Sin, in my honest estimation, is one of two things. Sin is turning away from who God calls you to be, and sin is broken relationship, and we all experience these problems in our lives. Turning away from who God calls you to be is something that is between God and oneself. Through thoughtful discernment, meditation, and self-reflection, we become closer to being authentic human beings. When we get to the core of what it means to be authentically whole persons, our life’s calling begins to become more clear, even if the questions still have more than one answer. The Indigo Girls, the best modern theologians I know, put it this way: “The less I seek my source from some definitive, closer I am to fine.” We must know that the world is full of possibilities, but we also know that our place in the world has a certain purpose. When we get closer to what God’s intentions are for us, we begin to live out who God calls us to be.
Broken relationship is probably the most difficult to describe, because there is so much broken relationship in our society. One way to think about broken relationship is to think of it as turning away from the grace of God in the soul of another human being. There are many ways that our society promotes broken relationship, but sometimes it seems to me that even our ministers promote broken relationships, based on the ideal of what a relationship produces, or does not produce. We hear over and over again that if we don’t get anything out of a relationship with someone else, then why stay in relationship? This is one of the questions that seem to pervade our societal rules for functioning. But what about being in a relationship for the sake of being in relationship, not for what it may or may not produce?
Take for example, my relationship with anti-gay protesters at the recent Witness Our Welcome (WOW) conference in Philadelphia as an example of a broken relationship. I think that most people would say that I should just leave the protesters alone, that I should not think about them, that there is no good that can come out of an interaction with them. But, I disagree. We are both human, created by God, and inhabit this earth together. Both the protester and myself suffer from broken relationship with each other, and it is precisely our stances on opposing sides of an issue that create a place for all the bad stuff to come flowing in.
All the bad stuff to come flowing in?? What do I mean, you might be wondering. Anger, fear, hatred, those feelings and thoughts, and sometimes even actions, that are the hallmarks of broken relationship. Where do those feelingsóall that bad stuffówhere does it come from? It comes from our own experience. When you see a person who is spouting homophobic rhetoric, your brain opens the homophobia file, and you queer folks out there most likely have hundreds of files in your brain about homophobia, spanning from that incident when you were twelve and someone told you that being gay was a sin, to the latest issue of The Advocate reporting yet another hate crime two hours away from where you grew up. Our homophobia files are chock full of broken relationship, yet we know that some of our knowledge about homophobia is essential for our survival. We know how to read that protester’s signals in two seconds or less, and we know whether or not we should cross the street when the protester glances our way.
So, how on earth could the relationship with the unnamed protester be a sin? That protester could be a threat to our very survival. But then, we remember Jesus, and his relationships with the people on earth. Even as Jesus breathed his last breath, he prayed, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus came to heal the broken relationships in our world. Jesus lived so that we could learn what love is. Jesus taught us to read between the lines, to think in both/and terms rather than in either/or terms. Jesus taught us that there are more than two answers to any given question.
Sometimes, a broken relationship requires thinking and acting in opposition to what we feel, in opposition to the years of socialization that have taught us that anger, fear, and hatred are normal responses. What is the opposite of anger, fear, and hate? The opposite of those are compassion, bravery, and love. What would the world be like if we responded with compassion, bravery and love every time we felt anger, fear, and hate? Our world would definitely be changed. There is the question of protecting oneself from harm. I, in no way, am advocating for anyone to go out into the world and put themselves in harm’s way. One way of responding with compassion is to not respond at all. It is in our hearts where the real truth is revealed, and we can only do our own work. It is up to others to meet us at the table, but we must be examples of peace in our world if we ever wish to see peace in our lives. If we belittle the protester, if we demean them or try to match wits with them, we engage in broken relationship. If our hearts are pure in our thoughts towards them, if we pray for them to find peace, if we extend a handshake and a wish of peace (when it’s safe, of course), then our hearts have been taken care of. We know that we are living out our lives in the way God calls us to be.