We all have blind spots, where we find ourselves in destructive patterns before we know it… I’ve noticed that by the time I do eventually recognize what’s happening and start to get cleaned up in one area, another sin is already in my blindspot!
So I started thinking through the seven deadly sins to see what might be next!
The sins: Listed in the same order used by both Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, and later by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the seven deadly sins are as follows: luxuria (extravagance, later lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (greed), acedia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride). Each of the seven deadly sins has an opposite among the corresponding seven holy virtues (sometimes also referred to as the contrary virtues). In parallel order to the sins they oppose, the seven holy virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. - (Wikipedia)
The Seven Deadly Sins: “me and my shadow”
When I was a young man, I assumed everyone suffered with lust as the un-beatable sin. Then I heard an older man say, “not everyone,” and I began to imagine what it might be like to live without enslavement to lust. I started using www.xxxchurch.com. And in “Blue Like Jazz,” Don Miller describes the naked female as a sight beyond any vista he’d ever seen, and likewise I began to imagine what it might be like to behold feminine beauty without sinning. As years went by, and I married & take in the vista, lust became less of a problem to me.
With some thoughtfulness, Sal & I bought a house. I work for a Christian agency on ‘staff support’ – meaning people donate to my salary – so it’s not much. After a few years and blessings we had a few investments. We chose to do that so we could make some money for Opportunity International Trust Banks (which generate micro-finance in poverty stricken areas) and to other workers and global needs. If we had not made those investments we’d have nothing to give – we’d still be simply living hand to mouth. But one day I turned around and saw greed, right there in the mirror! Well we made sure we figured out when enough was enough, and cashed out when the investments had fruited enough! Plus we had a bushfire in 2002 – we could see the flames towering over the trees next to the house as we drove away with everything that mattered in the car – the rest could burn. It was a very liberating experience to feel and know that we were detached from all that ‘stuff’.
Meanwhile, we had some kids, and they needed bathing and daddy time, and so footy training was impractical for me. No more footy. This sacrifice of my health was a conscious decision on my part for the sake of the needs of my kids. But as the years went by energy level decreased, and some nights it was all I could do to keep my eyes open in front of the TV. I run a neighbors’ network called Cheers. It runs on being intentional about getting off our butts and meeting the neighbors, and getting involved. And yet I began to realize sloth was in me too. I still have relaxing nights, but I make sure I go to the meetings I’ve organized, and ring mates to catch up, and make myself do the things I said I’d do. I put it in my diary. And I’ve also started to exercise again, even if it is only for 7 minutes a day… and the energy is returning.
Meanwhile, I have always enjoyed flavours – I’ve often joked that if I had to lose all but one of the five senses, then I’d choose to retain “taste.” Particularly the big aromatic flavours – olives, anchovies, pepperoni, shiraz, guiness – my coffee has to be strong black with a dark brown crème. I savour flavours, like the mouse in the movie Ratatouille. But in 2007/8 I started to catch myself going for seconds of the really tastiest stuff. And then thirds. One time I took a whole bowl of leftovers which I suddenly realized was supposed to be a side-dish for many. Could this be gluttony? While I was thinking about this, I turned 40, and noticed a little middle-age spread. Maybe it could be justified, but I visited the doctor in Nov 2008, and he said my cholesterol was too high at 6.4. And I learned that fat around my organs was stressing them. So I started the Every Other Day Diet, and 7 Minute Muscle programs.
So what’s next?
I already have an ongoing struggle with pride. I work hard at what I’m doing, and do what I do because I think it’s the right thing to do – integrity is a big deal to me, living an integrated / wholistic life, that is right under God, heart, mind, soul and strength. And so the down side is that I think I’m right – which means I can appear arrogant, as if I have ‘the’ right way. Of course I know there’s not one single right way to think about things, but the way I’m thinking about it at any given point is the right-est I can do for now, and so I can do no other than live that way. But it means I can be slow to realize when someone else has a better way, or is more right than me. And that looks a lot like pride! Add to that, that some people react to the alpha-male traits I have, as if that’s arrogant anyway. Add to that, that I am in a job that requires me to ‘tell’ people some things they may not know, things that I think are right. Add to that, that sometimes I have offended people by an insensitive comment or gesture, and you’ve got a cocktail of arrogance there. (Sorry if you’ve been on the receiving end.) So I do try to listen and learn from everyone. My father-in-law is my great model for me. He seems to assume that because he is “just a lowly farmer” that he must not know that much, and everyone else must have more insight than he. So he listens carefully to everyone, and asks for their wisdom on everything. And over the years that enquiry and reflection has made him a very wise man indeed – if only he would trust that a bit more.
I also have my battles with wrath: I suffer from an inherited form of depression, that made my granddad a mean drunk when he tried to self-medicate back in his day. Thankfully effexor is available now, but I know what it is to be enraged. Plus, I don’t take it very well when people in power treat me like an imbecile. try to write off what I’m saying with lame one-liners that really make no sense, or caricature what I’m saying as silly. It’s disrespectful, it treats me like an idiot, and I see red – the blood rushes to my brain so fast it makes my eyes rattle. The sense of shaming is the worst thing for me. (I’m sure a psyc with a little knowledge could have a field day with that.)
That only leaves envy. I suppose I don’t think in envious terms because I feel I’ve been blessed with so much – I have a meaningful job, a great wife who is truly my partner, 4 beautiful kids, more ‘stuff’ than we need, a fulfilling relationship with God, a very rich education (formally and informally), varied life experiences. And I’m very grateful for it all, knowing there’s no reason I was blessed with it, and aware that to whom much is given much is expected. So – maybe envy is my blind spot! Envy is “wanting to see someone else suffer so that I can have what they have.” I can’t see that exactly – at Cheers we work hard for others to be empowered, so when they take over something we once did, we’re grateful! Not envious. We think its great that they can do it now, because we can get on with something else. But then at work, sometimes I see a group get to do a job we should do, & I think, “my organization are sidelined when I know we could do it a lot better.” That’d be envy…
Even more troubling is this: I’m concerned at the size of my ecological footprint, and the system I’m attached to and complicit in, because I know it means that someone suffers so that I gain. I want to do something about it, but we need to do that together, so how? I am looking for answers as we speak. Bring back the electric car, bring on the air car, bring on green power, bring back trees everywhere and a renewed discovery of the pharmacy that is the native bush. Bring on the word ‘enough’ in economies and politics. End slavery and exploitation, stop oil-dependency, start new industries that are sustainable, bring on ocean reserves, give some land or land-rights away, let the UN do its job to broker equity in a pluralist world… and so I struggle with someone else having to suffer for my gain.
Classically the antidotes are as follows:
chastity, beats lust;
temperance, beats gluttony,
charity, beats greed,
diligence, beats sloth,
humility, beats pride.
patience, beats wrath, (and asking “why am I angry: am I sad, scared, or shamed?”).
And kindness, beats envy.
But here is what I have learned so far:
- Life is better without the vices!!!
- We all have blind spots, and that’s where the vices sneak in.
- A man’s got to know his limitations (Know thyself.) Be vigilant on myself.
- Christ’s in-spir-ation helps me beat the vices.
- Everyone battles with something, so cut us some slack.