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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Prove it

My sermon for Easter Sunday was based on John 20:1-18.

There is a problem with the Resurrection.  It's unbelievable.

I'm not saying I don't believe it, but by definition, the resurrection of a human being from the dead is impossible, and therefore it is, also by definition, unbelievable.

That's what a miracle is.

Unfortunately, we have gotten to a point in our collective conscious where things that cannot be proven empirically, replicated in laboratory conditions and quantified are dismissed out of hand.

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of science and I am not advocating that we return to a state of superstition where fairies and elves are responsible for things, or back to a time when God was believed to cause tsunamis and the Black Plague.

But I also think that the spiritual dimension of life is something that should be important to everyone and cultivated as much as we cultivate our physical and emotional health.  But for some people, because spirituality cannot be quantified, it is relegated to the realm of pathology or superstition.

I hope to demonstrate why this is not accurate, nor advisable.

How are you feeling right now?  Happy?  Sad?  Anxious?  Hungry?

Prove it.

Do you love your children?  Your spouse?  Your parents?

Prove it.

When it comes to emotions or psychological or emotional states of being, we have no empirical proof or reliable markers that indicate to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone is feeling happy or is in love.  We only have their word, and as far as I know, laboratory tests aimed at making someone happy or fall in love have not been successful.

None of us would dream of discounting someone's happiness or love on the basis that we could not demonstrate it scientifically, and yet some people ignore in themselves or denounce in others spiritual experiences.

I have had a spiritual experience in my life.  A couple, actually.  By that, I don't mean a sense of contentment while holding a child or of oneness with creation while sitting on the beach.  I don't mean to discount these as spiritual experiences, but I am talking about something a little more poignant, which many of you may be able to relate to.

I will not bore you with the details, but suffice to say that I was suddenly struck with a sense of the presence of God and his will for me.  This happened out of the blue when I was teenager.  I was not a churchgoer, I was not pondering the big questions, I was not a spiritual seeker, there was no one in my life who was trying convert me.  I was just lying alone in my bed one night when this feeling washed over me unlike anything I had ever experienced before or have experienced since.  I was not on drugs, nor was I drinking.

I list all these "I was not's" because the first thing some people do when I try to explain this experience to them is come up with reasons why it could not possible be just as I told them.  They seem to think there must be some reason, some excuse, some thing that happened that day or was on my mind or was going on in my life to have triggered this, and in triggering it thereby rendering it invalid.

Imagine if you told someone, "I am happy", and their response was, "Have you been drinking?  Have you just been thinking happy thoughts all day and have therefore tricked yourself into being happy?  Have you been hanging around those happy kids, and have they convinced you that you should be happy?  Were you really unhappy before?"

Why can a cigar not just sometimes be a cigar?

We speak quite openly about our physical being, and mercifully it is now much more acceptable to talk openly about our emotional and psychological health.  Why then are we so reluctant to talk about our spiritual experiences?

After I delivered this sermon, someone took me aside and said, "I think it is because it is so personal, and to share it makes me really vulnerable".

I issued an "Easter Resolution" to my congregations, and that is that this year, we try to become more comfortable talking about this dimension of our being.  I am not talking about proselytizing or making disciples, I am just talking about have the courage to share who you are with others.

Yes, it makes us vulnerable and not everyone will accept what you have to offer, but they will know who you are.  Having someone know who you are is both terrifying and rewarding, but it is worth the risk.

Idle tales that must be told

My sermon for The Easter Vigil was based on Luke 24:1-12.

I love the Easter Vigil.  Apparently, in some countries and denominations, the Vigil was and still is the most important observance in the Christian calendar.  The reason being is that Jesus would have been resurrected sometime Saturday night.  Sunday morning, Easter Sunday, is just when the disciples discovered the empty tomb, but the actual miracle happened long before they ever arrived.

I love the Easter Vigil because the Exsultet is in my opinion some of the greatest, most powerful and touching words ever to have been written in all of Christendom, and we usually only get to hear it once a year, unless we go out of our way.

The first people to discover the empty tomb were some of the most important women who surrounded Jesus: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (whom some name as the brother of Jesus, and could therefore have been Jesus' own mother).

Not surprisingly, when they run off to tell the disciples, they call their words "idle tales".  This brings up the question of whether or not they would have called these tales idle if a man had made them, but let's face it, it is regardless an unbelievable story, so they very well may have.

I don't think we often appreciate the risk that the women were taking in recounting their experiences to the disciples.  We know the status of women was pretty abysmal at that time, and we know that women seemed to get stoned in the Bible (and still are in some countries) for pretty minor offences, so one can only imagine that at the very least the women were risking mockery and ridicule for reporting the empty tomb.  At the very worst, they were inviting punishment, hostility and quite possibly perhaps even violence if it was felt they were lying.

And who would have thought they were telling the truth?  The resurrection is by definition unbelievable, that is what a miracle is.  A miracle is something that falls outside of the normal parameters of our experience, and this would certainly qualify for most of us.

And yet there is something admirable about these women who take the risk of talking about what they have seen and what they have experienced.  They were probably afraid but they overcame that fear to tell things as they had seen it, even if it was unbelievable.

Would we have the courage to do the same?

Inaction is an action

My sermon for today was based on John 18:1-19:42.

Something struck me as odd for the first time this Holy Week.  History does not remember the names of the people who actually hurt and killed Jesus.

For example, we do not know the names of the Pharisees or priests who plotted against Jesus and orchestrated his capture and executions.  We do not know the name of the police officer who struck Jesus in the face.  We do not know the name of the person who wove the crown of thorns and placed it on Jesus' head.  We do not know the names of the centurions who flogged Jesus, drove the nails through his hands and feet or hoisted the cross up.  We do not know the name of the officer who speared him in the side.

Who do we remember?  Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas.  People who, as far as we know, never laid a finger on Jesus, never drew his blood, were not present at his crucifixion or his death.

Odd, isn't it?  Normally, history remembers the names of people who actually cause harm, who actually draw blood or kill, who actively participate in a crime.  With the exception perhaps of Judas, we don't know the names of anyone who actively participated in Jesus' capture, torture and execution.

Why do we remember Pilate, Herod and the rest?  Because they could have done something and they failed to.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how the phrase "things we have left undone" from our Confession has kept coming back to me this Lent, and I realize that the scandal of the Crucifixion was only partially about the actions that were taken, but was also in the inaction around it.

At any point, Pilate, Herod, Annas or Caiaphas could have said, "You know what, you really have done nothing wrong, so let's smuggle you out the back door".  They could have stood up to their subjects and said, "You guys are really out of line.  The punishment you are clamoring for is not proportional, so get a grip on yourselves".  They could have save an innocent man from torture and death, but they did not.

The Crucifixion, I have said, is a case study in the abject failure of human nature at just about every turn.  From Judas trying to force Jesus into a messianic mold to Pilate not wanting to risk his position and being afraid of the crowd, people in this story fail not by what they do, but by what they fail to do.

They fail to be courageous.  They fail to take responsibility.  They fail to defend the innocent.  They fail to stick to their convictions.

In one Gospel rendition of the Crucifixion Narrative, Pilate actually washed his hands before the crowd to demonstrate that he was innocent of spilling Jesus' blood.

Yeah, not quite, Ponty.

Inaction is an action.  Failure to make a decision is a decision.  Not taking responsibility does not mean you are not responsible.

Once again, if anything is undone in your life, whether that is mending fences with a neighbour, telling your parents you love them or returning to God, perhaps it is time to take action, make a decision and take responsibility for it.

Things we have left undone

My sermon for Maundy Thursday was based on John 13:1-35.

There is a phrase that has been rolling around in my head throughout Lent, and it is a line from our Confession, indicating that we have sinned against God by what we have done and what we have left undone.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, sin is not a popular concept in today's church because historically it has been used to beat people over the head, generating the concept of "Catholic guilt", something that is nonetheless shared by many Protestants, and, I imagine, by devotees of any religion that has a concept of right and wrong.

I have also mentioned that I am less concerned with how my sin makes God feel that how it makes me feel.  The fact of the matter is that when I do something wrong to myself or someone else, I feel bad.  No God is required to heap guilt upon my soul, I am a first-rate heaper of guilt all on my own.

So when I speak of sin, I speak primarily of the things I do that make me angry with myself, not necessarily of the things I have been told make God angry with me.

The reason I say this is that I have been considering the tremendous arc of the Easter Story and all its characters recently, and I realized that in many ways, the Easter Story is a combination of sins, some of which were acts of commission, and others which were acts of omission.  In other words, things done and things left undone.

And how like my own life that is!

There are things that I have left undone, literally for years in some cases: apologies that need to be made, relationships that need to be mended, words of love that need to be shared, confessions of wrongdoing that need to be made.

Oftentimes, I avoid doing these things by saying the timing wasn't right or I will do it the next time I see them or they already know how I feel so I don't need to say it out loud.

In the Gospel passage for Maundy Thursday, probably my favourite service of the Christian year, Jesus had something that he did not want to leave undone, and it has become the basis for one of the most awkward and touching things that a human being can to another or have done to them: the washing of feet.

Foot-washing was fairly common in Jesus' time.  In a dry, hot climate, guests to your home would have walked long distances in sandals, and their feet would be dry and dusty.  It was therefore customary for a host to have his guests' feet washed.  But the key point to retain is it was the job of the lowliest servant in a household to wash visitor's feet.  It was a menial task, one which was likely quite humiliating for the person who had to do it.

But on this night which we now know as Maundy Thursday (from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment), the night of the Last Supper where Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, that they love one another as he loved them, Jesus quite literally debases himself to demonstrate to his disciples how they were to love one another.

Obviously, what he is trying to teach them in washing their feet is not that their ministry should consist solely (no pun intended) of washing people's feet, but that it is in acts of service and humility that we should love one another.

When I was younger, I had difficulty making the distinction between humility and humiliation.  There was probably a time when I would have thought washing the feet of others was beneath me, and certainly the disciples felt that way about what Jesus was doing.  They protested loudly that their master should not be stooping so low as wash their feet, but the other way around.

But acts of service are not humiliating.  They are acts of humility.  It is not a question of who is more important than whom.  It is that we are all important, that we are all worthy of love, respect and compassion.  It is not that Jesus had to do what he did.  It is that he wanted to do what he did.

I like to think that Jesus did this out of a certain sense of urgency.  He was anything but naive, and he must have know that by being in Jerusalem he was risking his own life.  He must have know that he had incited the anger of some very important people and they were not going to let him get away with it in their city.

So rather than hold off on this gesture, rather that wait and hope for the best, rather than do it tomorrow, Jesus took the time to spend with his disciples, to talk and eat with them, to teach them and to serve them by washing their feet, thereby setting an example for them.

Where would we be if he had waited till the next day to let them know how he felt about them?  What would have been left undone?

We all have things left undone, and maybe we should take a page from Jesus' example, and get them done.

It's hard to do the right thing

My sermon for this Palm Sunday was based on Luke 19:28-40 and Luke 22:14-23:56.

Palm Sunday always caused me some tension, and I guess it is supposed to do that.  The tension for me is between doing the right thing and doing what I want to do.

The problem is that I am as human as anyone else, and I have all these instincts: pride, self-preservation, fear, greed.  On the one hand, one could argue that some or all of these instincts all arose out of the need for survival...where would we be without a sense of self-preservation or a sense of fear that told us we were in danger?

One could also argue that in many cases, these instincts are no longer viable because we as a species have surpassed many of the obstacles we had when we were living in caves: there is no need for greed anymore, for example, an instinct that once told us to hoard what we could in order to survive.  We can produce enough food and shelter for everyone on the planet, and greed is in fact now harmful to us as a species as it tells the ultra-wealthy to hoard far more than they will ever need while others starve or live without shelter.

Once could say that these instincts, otherwise known as vices, are indicative of the baser side of human nature, and it is indeed these vices that we see in spades in the second Gospel passage for today, the Crucifixion Narrative.

Taken as a whole, the Crucifixion Narrative illustrates at every turn a failure of human nature.  From Judas' betrayal to Peter's denial to the Pharisees plotting to Herod's capriciousness to Pilate's cowardice, every single person in this passage fails utterly to be a decent human being.  The only exceptions are Jesus himself and possibly Joseph of Arimathea, the man who collected Jesus' body and provided his tomb.

Taken as a whole, the Crucifixion Narrative demonstrates a wholesale failure on the part of its participants to understand what Jesus was up to, what he was about and what he was trying to accomplish.  This is nowhere made more evident that the first Gospel passage that gets read on Palm Sunday, the portrayal of Jesus entering Jerusalem.

Visually, I think most of use are familiar with the scene: Jesus comes into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to cries of "Hosannah!" as people wave palm fronds and lay their cloaks on the road for Jesus' steed to walk on.

What this scene represents is a clash of symbolism which I think perfectly represents the clash that Jesus and followers had, the clash between what Jesus wanted to be about and what his followers wanted him to be about.

Palms were and still are symbols of royalty, majesty and victory.  Add to the the cries of "Hosannah" (a word that had its roots in the Hebrew for 'save me') and the likelihood that many people living with messianic hopes expected the messiah to be a great warrior-king who would deliver his people from slavery and oppression, and it becomes fairly clear that the crowds were welcoming Jesus in the same way they would a conquering and/or victorious king.

And yet Jesus comes riding on a donkey.  A donkey is not a majestic animal, and it is not suited for war.  The donkey was a symbol of servitude, peace and humility.  There was apparently a custom in the ancient Middle East that if a ruler was coming to make war, he would come into a city on a horse, but if he was coming to make peace, he would ride on a donkey to demonstrate his peaceful intent.  And this is the way Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

The conflict is palpable, and it echoes the conflicts that Jesus had with some of his closest followers throughout the Gospels: they wanted him to be a certain way, but it was not the way he wanted to be.  They wanted him to be as the world would have had him, he wanted to be as God would have had him.

Servitude and humility are not concepts that have much currency in our world, much like in Jesus' time, and yet these are the concepts towards which every action, word and deed of Christ draws us to.  Over the course of this Holy Week, I will be fleshing out these concepts a little more, but I think we need to try to avoid making the mistake that so many churches and religions have made and continue to make: twisting our greatest prophets' words and deeds to meet our own selfish needs.


Monday, March 14, 2016

No time like the present

My sermon for this week was based on John 12:1-11.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

If you knew that someone you loved was going to die in a week, how would you react?  If you knew that you only had one week left with your partner, parent, child or close friend, what would you say to them?  What would you do with them?

Would you go on a trip together?  Sit and stare into each other's eyes?  Share a bottle of Scotch?  Watch a sunset together?  Tell them you loved them?

Here is perhaps the more important question: why don't we do that anyways?

Most of us seem to live our lives as though we and those we love will live forever, and sometimes this means that we take them for granted.  Maybe it is just that we don't want to contemplate their mortality or our own, but it is certainly something that Mary openly contemplated in the Gospel passage for today.

The scenario is ostensibly simple enough: Jesus and his disciples are eating at Mary and Martha's house.  These are the sisters of Lazarus, and he is also there.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Mary breaks open a jar of perfume and anoints Jesus' feet, drying them with her hair.

The washing or anointing of feet was traditional in Jesus' time.  In a hot, dry climate in which people had to walk everywhere, the first thing a guest would want to do when arriving at a host's house would be to wash and refresh their feet.  Washing and anointing of feet was something that only the lowliest of servants would do for guests.  That Mary stoops to this act marks this as a very meaningful moment in their relationship because Mary was not Jesus' servant.  It was an act of service and humility on Mary's part.  It was an act of love that was tender and intimate.

Judas is annoyed by this act, and comments that the perfume could have been sold to feed the poor.  Jesus rebukes Judas however, and makes the rather confusing statement, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me".

This statement confuses me because from what I know of Jesus, he didn't seem to be the type of guy to appreciate people fawning all over him in servitude, and he certainly did not seem given to extravagance and luxury.  Mary's gesture was all of those things, and it seems unlike Jesus to prefer this over helping those in need.

But I think Jesus recognizes one thing: he is not the most important person in the story.  Mary is.

We know that this dinner took place 6 days before the Passover, so a week before Jesus was taken into custody by the Romans, tried and executed.  Mary was not an idiot.  She was well aware that Jesus had inspired the wrath of the Pharisees and the Romans, and that Jesus was walking into the proverbial Lion's Den by making his way towards Jerusalem.  Perhaps she didn't know that he was going to die, but she certainly must have known this was a distinct possibility.  Consequently, she feels moved to show Jesus how much she cares for him because she realizes she may never get another opportunity to do so.

Have you ever just felt the need to tell someone you love them or value them?  Have you ever felt overwhelmed with the desire to do something for someone, to treat them or honour them?

I think this was what Mary was experiencing, and Jesus understood that it was important for her to do this for him.  Although Jesus might very have felt awkward being fawned over, her recognized that she wanted to express to him how much she loved him and valued him.

The first thing most people say when you give them a gift is, "Oh, you shouldn't have".  But hopefully we do not honour others because we feel we should, but because we want to.  It is important for us to take the opportunity to let people we know we value them, and maybe we ought to do it more often.

Let's not wait until it is too late.

How to read the Bible: The Prodigal Son, filters and identification

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 15:11-32.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Do you read a novel in the same way you read a recipe book?  A book of poetry the same way you read the assembly instructions for a bookshelf?  A Shakespearean play in the same way you read an instruction manual for your car?

Of course you don't.  Each of these books serves a different purpose and is written in a different way to achieve its goal.

One of the things that makes the Bible so difficult to read is that it is not, in fact, a book.  It is rather a collection of books that were written at different times in different styles by different people, for different crowds experiencing different things, and each book was meant to accomplish something different.

So for example, you have the Psalms which were originally songs set to music, purportedly all written by or for King David.  You have the Song of Solomon, a book of erotic poetry (I'm serious, go read it, it's pretty spicy) that does not even once mention the word God.  You have the Gospels, which were purportedly renditions by later authors of eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus.  You have the Epistles which were letters written to encourage or correct certain behaviours in nascent Christian communities.

It is a pretty obvious point that therefore each book of the Bible must be read through its own historical and social filter.

What further complicates matters is that all throughout, the Bible is a peculiar mix of myth, legend, historicity, hyperbole, metaphor and literalism that was written on the other side of the world over the course of several thousand years, and sometimes an individual book is actually a combination of all these different literary elements.  The Bible must be read with a very discerning set of filters indeed if we want to take advantage of the spiritual wisdom that is contained therein.

The problem is that it would take a wall full of degrees in several ancient languages, literature, world history and politics, not to mention religious studies, theology and psychology to even begin to speak knowledgeably about which filters should be employed for which books of the Bible.

I don't have many of those things, so I will share with you a method for reading the Bible that is comparatively simple and reasonably foolproof.  This method was shared with my by one of my seminary professors:

Read the Bible as though it was a story about you.

The example he gave was the Gospel passage for today, the story of the Prodigal Son.  This is one of the best-known stories in all of Christendom.  It centers around three main characters: the Prodigal Son himself, the forgiving father and a jerk of a brother, and my professors' point was that we should try to figure out when we read the story which character we are.  We should ask ourselves who we most identify with.

The story is pretty familiar: a young and impulsive young man demands his inheritance while his father is still alive so that he may go out and live high on the proverbial hog.  This happens to him literally as he blows through his money in pretty short order and is forced to feed pigs on a farm (bear in mind how Judaism feels about pigs...this means he was really in the gutter).

He realizes the error of his ways and decides to go home and beg his father to take him on as a servant.  As he is coming up the road, his father sees him and runs to meet him and welcomes him home with open arms.  Rather than treat him as a servant, he puts a robe on his shoulders, places a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, treating him instead as an honoured guest.

His brother is not impressed, however.  He is angry because all along he has done what was expected of him and been the good son, but his father has never celebrated him.

So who would you be in this story?  I have to admit, and various times in my life I have been all three.  I have been callow and greedy, I have been forgiving and compassionate, I have been bitter and resentful.  Sometimes I have been all three characters in the same day.

However we see the Bible, whether we think it is the inerrant word of God or not, these books were written with the intention of imparting wisdom on the reader, to help us reflect on our human nature and the nature of God, and to help steer us toward a life of spiritual enlightenment and righteousness.  It was written with the intention that we would see ourselves in the characters and reflect on our own thoughts and behaviours.

We do this pretty naturally in just about every book we read and every movie we watch.  I can almost guarantee you that you love your favourite books and movies because you identify with one of the main characters.  He or she reminds you of who you are or who you would like to be.  I personally love Indiana Jones because in my heart, that is who I want to be.  I love Frodo because I can relate to being the little guy going up against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Next time you pick up your Bible, ask yourself who you are in a particular story.  Then ask yourself if that is the person you want to be.

The Evil God

My sermon for today was based on Luke 13:1-9.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded individual who can converse with a pretty broad spectrum of people who hold different theologies than my own, but I have to admit that there is at least one theology that I can't converse with because I actually find it offensive.  That is the theology of the Evil God.

This theology sounds like this: "There was an earthquake in Haiti because God hates Haitians" or "There was a shooting in Texas because God hates Texans" or, a little closer to home, "My wife/father/daughter got cancer because she is a sinner and God is angry at her".

I really hope I don't need to explain why this so offensive, but I will, just in case.

First of all, this theology implies that God is capable of hatred.  This in and of itself negates any validity this theology might otherwise have.

Second, this theology leads to the inescapable conclusion that God is merely a puppet-master who moves every person and indeed every molecule in the universe whither he will, thereby negating any possibility of free will.

Third and worst of all, and what should offend every person of faith is the further inescapable conclusion of this theology that God is, in fact, the author of all evil acts in the world, whether they be man's inhumanity to man or a natural disaster.

By necessity according to this theology, God is, in fact, evil.

Far from it, God is the embodiment of all that is good, loving, merciful and just in the world.  Evil happens because there are simply random catastrophes or because one human being chooses to do evil to another.  Despite the fact that the ancient Judaism of Jesus' time seems to have ascribed to the idea that if evil befell you, it was the will and action of God who was punishing you for your sin, Jesus and his disciples after him rebuked this notion, demonstrating instead this God of love to us.  Today's Gospel passage is a perfect example of this.

The Gospel begins with Jesus chastising people who are ascribing two disasters in particular to the action of God, one being a tower falling and killing 18 people, the other being Pilate's order to slaughter a group of Galileans while they were at worship.

In reference to both of these events, Jesus retorts, "Do you think they were worse sinners than anybody else?  No, but unless you repent, you will perish in the same way".  It is debatable, but this implies to me that Jesus believes random stuff happens and people inflict evil on others of their own free will, but this is not God's will or action.

Far from it, it would seem that God gives people chance after chance to repent based on the parable Jesus tells about the fig tree.  In this parable, the image used is that of a fig tree that is not bearing fruit, and so the landowner tells his gardener to cut it down.  His gardener implores the landowner to give him a chance to turn the soil around the roots and give it some fertilizer in the hopes that it will bear fruit next year.  The landowner relents.

The most obvious way to interpret this passage is that we are the tree, God is the landowner and Christ is the gardener who appeals to God to give us another chance, and God does.  Despite the fact that the parable begins with a God who is prepared to cut us off, it ends with a God is willing to forgive.

So what would it mean to repent?  Why would we bother, if God's love and tolerance are endless?  Why wouldn't we just do whatever we wanted if we are assured that God will never cut us off?

The problem is one of sin.  Before you stop reading, I am aware that "sin" is not a popular concept for a number of people because typically sin is understood to be "those things that we do that make God angry".  Many of us reject the notion of an angry God as much we reject the concept of an evil God, and so the concept of sin finds little traction, but the reality is that God or not, sin damages our lives thanks to free will and the gift of a conscience.

Think of it.  When we lie, steal, cheat, or do anything else that has been typically understood as sin, we actually feel bad.  We feel guilt, shame, remorse.  We know we made the choice to do something bad, we can't blame the devil for it, and we feel bad as a consequence.  No God is even required for us to feel bad.

When we sin, I honestly do not think that God removes his grace from us and makes bad things happen to us.  If that were the case, buildings would be falling on daesh left, right and center.  But the operative concept is that we actually remove ourselves from grace by sinning.

I think that God wants for us only what we want for ourselves: for us to live a joyful, happy, loving life.  When we sin, we diminish our capacity to do so.  The truly wonderful thing is that no matter how far we fall away from this center of grace in which we are fulfilled and at peace, we can always turn back and make our way back.