2005-01-07

Sins of Addiction and Sins of Aggression

I guess there are lots of ways to categorize sin: Violations of the ten commandments... Not doing to others as you would want done to yourself... Not following Jesus' example... The "seven deadlies"... Acting in a way contrary to the fruit of the Spirit... Acting in ways that enslave, degrade, or harm others... How often we live without remembering and practicing the presence of God.

All of these are extremely valid ways to look at "missing the mark" of God's goodness and love. Furthermore, I think that all of these are helpful "scales" to measure our walk with Christ, so long as we don't use them to beat up ourselves and get trapped into a guilt cycle. Walking with God is not so much about learning how NOT to sin, as it is learning to DO good and to GET UP when we fall down.

Its like learning to dance. When you learn, you know you will fall down, step on toes, get out of step, and embarrass yourself. The key to learning is not to get all timid and fearful and guilty and stop trying to dance so you don't do anything stupid. The key is to step in with gusto, move your body, and ask forgiveness from your partner when you screw up. The worst thing to do in learning to dance is to give up trying. THAT is stupid. That is embarrassing. Everything else is forgivable.

Categorizing sin is very helpful as a "mirror" to help us see where we are not in step with the dance, but they only work if we are committed to staying IN the dance. If we give up on the dance because of guilt over sin, then we should give up on the mirror instead and focus a little more on our dance partner: the Holy Trinity. You see, the Trinity has existed from all eternity in a dance of Love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. The ancient Church Fathers even had a term for how the Trinity fully shares in each other as God, while remaining distinct in each Person. The term is "perichoresis", which literally means "an interpenetrating dance". The Trinity has invited us to join His dance of Love... to hold us near to the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit in the glorious dance of creation.

It is the Trinity we dance with, not the mirror that shows us how we are dancing. The mirror is a tool to dance better, but not the dance itself. The Trinity wants us to dance well by looking in the mirror, but even more than that, He just wants us to DANCE with Him by looking at Him in the face of Christ. So I guess all I am saying is to focus on the Trinity above all and be part of the dance. And once you are comfortable enough and have enough steps down, look at some mirrors to help you dance better.

All of this I say as a lead up to talking about a new mirror I thought of the other day. There is a guy named George Baum who plays in an incredible band named "Lost and Found" (checkemout at www.speedwood.com). Anyway, he wrote a great story in a book called "Stories of Emergence" by Zondervan Books. The story is about dealing with the death of his brother from AIDS. His brother, as you might guess, was a homosexual. He had shunned by the Church and good righteous "religious right" folk. Toward the end of his life, he found a Church, a community of faith, that invited Him back into the dance with God, no matter how bad a dancer he might be. They loved him and they showed him Jesus, not only in their preaching and praying and sacraments... but in their love. They prepared him to live in eternity with his Lord... an opportunity he might not have had in 99% of American churches.

In meditating on his experience and on George's experience, it seems to me that implicitly there is another "mirror" that we use to label and categorize sin... often without being aware of it. That mirror is the two categories of "sins of aggression" and "sins of addiction".

By "sins of aggression", I mean those intentional sins by which we hurt others, belittle them, and diminish them from their importance as children of God. It might be by labeling and cursing someone. By curse, I do not mean "f__k you" or "a__hole", I mean where we pronounce destruction and hopelessness on someone by calling them a looser or a good-for-nothing or a mistake. Another sin of aggression could be anger, rage, wrath, revenge, bitterness, or the little passive-aggressive things we do to "get back" at others. Sins of aggression could be pride and comparison, whereby we belittle others to make ourselves feel higher. Sins of aggression could be theft, cheating, hitting, or murdering (in the worst case). You probably get the idea: sins of aggression are made up of all the things we do to abuse others in big and small ways.

By "sins of addiction", I mean those sins we do which hurt mainly ourselves, yet we somehow are bound to repeat over and over, even though we don't like the results. Sins of addiction are sins that take away our freedom and do not allow us to function fully as people created as God's handiwork. They make us defective tools in God's hands in small and big ways. In fact, they often carry us to places where we no longer have power over our own lives, no matter what we try. The only thing that will get us out is a miracle of Jesus and working the 12 steps.

Sins of addiction could be the obvious: addiction to drugs or alcohol. They can be relational: addiction to codependent relationships or to people who abuse you. They can be carnal: addiction to sex or to transvestitism. Many homosexuals and transgenders would put themselves in a category like this: they would give anything to be sexually "normal", but they just cannot not be what their sexuality tells them they are. I guess addictions to laziness or to pleasing people could be in this category too.

Now, I know there is some crossover here. Someone might be brought up to be addicted to anger and rage which hurts others. Someone's addiction to drugs or sex often leads them to do other things (such as lying, stealing, and adultery) which hurts others. I know this "classification system" breaks down in some places (but don't all of them?). So, lets put behind the deficiencies of the categories, and just use it as a skeleton key and see what doors it opens to the way we "do" Christianity.

It seems to me that some Christian traditions specialize in judging and calling to accountability "sins of addiction", while dismissing or rationalizing "sins of aggression" as only human. I have been in dozens of conservative Churches that will rail and wail against the "sins of addiction" including drinking and sexuality, but they will excuse gossip, anger, hatred, bitterness, and divisiveness as "just people trying to work out their walk with the Lord". If kid in the youth group "came out of the closet" as a homosexual, the kid and their family would be shunned and all but driven out of the Church... but if that same kid was a bully, a gossip, and a whore, they would just be seen as a troubled kid who needed to grow out of it.

It seems that many Churches traffic in picking on those who are helpless in their sins, while excusing those who willingly and knowingly hurt others. These are the churches that George Baum's brother would not darken the door of. These are the churches that would have denied him the ability to join in the dance of God in order to keep their church nice and respectable and moral, while they would accept Jane's gossip, Bob's predatory business practices, and Ed and Christine's adulterous relationship. It is downright evil. It is a "sin of aggression" in itself.

Look, I am not saying that we excuse sins of addiction. A sin is a sin is a sin. I am saying that we teach dance classes and allow everyone to dance as well as they are able and look into whatever mirror they are ready to look into to help them dance better. I am saying that we help people up when they fall down learning to dance over and over. We help people learn how to apologize to each other and to Jesus when they step on each other's feet. We DO NOT kick people out of dance classes because the mess up our choreography. I think many times we concentrate on our own choreography so much, and making sure that everyone is in step, that God leaves our wooden, dead dance altogether and finds other people who will dance with Him. Wouldn't it be sad to spend all our lives perfecting our dance and then get to heaven and have Jesus tell us "I never knew you", because we were always just dancing with ourselves?

I am saying that we put the Love of Christ on the front burner and judgment and labeling on the back burner (not OFF the burner... just on the back). When we do call out sin, lets focus on the sins of aggression first and foremost. Only after we deal with these sins will we really bring about the type of environment where we can heal from the sins of addiction. That was the type of Church that George Baum's brother found His Lord in. It is where He learned to dance, and because of that he is dancing with Jesus right now. Lord Jesus Christ, may we all form communities of faith like that. Amen+
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.