schmuck who subscribed to the e-newsletter.
So when I received an invitation from a gin company to attend its “Voyage into the Unusual” at the Revere Hotel’s Space 57 in downtown Boston, I was intrigued despite having absolutely no idea who was inviting me or what my responsibilities in attending would be.
I did know it began “promptly at 7.30” and that “unusual imbibes are even more enjoyable when sipped donning equally unusual attire.” I ignored that last part, but made arrangements to arrive at the event a few minutes in anticipation of the event’s (program’s?) beginning.
Upon my early arrival, I joined an already forming line and watched as literally hundreds of people queued behind me. Who were these other people? Not reviewers, or editors, I was pretty sure. College students and lonely alcoholics, most likely.
While I was looking for an experience, they were looking for free gin (and maybe some sense of being part of a larger community?).
As I continued to wait in line, I started to think about how I don’t really like free things, or quite frankly the people who seek them out.
7.30 came and went. The lined moved slowly. I thought of leaving it, but then I thought of the storytelling potential at the other end, and stayed put. Finally, at 7.50 I was ushered into a holding room with about a hundred other people, had my name ticked of a list read from an i-pad and granted access to a room thumping with neo-folk swing and heaving with the aforementioned free-stuff seekers.
Inside there was a little person dressed in neo-Edwardian garb giving tours of the inside of a woman’s 20-foot tall skirt. There were multiple drink stations serving multiple mass produced cocktails all with very long lines.
I found it all disgusting, despite the fact that I was pretty obviously supposed to think it was very cool, and wanted to leave as soon as possible, despite the fact that there was so much free gin at my disposal, and no discernible exit (I had to ask a couple people how to leave).
Why do free things make people act in the most vulgar ways? This voyage into the unusual will have an effect on my gin preference. I have no intention of ever drinking this company’s gin again.
As I relayed this story to a college friend familiar with my Baptist upbringing, she latched not onto the fact that I had a gin preference, but that I was disgusted by free things.
Had I not learned anything about grace? That free and unmerited gift from God.
Well, yes, of course, I know that definition, but in my real experience of life, I’ve found that things for which I do not have to work or pay dearly, are not usually all that valuable. And, if anybody can get access to it by doing no more than asking for it, it can’t be all that desirable in the first.
Indeed, I most often view free gifts not as gracious gestures of excess, but manipulative acts of paternalism.
How now should this experiential context of questioning the value of free gifts affect my theological understanding of the desirability of grace?