Sins of spirit always deadliest

Curtis Shelburne

A few years ago, I did something I’d never done before. Along with two writing partners, I tried my hand at penning some short pieces for what we hoped might become a series of gift books.

We had in mind some little volumes entitled something like, “Dear Mom,” “Dear Dad,” “Dear Teacher,” etc. I even pitched a name for the series: “Endearables.” The writers were named Barnett, Shelburne, and Shelburne. (I christened us BS-squared.)

Alas, most small publishers aren’t interested in gift books and the big boys already have plenty of folks writing plenty of that kind of stuff, so our efforts will likely never turn into ink. But it was a lot of fun lining up words with my brother and our dear friend Joe Barnett.

Thinking of Joe recently, I remembered another piece he wrote. Joe’s one of those athletic insomniacs who gets up way too early to run way too far, and has for years. I expect him to live to be 120.

In his essay, Joe talked about the kinds of dangers a runner worries might mess up a good run: dogs, big trucks, SUV’s, etc. But one day he realized that those obvious threats are less truly dangerous than the ones a runner barely thinks about. Runners worry about dog bites but rarely think much at all about mosquito bites, West Nile virus, encephalitis, etc. Joe made the excellent point that in our lives we tend to worry about the big and obvious sins—theft, drunkenness, murder—when in fact the less obvious threats to our souls such as bitterness, resentment, an unforgiving spirit, and so on, may be far more deadly. In fact, the sins of the spirit are always the deadliest of all.

Consider self-righteousness, for example. All self-righteousness is religious but religion is not the object of all self-righteousness. Whenever our noses go up—at work, at play, or at worship—and we play the snob, it’s just like the little skunk raising its tail. Things are about to get stinky. People learn to recognize the signs and usually have enough sense to back away if they can.

Self-righteousness is, of course, a form of pride, and pride is by its nature competitive. It’s not enough to be good at what we do, we must consider ourselves better at it than those around us. We take what’s good and twist it. It is good, for example, to be conscientious in our work, but it is not good to think that we are more conscientious than, well, almost anyone else. If we beat the daylights out of the people around us, we needn’t be surprised when we end up friendless and alone. Fellow strugglers make excellent friends. Folks we’ve put down and think we’ve bested in almost every area? Not so much.

So, don’t you just hate being around self-righteous people? Careful now. It’s possible to be self-righteous about not being self-righteous.

See what I mean? The sins of the spirit are always chasing us, ready to bite us on the backside.