The Seven Deadly Sins and the Grace of Interdependence

If you ever have to read a book about the seven deadly sins, I urge you to read Lawrence S. Cunningham’s The Seven Deadly Sins: A Visitor’s Guide

What these sins have in common is that they are all about the individual involved – “enough about you; what about me!” To use Luther’s language, they curve us inward on ourselves, making us the center of the universe rather than centering on the Holy One who centers all things.  One of my favorite sayings is “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” In other words, you are at the center of God’s care and so is everyone else. The best way to love the Creator is to love others and to love yourself as well, recognizing that true self-interest is committed to the best interests of others. It’s not about you: it’s about God and us!

The seven deadly sins share in common the following “theological” and practical affirmations:

  • I am the center of my universe
  • I am an individual, ultimately alone, and separate from others
  • My enjoyment and freedom come first; care for others and their well-being is secondary to me, my family, or my nation
  • Having is more important than being: whoever dies with the most toys wins!
  • People outside my tribe are ultimately unimportant and are means – or interferences – in my quest for happiness
  • I am self-made; my achievements are my own and don’t depend on God or anyone else

From the biblical perspective – and that of healthy spirituality – the self-made individual is to be pitied.  The self-made person believes that life is always threatening.  Compromise is treason.  If I don’t take it, someone else will.

The primary antidote to the seven deadly sins is the affirmation of graceful interdependence. In southern Africa, this is known as ubutu, “I am who I am because of what we all are.”  Or, as Bishop Desmond Tutu affirms, ubutu:  “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed…..you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”  {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu}

This graceful interdependence is characteristic of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12) in which everyone matters, everyone has a vocation, and the well-being of part and whole are connected with one another. Generosity, care, affirmation, and creativity contribute to the well-being of both part and whole. When we recognize our interdependence, we can love others as we love ourselves.

My teacher Bernard Loomer spoke of this in terms of “stature,” the breadth of reality that we can encompass without losing our fluid center. Grace is largeness of spirit, characteristic of the Buddhist Bodhisattva and those who seek to embody Christ in their daily lives. When we lose the small soul and awaken to the generous interdependence of life, we discover new energy and illumination, and embark on the pathway toward purity of heart. In fact, one of the most obvious signs of graceful interdependence is our sense of connection and willingness to let go of our self-interest for a greater good. Without enemies or outsiders, we let the energy of God’s blessing flow in and through us to bring goodness and healing to the world. While still fallible, our imperfections do not stand in the way of God’s vision of Shalom but become instruments of self-awareness, reconciliation, and   spiritual community.

A healthy theological and practical vision of graceful interdependence affirms:

  • All creation is connected.  My life emerges from forces beyond myself; my gifts are communal as well as individual.
  • My joy emerges from and contributes to the well-being of others.
  • No one is self-made; we are neither fully responsible nor fully to blame for our achievements and failures.
  • We are all in this together: your happiness and mine are connected.
  • God is the ultimate source of value and giftedness: we thank God by caring for the well-being of others.

Shout out the good news! We are connected: when we affirm the interdependence of life, we experience greater joy, less anxiety, and more love.

For more conversation and reviews of The Seven Deadly Sins, visit the Patheos Book Club here. 

 

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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