Friday, June 15, 2007

Warning: Friday Rant

Oooo. I have one of those "I think my head is going to explode" feelings. Thoughts re: sin and salvation and Christianity's take on it and how that relates to Jesus' take on it and Buddhism's take on it and Judaism's take on it and the Tao's approach ... swirling, swirling, swirling. Perhaps a thoughtful post will emerge soon. More likely just some incoherent journal entries.

In the meantime, here's my rant for today. It's not sin I have a problem with. Sin seems self-evident to me. (Read newspaper or watch current administration for examples. But then, I am a Calvinist, so I do read through that lens. Whose post today referred to Ruth Bell as "Staunch Presbyterian" and then thought that phrase might be redundant?)

Anyway, it's judgment that's the problem. Not the fact of sin, but the response of judgment. And in Christianity the two so often go hand in hand that they get conflated and confused. So, for example, while we Christians love the stories of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and the Woman at the Well (John 4), when we try to apply that philosophy to real life, we get squeamish. I mean, we really can't just let people's behavior completely off the hook, eh? Don't we need a little side dish of judgment to go with that mercy entree? Doesn't one need to clean up one's act before serving God?

Pema Chodron has been so helpful to me in recent months.* She teaches about the Buddhist concept of "maitri" or "unconditional friendliness with oneself." It is an incredibly nonjudgmental practice. It's not about "pampering our neurosis" but about "sticking with ourselves when we feel like a loser." At moments, I've wondered if this concept was compatible with Christianity. And then I get these great big "DUH!" moments. Hello!! Ever read the gospels??

Here's what the church preaches on Sunday morning: the prodigal son returns to find a party; the wanton woman makes the best evangelist.

Here's what the church practices: well, of course God loves you, dear, but you really do need to spend a few years feeling very, very bad about how you've behaved.

(Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" comes quickly to mind: "You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting." But I digress.)

What came to me on a run through the rain today is that there are very, very few things that I would actually give my life for. My son's well-being is one of them. Another is this fact: God welcomes the prodigal with a party -- immediately. No repentence required. I know this because I have experienced it. And no amount of theology or church policies or anything else will ever take that truth away from me.

Why is it that my Buddhist and Taoist friends get this so much more easily than my Christian ones?

*highly recommended: "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times" by Pema Chodron.


Diane said...

I think the right response is that NOT only do we not have to clean up our act before we come to God, we CAN'T (underline three times). Our constant thinking this way is ultimate hubris. ... about ourselves and others. If we were capable of cleaning up our act, Jesus would not be necessary.

lj said...

Diane. nicely put. and why I still speak of my need for a savior ...

And yet, here's where I'm getting hung up these days: Buddhists and Taoists, without saviors, seem to get to the heart of this hubris beautifully in practice. (From what I can see, and granted, I'm an outsider, to put it mildly.)

So I read Chodron (again, not as a practicing Buddhist) as saying, no we can't clean up our act and isn't that interesting and so why don't we just let go of our attachment to the hope of getting cleaned up and stop suffering about it so much? Then, having let go of that illusion, we can get on with the possibility of compassionate living.

As I say, swirling thoughts rather than any conclusions. I welcome on-going feedback!

Ed said...

I see now why you liked the line from the Hafiz poem.

jledmiston said...

Side dish of judgement - nice.

You are so smart (re: the prodigal and the wanton woman) and I love the Buddhist stuff.

We seem to be hard on each other especially when we are scared ourselves. I often hear people being harsh with someone and it occurs to me that The Harsh One has often been guilty of same offense (e.g. former smokers).

Maybe those with a strong sense of "there but for the grace of God . . ." and yet there is surely grace for "the sinners" too. That's the point.

Clearly I'm up in the middle of the night pondering such things. Hope you are asleep at this hour not pondering.

lj said...

Ed, indeed. Great work on your blog recently. You're on a roll!

Jan, darling, thank you. Now get some sleep!

pj said...

Hi! I'm having a ridiculously busy weekend and I can't keep up with all you lovely people. Hafiz? I'll have to hop over to Ed's next.

At this very moment, I would welcome an empty hour or two in which to commit a few sins! I'd commit some good'uns.

In all seriousness, my hope is that sins are judged on a sliding scale. Lust after some random guy? No biggie. Start an unnecessary war and take hundreds of thousands of lives? THIS is a problem.

The concept of sin is always going to be alien to me. The word just wasn't used in my house. And even on Yom Kippur, the most important way to atone was to make up with anyone you'd fought with in the past year -- not to please God, but to keep up the repair of this world. Of course, this is Reformed stuff. I actually have no idea what the guys in the black hats talk about all day.

(For a busy person, I'm certainly rambling in you comments. And my grammar's not very good right now either.)

Diane said...

I'm thinking about this right now, but I don't think we give non-theists enough credit sometimes (like Buddhists) for "getting it." especially since Christianity has come so far from its roots and has been so influenced by (at least for us) enlightenment ideas. so ideas like sin and salvation have also taken on a way more individualistic cast than they originally had.

Diane said...

oh yeah as a Lutheran I am required to say... (see comment 1) that we CAN'T even come to God without the Holy spirit's Help. There. Ok. Now that's off my chest.

lj said...

I see your Holy Spirit and raise you God's absolute sovereignty in all things, including our ability to recognize our own sin, much less repent of it!


Diane said...


eileen said...

LJ - Love this thread.

I think so many of us feel much more in touch with brother in the prodigal son story. We feel like, HEY! I've done the right things, and if I can be an eff up, and "get away" with it, then my righteous living has been for nothing.

The point being that is our desire for judgement is a human limitation and not God's limitation. He isn't bound by our sense of justice. As faillable humans, we don't see clearly that point is the "turning toward God". Repentance isn't for God - he doesn't need it. He needs us to desire it though, to turn to him, and give it over, and try again. This is where I think Christianity and Buddism could intersect nicely.

You give it over, and let it go. You accept that you aren't perfect, and you are NEVER going to be. All you can be is the best that God designed you to be, and if you keep re-turning toward God, you are keeping up your end of the bargain. Guilt isn't really necessary.

Now...with my own Roman Catholic, guilt induced religious upbringing, I find it near impossible to ask for forgiveness without also feeling the sting of in asking for it, I'm admitting that I'm not perfect...a perfection which modern Christianity DEMANDS in many denominations. Not useful.