I’m a singer. I know some who would say, “No, you’re a sinner!” To which I say, “Of course I am. Who isn’t?!” All one has to do is pay attention for even a moment to what is going on in this world to see that humanity is pretty messed up. Religious violence. Racial violence. Violence toward anyone and everyone who doesn’t look or act like “me.” Violence toward the “other.” Sexual violence.
In her book The Fall to Violence, Marjorie Suchocki argues that the Christian understanding of Original Sin is realized through the violence we experience in the world, defining violence as “anything that violates the well being of creation.”
Words are even violent at times. Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt me” was lying. Words can hurt. A lot.
And, yet, I’m a singer.
Still, when I read the first chapter of Genesis, and hear God saying all things are “good,” I want to ask, “Really?” But that is what God said. This is the first faith claim of the entire Bible. Creation is essentially good. It is a claim Jesus makes with his very own life. Even as we humans violently assault him, in word and action, he prays that God forgive us. “We don’t know what we’re doing,” he says. This act of forgiveness, this ultimate act of love is the judgment God makes on humanity. Forgiveness. Love.
But, true to form (because we want to insist that we are sinners and not singers), even the church spends what I believe to be far too much time focusing on our sinfulness. Oh, I suppose it’s a good ploy that works with some people. You know, “I’m a sinner so I’d better get to church or I’m going to wind up in you know where.”
A friend of mine once said, “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is what happens to people who have already been there.” And do you know what people who have already been to hell do a lot of?
They sing. I’m a singer too.
So why do many so-called Christians spend so much time focusing on sin and sinfulness? I think the answer, in part, is the kind of worldview they have, a worldview described in the book Grounded, by Diana Butler Bass as “vertical.” By vertical she means a worldview in which God is “up there” in heaven, we’re “down here” on earth and we need to try to “get to heaven” so we don’t go “down there” to hell.
This vertical worldview leads to the emphasis on our sinfulness (rather than the Biblical claim of our essential goodness) and the need to avoid hell. And Jesus is the one who makes that happen, who helps us avoid hell.
But what I’ve experienced is hell, not “down there,” but “up here” on earth. So this whole vertical worldview just doesn’t work for me.
Here’s what works for me. God isn’t “up there.” Probably never was. God is here. Jesus made that clear. In fact Christians call Jesus Emmanuel, “God with us.” What if we had a horizontal worldview?
One in which God was present in our midst. Isn’t that the essential Christian claim? That God, thorough Jesus has revealed God’s reign on earth, has reclaimed all of creation and it’s inherent goodness? And that the Spirit guides us on our way?
It’s what I believe. And makes me a singer.
“No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
Maybe you’re a singer too.