Tony Hillerman writes about Native American culture, mostly about the Navajos. He writes mysteries. I learn a lot about cultures different from mine when I read his novels.
For example, in Sacred Clowns, a few folks are watching a Hopi festival when some clowns, known as koshares, interrupt the dance and the parade by doing silly things. For example, they climb down a ladder head first. A tourist asks why these clowns are allowed to disrupt the ceremony.
“Not disrupting,” is the reply. “It’s part of the ritual. It’s all symbolic. They represent humanity. Clowns. Doing everything wrong while the spirits do everything right.”
Other cultures express the same dilemma in different ways—coyotes, snakes, a red demon with horns and a pitchfork. Every society (as far as I know) acknowledges some sort of human failure or evil on the planet.
Many of us in the Southern part of the United States, and maybe all over Christendom, grew up with a very limited and unimaginative understanding of sin. It seemed to be restricted to a fairly predictable list of edicts which were not to be violated: stealing, murdering, disrespecting parents, greed, pride. Most of us could avoid the worst of those transgressions. We didn’t steal. We didn’t murder. We respected our parents. Sin was about other people more than it was about us.
Christian folks need a new way to think about human failure—new words and new images.
One year, during a continuing education event, my buddies and I decided that people sitting in the pews of our churches would understand preachers better if we could add a dozen “cuss” words to our sermons. Those listening might say, “Oh, so that’s what the preacher means?” instead of sleeping through the worship service.
Would people understand better if we said asshole instead of sinner? Instead of these vague prayers of Forgive us our sins, would being more specific help? Forgive me for being so pissy, so smug, so whiney, so damned stubborn.
In an AA meeting, you have to claim it: Hi, My name is… And I’m an alcoholic.
That would be my rule for admittance to church, to name a real and recent transgression of your own, not someone else’s shortcoming: Hi, My name is… And I’m manipulative. Or, I lack guts. Or, I’m full of self-pity. Or, I’ve been an asshole and a jerk to my family this week.
Lord, Have mercy.