Missing the Mark…

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In my early church attending days, I remember preachers standing up in the pulpit railing on about sin. It seems that everything fun or even remotely interesting was somehow labeled as a sin. That word was so heavy in retrospect. It was uttered with a “hiss” by most preachers and was always accompanied by dramatic pauses of silence and plea for the congregation to “repent and change their ways.” In the beginning of my faith journey, I looked at the things labeled as sins as simply things one should not do and never stopped to consider what actually made those things inherently bad. In the Greek language the word “hamartia” is translated into the word “sin” in English translations. Hamartia itself is a term used in archery to describe “missing the mark.” In Greek literature, the word hamartia describes a “fatal flaw” that causes the downfall of a hero or heroine. So, with all of those semantics around the word “sin,” what is sin? The first and obvious answer is that sin is when we do stuff that God tells us not to do in the Bible. This has the feel of an exhausted parent telling an ever inquisitive 4 year old the reason they must comply is: “because I told you so.” However, I do not want to take that route in describing sin. I want to consider sin from a consequential standpoint. By that, I mean looking at the intent and impact of the actions of an individual. In particular, I want to consider the negative consequences. For instance, if a person walking down the street is mugged, there are consequences. For the person mugged, they may have lost all of their money. If they were a business owner on their way to the bank, they may have lost all of their employee payroll or the funds necessary to keep their business operating. For the mugger, they may face a prison sentence and may perhaps have to face the sense of remorse, guilt, and shame that their actions caused. This entire circuit of events was set off by the human emotion of greed. So, the greed of the mugger led to the “sin” and the “sin” led to emanating ripples of consequence. The Roman Catholic Church further digs down into the subject of sin by labeling seven of the sins as “deadly.” They are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. These were listed as deadly because they are at odds with heavenly virtues, but if one takes another look at this list, there is another idea that becomes apparent. Every one of the seven are related to excess. They are also qualities found in the animal kingdom. This brings me to the main question of this essay: What if sin is when we fall into our animalistic nature rather than moving towards a more evolved, inclusive, and spiritual life? Interestingly enough, the seven virtues listed by Pope Gregory I in AD 590 were all practices that one would engage in to grow spiritually. The seven virtues are: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Kindness, Patience, and Humility. What fascinates me is that these virtues begin with a person looking at themselves. They cannot exist fully in a person who does not value themselves, yet engaging in these virtuous activities allow one to begin to work on themselves and ultimately have a positive impact on the world around them. The seven deadly sins, on the other hand play into our human nature and cater to the perceived “easy life.” So, in looking at all of this, a sin or a “missing of mark” appears to be any action that causes damage to oneself or those around them while “hitting the mark” is to engage in activities that strengthen ones life and lead to positive change of the world around them. For instance, sex. Historically, the church has tended to be a bit prudish about sex and many have taken to the extreme of only being for procreation. This, however, limits the activity. Yet sex is a double edged sword due to the extreme vulnerability it exposes one to. So, a healthy sex life with a dedicated partner can be wonderful as both partners have an equal desire for connection and intimacy thereby uplifting one another mutually. However, when used in an unhealthy way (also known as Lust as it is designated in the seven deadly sins), sex can create a dynamic where another person is simply used for the empty gratification of another creating sexual addiction in one person and emptiness and pain in the party that has been used. Both people in the act end up feeling a sense of hollowness as opposed to the intimacy and connection a healthy couple feel. It seems to me, when one boils sin down to its essence, it is any activity that is disconnecting or disempowering to oneself or those around them. Sin is missing the mark of harmony in favor of our basic evolutionary impulses. Yet that is what separates human beings from animals. We alone have the ability to deny those animalistic impulses for the sake of balance and harmony in our lives and in order to create a sense of balance and harmony in the lives of those around us. So, it seems to me that the focus should be less on sin and more on considering how we can better connect with ourselves and the world around us and in doing so we may also explore how to connect and empower those around us. If you realize that we are interconnected, then you realize that hurting another actually hurts you in the process. Sin and virtue are about choice. We choose how we engage with ourselves and others. The substance of the ripples within this interconnected system amounts to our choices. Are we choosing to send ripples of selfishness and pain into the world or are we choosing to send out ripples of care and compassion? Only one of these choices changes the world for the positive. I will let you figure out which choice it is. Once you figure that out, “Go and sin no more.”-

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