Recently a facebook "friend" posted about how he was tired of the use of the term "brokenness" as a descriptor or potential substitute for the term sin. He, and many of those who agreed with him on the thread of conversation thought this was a watering down of the theological term sin and one more example of how we are "accommodating" the modern world. At the end of the day, I think what he really meant is that folks like myself, who use the term brokenness regularly to help folks understand the concept of sin, are really just kinda wussing out.
So am I just wussing out? Am I and others who find real meaning and a point of connection with folks, especially those who are unchurched in explaining the concept of sin by using the terminology of being broken, just not courageous enough to use the term sin? Or perhaps, is there another way of thinking of this? FYI, my wife K, will be most likely writing about this in her next column on Working Preacher if you want some real theological substance, instead of just my ramblings.
But to give some credence to my ramblings, I just want to establish a couple things. I have been a pastor, student learner or intern in four congregations, with 6 years as the solo or lead pastor in 2. In addition to this, I have the experience of being a pastor's kid for approximately 33 years. Why do I state this? Just letting you know, I have been around a bit.
In that getting around, I have found that frankly, sin manifests itself constantly in "brokenness". Much of the good of what we try to do in our families, communities, workplaces and the church is thwarted by "brokenness". Dis functional families, teams, committees, city councils, school boards, work groups, bosses, subordinates, church councils, etc... are a constant in our lives. Not always because people set out to do so, but because they are just broken. They can't get it right.
The ingrained patterns of learning, manifesting themselves in behavior, experiences of loss, ignorance, prejudice, sexism, homophobia, inability to perform, racism, class warfare, misrepresentation of credentials, laziness, you name it...have left us incapable of actually working together without courageous conversation and an acknowledgment about how messed up we are. We are broken, busted, can't get it right! Just take a look at our political process, this grand ideal of government for and by the people, of open and fair political process and justice, how is that working these days?
If we start the conversation there, with the fact that we are broken, we have something to work with. That conversation, once begun based on why we are so broken we can't make any decisions or do anything that doesn't hurt others, exude power over those who are powerless or shows disregard for the 10 commandments and Jesus' commandment of love and service, allows us an entry point into a conversation about sin.
Sin! Please understand, I am not a wuss on this. Sin is real and is the cause of so much sadness and pain in this world there are days I wonder why we try to get up. Sin is the cause of our brokenness. Yet if we start with that theologically loaded term, one that has been used constantly throughout history to degrade, subjugate and demean human beings, and especially those who are of lower class, gender or sexuality, we aren't going to get very far with our mission to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus.
Jesus was no wuss on sin. He called out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and pride. He confronted the woman at the well with the truth of her life. Yet he didn't spend a lot of time beating them up for being "sinful". He pointed out how their lives were broken, he offered a different way, encouraged them and trusted them to follow. Brokenness is not a synonym for sin, but it is the condition brought on by our condition and an entry point into conversation. Although many may think I am a wuss, I will keep using the term. It is an entry point, it is a conversation starter and as our church is challenged to reach out and bring the gospel to a culture that finds us increasingly irrelevant and pointless, I will not apologize for using any terminology that opens up a door to preach Christ.
I confess that I am in bondage to sin, and I am broken. Christ help me.