Sloth: Missing the Call for Sabbath

Baby sloth, Vilainecrevette /

Baby sloth, Vilainecrevette /

Sloth. It’s not just a strange, adorable animal we love to watch in videos. It’s also one of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” and one that I find hanging around in my daily life.

I didn’t think about sloth in particular when I chose my Lenten practices for this year, but it turns out to be the very beast (sorry) I’m trying to walk away from.

To be clear, I’m a pretty active person. I walk to work, run long distance, and I’m also very social. But the fact is, every night I look forward to getting home and enjoying what I tell myself I’ve earned: as much time on the couch watching TV and eating as I want. It’s relaxing, I figure, and takes no mental or physical energy.

This is the proverbial sloth in the room.

Yes, unwinding is good, but here’s the problem: I’m not really getting any rest from this. Sure, I’m lounging, and my brain takes a rest if I’m watching something inane; but as a Christian, rest means something different than it does for other people. Rest means Sabbath. Sabbath is the day of the week that we hold sacred, the day when we rest from our usual work and worries, the day that we give back to God and use to worship God. So ironically, my approach to getting the sloth out of my life is to bring the Sabbath into it, at the end of each day.

Sin, Guilt, and Psychology: What I Wish All Pastors Knew

Illustration of boy hiding behind a desk, Ron and Joe /

Illustration of boy hiding behind a desk, Ron and Joe /

Our culture's shift around its relationship to shame and guilt can be traced to the broad influence that psychology has had on Western culture over the past century. That is, the reason we have become so sensitized to guilt and shame today in our culture comes from the practical insights of psychologists: As they worked to help people face their hurtful and dysfunctional behaviors, psychotherapists observed that their attempts to help were often met with resistance. Early on Freud referred to this phenomenon as "denial," but regardless of the terminology we use, this is a dynamic therapists have recognized over and over and again because it is, quite simply, one of the most basic elements of human psychology: When we feel threatened we get defensive.

As a result of this dynamic, psychotherapists have found that people actually have struggles on two simultaneous fronts: One struggle is with their negative behavior patterns that hurt themselves and others. The other struggle is the feelings of shame and self-hatred that often accompany these. In fact, the two are frequently intertwined in a destructive spiral where feelings of shame lead to doing things to dull that emotional pain, which then lead to more feelings of shame, and round and round it goes.

Just ‘Love the Sinner.’ Period.

Love illustration, diplomedia /

Love illustration, diplomedia /

I hate the phrase, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”

To be clear, I don’t deny that God hates sin, or that it has dire consequences, or that it exists, or that everyone does it, or that it’s the reason Christ had to come to earth and be crucified in the flesh. I affirm these beliefs. They are not the reason I hate “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”

I hate the phrase because I think it’s a totally screwed-up, backwards, un-Christlike, and unbiblical way to approach ministry and the world in general.

It may be a corrupted bastardization of Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” a quote from a letter by Augustine of Hippo that can be roughly translated as “With love for mankind and hatred for sin.” I have fewer problems with that construction; unlike its modern-day successor, it does not create a subtle but virtually insurmountable divide between speaker and those spoken of.

Is Wealth a Sin?

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy /

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy /

A recent report by OXFAM offered some sobering data about both the concentration and flow of wealth in the world today. A few key points, also summarized by a new business article on The Atlantic website , include:

  • The richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest 3,000,000,000 people;
  • Nineteen out of 20 “G20” countries are experiencing growing income inequality between rich and poor;
  • In the United States in particular, 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis capital growth has been amassed by the richest 1 percent of Americans;
  • While domestic income inequality continues to grow, the income tax rates for wealthiest Americans have steadily dropped.

My first reaction to seemingly immoral concentrations of wealth, and the systems that enable it, is anger and a compulsion to call them out, to change them and to distribute the world’s treasures evenly among all of God’s people.

But what if we need the insanely wealthy to realize a kingdom-inspired vision for our world?

Sin and Simplicity -- Why Jesus Always Borrowed Stuff

Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

Buy less, borrow more Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

Every family, including my own, has its “keepers” and “givers.” There are those who keep and hoard every tiny little trinket, every old letter, and every unneeded refrigerator magnet. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, there are others who give away every extraneous and unused thing, living in radical simplicity.

Over the past six years, I’ve attempted to be more the latter than the former. The simplicity movement has been growing for years and is challenging our assumption that more is better. Graham Hill, in a provocative little talk on the topic, has pointed out what our big houses, our lots of things, our endless splurging has done.

Today, the average American has three times as much space as 50 years ago. Our insatiable lust for things has birthed a virtual cottage industry of storage space facilities. The modern storage industrial complex brings in some $22 billion a year. We must learn, Hill argues, to edit our possessions down to what matters and what we actually use. Let the rest go. Clear the artery of our clogged lives. 

Are Sinners 'Hellbound?'

Kevin Miller, Creator of 'Hellbound?'

Kevin Miller, Creator of 'Hellbound?'

This year we are presenting the Raven Award on Nov. 12 to Kevin Miller for his documentary with a question for a title: Hellbound?. Autocorrect doesn’t like the question mark, especially when it’s followed by a period, but I’m glad Kevin used it. Because the idea of hell raises all kinds of questions, particularly about the relationship of God to sin. (For Adam, it raises questions about God’s justice – read his reflections here.) For me, the idea of hell raises questions about punishment, like these:

Does God punish sin in this life and if so, how?

Does God punish unrepentant sinners in the next life with eternal suffering?

These questions have corollaries, of course:

Does God reward the righteous in this life and if so, how?

Does God reward a life of righteousness with eternal bliss?