Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Insidiousness of Cointreau and Sin


Accidentally added too much Cointreau to the colourful swirl of leftover festive alcohol. People passed out on the sitting room carpet and while others snored, draped on uncomfortable bits of sofa. As I surveyed the carnage guiltily amongst the settling doghair, I wondered how seriously I took the sin of being self-centredly unloving to my Christian family.

A legacy of my Catholic upbringing is the undying idea that a churchy party involves great shepherd's pies and lasagne, chunks of baguette to mop up the devil curry, loads of spaghetti bolognese, all washed down with massive amounts of tongue-loosening punch, laughing and chatting in air thick and heady with cologne and perfume blended by mad dancing with pints and cigarettes in hand. Early in my evangelical life, another group of innocents got sloshed on my account with what I thought was a really mild addition of Absolut to a flat punch, earning the ire of a pregnant woman (woe is he who dares anger a preggie. And woe is the preggie who keeps her pregnancy a secret). Obviously this repeat of that earlier absence of thought suggested to me my lack of other-person-centredness. Sigh.

The topic of constant discussion these few weeks has been the insidiousness of sin in the corporate Christian life. Because of our innate sinfulness, even the good abilities and gifts God gave us for the use of building up the church body we have corrupted and sullied:
  • if we are gifted at understanding and teaching God's word, we become proud, think we are "sorted", look down on those who are not as theologically-sound or who do not come to the same conclusions that we do, forgetting that it is only by God's grace and hand that we are able to grasp the Scriptures;
  • if we are gifted with charm and charisma and people follow us readily, think us godly models and hang on to our every word, instead of pushing them away, moving them to the truth and pointing them to the One who deserves such adoration, we enjoy the adulation ourselves.
  • if we have a talent for upfront ministries (like the pulpit and music ministries) to teach and encourage corporately and publicly, we enjoy the praise of the congregation, and are quick to dismiss any suggestion that we are on treacherous ground in pride issues;
  • if we have good insight into the workings of the human, we are reluctant to use our talent to counsel and encourage people in the faith, but revel in our power to manipulate others (we say it's all for their godliness of course);
  • if we are endowed with great culinary, decorating or hospitality skills, we are eager for our products and houses to be showpieces of our talent (this time we say it's our love for our DG or the wider church of course)...*
(I've never actually come across a sound or LCD projector person who had to check his motives for serving in this way, mainly because of all the dirty looks people give you when the microphone screeches or the wrong slide comes on during the service. But with the insidiousness of sin, one can never be sure.)

It would seem that the opportunities for self-centredness in these ways are more frequent among in ARPC-ians, most of whom are professionals, scholarship holders, high-fliers, rainmakers, university graduates, having multiple gifts and lingering ambitions.

Query 1:
In contemplating the nature of fallen man and being serious about identifying and weeding out sin in our lives, is there such a thing as paranoid pessimism? Or would an expectation of self-centredness be a mere acknowledgement of the reality that the bible points us to?

Query 2:
How do we help each other not fall into Satan's trap in these ways? Do we suspect and question each other's motives all the time? Can we challenge each other only in close relationships?
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*BS just reminded me that another prevalent misuse of abilities is that if time-management and discipline is our forte, we delight in our efficiency in meeting up with people and the number of studies we do each week, thinking that this shows our love for people, when in fact it shows our love for ourselves. A bit like
Bree Van De Kamp, that goodie-two-shoes-Martha-Stewart-on-steriods in Desperate Housewives.

This treatment of people as "to-do"s, boxes-to-tick, diary-fillers and additions to our Christian CVs has had dreadfully detrimental effects on the subjects of these projects. I know a few people (but a few is far too many) who have left their DGs, then ARPC, then the faith altogether because of this cold calculative treatment.

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