Mea Culpa

Although I read and loved Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, and although I used his ideas as the basis of many a sermon, and although I affirm the idea that it is a blessing to be a sentient being in this world, experience has brought me back to a concurrent belief in original sin.

We all learned, back in the 70’s, that our old time Christian religion which emphasized sin was bad for our self esteem. And we learned that it is important to have good self esteem. I remember back in 1982, sitting at a bus stop, waiting for the bus with my little toddler daughter…Mandy was toddling around the bench, examining the weeds growing in the cracks, chatting with everyone, laughing in the sunshine. I was enjoying her antics as usual. A woman sat down on the bench beside me and after watching Mandy for awhile, she turned to me and asked, “Have you thought about the salvation of her eternal soul?” Taken aback, and, for once in my life, ¬†quick with a come-back, I replied, “I think I’ll be doing good if I can let her spirit remain just like it is now. Look at her!” The woman said no more, thank heavens.

So, yes, I do understand the importance of growing up with affirmation instead of degradation. As a grown up, however, I have discovered that I misbehave. I have noticed that often a misbehavior is something which I initially assumed to be passing fair. Frequently, indeed, a misbehavior is something I have done automatically or paradoxically or even in the face of knowing “better”. For example, I have felt the Demon Jealousy rise up in me and twist my actions in ways which shocked me. Was I truly demon possessed or was it just me, misbehaving? And what about the Demon Judgement or the Demon Anxiety or the Demon Certainty or the Demon Follow-the-Leader?

As a pastor, for years I was angry with many parishioners. Angry for hypocrisy, angry about laziness, angry about them judging me. I was so angry that I used to have to write sermons two or three times in order to bleed some of the rage out of them. Then a weird thing happened. I was volunteering in the Civic Club in town and although I said I’d accomplish something, I didn’t. What’s more, I justified my laziness and dishonesty by judging the chairman as unworthy of respect. Suddenly I had an epiphany: I was behaving exactly like those parishioners with whom I was chronically angry.

I used to believe that the human being is the crown of creation. I do not believe that anymore. It seems to me now that the human animal just imagined a crown and just placed it on our own head. In the big picture, observed from outside our selfish sphere, God is the crown of creation and we human animals are no more similar to God than any other creature…and that includes blades of grass, drops of water, giraffes, amoebas, you name it.

We are animals and we have our characteristic behaviors. ¬†And lots of those behaviors are not very nice. Somebody should apologize. Someone should make amends. Who is it that has sullied their own nest on such a grand scale that every creature’s existence is impacted? How do we apologize? How do we live with the guilt? How can we bear to recognize our own behavior?

For these reasons, which our ancestors understood perfectly, they invented a being called God who could forgive us. Sure, they invented Yahweh. That’s obvious. Unless you allow yourself to believe in the superiority of one tribe over another, you can’t go ahead and believe in one tribal god to the exclusion of the others. BUT then, how are you going to lay down your burden? To whom do you crawl for repentance?

The Salvation History for Jews and the story of Jesus for Christians provide an avenue for the repentance of sin and subsequent longed for forgiveness. When do we repent in our gathered community? How do we ask and whom do we ask for forgiveness? Are we blameless? Have we no guilt? What do you say, Walkerites?

4 Comments

  1. Howard Kranz

    I think that understanding of our own brokenness is important, it’s why I sing in Amazing Grace to save “a wretch like me.” But I wouldn’t ask God to save “a wretch like you.” That seems like an easy distinction at first but in practice it gets tricky.

    Anyway, I think a community acknowledgment of our shortcomings would be okay as long as we don’t have to specify our shortcomings.

    But people are so used to hearing that sin is all about not having the kind of sex you want that it would be delicate.

    Also it is easier for people with privilege to acknowledge their sins; we are usually told we’re okay most of the time so it’s easier to admit we are not okay some of the time.

    But I also hate the liberal confessions you hear sometimes in mainline churches, like “We have failed to be good stewards of the earth.” These somehow make my eyes roll uncontrollably, though God knows I HAVE failed to be a good steward of the earth.

  2. Jennifer Gahnstrom

    Well…this is a “heavy” topic, but I will try to briefly “weigh in” on it.
    I don’t feel a need to do any kind of communal repentance. I guess that shows that I’m “a Lutheran at heart” and as such don’t think it necessary to go to confession, I can go directly to God if I want to.

    When it come to sin, I think humans came up with the idea. We are the only animal that puts some on a pedestal and punishes others and can explain why.

    • I am not talking about communal repentance. I’m talking about when you feel guilty about something you’ve done…whether in your personal life or simply as a human in this world…i.e. guilt for your own part in the destruction of the environment.
      How do you alleviate the weight of your own guilt. I don’t care if you call it “SIN” or what you call it. Don’t you feel guilt, ever?

      • Jennifer Gahnstrom

        I think of guilt more as a motivator. I know I will feel guilty if I do something I think is wrong, so I try to do something I think is right. When I fail to “do the right thing” I feel guilty and try to do better.

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