On Forgiveness

Some years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive WHO?  The book dealt with the difficulty of forgiving the people who have hurt us most, based on the directives by God to do so – not just once, but over and over. It was and is a dastardly “ask,” frankly, and yet God demands it. At the end of the day, we help ourselves when we forgive those who have ripped our very souls to shreds. Holding onto the anger and hurt at having been done wrong does nothing good for us. The need to be “right” seems to, be physically, emotionally and spiritually damaging.

So it is with interest that I have been watching the Paula Deen debacle. She has apologized…and is asking forgiveness from those whom she offended.  The ball has been thrown into the court of the offended. What they do with it will determine their souls’ lives, not Paula’s.

I am offended by the “n” word; I do not for a moment believe that many white people have used it in public to refer to African-Americans because that word was a big part of American history. It was so much a part of our history that black people called themselves the “n” word, and continue to do so today. It is absolutely maddening to me to hear it used by anyone; kids saying to me to lighten up because it doesn’t mean anything makes me even madder. It is a horrible word and it came from a horrible place of hatred, arrogance and a false sense of superiority of one group over another.

So, I don’t really believe Paula or anyone who says he or she has “never” used that word at some point in their lives.

Some have said that Paula is not sincere in her apology; she is “sorry” only because she was found out, but isn’t that the case with most of us? When we do wrong, we hope we will get away with it. If we get caught, aren’t most of us first “sorry” because we got caught, and only after that “sorry” that we may have offended someone?  So if that’s the case with Paula, she’s not all that out of the norm. And if she’s sorry because she is, as Today Show host Matt Lauer suggested, “bleeding financially, that’s understandable too.

But at the end of the day, Paula apologized, and that ought to be enough. For God-fearing, Christ– following people, none of whom are perfect, her apology ought to be enough. We ought to be able to forgive her because …she made a mistake. We all do. We ought to be willing to forgive her because …God demands that we do.

The “n” word is a horrible word; I wish it would go away. Worse, I wish it had never come into being, with all of the negative attachments it has. Nobody had the right to cast black people into such a despicable place, and brand them as less than human. But it was done…and the bleeding from that would has not stopped. We keep pretending that racism is gone, or that the tentacles that racism spawned have disappeared. They have not. The old thoughts, words and attitudes linger; they are like pus that will not stop bubbling beneath our wounds.

Paula Deen is not a bad lady. She is a product of how she grew up, as we all are. It would be good to get this pesky word completely erased from our history and from our present-day, but it is not likely to disappear soon. For what it’s worth, Paula Deen, I forgive you. It’s easier for me if I do. There’s too much work to do to stay stuck on what you said in a deposition. I forgive you and I believe you’re sorry.

Time to move on.

A candid observation …

 

What If That Was God?

A young African-American man came to my door yesterday, selling magazine subscriptions. I wouldn’t have answered the door, as I don’t answer my door if I am not expecting anyone, but the front door was open and one of my dogs, aroused by the sound of the doorbell, was already “greeting” the stranger enthusiastically.

The young man gave a good sales pitch. He was trying to get his life together; he had come from a poor neighborhood and had gotten into trouble but was trying to make a come-around. He held up the plastic-covered paperwork which described and validated the company for which he was working. We “virtually” shook hands.

Though it was unbearably hot, there was no sweat on this young man; his white shirt looked crisp and dry. He gave his pitch to me, but I wasn’t biting. I didn’t want any magazine subscriptions. Plus, if I had wanted a subscription, I wouldn’t have been able to purchase one. I have no job.

But the young man stood, tall, straight, and determined. I don’t know what I said, but he said, “But we can do all things through Christ.” Right before that, he said, “What if the roles were revered? What if I was standing inside, where you are, and you were standing here, where I am? Wouldn’t you want me to help you out?”

He had no idea how much his words gave me pause. Was I looking at what I am about to become? A person, going door to door, asking people to purchase something they don’t want, just so to be able to have some money, not even enough to survive?

He said something else, but I didn’t hear. I was absorbed in my troubling thoughts. In a moment, he was gone. I watched him walk away, quickly, proudly, straight and tall.

But he was gone. I looked out my bedroom window when I went back to my room. He was gone. He wasn’t next door; I didn’t see him sauntering down, or around, the cul-de-sac. He had disappeared just like he had appeared. When the doorbell had rung, I looked out my window. I saw no car. I thought it might be a neighbor…but it was him. And now, he was gone.

The situation reminded me of something that had happened years ago when my children were little. It was a dark, cold, rainy November night. We were in a gas station. A person walked up to the car, wanting money; she said (I think it was a she) she was hungry, but I said I didn’t have any money, and sent her on her way.

I had always told my children that we are supposed to love “the least of these.”  We were Christians, for goodness’ sake. We were called to not only talk love, but live it.

My children had seen me blow the woman off. We got our gas and pulled off…but my son, Charlie, was disturbed. “Mommy,” he said, “what if that was God?”

Jesus Mother Mercy. From the mouths of babes. I was hit with a sense of…something…including shame. I immediately turned around. I bought a sandwich and began looking for the woman.

But she was gone. She had disappeared. I drove up one street, down another. Surely, she couldn’t have gone far? But she was gone. It was like she had appeared and disappeared in the same breath.

Like yesterday. I could hear Charlie’s voice. “Mommy, what if that was God?”  I can’t stop shuddering.  I would bet I missed an opportunity for something that God put in front of me…again …and I would bet that more of us than we care to think or talk about have had similar experiences.

We say we can’t see God, but it’s not because God doesn’t reveal Him/Herself to us. It’s because we have spiritual cataracts, caused by any number of experiences. My cataracts yesterday are there because I am consumed with my own situation.

I saw the face of God, and turned away one of “the least of these.”

A candid observation…

 

Resurrection, Practically

The resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the center, the glue, so to speak, that holds Christianity together. After Jesus preached love and forgiveness and mercy…while at the same time preaching that God desired that there be social justice for “the least of these,” he was attacked by the government and by church leaders, both of who felt threatened by his growing influence and power. In the Gospel of John, crowds following Jesus grow even more after he raised Lazarus from the dead…and they were on fire, enthusiastic, “spreading the word,” as the Gospel notes. Because of his “word-of-mouth ministry, people began to spread the word, or continued to spread the word. And the Pharisees, according to John’s gospel (and no doubt, the Roman government!) got angry and became even more insecure than they had been. The Pharisees, noting Jesus’ growing ministry, said, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him?” (John 12:17-19)

The “this” they were talking about was their plans to get rid of Jesus, by any means necessary. The chief priests made plans to kill not only Jesus, but Lazarus as well, John’s gospel reads, because they were threatened by Jesus’ growing power. Nothing they said or did was enough to squash Jesus presence and power, nor was it enough to intimidate the people into not following him.

Before “the resurrection,” it seems, there was “a resurrection,” this one being the human component of Jesus being able to wrest from the darts thrown at him to kill him and his ministry failing, ultimately, and Jesus being able to continue to do what his Father had sent him to do.

If there is anything that too many people seem to misunderstand, it is that resurrection is an ongoing process experienced by us all, and not a single event experienced by just one person. Any time we are able to escape the darts thrown at us, the curve balls that knock our lives off their foundations, and throw us into despair …we experience resurrection. We “share in Christ‘s birth, death and resurrection,” say writers in the books of Colossians and Romans.  We obviously cannot hang on the cross on which Jesus was nailed. So, how do we share in his birth, death and resurrection?

We do that by agreeing to become new on a daily basis. There are things in all our lives that crucify us, keeping us from realizing and using our full potential. Many of us live lives of  “quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said, not willing to venture out of our safe spaces and away from our “safe” and known behaviors. We are stuck. Every time, though, we garner enough courage to look at what’s making us suffer, and make a decision to crucify that, we begin the process of sharing in the suffering …and new life…that “the” resurrection offers to us.

In other words, we are not supposed to just look at Jesus’ experience of birth, death and resurrection; we are supposed to experience it. We are supposed to be willing to suffer for a while, but then be willing to let that suffering die and thus “resurrect” new people.

Let’s call it “practical” resurrection.

For some reason, the situation of former President Bill Clinton really impacted me. He was disgraced, surely, in the most heinous way. He was “crucified” for something he did, and was hung up to suffer in full view of the whole world. It was painful to watch. It seemed that Clinton had been “killed,” politically, when he was impeached. His faults and weaknesses were displayed and revealed for the whole world to see. He hung in full view.

But Clinton resurrected! He got up and moved on.  There will be some who will ever hate him for what he apparently did with Monica Lewinsky, for embarrassing the country and for violating his marriage vows, but, but Clinton resurrected! Those who put him down could not keep him down …and Clinton, who participated in his own demise, could not …or would not …keep himself “down,” either!  He made a bad mistake, and it seemed that his career as a politician was over. But that was not the case. Clinton endured his crucifixion, suffered the consequences…and then got up!

Suffering,including that which we bring upon ourselves, is not supposed to keep us down. If we believe in this resurrected Lord, then we are supposed to understand that we are given opportunity to “resurrect,” on a practical level, daily. Suffering, earned or unearned, has a purpose – and that is to strengthen us. We are not supposed to live suffering-free lives. The issue is not whether or not we should suffer, but, rather, IF we will be able to get up and move on, in other words, to practice resurrection.

One can only wonder what this world would be like if more of us understood that suffering and death are both a part of life. Parts of us, those parts which hold onto thoughts and memories which keep us “dead” inside and keep us from God and God from us – are supposed to die. We are supposed to “lose” our lives so that we can live our lives.

Jesus suffered unjustly, but still, he resurrected. Not even undeserved suffering has the power to keep us down unless we let it.

A candid observation. Happy Easter, everyone!

Could it be

 

Jesus, the Homeless Hero

Every now and then, a question will come from out of nowhere that is so profound one has to stop and think. Such a question was in a post by Paul Raushenbush on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/shane-claiborne-new-monastics_b_1156525.html) this week: How can you worship a homeless man on a Sunday and evict him on a Monday?

The question was in reference to Jesus, the Christ, whose birth Christians the world over will celebrate this Sunday. The scriptures that will be read, describing the night the child was born in a manger “because there was no room in the inn,” are romantic at best, because they camouflage the fact that even in Jesus’ time, the issue of class was a problem.

Jesus, the Palestinian Jew (despite Newt Gingrich’s claim that the Palestinians are an “invented” people) was not part of the in crowd. His parents were not wealthy, not even close; they did not belong to the upper class. Clearly, that is the case, because had they had money, someone, somewhere would have found room for this very pregnant woman.

Throughout Jesus’ life, he posed a problem for the powers that be. Scholars including James Cone, William R. Herzog and the Paulo Freire  and Obery Hendricks have suggested that Jesus’ life and ministry was all the more dangerous and difficult for him because he was part of the oppressed class, and spoke against oppression in what some would call “subversive speech.”

We Christians are too far removed from the Palestine and Roman Empire of Jesus’ day; we have a need to believe in the myth of Jesus as opposed to his hard message. We forget that Jesus saw the elitist class of Jerusalem collaborate with the Roman government, something that resulted in more oppression for “the least of these.”

Jesus, in Matthew 25, was not an observer, looking into the lives of the oppressed; he was an insider, looking out, and not liking what he saw.

Freire  said that understanding Jesus’ life that way, we understand that the parables were not “earthly stories with heavenly meanings,” but rather they were earthy stories with heavy meanings.”  William Herzog, in his book, Parables as Subversive Speech,” said that Jesus was aware of the exploitation of the masses that went on, and he challenged it. Herzog said that the “parable was a form of social analysis, every bit as much as it was a form of theological reflection.”

We Christians do not want that, though. It seems that we cannot fathom the idea that Jesus was not mild and meek, but was instead a rabble rouser, every bit as irritating and annoying to some as is Michael Moore or the late Rev Dr. Martin Luther King. The thought that Jesus might indeed be in the midst of an Occupy tent camp repulses those of us who hold onto myth.

The truth is that we tend to deify people once they are gone. Jesus was hated when he was alive; once he died, he became a hero. The week of his death, according to the Bible, was one in which this schizophrenic type of belief was obvious; on a Thursday, they hailed him as a hero, but a couple of days later, egged on by the religious elitists, they urged the government to crucify him.

That biblical reality notwithstanding  even in hero status, the message and mission of Jesus as a social revolutionary is a message that the hero-makers want to, frankly, subvert, recast, and ignore. We are not unlike the Maundy Thursday crowd, praising Jesus (for our own selfish purposes) one moment, but then rejecting him three days later.

He was not rich enough, not “right” enough, not “connected” enough, to be worth caring about deeply. The upper class cares for its own but Jesus just did not belong to them.

We Christians may not all be upper class, but we have issues and beliefs which we hold onto, and frankly, this notion of Jesus as a revolutionary, one who challenged the status quo, just does not work for us.

Sad.

In essence, we are still capable of worshipping him, a homeless man, on a Sunday …and evicting him on a Monday.

A candid …and painful …observation.

 

Jesus the Homeless Hero © 2011 Candid Observations