Monday Musings
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When we can’t be bothered to love

Conversations and sermons in the Episcopal church rarely mention sin. To many it may feel like an old-fashioned notion and not appropriate for a progressive faith tradition. Or we may simply be too polite. But the topic wasn’t a problem in the Baptist church of my youth. I was up to my eyeballs in sermons that called me to repent of my sins. And they were many. Sins were understood to be personal failings; struggles that arise when one is too weak to stand up to temptation. The outcome is that we are separated from the divine.

We all take personal actions that lead to estrangement. It may come for the nonbeliever in the form of separation from other individuals, or the community, or nature. However, if one is raised in certain religious traditions — such as those that specialize in awarding what Soupergirl co-founder and Orthodox Jew Sara Polon calls a “PhD in guilt” — the introduction of the notion of sin “brings us into contact with what philosophers call ‘existential anxiety.'”

On a recent Saturday morning I found myself in the midst of a strange and perhaps unique confluence of cultures. This four-decade Episcopalian who nonetheless still finds elements of his Baptist upbringing lurking somewhere deep in his soul was sitting in his current church listening to a black Methodist minister speak words from a Jesuit theologian which made so much sense that I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

We were delving into the topic of racism and food injustice. And the speaker stopped me cold when he said,

Sin is the failure to bother to love.

The words came from James F. Keenan, S.J. He is the Catholic theologian being quoted by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Carter (the Methodist minister) at the recent seminar of St. Alban’s Parish (the Episcopal church) on Faith and Food: A Christian Ethical Response to Food Injustice.

As Keenen proposes, and Christopher explained on that Saturday morning, we actually sin out of our strengths, not our weaknesses.

Our sin is usually not in what we did, not in what we could not avoid, not in what we tried not to do. Our sin is usually where you and I are comfortable, where we do not feel the need to bother … where we have found complacency, a complacency not where we rest in being loved, but where we rest in our delusional self-understanding of how much better we are than others. It is at that point of self-satisfaction thatwe usually do not bother to love.

Sinning out of our strengths? Oh my! This was a concept of wrongdoing, of estrangement, of sin that had somehow never permeated my cocooned worldview.

I had to wrestle with that one.

Christopher reminded us that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells how first a priest and then a Levite came along and saw the man who had been beaten and left for dead by robbers. Neither could be bothered to stop, so they crossed to the other side of the road and kept on walking. However, it is the Samaritan — a man from another country, an enemy if you will — who takes pity on the victim, binds his wounds, and carries him to the inn for care.

There are many examples in the scriptures — and even more in our current polarized world too easily prone to fear and hatred — of people who could have done something and did not. They could not bother to stop.

I find myself in that group virtually every day.

If you don’t buy a theological approach to sin, think of the actions we take that willingly separate us from other humans or from all creation. When we think in those terms, seeing that estrangement as coming out of our weaknesses allows us to gloss over our responsibility. It becomes trivial. It also becomes prone to easy manipulation.

But when we see estrangement as coming out of our strength, as love we can and should share but choose not to because we cannot be bothered, then it seems that the true nature and consequences of our separation from the community of our fellow creatures and the divine becomes real.

Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

As Christopher said in his sermon the following day in the context of both the lectionary’s reading about the road to Emmaus and our weekend topic of food, we learn about others, and our frame of reference is changed, when we break bread with those we don’t know. We learn other stories, we learn to empathize with others, and we learn to love when we eat together. So the questions he asks are, “Who do you need to break bread with, and what story do you want your food choices to tell?”

Asking where, in the busyness of our lives, we need to stop and find the time to love is not a question that is easily dismissed. I’m wrestling with it still.

More to come…


Image of window from Good Samaritan Hospital, New York.

This entry was posted in: Monday Musings


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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