Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting Rid of Sin--What Makes a Good Metaphor?

Easter is sometimes a tough time of year for those of us non-literalists. I have a different vision of the cross. I know that crucifixion was the punishment that the Romans reserved for criminals who acted against the state; Jesus died a terrorist's death.

I've had arguments with fundamentalist friends who would tell me that I'm undercutting the role of Jesus, and I would say, "No, I'm not." To me, the central message of Christianity is that the Kingdom of God will put us in direct opposition to earthly kingdoms--and we might pay with our lives.

Lately, I've been thinking about the cross and all the ways that we need a metaphor for getting rid of our sins. The Lutheran churches of which I've been a part haven't focused on the cross exclusively (or even very often, most of them) as a metaphor for humanity shedding itself of sin.

Yes, I used the word metaphor. I'm a poet, not a literalist. For me, there are far more effective metaphors than the cross.

When we were at camp in Lutheridge, we would write down our sins and cast them into the fire. I really liked that. As I got older, I liked the confluence of flame and ash, my sin like paper. I think of my sins as unforgivable, but they're just as flimsy as paper, just as easy to get rid of.

I also have a memory of casting our sins, written on paper, into the lake. But I'm not sure if I'm mixing up that memory with something else. I like that imagery better, with its baptismal connections and the washing away. Much nicer than burning. But the burning is more dramatic.

Of course, these metaphors presuppose that I'm able to quit clinging to my sins. Why on earth would we cling to our sins? They serve us in some way. Psychologists would tell us that we don't do anything that doesn't serve us in some way; even if it's negative, it's still got some sort of function, or we wouldn't do it. I believe that.

So psychologists would tell us we have to figure out why we need those sins before we can work on casting them away. A fundamentalist would tell us that we're humanly incapable of casting away our sins and that's why Jesus had to come. I, a poet, would tell us that we need more memorable metaphors and rituals to help us understand our sins and how to get rid of them.

No comments: