The problem of Sin

In a church service the other night, since I can’t feel like I can sing along (partly because I didn’t know most of them), I thought about the songwords instead. The focus on what we were without Christ is relentless. It is undeniable that the Christian Church makes a lot about humans being sinful beings. Sinful beings need a saviour and that’s what Jesus died on the cross for. That’s the doctrine in a sentence. It permeates most teaching, it is in most of the songs sung, it is in front of mind of those evangelising.

Unfortunately, when you’re trying to reach the unconverted, you usually first have to explain to them what ‘sin’ is. Then you can offer the ‘solution’. I have a couple of friends who have not been raised in the church and I know they would puzzle at this idea of ‘sin’. The doctor who has prescribed what is ‘wrong’ also has the exactly right medicine. I’ve mentioned this before.

The constant re-reference of sin is annoying, but the language is also imprecise. Is the sin done away with once and for all? After all, Jesus’ sacrifice happened at a single point in time. It’s not like he does this on a weekly basis. Yet the unwashed come to the church “in a sinful state”, thousands of years after this sacrifice. And converts are taught they must “stay vigilant” against sin, as though it can taint you once again. That introduces us to the idea of being continuously saved. Again and again and again.

Please note I am not trying to tease out exact meanings. That’s not my point. I’ve been through various iterations of “being saved” over the years and of being exhorted to do my best to stay sin-free. For a religion that says it focuses on faith over works, this is, well, an awful lot of work.

One of the things I walked away from over a year ago was the idea of the Christian Guilt. That’s where every good Christian is guilt-tripping every other Christian about constantly renewing their saved status for sins newly committed. Whilst it is a conscious act, I doubt it’s truly deliberate. It is the result of the doctrine the church has settled into over hundreds of years.

But I am not part of that game. Listening and reading the songwords the other night showed me something new. I left my Christian “sin” behind when I walked away from the Christian Guilt. It was done once. It is not something to do every day. That was left behind in the fenced compound the church maintains – and I’m outside of that, finding Yahweh in new and interesting ways.

 

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A Red Pill moment.

I gave someone a Red Pill moment tonight. This is the point in a conversation after they’ve asked a serious question and I have to ask in return “how much do you really want to know?” Because it is a point of no return.

The term “red pill moment” comes from the movie The Matrix. Or rather, it refers to an iconic scene. At one point, the protagonist is offered a choice. He can take a red pill and learn what the matrix is, or he can take a blue pill and remain in ignorance. The kick is that this is the only way he can learn this – and there is no going back.

My acquaintance was someone I sat next to at church tonight. It is a church I visit sometimes because that’s where my sister goes. I’ve met him before. And after the service we started talking about things spiritual. I described some of my journey and some of the other spiritual explorations I’ve been on. It was a Red Pill experience.

I think I made him uncomfortable. I didn’t tell him everything – partly because a lot of it wasn’t really mine to share. Certainly not in an Anglican church!

But my journey has been into mystical elements, some Christian, some Pagan. It includes beliefs and practices that the mainstream evangelical churches disdain and are even outright hostile towards. I’m okay with that. And I’m sure that Yahweh is, too. He’s the one who told me it was okay to go looking, after all.

 

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I have a tree to find

Going out to meet a god or goddess in whichever Pagan pantheon you subscribe to can be an interesting experience. I’ve done it several times now with the guided meditation of my full moon circle. Usually our guide will have a specific god or two for us to meet, although participants have reported another barging in. The one I did only a few hours ago was different: the guide set the scene and let whichever one wanted to talk to us appear.

The one that came to me did not want me to share who he was. This is kind of a shame, because I’m excited by what other things he said, but at the same time I kind of understand why not. However, he is someone I’ve come to know better in the last few years. And he assured me that I am doing the right thing: he loves me very much and wants the best for me. In time he will introduce me to other pagan gods and goddesses, but for now he is mine.

And he wants me to find a tree.

Not a specific tree, but an essence of a tree. This may have something to do with the fact that tonight’s rituals had a big nod to Yule, which in the southern hemisphere is eight days away. Yule is one of those really important days in the Pagan/Wiccan calendar. It is the point of the year in Celtic traditions when the Holly King fights the Oak King and loses. In other words, it is the turning point away from Winter and towards Summer. They do a similar battle and exchange of rôles six months away at Litha. With the actual Yule being not yet, I have a week and a day to do something special and Yule-ish for my altar. And week and a day is a nice Wiccan-type time period.

My god didn’t say I would find what he set for me within that time. But that’s okay. I am on a spiritual journey that I will be on for quite some time to come. It has taken me down some paths I never thought it would have. It has challenged some beliefs and practices about myself. It has opened my eyes to ways of seeing the world that in a peculiar way both make more sense and also don’t really have to. One of those is being aware of the phases of the moon, something I have strangely known for years I have wanted to do and yet only recently have I discovered why.

And another is that I have to find a tree.

 

 

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Holy vs Sacred

This coming Friday is not only the 13th of the month, but it also co-incides with a full moon. And my pagan circle does full moon circles on the nearest Friday. That makes this Friday more than a little bit special. So special, in fact, that I considered asking permission to leave work early on Friday on the grounds that it was a holy day. Except I didn’t really want to use that phrase. However I could call it sacred.

But is there a difference? That got me thinking.

Wikipedia says they are the same. Well, actually one redirects to the other with no mention of the difference. In the Evangelical Christian churches, the word “holy” is fairly widespread. It appears in songs, it appears in creeds and prayers. It appears in scripture and pastors even talk about it from time to time.

But the word “sacred” is rather rarer, in my experience.

I’ve understand that more Catholic and more Orthodox Christianity have a better idea of what “sacred” means. Unlike evangelical churches, they tend to have items that they do call “sacred”. These are items used in particular rituals and only those rituals. There are probably special rituals for making the sacred to begin with: this is a practice called consecration.  This is a lot more like how Pagan practices work, so far as I understand it. I’ve commented before how this is all largely missing from Evangelical churches.

I can’t call just anything “holy”. This is a term I can’t easily imagine as anything other than a pre-existing condition. Like Yahweh is holy. But “sacred” is different: this feels like the result of a process. You make things sacred – and then they are set apart for special purposes, often ritualistic purpose. They can lose their sacredness, too. Then they have to be consecrated again. I made the objects on my alter sacred. Or at least, sacred to me. They are only for the alter. Most items have been purpose sourced, but one was not. I re-purposed a kitchen knife as my athame. It is not a kitchen knife anymore and were I to use it so, I would want to re-consecrate it.

But that’s objects. Items. Tools, if you will. Days are quite different.

To many Christians, Sunday is a holy day. The activities the religion of Christianity expects and has created for that day define the holiness. Paganism and Wicca also have times in the calendar that the religion defines as holy or sacred. For the large part this is the full moon (and to a lesser extent the new or dark moon) as well as the eight sabbats throughout the year. These are really no less holy or sacred than Christianity’s Sunday.

And that’s where I get tangled with terminology again. Has the church made their Sunday sacred? Or has it been given to them as holy? Does it even matter? If I stick with that distinction between holy and sacred, then I can only regard the full moon evenings (when we do the circles) as sacred because it is meaning that has been added. I’ve added this. For me.

It also leaves the term “holy” behind with Christianity. Meanwhile, I can use “sacred” simply because my church so rarely did.

They can have their “holy”. I prefer “sacred” anyway. It means I (or someone else) has actively done something to consecrate it. We tend to value things more that we’ve worked over, after all.

 

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One step further

I have lost track of when I last went to the church I used to call “home”. I think it has been two or three months. It doesn’t help I have had no working car for much of that time as it is not convenient to public transport (though where I live is). That is one reason I was trying out a few other churches that are. One is in walking distance; another is two train stations away.

But it is the full moon circle I last went to ten days ago that I cadged a ride for. And it is the full moon circle that I feel I am amongst spiritual friends.

Last weekend I was tempted to figure out a way to get to church. The one within walking distance because I’d kind of promised someone (or maybe myself) that I’d visit again “some day”. My sister’s church for much the same reason, plus I want to see her. My old church because there are people I miss. And it could be an enjoyable walk on a Sunday morning.

None of these happened.

Saturday night turned into dinner in an Indian takeaway in the near-by beach-side suburb and star-gazing on the beach. Sunday morning included a walk to large hardware store some potting mix, then a trip to the local major shopping centre for lunch and grocery shopping. I also picked up a newly released movie on DVD. That evening I treated myself to that movie.

There was no guilt about not attending church. It was one step further away from a fenced-in religion that no longer works for me.

 

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The big shift

Learning a completely new religion is not an easy process. This is especially so when going from a fairly well-documented and generally centralised religion like Christianity to an extremely de-centralised and not-at-all-well-documented one like Wicca.

It has been well over a year since I began seriously reading and collecting items towards taking up Wicca, and it has been a rough and vague journey. The learning curve I cannot begin to describe. A lot things which are often described as “the basics” are not only so foreign to what churches teach, which makes them so much more difficult to retain, but often they are presented as just guidelines, not definite rules. Christianity as taught by the various churches has quite a number of solid facts. Admittedly some branches differ in some details here and there, and there are active and ongoing debates about others. Wicca has relatively few such hard-and-fast rules. And this makes it a challenge to find and adopt any particular practices that I know work for me.

So far, the only things I have really picked up are awarenesses of the moon-phases and of the solar-cycles and some awareness of a new kind of sacred object. Spellcraft of any sort is very tentative, however, and with very little guidance and almost no encouragement, I am really kind of lost. Getting started with anything is theoretically simple, but also tricky and easily quite expensive. And it’s hard to know what to try so as to find what resonates with me.

A teacher would be good. But in the absence of a teacher, what I think is needed is a not-too-large range of “starter kits” with complete supplies for a small number of spells in a variety of manners. But the merchandising of Wiccan supplies hasn’t reached that stage yet. If you know exactly what you want, you can usually put together a shopping list. But it’s not easy to get everything at one place, which means online purchases and by the time things have arrived in the post you’ve usually forgotten what they were for.

What does an aspiring witch do, then?

I mentioned the problem of expense. This is what put me off the ready-made spellcraft candles I’ve seen for a while in my local occult supplies store. But they were from the same outfit that I’d bought quite a good book from, and although I’d not got to the end of it (this is hard when large swathes of it are really reference work), the style appealed to me. And I had some spare cash the other week for one reason or another. So. I now have one of their spellcraft candles sitting on my alter. I’m not going to say what spell it is for. But I know just enough to wait for a waxing moon and to try to pick a day of the week that will be best, based on a Wiccan version of astrology.

Truth be told, it feels a little odd to type that. Astrology is widely derided and yet just as widely lauded. Part of the problem is that there are so many aspects to it and most people know just what they see in the newspapers or on a mailing list. There is little scientific evidence for it (not none, though) – but turn that over and there is also not very much scientific evidence for prayer, either. Yet hundreds if not thousands of millions of people behave like they do. In fact, millions of people also believe witchcraft and sorcery exist.

Spellcraft has been described as kind of a prayer. After I decided when would be the best times for my candle, I was thinking about that some more. Both require a type of belief: belief in things we can’t easily see or touch. Even considering the viability of a spell in today’s day and age requires some belief that most people I have ever associated with over my life would not ever hold.

And yet I currently do. I didn’t three years ago.

I’m looking forward to my candle’s spell coming out. It is a pretty big one, really, and I’m not doing this lightly. I’ve offered many prayers up to Yahweh over the same thing over the years and, well… I think the fact I’ve gone for a spell candle now says enough.

 

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Soul Revival

What would you expect from a church that calls itself “Soul Revival” and meets in a rented industrial unit? And would it change when you discover it’s really an Anglican church?

I went to just such a church tonight. I know what a mainstream evangelical church looks like. And this one fits that to a T. It probably didn’t help that because it was the first night in the new venue, there were a lot of visitors from their sponsor church. But I’m not fazed by that anymore. One thing I’ve learnt in the last few years is how to attend an event where I know nobody and still manage to mingle a bit. But it did mean the service was probably a little atypical.

What was not atypical, clearly, was the teaching. It was from 1 Corinthians 15 – the famous passage from Paul where he leads up to instructing the church at Corinth about the Last Supper. (Took me years to understand why people would read from that passage. Years. You’d think churches would do better job of teaching their young people that. But I digress.) Here is Paul’s summary of the fact that humankind are sinners and that Christ Jesus died to save us from that.

This is not what I had in mind when I got interested in the possibilities of what “soul revival” might mean.

But what did I have in mind?

I don’t really know. However, I’m getting a better idea of what it is not. (Though not always why not.)

I spoke briefly with one of the pastors. I knew I couldn’t bend his ear for hours, but I was aware that I am not the typical new-comer to his church. I tend to use the phrase “between churches” which is accurate without being unnecessarily precise. I mentioned The Lasting Supper; I mentioned a few authors I’ve been reading, Frank Viola, Brian McLaren. He recognised that last one and said “emergent church”, which is a term I should use a trifle more often. I guess that freed him to be a more theologically descriptive and called Soul Revival an evangelical church. I’ve only just realized he probably meant that as “not-emergent” because he added that it would be difficult to find an emergent church in the area in which I live.

Sadly, I think I agree with him there. The area which I live is not Sydney’s “bible belt” but is a kind of a shadow belt, if you like. Or likely was twenty years ago. It is generally a white, middle-class area and as far as churches go that usually means conservative evangelical.

I think I’ll visit again, but I’m not sure how long or how regularly. It might be nice to have a crazy dream of changing a church from the inside out, but that’s a lot of work.

 

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