Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sin, Steely Dan, and Bad People

I have been turning this post over in my mind for quite a while now, maybe even since I began this blog. It is not easy to write about, and also difficult to organize into coherency, but I am going to give it my best shot.

If you are a reader here, you may know some of my history, which includes abortion, abuse, divorce, bad choices and bad relationships.  Oooh, I sound like a real peach! (If you wish to get more background, you can do a keyword search on the sidebar). Thanks be to God, He rescued me from those things,  and each day brings another step towards healing.

about sin~

As much as I know I am a new person, there remain the consequences of my sins, scars, and the deeper roots that helped feed those sins. I think all of our lives contain a combination of response to our own (original) sin and response to the sins that the world and other people have visited upon us. Most times, we are not aware of all of this. Raising kids forces me to revisit my youth, and realize how clueless I was about the effects my choices would have on the rest of my life, and the people in it.  I know I have mentioned this before, but sometimes, I can trace the outcomes of a single action and see how it branches out in several directions, affecting people in major ways. Some of those actions reach right into the present, and demand that I tend to their effects.

There is no action, good or bad, that doesn't do this. Everything matters, and nothing we do is in a vacuum. There is no "victimless" sin.

The fact is, we all are sinners. We are hard wired to be that way. We also are all children of God. He created us, formed us in our mother's womb and knows every hair on our head. He knows and cares about every single minute of our lives. He offers the grace of His redemptive life, death and resurrection, so that we don't have to be slaves to that vein of sin that lives in us. In one sense, we do not have to feel ashamed that we are sinners, nor be shocked when we sin. We just have to keep acknowledging when we fall, and humbly go to Him in confession, and the grace will be there for us. Of course, the more we expose ourselves to Jesus, the more He fills us, and the less we want to sin, or do anything that does not return the love He gives us. We will not ever be completely sinless while living in this world, but we can stay in the shadow of His wings and allow Him to keep on forming us in His image. It is simple, but it is not easy.  The camel through the eye of the needle, etc.

Here's my little story about my own experience of being a Bad Person:

My early life consisted of a series of events, mixed with my own predilections, that resulted in getting myself in to those places where abortion, abuse and divorce took their toll. On me, and my kids. But I had lived in that poison atmosphere for so long, that  once I started climbing out, I was so broken, I just went in whatever direction seemed safest at the time.  Apparently, my choice-making apparatus got broken along the way. I take responsibility for everything I have done, but I also recognize that I was impaired. I try really hard to remember that when other people do things that are destructive.

 But back then, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. At the dissolution of a 13 year marriage, I felt as though I was falling off a cliff, so I reached for what felt like a safety line. I went directly to another relationship. The circumstances were extremely messy. The church I belonged to at that time was ready to help me with the separation, but once it became clear I was not going to listen to them in regards to this new relationship, it was all over folks. Not only that, but I was basically shunned, to borrow a term from the Amish. Or -- to borrow a term from Dwight on The Office.

 And, yeah, I can understand that, they even came to my house (yes, three of them) to confront me, citing this scripture:

Matthew 18:15
If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as Gentile and a tax collector.

After some fifteen years now,  to many from that church and another one we belonged to previously, I am still a tax collector.  I will not list out the sins of my ex from that time, but suffice it to say -- there were some. One might even say, they were grave, and that, in part, those grave sins had a part to play in my own struggles from that point forward. That is all between him and God. But somehow, he did not get the tax collector treatment, at least not from them. I do not feel sorry for myself, I am blessed with a wonderful family and wonderful friends, a beautiful faith that I would not trade for anything.

"Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten --" Joel 2:25

But at that time, before my conversion to Catholicism, this action by everyone who I had called my friends, everybody that knew about what I had been going through, and the church leaders I had looked up to -- felt as though God himself was shunning me. If this action was supposed to help me see the error of my ways, in my case, it just made me even more unsure God loved me. How could He not understand?  The result was that I turned to other sources of (what I thought was) comfort and safety. Reminds me of the lyrics of a Steely Dan song:

If I had my way
I would move to another lifetime
I'd quit my job
Ride the train through the misty nighttime
I'll be ready when my feet touch ground
Wherever I come down
And if the folks will have me
Then they'll have me
Any world that I'm welcome to
Is better than the one I come from

Again, this experience helps me understand those that retreat to places where people are nice to them, and treat them like human beings. Not problems that need to be fixed before they are worthy to be acknowledged.

An aside -- one of the pitfalls of the non-Catholic Christian churches, is that they tend to micromanage the lives of the followers, asserting and inserting themselves into a situation with the authority of God, often mishandling and worse, misrepresenting Him. Not all, of course, but this was my experience in a number of evangelical churches. When I crawled into the Catholic church, I was not asked about the "sin in my life" -- only welcomed and allowed to present my mess  before the Real Presence of the Lord, who took me and did the straightening out in a way that actually stuck.

Ironically, guess what follows that scripture verse used for disciplining sinners?

 Matthew 18:16-22
 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
  “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

I don't know the Catholic official teaching on this entire passage, but I do intend to look it up. I have a feeling the place it is embedded has a little something to do with it's meaning, and that in all likelihood, it is not meant to be taken as a stand-alone mandate.

Here is another Steely Dan song that illustrates (to me) the journey through the tough, crazy times, to the safety of the Church and the Blessed Mother. Being 'tied to the mast' reminds me of clinging to His cross. 

I know this super highway
This bright familiar sun
I guess that I'm the lucky one
Who wrote that tired sea song
Set on this peaceful shore
You think you've heard this one before

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last

She serves the smooth retsina
She keeps me safe and warm
It's just the calm before the storm
Call in my reservation
So long hey thanks my friend
I guess I'll try my luck again

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last


  1. I'm glad you found the Catholic Church Kelly. Contrary to how the media portrays us, we are a forgiving bunch. Peace be with you.

    1. Oh I am very happy to be here, where there is not only the Real Presence of Jesus, but the sacrament of reconciliation,but also the Blessed Mother and all her love and indispensable help. And scores of other blessings, not the least of which are good friends :)

  2. Well, there is another way to look at the consequences of our choices and that is that they are our temporal punishments for our sins. While I constantly have to remind myself of this, I know in the end I will be glad to have paid the price here if it means spending less time in Purgatory and getting to Heaven sooner. At some point, I think we also have to stop beating ourselves up about past sins because clinging to them can be a form of self-attachment. Not too long ago I was talking to someone and I said "Boy, if I had it to do all over again, I would have raised my kids and lived my life so much differently than I have" and the person, not exactly a model Catholic, said: "Most of us would probably say the same thing. It isn't going to happen, so just get on with your life and make the best decisions you can now."

    I haven't ever belonged to an Evangelical church, but I have heard the horror stories. I hope you can put that behind you now that you're "home". I second Manny in the joy that you are in the Catholic church!

    1. Thanks, Joyce :) I totally and gratefully accept any of the chances to redeem sins while I am still in this world.
      More than beating myself up, I wrote this as a way to remember what it was like to live in those situations and the way Christians 'dealt' with me. How I didn't feel like a human being to them, but an issue. I want to remember so I can have at least patience, and maybe even charity, toward those who are sinning.
      AS much as I would like to move on, some of my kids are still actively dealing with the consequences, so I have to be willing to acknowledge and re-acknowledge their pain. Thanks be to God, they have come a long way!
      My goal is exactly the opposite of self attachment -- it is to put aside my comfort to recognize myself in poor sinners, so that I might never boast about anything except what Christ has done for me.

    2. Well, that is why one of my favorite sayings is: There but for the grace of God go I.