Earn the Right to Speak

I’m still thinking through the many discussions that happened at the World Horror Convention 2007. One huge conversation we got into was about what is sin and how should a loving community respond to sin as well as help each other along through/past it. Ironically, few in the discussion actually went to church: a common tale in the horror community is that many of us had been kicked out of churches in the past or made to feel unwelcome.

I guess my current thoughts harken back to the idea of what it means to be a missional church. We are all in the same sin boat. There are no “super sins”, contrary to how we seem to act. There are sins the Bible spends more time talking about than others (funny, they’re rarely the ones that get all the “press”). But I don’t think sin is the beginning of the Gospel message, nor do I think it is the first thing that defines us.

Part of the mission of the Church is to be a hospice. Part of the mission of the church is to try to inflict less damage in the world and be a healing blessing. Part of the mission of the church is to bring about reconciliation between people (one to another) as well as God. In other words, the mission of the church is to love. “The most loving thing we can do is point out their sin.” Please. Spare me your line of spiritualized B.S. We, the church, have too often assumed the right to speak into people’s lives, which has led to much of the judgmentalism that characterizes us today.

Yes, we still have to speak on sinfulness and sin in each other’s lives. However, it is easy to sit in judgment of other people’s sin rather than focus on our own sin (or even our sinfulness being a unifying point that should keep us free of being too judgmental). Even as “iron sharpens iron” and we continue to make disciples as we learn/form one another in community, we still have to earn the right to speak into each other’s lives.

I think speaking on sin begins with self-examination. The first question I’m going to ask myself is “do I love you enough to speak on your sin?” I’m not going to speak about “your” sin unless you know you are first loved by me. And I mean “know” in more than the “I love you”-easy-to-say brand of love. I’m talking about the unmistakable knowledge where there is no doubt by you about how I feel, because these sort of conversations, first and foremost, have to be done from a place of love. Also, I’m not going to speak on your sin until I’ve looked at myself and realized that I’m no different that them.

So, thinking back to my friends/family that make up my writing community at WHC, I hate to break it to some of them, but they aren’t as outside the church as they think. They are a part of my learning community. They help shape my theology. They love me and speak into my life. They’re stuck with me. Yep, sounds like a solid community to me.

Friday Night Date Place – Singleness is a Sin

“I’m going to speak of the sin I think besets this generation. It is the sin of delaying marriage as a lifestyle option among those who intend someday to get married, but they just haven’t yet. This is a problem shared by men and women, but it’s a problem primarily of men.” Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky

This wasn’t the first time I head of this school of thought. There is a prevalent attitude, in action if not in word; in fact, I heard it from a pulpit not too long ago. The implication seems to be that we aren’t taking marriage seriously. I would contend the exact opposite. I guess we’re overlooking the fact that our parent’s generation did marriage so well. What happened to not entering into marriage lightly? Or a person simply not finding the right person yet? It’s almost like they are advocating “you better settle for whoever by the time you’re 30” as if marriage was the point of life. Their indignation at this generation of singles flies in the face of their belief in the sovereignty of God. Unless they are going to say that it’s God’s will that you get married by your early 20s: “If you’re 17, 18, 19, 20, in your early 20s—what are you waiting for?”

Here are the plain facts: According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the first marriage for a white male is now at age 27.5. For white females, the age is slightly lower. This amounts to a delay that often has devastating consequences. With puberty coming at earlier ages than ever before–certainly in the early teens for most Americans–the period of time between sexual maturity and marriage is now stretching out into something like an average of ten to fifteen years. The accompanying statistics related to premarital sexual activity parallel the statistics related to the delay of marriage. Can anyone be surprised?

The assumption that the delay is due to “young people” sowing their wild oats, every body’s doing it, and no one is capable of learning the discipline of chastity. I get that there is a generation of folks who refer to said singles as “younger folk” and who are more comfortable with the days when women stayed home and fulfilled their established role in life, however, this is also a symptom of the school of thought that has turned the family into an idol. Yeah, I said it. Too often, the singles of the church are neither reached out to nor truly appreciated, but treated like second class citizens within the church (because you haven’t fulfilled your role as a man or woman until you’ve gotten married and had children). Singles have all of this mythical disposable income since they don’t have a family to support and they are always available to run the church nursery so that real Christians can hear the sermon.

As one who believes wholeheartedly in the biblical pattern of complementarity and in the male responsibility to lead, I charge young men with far greater responsibility for this failure. The extension of a “boy culture” into the twenties and thirties, along with a sense of uncertainty about the true nature of male leadership has led many young men to focus on career, friends, sports, and any number of other satisfactions when they should be preparing themselves for marriage and taking responsibility to grow up, be the man, and show God’s glory as husband and father.

Do you know why it is the men’s fault? Primarily because it was women who raised the ruckus when he first talked about the sin of singleness. I guess we could blame the guys, but I suspect there’s a dearth of dating across the board. One of the things that plays into this extended dating time is that it is taking our generation(s) longer to find themselves. (My personal theory is because we haven’t had to. There’s been no major cultural event that has forced us to “grow up,” no major war (not like a World War or anything involving a draft), no Depression, no defining societal moment. It’s just a theory.)

That and Jesus was still single in his 30s. Couch that in “he had a mission” all you want, but the truth is that we all are to join in with his ministry and frankly, we are more able to be about kingdom work without the divided distraction of the idol of family. Some people take the apostle Paul seriously about not being hindered by marriage. Be content where you are. If you’re about the “hunt”, you miss opportunities to live life where you are. Be aware of the hunt, not focused on it. If someone comes along, good; if not, we have our work, our life, to be about.

Just a few thoughts.

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We’re More than Just Sinners*

The total depravity of man – it’s one of the five points of Calvinism. The doctrine that hammers home the point that man has no inherent goodness, no inherent value in thought, word, or deed, and that left to his own devices, man is incapable of saving himself. The emphasis is on man’s “natural condition,” his fallen state, born into and a slave to sin; in so doing this points to God’s divine grace in saving us. It’s a Gospel message that begins with “the Fall,” but I can’t help but wonder that if the story begins with humans as sinners, it fails to deal with the “why would God care about us?”

Maybe the problem begins with the fact that the story doesn’t begin with “the Fall” but with “Creation.”

Instead of seeing humans first and foremost as sinners, we need to see them as Eikons of God, created to relate to God, to relate to others, and to govern the world as Eikons. The Fall affects each of the previous: our relation to God, our relation to others, and our relation to the world. Humans, then, are cracked Eikons. There is all the difference in the world in depicting humans as simply sinners and seeing sinfulness as the condition and behavior of a cracked Eikon. Humans sin, but their sin is the sin of an Eikon. They can’t be defined by their sin until they are seen as Eikons.

It’s hard to have a discussion about the Gospel message without eventually touching on the issue of sin. And though sin is a word often tossed about, sometimes I wonder if whenever any two people talk about “sin” they are even talking about the same thing. I’ve heard definitions ranging from “the evil that men do” to “missing the mark”.

The Gospel message has been reduced to a legal transaction (Christ’s sacrifice balancing the scales of cosmic justice) or sparing us from the hands of an angry God (leading to a get your own butt into heaven, save yourself sort of salvation). If sin is just about any imperfection, any falling short, what does that project onto God? “Oops, you missed. It’s smitin’ time!”

Sin is a religious term within a religious construct, only having meaning in connection to the Divine. It’s a turning away from the life of God, an apathy or transgression of the will of God. That’s one way of looking at it. Removing the word from its doctrinal connotations, we can look at it another way. We can think of it as human error, a failure to fulfill human potential (and thus sin becomes that which dehumanizes us).

“Sin is a failure to be, we wonder, what or who have we failed to be? To answer this question, we must return to the image of God…God created us to be his image-bearers. And at the heart of the imago dei is God’s desire that we show forth the divine character. “Sin,” therefore, is the failure to reflect the image of God.” –Stanley Grenz (Created for Community, 89-90)

Now, one brief comment as I end this post today: sin itself is more than judicial failings and more than offense against the Law. Sin is the disruption of the relationship of loving God, loving others, and governing our world. Which means, the gospel is designed to heal our love for God, our love for others, and our relationship to the world.

We start the story of our faith with creation. With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”. As image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. This impacts our view of the Gospel, as it attains a more holistic dimension. It becomes about seeking wholeness, humans to be restored in all the dimensions of humanity, being fully human. However, it doesn’t stop there. The inward journey leads to outward love. All grace should move us to outward expression. The Kingdom of God is now and ours becomes a ministry of reconciliation, of restoration. Transformation of everything about our world, from our societal values, to our economic structures/priorities, to our cultural identity.

We’re more than just sinners.

*Special thanks to Scot McKnight and Rich Vincent