A couple of days ago I watched Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a documentary about an alt-country musician’s travels through the deep south–the jukebox bars and two stop light towns south; the eggs over easy cafes and tattered confederate flags south; the come to Jesus or forever hold your peace in Hell south. What struck me the most was the vivid and unapologetic definition of morality within these Pentecostal communities; there seemed to be an almost mythical distinction between black and white, good and evil, and heaven and hell. A good portion of the film followed around those who didn’t subscribe to their community’s Christian ideal: the barflies, the inmates, the sexy honky tonk bar dancers. The narrator said of those on the margins: “They bury their powerlessness in the rituals of sin.”
I wonder about this idea of sin as it plays out on the personal stage. I’m not a big fan of the word ‘sin’ particularly because of the way in which it’s often used. I think for many Christians, there is an albatross of guilt and shame that hangs heavy from that word so as to invite self-flagellation more often than divine restoration. The word ‘sin’ literally means “to miss the mark.” For me, to sin is to mis-remember who I am; it is to aim my energy towards some thing that is inherently not divine, not godly, and thus not me. What is required to realign this misalignment? It is to re-member who I am; it is to re-invision myself as a member of all things holy; it is to re-orient myself with God through prayer, meditation, fasting, and studying sacred texts.
I also wonder about this idea of sin as it plays out on the collective stage. In qualifying someone else as a sinner, do we collapse the space and compassion necessary to help them re-invision themselves as a member of all things holy? By way of example, the phrase, “Hate the sin but love the sinner” is deeply problematic in part because it creates a false distinction between those who sin (them) and those who do not sin (us). The reality is that no such distinction exists. We all miss the mark on a consistent and frequent basis; we are all the same in this regard. In thinking about appropriations of the words ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’, I have to get painfully honest with myself. In my fear of being cast as a sinner, do I ever bury my authentic voice under saccharine notes of all-is-well-in-Zion? Do I ever push those members of my congregation I deem as “sinners” so far to the margins that they are forced to seek communion elsewhere? Do I ever exclude some members of my spiritual community from the rituals of godliness and then shame them for finding comfort in the rituals of sin? These are hard questions. I have to check myself. Constantly I have to check myself. What do you think?