Life is strange, in the way that you can suddenly have reason to think about something that you already know - or think you know - and suddenly, something new strikes you about it.
Such is the experience that I'm having right now with the concept of "sin."
We talk about sin fairly frequently, and some churches define it differently than others do. Some talk about sin as the things you do that you know you shouldn't do, the times when you fall into old habits and treacherous traps and turn your back on what you know is right. Others talk about sin as missing the mark, as anything you do that doesn't measure up to what God wants from you, whether you do it intentionally - or even know about it - or not. Still others say we're nothing but sinners, born sinful and will die sinful and there's nothing we can do about it but to thank the Lord for the sacrifice of Christ that covers all those sins for us.
No matter what vein of Christianity you come from, sin is part of your theology. How we deal with it is an act of faith.
What started me thinking about all of this is a recent interaction that I've had with the Amish community.
The Amish are pretty well-known in my area of the country, though not as well-known as they are perhaps just a couple of states away. Nonetheless, we live adjacent to the Amish folk and a bit of understanding rubs off.
The Amish are known for living disconnected lives. They live off the grid. They don't connect their houses to the electrical lines or plumbing systems. They don't drive cars. Without electricity, they don't, of course, watch television or surf the Internet. Theirs is a simple way of life, and they believe this is the way that God would have them live.
A few Amish folks have telephones. Not all of them, but a few. And those who don't know who does, just in case of emergency, I suppose. The Amish develop close friendships with the English - what they call those of us who aren't Amish, and it's not uncommon to see an Amish person catching a ride in an English car to get to the next town or to the big city, when necessary.
And the Amish frequently sell their wares in English shops. They work on their farms to build furniture or manufacture soaps or weave cloths or whatever, and they tote them to town in their buggies (or hire an English to pick them up in his truck) and then take the profits for whatever they need, although they don't really have many bills to pay (since they don't have utilities) and they don't have much need for English goods.
It can be hard to keep up with all of the rules - what is okay and what is not okay and why it is or is not okay and how God conceives of all of it.
My recent contact came through a man who claimed to be basically a broker for an Amish good. He explained that he was the English who did the dealings in this world for the Amish guy, who we could not contact because he is Amish and thus disconnected, but...but...this guy told us that this particular Amish man does text. "Some of them will text," he said. "Not all of them, but some."
And, well, this just has me thinking about a lot of things related to how we conceptualize what it is God desires of us. Things like how easily our concept of sin turns into a slippery slope as we consider what is okay and what is not okay and try to justify what might be "necessary" or "advantageous." Things like whether or not sin is relative - if it's not okay for me to do it because it's not what God desires, is it okay for you to do it for me? Things like whether I am sinning if I let you do what I'm not allowed to do, but I participate anyway.
Fun questions, right? Sounds fun? Good. Buckle in. We'll look at these questions this week.