Has sin gone out of fashion?  Bishop Nigel’s latest article in the Courier and Advertiser


Has sin gone out of fashion?

The senior staff member responsible for discipline in a school where I was once chaplain specialised in what became known as ‘a severe letting off.’ It misled the errant and rule-abiding students alike, undermined teaching colleagues, short-changed parents and did nothing to improve school life. It was poor leadership.

Rewarding bad behaviour is hopeless and yet we go on making excuses for all kinds of goings-on in our daily lives. Dishonesty, unfaithfulness, aggression and selfishness come to mind. These things undermine our family and community relationships, our workplaces and leisure time. As the Courier correctly reminds us - it’s the local, and how we relate to others, that matters.

Of course we read about terrible incidents, the really bad court cases, many hyper-highlighted in the national media. Phone hacking, sex trafficking, violent robberies and internet fraud to name a few. The truth is we fear crime but think less about the everyday damage we can do to each other. Sin sounds old fashioned, like being told off. We are less respectful of traditional authority these days, whether parents, teachers, the police or the churches.

There is a widespread debate about who can claim authority over our lives. The individual person, the family, the state, religious faith and secularism each have their advocates. The Scottish Government’s proposals for a guardian for every child touch these nerves. Amidst competing choices it is as though we haven’t quite abandoned morality but we have mislaid the compass.

And yet ‘putting on sackcloth and ashes’ still retains some resonance in our culture, expressing the need for penitence when we have behaved badly. Observe how young children learning the rights and wrongs can look so sorrowful when tearfully saying sorry for some wrongdoing.

Next week sees the start of Lent, the Christian season of preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday you might just see someone with an ash stain smeared on their forehead, indicating that they have come from a church service marking the beginning of Lent.

Ashes are a sign of our penitence and mortality. We overcome our shortcomings because there but for the grace of God we go. Ash Wednesday’s annual ashes are a great witness and we should probably make more of them than we do. The season of Lent offers a serious wake-up call: a time for reflection and preparation for Easter.

Apart from the supermarket encouragement to buy Easter eggs I guess Lent largely passes many folk by. Giving up something for Lent, maybe alcohol or sweets, or taking on an improving activity is another tradition which has waned over the years. We dislike the suggestion that there are no short cuts, and if we are honest, we prefer a severe letting off. But take heart and enjoy Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, next week, then consider how to keep a good Lent.

This article appeared in the Courier and Advertiser on Friday, 28th February 2014.

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