If We are Sinful, How Can We be Capable of Doing Good?

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on sin. You can also read Part 1 and Part 3. The prompt given was “if we are sinful, how can we be capable of doing good?”. Submitted May 2016.

In order to answer this question, we must first define the terms used. What does it mean to be sinful? And what does it mean to do good? The popular understanding of the term “sinful” implies that one does bad things, which necessarily precludes the idea of “doing good”. I contend that this isn’t an accurate understanding of sin.

Sin is wilful rebellion against God and His intentions for humanity. To see sin as merely an act is to take a very shallow and superficial view of it. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:28 that the thoughts of the heart are just as sinful as the actions of the body.

I like to think of sin in terms of the Anglican prayers of preparation and of repentance. Once we have heard the two commandments, we pray, “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” A few minutes later, we also pray, “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, and in what I have failed to do…”

This is a very powerful statement on the nature of sin. It makes explicit that sin begins with the thoughts, and progresses to our words and deeds (or lack thereof). It reminds us that God doesn’t look at our actions, but at the thoughts and intentions behind those actions.

So, if we are sinful, how are we capable of doing good? The sin occurs in the thoughts behind the deed, and not in the deed itself. Many deeds that we see as “sins” are merely consequences of the thoughts. We might perform a deed which would be seen externally – by other humans – as being a good thing. We might do great things to help others. But our intention behind doing them – even if we are not aware of it – is never entirely altruistic. We always have thoughts of what we might gain from what we are doing, and these thoughts of benefits to the self provide, to a great or lesser extent, the motivation for performing any deed.

God, unlike other humans, sees not just our actions but the intentions behind those actions; our hearts are open books to him, and he knows our desires and sees our secrets, even the ones we hide from ourselves. While we might do good things, and we might think we are doing them for pure reasons, we will always “fall short of the mark”, to use a somewhat more literal translation of the Hebrew verb CTA (“to sin”). Thus, even though humans are capable of doing good in relation to other human beings, we cannot live up to God’s standards.


(Looking Back At) Eurovision

This weekend is a big weekend.

Okay, yes, it’s Pentecost, so it was a big weekend at church, as well. We had a combined service with the neighbouring parish, which resulted in a packed-out church and a shared lunch made entirely of red food.


Also, the neighbouring parish doesn’t have a church building big enough to host us all, but it was their year to host, so they hosted at our place. It was confusing. And then our priest got out his firebreathing equipment.

So what else am I talking about? Have I spoilt it by putting it in the post title?

Eurovision is basically my version of sport. I’m not a hardcore fan. I’m not going to start getting up at 3am to watch it live. I pay attention to the extent that I’m typing this while watching the finals repeat. But Eurovision has just sort of always been part of my life.

Yes, since before it was the “cool” thing. I was talking about Eurovision at primary school when I was one of just two pupils who knew what it was.

So, here are some of my favourites (and not-so-favourites) from this year and previous years, in no particular order.

As I look back over what I’ve already typed, and glance up at the screen, I realise that a packed-out church with red and sparkly robes and a priest breathing fire is basically Eurovision, isn’t it? Anglicovision.

Germany, 2010 – Satellite, Lena

This was Year 9. I started going to the German school a year later, and this was the dance party song. It was right up there with Schnappi, and Lena was talked about almost as much as Justin Beber (as we insisted on spelling it).

France, 2015 – N’oubliez pas, Liza Angell

I shared this one last year. It’s still my favourite from last year’s Eurovision.

Sweden, 2016 – If I Were Sorry, Frans

Moderately good, but not a favourite, mostly because it’s a bit repetitive. I’ve mostly included it because he sounds almost exactly like a male Lena. (Julia Zemiro thought of that one, not me, but it’s true).

Russia, 2012 – Party for Everybody, Buranovskiye Babushki

Okay, I’ll admit it, I can’t actually really remember the song. I just remember these dear old ladies. They came second.

Italy, 2016 – No Degree of Separation, Francesca Michielin

Not an absolutely brilliant song, but amazing background graphics.

Italy, 1958 – Volare, Domenico Modugno

Speaking of Italy, my primary school choir learnt this for open day when I was in Year 6. (I grew up in a very Italian area. Almost all of the grandparents could probably speak Italian. And not English.) I didn’t realise until last year just how old this song was. I assumed, because we were learning it, that it was a recent Eurovision entry.

Lithuania, 2006 – We Are The Winners, LT United

My sister and I were singing it for months. Still are, occasionally. Well, I am, anyway.

Finland, 2006 – Hard Rock Hallelujah, Lordi

I ran out on this one, back in the day. I still don’t think much of death metal – although I am a fan of Klingons. But it’s not a song you forget easily.

England, 2003 – Crybaby, Jemini

Speaking of songs you don’t forget easily, have you ever heard anything so off-key? It’s so awful, the official Eurovision channel doesn’t even have it.

Ireland, 2008 – Irelande Douze Pointes, Dustin the Turkey

And speaking of complete flops… I’ve been assured that the turkey was very popular in Ireland, but… I’m convinced they should have been disqualified for exceeding the 6-person limit.

Germany, 1982 – Ein bisschen Frieden, Nicole

This is easily, absolutely, completely my all-time favourite Eurovision song ever.

Israel, 1979 – Hallelujah, Gali Atari

See, how can you say Australia isn’t European enough? Israel’s been in Eurovision since the 70s.

On another note, a great song for cheating on Hebrew homework with. “But I have been practicing Hebrew!”

Austria, 2016 – Loin D’ici, Zoe

Speaking of unusual languages… It’s not a bad song, but my head hurts just thinking about it. Merci, Autriche.

Russia, 2016 – You Are The Only One, Sergey Lazarev

You don’t have even to listen to it, just watch the amazing visuals. The song isn’t bad, though. I just can’t really remember it because I was distracted by the visuals.

Australia, 2016 – Sound of Silence, Dami Im

It’s not just patriotic. I definitely think it’s one of the best this year, even if I’m completely sick of it. Not worse than Ukraine, though. I don’t mind not winning – two years isn’t enough for Europe to be okay with it, and Eurovision is ultimately political – but I’d have rather lost to Russia or Italy or Austria… or Sweden again.





Easter and Evangelism

Since I’m down with the dreaded lurgey such that I couldn’t go to church this morning, I instead pressed YouTube into service as a substitute.

Unfortunately, yoogling “easter sermon” results in many thumbnails of what appear to be American “evangelical” preachers (and I use the word “evangelical” quite wrongly but in the popular definition to mean that particular branch of Christianity which relishes in yelling from pulpits and singing overly repetitious “praise choruses” glorifying how great everything is now for the individual).

Since I felt, in my infirmity, that I couldn’t handle an American yelling at me from the computer, I kept scrolling until I found the first thing that looked as though it definitely wouldn’t be:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter 2015 sermon.

Dare I say my parish priests could take preaching lessons from him? It’s quite good. You can tell that one of the Archbishop’s top priorities is evangelism.

YouTube then directed me to this hour-long lecture by the same man entirely on the topic of evangelism and witness.

This one is exactly what is trying to be conveyed to me in a subject this term called “Missional Church”.

I suppose, now, next time one of my classmates asks me which preacher I like listening to online, rather than saying that I don’t listen to sermons online (which has previously been the case, bucking the trend again), I’ll have to answer “the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.”

Take that, American megachurch spielmongers!

Thought of the Day #8

A British parish-based sitcom wherein everyone followed the diocesan Professional Standards Handbook would be completely devoid of any and all drama other than the occasional technological malfunction during eucharist.

See Point 4.15 to see what the minister is doing wrong in this picture. I’ve only seen about ten minutes at the end of an episode of Call the Midwife, but in it, one of the sisters was in love with a dying aged man, and the minister got engaged to one of the nurses.

Our Professional Standards/ Safer Communities training included a clip from Heart and Soul.

The technological problems seem to be a weekly event at my church, though.

The Fifth Day – Staying Home (Jerusalem)

I slept soundly last night, a solid nine hours until I was woken by the wake-up call.

I couldn’t detect much swelling on my foot, and the rest overnight certainly helped. Moving very slowly, I was finally ready to head down for breakfast. I’m a bit cold-y and queasy, so I was planning to just have a cup of tea.

When I got down to the dining room, the leader of the group cornered me to tell me off for not saying anything about my foot last night. “You shouldn’t tell everyone in Australia before you’ve told us!”

I thought I hadn’t done much damage to it last night! I mentioned it to the group member helping me on the wall when I did it – “Ow, I just landed a bit funny” – but by the time lunch was over, I’d gone pretty numb. The temperature dropped dramatically over lunch – it even hailed for a few minutes – so that probably contributed. I knew it hurt a little after I’d rested for a bit before dinner, but I didn’t realise just how much it hurt until I was ready for bed.

It’s not like it’s broken or anything. It’s not even bruised.

And I did ask to miss some of the walking today. Just because I didn’t specify why!

Although, as it turns out, it’s not possible to just miss the tunnel walks this morning; I’d either have to go on the bus and wait, or miss the whole day. Since the group leader had already told me off for not ice-packing my foot last night, and I was pretty close to tears by this stage (no doubt in part due to the fact that I’m still exhausted – I’m not tired, really, anymore, but still exhausted), I decided to stay at the hotel today.

“After all,” I said something along the lines of, “For a tunnel and two fake things, it’s probably best to stay and rest for other things the rest of the week.”

“Don’t say ‘fake things’!” I was admonished. “That’s very offensive!”

The Upper Room is a traditional site, so I concede it’s probably not fake. A lot of these traditional sites, I’m sure I’d rather enjoy, were it not for being with a group of Pentecostal-Baptists who generally scorn anything involving Catholic/Orthodox tradition, with a tour guide who makes no secret of his opinions on anything.

But the other thing this afternoon is the Garden Tomb, and we already had a long diatribe a few days ago from our fearless guide about how it’s a very recent tradition, it gives you an idea of how it would have looked but it’s mostly wishful thinking, and so on, and so forth.

“It’s very offensive to many of our group members! They’re not fake!”

“I’m sure they’re not,” I allowed, “And I’m sure if I were less tired and sick, I’d be less offensive.” Right then, I didn’t care. Also I was trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t miss too much by staying home for the day.

“It’s like that conversation the other day; you’re being a bit judgemental.”

Remember that conversation that messed me up all night? Yeah, apparently it was about me being a bit too judgemental. That’s not how I recall it. Maybe everyone’s just hearing me wrong to how I intend it. The other night, I’d commented on how the tables of Korean Catholic tourists were praying before dinner, and how we hadn’t prayed over our meals the entire trip.

“Well, that’s your responsibility!” I was told harshly then. “You can’t blame anyone but yourself for not praying!”

“I have been saying grace to myself,” I insisted. “I just thought it odd that on a Christian tour, we haven’t been saying grace, that’s all. I miss it.”

“How do you know we haven’t been saying grace?” one asked, and another added, “Our knees are raw from praying!”

In an attempt at levity, I scoffed and said, “Yeah, because Baptists are known for praying on their knees.” (That’s sarcasm, by the way).

I have no idea how we got from there to me trying to defend my Anglican church and the Anglican tradition (“we’re up and down throughout the service”), and then I was accused of saying people from other churches were wrong.

“I don’t think other churches are wrong. I consider myself anti-denominational. There are lots of traditions among Christian churches, and I think each tradition has merit. There’s nothing wrong with the various traditions, they’re just different expressions of faith and different ways of doing things.” (Also, you know, we’re commanded throughout the epistles to “keep the traditions as they were taught to us”. I have a much better time accepting a tradition more than a thousand years old than I do one that started a few hundred years ago).

How anyone could think I’m judgemental of other denominations is beyond me. I grew up non-denominational, I’ve spent formative years of my life in Baptist, Pentecostal, and low-church Anglican churches, I’ve visited Lutheran and Adventist churches, I have good friends who are Catholic, and I’m currently splitting my weekends between a traditional Anglican church and the Church of God Seventh Day.

“Although,” I couldn’t help bur point out at the time, “I’ve noticed some people at college can be very judgemental about other denominations.” It’s been a major sticking point of mine last year – one of the lecturers actually said that we shouldn’t visit other denominations in case we ‘get confused’!!!

“We shouldn’t talk about denominations,” I was told, “We should just say whether people are Christian or not Christian?”

“So you’re saying we should pass judgement on whether other people are Christian or not? How is that any different?”

Even if I’m anti-denominational, I have no problem with other people choosing to identify with one church tradition or another. But honestly, it’s one thing to observe people’s behaviour and deduce from the fact that they’re praying both before and after the meal and crossing themselves that they’re Catholic; it’s another thing completely to look at someone and say whether they’re Christian or not.

“Would you say they’re Christian?” I asked, gesturing to the Catholics.

“That’s not for us to judge.”

“It’s just that I’ve known lot’s of people from the Baptist tradition who will say right-out that Catholics aren’t Christians.”

This Christian/not-Christian thing has been a recurring theme on the trip. Yuval stated boldly the other day that he doesn’t always believe someone when they tell him they’re a Christian. “Maybe if they say they are a Believer, or a follower of Yeshua, then I will believe that they are Christian.”

Right. So I tell people, “I’m a Christian,” but he wouldn’t believe me? It’s not like I’ll go around saying “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m an Anglican”. I might say “I’m a Christian and a worship at an Anglican church at the moment”, but I’ll always identify myself first as “a Christian”.

But, according to Yuval, that’s not good enough. He doesn’t trust people’s self-identification as Christians. They’re Ethiopian Orthodox, maybe, they’ll identify themselves as Christians, but he’s not going to believe them. How can he make that decision? If someone tells me they’re a Christian, then they believe in God and follow Jesus, and I’m going to assume that’s true until it’s proved otherwise, because they’ve told me that.

“I’m a Believer,” he wants me to say. Right. A believer in what? That Jesus is God? Satan believes that! A “Christian” is someone who follows and strives to emulate Christ – it’s in the name. I may be a Believer, but I’m a Christian more to the point.

But anyway, back to this morning. I concede I was a bit harsh in calling the Upper Room and the Garden Tomb “fake”, but in all fairness, I’m sure Yuval’s going to call them that not in so few words. He can be quite emphatic about places he doesn’t think are genuine. I was trying to hold back tears from the dressing-down and just wanted to get out of the conversation at that point.

So, yeah, maybe I should have told someone about my foot last night. But I didn’t realise it was quite so bad – and it’s not like it was very bad – and it doesn’t do to complain, anyway, particularly when no-one else seems to be having any trouble. I know I’m overweight and not as fit as the rest of them, and I don’t want to seem like the stereotypical unfit fat person. I’ve conceded enough weariness on this trip – I missed climbing Mount Arbel and Tel Dan last week – I don’t want to be a burden.

Not to mention, as I said, I didn’t realise how much my foot hurt until literally when I was typing up the last post right before going to sleep last night. When I got back, I was aching all over from exhaustion and just wanted to take care of that first. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get out of some things today. Would I have tried to miss out on half a day’s sightseeing for no reason?

On a completely different topic, it seems the Great Synagogue trip was overrated because the ushers wouldn’t let them in at all, so they walked for five minutes there and back for five minutes of standing at the door peering in.

So, after finishing my tea and asking for a bag of ice from Nader (who ticks our room numbers off as we go into the dining room), I’m back up in my room elevating my foot. I expect room service will be around sometime soon, although I’ll just ask them to deal with the bathroom (all our towels are wet).

I don’t mean to imply in these posts that the whole trip has been bad. It hasn’t. I can see how it might seem that way, since I’m usually pretty tired at the end of the day, and I tend to state the negative and leave the positive to speak for itself. (I’m trying to work on that). I’ve really enjoyed a lot of things (although there are many I think I’d have enjoyed a bit more with a bit more time and walking a bit slower).

But please, please, if you get worried about me from something I’ve said in the posts, please don’t start contacting the group leaders to tell them off! I just can’t deal with the headache of being pulled aside and told off for telling people in Australia about my problems; about being told that she’s got texts telling her things that I, per the rules laid down at the beginning of the trip, should have told her first. You may have all day overnight; I might plan to say something first thing in the morning but by the time I get down to breakfast, the message has already got through the wrong channels and then I’m in trouble.

And I’m sure it’s not meant to come across like a telling off. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to; it’s not like we’re in school.” Yeah, but it seems like that. Maybe it’s because I’m immature; maybe it’s because I’m recently out of school; maybe it for who-knows-what, but it seems like we don’t get much choice in a lot. Yeah, maybe they say we do, but when it comes down to it, we get frowned at when we try to sit out of things without giving a good reason (“utter exhaustion” is not a good reason), and maybe it’s because he’s not the best with English but Yuval always comes across a little judgemental and condescending if you ask out of something.

I’m getting off-track, and I should definitely stop complaining now. I’m sure everything will seem nowhere near as bad after I’ve slept a little more. I so wanted to enjoy this trip, and see everything I could – and I have enjoyed it, for the most part. But I’m not as up for everything as some of the others in the group are. I can’t keep the pace they do. I can’t take the noise they can. I spent ten hours a day with twenty-five people, I can’t face games with them in the evenings when all I want to do is process the day and go to sleep.

I can’t believe the trip is almost over. I want to stay for longer and see more. I want to go back to some of the places and see them again. There’s so much here, and the prices of everything aside, it’s a good country to be in.

But, on the other hand, I’m glad the trip’s almost over, because I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s a relentless pace – it has to be, I suppose, to see everything. And we’re a more leisurely trip than most! I can’t imagine that. And trying to get on with twenty-five people is wearing on me, too. It’s easier with some than others, and I think sometimes I just take things the wrong way.

So please, no more texting when you’re concerned about me. I’ll be fine. I can handle it. It’s not all bad.

(Even if, right now, I feel like having a good cry and going back to sleep).

Hot Weather

Just a few thoughts on this, the third day of the first really hot spell we’ve had this season.

Has it ever been for you so hot that you sweat enough to drip while sitting completely still… in the shade?

Has it ever been for you so hot that when you step outside, you can feel the hot air pressing in on you, making it hard to breathe?

Has it ever been for you so hot that at least a third of the congregation during Eucharist is shoeless?

Has it ever been for you so hot that the mirage-air over a grassed oval makes the people on the oval look blurry?

Has it ever been for you so hot that you turn the cold tap on in the shower and step under fully clothed?

Has it ever been for you so hot that you start plotting to move to New Zealand… or Denmark?

Has it ever been for you so hot that you’ve considered writing a blog post about how hot it is?