More on "I don't do sin..."

Three fascinating comments came my way during worship today after sharing my reflections on "not getting sin and salvation" anymore. (See my sermon notes below...) First, there was a deep resonance among some people who said that they, too, were interested in the nuanced and multi-layered sense of the human experience that the "new paradigm" church is exploring. "All of our sin-talk seems like a hamster on a wheel in a cage going round and round and never getting off!" Some saw the traditional words of sin as a way of letting some into the community while keeping others out; and some told me that our usual sin words are too narrow and don't help us consider things like poverty, race hatred and war. (I love the way Peter Rollins talks about this wrestling together in community...)

Second, there was a sense of "liberation and freedom" among others who said that they felt a little discomfort, too, in letting go of such an historic resting place. They grasped that the time had probably come to speak more creatively about the human condition but they also wanted to make sure that I wasn't claiming the whole idea of sin and salvation were over. And, of course, that was not my point. What I was trying to say was that the time has come to let go of our historic obsession with sin precisely because this letting go can be so liberating. Perhaps a better way of talking about this is finding the right balance when reflecting on our human condition.

And then there were the folks who didn't seem to hear the nuance of my suggestion - perhaps for them reality is always black/white or all/nothing - for they wondered what would happen if we didn't include the reality of sin in our spiritual anthropology? That would be a self-centered mistake - idolatry even - but that was not my point. (NOTE: one of my blind spots as a person and pastor is trying to hear/understand those who do not think paradoxically. I can usually grasp their insight, but it takes a LOT of listening and critical reflecting on my part because I most always see things as both/and rather than either/or.)

And when our worship conversation came to a close, a few folks even spoke to me about the new/old writings re: "what ever happened to sin?" I even got an email from a friend citing a survey that 61% of Americans believe in sin - and almost 85% are certain that some behaviors are totally sinful. Nevertheless, Marcus Borg seems to grasp what lies deeper when he writes:

All of our traditional formulations about sin are right and wise... Each "catches" a comprehensive dynamic at work in who we are. The problem is disobedience. The problem is estrangement. The problem is pride. The problem is infidelity. The problem is lack of trust. And each of the traditional formulations complement each other very nicely. The history of Christian thought about sin is filled with wisdom.

But... is "sin" the best comprehensive term for naming our problem (or the human condition)? Would we understand our problem - and its solution - better if we used multiple images to speak about it... for when we say that "we are all sinners," (aren't) we really saying, "something is not right, something is radically wrong, we are lost?" (Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 167)

And THAT is what this opening conversation was about: what is the BEST way to reflect on and address our true human condition? Like my wife said after worship while we were resting, "I need a quiet time every week in worship to consider where I have missed the mark... what perspective I am NOT seeing... so you can call it sin or brokenness or whatever... just don't take that quiet time away as you help us let go of some of our sin talk."

As this day comes to a close, I am grateful to God for all those who engaged in this conversation with me - those who share my questions, those who challenge me and those who don't seem to get it, too - for we are really all in this together. I like the way the Iona Community puts it:

O God of life - of all life and each life - we lay our lives before you;
We give our lives to you from whom nothing in us is hidden.
You are before us, Lord, and you are behind.
You are around us, Lord, and you are within.
O God of life, O generous Spirit,
Renew us all with your life: tonight, tomorrow and always.


SGF said…
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SGF said…
I think different people did hear your message from different perspectives. My comment sprang more from your on line sermon than from what I heard in church and my perspective was the cycle of coming to church being reminded of salvation and redemption of sin and them promising God not to do it again...failing and coming back imperfect again and again. That becomes self-centered! Paying attention to just the behavior and not the depths(soul). Again Thomas Moore talks about honoring symptoms (sin?) as a voice of the soul. "Care of the soul is not so much concerned with fixing as with attending to the small details of everyday life." I think it all goes back to that word paradox....on the one hand sin is bad and we want it gone....but on the other hand it gives us a glimpse into the depths of the soul! We have to go deeper and see the real message of Jesus ministry here and I like what Moore says on page 27 of Writing in the Sand...He says,"These are the fundamentals of Jesus philosophy..YOU CHANGE PROFOUNDLY: You don't just repent and feel sorry for your mistakes.<<<---(Your point in the sermon?) You adopt an utterly unconventional point of view. You live in a different reality, even though you are still working out your worldly life.
Two streams now define your life: earthly concerns and spiritual vision. THIS CHANGE leads to a life based on love, a love rooted in profound and radical respect for the other. Eventually you realize that your chief role in life is to heal. That is how Jesus lived and what the Gospels teach."

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