Have you ever heard of the doctrine of “Original Sin”? I’m guessing you probably have. I know I have. The theology of original sin was formed heavily by St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the doctors of the Church and whose feast day we celebrated on August 28. I often joke that the phrasing of “original sin” makes it seem like a game where people try to outdo one another, thinking up new and innovative ways to sin. I chuckle when I imagine a priest in a confessional asking the question, “Wait, you think that is an original sin? You’ve gotta give me something better than that!” All joking aside, original sin is a key doctrine of the Christian faith. Our Prayer Book defines sin as “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” Original sin is often described as a stain on the human soul. It is the sin of Adam and Eve passed down to us. The imperfect nature of humanity. Many Christians believe that original sin was conquered by Jesus and our own original sin is literally washed away when we receive the sacrament of Baptism. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to think of all of us as inherently sinful. Isn’t there another way?
Matthew Fox was a Dominican priest in the Roman Catholic Church for years. While he served as a Dominican, he wrote about what he called Original Blessing. In the Book of Genesis, we are taught that we are inherently good, not inherently sinful. Matthew Fox’s writings suggest we ought to focus on our inherent goodness instead of our inherent sinfulness. Roman Catholic authorities did not respond well to Fox’s writings. These writings, they said, contradicted centuries of Christian theology. After numerous disagreements between himself and Roman Catholic leaders, he left the Catholic Church and was received into the Episcopal Church as a priest in the Diocese of California. He continues to serve as a writer, speaker, and theologian.
I think the language choice of original blessing is so much nicer than that of original sin. I’m not suggesting I’m not a sinner. We all commit sin. As St. Paul writes to Timothy, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and I am the worst of them all” (1 Tim 1:15). I don’t condemn someone else’s sin more than I condemn my own. I also don’t find it productive to think of myself as a “bad person.” While I certainly commit sin, I’m not a bad person because of it. I’m just a person. Just like you and just like Paul and just like Augustine and just like Matthew Fox. I find it much more productive to focus on our inherent goodness. Original blessing means that we can bless one another for who we are. Are you a little quirky? Do you like music that other people don’t like? Do you like clothes that give you your own style? If that’s the case, then I bless you! I bless you for who you are and how you choose to express yourself!
In Genesis, God says to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (Gen. 12:2).” We are called to bless the inherent goodness within one another and to be blessed by them as well. In doing so, we are all blessed by God. This means I get to love you for exactly who you are and you get to do the same for me. And God, who created us holy, loves us for the people he made us to be. That doesn’t mean we’re let off the hook when we commit sin. We still promise to “repent and return to the Lord” when we sin (BCP p. 304). But our sin does not define us. No matter how original that sin is.
You may have noticed my weekly pastoral reflection recently received a new title. We now call it “Aloha Fridays with Fr. Tim.” The choice of this title is a direct result of the mutual original blessing I feel here at St. John’s. You bless me for who I am and I bless you for who you are. By now you know I frequently wear aloha attire rather than traditional clerical clothing and you bless me for that! You welcome me as I am. In turn, I bless you for the things you do that make you who you are. In1960s Hawaii, the apparel company Reyn Spooner successfully marketed “aloha Fridays”, which encouraged offices to permit their employees to wear aloha shirts on Fridays instead of more traditional business attire. Deriving from aloha Fridays, a similar practice developed on the mainland often called “casual Fridays”. These days, it’s common for office workers in Hawaii to wear aloha shirts any day of the week. While I have never lived in Hawaii, I have always loved aloha shirts and I love the aloha spirit of the islands. I wear aloha shirts because I find them colorful, cheerful, and fun. They’re also disarming. I’ve noticed that people are much less intimidated by me as a priest when I wear aloha shirts. It “levels the playing field.” People feel more comfortable being themselves around me when they see me in casual clothing. When I wear aloha shirts, I have more genuine interactions. It makes it easier for me to bless the real you, and not a filtered version of you. In turn, you get to do the same for me. Because our newsletter is sent out on Fridays, the new title seemed like a fun way to share a little aloha with each other.
We’re not going to erase the theology of original sin, nor should we. But maybe by celebrating original blessing, we can work toward alleviating the stigma attached to original sin. We know we’re not perfect, but we also know God loves us anyway. He doesn’t love us despite our imperfection, he loves us because of it! Each of us is unique and each of us is called to live into the person God wants us to be. At St. John’s, let’s continue to model a theology of original blessing. We bless those who are like us and we bless those who are not. We bless one another because God blesses us. Because God blesses us all, we can recognize inherent divinity and goodness. By nature, each of us is holy, each of us is blessed, and each of us is loved.