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There can be so much learned from the blues. It is clearly an art form expressing emotions in their rawest passion. Whether it is ecstasy or loss there is little ambiguity about the emotions on display. There are however other streams running through blues music that may take an astute observer to mine. Underneath those emotions may be a double entendre of sexuality or love that makes one either blush or wink. Those however are popularized poetry for humor. Still, there are also deeper truths that some blues singers have also related over time. The pain of poverty, the remorse of death, the sting of prejudice, the remorse of death and the violence surrounding existence are there for the careful listener.
One truth that can be found in amongst some is the equality of the human condition. We will all suffer loss, feel the pangs of love lost and week tears of sadness in our loneliness. One such truth is particularly evident in a very personal song by the modern blues singer Luther Allison. Allison badgers, cajoles and pleadingly asks his lover if she can love him, “Just as I am?”
In probably the most hauntingly searching questions he asks:
“When I’m hurt and don’t give a damn, will you still love me, just as I am?”
Allison goes on to ask:
Will you hold me when I’m not able and when I’m looking at the promised land. Will you still love me, just as I am?”
In just a few phrases Luther Allison sums up a central human yearning. Will you still love me, just as I am?
Try as we might our strivings for particularity and uniqueness avail us little when we find ourselves stripped of all pretense. They are found wanting when we have our insides laid bare by truth. Our human needs for survival alone are few. We all need air to breath, water to drink, food to eat and shelter for protection. If surviving were the sum total of a full life then existence would not be a very complex problem. Yet, Luther Allison reminds us that there is much greater needs and that life is much more than mere survival.
It is the predicament of radical individualism to fancy that each and every human brings a tremendous diversity to the table when it comes to the human condition. Also, with the supposed advancements of our techniques there is an unreal tendency in belief that our era’s human ingenuity has moved ahead of previous generations. We will solve any shortcomings that engender the human predicament. When observed from a keen eye these do not seem to be the case.
We all still have finite time lines, we all carry out similar biological functions and even when it comes to sex the continuum is fairly pedestrian for most. Even when it comes to our emotional spectrums we can see predictable patterns and behaviors. Even in the midst of our greatest technological achievements there seems to be a fleeting quality in their presence. We move from experience to experience hoping that the next will top the last. Instead we begin to find that the more we strive for unique experiences in life, the more we find the repetitions of sameness in life’s experience.
There are however two commonalities in humans that concern our spiritual identities directly holding the promise of breaching nihilistic repetition. They are that each of us finds ourselves limited by sin and that all have equal access to grace.
First, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory we are told. It does seem strange to affirm the human predicament as sinful. It seems such a given that it may appear almost inconsequential. Yet, in post-modernity so many followers of Christ denying original sin it is almost like we are in a period where this position almost brings about a denial of sinfulness as a whole.
It seems that in our strivings for particularity and acceptance we have relegated sin to human finitude, a lack of educational opportunities or merely social maladjustments. There is a clear temptation when confronting the abuses that original sin has engendered to mollify a pervasive unease when describing or declaring something to be inherently sinful. Whatever your view (or lack of view) toward original sin it seems almost important to point out human agency in sinful acts in light of experience and holy texts.
Although finitude is another quality playing a role in our spiritual development it is easily accepted. When acceptance comes of the transitory nature of life and that all things will end we will begin to walk toward a greater wisdom. Even though education is important it is shown lacking the first errant smart bomb unable to delimit civilians from combatant casualties. Nor should we undervalue the painful grip of social maladjustment that is found in both physical and mental illness. Amongst all of these sin still persists in and independent of all.
To negate the pervasive influence of sin upon individuals and communities would be a gross denial of responsibility. Justice, grace, mercy, love, peace and life are all marred by the diminishing of an understanding of sin. We are tragically marred from a self definition if we leave our definition to fate or social engineering alone.
No definition of sin can be complete or impersonal and non-contextual. Yet, there are still clear traits of sin in our contexts. As Brennan Manning aptly points out, “with every subsequent evil act, a measure of true liberty is destroyed.” In faith that sees it’s true ends in life and freedom sin can rightly be seen as something that binds us and negates freedom. It is a willful denial of wisdom’s call.
There are plenty of lists of sin from our holy texts. Many are centered around the seven deadly sins of lust, pride, sloth, anger, greed, gluttony and envy. The prophets elaborate on these, Jesus adds his perspective and Paul adds still more to this list. This list is more than a morbid run through of tabloid fodder to decimate our self-esteem. They are identifiers and gauges to practically correct our honest and true conditions. Their assumption is a disciplined faith worked out in communities toward greater life and freedom. While we may quibble about whether one or another is truly sin it is hard to be blind to our needs. Upon honest self reflection on our lives, our communities, our powers and our leaders we need correctives so that each may be healed and changed into wholeness.
Without a belief in sin it is hard to imagine a belief in redemption. If there is no sin then the only change that ultimately matters is the evolutionary nature of our species. Strength should not be chided, but should run unimpeded over weakness until the markets can eventually straighten everything out. The most tragic loss in negating sin is that humans are robbed of a realistic picture of reality. We will only have a distorted and unreal image of who we truly are and the world that we inhabit. As John Calvin rightly points out we can not know God, until we truly have knowledge of ourselves. This knowledge must have in its view sin.
So, to know ourselves is not merely to discern the image of God, it is to humbly peer into the shadow of our ego. It is to define our sin, not for a mere fact finding mission, but so we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Thankfully, we do not merely stop at sin. To do so would be to stop amongst the ancient Near Eastern god’s of old. Resolute that we have sinned we offer our sacrifice to a god who must be appeased. Our hope would be limited to a magisterial deity who might swoop down and deign to sully it’s divinity amongst us pathetic mortals. There would be an impenetrable distance even in these acts of expiation. We know our place as wrong and the gods as right. Even in their mischievous acts the gods may arbitrarily weave out our human existence in tragedy or glory on a whim.
This is where the second part of our equality plays in beautiful spiritual symphony with sin. As humans we all enjoy the equal opportunity to divine grace. It is not by works of righteousness or the uniqueness of our sacrifices that we gain audience to the divine. It is an inherent characteristic of a God who is free. The Great “I am” is available to all.
Each day we are given endless possibilities in discovering a new aspect of the divine’s mercy, peace, love, justice and wisdom. It is not God who is at all interested in limiting the access to the divine, it is humanity. Clique, culture, race, religion, gene, sect and creed are destroyed every time God proclaims to us again: “Who are you to call unclean what I have made clean?” It is then we are returned to a humble gratitude ending in reverential worship.
Christ is our example of a list of ever expanding circles where he moved and had his being. Prostitutes, thieves, drunks, prophets, religious leaders, wealthy women, house wives, children, the sick, demon possessed, the crippled, soldiers and rulers all saw the possibilities in the life giving teaching of the Rabbi about the divine. Moving amongst these people Christ was lauded by his papa as one who was pleasing.
If nothing else of importance was taught by our savior it is enough that our loci should be in service to others. We serve others because we might somehow be meeting the divine. We love others because we experience love from God. We show mercy because we have been shown mercy. We are not called to discriminate, but to be indiscriminate in service. In our mercy, life and love for others we are bringing mercy, life and love into our own human existence. It is our only hope in transforming sin into grace. This is the love that God had for Christ and it is the unity that he envisioned for his disciples in this world.
Each human is singing to us the words of the blues singer, “will you still love me, just as I am?” Our answer must be “yes, but let’s not just stay just as we are.”
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