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Posts tagged ‘Pew Research’

Authority: Listening and Trusting

Matthew 21:23-32

trustFallWhen I was in middle school I went to summer camp once. I remember bits and pieces of my experience there, and one thing I remember distinctly is a certain “game” the camp counselors had us play called a trust fall. Now I’m sure a lot of you have at least heard of such a thing [and maybe some of you where unlucky enough to have actually done it]. I say unlucky, because, think about the concept: the camp counselor asked me to close my eyes, turn my back on the other middle school students, and then fall backwards without opening my eyes, looking back, or catching myself. It is not hyperbole to remark that I did not consider this such a great idea. I mean, I myself was 12 years old, and I thought: Would I even trust my own self to catch me?

nervous-preschooler-boyThe answer in my head was surprisingly no and so this led me to the conclusion that falling backwards and then expecting a group of other 12 year olds I had just met to catch me was not the wisest choice. I mean, even the couple of kids I knew were not really instilling confidence in me, considering that two of them in my cabin had recently stolen candy from my backpack and had threatened to dip my hand in warm water in the middle of the night while I slept. So…the trust fall? I kept my eyes open, and when I “fell” back, I probably waited a mere second before I turned around to see the anxious, uninspiring and nervous faces of my camping partners and I stopped the fall before it even began.

What is trust anyway? Let’s see what Collins English dictionary says. Trust is: the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. Trust can also be a person on whom or thing on which one relies. Finally, trust can be the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed.

Which parts of this definition fit your own definition of trust?

Now do a quick Google search for songs about trust. What you’ll see in the results is that trust is not all that trustworthy after all? I mean, most of the songs written with trust in title are really about mistrust, betrayal, and manipulation! Trust in Me from The Jungle Book is one of the first songs that comes to my mind and it appears first on most internet searches. I mean, Kaa, the snake is singing this song to Mogli in a tree, using the song as a way to hypnotize the poor kid and then eat him.

Junglebook-disneyscreencaps_com-6045Trust in me.

Uh, no. And then the list goes on: I Don’t Trust Myself, Don’t You Trust Me, etc, etc. In fact, one of the most popular song titles is Don’t Trust Nobody.

So it appears we have a difficult relationship with trust. Not hard to see this in society. Recent Gallup and Pew Foundation polls and studies demonstrate the lack of trust we have in what we call the “great building block” institutions of society, to mention a few: religion, marriage, government, banks, public schools, and the media. According to Gallup, less than 32% of Americans trust said institutions.[1] Let’s hone in on religion, more specifically, the Christian church in the U.S. In 1975, 68% of Americans thought the church was trustworthy/they were confident in it; currently that number is at 42% and dropping.

Interestingly, since the current presidential election in 2016, the Pew Foundation found that people’s views of religions and other traditions outside of the traditional Christian church positively improved, specifically Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Jews, and Mormons. Trust in the Christian church, however, is at an all-time low. I don’t say this to be a Debbie Downer or to make any of you hearing this who are Christian to feel sad or hopeless. It’s the opposite. I want to honestly talk about trust. Why have many people lost trust in the Christian institution called church?

If you think clearly and listen to others with an open mind, you will know why. Really, there is no reason to trust, because trust is not a blind faith, falling back with your eyes closed, hoping that you will be caught and kept from harm. Trust is confidence in someone or something because that someone or something has instilled said confidence in you. In other words, we trust someone or something because it has been earned. Proven. Demonstrated. The church institution is not proving this to people.

So to bring this home [and in coming weeks we’ll talk more about trust, because there is no way to adequately address it in one segment], let’s look briefly at an example of trust in a story about Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus was teaching in the temple [a religious institution that people were taught to have confidence in but which had been oppressing women, the poor, lepers, the marginalized, and was also in the pocket of the Roman Empire.] Those present were chief priests and elders [also the religious elites who were supposed to be trusted]. And said elites came to Jesus upset, asking him by what authority did he teach and heal and hang out with those who were considered unclean. But Jesus knew what they were doing. They were trapping him with questions that had no right answers. So he asked them a trap question. Did the baptism of his cousin John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Jesus asked this, because there was an argument among the religious elites about whether John or Jesus was the true prophet, or whether both of them were wrong and just competing against each other’s teachings.

So the religious elites who were supposed to be the trusted role models, were worried about saving face in front of the crowds and maintaining their power; they copped out and said: We don’t know.

And then Jesus told a parable, one that was meant to drive the point home. It was a story about authority, and this authority is only granted because of trust. John and Jesus had the same message of love and acceptance to the tax collectors and the prostitutes [the marginalized of society]. Those on the margins accepted this message and trusted the love and acceptance they were shown.

They got none of this love or acceptance from the institutions, from the elites they were supposed to trust.

And this was [and is] the consistent message and good news of Jesus. Trust is not about blind faith in a church or a religion or a person or a thing. Jesus didn’t expect people to close their eyes and fall backwards into his arms. Jesus invited people to receive healing, to join community, to forgive and be forgiven, and to love, and be loved above all else. Trust is, on every level, about experiencing love and respect, commitment and honesty.

Trust must be shown and proven.

It must be lived. So when ministers or prospective members of most Christian traditions are asked: “Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ…” what are they are really committing to? A belief statement? A doctrine? A religious creed? Loyalty to an institution? I hope not.

Because trust in institutions hasn’t gotten us very far as humanity. Many in this world [and maybe you too] have been marginalized, manipulated, used, or even betrayed by institutions [whether government, religion or others] because you were vulnerable and someone or something took advantage of that.

This is wrong.

I am sad that this happened to you or to anyone else.

So let us reclaim this word and concept of trust. In my view, Jesus exemplified what it means to love and accept people and proved it.

So may we have confidence in the people who love and accept us as we are, who sit with us in vulnerable times and don’t take advantage; may we also be especially aware of those we encounter who are vulnerable and looking for love and acceptance. May we give them a reason to find us trustworthy by showing them that we are.

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/192581/americans-confidence-institutions-stays-low.aspx

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Is Sin for Real?

John 9:1-41

 adam.eve.serpent.jpegThe Temptation, Hugo van der Goes, 1470

 What is sin?

Man, what a complicated question that is!

Of course, there is no way to address such a question in a short time.

But it will be helpful to start with the English word itself and work backwards.

So let’s do some etymology of this modern English word sin.

It derives from the Middle English sinne from Old English sinn, which means injury, mischief, enmity, feud; sin, guilt, crime. In Proto-Germanic language it is truth and excuse. Put them together and it’s truly non-excusable.

Anyone feeling really, really guilty yet?

Okay, but of course, English is only one language and those words I just mentioned come from somewhere else. Let’s go a lot farther back in history. Let’s look at ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek.

In Hebrew, the most common word used for the English word sin is chata’ah.

This means: to miss the mark, to be absent.

Chata’ah

 חֲטָאָה

This is not the only word for sin, but it is the most commonly used.

In most Jewish thought, humans are said to have inclinations towards both good and evil. There is no concept of “original sin.”

I like this explanation from Rabbi Yalkut Shimoni, in the Midrash on Psalm 25:

He describes a sort of “panel discussion” in which the question “what is sin?” is asked to four different authorities — Wisdom, Prophecy, Torah and G-d.

According to Wisdom sin is a harmful deed.
According to Prophecy it is death.
Torah sees it as folly.
And G-d sees it as an opportunity.

Now. Let’s turn to the NT Koine Greek. The most common word for sin is:

ἁμαρτία, hamartia

It means basically the same thing as chata’ah–to miss the mark.

Of course, like in ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek has various words for what is translated “sin” in English, including: forgetting, making an unintentional mistake, being ignorant, or intentionally crossing a line/going too far.

Overall, in ancient Greek thought, sin was looked upon as a failure on the part of a person to achieve his/her true self-expression; a state of ignorance or an action that failed to preserve his/her relationship to the living beings all around.

So…no original sin quite yet.

In fact, you’ll have to wait until the end of the fourth century C.E.

The Original Sin Greatest Hits Compilation CD that you can buy for only $19.99 and receive a free half-eaten Eden apple—was made popular by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Ah, what would we do without the guilt soundtrack?

guilty girl comic

It is of course the idea that all humans have inherited the weakness and sinful, fallen nature of Adam [who apparently was dumber than Eve]. According to the concept of original sin, you and I are all doomed to follow the path of sin, personally condemned and guilty from birth.

And this, for Western Christians, became the reason why Jesus died on the cross.

If everyone is personally and corporately guilty, someone has to pay the price to make us all feel a little better. So enter the idea of atonement or substitution—that Jesus needed to suffer and die in order for sins to be forgiven.

Anyone feeling guilty yet?
Look, this is just the short, short version.

This brings us to 2014 and how we define sin.
For younger generations, the concept of sin is less relevant. But basically everyone is familiar with the term and for the most part, people equate sin with morality.

Each culture around the world determines what is “right” and what is “wrong” and the “wrong” thing becomes “sin.”
Lest you think that we are drifting into moral relativism, let me show you what I mean.

There have been countless surveys related to morality and what people think is acceptable in a particular society.
Ellison Research [Phoenix] found that 87% of U.S. adults believe in the existence of sin, which they define as “something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.”

The Pew Research Center has done various projects, studying what people think about morality around the world.[1]
They began by asking: must people believe in God to be moral?

pew1.jpeg
And then, should homosexuality be rejected or accepted?
peworientation.jpeg

 Or what about issues like abortion or stem cell research?
pewmoralassessments.jpeg

And finally, look at this recent Gallup poll: U.S. Perceived Moral Acceptability of Behaviors and Social Policies.
gallupmorality.jpeg

And…not making an appearance in any of these polls:
killing people
invading a country
taking people’s land
eliminating a culture or language
getting as rich as possible by any means necessary
creating monocultures for growing food products
oppressing people for reasons of gender, sexual orientation, religious background, or ethnicity

Go ahead and add your missing sins…
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Is sin for real?

I mean, today sin is simply morality codes. Sin is completely tied to particular cultures and societies—what people determine is “right” or “acceptable” and what is not.

But I want to challenge you to dig deeper and to think deeply.

We’ve used our own moral rules in society to single out others based on their different behaviors.

We’ve even gone so far as to say that our moral rules come from God and are superior to other people’s moral rules.

See, this sin thing is about separation. Many cultures around the world [including the Hebrew and Greek communities] understood this separation to be going missing, falling asleep, mistaking our true identity.

So we need to hear this story about a blind man, because it screams at us to just stop judging others in the way that we still do.

For just like in the story, we have used things like illness, oppression, poverty, gender, sexual orientation, language, nationality, skin color, religion—to be “sins” that separate us from our humanity.

In the 1st and 2nd Century in Israel and Palestine, many thought that illnesses were caused by sin. Those who were blind, deaf, disabled physically or mentally—were typically left on the edges of society and marginalized.

Reminds me of this powerful Frida Kahlo painting, Sin Esperanza.
sinesperenzaFrida.jpeg Sin Esperanza, Frida Kahlo, 1945

This marginalizing of so-called “sick sinners” did not sit well with Jesus.

According to him, the blind man in the John story didn’t sin and neither did his parents. Jesus didn’t judge him but instead spit on the ground and made clay out of his saliva and then rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus told the man to go to the pool of Siloam. Siloam means sent. The man went, washed the spit-clay from his eyes in the pool of Siloam, and he came back.

But he came back seeing.

Many love to take any healing in the Bible as literal, but before you jump to that conclusion, consider this:
Total blindness is the complete lack of form and visual light perception. Clinically, it is often written as NLP:

No Light Perception.

Not that’s curious, don’t you think?
No light perception?

Well, Jesus of Nazareth just happened to teach a LOT about light and perception of light, and just about everyone he healed experienced some sort of en-light-ening. This is one of those cases in which the meaning is very clear. Be reminded of John’s Gospel beginning in chapter 1:

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[2]

If we choose to wake up and see the meaning of the story:
Healing does not have to be literal.
Healing does not fit into our categories.
Blindness or any kind of sickness is not about sin.
And when someone is healed, we ought to just celebrate and not judge.

In the story, the people who knew the former-blind man wanted to know HOW he was healed. What did he do to pay for his sin? None of his answers sufficed.

So they brought him to the Pharisees on the Sabbath day. Not supposed to work on the Sabbath, right? So Jesus messed up, right? But…how could Jesus be a sinner, if the blind man was healed? The ideology of sin equaling illness or punishment was falling apart. People started to doubt.

That’s what happens when you start asking questions about all these rules we make up;
that’s what happens when we question this concept of sin.

But in the story, the Pharisees [and others] just couldn’t accept a world in which they couldn’t point to certain people and say: Sinner!

Without that ability to judge others, what did they have left?
They might as well kick this guy out of the temple. And so they did.

But outside the temple, the now-seeing man met Jesus again. See last week’s [Leaving the Church to Find God]. Jesus asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” This phrase was well-known. It’s an ancient phrase, Semitic in its origin. Jews, Greeks, Romans, others knew it. It does not mean Messiah or Savior. Son of man appears in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT] and 80+ times in the NT Gospels. Son of man means human.

Jesus said: “I am human—a person, just like you.”

And just in case we STILL don’t get it, Jesus continues:
I came into this world for judgment so that those who don’t see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

All those who claim to see and judge others as sinners or blind are actually the ones who don’t see.

Do we see?

Defining sin can limit what is possible; we can worship our rules & morals.
We want explanations, formulas, linear answers, concrete solutions, and strategic plans for life’s problems.

And yet, healing is not restrictive.
Our humanity is not restrictive.

Jesus of Nazareth did not see sin as many of us do. People were not blind, crippled, poor, hungry, or marginalized from society because of something bad they did. And the light and healing of God was not restricted to so-called “good” and “moral” people.

Light was and is available to all.

Healing is available to all.

Light can wake us up, make us more present, help us to recognize our humanity, help us to see.
Those who claim to “know” who is sinning and who is not are completely blind, asleep, missing the mark…absent from reality.

Friends, what would it be like if we stopped focusing on sin?

What if we stopped pointing fingers and embraced everyone’s humanity?

What if instead we focused on our true humanity: our ability to love, to heal, to help, to forgive, to be truly alive?

May we wake up, be present, and open our eyes to this.

[1] http://www.pewglobal.org

[2] John 1:4,5,9, NRSV.

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