Dear Pastor Kenny:
It was great seeing you last month, as unexpected as it was. Almost immediately after the Not Now Silly Newsroom officially announced there would be no Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research this year …. What’s that old Jewish expression? “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
Since God and I are not on speaking terms, I have absolutely no idea how He might have learned of my plans to stay home this year. Unless He reads my facebookery.
When I made my announcement, I obviously didn’t know that Hurricane Irma would force a Road Trip on me. However, by the time I finally made the decision to flee, Irma was headed straight for the condo as a Category 5. Originally, I was only going to go to as far as Pensacola to get out of her path. However, in the final analysis that wouldn’t have done any good. Irma curved to the west side of the state. I’d either have had to continue north or make a left in the panhandle and head west towards Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
At the last minute, however, a facefriend of some years standing, whom I had never met, suggested we hightail it to Michigan, where he also has relatives. At first I resisted, then changed my mind. In the end that proved to be the least expensive option. Driving anywhere else would have required us to spring for hotel/motel fees, more meals in restaurants, and other accessories.
Talk about your synchronicity: It was only when I was finally in Ohio, traveling north along I-75, I asked Siri to call you. Siri didn’t know your number because it was in my old Windows Phone, where Cortana ruled the roost. Not long afterwards — at the very next rest stop, in fact — I opened up my facebookery and the top post on my timeline was one of your infrequent (compared to me) ones.
That’s when I facebooked you and we set up our time together. This year we spent more time together than any previous year. I especially enjoyed visiting the old neighbourhood with you:
FULL CONFESSION: I only really think of sin when I’m writing to you. Otherwise, I just carry on day to day without a single thought of eternal damnation whatsoever.
Of course, Jews don’t really believe in Heaven. Nor Hell. To bastardize Woody Allen’s joke: I’m a Reformed Jew. I’m so Reformed, I’m a Atheist.
What the next world is, however, is far from clear. The rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, and it is often difficult to know which one is being referred to. When the Talmud does speak of Olam Ha-Ba in connection to the afterlife, it often uses it interchangeably with the term Gan Eden (“the Garden of Eden”), referring to a heavenly realm where souls reside after physical death.
The use of the term Gan Eden to describe “heaven” suggests that the rabbis conceived of the afterlife as a return to the blissful existence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the “fall.” It is generally believed that in Gan Eden the human soul exists in a disembodied state until the time of bodily resurrection in the days of the Messiah.
One interesting talmudic story, in which the World to Come almost certainly refers to a heavenly afterlife, tells of Rabbi Joseph, the son of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, who dies and returns back to life.
“His father asked him, ‘What did you see?’ He replied, ‘I beheld a world the reverse of this one; those who are on top here were below there, and vice versa.’ He [Joshua ben Levi] said to him, ‘My son, you have seen a corrected world.’”
Ken, anything you can add to this internal discussion is always welcome, but it occurred to me a long time ago that I’m really writing to myself. These Pastoral Letters, as you know, are a self-examination of my spirituality, or — to put it into other terms — my relationship with a non-God.
Anyway, as I say, my mind jumps to sin at times like these. Having actually never done so, I decided to use Der Googleizer. Who knew there were so many kinds of sin?
There’s Mortal Sin,, when you’re going to straight to Hell, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Venial Sin, in which you’re surely testing the limits of your relationship with God, but you know in the back of your mind that all you have to do is beg forgiveness, and BINGO! It’s a done deal. In fact, the same goes for Mortal Sins. That’s why confession is good for the soul. Because it lets one off the hook.
The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a grouping and classification of Christian origin, of vices. Behaviours or habits are classified under this category if they directly give birth to other immoralities. According to the standard list, they are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth, which are also contrary to the seven virtues. These sins are often thought to be abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural faculties or passions (for example, gluttony abuses one’s desire to eat).
But later, just to confuse the issue, the Wiki also says:
The seven deadly sins in their current form are not found in the Bible, however there are biblical antecedents. One such antecedent is found in the Book of Proverbs 6:16–19, however only in the Masoretic Text (the earlier translated Septuagint version of this passage lacks a clear preface and lists only five). Among the verses traditionally associated with King Solomon, it states that the Lord specifically regards “six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him”, namely:
- A proud (vain) look
- A lying tongue.
- Hands that shed innocent blood
- A heart that deviseth wicked acts
- Feet that be swift in running to mischief
- A false witness that speaketh lies
- He that soweth discord among brethren
Another list, given this time by the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:19–21), includes more of the traditional seven, although the list is substantially longer: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, “and such like”. Since the apostle Paul goes on to say that the persons who practice these sins “shall not inherit the Kingdom of God”, such sins are usually listed as mortal sins (unless sufficient reflection and deliberate consent are not present) rather than capital vices.
Who’s got time to keep track of all those sins? Especially the “and such like” category, in which you can lump just about anything? Instead, let’s (quickly) take the Cardinal Sins one by one.
- Lust. Most people think this means “sex”, but there is lust for things as well: money, status, and respect. Personally, I lust after nice pieces of brass.Meanwhile, sexual lust can’t be evil. Otherwise, only a practical joker of a God would have hardwired it into us. It’s what one does with that sexual lust that can be evil — or illegal, for that matter.
- Gluttony. This week I ate a quart of ice cream by myself, but for the most part I’m not a glutton, except for punishment.
- Greed. The unfettered acquisition of money has never been one of my problems. In fact, had it been one of my problems, I’d have fewer problems.
- Sloth. It comes and goes. I can be real lazy when I set my mind to it. But a sin? Not to me.
- Wrath. I get angry, but can blow & go; get pissed off about something and then forget all about it after the volcano erupts. But, I never take it out on people that don’t deserve it, if that helps.Yet I also recognize that there are some people on my shit list that I will take pot shots at again and again, and never forgive.
- Pride. Like jingoistic flag-waving? Not my problem. However, there’s some things I justifiably take pride in. Is it Foolish Pride? Just crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !
Envy? You ask.
DING! DING!! DING!!! Oh yeah, that’s the one. I’ve long recognized it’s my biggest fault; my biggest sin.
Now, I’m not envious of people’s money, or the things they have acquired [see above]. I’m envious of people’s situations, which is really hard to explain. The story I told you about pretending to be on the Safety Patrol (way back when) must have been born from my envy of you.
Here’s how sick I really am (and I’m not talking about this vaguebooking): I have a dear friend, who happened to fit incredibly comfortably into a situation, due to an introduction I made. At the very same time a brass ring I had been reaching for receded well beyond my reach and was denied me. Thru’ the facebookery, I am forced to confront both of these things simultaneously. I should be happy for my friend for the former, but I am nothing but envious due to the latter.
Since I returned from Michigan, I even started to envy you, Ken.
As you know I offended one of your parishioners deeply. When I apologized and asked for her forgiveness, she replied that she had, but only because I’m an old friend of yours. I envy that relationship you have with her; instead of having her accuse me — in the same sentence — of both mansplaining and whitesplaining. She would never accuse you of Pastorsplaining. She would have listened.
I’ve always said that the most important thing to remember in discussions about race is that White folk need to listen when Black folks speak about Racism. I still believe that. They’re on the front lines. They have the experience(s). However, it wouldn’t hurt Black folks to listen once in a while. I may not be totally woke, but I’ve been wiping the sleep from my eyes about Race Relations since I was a teenager working in Pops’ store on 12th Street, now known as Rosa Parks Boulevard. I feel I have something to contribute to the discussion and to use terms like whitesplaining and mansplaining is not designed to have a dialogue, only to turn one into a pillar of salt.
TO BE FAIR: She was not wrong to be offended. I used an offensive word. But, here’s the thing, Ken: Pops never said “the N-Word” in his life. Pops said “nigger”. I’m not going to WHITEwash what Pops said, as ugly as it was. This is the titular “Sins of the Father“. I don’t let Pops off the hook just because he’s 1). Dead; 2). My father. Using the word when appropriate is just an extension of my essay, which predates our reunion, “A Reasoned Defense of the Word Nigger“. Furthermore, I see no contradiction in using the word and being sorry that I did.
If you think of it, Ken, please show this essay to her. Not to offend her all over again, because I truly fell in love with her. But, to offer her as much space in rebuttal as she’d like to take. I promise to print every word.
As always, the same goes for you.
I’ll sign off here, Ken, as this Pastoral Letter is long enough already. As they often do, this one went to places I never intended when I started and I’ve had enough self-examination for one day.
With all my love,
From your oldest friend in the world,