Sin

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“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Every year on Ash Wednesday, I seek out some member of the clergy to say those words to me. They come from the curse of mankind in Genesis 3, but I find blessing in hearing them in the tale of the loving purposes of God.

Robert Williamson 01-19-2016

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On Dec. 28, just before New Year’s Day, a Cleveland grand jury declined to indict the officers who killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who had been playing with a toy gun in a park near his home. For many, the news resounded as yet one more tragic refrain in the long litany of our nation’s utter disregard for Black lives. Extinguished in the innocence of childhood, without even a second thought.

Kirsten Lamb 11-18-2015

OK, I get that sin is an issue and I am despicable and Jesus is my only hope. God the Father loves me just as I am, but too much to let me stay that way.

However, I think about sin with the same ease as I do cancer. I either avoid it at all costs, or it becomes the center of my dark thoughts. I’m struggling with grasping the concept, and I hope someday I’ll arrive at the place where my theology and belief in a good God shelter me when I get the Tuesday afternoon call that the tumor is cancerous. The shit hits the fan, but I’m saved. Death is coming, but I’m unafraid.

I’m not there yet. It’s messy and anxiety-inducing. For each step I take forward in understanding the fall of humankind, my other foot takes a step toward grace that is so sweet and life-giving. I wouldn’t mind camping out at grace for awhile.

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The Ashley Madison hack — the public release of emails of wannabe adulterers — has now ensnared a theologian with a famous name in some Christian circles.

Robert Craig Sproul Jr., best known by his first initials, stepped up Aug. 31 to face his sorrow — and teach a lesson in God’s grace in the process.

Jordan Davis 06-29-2015
forgivetext

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I'm afraid Christians too often have overemphasized Jesus’ commandment, "Go and sin no more!" at the expense of his earlier phrase, "...Neither do I condemn you." Could it be that Jesus' admonition to "sin no more" is a jab directed instead at the religious leaders? That Jesus is telling them if they don't quit their sinning, the sin police will have them killed? And Jesus might not be there next time to save them? 

Zach Hoag 05-18-2015
Photo via Michael Yarish / AMC / RNS

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men.” Photo via Michael Yarish / AMC / RNS

Mad Men transported us to the pivotal decade of the 1960s and dealt deliberately with the advent of Madison Avenue and the heyday of the advertising industry. This was the time in our nation’s history when our materialistic fates were sealed: We became a people defined by things, things produced in mass quantities to feed an insatiable cultural appetite. And that appetite was fueled by advertising.

Don Draper, the quintessential ad man, describes advertising early on in the series as “selling happiness.” In the boardroom, Don repeatedly does exactly that — creating scenarios that attach emotional, if not transcendental, value to otherwise common products and services. He brings his clients to tears or laughter or both, and opens their wallets besides. Deals are closed, Clio Awards are won.

Jeffrey Salkin 05-06-2015
Photo via Random House / RNS

Author David Brooks at home in Bethesda, Md. Photo via Random House / RNS

Is David Brooks becoming a Christian?

That’s the question that some people have been asking about The New York Times’ op-ed columnist, especially in the wake of his new book, The Road to Character.

As Jonathan Merritt wrote, “Brooks claims to have written his latest book ‘to save my soul,’ and he told NPR that reading books by authors such as Christian convert C.S. Lewis has ‘produced a lot of religious upsurge in my heart.’”

Photo courtesy of Random House / RNS

Author David Brooks at home, in Bethesda, Md. Photo courtesy of Random House / RNS

Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, traces human virtue throughout the centuries, and then profiles a handful of “heroes of renunciation” who he believes serve as models of character. The book has sparked conversation about Brooks’ views on morality, theology, and even his own Jewish faith.

Brooks talked about society’s obsession with selfies, whether we’re too self-absorbed, and rumors about his own religious journey. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse 

Mindmo / Shutterstock

Mindmo / Shutterstock

From "modest is hottest" to misreading sexual violence in the Bible, Christians have a checkered history regarding rape culture. 

Cindy Brandt 03-18-2015
Gajus / Shutterstock.com

Gajus / Shutterstock.com

I gave up street evangelizing a long time ago. It was a short-lived career — a few weekends into town with a friend, praying for God to help us meet someone we could share Jesus with. It quickly (thankfully) became clear to me that this business of following God is much better done in the context of long-term relationships with a broader understanding of salvation and mission.

Any time we try to confine the big and beautiful Good News of God into a simplistic message small enough to fit onto a tract or a 10-minute awkward conversation, we cut out too many important details. The truncated gospel of the Four Spiritual Laws requires that we get to the point — Jesus is the answer — as quickly as possible, lest our conversion, I mean, conversation partner gets away from us.

For Jesus to be the answer, there’s got to be a problem, and so we belabor the problem in order to solve it.

The mathematical equation of the gospel made sense to me when I was a child and perhaps into young adulthood. Prove the problem and solve the equation. Everything was simple, organized, and neatly categorized.

Somewhere along the way, it stopped making sense.

Part of "setting captives free" is helping see the invisible bonds of structural racism. 

Adam Ericksen 03-06-2015
Candlelight vigil, Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com

Candlelight vigil, Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com

“God is in control.”

The statement comforts many people because deep down we know that we are not in control. We can do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families, but we know that despite our best efforts, tragedy can strike at any moment. And so it’s comforting to believe that if we aren’t in control, Someone else is.

But something inside of me recoils whenever I hear the phrase, “God is in control.” Many believe that God’s sovereignty means that God is behind everything that happens. But I find no comfort in that view of God. In fact, a God who micromanages and controls every event isn’t a God worthy of belief.

Bronwyn Lea 06-18-2014
corgarashu and Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.com

corgarashu and Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.com

When I share the story of how brutal the path to citizenship is for us, people are often shocked. We are not what people have in mind when they think of ‘immigrants.’ We are white. We speak English. We have graduate level degrees. And yet even for us, as documented workers, it sometimes seems nearly impossible that we will be able to gain permanent residency. The path is so much narrower and steeper than people realize, so we speak up.

I speak up because I would love legal residency to be more easily within our reach. As a mom, it would give me so much peace of mind to know we could continue to build a life in the U.S. with our children. But mostly, I speak up because I can. As a legal immigrant, I have a first-hand perspective on just how harsh the current legislation can be, and I also have the freedom to speak about it without fear of being deported.

And so I speak and write in favor of equitable and reasonable immigration reform. I believe it is the right thing to do ethically, and it is the wise thing to do socially and economically. However, whenever I raise the issue I am met with this response: “We’re not objecting to you — because you got here legally and have obeyed all the laws. We are objecting to all the law-breakers who are here illegally: if they disrespected the law, they should not be rewarded for it!”

Stephen Mattson 05-22-2014
Via Doug Shelton, Creationswap.com

Via Doug Shelton, Creationswap.com

Spiritual accountability and discipline are slowly becoming extinct within church communities Here are some reasons why:

1. A Desire for Comfort and a Fear of Conflict:

Confrontation is awkward, messy, and just plain hard — so few do it. Additionally, churches and spiritual communities are intentional about creating a sense of peace, encouragement, happiness, and joy — even if it’s a façade.

Identifying sin, exposing immorality, admitting the truth, uncovering corruption, and acknowledging failure contradict the image many churches are trying to portray.

In reality, Christianity was never meant to be comfortable or easy, but in a society obsessed with self-gratification, pleasure, and comfort, churches too easily succumb to an attitude of placation and appeasement instead of responsibility and intervention.

Christian Piatt 05-14-2014
Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

I’ve always had a curious sort of sympathy for the bad guys. I cried when King Kong died. I wept at Darth Vader’s demise. And I felt like the whole melting thing was a little bit harsh for the Wicked Witch of the West.

Maybe they didn’t really want to be bad. Maybe they were just written that way. Could be that they had a rough childhood, or people made fun of them for being green, or big and hairy, or breathing through a big, black mask. I mean, imagine that on the playground …

Ever since my childhood I’ve felt more comfortable in darkness than most kids seemed to as well. My 10-year-old son won’t even go into any unlit room in our house without being accompanied by our dog, Maggie. But I actually enjoyed being in the dark. It seemed like the one place where I could let the otherwise literal, concrete parts of my brain take a rest, and allow my imagination to run wild.

Theologically, we’re taught to hate, or at least fear, the darkness. We are children of light, God called light into being, and it was from this light that all things were formed. So what use do we have for darkness?

04-07-2014
I live in Washington, D.C., a city in which mistakes are messaged and shortcomings are spun. True confession and true repentance do not occur -- unless it is politically advantageous. Naturally, cynicism runs rampant.
Stephen Mattson 04-04-2014
Rational thinking illustration, phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

Rational thinking illustration, phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

Christianity’s most common and subtle sin is … rationalization.

‘Rationalization’ is defined as: an attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate (Wikipedia).

Essentially, rationalizing is a way of making excuses.

Ever since Adam tried to blame Eve (Gen. 3:12), Moses tried to downplay his ability to lead God’s people out of Israel (Exodus 3), Aaron tried to deflect blame for the Golden Calf onto others (Exodus 32:22), Gideon’s self-deprecation (Judges 6), and Jeremiah’s excuse of being too young (Jer. 1:6), people have rationalized their rebellion to God.

Creating logical, plausible, and valid explanations to justify our sinful actions — or inactions — is easy. We do it all the time because instead of being obviously and visibly wrong, it’s covert, motivated by fear, doubt, shame, and guilt, and mixed with what we assume is intellect and reason — in reality it’s a form of spiritual escapism.

Rationalization is a type of invisible rebellion. It’s hidden not just from us but from everyone. Therefore, it’s rarely noticeable and hardly ever called out. People aren’t held accountable for being reasonable.

But being a follower of Christ often demands being unreasonable.

Catherine Woodiwiss 03-24-2014
 Inspirational poster, BlueLela / Shutterstock.com

Inspirational poster, BlueLela / Shutterstock.com

The first sign I had a problem was when I came across Candy Chang’s “Confessions” project in 2012. It was an interactive art installment on the Las Vegas strip that invited people to come in and confess their deepest secrets anonymously. Those secrets would then be added to a visual art display. It was engaging, unexpected, relevant, discussion-provoking. It was fun.

I hated it.

More correctly, I loved it; and hated myself for not actively doing something similar. I wondered how to implement a version of this idea among colleagues and in office hallways of my organization at the time; I considered “art-bombing” the streets of my city with thought-provoking questions; I spent several moments over the next several weeks seriously questioning whether I should drop everything to focus on Chang-style installations, because I could, and I liked it, and it would work, so I should be doing it. Nothing else I was currently doing mattered. Not without this one thing more.

Welcome to an exhaustive (and exhausting) self-talk: the fixation on never doing enough. Until very recently, I thought this way almost all the time. Somehow — accidentally, almost imperceptibly — years of nurturing my professional and creative pursuits was nurturing something else, as well. It became nearly impossible for me to see work that I admired and appreciated and to not simultaneously think, “I should be doing that, too.”

Which is, simply put, raging covetousness.

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