>Soul Bowling, Hat Hammers & Love Funnels

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In keeping with my theme of “backing talkwards”, I continue to chip away at finding what sin is not (in hopes of narrowing down what it is). Here is #3:

3. Sin is not what we were designed for- “God is love.” (1 John 4:8). If read correctly; this quote is big, profound and intense. I believe we can dwell on those three words for our entire lives and never really understand how many questions they answer, how many problems they solve, how much hope they inspire or how humble we should be. It also defines our purpose too.

Read the beginning of Genesis again. The very first action verb we see is that God “created”. Remember, God is love. It’s a lesson by example. Love is creative. It’s active, progressive and inventive. As designed in his image, I believe we were meant to continue the spread of his love by following his instruction to be the stewards of the earth (Genesis 2:15, Hebrews 2:6-8, Psalm 8).

Stewards are caretakers of someone else’s property.

But, we’ve ignored the example of creativity. For instance; we begrudgingly interpret the 10 commandments as rules to bind us. We should rather see them as restrictions that propel us to focus on being more creative about love (so we don’t “miss the mark”). They’re kinda like bumper bowling for the soul or a love-funnel (for all you hippies out there).

It’s important to know our purpose. Folks whine constantly about seeking the meaning of life. There. You got it in chapter one. We were built to creatively release and expand love (but instead we desired to capture and collect it).

We were deputized to oversee the care of Gods creation. It’s a blessed responsibility. This notion is furthered in Psalm 24:1: “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it”. We weren’t designed to own it ourselves and see if we could handle it in some weird test. We weren’t designed to improve it. We weren’t made to decide for ourselves what to do with it. No. It’s his. We are to be loving custodians. We were blessed to love our work.

In Leviticus 25, God gives uber-specifics of how to best care for ourselves and the land assigned to us. These instructions (as well as many other scriptures on tithing, farming, sacrificing, etc.) indicate that we were intended to display certain attributes like saving, sharing, rationing, planning, waiting, and faith (These correlate well with the writings that love is patient, kind, non-envious, etc. in 1st Corinthians)

We’re made for one thing, but being used for another. Is it any wonder that a good understanding of sin evades us? We weren’t meant to understand it. Is it any wonder that we over-fear sin? Everyone fears the unknown and sin is most foreign to our core. Is it any wonder that we suffer due to sin? Put leaded gas in a car designed for unleaded, you will see suffering in metaphor.

In returning to 1st Corinthians, we see in the start (Vs 1-3) that even if many great and noble things are achieved, none of them matter at all without having love. Is it any clearer that we were geared for this one thing? Yet we usurped the design for our own wants. It’s like pounding a nail with a hat or carving water with a knife or cleaning windows with a rock. Using something for other than it’s intended only ruins it’s real purpose.

To sum it up; God is Love. That love is perfectly actively creative. We and the earth are one result. We are designed to respond and interact with God. The only response to omnipotent pure love is worship and obedience. We were instructed to be caretakers, savers and sharers. It was a perfect design. We diverted from it. We desired to be consumers, blamers, and takers instead. We suffer. We allow others to suffer. We struggle to understand all this. Obedience would be a proxy for understanding if only we would embrace it. Unfortunately, that’s not our nature anymore. We are sickened with sin.

Genesis 2:7 says “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” If we are to take care of the earth and man is molded from the earth, aren’t we designed to be stewards of each other? Doesn’t this explain the scriptures continued theme of serving, protecting and giving? Doesn’t this explain the mystery we feel as we try to comprehend the meaning of serving any purpose other than our design?

“Love…always protects.” Paul, 1 Corinthians. We should get more creative as mandated.

If sin is not what we were designed to understand then the logical reaction is to obey the one who does understand all things. Like children, we should always be curious to learn, yet never rely on knowing everything prior to submitting to our higher loving authority.

>Mountains, Moonshiners and Malignancy

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From the hills of Kentucky and across the Big Sandy River into the most isolated portions of West Virgina, a complex relationship was born long ago and still continues today. The ‘shiners noticed a growth in demand whenever the local preachers gave hard sermons on drinking. The hollers were small so no one wanted to be seen buying it; instead they purchased the backwoods goods. However, the more they drank, the guiltier they felt and therefore they attended church more regularly for “Heaven-pass” assurances of forgiveness and “fire and brimstone” pep-guilt talks. 

The Moonshiners promoted the unreasonable expectations of the church as it drove folks to drink in secret more. The church was dependent on drunken regrets to increase attendance and sin-offerings. Both publicly blamed each other for the town-folks unhappiness, yet they were necessary for each others benefit and existence. This beneficiary relationship between rivals has been termed a “Baptists and bootleggers” scenario.

In continuing with my theme of identifying what sin is not, I present to you my second “Not”:

2. Sin is not benign (neither are we)- I was raised modern evangelical, I guess. In hindsight, my mentors seemed to minimize the importance of the Old Testament (presenting as “past tense”), and magnify the New Testament as a replacement to make the original writings more of an obsolete back story. I kinda even worry that we will now overcompensate for the next generation before we rally to view it as “The Testament” and let it flow as equal in relevance in every way. My point is this though; it had once steered me to view sin as old news that I need not attend to.

But sin is active and interactive. It’s insatiable and hungry to separate us from God’s law (1 John 3:4). It’s never satisfied (Romans 7:5). It does not stagnate or plateau. It can grow, compound and fester (James 1:15 ). It can be inspired or inflamed by spiritual influences beyond our capacity of understanding (1 John 3: 8-10). Sin is an aggressor on the offense (Romans 7:23 ).

Let’s not get too comfortable being the victims though. We’re not passive in this. It’s a sickness by invitation only. With knowledge comes choice. The “tree of knowing” quite possibly was our moment of owning responsibility. Sin, to me, appears symbiotic. Chickens and eggs, you know? Sin is nothing to us without our behaviors, nature and flesh as a vessel. Our unholy tendencies are nothing without the vulture-like persistence of sin.

I think we choose mutuality with sin. It is ever-consuming and we are ever-drawn to it (John 8:44 , Romans 7:15). You may notice that the Ten Commandments do not read as unfortunate victimizations. Imagine; “Thou shalt not be forced to kill”, “Thou shalt not be tricked into coveting” or “Though shalt not be manipulated into stealing”. No they read as directives to people who have investment of choice and behavior. Sin is prowling but we own our consummation with it.

I think we have a Baptists and bootleggers relationship with sin. We often blame it as an outside party rather than claim it as a partnership. This discounts our requirement to mind our ways. We devalue our debt simply because we’ve heard that it’s already been paid for. Conversely, sin benefits from “blaming” us by omission. The sick relationship is empowered when we over-fear it (though we have been redeemed) because helplessness induces laziness and hopelessness inspires carelessness.

I don’t mean to present sin as a conscience being (that sounds like a whole ‘nother topic) but as a fuel that means little without a willing vessel. It sits in our tank, yet we must admit to turning the key.

As a non-stationary state that just exists; it’s vague yet complex. Sin’s not dependent on being deliberate, known, inspired, an action or even known of. It can be all of those things though. It’s sometimes just the thought of an action or even an inaction (Matthew 5:21-30). 

In the flesh, we all see the effects of sickness in this world, but we wouldn’t even need a word for it if everyones body was perfectly healthy at all times. It’s defined only in contrast to health. It has many forms and degrees of consequence. But, it “is” only because of what it’s “not”.

Does sickness actually exist other than being “non-health”? Illness is nothing without a body to corrupt. It’s certainly still assertive though, aint it? Similarly, is sin not just any state of being non-Godly? Does sin “be” outside of corrupting our connection to God’s love? I don’t know, but am curious as to other thoughts. 

Either way, it is malignant and should be treated as such. So even though sin is not easy to define (see my “Not” #1), it is still defin-able, worth trying and worth allowing the definition to evolve further.

>Webster & Sin

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OK. Don’s outta town, I think. He invited me to contribute some thoughts to the Sin-blog. I’m not sure what I bring to the table (I worry that this only implies that he thinks I’m “extra-familiar” with sin) but I’m happy to be part of the dialogue nonetheless. Ever since this talk started I’ve discovered how little I actually know. I don’t yet have a healthy enough understanding of sin. What to do?

There’s the old Cherokee folk tale of the young tribesman that asks his mentor “How did you carve the canoe from that tree?” His trainer replied “I just cut away everything that was not a canoe.” I’m starting in a similar mindset. If I can’t say what sin is, I can at least hope to narrow down what it’s not. I’ll likely post a few ponderings in this perspective for a while and I hope you’ll help me banter. Here’s my first thing that sin is not (it seems like a no-brainer but I have to start somewhere right?)…

1. Sin is not easily defined- I love words. I’m even a word-aholic, so I’m especially disabled by the expectations of modern language. Sin’s evasive from the get-go. We have a comfort zone of how definitions work. We like short, concise, measurable terms that limit a subject from being anything else. We’re very closed minded when taken out of this haven.

But, sin is mobile. Our prism of view needs to be ever-moving, yet we want it to sit still while we gaze. It’s like we’re trying to film a movie with a still photographer’s equipment. Sin’s both noun and verb. It is and it does. It’s a state and an action. This duality is much like “Love” and you can see how well we’ve accomplished defining that. In fact, we’re obsessed with Love and still fail to find comfort in allowing it to transcend our limitations of language. Sin’s a less than desirable subject, so we under-define it all the more.

As anti-God, sin’s also incalculable. Our words can’t capture the magnitude of infinities. There is not always a lowest common denominator in spiritual definition. Our inability to sum up forces beyond our vision is rivaled only by our ego-driven surety that we should still try to limit what things are, so that we can better control them.

Google the “Definition of sin” until you get a satisfactory short answer…I’ll wait (no, I won’t). I tried it. I kid you not, this was one of them;

Main Entry: sin
Function: verb
: to commit a sin

Sin is defined here as, ummm….yup….”sin.”

Another search turned this gem up; “To violate a moral or religious rule.” I was unfortunately most able to relate to this one. It actually portrays my relationship with sin throughout my 30 years of God-chasing. I reduced a most prominent affecter of my most important relationship to this un-biblical nugget. I think I allowed Webster and modern tradition to define part of my spiritual view. Regretful. Can you relate to this?

I think it’s time that we expand our scope. Sin may not be definable in a comfortable and limited way for us, but it is certainly something that affects, distracts, hinders and harms us all. It is a barrier to our achieving Gods loving intent. It’s often a tool that we use against each other or an obsession that we try to face alone. It’s an inducer of guilt, shame, pain and finality. It’s the cause of death even (James 1:15, Romans 6:23).

Sorry Webster, you gotta go. It’s strictly scripture time now. Can we accept that our answer may never be fulfilling or complete? Does that make our search for answers moot? Why should we try to understand sin more? What does the answer mean to us? How come Webster re-runs are never on TVLand? That kid had a bigger vocabulary than they let him showcase on his sitcom….