Last night at detention, the boys in Bible study...wait...one boy in Bible study asked the question, "Is it a sin to do drugs?"
This is a difficult question to answer. The easy way out is to say "Yes." Because we don't want this kid doing drugs, running away from home, living on the streets, and participating in the accompanying illicit behavior (theft, burglary, robbery).
But, Christian and Jewish scripture is pretty silent on the use of drugs. And on top of that, there is plenty of descriptions of drinking and even excessive drinking. Jesus turns water into wine for a wedding celebration. Noah gets drunk and there is no problem except Ham sees him naked. And to be clear, Ham gets in trouble, not Noah.
This question is a question that I have gotten on-and-off for the nine years that I've been going to juvenile detention. So I've thought about better answers.
- Are you able to be your authentic self when you come before God when you are on drugs?
- Do drugs become more important than your relationships with others and with God when you are seeking drugs?
We then talked a little bit about exactly what sin was. I did not talk about the list of 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible. I talked a bit about what the word sin is derived from in the Christian portion of the Bible. Sin is the word hamartia in Ancient Greek. Hamartia is derived from an ancient archery term that means you missed. You missed the bullseye or you missed the mark. So we could say that sin is when we miss the mark. Or perhaps making choices that de-centers our relationship with the divine and with others. Those things that move us out of the command to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Or maybe, anything that moves us out of love is a sin.
Our lesson last night was on having a servant's heart - serving others. Last week, we talked about compassion - concern that acts. Both of those are centered on loving action towards others. If we think about our spiritual giants and their compassionate acts, they did not need an invitation to be loving. Nor did they require that others convert to their religion to receive love.
Read this way, the story of the adulterous woman (found in the Christian Bible, about the woman about to be stoned for having an affair*) ends by Jesus telling her to go and sin no more. Maybe that isn't a command to engage in behavior that follows a list of rules but rather a command to go and love.
This is hard for the kids in detention. Go and love. They haven't been the recipients of a lot of loving acts so it is hard for them to know how to be loving - towards themselves and towards others. That's on us. The society that has raised them up.
When I preached on Sunday about interrupting racism (see yesterday's post), the other response that I got that is also rooted in systemic racism, was "I believe in personal responsibility." As if personal responsibility can cure the system difficulties children face in their lives. Just make the right choice and you too shall be successful! It doesn't account for poverty, healthcare, food, early-learning, and later educational opportunities. These systemic factors, which affect people of color more than white people, greatly influence the breadth of choices that are available. So statistically, a young, African American boy, does not have the same opportunity choice that a young, white boy does. Call it an opportunity deficit.
This is the myth of free-choice. That we can all choose, equally, good opportunities. Circumstances narrow opportunities. So this boy, asking about drugs, narrow opportunities because he is homeless and who knows what else has gone into him being nearly alone on the streets (girlfriend not withstanding). So when he asks about using drugs, it is a desperate question. He knows that when he leaves, he will be on the streets again (he will run away from any group home). And on the streets, he will find the opportunity to do drugs again. And his body, primed by history, craves drugs.
Where is the love in that? Personal responsibility! He can choose! Willpower!
What about social responsibility? How dare we suggest that people, children really, can make the best choices because they have personal responsibility? How are we upholding our responsibility to create a society that uplifts the vulnerable?
I long ago discovered that youth do need to learn to make good choices - but who is there to model that? And to provide them with the opportunities? How do we counteract the opportunity deficit? Socially, we need to make good choices too. We need to build schools and hospitals and grocery stores and communities that open their arms to the least of these - those children who are suffering from opportunity deficits. When we do, they will be able to choose love. And so will we.
How will you love today?
* We won't talk about the injustice of her being stoned without the man she was having the affair with also being sentenced to this.
Let my heart rise up to meet mercy, my voice to meet compassion, my hands to meet action.
BIBOLOVE: Breath In, Breath Out--sigh
Jewish Daily Reading: Daily Study from Chabad
Christian Daily Reading: Revised Common Lectionary Daily Reading
Muslim Daily Reading: Daily Verse from The Only Quran
Buddhist Daily Reading: Daily Zen
Please bring your own sacred readings to the daily pattern. If there is something else you'd like to see, please share!
― Edgar Allan Poe
Weekly prayer focus comes from the World Council of Churches prayer cycle. We know the world needs to be surrounded with prayer and positive thought. This allows us to work through the world country by country. We focus on one set of countries per week with the same prayer, lifting them up. I encourage you to fill this in however you see it.
Let us pray.
We know that we fail to live up to being makers of peace. Let us bring in rather than push out, be invitational rather than confrontational--seeing signs of life while decrying the desecration of hope.
This week we pray for Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea
For signs of hope and peace, we pray for ________________________
For the oppressed and weary, we pray for ________________________
For those we love, those we hate and those we are indifferent to, we pray.
For the transformation from ME to WE, we pray.
Let peace prevail on earth.
So may it be.
Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi
O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us— make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now-
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly— power to these statements—
may they be the ground from which all
my actions grow: Amen.