Category Archives: Seven Deadly Sins

I did that

by Marjorie George

Consider the story of Nebuchadnezzar, told in the book of Daniel. The great king ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 BC. He was a mighty king, strong and daring; he grew the power and wealth of Babylon and himself by conquering many nations and extending the Babylonian empire from Egypt in the west to Elam in the east. In 597 BC he captured Judah, deposing its king, destroying both Jerusalem and the temple, and exporting a large part of Judah’s population to Babylon.

Having completed the subjugation of many peoples, Nebuchadnezzar set about rebuilding and adorning the city of Babylon by constructing canals and aqueducts and reservoirs surpassing in grandeur and magnificence everything of the kind.

Even modern research shows that Nebuchadnezzar was, indeed, the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the entire East, ever had. He appears to have built or restored almost every city and temple in the whole country; nine-tenths of all the bricks amid the ruins of Babylon are stamped with his name.  

Then one day, as Nebuchadnezzar was strolling on the palace roof, he was so overwhelmed by his own achievements that he declared, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)

And “while the words were still in his mouth” (4:31) a voice came from heaven saying something like “Are you kidding? YOU did all this? YOU are the most powerful? Well, let’s just see about that.”  And suddenly Nebuchadnezzar was “driven from among men and ate grass like an ox [for the next seven years], and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (4:33).

When Nebuchadnezzar finally came around to God’s way of thinking, he acknowledged that, well, maybe it wasn’t he who had accomplished so much. Perhaps God was mightier than he. And Nebuchadnezzar offered praise and honor to the King of Heaven, saying,

“For all his works are truth,
and his ways are justice;
and he is able to bring low
those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:37).

Definition of pride: claiming for ourselves the wonderful works of God, and trusting ourselves instead of the Lord God.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

Pride

by Sylvia Maddox

Many of us are drawn to the Psalm, “I am not proud, I have no haughty looks” (131:1). There is something in the essence of our faith that knows the comfort of letting go and letting God hold our life.  In Jesus we see one who washes the feet of his disciples.  

We are quick to see pride as a sin when it is not earned, but pride that comes from hard work, desire and skill, well that is another thing.  We’re proud to be Americans when we see moments of self-sacrifice.  We’re proud of our athletic teams when they come from behind to win victories, and perhaps the most pride comes when as parents we see our children living the values we have taught them.   

There is a thin line, however, between the celebration of gifts and the beginning of ownership, identity, and the slow seeping in of separation between ourselves and others.  This is the beginning of the sin of pride.  What follows is inordinate self-esteem and thinking we can appropriate the perfection of God.  When pride centers on ourselves, we become convinced of our own value, but in truth we stand on the edge of our own nothingness.

My own experience of that nothingness took me by surprise recently in the context of my teaching.    I confess I have always “prided myself” in being able to reach out to a variety of students through creativity and planning.   One day I saw before me students unmotivated and uninterested — and there was nothing I could do.  Feeling helpless and vulnerable, I went over to the chapel to pray.  At the altar was a man on his knees praying fervently in Spanish for mercy.  I found myself joining him in prayer and surrender.  When he finished he lifted his hands in praise. Suddenly I saw the other side of pride.  Humility and true joy.   I realized that the gifts God had given me were not about me.  They were much more about faithfulness, gratitude, and the awareness we are all connected.

None of us can ever predict when a well planned event falls through, when a carefully constructed sermon is not received, when all we have given is totally disregarded.   When that moment comes we can either despair and hold on to our pride, or we can fall on our knees and rediscover the joy and comfort of praying, “Lord, I am not proud.  I still myself upon the breast of God” (Psalm 131:2).

 Sylvia Maddox is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio. She is a writer, teacher, and retreat leader. Reach Sylvia at sylmaddox@aol.com.

 

A story of lust

by Marjorie George

Among the poignant stories to come out of World War II is the account of Coventry Cathedral.  The town of Coventry, England, along with its cathedral, was bombed by the German Luftwaffe on November 14, 1940. The cathedral had dated from 1043 and was originally St. Mary’s Priory and Cathedral. That building fell into ruins and a second church arose on the site – St. Michael’s — constructed between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.  This was the building that was destroyed in 1940.

Shortly after the bombing, a cathedral worker found that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross.  He tied them together and placed them in the rubble on the altar; in the dust on the wall behind the altar, the cathedral provost had inscribed the words,  “Father, forgive.”

The day after the bombing, the decision was made to rebuild the cathedral at the end of the war — not as an act of defiance but as a sign of faith, hope, and trust for the future of the world. From that faithful decision, the people of Coventry Cathedral developed a significant ministry of global reconciliation, involving them in some of the world’s most difficult and longstanding areas of conflict.

(Photo at left, Winston Churchill visiting the bombed cathedral in 1940. Photo in public domain.)

It’s a compelling story. Sometime after learning it, I came across a modest poster done in calligraphy at a local arts and crafts fair. The margins of the poster were sparsely decorated with images of charred crosses, tongues of fire, and the depiction of an old altar. But it was the words that stared at me and I at them: the words were a series of petitions, each ending with the plea, “Father, forgive.”:
“For the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.
“For the covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
“For our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.”
And so on. (Read the entire poster at the end of this article.)

The poster has hung on the wall in my home office for many years. But it wasn’t until last week, as I walked by that wall and stopped to let the counsel of those words sink in again, that I realized these words are a reference to the seven deadly sins. Among the petitions, this stood out: “For the lust which uses for ignoble means the bodies of men and women, Father forgive.”

Of all the Seven Deadlies, lust is probably the sin from which we feel most insulated; perhaps because, unlike the other sins that tempt us with their slow, unacknowledged escalation, lust is a conscious decision.  A one-night stand, so to speak.  Perhaps because what used to earn the label of lust, today is just liberation (from parents, from tradition, from unreasonable restrictions, from stuffy old religion). Who among us Christians would use the “bodies of men and women for ignoble means”?

Now, we might use our position and authority to impose our agenda on others with little regard for how they are affected, but we call that good leadership. And we might allow our passion for clothes, shoes, or the latest decor to lead us to unwise spending, but we call that (at least in my house) retail therapy. Or we might scramble to gather resources of money, time, and talent for our particular cause in competition with others, but we call that doing ministry.

Synonyms for the word ignoble are dishonorable, shameful, immoral, base, low. When we act in any of these ways, when we allow our passionate desires to run roughshod over others, when we please ourselves at the expense of others or against the highest calling in each of us, we are practicing lust.

The people of Coventry in 1940 responded to evil not with retribution but with faith, hope, and trust in the future. By so doing, they took part in Christ’s redemption of a fallen world. They acknowledged the only response to sin that any of us can ever offer: “Father, forgive.” 

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

To learn more about Coventry Cathedral, visit http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/

 Father, forgive
– For the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.
For the covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
For our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.
For the lust which uses for ignoble means the bodies of men and women, Father, forgive.
For the greed which exploits the labours of men and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive.
For our indifference to the plight of the homeless and the refugee, Father, forgive.
For the pride which leads us to trust ourselves and not in God, Father, forgive.

 

 

 

 

 

Lust

by the Rev. Doug Earle

 I see her in the studio and my heart flutters.  She’s lean, lithe, strikingly beautiful. I want to come close to her, hold her, feel her respond to my touch.

As days go by I can think of nothing else.  I want to possess her, but know it’s wrong.
“You should.”
“No, you shouldn’t.”
“She’s available.”
“It would be wrong.”
“But who would know?”
“They’d find out.” 

My soul burns in anguish; I can’t sleep for thinking about her.  Lust has me in its grasp. Thankfully, this time, virtue triumphs. I come to my senses and let her go, realizing that buying that new camera will not make me a better photographer.  That will come if I lovingly use the perfectly good one I now have with more discipline, attention, and passion.

Say the word “lust” and most of us are immediately drawn to images of sexual attraction; and while that is part of this sin, improper, amoral sex is by no means all of it.  The sin of lust is the distortion of desire, which is a wonderful and powerful gift from God.  All spirituality is essentially erotic.  Eros is desire, the longing for connection that will make us feel whole, alive, fruitful, creative.  All humans feel incomplete or cut off to one degree or another, and the gift of eros provides the energy to seek connection that will make us whole.  Spirituality is what we do with that desire.

As with all the Deadlies, spiritual problems are caused by distortion of the good gift God has given. Lust results from too much, unbridled erotic energy.  It distorts by making the person (or thing) of our erotic focus into an object for our use, an “it” rather than a “thou.”  On the other hand, too little erotic energy saps creative energy, drains life of savor and richness, leads ultimately to extinction — spiritual if not physical. Too much eroticism and you get Desperate Housewives, too little and you get lying on the couch in front of static on the TV, unable even to change the channel.

In between lies holy longing, an erotic desire that leads to proper connection between our souls and one another, our souls and God.  Such desire causes us to enter into a life-giving relationship with one another and with God.  We begin to participate in what the church fathers called perichoresis – mutual indwelling – the character of the reciprocal inner life of love between Father, Son and Spirit.  This is a love that gives what we truly want – life, connection, wholeness, creativity, fecundity.

 The Rev. Doug Earle is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach him at rector@stpauls-satx.org

 

The oughts and the anys

by Marjorie George

We used to call it “the oughts and the anys”:  If any hath ought against thee . . .

It comes from chapter 5 in the gospel of Matthew, verses 23 and 24. The King James Version has it: “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

The Jews of Jesus’ time (to whom he was speaking) had a clear understanding of sacrifice – it had to include confession and repentance.  Sacrifice alone could not effect the atonement for which the sacrifice was being offered. And that repentance included making amends to any whom one had wronged. Not even the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement could avail a man of God’s forgiveness unless that man first reconciled with his neighbor. No man could be right with God until he was right with his neighbor. Jesus was reminding the Jews of this.

The preface to the confession in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer captures this notion perhaps better than our later versions:

“Then shall the Priest say to those who come to receive the Holy Communion: Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, (emphasis mine) and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

Before we can enter into the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, we must first confess, repent, and be in right relationship with our neighbors.

Notice that this discussion in Matthew comes directly after Jesus’ admonition about the sin of anger: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (5:21-22).

So Jesus forbids anger – the anger that leads to hurling insults and the anger that is contemptuous of another. He forbids the anger to which we are rightfully entitled because, after all, we were wronged. He forbids the anger that becomes our constant companion, leaving us perpetually seething. He forbids the anger that refuses to forgive. I knew a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident when their only daughter was pregnant with her first child. In that same accident, the woman suffered no more than the loss of the diamond out of her wedding band. She never forgave God. She lived years – 40 or more – angry at God, angry at life. Then she died. Alone.

And what of those who will not accept our repentance, our longing to make things right; the one who wants to be miserable in his misery a little while longer? Jesus has advice for that, too, and I believe it is “saddle up and git on down the road” (loose translation of Matthew 10:14) – not in anger, maybe in sadness, and always with a distant hopefulness that eventually reconciliation will be a possibility.

Doth any have ought against thee? Go and be reconciled to that one. Then come and lay your gift on the altar.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

Continuing the conversation
Jesus got angry, the best example being when he cleansed the temple (Matt 21:12-13 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=179385384 ; see also Mk 11:15-19; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-17) What do we make of that?

 How do we reconcile our anger against those who have already died?

We invite your comments, below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ooh, I want that

by Marjorie George

Somewhere in my ancient past, my eighth-grade English teacher taught us that there is a difference between the words envy and covetousness. Envy, Mrs. Longyear said, means “I want one just like yours,” while covetousness means “I want yours.”

It’s a subtle difference: envy leans more toward simple jealousy, covetousness is downright larceny. Neither one is biblically acceptable because they are both based on my wanting you to have less so that I can have more. If I am envious of your new Ford, (and the advertisers will do everything they can to see to it), I am compelled to go out and buy a new Lexus.

In an ancient fable, a man is given the power to have anything for which he wishes with the stipulation that his neighbor will get twice as much. The man wishes for a big house and gets it, only to watch his neighbor receive a mansion. The man wishes for a million dollars, and, poof, there it is; his neighbor is given two million. Finally, the man wishes to be blind in one eye . . . better to suffer a little than to watch his neighbor succeed much.

Such is the path of envy. A friend said to me recently, “I have finally learned that you do not have to fail in order for me to succeed.”

Jesus tells the story in Matthew 20:1-15 of the vineyard owner who needed some day laborers. He went to the public square in the morning and hired several, offering to pay each $40. By noon he saw that he needed more workers, so he went back to the public square and hired some more. He did the same at 3 p.m. and again at 6 p.m.

At the end of the day, he paid every worker $40. “Wait a minute,” said the workers who were hired first thing in the morning. ”We’ve been working all day in the hot sun. And now you are paying the same wage to workers you hired late in the day.”

“Am I not paying you what I promised?” said the vineyard owner to the complaining workers. “Yes, but now we want more than the others. It’s not fair.”

“What is that to you?” replied the vineyard owner. “Or are you are envious because I am generous?”

Envy does indeed subvert God’s generosity. It says what God has given me is not sufficient — even if it is all I need. It is the two-year-old opening her present on Christmas morning, the gift her parents have picked out just for her, then watching her want her brother’s gift instead. Envy is the knife in God’s heart.

Charity of spirit is the antidote to envy. Not the giving away of possessions to the local thrift shop, but the giving away of one’s joy to the good fortune of another. It is joining in thanksgiving at God’s blessings upon friend and neighbor. It is rejoicing when another gets a promotion, snags a great husband, wins the lottery.

It is accepting with delight the gifts God has given me, and helping you to see the gifts God has given you, without wanting any of them for myself.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.