Lust: One of the Seven Deadly Sins
Still Working on that One, Too?I want the husband who lives two doors down. Oh, not because he's a reasonably good looking for a man of his dubious age of fifty-something or because he tends to walk around without a shirt in the summers, showing off a good set of pectoral muscles and chiseled abs. And not because he's still got plenty of dark hair on his head that he wears long, just brushing his shoulders. Nor do I lust after him because he's got a confident walk that says he can slay all the suburban dragons and lawn slugs in the neighborhood. He's got a baby-smooth chest, too, that's been played on a lot; you can tell this is true because it's void of all hair except for a fine, dark line under his navel that points downward towards the Forest of Forbidden Fruit. That's an old joke about no-grass-growing-on-a-playground, but what do you expect from an old woman doing the voyeur thing out her kitchen window?
No, I want this guy because he does what turns on most women of all ages. He works. He hauls stones and landscape timbers around and splits logs for his fire pit. He feeds the tomatoes and the birds, pets the neighborhood cats, and he walks back and forth behind a Toro lawn mower. And---be still my heart---he shovels snow in the winter. Almost every night in the summertime I can glance out the window and see this guy with his wheel barrow filled with sacks of bird seed or fertilizer and I get this warm fuzzy feeling like I'm looking back in time to when Don, my husband, probably gave the neighborhood ladies a thrill as he did manly things in the yard. Oh, no! I'm dating myself. Forgive me, all you female lawn service people and other women who like to compare weed killers and sprinkler heads over your back fences. I truly don't believe in dividing hobbies and occupations up by the sexes.
We have a lawn care service. I'd like to fire the guy, but I have no real reason other than I don't like the way he wears his wrap-around sunglasses and he treats me and Don like he wouldn't be caught dead smiling at old people. He makes his helper do that. Mr. Too-Cool-For-Words is a long, lean bad-boy type. Late twenties, owns the company, a jerk-face who does a great job on our lawn but who needs a personality transplant. By contrast, the fifty-something neighbor smiles, waves and goes out of his way to talk to my wheelchair bound husband and he once told me to let him know if I need any help. He's a mechanic by trade, so if I ever need my battery jumped---on the car---I have a go-to guy. He reminds me of Don before his stroke...always busy, but always friendly with a soft spot for helping his elders. Ah yes, what is there NOT to lust over with this guy?
I'm hoping, of course, that you all know that I use the word "lust" in a metaphorical way. I'm not really lusting after my neighbor. I just like the way that word rolls off my tongue and I use it often. I lust after peanut butter sandwiches, for example, or fresh corn on the cob at the farmer's market. These are tiny little lusts but they still cause a breathy sigh in the pit of my stomach. Nah, no way is there a self-destructive drive for pleasure that is out of proportion to its worth in this household.... unless maybe we're talking about the chocolate brownies. Lust (as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a sin against the virtue of self control) is just a pleasant memory at this point in my life. Few of us get to be over six decades old without clicking those deadly sins off on our fingers and saying, "Got that one under control," or "I still need to work on this one." You can't study the likes of Dante and St Thomas Aquinas without picking up a pointer or two about controlling genuine pleasures for maximum effectiveness without damaging your soul in the doing. Lust, so say the purists, will kill the soul by suffocation.
So, all you wanna-be good people of earth, tuck your desire for power, sex, money and personal glorification into one of those automated pet feeders that will dispense your lust back out a little at a time. Do it and someday in your old age you, too, will be able to look across your back yard and say, "that guy or gal has a nice ass," then smile with contentment and go back to your typing. ©
Fess Up: Anyone for Gluttony or Greed?
Second in the Seven Deadly Sins SeriesI've already written about lust in the first of this four part series, so I might as well tackle the other two of the Seven Deadly Sins that fall in the category of excessive love of earthly pleasures: Greed and Gluttony. If Dante could lump the sins of lust, greed and gluttony together in 'Purgatorio' I can, too. After all, without Dante to rank the sins would we even have---on second thought, let's not go there! I don't want the natives to get restless here.
We all know something about greed. Or we think it's about amassing money or worldly goods and hoarding it all for ourselves. Literally speaking this is true, I guess, but how much is too much? Who decides when we've got enough Ding Dongs and dollars in our cupboards to ward off future catastrophic events? Greed, as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins, only makes sense when we hold it up against The Virtue in which that sin offends. Here, that virtue is Generosity.
Okay, so sharing is good. I think I read that in a book titled, 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.' So in theory if we share our Ding Dongs with the cat and drop a check in the mail to a do-gooder group do we automatically become virtuous? Do we also have to shout for joy that we've got cake to share and have that extra bonus from work that would otherwise buy us more toys, if not spent buying bread for our less fortunate brothers and sisters? No, no, no! Our generosity can't be shouted from the roof tops or we'll stumble our way into the vanity department of taking credit and expecting praises. Being virtuous is hard work, isn't it!
Okay, let's look at this from another angle. What if that box of Ding Dongs hidden away represents more than just food, it fills a hole in the heart? It's become an adult security blanket. If we give away our last Ding Dong in a situation like that is it generosity or fool-heartedness? If we are generous in other ways, giving of ourselves to serve others in a Mother Teresa sort of way, does that trump one tiny sin of hoarding chocolate cream-stuffed cake high on a shelve? Hey, I just ask the questions. I have no answers.
I do know that having wealth, in itself, is not evil. I do know that people who work hard are entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I also know that true generosity is a quiet thing. Something we must all root out in our own hearts like a sow after Gummy Bears in the dark. Generosity versus Greed is about more than just money, wealth and winning first place on American Idol. It's about its polar opposite of giving without expectations. It's about sharing our knowledge, ourselves, our spotlights on the stage of life. (Glory hallelujah! But don't pass the collection plate just yet. We still need to talk about gluttony.)
Gluttony---as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins---is harder to define than greed. Some people think they can pick out the ones who sin against the virtues of temperance and faith. They think it's all about excesses in food, drink and entertainment involving eatable panties. But what gives any of us the right to judge the alcoholic whose ancestral background may predispose him to addiction? Or to judge the obese woman who may cry in her pillow each night as being less virtuous than the thin little chickie who might be sticking her fingers down her throat each day to make herself barf up her supper? Can we always judge a book by its cover---sort the medical problems out from the lack of personal temperance? Does knowing the scriptures give a person the right to put mental ear tags on each fat person they meet, like bagging a deer during hunting season? Did too much Krypton fall out of some of our comic books when we were kids giving us imagined powers beyond the normal? Temperance, as a Virtue, accepts that there are natural limitations to pleasures. Gluttony pushes beyond...but is that sin or illness? Only The Shadow knows.
If I was a fire and brimstone preacher, this is where I'd hold the Holy Book up high and shout, "Judge not, lest you be judged, oh brothers and sisters!" Or do I have my preachers mixed up? Would not the fire and brimstone makers be saying something about us already having been judged and coming up on the wrong side of the yard stick? Oh, darn, I can't sort out my preachers just now. So I'll close this little---some would say---irreverent essay by paraphrasing Robert Fulghum's book about things learned in kindergarten and state, "Ladies and gentlemen, go out in the world and 'play fair!'" ©
Pride, the Sin, Not the Gay Parade
We've already covered lust, greed and gluttony. This little ditty---the third in my four part deadly sins series---will bounce around some ideas about Pride, the sin. Hey, I have a low threshold for boredom and I'm an insomniac with time on her hands. Who else would think this stuff up in the middle of the night?
Decades ago, I remember thinking that a good time involved fitting five out of the seven sins into my sunset-to-dawn schedule. But it's been so long since I've thought about The Sins that I had to look them up to make sure I'm remembering them right. Pride, Greed, Envy, Anger, Lust and the two most misunderstood sins of all: Gluttony and Sloth. It's been even longer since I've thought about how most Western religions are divided up along One Great Principle of either emphasizing the sin part of the equation over The Virtues in which those Seven Deadly Sins are committed against or emphasizing The Virtues, talking very little about the sins as if mentioning them might put thoughts into our heads. Man, that sentence was sixty words long! Some where in the underworld there's an English teacher turning over in her pink satin-lined coffin.
The Virtues: Humility, Generosity, Love, Kindness, Self-Control, Faith & Temperance and Zeal. Yes, Virginia, we can't have sin without them. The Virtues and The Sins are like Yin and Yang---not the panda bears in the zoo, but in Chinese philosophy and metaphysics. No, wait! I'm giving it the Western spin. Yin and Yang are primal oppose but complementary forces, not polar opposites. Yin/Yang. Tit-for-Tate. Let's get back to virtues before I start singing a little Michael Jackson. 'Virtue' is a pretty word, don't you think? It's fun to say but it's hard to walk the talk. But I try because I'm from the camp that believes in setting goals to live up to, rather than dispensing fears to run away from. Sing The Virtues, that's my religion, and the sins will take care of themselves. I am getting big-time side-tracked again. Tonight I'm meditating about pride. Repeat that twenty times in a row; I'm old and your chanting will help me to remember to stay on point.
At first glance I have a hard time understanding how pride can be a sin. I mean I take pride in lots of things. The way I came through my husband's stroke with all my marbles in place and the way my living room smells sweeter after I discovered where the dog parks his barf are just two examples. As humans, we take pride in our appearance and in the way our children turn out. We take pride in catching the biggest fish at a tournament or having a prestigious title at work. We take pride in the fact that we have more Tinker Toys than our neighbors or because we have bigger houses---and this is where pride enters the sin zone. (Insert eerie music here.)
To understand how pride is considered a sin I guess we need to talk about humility. Humility is, after all, the virtue that the sin of pride offends. Humility is seeing ourselves as we are, not as we are compared to someone else---write that on your shirt sleeve, there will be a quiz later. Pride is vanity. Pride is competitive. But wait a minute. Don't we need pride? Don't we need to think highly of ourselves? Where does self-esteem enter into the picture? Without it, wouldn't we drive ourselves nuts questioning our own abilities to make simple Mickey Mouse decisions? I'm talking about little prides here involving things like Resolve Carpet Cleaner and fishy taxidermy hanging in the den. Why can't we be prideful without it being arrogant, self-centered, conceited, or boastfulness? Geez, all pride doesn't take on the same intensity as the kind Aristotle might have discussed that leads to war between nations, does it? (Me big strong nation. You gum on my shoe.) And without healthy pride and competition, we'd still be living in the Stone Age, would we not? Match - point. Which side of my head is winning this debate, anyway?
Take a deep breath. Let's look at that Ralph W. Sockman said: "True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be." Here we go again. Isn't he suggesting that we look within our own hearts to set the standards to gauge our efforts, that we measure ourselves against ourselves not against our neighbors? Bingo! And on another side of the Rubik's Cube, Paul Keating defined what humility is not when he said: "If one takes pride in one's craft, you won't let a good thing die. Risking it through not pushing hard enough is not humility." I'm confusing myself again. Oh, lord, pass me the box of Ding Dongs.
"Back to basics," I can hear some old philosophy professor saying in my head. "Break it down as simple as you can." Okay. Being prideful of having lost ten pounds is not a sin, but being proud that you lost a pound more than your best friend is the sin of Pride. Being proud that you've gotten through all of your painful life challenges with just a few Band-Aids and bruises is not a sin, but thinking that---when those challenges came along---you should have been exempt from having them is a sin of against The Virtue of Humility. By gosh, I've cracked the code! Pride keeps us from seeing the graces and authenticity in our lives. Pride keeps us from seeing that we are no better than the yo-yo who collects our dollars at the car wash or the chick at the beach with an ugly outie or a man with no legs.
Lest we forget, I need to add a footnote here. A few good men argue for and believe in the literal interpretation that pride is pitting ourselves against the will of God. Okay, by now you should be able to tell that I don't buy into that power struggle. If you want to pass my pop quiz, put down something like thinking you should be exempt from life's trials and tribulations just because you've listened to the entire Bible read by Charles Heston or you've made lots of yellow highlights in the print version is the sin of having too my pride. In my class, that's an excellent example of a sin of Pride against Humility. And that next to the last sentence was another one of those turn-over-in-your-grave run-ons sentences hated by English teachers everywhere .
Bottom line: Life is just one big long lesson in humility, of being humbled by the graces that are bestowed upon us. Through adversity we learn to kick the gloating pride out of our lives and accept our state of grace. The humility that comes flowing in with the absence of the sinful kind of pride keeps our heads in proportion to our accomplishments. What is the hardest part about avoid the sin of pride? For me, it's knowing that in order to have true humility, I can't brag about having found it. (Insert laughter here, please.)
This ends my midnight meditation on the Seven Deadly Sins series, part three. Amen and hallelujah! Now, get out your reading glasses and tell me what you wrote down on your shirt sleeve. If you got it right, it will be one of the few lines in this whole silly ditty that means jack squat in this poker game we call life. ©
Envy, Anger and Slothfulness---Are We Talking About Anyone You Know?
4th and Last in the Seven Deadly Sins SeriesWhen Dante classified the vices (commonly known at the Seven Deadly Sins) he placed Envy, Anger and Slothfulness as number two, three and four directly beneath the worse vice of all: Pride. Dragging up the rear are Greed in fifth place, Gluttony in sixth and Lust at the very bottom. I never could figure out why Pride is so much worse that Lust but you can't argue with a dead dude who was born way back in 1265. Dante was a Gemini---if anyone cares about those things---an Italian writer/poet that all self-respecting college students and serious Catholics have at least heard about, if not studied the stuffings out of in the wee hours of the night. The likes of "The Divine Comedy" and "The Inferno" are woven into the fabric of all western thought. Some might even say that Dante single-handedly Christianized the thoughts of Aristotle. And while the work of Dante never showed up in "The Idiot's Guide to Philosophy" or in any of the Seinfeld episodes---and why would it if his thoughts weren't original?---the work of Aristotle does appear in both these venues. This article, the last installment of my Deadly Sins Series, examines Envy, Anger and Slothfulness.
Envy - Envy is a sin against The Virtue of Love. Okey, dokey. That's easy enough to understand. We can't resent what others have at the same time claim to love them. "Love is patient, love is kind"---I don't remember where that quote comes from but it's a good one to chant when we're tempted to envy our brother's extensive bowling ball collection or our aunt Ruthann because she's got a doctoral in something we can't pronoun. I know, I know, bowling ball gardens are pretty cool and knowing stuff can win you money on game shows. Envy is so hard to resist! But we're suppose to love people enough to be happy for their good fortunes and sad when their luck runs out. Envy is so mixes up with Pride and competition that even the theological experts have trouble sorting out all the sin/virtue nuances and make them stand up and behave. So we common folks can just put all that theological and philosophical chic-chat into a hopper and it comes out the other end as, "Love Thee Neighbor."
Anger - The inappropriate feeling of hatred and revenge. One catch here. Who decides what is "inappropriate?" I hate that word, it's so ambiguous. Who decides when dislike crosses over into hatred? And is it okay to express anger when our kids run out in the street, but wrong to raise our voices when they spill milk on the floor? Where on the sin meter does the good-little-woman-turned-viper x-wife fall when she spends all her time thinking up dirty tricks to play on the dumb duck who dumped her? Can we express "normal" anger and still be virtuous? Let's think this out: If we're going to follow a trend here in this series, we need to hold the Sin of Anger up against The Virtue in which it sins against. In this case we're talking anger versus kindness. We all know about kindness in its many forms of patience, tenderness and compassion. Many of us learned that stuff in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. So just remember, be nice and don't hit or spit and that should keep you out of the sin zone.
Slothfulness - "I'm a sloth, you're a sloth, we're all sloths." Could this be the theme song in your neighborhood, boys and girls? The word 'sloth' strictly defined is laziness. However, the religious use of the word is not that simple and this confuses a lot of people who like to go sinner sniping. Why? Because The Virtue in which Slothfulness sins against is Zeal, or enthusiasm. Can you see, now, that the sin kind of slothfulness has nothing to do with wearing your undies too many days in a row? Yup, the Sin of Slothfulness is defined in a broader, more philosophical context....like that of drifting into a state of complacency and failing to response to the graces all around us. Having apathy about life is slothfulness. Zealousness, on the other side of the coin, is a child-like appreciation for our space in time. It's not screaming at by-passers on a street corner about Hell and Damnation. If you do that, stop it! Finding our balance on the Zeal/Sloth teeter-totter means that we study and learn and grow into this thing called humanity. It's a semi-quiet thing that radiates out from within and colors every thing we do.
So, good people who may still be reading this article, this ends my Seven Deadly Sins series and won't you be glad to know that I have no desire to go on to write about the finer points of the Venial or Mortal Sins and the Ten Commandments. Cash---no checks---in the collection plate, please. ©