Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lenten Confessions 01: I Don't Love God

As I mentioned in my first post to kick off the season of Lent, I would like to offer a series of confessional reflections on the Litany of Penance from the Book of Common Prayer used for Ash Wednesday services. If you are unfamiliar with said Litany, check out the end of the post: "Why I Needed Wine..."

So I come to this blog as my own confession both and you, my 2.5 readers, as my priests to receive my offering and join me in prayers for forgiveness and renewal along the lines of Psalm 51.

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The Litany opens with this confession:

"Most holy and merciful Father we confess to you and to one another and to the whole communion of saints that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord."

The longer I am a Christian the more aware I am becoming of how sin saturates every "thought, word, and deed," all thing things that I have "done and left undone." Sin is an ever-present, pervasive, and thorough infection coursing through my life. Recently I heard Chris Webb, president of Renovare, reflecting a bit on Calvin's concept of Total Depravity. Webb was saying that being totally depraved doesn't mean we are all equally corrupt, which plenty of empirical evidence could be shown to corroborate that. He said that this simply means that sin touches every part of us, that there is not a piece of me - emotions, will, desires, dreams, motivations, etc. - left untouched by the Fall. For some that corruption goes deeper than for others, but all of us are touched comprehensively. I am sure there are plenty of holes in Webb's interpretive work on Calvinist theology (but Calvinist theologians don't even all agree on this!). However, a quick evaluation of my own life reveals that this comprehensive understanding of sin is true about me.

Sin is not an isolated deed or deed not done. Sin is a corruptive force, an infectious presence that seeks to sour every thought, word, and deed. And it offers to me a quick and immediate response to every situation. Let me offer a two simple examples:

*Driving home in the dark a man was crossing the road wearing a black jacket and black pants. It was also raining enough that my window was foggy. So, I didn't see him until I was fairly but not dangerously close. He stopped and got out of the way and held up his arms as if to ask, "What are you doing?" or "Are you watching where you are going?" As I drove past I spouted off out loud in the car about how he was the fool wearing dark clothes crossing the road at night at a place that was clearly not a crosswalk. Now, my assessment is true. His action was unsafe and unwise. BUT... my anger was not necessary. Why did I feel the need to spout off to protest his raised arms? Why did I feel the need to belittle him and be a total jerk? Sin.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

*When my wife was out one evening, I took the boys to McDonald's for dinner (the first sin!). As I was frazzled trying to keep the boys under control and also get our drinks from the fountain, a man who was either very poor or homeless approached me to ask for money to get some food. Without thinking, I told him I had no cash and couldn't help. I lied. Translation: "I don't want to deal with you. I am trying to juggles kids, food, drinks, etc. and I don't care to take time to help." After I got the drinks and went to the counter to get our tray, he was there counting out pennies and nickels. Having had a minute to think it over, I handed him the chicken salad I had ordered. He was grateful and I went on to help the boys with their happy meals. My first and immediate reaction, my unguarded and natural response - and therefore the most true one - was to lie and to worry about myself. Even after offering the handout, I did not offer to have him dine with us to extend a hand of brotherhood. That was too inconvenient. Sin.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

If you need more examples of the pervasive infection of sin in my own life that is "by my own fault in thought and word and deed, in things done and left undone" feel free to call or to email. I'll be glad to share.

This line of confession in the Litany also includes the greatest commands of loving God and loving neighbor. In recent times, based on my own lived experience, I have come to question something I once accepted as common, obvious truth. Perhaps you have heard it said, "If you just love God, then everything else will fall into place." This assumes that since loving God is the greatest commandment, obeying it will make us obey all other things automatically. This sounds nice, and I wish it were true. I just don't think it is. For me, at least, loving God completely is not something like multiplication tables. The times tables function like a foundational piece of knowledge to work on and then grasp once and for all. And, once learned, then it makes possible other mathematic work, like fractions.

Loving God has not worked that way in my life. Loving God has not been a 101 course that I have taken, passed, and subsumed into my default, automatic working responses to other parts of life. Loving God completely has been a lifelong journey of very slowly, sometimes with progression and sometimes with regression, turning over bits and pieces of my life to Him. I am not sure I will ever get to a place in my life where every ounce of my being is devoted to the love of God. Sin.
Have mercy on my, Lord.

Loving God as the first command does not mean for me that it is first in order of which one has been accomplish but first in prominence. It is what all other lessons point me toward. It both drives me to obedience and it is the result of obedience. It is the foundation and the fruit.

Not loving God with my whole heart, mind, and strength will be a confession made every day I am alive. To stop making that confession would mean I was given over to the worst kind of deceptive idolatry.

Sin. O, sin. Thou art ever with me.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

Your love, O God, is stronger than death, more potent than sin. Though my love swells and fades, ebbs and flows, your love is constant and true. It is on your love, not mine, that I causes me to come with this most necessary and life sustaining plea,
Have mercy on me, Lord.

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