Monday, November 2, 2009

Sin ?

A friend has recently decided to apostatize from Christianity and has repeatedly said/written, "I don't believe in sin." While I respect her path and her process of exploration (far too few people ever examine their beliefs), I just can't fathom what she could possibly mean.

A pretty standard Christian definition of sin is "that which separates us from God." So, okay, if one no longer believes in God, nothing can separate one from that which does not exist, ergo no such thing as sin. But God is so much more than the monotheistic, trinitarian, Christian God. There is divinity in each of us, whether we choose to recognize it or not. There is divinity in the natural world. There can even be divinity in the manmade world. When we live well, we are connected to the divinity within ourselves, and we are able to recognize and reach out to the divinity within others and the world around us. Behavior that is amoral/unhealthy/sinful (in essence, don't they all mean the same thing?) separates us from this divinity.

Another standard Christian mantra on the topic of sin is "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Fiery evangelicals from Jonathan Edwards to James Dobson will tell us that the Apostle Paul is, of course, referring to the gnashing of teeth and weeping among the sulfurous flames of hell. Fiery brimstone, however, is not the only death. I don't know how to be in the world without connection to the divinity in all things around me. That would truly be a walking death.

The biggest problem with the word sin is the desire to define it for the group. Every religious tradition gives a litany of sinful things: eating meat, eating pork, eating meat and milk together, drinking alcohol, working on the Sabbath, shopping on the Sabbath, tearing or tying on the Sabbath, uncovering your head in public, wearing a hat in church, swearing, having sex outside of marriage, having sex the wrong way, having sex at all, questioning authority, wearing pants, wearing jewelry, listening to certain music, reading certain books, talking to certain people. We humans want it to be easy. We want a do list and a don't list. We don't want to think about what separates us from the divine within ourselves and others. We definitely don't want to consider that what separates us from the divine might not be the same as what separates our neighbor from the divine.

Take gardening for example. For some people, the weeding and watering are chores to be borne and dispensed with as quickly as possible. Gardening is work. So, if they want to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, they probably shouldn't be doing this work after church. For others, though, the garden is a place of meditative and prayerful activity, where the care of the ecosystem is an act of worship. Why shouldn't that person worship this way after church? The sin here is not the activity, but the attitude toward the activity. Granted, this is a pretty simplistic example, but do you see what I'm getting at? Clear as mud, right?

I realize these thoughts are less than coherent, and I'd welcome your thoughts. I am grateful that my friend's apostasy got me thinking about my own faith, so I'm paying the intellectual challenge forward.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Souls

November 1 is the day that Christians set aside to remember and honor the souls who have gone before us into the sleep of the just. We light candles whose flickering symbolizes our grandparents, aunts, uncles, beloved friends who are present in our lives because they are present in our thoughts. Their wisdom and humor live on through us. On All Souls Day, I always think of my grandparents, and I thank God that I was able to know them and that my children are able to know their grandparents.

This All Souls Day was different, though. As I sat in church conjuring up the faces of my dearly departed, I also thought of you, the living souls in my life. Today, I thank God that I share this world with each of you. The candles I light remember those who have gone before, honor those who are with me now, and make way for those who are yet to come. Hallowed be your names.

Monday, June 1, 2009


My life is so enriched by my knowledge of epic, chronicle, and folktale. In challenges and in triumphs, I find the repetition and reformulation of these ancient patterns and recognize the universality of my experience.

Recently when I was getting dressed to go present a paper at a conference, I was conscious of making choices tailored to help me succeed in the events to come, like Sir Gawain against the Green Knight or Beowulf against the dragon.

It was kind of a biggish conference, and I was quite nervous. As I was scrutinizing my wardrobe choices in the mirror, I realized that I had girded myself with my comitatus. My mom had been with me when I bought the dress. My necklace was a gift from my oldest best friend to be the 'new' on my wedding day. My earrings were a bridesmaid gift from my college roommate. None of these women was physically going to be in the room with me when I read my paper; however, they were with me, their small yet powerful tokens reminding me to believe in myself because they believe in me and that even if I totally flubbed the paper, they would still love me.

Comitatus is a word we bookish types learn when we take Brit Lit Survey I and read Beowulf. It refers to the hero's posse, the band of brothers, the faithful friends that come along on the journey. The comitatus provides support and camaraderie, and, when necessary, commiseration.

That day, I took Mom and Brea and Julie with me. They were my band of sisters as much as my colleagues who were also in the panel.

This gift of comitatus is one of the most powerful things I can give or have ever received.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunrise Service: In the Moment of the Resurrection

I was asked to talk about how the early Christians regarded the Resurrection at our Sunrise Service. I decided to write from the point of view someone who was there, more dramatic than didactic. I hope they like it. In my head, the voice is a woman's; although, I suppose it doesn't have to be.

These last few days have ricocheted from joy to despair. From the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with palms and cheers to the cross on Golgotha with tears and rejection.

I followed the teacher from my home in Gallilee here to Jerusalem. My family think I have lost my mind. I didn't listen to them. I believed. I believed the teacher was the Messiah come to lead the people of Israel....I believe he is the Messiah. But if he is the Messiah, how could he die? ...I am so angry....I am so confused... I trusted Jesus with my life, and he couldn't save his own. What happens next?

Dawn is almost here. It's time to go meet Mary and the others to anoint the teacher's body for proper burial now that the Sabbath is over. How fortuitous that Joseph had a tomb that we could use. What would we have...Wait....Who is that running? It looks like, maybe, yes, that's Mary and Peter running towards the teacher's tomb. But why is it already open?...

Empty? It was empty when they arrived? How can that be? Risen? Resurrected? What can that mean? Will the teacher live among us like Lazarus? What will the chief priests do?

Mary says she has seen him. The risen Jesus spoke to her. Oh, I should have walked faster! I might have seem him, too. He had told us he would be leaving us, that we would have to take care of each other, but I never thought that death on the cross was what he meant. He became our Passover Lamb, our sacrifice in apology for our sins and in gratitude for God's having saved and preserved us. He did not die because he was too weak to fight the system. Rather, he chose to give his life, to suffer, so that we might be saved. Truly there is no greater love.... He kept telling us the scriptures foretold his suffering and death just as they foretold his life. We didn't want to listen, though. We didn't understand. Now, now we know.

We must tell the others! Surely even after Golgotha there are still at least a hundred of the teacher's followers here in Jerusalem. We few will tell them, and they will help to tell everyone; to spread the word.

Jesus is risen! The Messiah will bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the still small voice in the digital age

Each evening for the last few I have inexplicably lost my Internet connection. The only way to get it back has been to restart the computer. I'm thinking that maybe this is a message. So, starting now, when I lose the Internet connection, I'm just going to shut things down for the night. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Snow is....


In looking through notes to write my Harbingers post, I realized I had never posted these thoughts which I had written to send to my friends working for the Peace Corps in Togo, Africa. While home for Christmas, they mentioned that the local people they met couldn't fathom winter, cold, and snow. Well, that I can help with.

Some things are always true about snow: It is crystallized water. It is always cold. It falls from the sky.

Snow coats the branches of trees like frosting on a cake.

Snow is thick and slippery like walking on butter.

When it is very cold, snow squeaks as though you have your own personal squirrel announcing evey step.

Sometimes, snow is very dry. It falls like powder. The flakes are like grains of sugar. They sparkle in the sunlight. This kind of snow is easy to shovel. It is light and airy, and when you throw it, it fills the air with sparkly fairy dust.

Other times, snow is wet and heavy. Shoveling it is like moving piles of cold, white cow dung. A long sidewalk or driveway full of this snow will make your back and shoulders ache. Though, you can press this snow between your hands to make a ball, and when you throw it, it flies through the air and smacks into the next thing it meets.

Snow is soft. When you jump into deep snow, you land in the clouds.

What have I missed? What is your metaphor to explain snow to someone who has never seen it?

Harbingers, Personal and Universal

Today, spring arrived in my environs.

Sofia came tearing into the kitchen, "Mamamamamama! There are FLOWERS outside." So we went to look, and, sure enough, the crocuses have arrived on the south side of the house. Later, I saw a red winged blackbird (yeah!).

Of course, crocuses and red winged blackbirds are everyone's harbingers of spring. I had my own personal harbingers today, too.

I hung laundry outside on the line, and it actually dried. (N.B. Some years I have attempted this too early and come into the house crying with painful red fingers and/or ended up throwing the laundry into the dryer anyway because I couldn't tell if it was still damp or just really cold.) Granted, I was wearing my hat and a pair of wool felt fingerless gloves, but the laundry went OUT. There is a certain meditativeness in the hanging of laundry outside, and I miss it in the winter. The sun on my head and shoulders, birds singing, bend to the basket, rise to the line, clip, bend, rise, clip, bend, rise, clip.

I wore shoes on the basis of their cuteness today. Not snow boots because of the weather, not hiking boots because I was tired of the snow boots but still needed protection from the elements: cute shoes for the sake of cute shoes, and my feet stayed warm.