Posts Tagged ‘God’

Don’t be afraid of sin.

What is sin?


Ah yes, that eternal question.  It’s started wars, it’s led to ostracism, and it’s led to countless fights between parents and children. 


In many more conservative traditions, sin is a set of rules.  It is a sin to do X, so you must avoid X.  However, as a liberal evangelical, I take a different view of sin.  Sin is not a list of things to avoid, sin is whatever causes harm.  Everything must be measured against this.  Does having sex before marriage cause harm?  Depends on the situation and the couple.  Does punching someone in the face cause harm?  Yes.  Does punching someone in the face to stop them from attacking someone else cause harm…or does it prevent a greater harm?  Unclear. 


I believe that the approach Jesus took in the gospels supports this interpretation.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to take a different approach on sin, moving from the rule-driven approach of the Torah, to a more philosophical approach.  Not killing moves to not hurting another person.  Not committing adultery moves to not having unfaithful thoughts. 


Now, admittedly…rules are a lot easier.  It’s a lot easier to avoid things than to not cause harm.  What very few people talk about, but which I believe, is that sin also is about obligations.  It’s not just about what you shouldn’t do…it’s about what you don’t do.  Do you not care about other people or show them love?  Do you not tithe?  Do you not avoid products that you know were made by people who were exploited?  Do you not recycle?  All of these things cause harm…but very few people would likely think of them as sins.


Liberals don’t like the word sin.  It scares us; it seems so judgmental and fire-and-brimstone.  Sinners are murderers, right?  Our world is increasingly trying to turn things into shades of gray.  Things are shades of gray, I don’t deny that, but hurting your friends feelings isn’t something that’s regrettably inevitable, and you’ll try better next time, it’s a sin.  It’s not something to torture yourself about, but it’s something to admit to yourself.  Sin is a beautiful concept.  I don’t find it weighs me down, makes me depressed and guilty, rather, it relieves me from those feelings.  See, the kind of “oh, I shouldn’t really have done that” leaves me in a state of uncomfortableness, some guilt mixed with cognitive dissonance and uncertainty, but a sin…that’s something you can face, and facing it can be a lot more liberating than ignoring it. 


I remember a time when I felt like the decisions I was making were in this constant state of gray.  I did not know what was right.  I felt so bad about myself, but I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was actually wrong.  I had an epiphany one day.  Whether or not it was wrong wasn’t the point, but I was doing something that I wasn’t morally comfortable with, I was causing harm to myself.  As soon as I admitted that, I was able to ask God for forgiveness and then ask it of myself.


Sin is often a road to peace, because it is a means of being accountable to one’s self, to the people around you, to the people you haven’t even met, and to God. See, the beautiful thing about sins is that once asked, forgiveness is always given.


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Every Christmas we see dozens of pundits and political figures whipping themselves into a frenzy over “the War on Christmas”.  People get outraged over the fact that there are…or are not…creches in the public parks.  I personally think that these people who continually mourn the lack of “Christ” in public Christmas traditions or become outraged over the use of the phrase “holiday” instead of “Christmas” are really taking the wrong approach.

First, I’m a Christian and it truly saddens me as religion becomes more and more disrespected in the public forum (not just Christianity, all religions) and I’ll admit that it would be nice to always be surrounded by our faith.  To have constant reminders about how we should act and about God, rather than having to go through the exhausting effort of self motivation, would be quite nice.  But I don’t live in a Christian country.  I live in the United States.  I live in a country that says that the government shall make no law about the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise.  People often point to this as evidence that we should be allowed to have nativity displays in public buildings but I think what this really says is that sure, you can go put a nativity on your lawn, and maybe you’ll irk your atheist neighbor across the street, but that’s your right.  But the government cannot endorse a faith, and I think that putting nativity scenes on public property is tantamount to an endorsement.  That is not people living their faith, that is the government displaying a faith. 

Yes, I agree, the spirituality of Christmas is often missed in the superficiality and chaos of the season.  However, I don’t think the way to rectify that is by forcing everyone around us to appreciate the spirituality.  I don’t think there is just one meaning of Christmas.  In fact, I think there are two separate Christmases.  There’s Religious Christmas and Secular Christmas and I think once we accept that those are really just two different holidays things will be a bit easier.  The fact is that Jesus isn’t necessary to everyone’s celebration of Christmas.  We have family friends that are atheist and agnostic and their children love Christmas just as much as the ones in my family.  Christmas can still be a time of cheer and family and drawing closer together without having Jesus.  Christmas has meaning separate from religion.  That is the Secular Christmas.  On the other hand, there is a holiday that is celebrating the birth of the Christian savior Jesus Christ and that is Religious Christmas.  I think we need to celebrate these two Christmases and realizes that Christmas doesn’t have to mean one thing.  I think that public displays around Secular Christmas (holly, trees, Santa Clause) aren’t really that offensive and can be tolerated.  Christmas doesn’t have to be owned by Christians.  Families make a choice whether to celebrate one Christmas or the other, most families will choose to celebrate a mixture of the two.  Or they’ll say that they’re celebrating both independently. 

In reality, there are already two Christmases, I think admitting that, instead of trying to drag the culture one way or the other, is a healthy thing.  There is meaning in both Christmases, but they’re different meanings.  There is overlap and the two can complement each other, but I think they can only complement each other when one realizes that they are different in the first place.  I think this will keep those who celebrate Christmas without the religious aspects from being uncomfortable and can also preserve the religious aspect within Christmas, because then one has to beging to make a conscious effort to celebrate the two.  How am I going to celebrate a Religious Christmas?  How is that different from a Secular Christmas?  We are no longer, if we ever were, a Christian nation and people who are religous need to learn to preserve their faiths within their own families rather than fighting public relations battles. 

Just some thoughts to keep in mind for next year.

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So, before I start talking, since this is rather critical to the story, I’m going to have to come out and admit something.  I’m seventeen years old.  I’ve tried to keep that to myself on this blog as much as possible, because I want my thoughts to be taken seriously and very few people do that with a teenager.  It colors their perspective.

But to the point.  In my church, there’s a section of the pews that’s set aside for the youth to sit.  Now, my church’s youth have a pretty scanty attendance record.  Usually it ends up being just me sitting there, and the other people who come regularly sit with their parents.  Recently though, occasional people have started sitting in the pews, much to my distress.  The youth had stopped going to church so much that people had forgotten that that was where the youth sat.  Last week a mother and her two daughters had sat there, this year the same family was there but with another woman, the children’s other mother, I assume.  I was sitting there last Sunday, feeling angry and bitter and resentful and sad.  How dare those people sit in those pews?  (Now, I know this sounds silly.  But those pews are a symbol, they’re a place where youth can sit separate from their parents, so that they begin to commune with the worship on their own, individual basis rather than because of their parents.  It’s also a safe place for youth to sit who perhaps aren’t there with their parents and don’t know where else to go, a place where youth don’t feel strange going to church because they know there are others like them.  It’s a type of fellowship.  But anyway.)  And how could the youth just leave, be part of a church that they didn’t want to spend time at?  I knew it was rather irrational but I was upset.

But I calmed down and tried to let my heart be open to God.  I began to see that this was an opportunity, for friendship, to show those girls a teen role model in church.  I realized that God placed them there and that while I might not know what for or what can come out of it, it is an opportunity that he has given me.  I was at peace and happy when I realized that, and now am glad that that’s family there.  For God can show us another way of looking at the same thing, and give us His perspective, instead of our own flawed one.

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Thanksgiving has come and gone.  At our house, and perhaps it’s also true at your house, we go around and give thankfuls.  Thanksgiving is a time where we think, “What are we grateful to God for?”

I’ve been suffering from debilitating headaches for the past two months, they have always been apart of my life,  but never have they stopped me from living my daily activities to such a degree.  It wouldn’t have been too hard to be grumpy at Thanksgiving, to think, what am I supposed to thank God for?  That I can’t work…?  That I can’t see my friends…?  That I’m a burden on my family…?  And yet…I found that those were none of the things that came to my mind.

I am grateful for my family’s patience.  I am grateful for my neurologist’s care and skill.  I am grateful for the friends who ask how I’m doing, and I’m also grateful for the friends who will ask me about things other than my headaches.  I am grateful for my sisters and the joy they bring in my life.  I am grateful that God has brought and kept my best friends in my life when I have needed them most.  I am grateful that there is food in my closet and heat in my house.  I am grateful for the country I live in, where despite the fact that I have been born a woman, I am allowed to read and learn to my heart’s content, and am able to live with autonomy.  I am grateful for the church I am in that will allow me to recognize my dream of being a minister, even though I am a woman.  I am grateful for countless things and all the blessings that God has seen fit to give me, but above all, I am grateful to God for being with me through every step of the journey.

And with that, how can I not give thanks?

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The Muslim practice of women wearing headscarves to cover their hair and neck has become a symbol in the United States for Islamic women.  Some see it as a symbol of their refusal to integrate into American society, some see it as the exercise of their religious beliefs, some see it as a sign of their oppression by men.  For most of these young women their choice of clothing is something that is reflective of their personal faith and they hold to that even in the face of ridicule or judgment by people around them.

Let’s just start with some terminology.   There are many different types of coverings, the four major ones being the hijab, the chador, the burqa, and the niqab.  The hijab is a headscarf that covers women’s hair and necks.  The chador is a full-body wear that is similar to a cloak and it leaves her face exposed.  The niqab is a full-body covering that covers everything except the eyes.  The burqa covers the eyes as well, leaving only a mesh covering to see through.  As a sidenote, the now-infamous headscarf ban in France bans only the burqa and the niqab and not the hijab and chador (though these things are not allowed in places like French schools where wearing pieces of religious symbolism is forbidden).  Hijab is also, at times, used to refer to the overall practice of modest dress.  Modest dress is interpreted several ways, most believe that it should not be form-fitting and many believe it should cover everything except face and hands (and some believe those too should be covered).

Women and girls wearing some form of the headscarf is becoming increasingly common.  While some are resistant to our country changing, I believe that it is America’s versatility and ability to change that is part of what makes this a great nation.  Just as with civil rights, an African-American girl also started to become a face of America, along with her blonde hair, blue-eyed counterpart, or as Asian-American girls also became common to see in the media, so I think that these Muslim girls are also becoming another face of America, something that bothers a great number of people.  This girl—a young woman with a hijab covering her hair, a loose-fitting shirt with long sleeves, and slacks—she is also America.

Common misperception: only immigrant women and girls still wear the headscarf and wearing it is a sign that they have not integrated into American culture.  This is false.  A large percentage of the women who wear the headscarf were born and raised in America, just like the rest of us.

Common misperception: most girls only wear the headscarf because they are forced to by their families or husbands.  This is also false.  While there are cases where women are forced by their families to wear the headscarf (particularly abroad) the majority of women make this choice freely. For the record though, in a way, isn’t a family encouraging a girl to wear a headscarf or cover herself not that different from when our parents refused to buy us a piece of clothing or leave the house in an outfit because we were wearing a short skirt or a low top?  Or when we’ve done that to our daughter?  Standards of appropriate dress are different in every family, we know this.  While this does not excuse someone forcing their daughter or wife to wear something against their will, perhaps looking at it from this perspective we might understand better why some families strongly wish their daughters to dress in a way that they think is appropriate.

Most women who cover themselves do so out of a personal choice.  They do it because they feel it is something that is mandated by their religion.  Or some do it because it is part of their faith and spirituality, it helps them to connect with God.  Some do it because they feel that, similarly while many Christians believe in saving aspects of physicality (like sex) for marriage and in only giving that to one person, they also believe in only showing themselves to their family and husband.  And there are some who do it because they prefer to dress modestly as a way of respecting themselves and their body.  Instead of feeling commoditized or insecure about body image, they cover themselves as a way of taking focus away from their body and back to where they believe it truly belongs: their heart and mind.  Many would prefer the stares from their modest dress and headscarf than the stares of boys on a street corner.  Whatever motivates Muslim women to wear their headscarves and modest dress, for many of them it is a deeply personal choice that they make because they feel that this best reflects their faith and beliefs.  Christians should understand this since so many Christians also believe in dressing modestly.  This is just a different aspect and a different way of reflecting a similar belief and practice across our religions.

However, instead many Muslim women feel isolated or ostracized.  They feel pressure from peers and get disrespectful questions about their choices.  At times they have been shouted at, had people try to pull their headscarves off, and there are even a few cases where women wearing hijab have been attacked.  In spite of public disapproval, they have continued to express their faith and they should be admired for that.  We should be supporting these women’s choice instead of condemning them or judging them.

There is a lawsuit going forward by a young Muslim woman against Abercrombie and Fitch after she was allegedly fired because they said her headscarf did not conform with their company dress code.  She had been working without a problem for a number of months and had been sure to wear her hijab in company-approved colors until a district manager saw her.  When she refused to take off her hijab while at work she was fired from her job.  (It is worth noting that this is not the first time since Abercrombie and Fitch have been sued for discrimination).

Abercrombie and Fitch has a specific dress code that they require all their employees to wear, the idea being that the dress code is supposed to reflect their “All-American Style”.  Apparently they do not believe that a hijab is an American style, that it is not All-American.  Aside from the fact that by extension this is implying that they don’t see people who wear the hijab as truly American and the indignity of this, they are wrong.  We are entitled, under the bill of rights, to freedom of expression and that there shall be nothing to prohibit the free exercise of religion.  It is this freedom that entitles us to express our Christian faith, such as wearing a cross.  And all who value their religious freedom should do their utmost to defend it for others.   But further, that these women are free to wear their hijab and express their faith in this way is not un-American.  In fact, having this freedom and right of religion and expression (and to be able to live in a society that accepts their choice) is quintessentially American.

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We’ve heard it after all sorts of speeches, it’s one of politicians’ favorite lines.  Is it, though, in fact disrespectful to God?  There are several issues in play.  First, is that it implies that God should bless America over other countries or Americans over other people.  If we believe that all of us are God’s children and that He loves us all equally, shouldn’t we be asking God for his blessing on the whole world and everyone who lives in it instead of some exclusionary blessing for just America?  The second, and the thing that I think is really the problem with this statement is that it’s phrased as an order.  God bless America.  It’s an order, telling God what he should do.  Wouldn’t it be better to say “May God bless America”?  Shouldn’t it be phrased as a request or as a hope, rather than a command.   God, as the king of heaven and earth, shouldn’t be treated with such arrogance as to be told what to do.

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