Posts Tagged ‘Sin’

The Allergic Reaction to the Word “Sin”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Many struggle with the word “sin” a word often drawing an immediate connection with the word “guilt.” Raised in cultures steeped in those two descriptors, descriptors used to capture what some churches see as the generalized plight of humanity, many simply choose to leave church altogether.

So how can we hold “sin” in a healthy way?  An important question because there is indeed such a thing as sin.  People do do horrible things to others ranging from abuse to terrorism. So we have to talk about it.  The question becomes how.

Alan Mann offers some interesting perspectives, ones closely aligned with New Church theology.

From his perspective, while the word “sin” clearly creates an often negative reaction, we almost all universally share a sense of estrangement, a sense, a knowledge that we are failing to live fully into the lives God intended for us.

Life is relational.  Loving God and loving others functioning one and the same.  So sin is relational.  Sin is what obscures and damages relationships with God and with others.   Those damaged relationships feed very readily into those feelings of a core estrangement, a sense of lostness.

Christianity offers a way out.  Not in terms of transaction where Christ becomes the sacrifice for all sin.  Instead in terms of seeing in Christ, God incarnate – as the human embodiment of the Divine – seeing God in a focused way that we can in our small and broken ways emulate. A loving, functional model we can follow in that search to come into our fullest humanity, living life as God truly intended.   That comes right back to this key bit – Christ does not ask us to worship him but instead asks us to follow him.

Healing and reconciliation can occur there – in the following – remembering that the issue is always with us, not with God. We are forgiven instantly by God.  Our role however is to “come right” in ourselves, to live more fully into the lives we were intended to live, regaining a sense of inner coherence in our lives, one married to the best angels of our nature.

God’s help in this endeavor is His spirit moving among us and through us. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)  Spirit and Breath – the same words speaking to that amazing movement God in our journey.

Wisdom then comes to be “written not on our memories but on [our] lives.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 427)

All of this leads to a different view of  the word “sin.”  It does not leave the word devoid of meaning.  What it adds to the word is a context – a context of sin clear about the fallen parts of our nature that harm others and, at the same time, a context embedded in healing, embedded in a sense of humble empowerment, of grace.



Bill Cosby

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

For many of us in the Philadelphia area I would imagine the recent revelations regarding Bill Cosby are beyond disappointmenting. For a man known as a cultural icon of family values to instead be exposed as a sexual predator is a disjuncture of epic proportions.

And there are lessons here as well.  We live largely in an honor-shame culture.  Those public personalities we love and celebrate quickly become those we loath and detest.  An either-or proposition.  A flip of the switch.

There is a place for outrage and necessary accountability.  And there is a place as well for compassion.  Compassion for all.  Compassion that starts with the victims.  Compassion for the man.  Compassion for his family.

Compassion can grow from a simple starting point …. There is sin.  And sin grows out of all too human compulsions to find self satisification at the expense of others.  Sin harms and what Bill Cosby did in drugging and seducing young women was sinful, as dated as that word may sound.

And I harbor a sense – not well articulated – that the honor-shame dichotomy somehow draws us away from the deep looking that would allow us to address sin in more meaningful ways.   The honor-shame dichotomy places the problem “out there.’  It creates a form of distracting entertainment.  And yet in that public flogging there isn’t engagement.  No engagement with the problem or problems.   Just blood sport.  Just a Roman Colosseum-esque thumbs up or thumbs down.

Christ stopped the mob gathered to stone the woman caught in adultery with the words, “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”  Christ stopped her as well with the words, “Go and sin no more.”   I don’t know how exactly that fits with Bill Cosby’s story.   What I do wonder is if there aren’t ways to host deeper conversations, like what Christ did here, around issues of sexuality that maybe help us help outselves.  Help us as a culture. Help us help our children.


A four letter word with three letters … S I N

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Oh goodness do I hate that word.  It immediately conjures up images … images of finger wagging, scolding, shame.

And maybe that is on me.  And not on that word.

Sin can be see in one of two ways.

  1. One way begins with judgment of other.  Then loops up to condemnation.  And eventually rests in damnation.
  2. The other begins with judgment of self.  That loops up into restoration.  And eventually rests in salvation.

I strongly suggest if the three letter word of “sin” is a four letter word to you, take a look at the possibility and promise of living the second perspective.  There is an honesty there, an accountability, a humility we all need.  And there is hope.

Sin in the end is a word for those things that break relationships … “The evil that is sinful is simply evil against our neighbor” (Emanuel Swedenborg).   Sin hurts.  It hurts us.  It hurts others.  God does not.   When we come to terms with sin, no matter how many letters we use to spell it, relationships are restored.

One word that is hard to say … “SIN”

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We live in an age when the entire context of “sin” is difficult to discuss.  As a pastor, as that word “sin” leaves my mouth I shudder a silent prayer that it be heard aright, not heard as a judgment or condemnation but heard as commentary that parts of us are indeed fallen.    The commentary is not one of insiders of purity vs. outsiders of filth but of unity, that idea that we all are frankly jerks in parts of lives, sinners as it were.  And that not to acknowledge such a candid baseline is in fact to place us outside of the human condition.  We are sinners.  We are saints.  From that place we are one.

So we acknowledge the fallen parts of our fragile nature.  We celebrate as well the arenas of gift, breath, and grace.  The wheel turns and we march on.

Key, key, key to acknowledge that in our Christian New Church understanding of sin, we acknowledged an elemental truth to the reality of it all.  That reality is this … We are not punished for sin.  We are punished by sin.   Every foible I had or have in my life I get the opportunity to play to the end, to play to the hilt, to drive that plane right into the ground.  God will not stop me outside the gentle reminders that there is a different way, His gentle way.   And I get that choice, in my powerlessness, in my sin.


Shun Evil or Shun The Evil?

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Much of Christianity over the decades has closely followed the biblical imperative to shun evil.  A cornerstone of repentance, it calls us to see darkness just as that, darkness.  In Isaiah, the prophet offers the words “Cease to do evil.  Learn to do well.”  So the “not-to-do” list is every bit as important as the “to-do” list.  An alcoholic must stop drinking.  An angry father needs to stop getting angry.  Not complicated.  Not easy either!

What complicates this command however is when we slowly move from shunning evil to shunning the evil.

Here I am not talking of evil or sin or darkness in us, in ourselves, but what we judge to be the embodiment of evil or sin or darkness in others.   We can move then from rejecting the action to rejecting the person.

Humanity wether at an individual or community level is never well served by the detached scapegoating that pins evil to a person in such a way that the “evil” is their very identity.  That very thought is actually fallacious for several reasons.

First the definition of “evil” is at best slippery.  There are clear aberrations, where, as noted, we can readily call darkness darkness.  As a matter of fact, I think we must call them darkness.  However, there are more areas that at their very best are grey and therefore any form of judgement needs to be extremely gentle.  We simply don’t know.  And that is NOT a passive place but a place in which to make a strong, dedicated and committed stand.

Secondly, the call Christ appears to offer has little to do with “shunning” others.  As I think needs restated over and over again, the one group He consistently targeted as dangerous were the priests, the clerics who through their pompous dictates around righteousness and purity actually formed a barrier between humanity and God.  I think that is a poignant warning for those of us involved in church work.  Christ appears to actually call us – clergy and laity – to run towards the chaos, towards the mess, and yes, even towards the darkness, worrying predominantly only about our own darkness in the process.

His is a message then of a courageous, self sacrificing radical hospitality and radical inclusion.  From a Christian New Church perspective we are in our limited way called to “play by the same rules” that God does.  In that vein,  Emanuel Swedenborg notes that we allow others the space to be “reborn” when we, in a way mirroring God, learn to truly see them.   (Secrets of Heaven, Vol. II, pg. 76)

That is why philosophies centered on exclusion can be so damaging to the soul – they keep us from seeing others..  Those issues, and this is contentious to offer, include the “hot button” issues of 21st century Christianity  - Second Marriages, Homosexuality, and the Ordination of Women.   Those issues were NOT the hot button issues Christ spoke of.  He does address remarriage but there is a context there that we in our contemporary reading miss. (If this topic interests I spoke to it in this linked service.)  In terms of homosexuality, Christ does not address the issue in any of the 4 Gospels nor is the issue of ordination of women addressed either.  New Church canon largely reflects that same treatment.

These hot button issues settle then uncomfortably close to issues of exclusion and as such slide dangerously close to the kind of “shunning” practiced by the Pharisees, not by Christ.

Maybe the darkness in our souls we most need to guard against is that very “shunning” that all too often can be practiced under superficial “righteousness.”  The phrase “Shun the Shunning” sounds cute but maybe is enough to work on today.  A bubble worth bursting.


Facing What You Absolutely Cannot Overcome

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Evil is illusion.  It has no “reality” per se in much the same way that darkness is nothing in and of itself but instead is the absence of light.   That being said, boy, at times it sure feels powerful, often overwhelmingly so.

So what can we do?

Maybe we start from the counter-intuitive notion that facing evil for which we have no defense, may in its own way be perfect.  Our evils, as a starting point, are perfectly attuned to our own weakness.  Restated, we don’t face the evils for which we have the strength to overcome.  Their pain is perfectly attuned to our sensitivities, their threat perfectly menaces what we value most.  They grow organically right out of the most uniquely debased parts of our particular beings.

Maybe “we can’t/ I can’t” is then the perfect blessing, something those involved in the 12 Step program have known for decades.  And another form of surrender is important beyond the surrender to powerlessness and to God.  After surrendering to God, we have to surrender to another.  Surrender to the powerlessness, surrender to God, surrender to another.

This is a hard surrender to speak of.   Surrendering in this regard is fraught with serious challenges, surrendering to the wrong person being chief among them.   The wrong person is one who points to him or herself as the “answer.”  It is the person with whom co-dependent attachments readily form.

The right person is a fellow traveler.  It is a person who regards themselves with the healthy and helpful humility that allows the spacious God needs to accomplish His aims.

Evil must exist within darkness and secrecy.  Shining the light of our own powerlessness, of God’s love and wisdom, and of a trusted fellow traveler on that evil over which we have no power inevitably leads us away from evil simply by seeing the evil for what it is in a way that stresses rigorous honesty as well as accountability.  From those lights we see truth, we know power.  We also settle deeply into the love that is the Divine.  As the book “Heaven and Hell” phrases it, “Love is what is receptive of every heavenly quality — that is, of peace, intelligence, wisdom, and happiness. Love is receptive of everything that is in harmony with it.”