During my formative years, sin was pretty easy to identify if not avoid.
Sin was playing poker, drinking beer, missing a church service (without going to another on vacation and bringing a bulletin for proof), holding baseball practice on Wednesday night, lusting over Raquel Welch and a few other “don’ts” and a “do” or two.
So I didn’t gamble, drink, skip church or play mid-week baseball.
That’s a decent score — though I learned that God doesn’t grade on a curve. So scanning the TV Guide to see if One Million Years B.C., Fantastic Voyage, 100 Rifles or Kansas City Bomber would be playing that week created a bit of guilt.
One Million Years B.C was especially troubling as it both challenged young-earth creationism and showed the sumptuous Raquel in a rawhide bikini. (I didn’t notice the creation conflict until I was about 60.)
However, in our church culture we were not bothered much if any by social injustice, gender inequality, racial exclusion and discriminatory practices in our community and beyond. Personal “righteousness” — tied to a tidy list — was the way to avoid sin.
You just followed those steps, and if you failed at any point then you walked the church aisle the next Sunday to repent and right the course.
We learned verses like “Be ye kind one to another” — but with limited application. We assumed from watching the deacons that the verse from Ephesians 4:32 didn’t apply to church business meetings.
Likewise, the bold message of the biblical prophets was tapped down to pretty much a warning of global destruction if everyone didn’t start believing like us and giving some clues about the events leading to our celebration of Christmas.
It’s astonishing when reading the Bible today how the overwhelming message of justice for the oppressed could have been so missed.
Over the decades such sin lists evolved… uh, changed… without fanfare — perhaps dropping a prohibition against women wearing pants to church to pick up the latest social upheaval such as shopping or going to a movie on Sunday.
Yet even now, unfortunately, many American Christians measure their righteousness (and especially the unrighteousness of others) by some narrow list that usually reflects their political preferences. These definitive lists come in handy when a politician is looking to manipulate a gullible portion of the electorate.
It is pretty amazing how differently sin gets perceived, defined and measured in various times and places within Christendom — and how easy it is to see what we associate with sin in others more than in ourselves.
Playfully making light of some of those misguided ways is fun if not helpful. But identifying the truly destructive ways in which we participate is worth our honest efforts, confession and redirection.