Leviticus 05 – Learning, Action, and a word on Gender Equality

If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

In the middle of drafting this post I found out Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. It’s a terrible setback for achieving equality in this country. I am grieved and worried by this loss, as I know many of you are. The best way we can honor RBG is to continue to fight for equality on all fronts, something I had been thinking about while writing, but now seems even more salient having lost such a hero and protector of rights.

God’s Grace

God gives us so much grace. In essence, this chapter is a giant “I know you are going to make mistakes, but here are all the way you can make good when you realize you made one.” Notice, in particular, verse four and five:

“or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”

“Guilt” is not accrued when the offending action is taken. Guilt is only accrued when the offending party becomes aware of the offending action. God meets us where we are: asking us to learn first, then act accordingly.

And God knows we have different abilities and capacities. Not everyone is required to bring a lamb as a sin offering, because not everyone can afford it. God gives a sliding scale of atonement. Those who cannot afford a lamb can submit two doves, and those who cannot afford two doves can bring some flour. God again meets us where we are: giving us grace and options before requiring action.

God’s grace is wonderful. But I think, all too often, we rely too much on it. If we are truly living as Christians, it is not enough to admit to our “sin,” and thank God for being so gracious. We need to act, to offer the proverbial sin offering, so to speak. The requirement of this chapter, and truly the model for Christian living, is two-fold: learn, then act. It is not enough to simply learn.

Faithfuls’ Action

Indeed, the opening lines of this chapter focus upon action, calling the faithful to “speak up when they hear a public charge to testify.” Today, we are being called to testify on behalf of our siblings, our country, our very world. As I discussed in my last post, we have become aware of so many unintentional sins. Perhaps you were not aware of just how bad the rate of climate change is. Perhaps you were not aware of structural racism. Perhaps you were not aware of the US (and Canada) violating sovereign land rights of tribes for pipelines and other projects, or of the dire situations in South America that force refugees to our southern border, or of worsening humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, and Afganistan. But now you do know, now we all know, and denial and inaction are now inexcusable.

I know I just gave you a lot of crises – and no one person is going to be able to solve them all, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember, God meets us where we are, and simply asks that we try a little better once we know. Small steps can make a difference. If every American adult donated just $10 more that would be over $2 billion for charities and other causes. If we continue the work-from-home trend started by the pandemic, we could keep literal tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. If even just half of American adults called their representatives once a year that would be one million opinions publicly and officially voiced. If 65% of the voting population turned out (as opposed to the average 55% of the last four presidential elections) we might have very different policies being passed by very different politicians. Again, these are little things, tiny nudges. But they do make a difference.

Focus on Gender Equality in honor of RBG

This week, let’s honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory by remembering the marginalized. RBG was a particular champion of gender equality, so I’m going to focus on that here. I’ll leave you with a list of things that we can all do towards promoting gender equality. Note that none of these require any money, as I want to be sure we all have access to being agents of change:

  • Remember that trans women are women, too. Excluding anyone from discussions (and actions!) about gender equality is counter to the very idea of equality, and definitely not what either RBG or Jesus would do.
  • Men – share more in household chores! I challenge you to do one more thing than you usually do. And to anyone partnered to a man, ask them to do something! Oftentimes they are willing, but they just don’t even know what they don’t know.
  • Think like a mom. The next time you go out to do errands or go to work, I challenge everyone to think about what it would be like to have small children in tow. Is there reserved parking for new and expectant mothers? Are there changing stations in the bathrooms? Are the sidewalks in good repair? This last one makes a huge difference not only to mothers with strollers but also to anyone with mobility challenges. Just another example of how inclusivity works to the benefit of all.
  • Vote for (and hire, and promote) women. Women do not have a proportionate share of power. If we truly want to support the equality of women, we need them in positions of authority where their experience and expertise will help shape policies for future generations. The same goes for just about every minority group.

Fight the good fight, my friends, and let’s be agents of change in God’s name. Now, more than ever, it is important to act upon what we believe in. May God bless and inspire you this week, and I look forward to hearing what you act upon in your lives.

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Romans 07 – Sin as Animal Instinct

22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Making Sense of Paul’s Writing

Paul has dense, rhetorical arguments.  I find them hard to follow sometimes.  If you, too, find Paul a little hard to follow sometimes, remember this: According to historians, these letters were supposed to be read out-loud in dramatic fashion, almost like a one-man play.  They also would have been delivered with a messenger, who, after the first reading, would be asked to clarify Paul’s point.  The letter would be read and discussed several times by the congregation. We don’t get to ask Paul (or his envoy) any questions directly, but we can read these letters multiple times, and read supporting material – of which there is tons on Paul and his letters – to help us understand better. I’ve got two books about Paul on my nightstand right now to get me through Romans.

This chapter is one of those dense passages, with back and forth reference to the law and sin, life and death, doing what he does not want to do but not doing what he does want – I don’t know if it is a problem with the translation or what, but it was thick.  In a nutshell, Paul is putting forth the argument that the law (found in the Torah) was important because it showed God’s chosen people the difference between moral and sinful living. “I would not have known what sin was,” writes Paul,  “had it not been for the law.”  However, in doing so it also condemned them.  The way I understand it, it’s kind of like a restrictive diet: You cold turkey all junk food: no cake, no chips, no soda. You are healthy, yay! But, even knowing those things are bad for you, you can’t stop thinking about them, and many people will give in to temptation and eat them again at some point anyway.  (This diet analogy is not a judgement call on anyone’s eating habits, just an oversimplified analogy to get us through Paul’s writing.)

So what’s to be done?  Are we just condemned by the very thing that saves us?  That’s where the good news of Jesus comes in, which Paul explores in later chapters, as will we.  For now, let’s push through this theme of law and sin and death.  This heavy focus on the law of the Torah, and highly analytical argument about it’s pro’s and con’s from Paul, is put forth because he was speaking to a largely Jewish and Jewish-sympathizing audience.  Their whole way of life – not just in the Synagogue but out of it – is built around the Torah.  The law was given to Moses from God Most High, a sacred and central part of their being a chosen people set apart and loved by God.  So yeah, they got mad when Paul started attacking it, saying that Jesus had nullified the law.  In an effort to make his audience more likely to accept Jesus as the Messiah, Paul had to tread very carefully: showing his respect for the law (because he did respect it), and slowly building a case around said law that exposes how Jesus is its ultimate fulfillment.

I hope that helps clarify this chapter, and indeed the ones surrounding it, a little bit.  But what I really want to talk about today is sin. The word “sin” appears nineteen times in this 25-verse chapter.  It’s a loaded word.  Of course it’s about our shortcomings, but it’s been made, over the centuries, to mean a nearly irrecoverable character flaw.  Sin damns us to hell, sin makes us the evil, sin makes us the lowest of beasts.

Sin as Animal Instinct

And actually, I agree with that last analogy, the lowest of beasts.  For what I think Paul was most describing here is our reptilian brains – our animal instincts.  Paul just lacked the terminology that we have today. What pet owner hasn’t seen one dog “covet” another’s toy or treat? Greedy squirrels hoard so many acorns they literally cannot remember all of them (to our benefit, because then new oak trees grow).  Don’t even get me started on the ecological havoc pigs can wreck: you could film lunar sequences in our pigs’ grow-out paddock, with its five-foot deep craters and being completely denuded of plant life.  Animals steal, rape, and kill – and not just for food.  Lions have been documented killing zebras and not eating the carcass, the same sort of behavior domestic cats exhibit when they sport-hunt songbirds. It even has an official name: surplus killing.

So, when Paul talks about the law teaching him what sin is, I think it is essentially this: learning that we have the capability for nobler actions than our first basic instincts. It may be natural to covet our neighbor’s big house, but we won’t let that covetousness build rancor in our hearts.  We may be naturally greedy, but we will overcome that base greed by practicing sharing on large and small scales.  We have more capacity than any animal (even pigs) to damage the planet, but we can start living lighter, both individually and collectively.  We can recognize, and hopefully then curb our worst impulses, especially the three most harmful ones: stealing, raping and killing.

As I said in my first post about sin, the greatest sin is to act out of not-love.  Animal instincts are all about protecting your own skin, hoarding resources for yourself.  And that is not loving.  Natural, yes, but not loving.  God must know this about us, that we have these less-than-noble animal instincts. So would God really condemn us for them?

Grace is overcoming our baser instincts.

I don’t think so, but that doesn’t get us off the hook.  I know my girls are going to fight, that doesn’t mean I just let it happen.  I know they would only eat cookies if given the choice, but I make sure that that doesn’t happen, either.  God wants us to do better, and will help us do so.  We have been given the higher intelligence to reason this through, guides (such as the Bible) to help show us the way, and grace through Jesus for the mistakes we will make.  Because we will make mistakes.  But making mistakes is not an irredeemable character flaw, nor will it necessarily damn us to hell (a place I’m not sure actually exists, but that’s for another time and another post).  God has given us so much grace, grace beyond the stain of any sin.  All we need to do to be washed clean is turn our hearts towards Xyr.  Listen for God’s message with open hearts and open minds: because those messages rarely come from a booming voice in the clouds, but most often from quiet and unexpected places.  If we do that, we are already on the right path.  Will we stumble and fall occasionally? Yes, after all, we’re only human (and humans are animals). But grace will always be ready to turn back and offer us a hand.

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