Sin, Horcruxes and Spiritual Wholeness

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You might remember the scene in In the Harry Potter series, when a young Tom Riddle approaches a bumbling professor to ask about the dark magic of horcruxes.

According to Harry Potter Fandom:

“A Horcrux is an object in which a Dark wizard or witch has hidden a fragment of his or her soul for the purpose of attaining immortality. Horcruxes can only be created after committing murder, the supreme act of evil. The process for the creation of a Horcrux involves a spell and a horrific act is performed soon after the murder has been committed. There are usually protective measures made to prevent a Horcrux from being stolen and destroyed, such as Counter-Charms and Jinxes. The Horcrux is considered the most terrible of all Dark magic.”

Young Tom Riddle becomes Voldemort and creates and hides several horcruxes, trying to ensure his immortality. Harry and Dumbledore set out on a refreshing, joyous scavenger hunt to uncover these horcruxes and destroy them, thus brining an end to Voldemort’s reign of terror (OK, I may have taken some liberty there, but seriously, if you haven’t read the books, go do so.).

With the idea of a “horcrux,” I can’t help but think that J.K. Rowling has given us a powerful metaphor for what happens when we pursue our sinful desires, whatever they may be. Sins are rarely, if ever, isolated and usually compound upon one another. For example, if a husband chooses to indulge in pornography, he will usually then lie to his wife about it, thus trying to hide the first sin in a second. And, if left unconfessed and unrepented of, that first sin of indulging in pornography will clothe itself in shame and guilt, all still wrapped in lies and now, where that husband used to be affectionate and talkative, begins to close down and there is now a gulf between the couple. He tries to hide that part of his life away, but in doing so, forgets that we are whole creatures. When we try to hide part of ourselves, we cannot give our whole selves to others. In other words, sin has consequences.

When we sin, we somehow believe that we can cut off that part of ourself and hide it away like a horcrux. Unrepentant sin results in the diminishing of the soul. Little parts of ourselves get skimmed away and we try to hide them. We are no longer whole people because there are parts of our lives we are not willing to expose to the light. So, that husband is not distanced from his wife because he is not willing to share his whole self with her.

We could, of course, consider other examples, but the truth remains that sin and lies hold us captive and prevent us from enjoying holistic health in God. Our fore-runners Adam and Eve demonstrated this when God came to the Garden and they hid (Genesis 3). They knew they had sinned and instead of immediately confessing and repenting, they try to hide. And there is nothing new under the sun. We continue to try to hide the sinful parts of ourselves from ourselves, God and others. But the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

The light of God’s Love not only exposes the hidden dark places of our souls but makes them lights too (Ephesians 5:13)! God’s Love begins to patch us back together, exposing those hidden sin-horcruxes, shining light upon them, transforming them and us and makes us “blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” so that we “will shine among them like stars in the sky (Philippians 2:15). There is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1).

There is no longer any need to try and hide away the dark parts of our souls because “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). The horcruxes have been emptied and bits our souls have ben stitched back together as God brings healing and wholeness from our self-inflicted brokenness. And now, the whole thing is kept hidden with Christ in God. It may be that our longing for the security of “hiding” is not in and of itself a bad thing. Just that we look in the wrong places. But the light of God shines over us in Christ, illuminating and enlightening. We are now hidden with Christ!

This is indeed Good News.

What do you need to bring to the light? What are you hiding? God can heal and bring wholeness. Bring it to him.

Nationalism is Anti-Christ

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Now, before you read in to my choice of titles, yes, I am distinguishing between Patriotism and Nationalism. Though I think Patriotism is suspect for Christians and I certainly don’t think churches (outposts of God’s Kingdom) should be flying the flag of any Empire, much pledge any allegiance. But those are thoughts for another day. For now, let’s start by defining our terms:

Let’s define Patriotism as “National pride; a feeling of love or even devotion to one’s country.

And let’s define Nationalism as: “elevating one’s own nation, even to the exclusion or detriment of other nations.”

I know that there is more nuance to this discussion than these initial definitions hint at, but I also think that they are adequate enough for us to begun a discussion of why Nationalism is antiChrist. Just to clarify, when I use the phrase “antiChrist,” I am not referring to the biblical figure known as “THE AntiChrist”. What I mean is something/someone who promotes the Spirit of AntiChrist: teachings antithetical/opposed to the teachings of Jesus. Bonus points if you can masquerade the whole thing as somehow actually being “Christian.” Pardon me, my cynicism is showing.

God exists outside of time in a never-ending circle of Community. The Father loving the Son loving the Spirit loving the Father. Needing nothing and no one. But out of the overflow of God’s love, He created and invited humanity to participate in that circle of community with Him. God invites us to commune with Him. And God is Love. This is the basis of God creating humankind; that we would find our Identity in Him and them live in such a way that we show the world who He is and what He is like.

Since true community always involves trust, God told humanity how to flourish. Don’t eat that one fruit. God held out His hand holding the question: Will you trust me? But like a child who must touch the stove to find out four ourselves, our representatives did not trust God. They believed the lies and cast themselves and everyone to follow outside of communing with God in the Garden. They thrust themselves and everything else into slavery to sin, death, decay and destruction. Mistrust overtook trust.

As the population increased, the world divided into nation states with borders. God worked within this paradigm for a while as He set apart a people for Himself in the outward form of the nation-state of Israel. These were Abraham’s descendants and recipients of God’s blessing so that they would be a blessing to others (Genesis 12). But Israel was not just an ethnic community, as anyone could become an Israelite at any time. And the New Testament later tells us that the “Nation” of Israel was not “true Israel,” at all (Romans 9:6-8). Even as they existed as a nation, God’s people were to be a “kingdom of priests,” acting as mediators between God and the nations; demonstrating Who God is and What He is like. They were to expand God’s rule to the ends of the earth.

God’s people no longer exist in the form of a nation-state but as the universal, border-free church. But Christianity has always been radically political. As God continued to reveal Himself, the message of Redemption, the “Gospel,” the “Good News” of the Kingdom is that “Jesus is Lord.” If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. Christianity demands that our allegiance is to (as Derek Webb said once) “A king and a kingdom.” Not a nation. No matter which nation. No matter if that nation claims to be “Christian.”

Patriotism is being proud of one’s country. Nationalism promotes one’s own country even to the detriment of others. This is antithetical to Christianity. Christians are called to care for culture, being “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16), irregardless of national borders. Our allegiance is never to country but to Christ and we are never to adopt a philosophy that is willing to pursue one’s own interests to the detriment of others.

I’ll leave it to you to understand what it means in light of all of this that Trump has openly identified himself as a Nationalist and yet retains overwhelming support among those who identify as American Evangelicals.

In order to understand a bit more of what’s going on here and how we got it, I suggest reading my other posts:

  • Read “Is The Family the Most Powerful (And Dangerous) Group You've Never Heard Of?”

  • Read “Americans: Stop Confusing Your Personal Cultural Values With Christianity”

Grief, Kintsugi and The Art of Precious Scars

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I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but I live in a city without a lot of historical context. When buildings get old, we tear them down and put up a Starbucks. But when we lived in Louisville, there were buildings that had been there for a hundred years and people could tell you the story. Part of that is that I live in one of the youngest states in the Union, but part of it is cultural. Some cultures preserve history better. Tradition.

Some cultures hold on to things better than others.

I won’t talk about grief all of the time. But, as a Hospice Chaplain, it is something I deal with every day. Grief can begin long before a loved one’s death and last long after. It is the price we pay for love. It shows that our hearts are alive, despite our mind’s assertions otherwise.

Grief is something we will all experience and yet we will not all grieve the same. This includes how we finally come to grips with our grief and how we view ourselves in relation to grief. Some people try to “just get over it” and try to just get back to life without really allowing themselves to pass through grief. For some people, grief is viewed as just that time of crying when someone died, and now I’m back to life. But for others, it is the result of love and it is evidence of the hole that is now left right in the middle of our lives. It is something that shapes us.

The question becomes whether we identify grief as part of our beautiful story or whether we try to hide it.

In some cultures, we try to hide our scars. Makeup. Clothing. Plastic surgery.

We try to hide our brokenness.

Some people are more comfortable with brokenness than others. Some of us want to sweep it under the rug and keep on pretending that no one trips over the big pile under the middle of the rug.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed or dusted with gold. Sometimes known as “gold joinery,” “golden seams,” or “gold repair,” this is more than just repair. This method brings new life to pieces by highlighting their brokenness. My Modern says:

Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates each artifact's unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.

The practice itself arises from several different Japanese philosophical concepts: 

Wabi-Sabi: seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect. 

Mottainai: regret when something is wasted

Mushin: the acceptance of change 

and

“As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise . . . Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated” (Wikipedia)

What if we treated grief as something not just to “get through” or to bury but understood it as part of life and as part of our beautiful stories? What if we all believed that our stories were beautiful? Kintsugi helps us see how brokenness can be beautiful. But what if we believed it about ourselves?

None of this makes grief easier or diminishes its weight. But I hope it helps give us the perspective that it is part of what makes each one of us so unique. No piece of Kintsugi are the same. No two people are the same. And it is our grief that helps shape us.

  • Read my piece “What Is Grief? And How Can I Learn To Be Thankful For It?”

  • Read my piece “Grief: What to Expect (the unexpected).”

What Is Grief? And How Can I Learn To Be Thankful For It?

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It has been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes.

I think we should add grief to that list.

Live long enough and you will experience grief.

And yet, even though we will all experience grief, it is one of those things that no one likes to talk about, much less consider. As such, there is not always a consensus about what grief actually is. It’s troublesome that we don’t talk more openly about something we all face and it’s even more troublesome that many of us are unable to define such a common experience. One of the first things I do is just try to write out a couple of different perspectives. When I began counseling people through grief as a Hospice Chaplain, one of the first things I did was piece together some basic definitions and try to distill them down to as few words as possible:

Deep sorrow, sadness and a mix of other emotions, especially caused by someone’s death.

Grief is the conflicting feelings, possibly including relief resultant guilt, caused by the end of or change in something familiar.

Grief is the normal/natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.

Grief is the natural response to loss or change.

Grief is the natural response to loss or change. This seems like a pretty fair and straightforward definition which also accounts for the fact that grief will not look the same for everyone.

I don’t know how you begin to think about such topics, but once I narrow down a definition into my own fewest words as possible, I like to look at other people’s words. I like to look at quotes. They’re like different sides of a prism. Since everyone is different and, no one grieves the same (though there will be similarities), understanding how other people process grief can help us process grief ourselves.

“Grief is never something you get over. You don't wake up one morning and say, 'I've conquered that; now I'm moving on.' It's something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honour the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.” (Terry Irwin)

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” (Anne Lamott)

“the way I think about grief is that it is the great tug-of-war, and sometimes the flag is on the side you don’t want it to be on. And sometimes the game has exhausted all of its joy, and all that’s left is you on your knees. But, today, even though I am sad, my hands are still on the rope.” (Hanif Abdurraqib)

“Every one can master a grief but he that has it.” - (William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing)

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” (Anne Roiphe)

“Grief is the price we pay for love.” (Queen Elizabeth II)

Every once in a while, you come across a quote that just stops you in your tracks. Grief is the price we pay for love.

Everyone wants love but no one wants to grieve. Grief is the price we pay for love. No one wants to think of love as a trade-off; and it’s not really, not in the strictest sense. But grief reminds us that we care. Grief reminds us that our feelings are alive and that, we are still in touch with life; with relationships; with thankfulness. Grief is proof that we are human.

Grief is the result of losing something that was important to us; a job, a spouse, a position in life, a loved one; whatever it is. Grief is the act of trying to adjust to the “new normal” after a loss. Grief is the process of moving on with life when we don’t want to.

It does not mean forgetting what we’ve lost.

It is far too common to hear people say things like: “You’ve just got to move on.” This is not helpful or true and I may explore why in future posts, but for now, let me just say that grief is one of those things that must not simply be faced but embraced in order to move forward. It must be passed through.

Of course it changes us, and that’s part of the point.

I hope to write more about the idea of grief and the process of recovery, but for now, I’d love your thoughts. Have you experienced grief? How would you define grief? How did you move through it (or did you?)? Did it change you? What did you learn?