The great Frederick Beuchner wrote a few years ago that most religious words have lost almost all vitality. Through overuse and abuse, terms like church and heaven and sin cause the eyes to glaze and the attention to wander.

Case in point: Repentance. Do you picture some half-crazed pulpiteer doing his best to scare the (pardon me) hell out of you?

It’s a shame, since repentance is a perfectly robust word for a perfectly necessary activity.

Our easiest mistake comes quite naturally. Everybody else needs to get on board with me, so the world can be a much happier place. “I wish all these people would get out of my way” I thought one busy morning, until another rude thought crowded its way in. “Did it ever occur to you that you might be in their way?”

Lifelong guilt trips run a close second, perhaps?

Maybe the worst misstep of all comes when you begin to confuse embarrassment at getting caught with contrition and forgiveness with a blank check that you can spend anyway you choose. Call it the entitled spirit. Should a pastor guilty of sexually manipulating and abusing parishioners ever have charge of a church again?

I don’t pretend to be an ethics expert, but I can tell you one thing from first-hand experience.

“Sin is the heart curved in on itself.” One teeny dose of the peril and plague of the human condition would literally drive you bonkers, save for the throbbing heart of love at the center of the cosmos. Honest-to-goodness repentance inspires you to say “thank you” for your morning oats, an extra flannel shirt in your closet and at least a few “brains in your brain.” Makes you grateful just to be alive. George Bailey found it out. So did Ebenezer Scrooge, Lieutenant Dan, and Tibbs and Gillespie. So does everyone who repents. “Get a new heart ... a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31).

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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