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Everyone’s got an opinion these days, and we each think only ours is right. We will insert ourselves into conversations in which we do not belong just to tell other people so. We’ll deny others’ lived experiences with our own conjectures about how we might have lived it, had it been up to us. And everything is up to us — it’s all out there on the table, ready to be judged, pawed over, analyzed. Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred. Nothing can be held out as indisputably true. Please, let us all take a step backwards and listen — just listen. Truth can only come when everyone is heard.

I say, “How could they, possibly?”
and yet possibly people do,
improbably and often.
It’s the old sin, snaking,
rearing up like an asp,
to ask: “Who knows
better than you?”
And there you are,
mouth full of apple,
mealy beneath your tongue.
You know nothing. At core,
at core, all of us know nothing.
Lock your opinion in your bones
until — and, yes, unless — you
find yourself kicking the embers
of the same conflagration.
And even then, know —
there were other ways,
other gates, out of the garden.

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A collection of crows is called a murder. A clutch of kittens is called a kindle. So what do you call a group of human beings?

The answer, at least of late, and (gratefully) in a minority of instances, is to call them animals. Those gang members are animals. That person is an animal.

This is all very easy and very satisfying. It makes sense to separate these people from our own species, to make them less like us. It creates a comfortable distance and encourages us to not bother treating them as we would other human beings. It gives us license to dismiss them. Or worse.

But it is also very dangerous. For one thing, animals aren’t like people; in many ways they are better. They don’t rape and kill for power and position…or just for the heck of it. There were no muskrats or springboks eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Even if you only accept that story as metaphor, animals are clearly exonerated. When they kill, they do so from instinct — to eat, to protect their young. You won’t see any real wolves on Wall Street — or bulls or bears, either. Just humans doing human things, which are often greedy, self-motivated or based on the basest of emotions: fear or anger.

The truth is: Only human beings willingly choose evil. That is a frightening thing. But it is also a fact that we must look at, clear-eyed and without flinching. Only when we understand our complicity in evil can we start to correct it. But that understanding has to start in our own souls, because that is where evil hides out. None of us is immune to it. If we can call a person an animal, we can commit evil against that person. It’s a slippery slope, folks, lined with Slip ‘n’ Slides and plummeting down to the depths of human depravity. They may be on that slope, but so are we.

Every human being, no matter how unlike us they might be, is a human being. God made them. God made us. God made Liberals. God made Conservatives. God made gang members. There is never — ever — justification for treating someone as less than human, even if that person is choosing to treat me as less than human.

Let’s remember that the next time we feel the urge to other someone. And let’s respond in a truly human way — with hugs, not name-calling.

I don’t go around thinking about Original Sin all that much. Who does? It’s like an old stain on a favorite shirt. Who remembers how it got there? But something our friend Lady Calen wrote recently caused me to have what can only be deemed a revelation: What if Original Sin isn’t what we think it is? What if it isn’t disobedience — which, let’s face it, never made much sense (“You can eat from any of the trees in the garden except that one. It’s the best one, by the way.”). What if it’s a little more personal?

Just after the fracas with the apple, God asks Adam and Eve why they’ve donned snappy little outfits made of leaves. Adam says, essentially, “We were naked, so we covered ourselves up.” But who told them that being naked was a bad thing? Who got into their heads with comments like, “Seriously, Eve, those thunder thighs. Put on a skirt”? Not the snake. They did it themselves.

What if Original Sin is a failure to love ourselves properly?

Take a minute to think it through. What if our inability to love ourselves is at the root of sin and hatred toward others? What would happen if we stopped running ourselves down and fully participated in the gifts we were bestowed? Maybe something miraculous.

But Lori, you might say (if you knew me well enough to know my name), plenty of people love themselves. In fact, they love themselves a little too much. Maybe that’s just the other side of the sinful coin. Narcissism is like looking at oneself the wrong way through a telescope. It has no more to do with reality than undermining ourselves constantly. And it can lead to the same failure to love others properly. Only after we are at home in ourselves — neither grossly overvaluing nor undervaluing our beings — can we properly live among others.

Does that sound too easy? Well, contemplate this: How many of us have managed to love ourselves properly, historically speaking? How many of us have got it right? Someone who loves herself does not start a war. He or she does not commit violence. He or she does not hate others, because he/she is secure in him/herself. So the answer to the aforementioned questions is this — practically nobody.

It is our lives’ work to know and love ourselves, to find our place in the world at large. That’s it. And yet we fail at it, over and over again. I’m not excluding myself. Just this morning I wondered why on earth I should love a short-tempered old cow like myself. I haven’t got the answers. I can only pose the questions.

But if loving ourselves is the point — if failure to love is our Original Sin — hadn’t we better get a jump on fixing it? Let’s start now, during this blessed season, by doing one thing for ourselves. Take a nap. Be content with the presents you’ve bought. Stop stressing. And just open your heart up, to yourself and to the world. You know, sometimes I put two and two together and make a pretty good-sounding “four.” I’m gonna rest in that knowledge today.

Someone once said that at age 50, you have the face you deserve. Now, who that someone was is up to debate: Some say Coco Chanel, others George Orwell. Some give the nod to Lincoln (and change the “expiration date” to 40 instead of 50). One website even credits Joan Collins with the witticism. Me, I tend to be Team Coco. It sounds like the sort of thing she would have said, perhaps between designing chic little black dresses and scolding people about their accessory choices.

I’ve had cause to consider this quotation as I stare down the barrel at the rapidly approaching bullet that is my 50th birthday. Do people really have the faces they deserve? One could argue that money, as usual, effects exceptions to the rule — if one has a clever plastic surgeon, that is. It would also be appropriate to note that life isn’t fair, and the results of this unfairness often show up on the kindest and best of visages. When my brother was just barely out of toddler-hood, he cracked his head open after tripping on a jump rope (to be fair, my sister and I were chasing him). He has the scar to this day. I have a similar scar on my lower lip, the product of a childhood incident with a sharpened pencil and prolonged spinning. (What was I thinking? Knowing me, I was thinking the pencil was a magic wand, and I was a twirling fairy, and, well, splat…an unhappy ending.)

Truly bad things happen to good people, with surprising regularity. Still, one could argue (and I intend to) that none of get what we really deserve. Because someone took the weight for us.

Whether or not you believe in the Adam and Eve story, you must admit that we humans have been both blessed and cursed by Free Will. Given the choice, we often do awful things. Whether those things fall into the category of unlawful fruit-eating or violence against one another, it does not matter. The black mark on our souls is there from the start. Most of us do little to mitigate it.

And that could have been all she wrote. (Not me, silly. I mean “that might have been the last word on the matter.”) Except for three exceptional blessings: Baptism (to wash away Original Sin), Reconciliation (the process of confessing and being forgiven one’s sins) and — most crucially — Christ’s death and resurrection, which guaranteed for all of us the possibility of the most stunningly unearned outcome of all: An eternity with God in heaven.

No matter how unfair life is, to our faces or our fortunes, we have a miraculous reprieve available to us. Jesus suffered and died for us so we, all of us sinners, throughout the ages, could have the very best of presents: More time, the best time, time free from all the petty concerns of this earth.

So maybe I do have the face I deserve. Or not. But I certainly have so much more — the hope of heaven. And that’s a pretty good comfort to cling to, no matter what life throws my way.

For a long time, I didn’t understand Original Sin. Adam and Eve ate an apple from the wrong tree. (Although, of course, it was clearly Eve’s fault. Women! And yes, the sarcasm meter is on.) So? How is that enough to cause God to oust them from Eden, saddle them with the burdens of humanity (again, women getting the brunt of it — another purported mark of guilt), and send them to scratch and scrape for the rest of eternity?

Sure, it was disobedient. Yet disobedience never seemed an adequate explanation to me. God created us with free will. He had to know what that entailed — if you give someone a choice, he or she is bound to choose incorrectly, at least sometimes. Why punish humankind for the gift that defines us? The punishment is simply not proportional to the crime.

So here’s what makes sense to me: The Original Sin was not disobedience; it was selfishness. It was that instinct in all of us that says, “You can’t tell me what to do. I know better. I’m going to do what I want to do and damn the consequences.” It is a shade darker than simple disobedience; it is the same itch that overwhelms a child who sees another child with a desirable new toy: I want that. I will take that. It doesn’t matter what he feels; it only matters what I feel. It’s the way sociopaths live their lives. It is the worst of us.

The opposite, of course, is unselfishness — the giving, altruistic spirit of sharing, of making sure everyone has a part and is cared for equally. Jesus embodied it, including everyone, rich and poor, male and female, equally into His circle of love. We have the chance to embody it too, when we decide whether to stretch out a hand to those in need or “stick to our own kind” and “take care of number one.”

I don’t believe that the stain of Original Sin washes away entirely with baptism. Its shadow remains. We can grow it or curtail it based on our openness and willingness to live our lives in the ways of love, mercy and justice. This means accepting all people, no matter what their race, creed, religion or sexual preference. It means an equitable allotment of goods and resources. It means getting over our petty grievances with one another and realizing that Original Sin is original to us all. We are forever connected. What we do with that knowledge is the ultimate test.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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