Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Brief Thought on Sin

Holy week creates such a great opportunity to beat up on ourselves. Maybe I've been doing it this week here. "We're rotten, stinking, excuses of animated carbon and look what we did to the Lord of All Creation."

Well, I suppose there is that.

But that's not exactly what I'm after in these posts.

If you have not begun to think of sin as something larger than your personal transgressions . . . well, consider this a Holy Week invitation to start.

We are born into sin. This means more than we are born into a sinful state, a congenital disorder that keeps us from doing good (although there is that). We are born into systems that coddle us in that disorder, that even rewards our inability to do good.

For a personal, easy target, there's no way that I can deny that I've been the recipient of some good things due to white privilege. At the very least, I've never had the experiences I've seen some black friends and coworkers endure (like the time a woman told a black cashier she'd prefer to wait for the next [white] cashier). Or male privilege. There are all sorts of ways I move in the world because I'm not female. For example, no one has ever felt the need to escort me to the church parking lot after a night meeting, although we do it for women all the time. I have a freedom of movement in our society simply because of the chromosomes in my cells.

These, among other things, are simply sinful systems and I'm rewarded repeatedly for being born into on the fortunate side of a dividing line. (Of course, there are other lines where I fell on the unfortunate side, but that's not the point today.)

I can work with the system or against it. That's really what a lot of our choices come down to, when we're conscious of it. Unfortunately, I'm not nearly conscious enough all the time---my privileges are simply the way my world works (and where I lack privilege---same thing, only I tend to be more grumpy about it).

Power is its own system and I'm despair of it ever having a sinless component. Power demands the system stay in place, stay in power, be self-regenerating.

And when someone bucks the system, it usually does not go well for them. The 20th Century alone gave us several such system-bucking martyrs. The ones that come to mind just this moment are Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Mohandas Gandhi. They woke up enough to realize that they were part of a system and they had the courage to say they wanted out of it. No, more than that, they said the system had to change.

I think that's where Jesus ended up. He lacked the good sense to make allies. He made enemies of the Romans, he made enemies of his own people, who were oppressed by the Romans. What alliances he made were with people who couldn't stand up to either power.

So he was knocked down. Or nailed up, if you prefer.

Yes, Jesus died for our sins, especially if you read "for" as "because of." Jesus died as a scapegoat to a powerful world that didn't do well with dissent. Jesus died because too many of us are unwilling to die with him, to buck the system with him.

We can ponder our individual sins---this is good to do---but even more this Holy Week, I invite you to ponder the power systems in which you participate, in which you benefit, the sinful networks that actually reward you for not bucking the system.

This is not to beat ourselves up over our failures---this is to find where we can change the world.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of those times where I want to comment, but I can't really think of anything to add. Nicely done, Neil!