In this new post, I planned to write on the wonder of worship--about a deeply moving time of spiritual encounter we had at Central Coast Friends yesterday. However, as a lead-up to writing, I stopped by Quaker Quaker and clicked on a link
to "Why do some Quakers hate to talk about sin?" by Timothy Travis, a convinced Beanite Friend. His blog reflection jumped out very violently;-) and grabbed me by the spiritual throat.
Ah, the problem of sin or the sin of the problem or of the sin problem-- "Missing the mark," "Original Sin," "national sin." Trying to reduce this horrendous topic to thought and then to print is no doubt like trying to tame Hurricane Katrina to take a shower:-) But here I go--
First a couple paragraphs of autobiography:
Growing up in a devout home and religious community in Nebraska in the 1950's, I very early came to awareness that all was not right within me and in my own moral choices. I was about six or seven. I loved my sister dearly but would sometimes be vindictive and tease her. And I knew stealing was wrong, but oh how I did want (and take) that item at the corner drug store..etc.
And I had a very deep sadness with how adults so often hurt others by their immoral choices both in my small town and in the world. I also received many, (probably more than my share of) spiritual talks on sin and its results and on justice.
What delivered me from my own guilt, helped me make wiser choices, and gave me a deep passion for seeing spiritual change and harmony come to all humans was an encounter with Jesus Christ (in my own childish way)one night on a gravel road coming home from prayer meeting. I was only eight years of age, but I still get spiritual goose bumps remembering that night and, now, when I feel the wonder and joy of God's love for everyone.
So I am not big on focusing on the negative, on the problem of sin, but rather dwelling on the Good News of God's love--sharing of the deliverance from sin and all the messed-upness that we experience in this broken world, from petty gossip to war in Iraq and Sri Lanka.
We all do have a problem with wrong-doing. Some think it is a problem that others have, not us, at least not Friends. Others think they are worthless and there is no cure. Others that there is a problem but no right or wrong--we're just one form of primate living out survival in a meaningless cosmos. And, of course, many religionists such as the Calvinists think we are born evil, have no choice but to sin, and there is only help for s few selected ones, while God leaves the rest of us to wallow down to despair and eternal judgment.
So what's the truth?
Original sin, total depravity--What about those abstract ideas? This last week, I again encountered individuals who hold very strongly to such a theological worldview:
We're all born evil and sin constantly and can't do right or seek God.
When I started this blog this morning, I thought maybe I would have something to say of such a philosophical outlook, but now that I am to this point, I realize that such a view of life is totally contrary to everything I have experienced and everything I hold dear.
As a literature teacher for many years, every five months I taught the famous Puritan poem "The Day of Doom" to high school students (and Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," too). I sought to help them intellectually understand the Puritan mindset, though within my own spiritual self, I couldn't (and still can't) understand Michael Wigglesworth or Jonathan Edwards at all. Their view that infants who die shortly after childbirth go straight to Hell to be tortured for ever because of Adam's sin is abhorrent theology which makes no rational or spiritual sense to me whatsoever.
While I as a child did have a sense that I had deeply "missed the mark" and needed forgiveness, I also distinctly remember how I, too, had very deep spiritual yearnings. So while there was an ocean of darkness in myself and in others, I also saw Truth and Love, and Goodness--and trusted that the latter was far more powerful than the former. And that we all have a choice for God loves each one of us with limitless mercy and compassion.
Then, of course, there is the other extreme--the so-called "liberal" view of human nature where only murderers, tyrants, and "fundamentalists" commit evil. Most of us are decent human beings. We may err, but certainly aren't sinners, nor by any stretch of the imagination, are we evil.
This, too, doesn't resonate with either life experience or reasonable thought (in my opinion). While I consider myself a "liberal" Friend, I can remember very vividly times in my life when I have been tempted to commit horrendous sin. I can remember times, I chose wrong and how it hurt others.
And it strikes me as highly hypocritical that at the present time Americans of most persuasions oppose terrorism by others such as the Palestinians, yet the United States in the twentieth century carried out some of the most horrendous terrorist attacks in history! And this was done by "liberals." Maybe we nice "liberal" people are not nearly as nice and good as we think we are.
And when was the last time among Friends, that wiser ones, privately, sought to guide members who were making immoral choices?
As a "liberal" I would not want to go back to the days of the 1800's when members were excluded for wrongdoing. But should we not in love speak the truth to erring ones?
I guess all this leads to my next point which is the experience of Friends such as George Fox and John Woolman. In their journals both speak of the darkness of evil and sin, of humankind's need of deliverance. But their focus is not there; it is on God who loves us, on the Ocean of Light, on the spiritual symbol of the atonement.
Well, that's a start.
To be continued--