I’ve been thinking a little about guilt lately. I decided some time ago that Catholic guilt has nothing on Evangelical guilt. Evangelicals in some circles preach a lot about grace… which I’ve decided is perhaps the least they could do. In my hanging out with Anglicans lately, I’ve decided that Anglicans just aren’t that good at doing guilt. They do alright with grace though.
Over the weekend, the song came up that goes,
Oh, be careful little hands what you do;
Oh, be careful little hands what you do;
for the Father up above
is looking down in love,
so be careful little hands what you do…
Feet, eyes, and ears all get the same basic warning. I didn’t teach it to our kids, but let’s face it: we were evangelicals for a long time, so it’s quite natural they picked it up somewhere. Up in heaven there’s a father who always watches over you to see if you’re going to do something bad. Turns out it’s some kind of vague threat… and “looking down in love” somehow implies the threat of consequence rather than the promise of a warm hug. Hmmm. Not that the consequence of punishment is unloving — I’ve explained that to our girls (the oldest particularly) so they understand why they are being disciplined (in the grand sense, not in the what-did-you-do sense) and that in this context it’s because we love them. But from all we’ve taught them and shown them, I think they’d be hard-pressed to equate “looking down in love” with “watching for you to do something bad.”
So I want to ban this little kid’s song about a loving father just waiting for you to screw up. Guilt. Evangelical preaching… when you sin, you’ve just killed Jesus. Guilt. If you were the only sinner, Jesus would still die for you. Guilt. “You yell and clap at a sporting event, can’t you be excited about our Lord Jesus?” Guilt. “You know, in Africa, the church services last four or five hours, how come we all want to go home at noon?” Guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
I recall years of sermons in evangelical / charismatic churches… how to “have victory” over this, that, and the other; nine steps to mastering something or other; 11 ways to be a better whatever. Perhaps I’ll write my own list of 101 sermons titles to make you feel you inadequate. If we do all the stuff in these sermons focused on how to stop sinning, maybe, just maybe, we’ll attain some kind of perfection, some kind of peace with God, with the “Father up above, [who] is looking down in love.” Will we have earned his gaze?
This evening I was reading from Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic, where Mike Yaconelli is talking about some things that they aren’t doing in his church.
We don’t talk about sin very often. In the 12 years since [I visited] L’Arche, I may have talked about it twice. Do I believe in sin? Of course. Do I believe people are accountable to God for their sin? Absolutely. Do I believe it would be better if people didn’t sin? Certainly. But the people who come to Grace Community Church know all about sin. Many of them have lived in it all their lives. It has destoyed their families, their incomes, their futures. They come to church to find out what to do about it. How do they escape thte hold sin has on their lives? How do they find a way out of the addiction to sin? How can they find forgiveness and healing—and grace? We don’t have to talk about sin. It’s a given. What we’re all longing for is good news.
I wonder, is it possible to be hard on the sin without being hard on the sinner? As I think about it, I’m inclined to respond to my own question in the negative… because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done. If we think about it, we identify with our sin. “Hi, my name is Tom, and I’m an alcoholic…. (Hi, Tom.)” See what I mean? When you tell us how bad our sin is, you’re telling us how bad we are. Not that we the sinners would be arguing the point. As Mike points out, people know sin. We already know it’s bad, and it makes us bad. Now, what was that good news you promised us? Could we get to that part, please?
I remember a year and a half ago or longer, talking with friends before we left our CLB, about how we were weary of the diet we were being fed, about how we missed Jesus…. how we wanted to hear more about Jesus, to get to know him better.
I’m really somewhat refreshed with this massive reduction in guilt-motivation, and the connection point I’m finding with grace. Yeah. I want to quit talking about the disease and just get to know the man with the cure.