Sinning, again. And again. And again.

One of the biggest issues I had with Christianity was the whole ‘confess your sins, and all is forgiven’ angle. After all, if all sin is forgiven, why bother not sinning? Why make any effort to live a life that is kind or good?

Problem is, that’s not what Jesus taught. Nowhere did he say, “You can murder, covet and steal, just come back to me each Sabbath (which is a day of rest, by the way, so please don’t murder, covet and steal that day, thanks) and ask for my forgiveness. Then you can start sinning all over again on Monday.”

That’s what has become twisted out of misunderstanding, poor communication and an unwillingness for people to let go of their belief systems about what they ‘think’ they know. It’s comforting to be able to slap at something you don’t truly understand – and worse, spend no time trying to. The danger is non-Christians (NCs) end up spouting ill-informed nonsense whilst feeling falsely superior to those ‘unthinking Christian masses’ in need of a bit of ‘crowd control’ (borrowing a few stereotypes here).

When I look at some of the bigotry NCs shovel (using the definition of bigot as someone who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion), I realise true Christians don’t need crowd control. They need a bloody medal. Turn the other cheek? Far out! The SAP amazes me with his generosity. I reckon I’d have punched a few people by now.

For the past five months I have had the privilege to sit with, question, observe and listen to an amazing cross-section of Christians on their journey. For them, this is a life choice not an event. You see, in The Bible, Christians are specifically commanded not to sin even though they have been saved by the death of Jesus and by his grace: Romans 6-v15: What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Not to sin? Whoa. That’s clearly very different to “keep sinning, over and over, and I’ll keep forgiving you.”

This isn’t something true Christians put on each Sunday when seeking forgiveness. It’s a 24-hour, seven-day a week thing. Unknown-1

To live a life not sinning probably strikes you as nigh near impossible. It did to me. Which brings me round to Jesus again (he pops up a lot). My very basic grasp of it is:

If you accept the grace of Jesus, then not sinning gets easier and easier. Because by accepting that grace you become more Jesus-like. And by becoming more Jesus-like, you are then less likely to miss the mark.

Christians work at not sinning, not because they are ‘fearful of some unseen power’ (as suggested recently) but because of the sheer joy they receive. This has been the biggest stereotype-buster for me. The joy. I don’t think the term ‘happy clappy’ is actually an insult to a Christian. I think it means they’ve connected the dots:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Apostle Paul, Romans 8:38-39)

You don’t need to be Christian to choose to live a good life. You can be kind to others. Do the best that you can. It’s valid, it’s worthy, and, absolutely, far, far better than choosing to lie, kill, maim and steal.

Yet living that life doesn’t make you a Christian. Just like meditating every day, eating vegetarian, and not harming life doesn’t make you a Buddhist.  I slowly started to realise what the interviewer meant in that job interview about Christianity when he said, “But it’s the structure.” It takes some focus on the teachings of Jesus, prayer, a decent dig into The Bible, and getting out our own way.

We can be spectacularly bad at getting out of our own way. Change is often scary. But, mostly, I think too many of us are scared of the possibility of great joy. Which is what Christianity offers. Yet we are so trained for disappointment in this world, we shove it away. So it fascinated me, this joy. Because what I was observing was that Christian joy, unlike worldly happiness, flourished, even when the circumstances around it pointed to the contrary.

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a… it’s a sin

Disclaimer: This video was chosen ONLY because of the catchy tune and title for creative purposes. The use of this video and the subject of this blog should not be construed as any commentary on the sexual preferences of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Or monks in chains. So no-one get your knickers in a twist.

That I have to write the disclaimer above shows just how explosive this small, three letter word is. In a second disclaimer, I’m wandering around the reservation on my own here. Possibly going off-piste. This blog is what I’ve pieced together since this began. I didn’t ask the SAP to do a sense-edit before I published because I wanted it to be a bit raw and messy. And to be as close as possible to how I – as a newbie – have uncovered it. All the errors here are my own.

Sin.

Straight away, all those notions of heinous wrong doings. I think this is why Christianity is so confronting because no-one likes to be told they are sinful, which is essentially what Jesus is recorded as saying in The Bible. I remember hearing it in church and immediately my back went up. “Here we go again,” I thought.

Fire and brimstone preaching and bible thumping has caused the church a serious image problem when it comes to sin. It either offends the non-Christians (NCs) (“I’m no rapist/murderer/thief” – insert your preferred style of sinner here) or causes Christians all sorts of comparison problems (“Well, I’m not as bad as her!”). It also contributes to why so many NCs think they are going to be judged by Christians and be found lacking.

I think most of us have got the idea of sin all wrong. 

Sin, as defined in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.

So, based on that, the ‘equation’ I came up with is:

I’m not God or Jesus. The only way to NOT miss the mark is to BE God or Jesus. I am patently neither. Then I have to conclude: I’m a sinner.

Say that line a few times. It gets easier. Imagine it’s like an AA meeting.

(Sorry, SAP, if you are now pulling out your remaining grey hairs. I’ll give you a blog post to set the record straight if required. A really small one. Like one of those ‘notices of retraction’ that no-one ever spots in the newspaper).

Now, get ready for the next twist.

No matter what we do, we’re still sinners. Whether you give to charity and go to church each Sunday, or whether you go out on a megalomanic serial killer spree. There is no difference.

Now all the NCs (and possibly Cs) are up in arms. “How dare you compare me to a serial killer?” you yell. Build a bridge and get over it with me. Because much as I hate it (ego, ego, ego), God doesn’t have a sin barometer. Sin just is. There’s no measurement of it. 

If this was a poker game, it’d be feeling like a pretty crap hand, wouldn’t it? Which is why I need to get to the Christian equivalent of a Royal Flush.

Jesus. The lightening rod. The uber-blog post. The central tenet of Christianity.

Distilled down, if you trust in Jesus then all your sin is taken away, all thanks to his crucifixion, resurrection and grace.

Mind-blowing. Rather than try to rationalise it (nigh on impossible) I had to surrender, run with it,  and see where it led. Because of that commitment I made at 3am to God, to step up to the plate and sort out my ‘baggage’ around Christianity. Otherwise I’d still be stuck unhelpfully stereotyping ‘religion’, ‘church’, and ‘sin’.

Rather than being a struggle, accepting the gift of forgiveness and grace is meant to be easy. But I had to put all that ‘Christianity’ baggage down first, so I could free my hands to grasp it.

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Timothy Keller.

Pride (In the name of love) of Lions

Another hangover from ‘church’ and ‘religion’ was my (limited) exposure to churchgoers who struck me as, how can I put this politely? Well, not quite ‘present’. I can’t lay that all at the feet of the church though, as I’ve had plenty of exposure to new-age spiritualists who would spend so much time looking at and chatting with angels and spirit guides to the left and right of my aura, I’d constantly look over my shoulder to see who else was behind me when we had a conversation.

While it seemed quite appropriate for spiritualists to have their ‘head in the clouds’, when it came to Christians it made me think about cults. Blame Karl Marx. All that opiate for the masses stuff. Think of the stereotypes: if you’re sitting in a pew each Sunday, you’ve left your brain out in the glovebox of your car. If you’re a Christian, it’s like you’re believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  But if you’re a wiccan, or enamoured with Gaia, that’s perfectly acceptable.

Thrown to the lions

I’ve noticed on this journey than non-believers seem to think it’s perfectly OK to challenge Christians on their ‘magical thinking’, yet the same amount of bias rarely appears to be thrown at believers in other faiths, be they historical or new. rc-camera-buggy-meets-a-pride-of-lions-008

Since setting off on this pursuit, I’ve had both funny and hurtful conversations. Been on the receiving end of 2UE style rants. Jawdropping, goldfish gasping silence when I casually mention I’m off to church. Surprised friends giving me books such as Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion‘ – to try and balance my mind, perhaps? They would be apoplectic if I lent them The Bible. Why? Because if a Christian suggests someone read The Bible, the non-believer typically assumes the Christian sees them as somehow ‘less’. The immediate response is, “I don’t f-ing need saving.” I’ve done the same myself: “How dare you? I don’t need you to pray for me!” Yet meditating on and sending love & light to friends has been acceptable in the past. Figure that out…

Forget opiate for the masses. This is not a journey for the faint-hearted. Particularly at 40 (something) years of age! I’d quite enjoy a shot of something to take the edge off because, wow, Christianity digs into my pride. images-4Particularly given how much stock I have put into yoga and non-attachment over the years. I hadn’t packed that pride down quite as effectively as I liked to think! I know how things should be done, I can make my own decisions over what is right and wrong, and I can damn well do it on my own, thanks very much.

I did not want this. I did not seek it. Some of the time, I’ve been bloody annoyed about it. The SAP has been told to go himself and fornicate under carnal knowledge as I’ve pulled this apart. But I couldn’t ignore it.

I’d already read plenty of books against. But it makes me a pretty woeful journalist if I didn’t spend some time exploring the ‘for‘. I’d never bothered with the other side of the argument before, intellectually or emotionally. You reckon’ my aethist friends are surprised? How about me?! In the early weeks this agnostic veered between horrified and, well, more horrified.

As for pride? It came round and bit me. As one of the things I take the greatest pride in is being ruthlessly honest with myself. I have a near-sadistical bent for shining the light on my darkest corners.

Accepting does not mean abdication.

My brain is firmly engaged. Because to do this, really do this, means excavating pride. To turn the other cheek. To love. There are far, far easier choices I could make. Crucifixion, anybody?

So why keep going? Well, I like the person I’m evolving into. It may be mystical thinking to some. Yet I cannot deny the ease, joy and trust that has welled up. Do I find myself shaking my head? Each and every day. But more often now in amazement rather than disbelief. It’s precious and surprising.

For the lions, both gentle and rough, I’m not blogging to change minds. Nor am I blogging to convince anyone that this is a journey they ought to be on.

I started this because I communicate best when writing, and it gave me a spot to ponder and process. I share it publicly because if there’s one reader seeking something spiritual beyond Dan Murphy’s, and has failed to find solace in new age, I wanted to give an insight into a choice that, I now realise, has suffered from some woeful misconceptions.

Please notice the word choice. You may not seek solace, you may be just dandy with the selection at Dan’s. And that’s absolutely fine too.

Evangelical stereotyping is a blog post for another day 🙂