Tag Archives: sin

Good Times, Bad Times

So, are humans a disease to this planet or demigods of power, possessing nearly unlimited strength and resilience?

Am I the only person wondering if the human race has long outlived the patience of any divine being?

2018 is weird, man.

*****

I was raised in conservative Fundamentalism, a sliver of Christianity that’s thankfully grown much smaller since the 20th century.  A lot of people like to define Fundamentalism by its strict code of rules, a feature which drew sharp lines around my desires, behavior, and dreams as a kid. But I think Fundamentalism is better defined by its warped understanding of sin and Grace. Perhaps those both arise out of a core misunderstanding of God, one that shaped my view of the universe well into my mid-20s.

The Fundamentalist God is a jerk, honestly.  As a child I envisioned God as a lot like my dad: a good person at heart, but easy to make angry, and dangerous when he was mad.  I knew God hauled around the cosmic baseball bat of Consequences™ that we always heard about in sermons, how “be sure your sin will find you out,” and how maybe God could be bargained with if you showed you were serious about abandoning sin for the straight and narrow.  “Hey, God, if I promise to never do this again, could you maybe not let my cat get killed this summer?”

An abusive Father who accepts bargains. That’s the Fundamentalist God, no matter how much pastors talked about “grace” in sermons.

One of my friends in graduate school came to me sobbing one evening to confess that he’d cheated off my quizzes throughout undergrad. He was terrified that his girlfriend wasn’t going to marry him – she’d said as much –  and as part of his holy dealmaking, he was coming clean and confessing his sins so God might bless him and not take away his chance at being a husband.  (They eventually got married. I don’t know if he even remembers doing this.)  I’m glad he got his cheating off his chest, but even at the time, I was taken back by the blatant economics of the whole situation.

What’s odd to me about Fundamentalism is how badly it misunderstood sin. I guess it makes sense for a movement founded on a concept of purity to redefine sin as both a horrific impulse that defines humanity at its core, AND an external influence that can and should be avoided at all costs.  I’ve written about this before, here and here and especially here, so read up if you’re unfamiliar with those thoughts.

The critical point is this: properly understood within Protestant theology, sin is an internal impulse, a flaw in the human system, like someone beat a steel rod into a 90 degree angle and then tried to straighten in out again.  The Hebrew words for ‘sin’ are fascinating: words like “pollution” and “twist” and “guilt.”

We humans are bent at the core, and we can’t unbend ourselves well enough to work out the kinks. The entire Story of Redemption expands from here.  God the Father sacrificed God the Son, who lived a perfect human life free of sin and its pollution and twistedness, so that we can be given – as a free gift – the right-ness we humans do not possess since the Fall.

****

I’ve come to doubt nearly everything Creationist that I was taught, mostly because astronomy and evolutionary biology have mountains of evidence on their side, coupled with my long study of how literature works (and Hebrew itself). I mean, we went to the Field Museum in Chicago last summer and I saw — no lie – half a dozen fossils that could easily be the “missing links” that Answers in Genesis people mock. When the evidence is staring you in the face, it’s hard not to realize that literally 24-hour, 6 day creationists are doing argumentative backflips to maintain a highly literalist interpretation of 3 chapters of the Bible, mostly because they’ve also built a theological house of cards that uses literal creationism as a keystone to the entire house of literalist evangelical bullet points. Pull out the keystone and their structure collapses.  (Not that Christianity itself collapses. Evangelicalism is a mere blip within a two-thousand year history of the Church. Thank God.)

http://www.instagram.com/p/BU7edPQg8Hr/

 

That aside, and truly that’s a discussion for another day, I have no problem believing in the special creation of Adam and Eve, of humans being created in God’s image (though we’re not really sure what that means), of God giving his special creation a level of choice with unparalleled and destructive consequences.

I am a firm believer in the Fall, of humanity given a choice to trust God or no.  From this flows the whole problem of evil.  I don’t have an answer for you. Go climb the wisdom of the ages and seek for yourself. It’s complicated.

It’s because I believe that God gave Man a choice, and we failed in that choice, that I believe firmly in Redemption, in Grace, in Love, and in genuine Evil. (Thanks to Milton, the Fall is a fascinating moment in the story of mankind, and Satan should be ever thankful to Paradise Lost giving him such a rich character. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”)

And that Fall, that permanent twist in the soul of every human who’s ever lived, this is on my mind a lot in 2018.

*****

Let me tell you, 2018 has been an experience.  A rip-roaring ride through the best and worst that I’ve seen of humanity with my own two eyes.

Let’s see. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen people vilify immigrants and justify that by raising American border laws to the level of a moral code. Those same people have shrugged at the separation of children from their parents in the same of “discouraging illegal immigration.”  I’ve witness a profound ignorance of the effects of American foreign policy on other regions of the world. (Short version: why is life so bad in Latin America? Go read up on imperialism, colonialism, and the American war against communism during the Cold War years, then the War on Drugs in the past 30 years. If you just read about the history of the 20th century till now in Latin America, you’ll get the picture.)

I’ve read the news from Syria with one eye open, barely. It’s devastating. Also South Sudan, Yemen, the massacre of like 150 Mexican candidates for election.  We’ve got wars in several spots of the globe. Meanwhile, our president is punching every ally in the eye as he lumbers through a NATO summit on his way to meet with Putin, the latest Russian strongman.

I’ve watched multiple reports of Americans screaming at people they think are immigrants to go home — as if Americans didn’t steak every single scrap of this nation’s land from the people who were here already.  We glorify rich men, men of power, puss-grabbing men who lie boldly and get away with it.

Our planet is heating up. Our love for red meat and fast cars and air conditioning has spread to the developing world, where the overrun of environment impact from these Western practices will likely raise the oceans and flood island nations and costal cities globally by the 22nd century.

But hey, we’ll all be dead then, right?

Why care for the poor when we can blame them instead? Why provide health insurance when we can instead make it easier for insurance companies to make money off of death and disease? Why tip the balance in support of workers rights when capitalism runs off exploiting labor for the benefit of owners and stockholders?

****

Nobody warned me that my 40s would be a time of such…. anger.

I watched two particularly well-written episodes of GLOW last night (season 2, episodes 4 and 5). It’s a light Netflix dramedy about an early 80s women’s wrestling show, based on historical events. I love the acting and the casting, and the story’s been solid through both seasons.  The two episodes we watched last night tackled first the “exploitation” nature of the wrestling show and its use of racial and ethnic stereotypes as entertainment. You could argue (as I’ve learned from my hubby, who’s been absorbing movie criticism on YouTube) that such shows provoked people – those with an already developed sense of irony – to recognize the actual exploitation that made such shows work. But it’s still hard to watch a black woman throw herself into the ring under the moniker “welfare queen” and not hear the dogwhistle of racism in Reagan’s (and Nixon’s) politics which made that character so relevant to the early 80s.

Episode 5 showed us a Weinstein-esque encounter between a central GLOW character and a station executive. I cringed the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt angry. Look, I have almost never attracted sexual attention from men during my adult years – I chalk it up to being fat and not particularly attractive. But I know this is what so many of my sisters put up with every day at work. Whether it’s getting catcalled or hit on or treated to the soft misogyny of low expectations as a woman or dismissed or talked over during a meeting or having our ideas absorbed by the male manager who brought them up to someone up the power structure, a power structure we didn’t have access to …. we women know what these things are. We’ve lived them.  I’m angry.

*****

Lately my attitude has been pretty dark. Not as in “not hopeful,” though I have no reason to assume America will drag itself forward rather than backward.  I do tend to think that history progresses, and I’m thankful that many people are actually aware of concepts like white privilege, soft racism, or the highly negative mental health impact of constantly telling LGBTQ+ people they’re either sinning or an abomination or (at best) a mistake. That’s progress.

But I’m thinking it’s good that God promised not to do another worldwide Flood. Because I’m ready to burn the whole thing down, right here and right now.  We humans are a piss-poor example of the Divine.  I’m tired of the exploitation of the poor and weak by the strong and rich.  I get the imprecatory Psalms now, much better than I did when I was a young person.

Psalm 5 NIV
from Bible Gateway

NYT Opinion: A Christian Case against the Pence Rule

When the NYT writer understands that we can’t make a rule big enough to solve the problem of sexual harassment, I have to stand up and cheer… and repost.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

via A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule – The New York Times

And this too…

{R}easonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn’t, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer’s behavior wasn’t fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses’ careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn’t have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Quotable: How Not to Talk About Purity | RELEVANT Magazine

By using metaphors that objectify women and girls, we are following the example set by our larger society. While we may not be plastering up images of Victorias Secret models, we are placing the bodies of girls, and with that, the value of their virginity, onto a pedestal. We are reducing women to objects, which may be used and disposed of when their “value” declines.

By a youth pastor telling a group of girls that their value is less because of sex, much like a “chewed up piece of gum,” that individual is guilty of objectifying women, and following in the steps of this world. As others before me have noted, this model of objectification feeds into rape culture.

Please, let that sink in.

When we reduce women to disposable objects or objects of any kind, we are diminishing their humanity. We are taking away their autonomy, their individual will by comparing them to inanimate objects without power. Its easier for a perpetrator to exert force over a victim if the victims body has been objectified. When we, as members of the Church, use these reductive object lessons, we are participating and enabling a destructive culture against the bodies of girls and women.

“Purity culture” needs to be redeemed, and this begins with the Church.

via How Not to Talk About Purity | RELEVANT Magazine.

Some of you will be offended…

… but this is an excellent post and you should read it:

Joffre The Giant: O Christian, Watch Your Tongue.

The issue? Sin is IN ME.  My speech raises a rebellious hand against the Almighty when I refuse to love, when I profane God’s name, when lie or cheat or gossip.  Not just because I use certain words and avoid others.

Joffre’s post is provocative. Go be provoked, and sin no more.

Link: “Why Satan Loved 7th Heaven More Than Breaking Bad”

Man. He nails it!

And each show [7th Heaven] was like a moral lesson, usually ending with some vague inspirational thoughts from Pastor Camden’s sermon that week encouraging us to be good, or kind, or self-controlled, etc. Like when Ruthie got addicted to gum. Remember that episode? She needed to show more self-control with her Juicy Fruit. There\’s a whole lot about being good, but not so much as a whisper about Jesus.   

This is why Satan loves 7th Heaven much more than Breaking Bad: it lies. Walker Percy once said that \”Bad books lie, and they lie most of all about the human condition.\” So does bad TV. It deals with the world not as it really is, and with people not as they really are.

via Sammy Rhodes.

The Devil You Know: Why Readers Love The Screwtape Letters : The New Yorker

Few people understood the breadth of the Christian life, both sin and grace, like C S Lewis.  Enjoy this brief reminder of his insights presented through the mouths of devils:

The Devil You Know: Why Readers Love The Screwtape Letters : The New Yorker.

On Sin: Revisited

Awhile ago I codified some key tenets about a biblical view of “sin.” You can find that entire post here, and it’s pretty short, designed for a quick read. I recommend visiting it before reading on…..
On Sin
It’s been on my mind for a while now to set down some more thoughts about defining sin biblically. Again, nothing I say here is new. This is orthodox, standard theology. But I need to hear it.

And I run into these misunderstandings repeatedly.
In short form:

1. As believers, we must recognize the primary authority of the Word in defining sin.

1a. Another way to say it: God gets to define what sin is. I don’t. Neither does my pastor, the Pope, or anyone else….though I would be foolish to think I can sort this out by myself.

Does the Bible, rightly and carefully interpreted, say any particular action or thought is WRONG?
If not, you don’t have the right to say it’s a sin.

2. The Spirit and the Word govern my conscience, a God-given early warning system. But the system has to be calibrated correctly to work right.

Rightly adjusted, my conscience can properly identify sin. But my conscience or my feelings or my traditions or expectations or experiences are not a substitute for a biblical definition of sin. And my conscience was warped by the Fall, just like everything else.  When you start to do something, does your conscience say STOP? Then STOP.  But go find out if your conscience was reacting biblically because…..
2b. The “weaker brother” gets no medals for being weak.

In fact, demanding a higher standard than God does is a sign of IM-maturity! 

Paul talks a lot about this in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.   He says, If I entice someone with a weak conscience to do something that person feels is wrong, I have overstepped the line.

But notice in both letters, Paul is taking time to ADJUST the weak consciences about the hot button issues of the day from a biblical standpoint. It’s not ok to leave people thinking they have got it all sorted out with their fancy system of rules. Replace “meat offered to idols” with drinking beer, listening to screaming metal music, celebrating Halloween, or smoking … you get the idea. Pastors and mentors are responsible for helping us adjust our consciences so they sound a warning at things that really are sin, not just stuff that bothers us.

3. We should acknowledge the wisdom of experienced Christians and submit ourselves to the elders who shepherd our churches when we choose how to act in the Body of Christ.
Nope, we’re not in this alone. I don’t get to make up my own Bible interpretations.  The entirety of the Body is very important here in preventing people from just going off on their own personal interpretation-wagons and missing the real point.  So my understanding of what God says about sin and righteousness is an exercise in interpretation-within-the-community-of-Faith.

4. If it’s a gray area, then it’s not sin… by definition. 

Biblically, “Sin” means sin. As in…. Wrong. Evil. Twisted. Polluted. Dirty. DONT DO IT.
This should not be confused with “inappropriate,” “unwise,” “dancing too close to the line” or anything in a similar “gray area.

This, folks, is where it all hits home. As you follow the Spirit and the Word and walk in the fellowship of the Body, you WILL come into conflict with other believers’ ideas of sin and righteousness. Are you willing to set aside the condemnation that arises so naturally in each of us when we find people who disagree?

I don’t get to define sin for you, outside God’s commands….which are difficult enough,

******
Building a fence around the Law to keep yourself or others from breaking it? That’s Pharisaism. No way around it.

ILLUSTRATION
A King knows there’s a big lake in the middle of his kingdom which is so dangerous, people drown when they try to swim in it. So he makes a Law for the people: Do not swim in the lake. His overseer comes along and says, “Hey, if we build a fence here, no o e can swim in the lake, so no one will drown!”   So he puts up a nice big fence, and labels it with large signs reading DO NOT APPROACH FENCE.

safe? Sure.

But that’s Pharisaism. And Jesus HATED it.

EXAMPLES
God says, “do not commit adultery.” Jesus unpacks this command in Matthew 5 and shows how the deep meaning of the command is “Don’t lust.”
What should you do?
Don’t lust.

What about setting a rule for myself that I won’t ever be in a car alone with the opposite sex?
You’re building fences.
It might be the right thing for you to do in this moment of your life. But recognize what you’re doing.