Forgive Me, Mother, For I Have Sinned: Earth, Ancestors, and the Role of Confession by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee


Ah, confession. I admit I never really much understood the Catholic practice of confession to a priest; as a United Methodist growing up, the idea of confession – while challenging – nonetheless seemed to belong squarely between myself and the (supposedly male) God that (apparently) loves and forgives us while still calling us to live into a more perfect vision of our individual selves and of the kin-dom. But to confess things to a minister? In a little booth? The very idea gave me the heebie-jeebies. Probably even more so since my father and/or stepmother were usually said minister. Well, that wasn’t a common Catholic thing either, I suppose.

I took confession very seriously, however. I firmly believed that we have all sinned and fallen short, and that we can and must do better – for our own lives and wellbeing, for our loved ones, for humanity, and for the whole Creation. Confession was like the first step toward healing – like a diagnosis; without admitting what was going wrong – or what was inadequate – how could we take steps toward what was right?

Well, my experiences both in seminary and in a queer outreach ministry changed my relationship with the way churches usually handle confession. Not only did the concept start to sound awfully male and punishing – I am a worm… I can never be good enough… but Grace has saved a “wretch” like me? – but the beloved yet bruised and hurting members of my queer church needed welcome and solace, not more haranguing about all their supposed (and inherent) faults and failures. I was increasingly drawn to Wesleyan understanding of sin as disease, brokenness, hurt. I felt myself and particularly other women around me literally feeling like we are never enough – enough to our church, our partner, our children, our society, our Earth.

So much of our society speaks to this constant, nagging narrative.[1] Many women I know need to learn not to care more about others but to believe they have the right to have needs and boundaries, and that they deserve to have their boundaries respected and their needs met. If Wesley defines perfection as being perfectly grounded in love, that love must include love of self.

In short, women beat themselves up quite enough, thanks, without needing a male deity to finish us off. There was just no way a theology of Grace that has already ‘forgiven’ all my sin – even before I ask – could compete with the cacophonic litany of self criticism constantly running through my mind. Could it be, I wondered, that the concept of liturgical confession needs to die? And can it be reborn into something genuinely healing?

In the midst of this theological musing, I was also falling increasingly in love with both the Creation – the divine incarnate and amazing foundation of all theology – and with some of the ancestral traditions of my partner’s Korean heritage. The Koreans show respect by bowing – to one another, to their elders, and historically, to their ancestors as well.[2] It is not intended as a sign of worship or idolatry; it is an acknowledgment that age brings wisdom and that our ancestors gave us our lives – they are our Source of Life. On the New Year, one kneels to elders and bows all the way down with the forehead touching the ground or floor; then, elders give blessings and gifts. For ancestors, this dramatic bow is repeated three times. As I began to incorporate rituals that honor my beloved ancestors as well as the sacred Earth, I came to realize that the soil itself actually is our Great Ancestor – literally – the precious bodies of our forbears that have gone back to dust, to nourish new generations of all forms of life in a beautiful and holy resurrection. And yet, truly, we have sinned against the Creation. That started to sound like Confession again.

I am lucky to have many well ancestors, elders I never knew but who were always spoken of with deep love and joy; and grandparents who, despite their quirks, loved me so fiercely that I carry the power of their pride and joy deep inside myself. When I set photos or mementos of them on my ancestor altar, and I bow with my forehead to the blessed Earth, I experience the commandment to Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother in an almost magical way. And my relationships with my parents were not always easy or even healthy; but now, they, too, have become honored ancestors who grace my ancestor altar. So on holy days, birthdays, death days, and other days, I come and sit with my ancestors; sometimes I bow; sometimes I weep; sometimes I laugh; sometimes I talk; and sometimes I listen.

This brings us back again to Confession. Sometimes, as I sit with my ancestral elders in a sacred Communion of Saints, I feel the need to say, “I’m sorry.” I am not sure where this sentiment first came from. Perhaps it was after my Nana was killed suddenly and unexpectedly, and I wished I had spent more time with her. I have many regrets. Even though my father often failed, he worked as hard as he was able to be the best father he could, and I did not always understand or appreciate how hard he tried, and how much brokenness he carried. But the most – surprising? – powerful? – part, is that when I try to confess, before I can even think or speak the words “I’m sorry,” I already feel a tidal wave of Grace, Love, and Pride, just pouring out all over me and through me from this Ancestral Earth Altar of Death and Life.

Everyone has well ancestors, somewhere in their past, whether through ties of blood or love; and everyone has the holy ground, our common Earth Ancestor and the Source of Life and Resurrection. Through ritual and my altar, so much of the theology of my own tradition finally makes sense. We don’t need to beat ourselves up – but great, self-sacrificing love inspires remorse, repentance, and inspiration. This healing stream from Calvary’s mountain gives us the strength to live into our call. Thanks to my ancestors – and our common Great Ancestor – I think I finally, finally understand the value of Confession and the power of Grace.

 

[1] For a great analysis of this general phenomenon more recently, see “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink,” by Katrina Alcorn (Seal Press, Berkley, CA: 2013).

[2] While Korean Catholics still use ancestor veneration rituals, Protestants (who also do not venerate saints) instead tend to venerate ancestors in more general ways, rather than with bowing rituals. See Ancestor Worship and Christianity in Korea, edited by Jung Young Lee; Lewiston, N.Y., USA: E. Mellen Press, 1988.

 

 

Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.

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Categories: Ancestors, Belief, Catholic Church, Church Doctrine, Faith, Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, In Remembrance

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30 replies

  1. Really interesting post! For me, the whole concept of looking at yourself in terms of what is ‘wrong’ with you and looking for ways in which you have ‘sinned’ can only lead to a miserable existence. Confession would be so much better if you shared what was wonderful about life or a kindness that you’d done in the week previously :O)

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    • Thank you for your comment – I believe in positive reinforcement as well. We are all trying. And that is what I take away from the amazing love I feel – it makes me feel healed enough, and celebrated enough, that I feel comfortable also trying to continue to heal my brokenness. I really appreciate the Wesleyan concept of sin as disease. I shy away from sin as what is ‘wrong with me.’ I resonate strongly, however, with the idea that I carry brokenness, pain, and hurt inside me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Confession to heal the soul, but sin?! Why sin?

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    • Thank you, Majak. I only feel comfortable with the word ‘sin’ because I use it in the Wesleyan sense of ‘brokenness,’ or ‘places that need healing.’ I often use those words instead. I feel the word ‘sin’ has been used as a weapon, but I am okay reclaiming it, on Wesleyan terms. It also allows me to see others as broken and in need of healing. I can admit when my brokenness causes me to lash out in anger, sarcasm, or hatefulness; or when my fear leads me not to be the caretaker of the Creation that I want to be. There is something about the word ‘sin’ that acknowledges and speaks to the gravity of this dynamic.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks Tallessyn. Genuine healing, not a question of forgiveness, but a question of love for self and others. Starhawk says: “All began in love, all seeks to return in love. Love is the law, the teacher of wisdom, and the great revealer of mysteries.”

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  4. What memories “confession” arouses! As a child in an abusive home, it was a place to safely share in the 1950’s when such things were “family matters” and to be kept private. The things I was blamed for by others were “let go”, and I was told to ‘go in peace’. Many years later, living in a monastery, it was pretty funny going to confession every week. We usually just said: “sorry” to the one we had offended – individual or community. Confession was: “nothing this week father” which was probably a relief for the priest. One described hearing Nun’s confessions as “being beat to death with a wet noodle”.
    It’s the sense of community that lingers now. The realization that if I do something to satisfy my greed, or act from selfishness, or fears – I cause pain to a community. If my fear keeps me from acting for justice, if my greed leads me to ignore the earth I come from, if my insecurities lead me to criticize others instead of appreciating their positive actions – I effect a community. I am not perfect in love, only human, and trying to evolve into someone better at the process. I was taught at one time that confession to a “representative of the community” was meant to make us aware the we are not alone and our actions matter.
    Today, we have better, I think, ways of doing this, as Tallessyn writes. And I like that our loving compassion includes the earth and our ancestors – including all those patient priests who listened, supported, and almost died from “beatings with wet noodles”!

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    • Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, Barbara. Fascinating for me! How have you experienced your relationships with your ancestors, or with Ancestor Earth? Does it involve confession? Just wondering.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My immediate family is all deceased now – mother, father, step father and brother. I had to shed the guilt put on me by them, and forgive. It was a long process! I have an awareness of my mother being near sometimes and I’ve sometimes told her I wish we had been closer. I was at a meeting when she died, and knew she had passed because I felt her sitting behind me, poking me in the back and saying, “Sit up straight and pay attention.” I had a strong sense that she was healed. But I can’t say I have a strong attraction to my ancestors. I’m more aware of close and loving friends, and the Divine Mystery of Love that I sense active in all creation and that moves me to loving compassion toward others. I’m becoming more and more aware not only of Mother Earth, but of the incomprehensible, expanding Universe. And it all feels like a awesome mystery.
        I last went to confession in 1970. Jesus told us to forgive our enemies 70X7 times and I figure if that’s expected of me, I expect it of the One we call “God” even more. So I focus on compassion for myself and for others and don’t equate our growth process as humans to failure or to sin.

        Hope that answers your questions Tallessyn.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for sharing all of that, Barbara. I am so sorry for your many losses, and I am glad you still feel close to your mother. I agree with you that it is all connected to this amazing Spirit in Creation, and I am so glad you experience it as such a powerful force of compassion and inspiration.

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  5. Growing up, confession was a weird practice that my (Protestant) family didn’t do. But learning to love better, to ask for forgiveness and give it, these are things we all need to learn, whatever our faith traditions. And respecting/honoring our eldersI I agree with you, Tallessyn, that ritualizing loving interaction, honor for elders, and forgiveness helps us grow in spirit. In our all-too-secular culture, ritual has almost disappeared. Reincorporating it in ways that help us grow is exactly what we need. Thanks for modeling that type of growth.

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    • Thank you, Nancy. I really appreciate your words of support. I, too, hope we can reclaim ideas of sin and confession in ways that feel truly life-giving, liberating, healing, and empowering, and I agree that ritual is a key part of it. So long as we stay vigilant about idolatry – so often, rituals can become idols!

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      • I don’t understand how ritual could become an idol. What do you mean by that?

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      • Nancy, in my experience, rituals are meant to bring us closer to the presence of the Spirit of healing and justpeace. However, sometimes we start to idolize rituals and not want them to change, even if they no longer do that – at least, not for everyone. I feel that the Eucharist, for example, can be celebrated in many diverse ways, using various kinds of elements, that don’t even need to be bread or wine or juice. Baptism does not need to be done in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” in order to ‘count.’ However, this stance puts me at odds with many in my tradition, and it is an example of what I consider to be an idolatrous approach to ritual – as if these rituals only work, in some magical way?, if you say the right words to the magic spell. My approach is much more about seeing the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ as the evidence that something brings holiness; it is a very Wesleyan perspective, although, ironically, not always a Methodist one.

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  6. Thank you for such a thought-provoking post!

    Although I appreciate your Wesleyan use of the term “sin,” I think for myself “sin” is so intertwined with the shaming “I am bad” ideology from the form of Christianity I learned when I was growing up that I am not personally comfortable using it.

    I was struck a while ago by how Danielle Shroyer defines “sin” here (http://danielleshroyer.com/moltmann-monday-original-sin/) saying “it is to live in a way that rejects your connection to God, to others, and to all of creation.” I still don’t care for the actual word, but I can definitely get behind this concept.

    I didn’t grow up Catholic but my partner did and has told me that “confession” is also called the sacrament of “reconciliation.” I definitely find that a more helpful way of putting things, especially in the way you talk here about apologizing for wrongs we have done and regrets we have in our relationships with our ancestors and our Mother Earth. If we want to restore the connection that Shroyer talks about, then it seems to me that apologizing, doing what we can to repair the damage (if possible) and becoming reconciled to the sacred other(s) are essential. We can (and I think need to?) know how to feel remorse and apologize for wrongs done without denigrating our inherent human dignity.

    On a side note, and maybe this is a silly question, but what do you mean by “well” ancestors?

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    • Thank you for this comment, Jacqueline. I agree with you that the word ‘sin’ has been used as a weapon. Sadly, so have many things, in many cultures and religions – so I have had to decide many times what things I am willing to spend energy trying to reclaim away from their damaging associations. In this case, I particularly appreciated Roger Gottlieb’s book A Greener Faith, in which he – an atheist at the time, although now he defines himself more as an agnostic, I believe – argues that there are things that religions can do, to help further environmentalism and help the Earth heal, that are distinct from other aspects of any culture; and one of the things he identifies is that religions have grappled with very heavy concepts such as sin and redemption. He argues that the word ‘sin’ carries a certain ‘weight’ that other words simply do not have, and that when we apply this word to issues of eco-justice, it has a different kind of impact – a more profound impact.

      His writings opened me to more possibilities for language than just the ways in which it is used destructively. I also don’t tend to like to throw things away, anyway – I’d rather see if we can find ways to yes, let them die, but also to resurrect them. I think that’s just my personality, and I fully respect that we sometimes simply need to let things die; I even feel this way about certain aspects in my own tradition.

      By ‘well ancestors,’ I am referring to ancestors whom we can think about without feeling trauma, without feeling unsafe. While ancestral traditions can bring healing and comfort, sometimes our ancestors are a primary, direct cause of our grief and trauma, so sometimes, we need to focus on our well ancestors, as our hurting ancestors may need time to heal – in our own perceptions, in their ancestral journeys, or however people’s personal theology of ancestors works.

      I have also found it important to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation. In the Catholic model of sin, we have not sinned and do not require forgiveness if we tried our best, and yet things still went in a way in which people were hurt. This hurt is not our fault, and we do not need to apologize for it. However, we may nonetheless need reconciliation. This includes meeting our own needs in self love. However, when we knowingly cause harm, to self or others or Creation, we have sinned, and should confess, and apologize, and seek forgiveness. For me as a Protestant, this was a liberating doctrine of sin, because my sense of sin had been that it is simply unavoidable at every moment – I am just always sinning, and there is no escape. The Catholics say, no. Of course, it’s often hard to tease out the distinction, but I still found it helpful. A useful example is if you swerve your car to avoid hitting a squirrel and accidentally kill a person instead (traumatic, sorry). Catholics would say, you tried your best – you are not guilty of sin – you do not need forgiveness. You undoubtedly will, however, need reconciliation. I don’t know if this is helpful or not, and I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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      • (My apologies, it has taken me a little while to get back to you.)

        I agree with you about the need to reclaim many words that have been used as weapons, and I find Gottlieb’s thoughts on the term “sin” in the context of environmentalism very interesting. Unfortunately it doesn’t change the gut response I have to the term “sin” due to my Calvinist background, though I certainly appreciate that it doesn’t have the same connotation to everyone who uses it. It’s also possible that my feelings on the term will evolve over time, and I may at some point in the future be more open to incorporating it back into my theological vocabulary. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this!

        Ah, that makes sense, thank you for explaining what you meant by the term with regards to ancestral traditions.

        I had never thought of that distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation like you describe in the Catholic model –I like that idea a lot better. In the Reformed Protestant tradition I was taught that we are always in a state of sin no matter what, even when we do good deeds everything about us was still sinful (that’s what I learned anyway) so the concept of going to confess my sins made no sense to me because I would just be apologizing for my whole existence. That’s obviously a very extreme model, and I think a very unhealthy one. I definitely find it more helpful to think in terms of forgiveness for intentional wrongs and reconciliation for when we tried our best but still accidentally caused harm.

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  7. Thanks Tallessyn for your post. I remember Carolyn Myss once asking us if as we are given more knowledge and awareness-have there been times when you knew that what you were about to do would
    hurt someone else and you went ahead and did it anyway. Or times when you did not love yourself enough and let bad boundaries allow in the chaos of our society. That’s “sin”. Not respecting yourself as a woman, a lesbian, a social justice worker- that’s a sin. Clearing these up at the end of the day feels good to me and is in the context of ardently loving myself. Your thoughts on the sexism that Christianity is full of are welcome .Thanks again for your thoughts. Keep it up.

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    • Thank you, Ellen. I described something similar about in my response to Jacqueline – a Catholic theology of sin sounds similar to what Carolyn Myss says, and I am a fan of her writings already. Sometimes, it’s helpful for me to understand that *not* meeting my own needs in self care is a kind of sin against myself – it helps me see myself as more worthy of love, rather than as a ‘sinner,’ if you will. I like your phrase, ‘ardently loving myself.’ Permaculture philosophy argues that the Earth is always trying to heal itself, because it wants to be whole – and I believe the same about our bodies/spirits. The idea of sin as brokenness helps me see myself, and others, as people trying to heal from the brokenness we carry – and it helps me want to heal, and want to bring healing to others as well.

      Thank you again for your thoughts. There is certainly much more to think about.

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  8. I’m finding this thread very interesting, especially in regards to the responses to the term “sin.” Tallessyn, does the fact that this term is utterly tainted for many of us (including me) make any difference in your own use of the word? In the feminist community, we reclaimed the word “dyke,” I think successfully. In the pagan community we tried to reclaim the word “witch,” and I don’t believe we were successful. I don’t believe that Christians will be able to reclaim the word “sin.” It has literally thousands of years of usage that will constantly bring the definition back to the concept of “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.”

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    • Thank you, Nancy. It absolutely makes a difference in my use of the word. While on the one hand, I think reclaiming words can be very powerful, I acknowledge that there may be words that cannot be reclaimed (I feel this way about the word “Lord” for the divine or for Jesus, because of its original, patriarchal human meaning, I do not feel the word can ever mean something wider and theologically liberating). Some people are trying to use words other than “Christian” for similar reasons; but there are limits, and differences of opinion, and I personally believe it’s worth a try to hold onto certain identity words, including Christian, American, and others.

      As for the word ‘sin,’ I use it very sparingly, partly because the concept has been used as a weapon, and partly because I find that it carries more power when it is not overused. I do not like the word ‘sinner,’ however, because it implies that a person’s identity is nothing but sinful. When I rewrite hymns, I emphasize ideas of brokenness and healing, as I mentioned, and if the concept of sin is named occasionally, it is embedded within this existing idea of healing. I will illustrate with a few examples below, just for fun.

      There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole;
      There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.

      [I’ve left ‘sin-sick’ here, because it doesn’t have to mean an individual’s sinfulness; the deep brokenness of the world can leave us feeling sick in our souls, and in need of a healing balm; the rest of the song talks of feeling discouraged, and thinking our work is in vain.]

      Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me;
      See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

      Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home;
      Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O wand’rer, come home!

      [I’ve changed ‘sinner’ to ‘wand’rer’ here, although I’ve also used ‘outcast’ in the past. I like the image of loving arms held open for us; I think it has great symbolic value. To use the label ‘sinner’ in there seems to undermine the message of the song to me.]

      For this one, I will try to put the original side by side with my rewrite below, and hope the formatting works:

      Original: Rewrite:
      Come, sinners, to the gospel feast/Come, outcasts, to the gospel feast;
      let every soul be Jesus’ guest/Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
      Ye need not one be left behind/Ye need not one be left behind,
      for God hath bid all humankind/For Love hath bid all humankind.

      Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed/Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed,
      ye restless wanderers after rest/Ye restless wanderers after rest;
      ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind/Ye poor and sick, in form or mind,
      in Christ a hearty welcome find/In Christ, a hearty welcome find.

      [You can see I’ve again left ‘by sin oppressed,’ because it oppresses people – but I’ve changed ‘sinner’ to ‘outcast’ here.]

      And lastly, to make it really challenging, here is a Good Friday hymn, with lots of sinfulness imagery (but not language). I’ve tried to draw out how the sinfulness of the world contributes to the crucifixion of those who are oppressed and those who stand up for justice, symbolized here in the body of Jesus. Something so terrible can only result from both evil and complacency, and maybe it is important to have a moment to name that in the Christian year.

      Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
      That we to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
      By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
      O most afflicted.

      See how the hungry and the outcast seek thee,
      Have I e’er seen thee in the poor and needy?
      Have I responded, as thy words have taught me?
      Where is my pity?

      Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
      Alas, our treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
      When I, O Jesus, ever hast denied thee,
      I crucified thee.

      Lo, a Good Shepherd for the world has suffered;
      To bring us healing, everything is offered;
      Heal us, kind Jesus; ‘tis your love we needeth,
      Your words to heedeth.

      [In this one, I wrote a new verse, verse 2, to frame verse 3 more completely. I also use ‘our’ instead of just ‘my’ to show the communal sins we commit when we as a society fail our most vulnerable and oppressed members. I am not a big fan of substitutionary atonement; however, I do feel symbols have power, and the symbols of the crucifixion are painful enough to represent the pain of the outcast and oppressed peoples and creatures of the world. This week has been particularly painful, and the symbolism of this hymn identifies the crucified body of Christ in the little children taken forcibly from their parents, and in the parents as well. Do we always respond as quickly and thoroughly as we ought? I know I don’t, and it’s okay with me to name that as sinfulness occasionally, so long as it’s in the context of both a sinful society and my own need for healing, rather than as some kind of inherent personal failing.]

      I know I’ve given a very long answer, and I hope it was helpful in exploring your very important question!

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  9. Thank you, Nancy. It absolutely makes a difference in my use of the word. While on the one hand, I think reclaiming words can be very powerful, I acknowledge that there may be words that cannot be reclaimed (I feel this way about the word “Lord” for the divine or for Jesus, because of its original, patriarchal human meaning, I do not feel the word can ever mean something wider and theologically liberating). Some people are trying to use words other than “Christian” for similar reasons; but there are limits, and differences of opinion, and I personally believe it’s worth a try to hold onto certain identity words, including Christian, American, and others.

    As for the word ‘sin,’ I use it very sparingly, partly because the concept has been used as a weapon, and partly because I find that it carries more power when it is not overused. I do not like the word ‘sinner,’ however, because it implies that a person’s identity is nothing but sinful. When I rewrite hymns, I emphasize ideas of brokenness and healing, as I mentioned, and if the concept of sin is named occasionally, it is embedded within this existing idea of healing. I will illustrate with a few examples below, just for fun.

    There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole;
    There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.

    [I’ve left ‘sin-sick’ here, because it doesn’t have to mean an individual’s sinfulness; the deep brokenness of the world can leave us feeling sick in our souls, and in need of a healing balm; the rest of the song talks of feeling discouraged, and thinking our work is in vain.]

    Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me;
    See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

    Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home;
    Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O wand’rer, come home!

    [I’ve changed ‘sinner’ to ‘wand’rer’ here, although I’ve also used ‘outcast’ in the past. I like the image of loving arms held open for us; I think it has great symbolic value. To use the label ‘sinner’ in there seems to undermine the message of the song to me.]

    For this one, I will try to put the original side by side with my rewrite below, and hope the formatting works:

    Original: Rewrite:
    Come, sinners, to the gospel feast; Come, outcasts, to the gospel feast;
    let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
    Ye need not one be left behind, Ye need not one be left behind,
    for God hath bid all humankind. For Love hath bid all humankind.

    Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed, Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed,
    ye restless wanderers after rest; Ye restless wanderers after rest;
    ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind, Ye poor and sick, in form or mind,
    in Christ a hearty welcome find. In Christ, a hearty welcome find.

    [You can see I’ve again left ‘by sin oppressed,’ because it oppresses people – but I’ve changed ‘sinner’ to ‘outcast’ here.]

    And lastly, to make it really challenging, here is a Good Friday hymn, with lots of sinfulness imagery (but not language). I’ve tried to draw out how the sinfulness of the world contributes to the crucifixion of those who are oppressed and those who stand up for justice, symbolized here in the body of Jesus. Something so terrible can only result from both evil and complacency, and maybe it is important to have a moment to name that in the Christian year.

    Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
    That we to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
    By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
    O most afflicted.

    See how the hungry and the outcast seek thee,
    Have I e’er seen thee in the poor and needy?
    Have I responded, as thy words have taught me?
    Where is my pity?

    Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
    Alas, our treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
    When I, O Jesus, ever hast denied thee,
    I crucified thee.

    Lo, a Good Shepherd for the world has suffered;
    To bring us healing, everything is offered;
    Heal us, kind Jesus; ‘tis your love we needeth,
    Your words to heedeth.

    [In this one, I wrote a new verse, verse 2, to frame verse 3 more completely. I also use ‘our’ instead of just ‘my’ to show the communal sins we commit when we as a society fail our most vulnerable and oppressed members. I am not a big fan of substitutionary atonement; however, I do feel symbols have power, and the symbols of the crucifixion are painful enough to represent the pain of the outcast and oppressed peoples and creatures of the world. This week has been particularly painful, and the symbolism of this hymn identifies the crucified body of Christ in the little children taken forcibly from their parents, and in the parents as well. Do we always respond as quickly and thoroughly as we ought? I know I don’t, and it’s okay with me to name that as sinfulness occasionally, so long as it’s in the context of both a sinful society and my own need for healing, rather than as some kind of inherent personal failing.]

    I know I’ve given a very long answer, and I hope it was helpful in exploring your very important question!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been away on the Goddess Pilgrimage so came late to this. I too have negative associations with confessions of sin. Yes if I hurt someone else I need to say I am sorry and vow not to do it again. That to me feels very different from communal confessions of sin which often are so general that they feel wrong and wronging to me.

    It is hard to separate Christian “sin” from an omnipotent judgmental punishing God who sets standards of perfection that no one can meet, just so, it seems to me, he can be said to condemn everyone to hell, except those he chooses for some inexplicable reason.

    I am much more moved by prayers that ask me to do something positive, like for example, taking only what I really need or sharing what I have with others or working for greater justice.

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    • Well said, Carol. In some of the above discussion, I have talked about different ways the concept of sin is used. This past few weeks have been very difficult ones, as we try to grapple with the enforcement of a policy of separating babies and children from their parents at the US border. This policy and how it has been carried out has been incredibly traumatic, causing lasting harm, not only for the children and their parents, but also for those carrying it out. I find it can be helpful to have words like ‘sin’ around at times like this – they carry a lot of weight that other words simply don’t have. However, as with anything powerful, the idea and language are misused, used as a weapon, and cause harm.

      In a kind of irony, sometimes people who truly feel a change of heart feel a great weight lifted off them when they identify their former behavior as sinful; as if, by finally admitting the extent of the harm they caused, they can also finally be set free from the guilt and shame associated with it, and be open to forgiveness and reconciliation. Most of the time, however, at least, through the feminist analysis I mention, I find this kind of language more of an impediment to confession and healing. Given the world today, I am not ready to get rid of the concept of sin (although I respect those who do); at the same time, like you, I find language of brokenness, woundedness, and need for healing to be much more helpful.

      But I cannot escape the potentially positive power of the idea of sin; for example, if (in Wesleyan terms), perfection is found when we are entirely grounded in love; and if that love necessarily includes self love; and if I am not wholly and completely loving myself – then I can talk about it coming from my own brokenness and need for healing; and maybe I will try to heal. But when I say, Tallessyn, if you do not care for your precious and beloved self, you are sinning against yourself – well, that carries some serious weight. All of a sudden, I want to apologize to my Self, ask forgiveness from my Self, and seek to do better, to heal. Used sparingly – there may be something worth salvaging, even – especially? – from things that are misused. I find that, for me, being in a feminist, progressive Christian context, where these ideas have been redefined and used very gently for several decades, leads me to a different kind of openness to them, than if I had been in a more heavy handed and patriarchal context all along. Instead of feeling oppressed, exploring these ideas feels a bit exciting, or even liberating. So I am sure context, as always, has a big impact on our relationship with words and concepts.

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  11. Tallessyn, I loved your article, and your hymns made me cry. So beautiful. I think some of your responses might have been missed because you posted them in the main thread instead of under the comment. That would be too bad because they are thoughtful and wonderful.

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    • Thank you, Trelawney. There was one comment I purposefully put on the main thread because I thought it might be of interest to others, but I have now copied it and reposted within a thread that replies to a comment as well. I think that is the only one that was posted on the main thread, but if you see others, please let me know? Thanks!

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