About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

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Wednesday
Apr102013

Sinner

I write this blog hoping to initiate a discussion.  

Usually when I blog, I've spent some serious time with an idea, mulling it over, talking with other people, reading and journaling; Natalie Goldberg compares it to composting: "continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil."

I imagine my thought process on sin and shame and grace will always be in a state of composting.  But since I am a little stuck on something, I figured I would post a snapshot of where I am at right now, while I am still seriously in the process. 

Would you be willing to "talk back to me" and let me know where you are at?  So we can learn from each other?  

 

I confess, I am a sinner who does not like the word SINNER.

I prefer to describe myself as someone who has "cracks."  Someone who "falls short."  I love how my therapist calls it, "finite and flawed."  

Or, on my most irreverent days, someone whose "shit stinks just like everybody else's."

I imagine some of my aversion to the word sinner comes from my growing awareness of SHAME as a banner over my whole life.  I feel like I am on a shame excavation tour. In digging out the shame, I am re-examining my associations with the word sinner.

 

I grew up calling myself a sinner- a sinner saved by grace.

My job, as someone who had been saved, was to tell all the other sinners that they could be saved just like me.

The line was drawn. On one side were the saved sinners, on the other were the unsaved sinners.  

The job of the saved was to call the unsaved over to our side.  Like, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Johnny the unsaved sinner over."  

I imagine the unsaved sinners felt judged and defensive.  Who wants to be announced as the "unsaved sinners" in the crowd? And what if they didn't want to join the other side?  Was anybody even listening to each other?

 

I think words are meant to be doorways we walk through in order to get to know each other better, to foster conversation.  

But words such as sinner easily become stumbling blocks, or even blockades.  Bring up being a sinner, and it's like hitting a brick wall. This conversation is over. This dialogue just turned to pious monologue.  

 

I think in its essence, the word sin brings freedom, in the way that facts bring freedom.  "Plants need water and sunlight." Nice fact- now I know how to take care of my plants. This is freedom. I don't have to guess at what plants need.

"I am a sinner." Nice fact- now I can stop expecting perfection; now I can stop striving; now I have a name for that thing I've always felt inside of me: that things, and people, are not the way they could be.

There is one worship song with the refrain, "Call all you sinners to join in the song, worship the Lord."  

In this one context, I find the word sinner a freeing, joyful word.  When I sing it, it's like dropping the clothes I hide myself in, and walking naked into the light.  

But in every other context, it seems like the word brings shackles, not freedom.

 

Maybe it's because words get saddled with judgmental connotations.

They get reappropriated by culture, and taken out of context, and used without discernment, and they lose their meaning and their power.  Especially words appropriated by legalistic religious people who, like the Pharisees, are always looking for ways to call people out on stuff in order to feel better about themselves.

 

In her TED Talk on shame, Brene Brown makes the interesting distinction that guilt is a focus on behavior: I did something bad.

Whereas shame is a focus on self: I am bad.

Guilt is a natural by-product of recognizing you messed up, aka "I sinned."  

Guilt leads to repentance, and repentance leads to reconciliation and rest.  

"I am a sinner," is taking the fact that you messed up and labeling yourself with it.  It becomes identity.

And I'm not sure how I feel about this.

 

I find it interesting that the English word sinner is used to translate the original Greek word of the New Testament pronounced ham-ar-ten-oh, which means to miss the mark.  

To me, instead of acquiring an identity as a SINNER, I am simply someone who has missed the mark, something everyone can admit to and easily see inside of themselves. 

But instead, the word sin has acquired major judgmental connotations.  Sinner= bad. dirty. failure. 

The word induces guilt. Or Pride.

 

Pride like when I used to hold the signs on the side of the road for the March of Life, the signs that said, "Stop abortion now," or, "If it's not a baby, you're not pregnant."  I was young, maybe ten years old. I sincerely wanted to help people, and all the unborn babies.  But I might as well have been holding a sign that said, "SINNER! (from the person who is less sinful)" because that's how I think those signs read.  

And, whether I admitted it or not, I felt a little superior holding those signs.  In a pitying way.  Like, "Oh those poor women who have gone through such a terrible thing. I'm so glad I haven't gone through that."  

It might be a good idea to follow thoughts like those with, "There but for the grace of God, go I."  

Anything difficult in life that I am somehow spared from, is not because I am so good, so less sinful, or because I made such great choices.  It is grace.  


Sinner becomes a dividing line of judgment.  Some people are worse sinners, some people are less.  Let's spend a lot of time assigning each other into sin camps so we can feel better about ourselves.

People who are on the inside, who are saved, look out from their fortress at the sinners still on the ground.  We throw them tracts and pray earnestly for their saving.  While we hide behind our self-protective walls and breath sighs of relief that we made it into the fortress in time.  

I am not saying this is all people.  

But I, in my early years of faith, remember thinking and acting along these lines.  Growing up in church, I've seen people think and act along these lines. And knowing the human propensity towards judgment, and all the stories in the Bible about the Pharisees (those people who prided themselves on their holiness and spent most of their time judging and condemning other people in order to feel better about themselves), I think it's safe to say that it's easy to use the word sinner like a stone to throw at someone to teach them a lesson.

It reminds me of the saying, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Sometimes, I think we look in other people's houses and we see the mess and we're like, "Oh, I'm so thankful that's not my house." But the reality is, all we did is put some blinds up on our own windows so people can't see in to our mess.

We call it being saved, but it's really just another thing to hide behind.  I think Jesus called it being a "white-washed tomb."

 

We all live in glass houses. They're called, our humanity.  

I think the reason we so often throw stones at other people is because while we think we are watching them in their glass houses doing bad things that we think they need a wakeup call from, what we are really seeing is our own reflection in the glass.  We are looking at something we don't like in ourselves. And that's what we are really throwing the stone at.

I think Jesus said it right when he said, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone."

It's good advice.  "Take a good look at yourself before you heave a stone at someone else."  

He said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7: 3-5

I love this verse because my hunch is that if we really did spend time focusing on the planks in our own eyes, we would never get around to dealing with the speck in our brother's, because there wouldn't be any time left over.  

Nobody would be criticizing or judging anybody else. We'd just all be trying to become the best version of ourselves.

Maybe that's the point?

What do you think? Do you identify yourself as a sinner?  

 

 

Reader Comments (2)

Read this tonight and thought it gave an excellent perspective on this point:

"The entire focus of our faith has been the elimination of sin, which is important but inadequate, rather than the unleashing of a unique, original, extraordinary, wonderfully untamed faith." -- Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way

April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

beautiful. I love this. It's like the old saying of "keeping the main thing, the main thing." Thank you, my literary friend :)

April 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterTrinity Wilbourn

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