Acting to Heal Relationships Around Me

In a previous post I wrote about my dialogues with a pastor of the church I’d been attending for 4 years. I was a tad smarmy then of course. Thinking I was taking the high road, I see now what an ass I probably was. Last weekend, in a fit of humility and loneliness, I emailed her and apologized for the role I played in that little scenario. She wrote promptly back and graciously said she had put it behind her and I should too. We mutually agreed that we missed the friendship we had and we are letting old feelings past and allow for a renewing of friendship.

Why have I done this? Well, because, I am acutely aware that Christians are the worst when it comes to healing damaged relationships. Don’t get me wrong. Some relationships are irreconcilable and SHOULD BE, especially where abuse is involved. But, in church especially, minor quibbles and spats can quickly get out of hand. No one wants to be the first to back down and say that perhaps they were wrong. In the secular world, it’s even worse. Our culture is saturated with a “me first” attitude in even the smallest areas, like driving. Every single day I see examples of rude behavior, people flipping other people off from their cars, road rage, and numerous instances of non-courteous living. Well, I’m tired of expecting others to be the ones to change. I’m not responsible for them. I’m responsible for my reaction to them. So I could have stewed for years about what happened at my church, but I’m not going to anymore. Regardless of whether I felt hurt or was “right” or how wrong I thought the pastor was, it damaged our relationship and when that happens, the whole church is damaged. Of course, mine was a trivial matter. Other damages in church aren’t so easy to heal, but I am so used to looking out for ME all the time that ME is who I instantly side with in every argument, whether I’m right or not. It’s the way of the beast. I decided not to let that control me.

The same goes with culture at large. I am a person of very conflicted political, religious, and personal beliefs. I don’t write about some of my political opinions because it’s not safe to in this political climate. Thought police are everywhere and conspiracy theories are ripe. Some of my opinions are not popular right now. Neither are some of my religious ones. I don’t write what I really think sometimes I know that a lot of the people I know share different points of view. I’m also very tired of Christians ALWAYS being “the heavy” in the news. All that we see on television feeds into the worst ideas that most Americans have about Christians and conservatives in general. The media take extreme and non-mainstream examples of religious hucksters and conspiracy theorists, play the soundbites ad nauseum, and then act as if everyone in certain parts of the country or all of a race believe this way. If they do that would be scary, but they don’t.

It’s the same with politics. Everyone is playing the moral equivalence game. No one can be criticized, examined, or commented upon without someone else becoming “outraged” or “disturbed” about the “trends” we find in society and the “levels of civil discourse.” Apologies are demanded every day by somebody. No one can have an opinion unless it’s the most popular one. People from the coasts stream into the Midwest to film documentaries about all those strange people in the Heartland of America, as if they were going into the jungles of the Amazon! I can hear them now…Look at those rubes! Oh, how stupid they are! …Such forays only reveal the ignorance of those who believe them or buy their product. It’s a sickening display of hubris for starters and the fool’s way to a quick buck by pandering to your audience for another.

I have never come across anyone in the church community who displays the characteristics of those portrayed on television or in the news. The very reason those media shills and religious hucksters are rich and in the news is because they are tapping into a PARTICULAR message that feeds the fear and paranoia of those who don’t understand them. Sure, we shouldn’t be giving money to people like that. There are better uses of money and time, but people have to have IDEOLOGY in their lives; something that feeds their motivation. Politics is all about this feeding process. Again, I could sit and stew about how wrong the media are on television and how stupidly they portray things they do not understand, but it’s pointless. And because we are being lied to and manipulated this way, we are therefore not responsible for the hatred they create in the world. We are responsible ONLY for our corner of the world.

It’s a manageable scenario that works for me. I cannot trust anyone else for truth out there. I am responsible for discovering the truth by which I live my life. I cannot trust that my money goes where people promise it will go. I’m not letting media of any kind tell me what my beliefs are, how my relationships will work, or even convince me that I play a part in the political system, because I don’t. My job is right here in my small town, in my local businesses, in my local congregation, in my family. My job is to heal the damaged relationships around me one person at a time. My truth is in my corner of the world and the only thing I know for sure. If I can act on it, I can heal it.

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Open Mouth, Insert…Forgiveness?

I think I’ve “stepped in it” over at DeConversion blog. In an attempt to be honest about my life, and encourage an openslforgiveness_lrg.jpg discussion about the concept of forgiveness, I’ve really backed myself into a corner. A poster named “Atheist” offered the insight that perhaps I was not at peace with myself and my concept of the God of the bible. Methinks he/she is right. I’m not at peace. I want to be at peace. I want to either be this or that, but never am. I guess the definition of forgiveness should have been explored in my post first, but I always write truest and best when I am in the throes of spiritual struggle. The spiritual struggle here being my concept of forgiveness, while de-toxing from christian fundamentalism. In this case, it’s interesting that people have come at the post mostly from the emotional and spiritual angle. What other angle is there you ask? Why the legal angle, of course. The responsibility and restitution angle. In this passage, Jesus seems to be saying that forgiveness is a debt AND is an emotion:

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]

23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters[e] from your heart.”

Notice that the one who offends owes a debt. The one offended against experiences the emotion and has the responsibility to correct that emotion. Notice also the phrase, “from your heart.” What does that mean? We have to FEEL forgiveness truly before we have truly forgiven anyone? God doesn’t accept a rote forgiveness, the releasing of debt without the emotional rancor involved? Or like the judge, are we merely forgiving a debt owed to us? To make things even more complicated (in my view), I received this in my email at work this morning (from a newsletter I subscribe to) and I received it AFTER I wrote the post at DeConversion blog:

Forgiveness, The Cement of Community Life by Henri Nouwen
Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another “seventy-seven times” (see Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.

But what is there to forgive or to ask forgiveness for? As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!

Now here, Nouwen is discussing the community of church and Christians gathering together. That kind of forgiveness is easy (for me anyway) and the sins are not as grievous. But what do you do about forgiving someone who never asks for forgiveness, has no remorse, and is not a Christian? Who has hurt you body and soul; who has torn out your innocence and stomped on it? Am I obligated to forgive emotionally or as far as the debt owed is concerned? What do you do if there’s no possibility of someone asking your forgiveness because of death or another permanent barrier? I understand the benefits of being relieved of hate, rage, vengeful feelings, and other such things that accompany being offended against, but changing your emotions psychologically is not the same as forgiving a debt. I see forgiveness as debt cancellation. Is that wrong? What is forgiveness exactly? Must it always be couched in religious and spiritual terms?

Here, notice that Jesus adds “if he repents…” in the Luke passage:

Luke 17:3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,’ forgive him.

Right now, I’m free of hate toward those who’ve grievously offended me, but I think they still owe me a debt and they have never repented nor asked forgiveness. It’s taken a very long time to no longer feel the anger and betrayal and sometimes I still have those feelings, but I don’t seek revenge. Therefore, does the burden of forgiveness ALWAYS rest on the person offended against and why should that be so? Does anyone understand what I’m trying to say here or have I come up with some solution for me alone and a generally incomprehensible idea or can we indeed separate emotion from the responsibility of forgiveness and restitution?

I guess all this is predicated on your definition of God and forgiveness and justice. I’m still struggling with all that too. Remember, I believe the bible is a guide, not the last word. I’m coming at this from the viewpoint that we cannot know anything for sure and from an honest struggle to live spiritually in an extremist world, that’s all.