I’ve been reading Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic. I’ve only completed the first chapter so far, but I really like the way he talks about sin. ‘Sin’ is such a rubbish word to use these days. Spufford talks about how it has been appropriated by dieters, or used to laugh at people who are hung up about sex. It has lost its meaning as something serious or relevant for most people – that’s why people are baffled about why Christians are always going on about sin.
Instead, Spufford talks about that point when we realise we’ve messed up. However hard we’ve tried, the relationship has soured, we’ve hurt people we love, life hasn’t turned out how we planned it. He calls this the human propensity to f*ck things up – or the HPtFtU. That really made sense for me. With the best will in the world, why do conversations with my husband and kids so often end in shouting and recrimination, or a major sulk.
Then, on Sunday morning on the radio, Clare Balding was talking to Buddhist Alison Murdoch about something very similar. Murdoch described how so often we wake up and resolve to be kinder that day, or not to lose our temper, or whatever it might be. And before we know it, our resolve has been broken and we’ve got angry or been rude. It reminded me of the HPtFtU.
But the really interesting thing, which inspired me to post this, was how to deal with this. Murdoch talked about Buddhist techniques to do it right the next time. Ways to become less angry, to be the person we are trying to be. It struck me that in Buddhism, the solution is seen as coming from within. Each person has the power to deal with his or her own HPtFtU, with the right set of discipline and tools at his or her disposal. This is in contrast with Christianity, which admits that humans have no capacity to sort out the HPtFtU. Each person is utterly dependent on God to help us find a way out of the mess that he or she has created, and it is at the point when someone realises how utterly dependent on God they are that the real journey with God begins.