30. And then all people of faith could put themselves and one another in the mercy of God.
Part of me doesn’t care about your individual faith at all. That’s the byproduct of individualism, isn’t it? I care only about my faith and I don’t have to give a hoot about yours.
This idea falls apart, of course, when your priest says he or she doesn’t care about your faith. Suddenly, we’re no longer super individuals with our personal beliefs and everything’s cool when the pastor doesn’t give a rip what we believe.
Or maybe you run with the other dogs; the ones which obsess about what each individual believes so much that the thought of anyone not worrying about the substance of anyone else’s belief is moon rocks and unicorns–pick that jaw up off the floor.
Individualism is the chronic syndrome of our time. And its a load of bunk. None of us is so individualistic as we claim. Nor is any of us so committed to the community we lose our identity completely. These false narratives follow our individualistic piety culture like an abused dog, always prepared to displease its master.
We’re all individuals as long as the right to steal individuality from others is always on the table.
Repent and Restore
For all of those following Jesus, it begins with repentance and restoring true community. We see that in the way Jesus took up John the Baptizer’s message of repentance and in his own teaching of the disciples. The most notable example is the rebuke of Peter, instructing him to turn away from his transgression and return to his place behind Jesus.
And what we repent for is the twin sins of separation and power.
First, recall what sin is.
Sin and relationship
The best definition of sin is that it is separation. Particularly, it is that which separates us from God or perhaps the separation itself. Sin is our distance from God. It is the state of being away or out of right relationship with God.
And we know that this includes the actions we do to one another which separate us from the mercy and love of God because they violate the rules or fracture the relationship in some way. Killing someone is a sin because
- There’s a rule against it in the Pentateuch.
- But also because that action violates our relationship to our neighbors and creation itself.
This is what we see in the Cain and Abel story at the beginning of Genesis. It isn’t just about one brother’s jealousy, but about what his action does to fracture our human relationship with God and creation. For even the soil is messed up by the murder. The earth gets a kind of PTSD from it.
Sin messes up our relationship to God, our neighbors, and all of creation. It isn’t the sip of alcohol or the dancing–until those things are used to destroy relationship.
Sin and Community
Sin isn’t just about breaking or following rules. Nor is it completely given a physical form in drugs, swearing, or porn. These aren’t “sin” any more than a human is “sin”.
Except that these represent the vehicles for mutual destruction.
So the sin is in the act of separation and it is the manifestation of our being divorced from one another. And the reason many people police these instruments is to avoid destruction. We restrict access to weapons or amphetamines, for instance, not only to protect the individual, but the community.
This is why sin isn’t only a personal problem, but a community one.
We can see this in the way laws are spelled out in Exodus and Leviticus for the building of the blessed community. Because we are mutually dependent on one another for survival. And we need our common space to be ordered to not only protect the individual, but the social fabric which sustains us.
Sin, like love, comes to represent the cords and bonds of affection which connect each of us to our neighbors and to our whole.
This is ultimately why the case for individual faith doesn’t hold up. Even the nature of God is made manifest in a relationship of three. We follow a messiah so we can strengthen our relationship with him and to God. We are called to serve one another in love to restore our world in the joy of jubilee because everything is connected.
Seriously. Repent and Restore
So if the nature of sin is to be separated from God, then the grave sin of the church has been to separate each other from God. In other words, every excommunication, every schism, or every attempt to drive a wedge between the faithful is sin. The declaration of war on our culture exemplifies this sin in modern terms.
And the culture war also exemplifies the great sin’s diabolical twin: power. The thing the Tempter offered Jesus in the wilderness and offered Peter along the road to Jerusalem. Power.
Power makes us believe it will save us, but it only heightens our separation, our sin. It only ever puts us into a place of oppression.
Like Jim Crow which divided blacks and whites for a morsel of power. Not enough to liberate anyone from oppression, but enough to ensure someone else could be oppressed a little more.
The sin of power offers us selfishness and individualism so seductive we’re willing to oppress ourselves. We would condemn ourselves to hell to lord it over someone. To steal the lordship of the oppressor to do his dirty work, only to stumble back to our own cage, drunk and thankful for the draft of power.
That’s our sin.
But Jesus offers us a way out of it. Repent and restore.
Tangled cords or chords?
Part of what is seductive of the twin sins is that modern culture is this way. It is built on a premodern understanding of the common good implemented through modern individualism. So we think the way forward is always personal and separate. It is always what can I do to make a difference. Never how do we deal with our problem.
The easy answer is Because teamwork is hard.
But it’s more than that.
We have come to see the base unit of reality is the individual. As if everything begins and ends with that. But virtually nothing about any part of creation is so individualistic.
Imagine bees without their hive. Our planet without its solar system. It would take no time at all for the whole system to fall apart; for life itself to cease.
Now imagine what we’re doing to our community when we obliterate the common condition: destroy our schools, infrastructure, even the common bonds of affection.
We often treat the human condition as if it could be so isolated into the individual. As if we are looking at the mess of cords behind the entertainment center, and if we just color-coded and labeled each cord, we could isolate which one leads to which device.
But what if we aren’t so much power cords tangled up, but guitar chords whose joint identity exists as a finger on a string and as a necessary part of a whole? What if our true resonance and power comes, not in our individual contribution, but in the sound we make contributing to the whole?
All of this talk of sin and separation and individualism and power serves to get us to this one theological place. And it is the place at the heart of what Jesus teaches about the kin-dom and our commitment to love. The sin we in the western part of the church need to repent of most. Repenting as Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, or Charismatics.
We must repent of our individual repentance. We must repent of our individual turning from sin and our individual mercy from Christ. Our individual faith.
And we offer our common sin instead. We offer our common repentance and turn together from the twin sins of separation and power and toward a common love.
And Jesus reminds us that the first steps toward these common views of love and connection are to receive the repentant hearts of one another and offer our own mercy. That each of us, representing our own string, might combine to form a major chord.
We shift our obsession with our separation from God to our separation from the humanity in our neighbor. We love them in the midst of the chaos and in spite of the pain.
This is the heart of the kin-dom and the root of the faith of Jesus. And it’s where “me” and “we” meet in a both/and, mutually supporting relationship, striking a beautiful chord as one.
And what will we find? Jesus is already there.
[This is Thesis #30 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]