Sin

I think the word “sin” is one of those words that has become so misused, misdirected, and misunderstood that it’s almost taken on a new colloquial meaning, quite different from it’s original conception. Most often, I have heard this word used like a weapon with which to wage a character-attack on oneself, someone else, or whole groups of people.  99 times out of 100, when I hear this word used by Christians, I cringe almost involuntarily. There’s just something I don’t like about how it sounds in most peoples’ mouths.

The most recent example of this occurred during a meeting with a minister on the eve of my daughter’s baptism ceremony. This man – a wonderful man, and a kind, generous, gracious host to our family during this event – wanted to make sure we understood what a baptism ceremony was, and what it was not. We had a lovely conversation about spiritual rituals in general, and I was very moved by the humility with which he approached his role in his church.

At one point in the conversation, he wanted to make sure that we understood that a baptism ceremony wasn’t some kind of “magic” transformation event, and that we would be leaving church that day with the same little baby we had brought with us. He said this warmly but seriously: “she will still cry, she will still be a sinner” –

I bristled.

He paused.

“It’s my understanding, sir, that the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ means to ‘miss the mark’. I don’t believe that my 7 month-old daughter can yet be aware that there is ‘mark’ for which to aim, and it doesn’t feel quite right to speak of her this way”, I said.

I knew this wasn’t a completely rational feeling, but I felt like he had insulted my tiny daughter’s reputation. Some fiercely protective instinct rose up from my belly, into my chest, and out of my throat a bit faster than my brain could mediate it. He was gracious, and while he offered a defense of the word use, I believe he also saw that I intended be unmoved about it, and gently backed away. If this had been a contest of character, he would have outperformed me in patience, gentleness, and self-control without the tiniest hint of pride or exasperation.

My point, however, remains a solid one. The Hebrew word most often translated as “sin” in English is the word chata’ah, which means to “miss the mark”, the way an archer might miss a target with his arrow. Chata’ah, or “sin”, is a mistake, an error, a big ole OOPS! To be committ a sin, you must be aiming for something and miss it.

I think that this word, and it’s associated imagery, is such a lovely, inviting, and compassionate way to understand the limits of our own humanity. We all know what it’s like to want to be – or behave – better than we are, and yet still keep making all kinds of little (or big) missteps along the way.

Perhaps that’s what this minister intended to suggest to us as he explained how the baptism ritual wouldn’t rid our daughter of her human limits. And frankly, I’m not sure I was listening well enough to have ascertained his precise meaning (well, would you look at that? That’s actually a perfect example of ‘sin’).  Nonetheless, if someone wants to call my daughter a ‘sinner’ – or one day explain to her precisely how she is one – I just want to be sure they understand exactly what they’re saying.

How to Pray

A group of people once asked Jesus how to pray, and he answered with poetry.

Poetry, which presumably got translated many times over since then, and may or may not be accurately represented by the current versions we have available to us today. You can find many rendering’s of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ through a simple google search, ranging in tone from the feudalistic language of King James’ Version:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

Amen.

To a more mystical, middle-eastern Aramaic translation:

O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration.

Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.

Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.

Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.

Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.

For you are the ground and the fruitful vision, the birth, power and fulfillment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.

Amen.

But my question is this: how do you train yourself to sit in the ground of your own heart-swell, and let yourself be swept up into union with the divine source of life and love Itself?

Holy Spirit

Jesus said,

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send the Holy Spirit to you.  — John 16:7

After nearly a decade of psychological study, I read this and hear a man saying, “Let me leave this earthy realm so that I might give back to you your own projections of divinity.”

Being God, I believe that Jesus came all this way, entering into the experience of being fully human – loving and grieving and rejoicing and suffering alongside us, that we might be able to see ‘how it’s done’. In other words, how it’s possible to be fully entrenched in this human form, and yet experience the presence of God within us.

Indeed, I am quite convinced that believing in a God who is also alive inside us will ‘help’ each of us much more surely than a belief that God is still exclusively ‘out there'”.

Church

“Jesus never asked anyone to form a church, ordain priests, develop elaborate rituals and institutional cultures, and splinter into denominations. His two great requests were that we “love one another as I have loved you” and that we share bread and wine together as an open channel of that interabiding love.”

― Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind

Psalm 100:1

One of the most striking things I’ve encountered during my attempt re-join the church, is how I feel about the music reverberating from inside it’s walls.

The first church service I attended after I decided I wanted to start going again was remarkably awkward for me (in part) because of the music. I was sincerely disappointed about this too, as some of my fondest memories from the church-going days of my youth involved singing to God with my whole heart: eyes closed, body swaying, hands raised, and my frequently tear-streaked face shining upwards at the God whom I was 100% positive could see and hear me.

It was beautiful, truly. I miss that feeling something fierce.

Yet, now that I’m attending church in my 32-year old skin, reading the lyrics of each song from the video monitor often gives me considerable pause. My body swayed along easily to the sweetness of the melody, and I probably could have danced about wildly to a wordless song of praise. Yet, singing along with the words I was reading felt pretty incongruous with my new way of relating to God.

So, what has changed?

For one thing, I forgot how militant the feudal symbolism in some Christian music can be, and I’ve spent too long working in trauma-informed social services not to bristle at the use of some words and phrases. Furthermore, I also failed to remember how unrelenting the use of masculine pronouns for God can be in church culture, not excluding it’s music.

During an earlier time in my life, I related to God with a kind of inexhaustible thirst for Him. I understood “Him” as a him then, and it didn’t bother me to speak or sing of him this way. Now it does. I think that it’s very likely that most reasonable biblical scholars, theologians, and God-fearing persons agree that God is beyond gender — however, I am almost never given an enthusiastic response when I suggest we update our language to something more gender inclusive when talking about God.

I’m not sure if that’s just because it’s an awkward linguistic transition for people, or if the human mind is so resolute in it’s need to beat back ambiguities that people just can’t go there, but here’s the thing: I have a DAUGHTER. And I need to make sure that she does not learn this particular implicit lesson about gender from her faith community: “if God is male, then male is God” (thank you Sue Monk Kidd for that one).

This is a non-negotiable for me as a parent. I need to find a faith community that will help me honor this evolution of language that is so desperately needed in our religious dialogue.

… Otherwise, my sweet girl is going to be singing a bunch of ‘at-home-revised’ lyrics to old, familiar songs. And I imagine that might set her up to run into some old, familiar walls that I’d really rather tear down for her before she even gets there.

Baby steps.

I have a 13-month old daughter. Her name is Evelyn, and she is one of the many reasons I believe wholeheartedly in a divine source of life.

One day soon (maybe my next post) I will write much more about this, as it certainly deserves it’s own elaboration, but for now all I want to offer is this theological shorthand: I believe that Jesus’ most salient – and most misunderstood – message to humankind was one of our shared divinity. Meaning, that while we are all fully human, we are all also of completely divine origin, and we may choose at any moment to surrender into that equal inheritance and receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

But back to my daughter. I believe it is my job to introduce her to both the full range of humanity and the full depth of her divinity, and I want to try to do this by way of the person, the example, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I would especially like to be able to do this without the baggage of literalism and legalism I so often find in mainstream church culture. Yet, I also want to be careful not to create some kind of weird, home-grown, fringe movement, “Logan-family-only” religious identification that would keep us (her) from being able to connect sincerely with other faith-practicing folks.

So.

I’ve been church shopping here in the Kansas City metro area somewhat vigorously.

For some stubborn reason – despite my misgivings about organized religion – it’s important to me to TRY to make “a go of it” in a good old-fashioned, well-organized, well-attended Protestant church. Maybe this is connected to a feeling about how I was raised, or maybe I just know that churches with deep roots in the community and lots of organization on the ground provide a lot of services for families that you just cannot get anywhere else. There are mom’s and couple’s groups, kids programming and youth groups, community service opportunities, pastoral care and counseling services, and mission trips. As a parent, I feel strongly that these types of resources offer something invaluable to the families that make use of them.

Last week, I went to a Mom’s group through one of these local churches in order to talk about how to include faith in the  daily structure of our family’s lives. I worried that this might become a slightly awkward conversation for me, as I’m no longer very comfortable with a lot of Christian phraseology, and am downright opposed to adopting any spiritual rituals or practices into our lifestyle that would create anything other than religious and social inclusivity in our hearts and minds. And while I did wind up feeling a little bit like a fish out of water at times, I also felt welcomed and respected. In turn, I felt a warm and full feeling in my own heart towards all of the other women in the room. It seemed to me that we had all shown up that night because we wanted to talk about how to “safe-guard the souls” of these precious babes we all love so big and so deeply.

During the meeting, I had this one moment in which I realized that I had not started using the word “God” around my daughter yet. She is a very verbal kid, and works pretty hard to repeat nearly everything we say to her already, and so I found it somewhat noteworthy that I had been shying away from using this word with her. It’s a pretty loaded word for me given my personal relationship with the church and church culture over my 32 years, and I suppose I hadn’t wanted to burden her with it yet. Upon some reflection, however, I remembered that my daughter is not me. She does not have the same psycho-social-spiritual history with the word “God” that I do, and now that I was face-to-face with this linguistic conundrum, I wondered if I might be able to give her that word in a different way than it was given to me.

Throughout my career as a psychotherapist, I have met so many teenage and adult persons that have described a tremendous amount of psychological suffering related to the absence of a genuine spiritual life. Consequently, I cannot – in good faith – withhold any opportunity to expose my daughter to the concept and the presence of the divine. I also know that her brain will not be able to process the ambiguous, abstract, amorphous concept of God that I myself have adopted until she is much, much older. And I do not feel that it is wise to wait to introduce to spiritual life to her at “a later date”. I want to give her a spiritual language as early as she can receive it, and help her to weave these miraculous notions into her understanding of herself as soon as possible.

The day after I attended this mom’s meeting, while my daughter and I were going through the usual list of people that love her (“Mama loves you, Dada loves you, Nana and Papa, and Gamie and the other Papa love you, etc…”), I decided to say “and God loves you too”. Without missing a beat, this tiny little person looked right at me and said “God. Yeah”, and nodded her head enthusiastically. So then I asked her “And where is God? Where do you think God is?” She didn’t look around the room like she typically does when I ask her something like “where’s Dada, or where’s Mama?”, but remained looking straight at me. So I answered as best as I could for now saying, “God lives in your heart. Right here in your heart; that’s where God always is”.

She looked down at her chest, and then up at me and said “harr” (heart), and nodded her little head.

It feels like a good start.

Poems are better than prose sometimes.

Here’s the thing.

I grew up loving my religion.

 

It helped me to feel safe, and loved.

It offered me a moral compass,

And connected me to generosity.

 

It also taught me some unkindness –

Mostly towards myself.

 

And later still, it became too narrow

For my wild heart –

Much too reckless for these rules.

 

Doubting their simplicity, and mistrusting their cruelty.

Who gives me this authority?

 

There’s a questions I cannot answer,

Nor avoid.

Full Disclosure

I’ve been trying to write a book for nearly two years.

There’s a lot of volume there so far, and I like where it’s all headed, but frankly – it feels like being pregnant with an elephant. Elephant’s are pregnant for 23 months… did you know? When I was *literally* pregnant for a mere 9 months, I nearly combusted with anxiety about finally getting to meet my girl.

The passion I feel about this book is similar actually. In fact, my daughter and the idea for this book were conceived at almost exactly the same time. She’s 1 year and 1 week old now. I set the book largely aside once she arrived because raising her takes nearly every single scrap of my attention, energy, and focus.

When I do finally get a moment to sit down and write, I often get stuck wondering “JUST how inflated can one person be to think they have it in them to tackle the problems of one of the world’s largest religion in their spare time?!?!!”.

But, turns out: that kind of thinking doesn’t help the writing process. At all.

So, here’s what I’m going to do for now: I am going to quietly blog over here by myself. I may or may not tell anyone about it for awhile, but I’m going to choose to go ahead and write as if I had an audience because this helps me get the creative-heat out of my body and onto the page.

If this all goes according to plan – and of course, nothing truly wonderful ever does, I will eventually be sharing a very personal story about how (and why) I abandoned the evangelical Christian spiritual community of my youth, and then how (and why) I found myself wanting to heal my relationship with the church over a decade later.

Note: this is absolutely not a tale in which I will tell you about my regret over ever having left the church. I don’t regret that at all. In fact, it was one of my best moves.

 

So, in conclusion: I have no idea how to design a web page. I don’t imagine this blog will be terribly sexy by 2016 standards. It’s just gonna be words for now. Words you have to read all the way to the end. And it’s going to take more than 15 seconds to get there.

Feel free to hang with me as this all unfolds. For now, I’m grateful for your readership.