Why I love Ash Wednesday and Lent Part 1: Sin

Ash Wednesday is my favorite day of the church year and Lent is my favorite season.  Our culture has quite ruined Christmas and Easter with Santa and the Easter bunny and all the grotesque consumerism and made for TV specials behind all of it. But oddly nobody waits every year to watch the Ash Wednesday Peanuts Special.  There are no Doorbuster sales at 4am on the first day of Lent.  There are no big garish displays in the middle of Cherry Creek Mall with mechanical Children in sack cloth and ashes.  Nope.  We get this one all to ourselves.  Our culture has no idea what to do with a day that celebrates the fact that we all sin and are going to die.  But sin is strangely enough one of my favorite things to talk about.  I sometimes greet my friends by saying “hello sinner”.  It’s a term of deep affection.  I reclaim the word sinner.

I love to talk about sin, which makes little sense to people who want to label me as a liberal.  I think perhaps that actual liberals equate admitting we are sinful with having low self esteem.  And then the conservatives equate sin with immorality (only some times do sin and immorality converge).  So one end of the church tells us that sin is an antiquated notion that only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we should avoid mentioning it at all.  While the other end of the church tells us that sin is the same as immorality and totally avoidable if you are just a good squeaky clean Christian. But when sin is boiled down to low self esteem and immorality then it becomes something we can control or limit in some way rather than something we are bondage to.  The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self.  I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do.

To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.

…to be continued.

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About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • Janet L. Bohren

    This makes so much sense. You cut right to the essence of sin. Thanks for such clear faith-filled thinking. Looking forward to your next post.

  • http://emm-in-sem.tumblr.com Emmy

    Thank you, Pastor Nadia. I really needed this today.

  • http://chateauseven.blogspot.com Reya Mellicker

    I love these thoughts! Thank you. And so glad you get at least one holiday to yourselves.

    I’m Jewish. We love to talk about sin as well. In Hebrew, the word for sin literally translated means “that which does not work.” I love thinking about sin in that way. Stealing, for instance, definitely does not work!

    As for the confluence of eternal soul with finite body – I think we all struggle with that one.


    • Eric Deibler

      Hi Reya,
      I love this new light that you’ve thrown upon the understanding of sin as “that which doesn’t work”. I’ve been trying to find a reference for this but cannot. Can you cite a source?

      • http://baronessblack-baronessblack.blogspot.com/ Baroness Black

        I don’t know about “that which doesn’t work”, but I’ve often heard about the word “sin”/”sinning” coming from an old archery term for missing the target. Which I think is a good description. Sometimes we sin deliberately, sometimes we just “fall short” of what we know we could and should do!

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  • Bruce W. Marold

    Dear Ms. Bolz-Weber,
    I am delighted to say that if first impressions mean anything, we are off to a great start. I am nominally a member of the ELCA, however my teaching mentor at the Moravian Theological Seminary, where I am a masters candidate in theological studies calls me a Lutheripalian, since I attend an Episcopal church. More of that later. I agree whole heartedly with your affection for Advent and Lent, and I offer that the commercial powers that be have not succeeded in wresting Easter away from its primary meaning. Even better is the fact that Easter and Lent are on their on special calendar, is as if one were in that old Robert A.Heinlein story about moving roadways, and you went faster by stepping from a slower moving belt (story is “The Roads Must Roll”) to a faster moving one. The very time itself is magical. I also tend to think of Christmas as Jesus’ gift to the world, and don’t begrudge all the benefit Macys may get from the celebration, or all the joy they give to children. Since my confirmation, a very, very long time ago (I’m retired, and I am picking up were I left off as a failed Ph.D candidate in Philosophy) Luther has been an intellectual hero of mine, especially as one who was so obsessed with doubt. I loved the ELCA for its ordaining women and its acceptance of same sex unions. One of my heros is the female Rev. Dr. who is the chief of staff to our synod (NE Pennsylvania) bishop, who is a member of my former ELCA church. I envy your initiative in creating an emerging church. I wish I had the time and energy to do it, but time is taking its toll. I went to an Episcopal church because in spite of many tries, the Lutheran church and synod could not find a place where a lay Bible teacher could spread the word. Hence, move to a church where I have that opportunity, and get a formal degree in Theology. Just a bit of a “Take that” attitude. I expect to graduate this May and write a book on teaching Ethics to adults and in seminary. (My weakest class in 4 semesters was in Ethics, in which I specialized at Lehigh and Johns Hopkins, in my earlier academic career.) I also share your adminration of Phyllis Trible. Looking forward to annoying you with comments. I am the thorn in the side of Larry Patten, the United Methodist pastor and novelist who I also encounter on Facebook.

    Peace and Promise,
    Bruce W. Marold

  • Emily

    Can I subtitle this post “Why I have huge love & gratitude for NBW, Part n”?

    Thanks sinner. And thanks be to God.

  • http://pursuing.calefaction.org/ Steve Killen

    I’m grateful for the perspective. I cast away the framework of a world involving sin a long time ago, but your eloquence helps me understand why my friends cling to it still.

  • Andy

    Flipping thru stuff on Google looking for inspiration for the Ash Wednesday service tonight. Not feeling anything really inspiring. Then I came across your post and finally lets just say it. I am a sinner. Feels weird should be fun to make everyone say it to themselves. Really adds meaning to it. I am a sinner. So simple yet so strong. Thanks for the inspiration. I too circle Ash Wednesday every year and look forward to it. I am a sinner! Thanks.

  • Ruth Sievert

    Thanks, Nadia! You just helped my fuzzy, meandering Ash Wednesday sermon get much clearer. I’m a sinner, too. So glad to meet you.


  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    You put this so well Nadia. The theology of Christus Victor has really helped me see that sin is more of a symptom of who is in control of my life and where I’m plugged in. Sin is still awful and terrible, but the bigger problem is that Jesus isn’t influencing me when I’m plugged into… well… evil–whatever that is. I just know that it’s something that wants to wreck the good things God is doing in my life and in those around me.

  • Nancy Lorimer

    Nothing is so bracing, so attention-focusing, as to hear, ‘you are dust and to dust you shall return’.

  • Mark B.

    How excellent! Brilliant and edifying. Not to take away one bit from your splendid gem, may I humbly suggest that fundamentalists and “conservatives” are not synonymous? Perhaps the one end of the church is not the “conservatives” but the fundamentalists. Many “conservatives” understand sin as you do, which is as scripture does. Thank you for this fantastic piece.

    • Sara Crawford

      Well stated! Thank you!

  • Dave

    I was given a gift certificate ($150) by a parishioner for my first tattoo (at age 51) because I commented – and had a great discussion about – how much I liked the meaning of what they had on their forearm. It stirs great spiritual conversations. So, do you have recommendations?
    Signed, The Ancient-Future (soon to be former) Nazarene.

  • Brandy

    Peanuts, Doorbusters, and mechanical children in sack cloth, no–but I did hear a new radio ad on Ash Wednesday for a major grocery store chain publicizing their fabulous fish and seafood prices, for all your needs “this season.” Culture and consumerism squeeze in where they can!

    Thanks for your excellent reflection Nadia!

  • http://revsimmy.wordpress.com Revsimmy

    From one sinner to another: I just love this post – especially your refusal to side with either liberals or conservatives on the issue of sin. These are “inconvenient truths” which no caricature can really address, and labels are only helpful if they lead us to the truth (which I find is not that often). Our faith ought to help us face these truths and your post here has been very inspiring. Thanks for sharing it, Nadia.

  • http://saintandcynic.blogspot.com Brant

    Sinners need forgiveness. I ask absolution for the sin of stealing my Ash Wednesday sermon’s best line from this blog post.


    Oh…and, thanks!

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  • http://raptr.com/ivorycherry24/wall Janis Belgrave

    Watch “The News Hour” on NPR. They give a clear explanation of what’s going on with both sides of an opinion. The newspaper just is too immediate, in other words it doesn’t explain what an event means. The other news programs on TV are too opinionated and it’s hard to learn because they are trying to convince you.

  • Pr. Libby Howe

    Thanks for these words, Nadia. I often read your posts and the comments after them. It really bothers me that people who disagree or want to banter with you often choose to address you as “Ms.” So if any of you are reading my comment here…maybe you’ll decide to say Pastor or Rev. next time, or just use her name as I did. She is quite worthy of that simple courtesy…regardless of the sinner she is.

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  • Stephanie

    Words I needed to hear today, and pretty much every day. Thank you Nadia.

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