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Archive for February, 2015

It seems to me that when we use the word ‘sin’ we should cringe a bit (given the context we might do more than ‘cringe a bit’). Consider, for example, how we humans continue to treat the earth we have been entrusted with. I find it difficult to call our environmental damage ‘misdeeds.’ To me they are ‘sins’ and it is important for me to name them as ‘sins.’ It is important for me to say ‘This is not Right!’ As human beings we are gifted with the capacity to forget, to deny, to ‘go to sleep’ and become unconscious AND this does not change the fact that ‘This is not Right!’ – This is a ‘sin.’

I am a Christian Ecumenist. This simply means that as a follower of Christ, I believe in and search for ‘the good, the beauty and the truth’ in all faith and humanist traditions. In my searching I continue to find them. The Jewish scholar, Rabbi Louis Jacobs has gifted me with Hebrew words that have helped me understand the nuances of ‘sin.’

I have also learned that Jews, some Christian traditions and some Muslim traditions (the People of the Book) do not believe that humans come into the world as sinners. In each of these Abrahamic Traditions, God said with each creation: ‘This is good!’ This ‘good’ also applies to us human beings. God also learned that to be fully human is also to do harm to all that we have been entrusted with (read carefully the story of Cain; we are our brothers’ keepers). God also learned that to be fully human is to have the consciousness and capacity for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing (read the story of Noah).

Rabbi Louis Jacobs taught me that in Biblical Hebrew there are a number of words that are translated as ‘sin.’ He notes that the ‘differences are subtle but revealing.’ Sins are mindsets that are manifested in actions. There are three Hebrew words/concepts that help me understand ‘sin.’ I invite us to briefly explore these: Pesha, Avon, and Chet. Today we will briefly explore ‘Pesha’ and in my next posting we will briefly explore ‘Avon’ and ‘Chet.’

Pesha, Rabbi Jacobs notes, is closely linked to the concept of rebellion. When Pesha dominates our mindset we seek to set ourselves up as the sole judge of our actions. One antidote that can help us monitor our tendency for Pesha is to temper our self-judging by asking the other(s) about our tendencies (like pride, impatience, rigidity, envy, etc.). We ask those who know us the best and we invite them to share their ‘true’ experiences of us. I might be thinking that I am doing well when I might be causing harm (to myself or to the other). For years I considered myself to be one of the most flexible folks in the world. One day I, with no little pride I might add, asked a close friend to comment upon how flexible I was. She laughed and looked at me and said, ‘You are one of the most rigid persons I know!’ I was inflexible when it came to certain beliefs I held; I was not open to even considering certain beliefs. I still struggle with this mindset of ‘rigidity.’

Each faith and humanistic tradition contains within itself a shadow-side (as Jung describes the ‘shadow’) and a dark-evil side. Pesha is a mindset that nurtures this side of ourselves (our individual and our collective selves). Pesha is a mindset that nurtures our self-pride and at the extreme, our hubris.

Bill Maher captures the idea of Pesha when he notes: ‘Everything that used to be a sin is now a disease.’

The author, Aleister Crowley, also captures the essence of Pesha when he notes: “It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.”

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Recently I began to think about ‘Sin.’ My mother was Polish Catholic, my father was English Presbyterian. As a child, I was taught a ‘lot’s worth’ about ‘Sin’ – perhaps it was ‘two lot’s worth’ I don’t quite remember. I was also blest with two different types of guilt. Among a number of powerful values, my father valued ‘truth’ – a good Presbyterian value. Among a number of powerful values, my mother valued ‘loyalty to the family’ – a good Polish Family/Clan value. As a child I could ‘sin’ by not telling the truth or by not being ‘loyal’ to the family – I can remember an event when I was eight years old where I had to choose: tell the truth or lie and be ‘loyal’ to the family. YIKES!!!! What I did was find a third way: I cried and cried and was not pushed to do either (I have been looking for the ‘third way’ ever since). My advice to eight year olds who become caught in a conflict of family values is to cry and perhaps your dilemma will be dissolved. I attended a Catholic University in the early 1960s and things began to radically change for me and my generation and for the generations to follow; one of these changes involved ‘sin.’

For many moderate to liberal faith-traditions absolute patriarchal authority and judgment were radically reframed. Blame and Guilt no longer had a place on center stage [they did – and continue to – stand off-stage waiting for their cue to return]. The reframe helped many of us begin to heal. The reframe was also necessary if we were to continue to grow in healthy ways. The reframe allowed us to begin to seek a balance between the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ It helped us begin to learn to accept being response-able and responsible from the ‘inside out’ – our inner teacher and inner authority began to be nurtured into life. Some ‘left’ their faith-traditions – or at minimum did not enter their traditional ‘houses of worship.’ Some of us found our way back to our faith-traditions or we spent time deeply exploring and then learning to honor many diverse faith and humanistic traditions. We had become disconnected, wounded and not welcomed by the ‘old guard.’ The reframe enabled us to ‘heal’ and reconnect and to be welcomed and to welcome. Included in the reframing was the reframing of sin (for many sin was simply reframed out of existence).

For my next one or two blog entries I am inviting us to ‘Think About: Sin.’ For many of us sin has traditionally been deeply connected to a patriarchal religion; in reframing the concept of religion we reframed the concept of sin. As I noted above, for some, the reframe was so complete that ‘sin’ was softened, if not ‘eliminated.’

A great deal has been written about ‘Sin.’ Here are three common definitions of ‘Sin’: (1) transgression of divine law; (2) any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; (3) any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; (4) sin is any act I intentionally perform that hurts me or another. As imperfect human beings, then, we will sin; no doubt about it. We can also choose to attend to the sin we commit – this is called by many faith and humanistic traditions ‘atonement.’ We attend to the hurt that we caused. This ‘attending to’ involves forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that: Forgiveness is the final form of love.

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Each of us has the choice of being a leader. True, there are role-defined leaders and they are charged with and entrusted with a variety of role-defined responsibilities. AND there are situations that require someone to step forward and take the lead; each of us is charged with and entrusted with this type of leading. To say ‘yes’ to leading – whether by role or by situation – is to say ‘yes’ to living dangerously. Being a leader is dangerous because the leader challenges (sometimes by simply inviting folks to ‘consider’) what the other holds dear – daily habits, deep assumptions, values, beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, loyalties, and ways of thinking (to name a few of the things we hold dear). What ups the ante for the leader is that the leader does not offer ‘surety’ or ‘guarantees’ but ‘opportunities’ – the leader who consistently provides ‘surety’ is setting him or herself up for some real bother.

The leader – especially by situation – often chooses to exceed his or her authority as he or she embraces the challenge; this is often disturbing to others. When folks are disturbed they push back; they resist in all manner of creative and unexpected ways. The leader is at risk of being marginalized or of being ‘removed’ from the process or of being undermined or shunned.
No wonder folks choose not to lead; even leaders by role hesitate. On one hand it is wise to hesitate; only ‘fools rush in.’ On the other hand, no matter how careful you are, how gentle you are, how invitational you are, choosing to lead is risky at best and truly dangerous at times.

Given all of this, why would anyone choose to step out ahead and lead? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for the other(s)? Because each of us is unique and because each of us have certain skills, talents, abilities and capacities and because we, for the most part anyway, espouse that we care for the other(s) – all of those stakeholders we serve – we are called to lead and we respond to the call by choosing to lead. We have knowledge and experience that the others need and in choosing to offer these up we choose to lead.

To be a leader requires the courage (i.e. heart) to choose, to act, to experience, to reflect and to learn. It requires embracing doubt more than surety. As Lincoln reminded us: It involves trusting the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the ‘better angels’ of the other(s). To be a leader requires that one believes that ‘we really are in this together’ – interdependence is required.

Being a leader is dangerous. Yet, there is hope. There is hope for the person who chooses to lead because for the most part the others are capable of embracing both the ‘good’ news and the ‘disturbing’ news; they are capable of engaging the burning questions and they are capable of thinking together in ways that tap the wisdom of the collective (which, for the most part, is more impactful than the wisdom of the individual).

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. –John Quincy Adams

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. –Lao Tzu

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