Not too long ago, I found myself in the midst of having one of those “difficult conversations.” Not that I was uncomfortable with the topic being discussed – quite the contrary. It was one of those talks with a friend enduring some difficult circumstances where I found myself searching for the best possible response, the “right thing to say” in the situation. I hoped desperately to suddenly be struck with some perfect insight that would alleviate my friend’s feelings of despair and hopelessness, which I could not fully comprehend as I was not in the same predicament but still hoped to bring some sense of relief to and came up lacking.
I could, to some extent, understand the rationale behind what he was relating to me. He was dealing with a sense of isolation in his life, a feeling and an illusion of being alone in the world, and perhaps worst of all, the illusion that “God had it in for him,” which he attributed to all of the difficulties he had been going through in life. Bear in mind that in the grand scheme of things, these difficulties were not as onerous as they could be, yet to him, they definitely appeared that way. I am never one to attempt to consider whatever hardships another is going through as less significant or relevant based on my own experience or that of others, and had no desire to judge or to play what I feel to be the futile exercise in demeaning the source of another’s stress by comparing it to the magnitude of others, so I elected as I strive to always do to listen the best I could and offer whatever support that I could.
Long story short, this good friend of mine (whom I may not see eye to eye with or agree with on everything, and thank God that is never a requirement for friendship or caring about one another) was in such a bad place emotionally and spiritually that he was suggesting engaging in self destructive behavior and even experiencing suicidal thoughts because he “just couldn’t see things getting any better.” He was feeling unwanted, uncared about and experiencing a severe and unwarranted drought of self esteem, and this was someone who I value as a friend and whose acquaintance has not only enriched my own life but others who he has come into contact with.
I grasped at what to say as anytime that anyone is in such a place, I take it very seriously and want to reach out however I can. I could have said what was obvious to me and what I personally would have wanted to hear, that the God that I believe in never “has it in” for anyone, but past experience had taught me that stating this fact would not work with him, as he is still in a state of seeking spiritually and while the knowledge that God is always there for me is the source of my peace, it does not seem that way to him as he views God as either a capricious ruler of the Universe who somehow decides to pick on people at random, or an angry judgmental tyrant offering only conditional Love to those who toe a very strictly defined line. This time was no exception, as when I reiterated that God isn’t like that he responded by telling me he wasn’t in the mood to wax theological and it was not helping matters. But I genuinely feel the need to come up with something to say. In this instance, my desire to treat another as I would want to be treated in accordance with the Golden Rule meant finding what it would take to renew my friend’s sense of hope.
Suddenly it hit me and I knew what could help to break the clouds around my friend’s thinking a bit. I related to him that regardless of what he thought about God, knowing him has made my life a little better, a happier place than it would have been without knowing him. I also stated what other friends of mine who had met him said, that he was a pleasant, fun person to be around and they too were glad to know him. When he asked as to why, I told him, “Lots of reasons. But if nothing else, it’s your sense of humor. Sometimes when I am having a really nasty day I will think of the times we’ve been hanging out and something humorous you have done or said, and it gets me laughing or at least smiling. That’s a real talent, it’s a gift and you’ve taught me to laugh at things I thought I could as well as my own faults and inadequacies.”
He thought about what I said, and thanked me for trying to help when he was in a bad place and told me he was going to take a walk and would get in touch with me later. As I always do for anyone who I know is experiencing any type of hardship, I asked God in prayer to send some hope and love my friend’s way and let go of the situation, hoping that I had said the right thing and did the best I could to offer hope without any judgment, and helped him to consider why he should not feel any feelings of low self esteem or worthlessness.
I was so pleasantly relieved to get a voice mail from him a day later, thanking me for my time and giving him some things to think about, and assisting how I could to “help him get out of that bad place” he was in. He admitted that when we were talking prior that he was not feeling good about himself and was allowing those feelings to be projected onto others, leaving him with a sense that no else one valued him either.
I was grateful that he was feeling better and that miraculously my sharing with him that his odd but hilarious sense of humor had made my life a little more enjoyable and glad my words had helped him to obtain more of a connection with his sense of self worth. But the entire experience reminded me and had me thinking about the concept of how we can get into a place of low self esteem and the at times dangerous and self destructive consequences of allowing that to happen.
It can happen to all of us, that either through allowing ourselves to absorb and internalize the opinions of others not quite understanding us or undergoing difficult circumstances or at times reaping the natural consequences of our own errors in judgment that we find ourselves suffering from a sense of low self esteem and the consequences that can accompany it. But what I feel devastates me more than anything about it is that in a great deal of what we have come in modern society to equate with Christianity and God (which should be our greatest source of hope and developing a healthy sense of self worth as well as realizing and maintaining our sense of all others having worth) is also the source of a core tenet which possesses a potentially destructive threat to our sense of well being and our relationship with God: the concept of “original sin”.
Every time the topic of “original sin” comes up, I cannot help to think of a conversation I have had with more than a few legalistic but well meaning Christians. Usually, the Christians who I engage in this conversation with are not of the hardcore legalist variety, in the sense that they subscribe to the whole mentality of “love the sinner, hate the sin” (and in my opinion I feel that that very suggestion is somewhat of a contradiction, as in my understanding of the God I learned about through the teachings of Christ would not advise us to engage in any type of “hate”, let alone judge another and hate some aspect of their identity).
It usually begins with them sharing with me about their personal chosen spiritual path, with no foreknowledge of my own faith and the assumption that there is no way someone such as myself could claim to be Christian. I can understand why; while I don’t conceal it, I don’t advertise or make a grandiose and showy display of my faith any more than I do my sexual orientation, save for my wearing a cross around my neck and a bisexual “pride” bracelet on my wrist which are more symbolic than anything else. Bisexual is how I was made to be, and I would rather express being Christian through the way I treat others than touting my faith to everyone. Most of the time, upon their initial conversation with me, they have no idea that I even belong to or attend a church; I am just another conquest in their imagined quota of converts to their particular brand or understanding of God.
As I believe it was in the one instance I will relate here. Although there have been others more recent, and this took place some time ago in my life, this specific encounter always comes to my mind as I recall it vividly. Looking back, it is even a but amusing, albeit not amusing to me when it occurred.
I was peacefully enjoying my lunch hour from the office I was working at during that time in my usual manner, at a nearby coffee shop I would walk to every day during lunch. I was minding my own business, sipping on my Venti Cafe’ Americano, and having a smoke. In retrospect, it was more than likely the latter activity that inspired this individual to single me out for his attention. Or, it could have been the long hair which I still have. In any case, he knew he had a potential target, so he pulled up a chair at my solo table and asked me, “Hey, how’s it going? You a musician?”
I responded that it was going pretty well, and that yes, I was a musician, and that I was involved in a band. He then presented me with a flyer for his “non-denominational” church, which offered a “Modern and Dynamic worship service.” He told me, “You really ought to check this out, some great praise music, good fellowship, very casual and laid back and a lot of fun. And we can always use more musicians!” I looked over and briefly studied the flyer, which made copious references to keywords I knew then were associated with a legalistic form of belief: Bible based, every reference to God was in the masculine, and the quote, “for all have sinned and fallen short” – and noticed that it was in fact a branch of a local group of churches known for being amongst the most virulently fundamentalist in thought, doctrine and belief.
Not having any interest, and not wanting to be impolite, I politely told him, “Thanks, I really appreciate the invite, but I already am very involved in the church I belong to.” Taken aback a bit, he asked me, “Oh? What church is that?” I told him the name and he responded non-verbally with a quizzical look and stance, shaking his head. “I haven’t even heard of that one, what denomination is it?” I told him it was a congregation of the UCC, the United Church of Christ, and given his look of shocked silence back at me, I might as well have told him it was a satanic coven where we drank the blood of infants.
“Dude, ” he told me in a solemn and a tone which seemed almost conspiratorial as he leaned in closer towards me as if he imagined himself to be the keeper of some great and terrible secret, “that’s not even a real church. You’re being deceived by the anti-Christ if you believe all that stuff they do. They don’t even think the Bible is really God’s Word. They openly accept gays and encourage pro choice. You need to get right with the Lord if you want to end up in Heaven instead of Hell. He’s coming back soon, you know.”
I responded that while I wasn’t certain about their stance on pro choice that one of the reasons I joined was not only their open minded stance on interpreting Scripture individually, focusing on a Loving God and how Christ’s teachings can help us to have a better life and their acceptance of LGBT people, that I was very happy there, that my being right with God was between me and God, that I wasn’t concerned about Heaven after I died and had already been through Hell in my own life, and that I didn’t think there was any reason to worry about God coming back, because I didn’t think God has ever left. And out of all that I said (which I could surmise and tell from his facial expressions was falling upon ears which had been conditioned to shut out and refuse to listen to, acknowledge, or resist any contrasting point of view) the one item he singled out for response to was my comment about the UCC I belong to being open and affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals being one of the reasons I joined.
“Why do you care about if a church affirms gay people or not, are you gay?” was all he responded with, and when he did, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his eye. For a moment, it seemed as if he were eagerly anticipating a response in the affirmative. I wondered briefly if he was going to try to pick me up.
“I’m bisexual,” I said, “and I see that as a blessing and not a curse. I was led to a church where I could know that I am accepted as I am by others as God accepts me as I am.”
He smiled, and responded, “Then we do have something in common!” I am not sure of what the expression on my face was at the time, but I feel pretty sure it was a rather perplexed one as I nervously asked, “Which is? Besides the fact we both believe in God? What, are you bi too?” For a moment I was ready to tell him that while I thought it was great to meet another bisexual person, I was not interested or available and was spoken for- twice, in fact, as I have both a girlfriend and a boyfriend. That’s when frowned with disgust and came back in an overly exaggerated voice that seemed enlightened: “No way! But I am a sinner, too!”
I smiled and shook my head, and I started to open my mouth with a kind but firm rebuttal to his judgment of my sexual orientation, and his opinion that it was somehow inherently wrong, bad or “sinful” but he stopped me.
“I’m a sinner too, and it doesn’t matter what our sin is if we get right with God. That’s the greatest thing there is – knowing that we are all miserable wretches born into sin that don’t even deserve one second of God’s Love but He still loves us and wants to save us from Hell. Been that way since Adam and Eve. And He sacrificed His only SON for it! He can save you too, if you’ll change. We even have groups for people trying to leave the homosexual lifestyle and all the pain that goes with it. He’ll work with you, if you give Him the chance and get yourself in a real Godly church”.
“First of all,” I said, “It is precisely that kind of mentality-the whole idea that we are all miserable and undeserving wretches in need of ‘saving’ and especially via a blood sacrifice-that I want no part of whatsoever and one reason I elected to join a church that does not teach that type of damaging belief. Also, the idea that a person is sinful for being bi or gay and in requirement of being changed is the majority of all that has contributes to what you refer to as the “pain” of what you elect to refer to as a “lifestyle”, and I have no desire to change who I know God Created me to be and I know God Loves me without my having to ‘change’. And finally, my church IS a real ‘Godly’ church, as I understand God. I appreciate your concern, and your thoughts on my salvation, but I am very much at peace where I am.” He opened his mouth to rebuke me again and I told him, “Please, I respectfully ask that we just agree to disagree on the matter, and I would appreciate it if you would please allow me to enjoy the rest of my lunch hour in peace.”
During my response, during which I had managed to maintain my sense of clarity and composure as well as a very calm, respectful and polite tone, I had noticed his glancing behind me with a concerned look, and that was when I noticed the girl at the counter talking to the manager as they both looked in his direction; perhaps there had been other complaints from patrons of his unsolicited prosthelytizing. He seemed angry and frustrated at that point, and retorted with a tone of voice which lilted with the upward inflection which always seems to insinuate “have-it your-way-you’ll-be-sorry” and said, “Fine. But you should read this.” He then dug into his pocket and sifted out a Jack Chick tract and tossed it at me like he would cast a stone in the direction of a sinner. He then excused himself, leaving his chair shoved out, and glanced back to say, “Enjoy Hell!” and as he walked away, under his breath, I heard him say the word “…fag.” I feel somewhat certain he wanted me to hear it and took a perversely pious secret joy in adding for his own personal sense of satisfaction.
What a loving gesture, I thought about his flippant response to my politely disagreeing with him and his last minute homophobic afterthought. Oddly, none of the talk he had pummeled me with about sexual orientation or sexuality really disturbed me or triggered old and negative ways of thinking, as I know God Loves me and accepts me Unconditionally as I am, regardless of what opinions others might hold. What disturbed me the most, I think, was his sincere if however inaccurate belief that he and everyone else is somehow “born” into sin and a “miserable wretch” undeserving of God’s Love and needing to be “saved” from that.
I am not suggesting that no one needs to be “saved” from something by God – be it a life of aimlessness and/or hopelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, self destructive behavior, fear, anxiety or bad times, ourselves or whatever difficulties we experience in life we feel we need to be rescued from via the knowledge and awareness of God’s Infinite and Unconditional Love. But none of us need to be saved for simply being born, nor our individual beliefs, our sexual orientation or sexuality, or from what people refer to as “original sin”.
The concept of “original sin” continues to be a major tenet of just about every conservative evangelical denomination – or “non-denomination” – which I have encountered, as well as many others. And as I am certain that more than a few therapists would admit, it is likely the collective root of the majority of low self esteem issues in today’s society, carrying with it a potentially psychologically damaging pattern of thinking that at its very least breeds and fosters a sense of low self esteem, if not self worth and being.
And I feel it is so tragic that this belief is still very prevalent in most churches and throughout the majority of Christianity: for some who are attending a church and reaching out for to know God, it can likely be a stumbling block, in my opinion which could stain their first encounter of a faith community. What should be a source of hope and inspiration to the disenfranchised, the lonely, those seeking to know God’s Love has become a source of fear, guilt, shame and a breeding ground for low self esteem. And for the LGBT individual, it can make the process of reconciling spirituality, sexuality and sexual orientation particularly problematic.
So where did all of this “original sin” stuff come from? And as we grow in our faith as Christians, whether we are LGBT or not, is there some way that we can rethink what the meaning of that is, and approach it a bit differently as we have been successful in revisiting, rethinking and reinterpreting old beliefs? Can we hold on to beliefs which might be a part our faith tradition without having to subscribe to the false idea that we are somehow set up for failure from the get go and inherently “flawed” when we know in our hearts that “God don’t make no junk” and embrace a sense of humility while maintaining a healthy sense of self esteem and self worth? I definitely believe that we can.
First, it helps to return to the source of where the concept came from and how things might have gotten a bit blown out of proportion.
Most cite the concept of “original sin” to have roots in the first book of the Bible as we know it, in the “Creation story” in Genesis. Taking a critical look at the first part of the Bible provides some interesting insight about what a large faction of Christianity still accepts as the first days of the Earth and life as we know it (although for many I know, it was the insistence that they take the story as literal truth was the very catalyst which resulted in their questioning the idea that the Bible is a document to be interpreted literally.)
I have come to understand the Creation story as illustrated within Genesis as an allegory scribed by those who were seeking to understand how things came to be, and in a time when knowledge of such was both very young and primitive, which is reflected in the text.
It begins simply enough: In the beginning, God calls everything as we know it into being. I can get behind that; while I personally feel there is some truth to the clues which science has illuminated about how life as we know it came to be, I do feel that everything originated from God, the Source of all – however such transpired. In Genesis 1:27, God Creates humankind, both male and female (and whether or not that can be inferred as meaning we all possess both the masculine and feminine within us in some way is another thought for another time), and in Genesis 1:28, God Blesses humankind and tells us to make the best of it. Finally, in Genesis 1:30, God proclaims it to be “all very good.”
But then, the narrative gets interesting to me. In Genesis 2:7, it seems there is an addendum to the part where God Creates Adam; and then in 2:15, God puts him into Eden and sets up a rule that he cannot eat from the “Tree Of Knowledge” (read: knowledge is dangerous). Then Eve enters the picture, and in 2:25 is a very nice verse where both seem to be devoid of any hang ups or apprehensions about their bodies – and their sexuality as well, I would presume – as it states that they were “both naked and were not ashamed”. I personally think it would have ended very well here and we could have skipped forward a bit.
But things take a screaming left turn for the worst. I’m sure you know the story from here, with Eve allegedly listening to the snake and screwing everything up for Adam and everyone else, and God showing the worst wrathfully Old Testament side possible by cursing not only the serpent but Adam, Eve and all of humankind all the way from Genesis 3:14-3:19. Then God adds in Verse 21 that they put some clothes on.
Perhaps it is just me, but I cannot help but interpret this part of the story as a purely human construct in an attempt to comprehend, rationalize and explain why humanity-part of God’s “all very good” Creation – could be so given to engaging in bad behavior. (Simultaneously, it seems to attempt to also offer some explanations for why there is great pain in childbirth, why death is a part of life, why snakes behave the way they do and why some females seem afraid of snakes, and it sets the stage for not only a general sense of apprehension about attaining knowledge, but also centuries of male chauvinism and an imagined sense of one gender being superior to the other which in my opinion still is far too prevalent.) It all just comes across to me as a shade too influenced by a human element than any type of factual account of something that could have actually transpired; a very early interpretation to explain aspects of life and humanity which were thousands of years prior to the level of understanding we possess today.
Fast forward Scripturally to the New Testament. Although many attribute the teachings about “original sin” to Jesus, He had some very interesting comments on the matter:
“If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin.” -(John 15:24)
I think that if that we were, in fact all “born into sin”, then He would not have made this statement. In fact, I cannot locate any instance where Jesus makes reference to the concept of “original sin”. He does mention the idea of “sin” on numerous occasions, and acknowledges that His Ministry, life and death is for the purpose of redeeming and forgiving “sins”:
“…..for this is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” -Matthew 26:28
It is this which is still referenced today in the symbolic ritual of Communion. Jesus knew that His teachings which would free us and show us a better way would indeed result in His own being put to death by the religious fundamentalists of His time, and it was a sacrifice He was willing to make; yet, He does not state that this is to atone for what transpired in Eden.
And perhaps my favorite passage where Jesus references “sin” and the one so many of us are so familiar with, as the Scribes and Pharisees try to trap Jesus into enforcing Mosaic Law and stone the woman caught in adultery and His oft quoted response:
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. ” -(John 8:7)
And we all know the rest; one by one, those prepared to stone her leave one by one, beginning with the elders, until she and Jesus are standing there alone-where she finds her forgiveness and goes her way. I can always visualize how this would have looked; after His call for the one with no sin to cast the first stone (which I always picture Him delivering with an expression of such knowing what the reaction would transpire to be), hearing silence and then hearing one stone fall from one hand, then another, and another-as they all walk away comprehending that they themselves are not flawless and devoid of making mistakes, errors in judgment, and bad decisions, and therefore have no business judging or condemning others in accordance with Jesus teachings and the desires of the God He both embodied and taught about.
Moving forward once again, we find the passages where Paul makes reference to what seems to be the only New Testament mentions of the concept of “original sin”, and certainly the one most often cited by the proponents of the concept. Romans 5:12-21 seems to be the origin of the concept and the passage which likely created the belief in faith as we know it today, in fact, although it is again referenced in 1 Corinthians 15:22 when Paul states that, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” Perhaps the most blatant illustration of the “original sin” doctrine is in the first part of Romans 5:12 when Paul asserts that “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one human being (referencing Adam) and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” and it continues to build the concepts which led to the doctrine of Christ’s death being the atonement for this transgression.
Yet, even with these offering clarity as to where the concept first originated, another verse is often utilized by those who wish to assert the concept of “original sin”, again, attributed to Paul:
“…all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” -Romans 3:23
This too goes on to refer to Jesus as a “blood sacrifice”; as if it were not bad enough to feel as if we are all flawed in God’s Eyes, we also are saddled with a burden of guilt over the interpretation that God would require a literal “sacrifice” to atone for such-rather than the interpretation that Jesus in fact carried the cross to deliver us a message of hope as opposed to the common legalistic belief system of His days on Earth. Heavy stuff, indeed, and among the teachings of Paul that both liberal and some conservative Christians struggle with at times.
However, If one considers the origin of the term “sin” to begin with, it offers a slightly different perspective on things. “Sin” was an archery term that literally meant, “missing the mark”. And if you place that idea into considering Paul’s grandiose assertion that “all have sinned and fallen short” it provides a bit more clarity about what the magnitude of that statement can truly mean to us today and undo some of the damaging beliefs about “original sin” – at least, it did for me.
If you take a moment to consider the possibility that the authors of Genesis might have wanted an allegory to express the truth of our humility and that none of us are perfect, and we all have the potential to “miss the mark” – or fall short of being the person we know we have the capability of being-good and kind, caring and loving rather than selfish or self serving, or inconsiderate of others, it does stand to reason that they thought there needed to be some explanation or justification of how an all Loving and magnificent God Who Authored Creation would Create us with our own set of faults that we would need a way to somehow learn to overcome.
If you examine what Jesus had to say about the idea that all of us “sin”, or “miss the mark” at face value, it might seem as if He too is suggesting that we are somehow inherently “flawed” at first glance. However, He Knew the reality: sometimes make the wrong decisions as opposed to the right ones, sometimes we are slow to forgiveness and quick to anger as we deal with the hurdles this life sometimes presents us with, when we allow our own self interests – or even religious beliefs and rituals as the Pharisees of His time on Earth did – to override what we are called to do by His teachings and show our Love for God through Love, Caring and Compassion for our neighbor, then it makes perfect sense that He would make such a statement.
And finally, in that same vein, if we take closer examination of Paul’s dramatic assertion that “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”, we could encapsulate that to be an expression of the simple Truth which is equally valid today as it was when it was written: No matter how much we might strive to be, no one is perfect, and always does the right thing all the time. We do the best that we can, but we all make mistakes and therefore have no right to judge those which anyone else makes or elevate ourselves above others in the false assumption that we are somehow “superior” in that we are “closer” to the perceived mark than they appear to be falling.
Or, to condense and boil it down to its barest essence in one simple and basic (if over generalized a bit) statement: “We all make mistakes”.
God, however, does not.
For God, at least, the God that I Love and am forever grateful to for all in my life in both the bad times and the good times, through the ups and downs of this mystery of life, and the God that I feel Jesus both taught about and embodied is the Source of all things-all good and very good things in an overflowing cup of abundance. I see them everywhere I look, and know them every time I feel them. And I truly feel that each new life God Creates is a blank canvas for a new work of art – one not born stained with “original sin”, but rather the potential and the joyous opportunity for greatness and a unique place and purpose in the glory of an ongoing, never ending process of Creation, and one that I also feel in my heart that we are individually called to participate in.
While it is perfectly natural, acceptable, and makes good sense to acknowledge that no one is perfect, and that we are prone to sometimes “fall short” or “miss the mark” of the highest good I think God wants for all of us, it is also very detrimental for any of us to allow any dogma, any doctrine, any judgment which others might elect to employ out of their own fears, prejudices, or insistence upon their interpretation of God on a personal level in an attempt to create a sense of low self worth in us or create any feelings of separation from God and one another leave us with the false impression that we are somehow flawed.
I know in my heart and soul that I have missed the mark plenty of times and still do. I don’t always think before I speak in every situation, and have made more than a few of my own mistakes. I know that no matter how much I may strive to do the most loving thing, take the most compassionate action, or make the effort to remain constantly mindful of or live in accordance with the Great Commandment to always Love my neighbor as myself, I don’t always succeed. Thank God, that is not a requirement. I have made my own share of colossal errors in judgment and have had times where I allowed my own fears to prevent me from doing what I know in my heart is the best possible action in alignment with the peaceful and compassionate way Jesus encourages me to all of the time. But in those cases, I do know that if I strive to do the very best that I can the next time and learn from my mistakes rather than continue upon the path that resulted in my making them, I will be able to find hope, redemption, and salvation in God’s Loving embrace from my fears that allow me to create those errors.
And while I know that I, as everyone has the potential to make decisions which may carry with them consequences, even if said consequences are merely a sense of temporary brokenness with others or the illusion of feeling separate from God, I also try not to be too hard on myself when I do mess up. (I often think we are a million times harder on ourselves than God could ever dream of being).
But what I do know in my heart is this: God is a Loving God Who would never set us up to fail, but rather Desires for us to have a life filled with joy and abundance, and even though it is difficult to comprehend at times, there is no limit to God’s Grace or Blessings. There is never a time when we are “written off” or forgotten. And despite whatever our shortcomings might be or what we might falsely perceive them to be, we are deserving of that Love.
As LGBT individuals, most of us are all too familiar with the belief so many fortunately hold that regardless of interpretations of “original sin” our very nature classifies us to some as being automatically “flawed”, “broken” or “sinful”. (One reason I have never liked or used the term “straight” to mean “heterosexual” is the insinuation that somehow anything other is somehow “bent” or “incorrect”.) There are even some who hold the opinion that we are born as we are, but then we must resist the urge to ever express such and pray to do so, yet the repression of one’s true self in the light of self awareness is as damaging as the idea that there is anything wrong with us to begin with.
And regardless of how others might wish for us to feel in their lack of acceptance or understanding, it is critical that we do not allow that to make us feel as if we are somehow considered second rate to God. I did for some time, and I know of countless others who have done the same – and more times than not, doing so only leads to self destructive behavior and prevents us from living the full potential that God desires for us-and it is definitely not a path to having life and having it abundantly, as Jesus assured us He came to show us the way to.
While always striving to seek God first, realizing where we have allowed our judgment to be clouded by fear and asking for guidance in being “closer to the mark” in the future, I know in my heart that it is never necessary to ask forgiveness for merely being who it is that God Created us to be. We should never allow ourselves to feel ashamed of parts of ourselves as deep and intrinsic to who we are as our sexuality, our sexual orientation, and who we love. We can and I feel that we should ask for guidance in how to best express that, in a way that is loving and respectful of the rest of God’s Children. After all, it is not our very nature which would cause us to “miss the mark”, but only if we elect to express that nature and truth of who we are in ways which might create harm or hurt, or a lack of love or concern towards others.
For example, while I know in my heart that it is not a sin for anyone to express their natural sexuality, whatever that may be for them and to be assured that it is not unnatural and another good thing from God, to do so in hurtful and non consensual ways would be against what God wants for us. While I know in my heart and am grateful for such that it is not a sin for me or anyone else like me to be happily bisexual and to have an honest, caring and committed relationship with both a woman and a man, for a person to attempt to repress who they are on the surface, and end up leading a deceptive life of betrayal, pretending to do one thing while doing another and hurting others in the process – as I have unfortunately seen other bisexuals as well as gays and lesbians do – would be in error.
While there is nothing wrong with anyone wanting to promote the idea that marriage is a sacred covenant to be honored, I feel it is wrong when others attempt to prevent same gender partners to have that same freedom and have their commitments recognized as well in the interest of preserving prejudices and “traditions”. While it is not wrong for us to have a healthy sense of self esteem and confidence in ourselves, to love who we are, and realize that we do deserve joy and every bit of God’s Grace, it is not in line with what I feel God wants for us to allow our feelings to exalt ourselves as somehow being superior to another and fall into the self defeating trap of arrogance that only serves to distance our connection with others. And while it is not a sin in my view for someone to hold fast to their own beliefs, or hold their own personal understanding of the Bible, I feel that the line is crossed when they attempt to enforce that belief on all others and hurt others who think and believe and interpret differently, perpetuate a sense of separation from God within them or leave them with a sense of being incongruent with Christ and unaccepted as a Christian due to the differences.
It is not any aspect of who we are which might create stumbling blocks which would cause us to act in error, but rather how it is we elect to express the truth of who God Made us to be, and for that, we are blessed with a never ending wellspring of guidance, should we only ask, seek and knock. And when we do trip up and miss that mark, if we seek we will also find redemption for the times when we give in to our own shortcomings; we can discover the guidance to growing to avoid a predilection for those as we continue on our path, get through whatever consequences our action might create and author a new beginning with God’s help.
Given the fact that not only does the doctrine of “original sin” serve to breed, fosters and incubate a sense of low self esteem which can often manifest in self destructive and self sabotaging behavior – hardly hitting the mark and definitely incongruent with “having life and having it more abundantly” and only serves to perpetuate a perceived distance from God and at separation from others as well (and at the very least setting us up for failure), I think there needs to be an alternative. I gave some thought to what could take its place which might offer a better perspective, a healthier spiritual outlook, and a better collective sense of well being, and this was what I thought of:
What if each of us that God Created was a new and original way of God being expressed in the world that we are born into, rather than souls in need of saving? Consider the idea that instead of us being “born into sin” or with an inherent disposition towards it or being born in need of rescue from ourselves that we are born instead with potential for greatness.
Through our own individuality, uniqueness and gifts we bring to the world, think of God seeing each of us with our own purpose of making Creation a better place through what we can uniquely contribute. That is not to say that we will not have our occasional trip-ups, stumbles and falls in the process – ones which God has Given us the teachings of Jesus and His Spirit to guide us through and maintain the path we are destined to be on – but God has every intention of seeing us succeed and we are perfect in our imperfection in God’s Eyes. Instead of seeing ourselves as stained from the outset, why not instead see ourselves as vessels, blank canvases for God’s Love to be expressed through us in some new and original way employing our own special purpose, the one God the Divine Artist Created us uniquely to fulfill.
Each of us has our own purpose, whether everyone may understand it or not is irrelevant. And God will enable us to discern that purpose as we accept who we are and seek guidance to make the best possible use of it as we were intended to. Ponder the idea that we are empowered to do great things, rather than predisposed to mess up and predestined by the actions of the first of our kind. I truly feel that God wants us to come to realize this. All we need to is open our minds and hearts, maintain a sense of faith, hope and love, and all else will fall into place.
And should we feel discomfort or difficulty letting go of the concept of “original sin”, I propose that we simply consider the source.
Consider the source of the concept of “original sin”, and how it originated through both the Old Testament and New Testament writers and the earliest Christians seeking to understand human nature and the nature of God, when the knowledge about such was young compared to now, and the sense of comprehension we have now of life, science, nature and human nature did not exist. When it is remembered that during this time there was still a great deal of fear and misunderstanding about what life is and what lay beyond, it is little wonder to me that often a fearful understanding of God or allegories portraying a vision of God based in fear was often the result. Unfortunately, too many still cling to that fear today, but should we acknowledge that for what it is then it is possible for us to move forward with a positive outlook based in both faith and reason, as in reality the two can coexist peacefully, despite what some may elect to believe or believe by default.
Consider the source of our own feelings of low self esteem, inadequacy, and feeling somehow distant from God or others we might experience. More often than not, the roots of these stem from and can be traced back to the fearful reaction of others towards the parts of us they may not understand or elect to be willing to. Consider how we might have allowed others to project their fears upon us-sometimes through lashing out at us or others through constant vain repetition-which we have then proceeded to internalize either consciously, subconsciously or both and given them a life of their own. And then let them go-both the fears and the feelings of hurt and perceived low self worth and forgive those who gave them to us, for it was because they were afraid and let fear get the best of them (the primary reason I feel we all sometimes miss the mark.)
But perhaps most importantly, consider the Source.
With a sincere belief and knowing that a Loving God is the Source of all of the good things we know, it is difficult to maintain old, harmful and negative beliefs which no longer serve us but instead restrain us from experiencing the life I feel we were meant to have, one filled with abundant joy and a sense of oneness with not only God but all of Creation. Consider the thought that God does not merely tolerate us despite our shortcomings, but Loves, Affirms and Accepts us all with an Unconditional Love and has a unique place and purpose for each of us. Consider the idea that God urges and encourages us to practice self acceptance and joy in who we uniquely are which results in our being a better person for others rather than shame, self denial, self doubt and self hate which can lead to the opposite. Consider all of the joyful moments in your life where you have felt that sense of Oneness with God, even if that feeling merely came from experiencing the random loving or caring gesture of another and focus on the blessings in everyday life, as those illuminate awareness of God’s Love most of all in my experience.
Our connection to God, Christ and Spirit should be our greatest Source of joy, not one burdened by guilt, shame and fear. If God is within us, as Jesus alluded to, then we should never allow a sense of shame or fear to exist and tarnish the inherent potential which we all have for good, for being loving, and being like God, caring for each other as God Has Cared and Cares for us.
So consider that being the Source of all Good, God Created each of us and proclaimed us to be good – deserving of the wellspring of grace, joy and blessings God intends and desires that we have, despite whatever mistakes we make or the trials and errors in our own lives as we walk, stumble and often get carried through them.
And when we experience that shift where we no longer feel compelled or influenced for any reason to envision ourselves with the potential to fail but realize that we have instead been empowered to succeed and given a new opportunity with each new moment, we can truly begin to fulfill God’s desire for us to assist and play our given and unique role in the process of an ever growing and wondrous Creation.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.