Compassion is Learned

No one needs to teach a child things like “that’s mine” and “he hit me first so I can hit him back” but children do need to be taught empathy. Retribution is instinctual, compassion is learned. There is a huge emotional pull in us towards payback justice, but we need to realize that this is ultimately preschool morality. What we need is a change in perspective, moving from a me-orientation to a we-orientation. Conscience is awakened in us when we recognize the results our sin has on others. In other words, being shown compassion leads to us having compassion towards others. People who know their own need for mercy in turn show mercy to others. This kind of empathy is not our nature, it is learned in relationship. We learn to love and have empathy by being loved and shown empathy.” (Derek Flood, Healing the Gospel)

Original Sin? Yep. Wait!

Most who know me well would not think I was an original sinner. Which is to say if someone has been exposed to a steady diet of my teaching and preaching, they’d not peg me as someone who believed in original sin. But I’ve come around. And I’m sure some will shout, “Hallelujah! It’s about time. He’s no longer headed for the ever-living lake of fire!” (Well…not for that at least.)

I have come around.

I was taught to think of myself and others as sinners, as individuals born in sin, born stained with sin, and we can’t help it, it is our condition, we’re doomed at the very beginning, totally depraved. It’s the stuff of hymns: Amazing grace/How sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me. Then, at some point, I made a decided commitment to take God the Creator at his word. If at the moment God created human beings on the sixth day, God declared “And human beings are good, very good!” then I’m going to embrace that for myself and for every other person in the world. I’m going to trust God that’s true, regardless of the failings, regardless of the poor choices and dramatic mistakes, regardless how many times we be differently than the way God created us.

I have come around, but perhaps not like you think. I was recently reminded when the first time the word “sin” is used in the Scriptures. And since I think the first time that an important word like “sin” is used is pretty important, I’m paying attention, close attention.

It’s used first in Genesis 4, a chapter that tells the story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. When Cain grows angry over Abel’s favored status because God liked his offering better than his brother’s, Cain stews in his tent pitched in the Ancient Near Eastern desert. He’s visited by the Lord, who senses his brooding mood and the intent of his heart. The Lord warns Cain – and here is the first use of the word “sin” in the Scriptures – sin is crouching at the door. Sin is depicted as a wild animal ready to pounce when you open the flap of your tent, a real possibility in the days of Cain and Abel. The Lord then says, it desires you; but you must master it, which is to say that sin can be mastered, overcome. But Cain doesn’t. He walks out of his tent and kills his brother Abel and buries him in a field. In this case at least Cain doesn’t master sin, the sin that crouched at the door devoured him.

So, there it is: Original Sin. “Sin” occurred originally not in the Garden of Genesis 1-2, but in the fields of Genesis 4. And it’s depicted as a wild animal that is outside of us that can be wrestled and mastered.

What might be the implications coming out of that?

Vital Pastor : : Learning the art of being open, welcoming, and compassionate, as I bring myself and others into a vital faith and relationship with Jesus.

A Table Prayer

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Houston, Texas

Elder Table Prayer

July 10, 2016, 10:30a – On the Sunday after the shootings of 5 police officers in Dallas

Heavenly Father –

Thank you for this day and this opportunity to join together in fellowship around this table. I am grateful that as we approach the table we can set aside all divisions and that in these acts of remembrance, we reconnect to the Oneness of belonging in and being of Christ and to the triumph of Love.

We prayerfully ask your Spirit be with us as we make ourselves Open to reconciliation &  remedy. And that we trust your Spirit as we Welcome opportunities to risk a new way of response to injustice, to culture, to ignorance, to pride and to hate. And I pray that we can always be Compassionate as we live out our daily lives, seeking to live in relationship with one another and for your Kingdom here, and now.

In Christ’s name we pray.

The Devil, Demons and the Power of Metaphor

Many don’t know quite what to do with the Bible’s language of the devil, Satan and demons. It feels like a throwback to days of superstition outside the realm of reason. I’m growing more comfortable with the language as my view of the meaning of the Cross has changed, changed from one of penal substitutionary atonement to a victory of the power of Love over Death, that one great enemy we all face, not only at the end but thoughout the course of our lives. 

The key is getting behind what may seem to us as odd mythological vocabulary and focusing on the reality it points to.

“It should be evident,” Gustaf Aulén wrote, “that the historical study of dogma is wasting its time in pure superficiality if it does not endeavor to penetrate to that which lies below the outward dress and look for the religious values which lie concealed underneath.”

The Devil and demons points to the reality of radical evil, the debilitating effects of oppression on the human heart, abusive authority’s crippling impact on our self-image, and structural evil which holds people in cycles of poverty, racism, abuse, and injustice (Derek Webb, The Healing of the Gospel).

Forgiveness Frees

“When I asked Rev. August how God healed her from the personal impacts of Apartheid on her own soul — her damaged sense of self-worth, shame, lack of belief that she was created with the call and capacity to exercise dominion — this is how she answered: “Forgiveness.” Forgiveness, she said, released her from the need for her oppressor. It cut the spiritual ties — and by extension, silenced the spiritual lies — that the oppressor had attached to her. Through forgiveness, she was set free and able to reclaim the image of God within herself.” -Lisa Sharon Harper ‪#‎summitforchange