Today’s post is written in the interest of full candor. Hard words. Almost 40 years later, I’m still punishing myself over this one. Give it a read if you feel up to it, but I won’t be upset if you skipped it.
My friend and erstwhile theology professor Doctor Bobo used to say to his classes, in a slow, deliberate crescendo of his voice, “Sin is stuuuuuuuuuupid!” Then, nailing down the preliminaries, he would launch into an hour-long discussion of sin. Hamartiology, it’s called, the study of sin. The rest of the lecture I remember in sporadic bits, but his three words (and we all need soundbites to make it through life) lodged themselves into my brain. Sin. Is. Stupid.
The reverse isn’t true. Not all stupidity is sin. Sticking your hand in a moving blender isn’t a sin. It’s stupid. Dancing naked through an airport terminal? Also not sinning.
What Dr. Bobo is trying to nail down is: our habit of tossing reason out the window, to the harm of another.
You know. Stupid. Like when you inexplicably throw a noose over a tree branch and try to hang a sheep called Snowball.
I’m going to stop right now and tell you that despite my mounds of stupid, Snowball lived. In fact the sheep was fine thirty seconds later.
Snowball was mostly tame. It would come if you called her, or at least if you shook a can of sheep feed. I don’t remember if Snowball was a boy or girl, because my sister Lori had named most of the sheep, and she had weird naming habits. For the purpose of this narrative, I’m going to say it was a girl.
But why? Why did I do it?
Lori thought it was an okay idea, at least in theory. She played the Adam to my Eve and went along with my stupid, stupid plan. I hoisted on the rope and Snowball grunted, her gray sheep tongue lolling out. Snowball was heavier than me, so her hind legs never left the ground. She dropped back to the ground like a giant woolly bag of vegetable soup, two seconds later. Lori screamed in horror and ran back through the meadow, that had somehow lost its magic, and through the spider forest, and over the wire fence.
I stood, stunned by own actions, and removed the rope from Snowball’s neck. She panted noisily and a few seconds later, got to her feet. I could hear Lori’s sobbing all the way up at the top of the ridge, where our house was. As soon as I determined Snowball was okay, I trudged back up the hillside too.
I wasn’t too upset by the spanking I knew that would come. I knew I deserved it. I was wearing an old green canvas army jacket so when the willow switch smacked my butt about fifteen times, I barely felt it.
What I had done was an indefensible stupid, stupid thing. Flip Wilson used to put on a floral dress, carry a handbag onto stage, and shout “The Devil made me buy this dress!” There was no devil involved in my actions. Just me, and my lack of reason. Was it scientific curiosity? Like the Josef Mengele of sheep? I don’t think so. I’d seen my share of death and butchering, living on the woods with my family. Was it outright sadism? No. I still don’t know why I decided this was a good idea. I wasn’t one of those kids who tortured or killed small animals, hiding their death-prizes in a shoebox. I had no desire toward violence. In fact, when was seven years old and killed a finch with my BB gun, I cried for an hour because I had stopped its chirping permanently.
Who knows? I surely don’t. Sin, a smart guy in Birkenstocks and polyester slacks said to me once, is stupid. Sin defies reason; logic pours out your ear like syrup. All that remains in there is the act. And once you’ve committed the act, all that remains is regret. We, like sheep, have gone astray.
I hope nobody is too shellshocked by this post. Tomorrow, thankfully, I’ll have a less awful subject to write about. I just needed to get this one off my chest.