Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Reminder of a Basic Christian Doctrine For Those Prone to Forget: Christians Sin

As a fan of Mel and a supporter during his fight to get his religious vision of a film out there, I'm ticked at Mel for making a fool of himself and, by extension, knocking down his credibility.

As a sister in a common faith, I realize people aren't gonna "get it" when we fall. They'll say, "Oh, what a hypcrite."

Um, not necessarily. Since one of our basic doctrines is that we're a fallen race, humankind, and we sin and sin a lot and that's why we need redeeming, a reminder: CHRISTIANS SIN A WHOLE LOT!

Elliot the Claw has linked to an essay on the matter of Mel and the darkness of the redeemed. Carmen in the Open Space has posted on this matter of extending grace to Mel, because we all need grace. Yes, we pity our brother who has fallen, even as we shake our heads and feel great disappointment.

But the folks who cry, "Hypocrite!" and "Faker!" need to beware exactly what they mean by that.

If they mean he lied about his feelings toward Jews--that he said one thing while knowing perfectly well he felt another--they have a case.

If they mean he's not a "real" Christian, cause he got drunk and said awful things, they're gonna have to go to Sunday School and learn some basics.

Cause Christians sin.

Cause Christians have a sin nature.

Cause all humanity sins, and every person has a sin nature. Born with it. Saddled with it. Dealing with it until death. And worse: We've got the devil, that prowling, hungry lion, out to bring us down. You know, Romans 7 is still in my Bible.

And only God in Christ and through His Spirit can help us handle it, overcome it, when temptation is near to breaking us and when the powers and principalities focus on us. Our flesh wars; the devil wars; the world attacks our spirit; and only God can win that fight. Not us.

But we try to do it ourselves. And. . . boom, flat on our faces. That pesky sin nature never sleeps. If we think we've got it handled--that's when we're most prone to lose it.

Pride goeth before a fall, after all.

So, as a Christian, I got news for those folks ready to say, "See, Christians don't follow their own dos and don'ts." That's right. We fall. Christians screw up. Christians sin. Christians lie. Christians spew nastinesses. Christians commit adultery. Christians kill, despite our rules and commands.

Just as Jews were given and still have a compendium of dos and don'ts, and yet God continually chastised them for not keeping it, and yet they still aren't perfected, either.

Just like the rest of you, any of you who have an ideal, a standard--you don't live up to it. (Well, unless your standard is, "I do what I want and screw everyone else," which may actually be pretty attainable if you're a sociopath.)

That's right. We're not suddenly made perfect by our faith, our creed, or our God. Not in this life. In the one to come, yes. Ah, yes.

The blessed hope.

However, and here is some more basic Christian stuff: We've got this little ministry matter called "repentance and restoration." You might have heard of it. Different denominations may have different procedures or nomeclatures--contrition, penance, absolution, atonement, restitution-- but that's essentially what it is: repentance and restoration.

You do something bad, you get called on it by the brethren. (Pssst, that's more than just your priest or minister. That's your fellow believers.) And if you have the right spirit about it, a proper shame about it--you feel deep sorrow, you apologize, you seek to make things as right as you can--although, sometimes, that just can't be done. You can't make the memory of hurts disappear. You can't unburn something you set fire to. You can't unviolate the person you raped. You can't bring a corpse back to life if you murdered it. Sometimes, a sin requires prison or death.

A properly contrite person should be willing to die for the highest sorts of sins. That would prove true sorrow for sin: You offer your life to complete justice.

But you do what you can to show that you MEAN it, that you wish you hadn't said/done/not-done what you said/did/didn't-do.

Mel has said he's sorry. Mel has entered rehab. Good starting steps, I'd say.

As a Christian, if someone asks me for forgiveness, I should forgive. If someone tries to make amends, I should allow them this boon. If someone shows by word and deed that they are trying to improve, I should prop them up and help them along. And I should pray that they succeed and hurts be healed all around.

I've vented my frustration and anger at my bro Mel, as I would at the brother of my flesh and blood. A privilege of being part of a family is that family vents, and you cut them slack. Now, I pray for him. God can do great things with damaged vessels. . . vessels as are we all, all flawed and all with potential for the good.

Another thing: All the talk abouy "what you say when you are drunk is the bare truth"...

Maybe. Maybe not. I lean in this case toward the probably, sadly.

And yet, I've said things in the rush of a past furies, rages that were similar to inebriation, that were things I knew--and still KNOW!--I did not mean. Why did I say them? To wound. To intentionally cause harm. To be a raging b***h saying what ought not be said for a reaction. And for other stupid, stupid reasons that, in a calm mind, seemed to me another person speaking, not me.

I am grateful this has happened rarely, because each incident has left a lasting ache of the bitterest regret and shame.

I've only been utterly drunk once in my life. I was 18 and allowed to drink in public. So, I did. I hated the feeling. I hated that I let a married man flirt with me for the kick it gave me to have his attention, though, thank God, all it was WAS attention. I have no idea what idiocies I may have spouted, but I know that I didn't like the out-of-control sensation that felt in part so like my worst temper tantrums.

I never got drunk again. Slightly buzzed a few times in those first years of going to clubs, but never, ever totally booze-stoned like that first time. The allure of drinking at clubs wore off pretty quickly. I like my mind clear.

I stlil had that temper I inherited from my dad. (No one will convince me it ain't genetic, cause I watch my placid, sweet, even-tempered hubby and know his is genetic!) Back then, if you came upon me in a weakened state (ie sick or medicated or exhausted or PMSed) and did something to me--offended me, dissed me--I'd lose it and would find the words that would hurt you most. I would say that thing that CUT to the bone and not be satisfied until you broke down and cried.

So, I know vicious words can be a weapon even without true meaning.

Not saying that was what happened with M.G. Just saying that his incident and his ugly words reminded me of mine. Words that were lies, but effective.

So, back to my initial point: Before any of you cry, "Hypocrite!" be very sure you know what that means and what it doesn't, and before you cry "Faker!" or "False Christian!" be sure you understand what a Christian is and is not.

Cause "perfect" is not one of the things Christians are. Perfect is the dream, the hope, not the reality.

I don't agree with many of Hugo Schwyzer's positions--progressive and anti-death penalty I'm not, for instance, and gender studies is something I snarf at after taking a few Women's Studies courses that were more feminist and liberal propaganda than actual learning--but I agree with this:

When we come to Christ, we become a new creation. But that creation is still in an earthen vessel, in mortal flesh, still subject to sin and to darkness. One of the great realities of the Christian journey is that many of us stumble, post-conversion. It isn't all sweetness and light on the other side of being born-again. The inner darkness doesn't always vanish even after we embrace Christ as our Savior.

I saw the darkness in myself since very, very early in my life. I've always been introverted, so I looked inward hours a day. And I hated what was in there.

I used to ask God why I was so bad inside, even if the nuns praised my outward behavior and my mom boasted of how good a kid I was. Why wasn't I one of naturally, internally virtuous? Why did I have such awful thoughts--vicious or lustful? I always used to say to myself, even as a kid, "I am capable of murder. I could kill very easily. I must never do that except in self-defense." Good moral training, a solid reverence for God, and a healthy fear of authority probably kept me from doing folks bodily harm more than anything. And grace, lots of it.

That broken, dark part of me and all people made the cross of Christ necessary. If we could just be sweet, nice, selfless, pure, chaste, reverent, patient, loving, and holy 100% of the time, Jesus could have stayed with the Father and skipped the whole ripped flesh and asphyxiation part.

Repent, believe, and your sins will be forgiven. He who knew no sin became sin for us, died for us, to pay the price of our dark desires and deeds.

No Savior is needed by perfect people. No continual admmonition, exhortation, teaching, and vigilance is needed by perfect people.

The church is for messed up folks trying with the grace and power of God to mess up less.

It's the most imperfect people, like me, perhaps, who come to Jesus most openly and gratefully, knowing the depths of our need for a Savior--the drunkards, the promiscuous, the avaricious, the envious, the covetous, the fibbers, the slanderous,the wrathful, the gluttonous, the self-absorbed, the rebellious,the arrogant, and the slothful.

Mel's sins are exposed the way he never hoped they would be, I'm sure. And perhaps it was the hand of God. Perhaps God, the chastiser of his children and the one who shines the light on what is secret, is forcing him to deal with these things by bringing them out of the background to the foreground of his life.

I'd like to see a wonderful thing come out of this: beauty from ashes, light from shadows, joy from sorrow. Just as I pray that peace will come to the nations, that food will reach the hungry, that comfort will reach the sorrowing, that leaders will be wise and merciful, that my government will not forget the needy, that God will show me how to overcome my own weaknesses, just as I pray for all that and more. . .

I'm praying for Mel today.

PS: If you'd like to read one bridge-building rabbi's article on the matter, go here to Rabbi Lapin's response.