Ever thought about how your keyboard illustrates the 7 deadly sins? Now you can.
So, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, forced to live east of Eden. And, everyone who has come after them has been born east of Eden as well—separated from God, cut off from the source of life, dead in our sins. We all fell together.
Now, I can almost hear the objections forming in your mind. They’re in mine as well. How can this be fair? We didn’t choose to break that commandment. Why are we being punished?
The simplest answer is to point out that although we didn’t break that commandment, we’ve broken plenty since. Just like Adam and Eve, we’ve made our own choices—deciding to focus on our own plans and desires, rather than pursuing and manifesting God’s glory in the world. So, even if we set aside Adam and Eve’s sin, we’re far from blameless.
But, there’s a deeper answer as well. From the Bible’s perspective, we’re all in this together.
When I lived in Scotland, I learned a couple of interesting facts. First, it’s sometimes a bit awkward to be American in a place where American policies are not terribly popular. And, second, Canadians do not like it when people think they they’re American.
The first point became clear because we lived in Scotland during the Bush/Kerry election, a time when Scottish frustration with the war in Iraq was high. So, American politics and policies were on everyone’s mind. And, people quickly noticed that I was American. You’d think it would be hard to pick out the American in a room full of Scots. But, apparently it’s not. Several times complete strangers walked up and asked me about how I was going to vote in the upcoming election and whether I supported the war. On two different occasions, I got trapped in pretty intense political “conversations”—i.e., the other person vented about the evils of American foreign policy while I scanned the room for a window large enough for both me and my backpack.
Was it fair for these people to associate me with the actions and policies of my country? After all, I didn’t create any of these policies, and I certainly wasn’t involved in any of those actions. I’ve never even been to Iraq. None of this was my fault. I wasn’t responsible.
But I was.
I wasn’t directly responsible, of course. It’s not like I was in the Oval Office making the decisions. But, I am an American. I am a part of the whole. I enjoy the many blessings that come from being a part of that whole, and I also bear some responsibility for the actions of the whole. Even if I thought that a particular decision or action was a bad idea, even if I voted against those who were making the decisions, I’m still a part of that greater whole that we call America. Consequently, I bear some responsibility for what America does. And, I certainly share in any consequences that result. I may not always like it, but there is a real sense in which we’re all in this together.
All of this can be really annoying if you’re Canadian. The second thing I learned in Scotland is that although Europeans have an easy time identifying if you’re American, they have a really hard time telling Americans and Canadians apart. So, if you’re Canadian, people tend just to assume that you’re American. And, then you have to put up with all the grief that being American can bring where American policies are unpopular.
Of course, Canadians have an advantage. They can simply point out that they’re not American. People apologize, and the harassment ends.
Eyeing a window that is clearly too small for both me and my backpack, I consider taking the cheap way out. “Me? No, I’m from Canada.”
But, of course, I’m not. I’m American. And, although I like being American, it does come with some drawbacks at times. Because we’re all in this together.
[Okay, I’m looking for some feedback here. I’m in the part of the Gospel book that deals with the fact that after the Garden sin spreads everywhere (kind of like Justin Bieber – see my post on The Saturday Morning Syrup Monster). And, I want to deal with the objection that it’s not fair for us to experience the consequences of sin when we didn’t do anything. And, I want to introduce the idea that there is a corporate dynamic at work. I don’t want to get into details, but I want to expose people to the idea that “we’re all in this together.” Let me know what you think.]
While reading Augustine’s work Of True Religion, I was reminded once again of how vain I can be at times and how my vanity dulls my vision of true beauty. “If you take away vain persons who pursue that which is last as if it were first, matter will not be vanity but will show its own beauty in its own way, a low type of beauty, of course, but not deceptive.”
So often I pursue that which is last as if it were first. How many times have I decided to go mountain biking or grab a coffee or watch a manly movie without first considering God and asking him what his will is? These things are so trivial, yet I pursue the like with such fervor. “It is very easy to execrate the flesh, but very difficult not to be carnally minded.” Or as St. Paul says, “I don’t do that which I want to do, but I do the very thing which I hate.” It is such a difficult thing living as a Christian in the world. There are so many temptations, Lord I pray that you delivery me from these and every other unseemly thing.
“Life which delights in material joys and neglects God tends to nothingness…” Do I really believe this? Of course I do! The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that in a closed system order always leads to disorder unless energy is added. When I pursue material joys I am not allowing the energy of the Spirit to enter my life, and when no energy is added, I tend toward disorder and ultimately nothingness. (Yes, I just used physics to defend a theological position…I am a geek.)
Back to the original quote, Augustine was also hinting at something else: beauty. He was saying that created matter is beautiful. He is continually urging us to understand that creation is not evil in and of itself. By our idolatry we create a dualistic belief. We call matter evil, even if not blatantly. We say don’t eat this, don’t drink that, don’t have sex, et al. These things are not bad or evil, if we pursue them as though they are first it has disrupted the beauty and goodness but only because of our vanity. Why do we chase after the wind? We have promoted an idea that the material world is evil and this has caused us to not recognize the beautiful. The beautiful is all around us and all beauty points towards the ultimate beauty, the One Beauty, the 3 in One – glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Now comes the question of True Religion: how do we recognize and enjoy the beauty yet not chase after the wind in vain?
I didn’t get along with the housekeeper very well.
You’d think having a housekeeper would be great. Floors vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, and bookshelves dusted, all while you’re out having fun. You come home, and everything’s done. Does it get any better than that? But my parents had a housekeeper for a while when I was in high school. And, it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not quite what you’d expect.
To begin, I never could understand why it was necessary to clean the house before the housekeeper arrived. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a housekeeper? But every time, my mom would rush around telling everyone, “The housekeeper will be here any minute. Hurry up and clean the house.” Is there anything about those two sentences that makes sense?
And that wasn’t the worst of it. The real problem arose because the housekeeper actually cleaned…everywhere. Even the nooks and crannies. You know, those dark corners of your room with the layers of dust and debris that accumulate after weeks (years) of neglect. Most people have enough common sense and decency not to notice that these corners even exist. Or, if they notice, they know better than to say anything. But not the housekeeper. The housekeeper can’t help but see the dark corners. That’s what they do. They’re supposed to peer into the dark corners, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing until all the nooks and crannies are finally clean, probably for the first time.
The housekeeper sees everything.
My problem was my bed. Or, more accurately, under my bed. As far as I’m concerned, the space under your bed is good for one thing and one thing only: cleaning your room. As long as your room has no visible junk, it’s clean. So, the fastest way to clean your room is to hide the junk. Under the bed. Technically you could also use your closet, but the bed usually works better because it’s more centrally located and you can push stuff under it from multiple directions. So, when mom would sound the air raid siren announcing the imminent arrival of the housekeeper, I’d head to my room and promptly stuff everything under my bed. That was my dark corner.
Everything was fine as long as she didn’t look under the bed.
She always did. Housekeepers are nosy.
We didn’t get along.
I have the same problem with God. For some reason, no matter how many times I hear the Gospel, I still don’t get it. Not all the way. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s just too good to be true. God can’t possibly love me. Look at all this crap under my bed! And, as I lay curled up in the dark corner of my own shame, I begin to think that this is normal. This is the way it’s going to be. Sure, God may have great plans to transform me in the future, after I die. But for now, this is it. Everyone knows that real transformation is a myth.
The saddest part is that I know none of this is true. I have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), raised with him to a new life freed from my slavery to sin (Rom. 6:1-11), indwelt by the Spirit of God to be renewed and recreated in his image (2 Cor. 3:18), forgiven, loved, redeemed. That is the truth. I know it. But at times I struggle to feel it.
It’s like I have a phantom limb. That’s what they call it when a person who has lost an arm or a leg insists that they can still feel it. Although the limb is no longer there, the feeling of the limb is so real that they’ll even complain about it itching or hurting. It’s a mirage, but a powerful one. For the Christian, shame operates the same way. In reality, there is no shame. Jesus took our guilt and shame on himself and nailed it to the cross. Before God, we are naked. The shame is gone. But it doesn’t feel like it. We’ve worn our coats of shame for so long, that we can still feel its abrasive rub on our skin and smell the musty odor of long-kept secrets wafting from its pockets. We know it’s not really there. But, it’s hard to hear the quiet whisper of our heads over the terrified screaming of our hearts.
So, convinced deep down that there’s a part of me even God can’t love and won’t transform, not in this life, I hide. Stuffing my dirty laundry under my bed, quietly guarding my dark corners. And, in the process, I deny the Spirit’s power, God’s love, and Jesus’s death on the cross. I don’t mean to; but I do it anyway.
Instead, I need to keep living into the truth, daily throwing myself into this grand story that we’re telling, consciously denying the seductive allure of the darkness, intentionally gathering around myself faithful people who help me see the truth of Gospel instead of the phantom limb of shame. No easy solutions here. Only a lifetime of transformation.
The housekeeper is here. Don’t hide the laundry.
(You can read the read of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.)
The satirical “news” site The Onion posted great piece yesterday on our incredible ability to view sinful behavior as abnormal despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Despite there being nothing unusual about the incident in Brandon, the media has descended upon the small town in droves, somehow finding a way to portray the event as if it were a novel phenomenon or some sort of aberration within human society, an assertion that even a cursory glimpse at the species’ violent past would immediately disprove.
There is, of course, truth in the idea that some acts are more heinous than others. But, we do maintain an incredibly optimistic outlook on human behavior, an optimism that causes us to be constantly surprised when the reality of sin confronts us in unavoidable ways.
I just finished watching season 1 of Dexter, a Showtime series about a serial killer. Well, to be fair, he’s more of a psychopathic vigilante. Because of a traumatic childhood experience, Dexter is unable to feel real human emotion, has no sense of right and wrong, and possesses a deep-seated need to kill people. But, fortunately for him, he was adopted by a well-intentioned police officer and raised to channel his violent tendencies in “healthier” directions – i.e. only killing people who really deserve it.
I don’t want to comment on the entire series. In many ways, it’s very well done – especially the acting, writing, and directing. At the same time it is violent, graphic, and disturbing. So, it’s definitely a watch-at-your-own-risk kind of show.
But ironically, as I was watching the show, I realized that it had a lot to say about the Gospel.
- We’re all broken. Dexter is clearly broken, an emotionless murderer incapable of developing real connections with other people. But, one of the show’s clearest messages is that we’re all broken (selfish, overly ambitious, narcissistic, violent, insecure, lonely, etc.). Indeed, in some ways Dexter comes across as being “healthier” than the others because he at least recognizes his brokenness and deals with it head on. In the end, we’re all in the same broken boat.
- We all learn to cope with our brokenness. Dexter learned to deal with his brokenness by pretending to be normal, and he was quite good at it. As the show progresses, though, you begin to realize that all the characters are pretending. They’re all trying to find ways of coping with their brokenness by hiding behind masks and activities. They all find ways of hiding from the terrible reality of their lives just long enough to make it through another day.
- Coping is lonely. It’s interesting that Dexter’s biggest problem is not that he’s a serial killer; that’s just his reality and something he needs to live with. His biggest problem is that he’s alone. He’s convinced that he’s so broken, no one else could possibly understand him. And, although he’s good enough at faking “normal” to be in a dating relationship, he realizes that it’s not true intimacy. But, what he doesn’t understand is that everyone has the same problem. Because they’re all hiding behind their coping masks, broken by shame and guilt, they’re all alone in their own ways.
- Everyone longs for “normal.” At a deep level, the show is really about hope. Although everyone and everything in the show is broken, they all hold onto the hope that there’s more out there. There’s this illusory thing called “normal” that no one ever seems to achieve, but that you should strive for nonetheless. And, it’s this hope for “normal” that keeps them all pushing forward.
- You can’t fix the brokenness with more brokenness. Thus, each of the characters in the show remains somewhat heroic. Striving for “normal,” they’re not content with the brokenness and constantly seek to put things right. But, like Dexter, the only tools they have at their disposal arise from their own broken state. So, no matter how hard they try, things stay broken. Indeed, their efforts often leave things more broken than when they started. Thus, although the show is about hope, it is a vain and illusory hope.
Sadly, that’s as far as the story gets. In Dexter, the Good News is….well, there really isn’t any. There’s hope, but it’s never realized, constantly blocked by the reality of brokenness. The best that we get (at least by the end of season 1) is the “good news” that if you try really hard you can learn to fake “normal” well enough to make it through another day.
So, in the end, I really didn’t learn that much about the good news from Dexter. But, the show certainly does a good job drawing you inside the broken reality of the world so that you really begin to see the desperate need for the Good News that is out there.
I couldn’t resist. I really couldn’t. I thought about saving it for tomorrow’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but it was too much fun.
HT 22 Words
[For a variety of reasons, I’ve taken some time away from working on my book about the Gospel. But, I’ve recently picked it back up again, and I’d like to start posting pieces of it here for review and feedback. Please feel free to let me know what you think. (I’ve also added a page to the blog with all the excerpts I’ve posted so far.) Tonight I was playing with this piece as a potential introduction for the chapter on the spread of sin in the world. I’d like to use shalom and shoah as balancing terms throughout the book to talk about the way things ought to be (shalom) and the destruction that results when sin enters the world (shoah).]
Shoah Has Come
There’s something eerily sinister about a sentence like that. If you run across it in a story, I can almost guarantee that things are about to get crazy. You could be reading a book about nice, old ladies drinking tea and playing cards, but if you see “Night fell,” you can expect vampires, serial killers, and/or giant spiders to come from nowhere and start wrecking some serious tea party havoc. Night is when evil walks free. Night falling in a story is never a good thing.
Nights are lonely. A while back I was talking with someone whose wife had left him several years into their marriage. He was reflecting on how difficult that transition has been—custody issues, financial pressures, and tense negotiations, among other things. But, out of everything, he said that nights were the hardest. During the day, he can keep himself busy with work and other responsibilities, distracting himself from the loneliness, pain, and bitterness. But, when night falls, there’s no more hiding. In the darkness, he’s alone.
Guilt and shame like the darkness. They wear it like a cloak, hiding deep within its velvety folds, safe from prying eyes. And, in a sense, darkness is liberating. People do things at night that they would never consider doing during the day. The shadows of night free us from the inhibitions and constraints of day. With our guilt and shame well covered by the darkness, we are free to pursue our desires, satisfy our needs, and soothe our lusts. In the night, guilt and shame find a home.
Kids seem to understand all of this instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids that bad stuff happens when night falls. They just get it. I woke up the other morning to find my youngest daughter asleep on the armchair in my bedroom…upside down, head dangling from the bottom of the chair, legs sticking straight up its back, blanket a tangled mess around her arms and chest. I wasn’t surprised. This happens a lot in our family. My daughter can play happily by herself for hours at a time. But, when night falls, she looks for any excuse to be close to someone. Nights are scary, dangerous, lonely places.
When night fell on Elie Wiesel, his life ended. One day, Elie was living with his family in their quaint, tightknit, and occasionally quirky community. One day he had a place to belong—family, friends, faith, and freedom. One day, Wiesel had shalom. And one day, night fell.
Elie is a Jew, and his family lived in Eastern Europe during World War II. Although they’d heard warnings about what was happening to Jews everywhere, they refused to flee. They just couldn’t leave their houses and synagogues, abandon their communities, lose everything that they had called home. So they stayed. And night fell.
For the next twelve months, Elie and his father try to survive the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps. And, Elie describes the experiences as being like one long, brutal “night,” not the simple period of darkness that concludes each day, but the dark night of loneliness, despair, and inhumanity that had descended upon him and his family. A night in which, as one prisoner tells him, “there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends,” where “everyone lives and dies for himself alone” (110); a night where every value is inverted, perverted, and destroyed.
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”
Among Jews, the Holocaust goes by another name, shoah, the Hebrew word for destruction. And, it’s a good word for describing the terrible reality of the Holocaust. Shoah. The destruction of community, intimacy, trust, hope, faith, love, even humanity itself. Shoah. A destruction that does not simply eliminate the good—no, that would be too easy—this is a destruction that crushes and corrupts the good, reshaping it into a twisted parody, a mockery of all that was once held dear. Families remain, but only as a burden holding back those who would seek to survive the abyss, fighting and killing one another over mere scraps of bread. Hope remains, but only as a weapon used by guards to keep prisoners in line, tantalizing them with a vision of what they know will never come. Faith remains, but only as a painful accusation against a deity once trusted and adored. Shoah.
Once there was a boy named Elie. Once he had a family and a home. Once there was shalom. No longer. Night has fallen. Now there is darkness, loneliness, pain, despair, shame, and loss. Shalom is gone. Shoah has come.
Once there was a time when God’s people were naked, living in shameless intimacy with him and with one another, displaying his glory in the world as they cared for the creation he’d so graciously given them. Once there was shalom. But one day, God’s people decided to go their own way, abandoning his purpose and plan to pursue their own glory. And night fell. A night of loneliness and alienation, despair and brokenness, shame and guilt; a night seeming without end.
Once there was shalom. Now there is shoah.