Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 13, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: We’re All Sinners, And Accepting That Is Actually A Good Thing

New York Times Op-Ed:  We’re All Sinners, and Accepting That Is Actually a Good Thing, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3This is the first Sunday of Lent, a season in preparation for Easter when Christians often focus on sin and repentance. One of the things that’s most difficult to swallow about Christianity is the idea that normal, nice people are sinners, that we are born sinful and can’t elude being a sinner by being moral or religious enough. ...

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and “under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval. It was that part of me that could not rejoice in a friend’s big award or accomplishment, even as some other part told her, “Congratulations!” ...

Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Every week now in church, I kneel with my congregation and admit, in the words of the Anglican liturgy, that I have sinned against God, “in thought, word and deed” by what I have done and by what I have left undone, that I have not loved God with my whole heart and have not loved my neighbor as myself. With my whole community around me, week in and week out, I admit ... that I have broken stuff, including other people and myself with my human propensity to, ahem, mess things up. ...

I noticed how strange and transformative it is to repeatedly identify myself as a sinner. I am not identified primarily as a mother, a writer, a woman or a priest. I am not primarily a Democrat or a Republican or a Christian. I am also not primarily an upstanding citizen or right or reasonable or talented or “on the right side of history.” Instead, again and again, in these received words, I call myself a sinner.

This recognizes that I will get much wrong. That as a writer, I’ll say things, however unintentionally, that are untrue and unhelpful. As a mother, I will harm my children — the people I love and want to do right by most in the world. And it tells me that I will harm them in real ways, not just dismissible “well, shucks, we all make mistakes” kind of ways. As a priest, I will lead people astray. I will not live up to what I proclaim. I will fail. I will hurt people, not just in theory or abstraction. I will cause true harm.

This humbles me.

I need this humility. Our broader culture does too. ...

But we’re not left to stew in guilt or shame. We aren’t just sinners; we are sinners who can ask for mercy and believe that we can receive it. Living in this posture is what makes forgiveness possible, which is the only thing that makes lasting peace possible. ...

“Forgiveness flounders,” the theologian Miroslav Volf wrote, “because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” But if I am a sinner, then my enemy and I have something in common: We are both wayward and in deep need of grace.

More on faith and forgiveness:

(Hat Tip: Mike Talbert)

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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