Category Archives: Forgiveness
(I found this very thought provoking.)
Mpho Tutu van Furth describes a painful miscommunication that took place during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process:
‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ were the words the perpetrators said. I am taking responsibility for what I did and what was done at my command or in my name. But what the victims heard was not the same. They didn’t hear the words the perpetrators said. They heard the words of the translators instead. ‘Ndicela uxolo.’ But that’s not the same.
The English ‘I am sorry’ wraps the plea in the logic of individuality and the English ‘Forgive me’ underlines the same. What I have done was done only by me and thus is only my responsibility. This ‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ is all about me.
But the old ones heard a different word. ‘Ndicela uxolo’ means ‘I ask for peace.’ It is an ubuntu apology and it is about we. ‘I ask for peace’ sees our interconnectivity.
‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ means set me free of the guilt and the shame that has burdened me. Decide to wipe the debt slate clean for me.
The old ones heard ‘I ask for peace’ and they offered forgiveness as peace based on ubuntu reciprocity. They gave their forgiveness as space to plant the seeds of a better future for the whole community. . . .
Ubuntu peace is peace between us and peace within each of us. Ubuntu forgiveness is peace that heals. . . . When the old ones heard Ndicela uxulo . . . they heard perpetrators asking for hope for a better ‘we’. They heard an appeal for healing for all of us and the space between us that is community. They heard an appeal for a healing of the fabric of life.
Tutu van Furth explains how ubuntu peace moves beyond verbal apologies to sincere action and reparations for past harm:
Without reparations ‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ asks victims to pick up an eraser and walk through the past eradicating the injuries that perpetrators inflicted so that those who wielded the scythe of destruction can be released from the guilt for their cruelty and their greed, their prejudice and violence, while preserving the benefits that their behaviour has bestowed on them and their children. Without reparations forgiveness has no ubuntu, and it heals nothing. . . .
The ubuntu understanding of forgiveness is that forgiveness cultivates justice and bestows peace. . . .
The forgiveness we once offered you would build justice where cruelty had lived. Our forgiveness was born and bred in ubuntu. Later we came to understand and see that forgiveness for you had its home in individuality and could not understand the logic of community. So forgiveness for you was what set you free of all responsibility for us.
But reparations have made a new place for us to gather. Reparations have started to reveal what it takes for all of us to heal and to step into God’s new creation.
In their Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and our World, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) and his daughter Mpho Tutu van Furth focus on our fragile humanity, the good and bad that we are all capable of, as the entry point for forgiveness:
“We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more. We want to divide the good from the bad, the saints from the sinners, but we cannot. All of us share the core qualities of our human nature, and so sometimes we are generous and sometimes selfish. Sometimes we are thoughtful and other times thoughtless, sometimes we are kind and sometimes cruel. This is not a belief. This is a fact.
If we look at any hurt, we can see a larger context in which the hurt happened. If we look at any perpetrator, we can discover a story that tells us something about what led up to that person causing harm. It doesn’t justify the person’s actions; it does provide some context. . . .
No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or I. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured, or lost. We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.
We are all members of the same human family. . . .
In seeing the many ways we are similar and how our lives are inextricably linked, we can find empathy and compassion. In finding empathy and compassion, we are able to move in the direction of forgiving.
Ultimately, it is humble awareness of our own humanity that allows us to forgive:
We are, every one of us, so very flawed and so very fragile. I know that, were I born a member of the white ruling class at that time in South Africa’s past, I might easily have treated someone with the same dismissive disdain with which I was treated. I know, given the same pressures and circumstances, I am capable of the same monstrous acts as any other human on this achingly beautiful planet. It is this knowledge of my own frailty that helps me find my compassion, my empathy, my similarity, and my forgiveness for the frailty and cruelty of others.”
In this homily, Father Richard Rohr reminds us of the radical and transformational power of forgiveness:
When all is said and done, the gospel comes down to forgiveness. I’d say it’s the whole gospel. It’s the beginning, the middle, and the end. People who know how to forgive have known how good it feels to be forgiven, not when they deserved it, but precisely when they didn’t deserve it.
If we’re Christian, we’ve probably said the “Our Father” ten thousand times. The words just slip off our tongues: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” By saying this prayer, we’ve asked and prayed for forgiveness. Notice the full correlation between how we give and how we receive: “Forgive us as we forgive.” They’re the same movement. We need to know that we need mercy, we need understanding, and then we also need to know how to give it. Each flows with the energy of the other.
I have often found people in 12-step programs or in jail who were quite forgiving of other people’s faults because they’d hit the bottom. They knew how much it hurt to hurt. They knew how terrible it is to hate yourself and to accuse yourself. When someone with a generous heart and a loving spirit entered their lives and forgave them, it was like being reborn. Someone else loves a part of me that I can’t love myself! They just taught me how to do it!
I remember when I was jail chaplain in Albuquerque, I would read in the newspaper the stories of criminals in our city and I would form an opinion about how terrible they were. Years ago, a young woman committed murder to steal a baby. Everybody in the city hated her, I think. I went to the jail the very next day, and they told me that she wanted to see a priest.
I didn’t want to go in the cell because I knew I wouldn’t like her. I knew I would judge her because I’d already judged her. I can’t tell the whole story, but I will share this much: when I left that cell, I had nothing but tears and sympathy for the suffering of that young woman.
You see, the One who knows all can forgive all. But all we know is a little piece—the part that has offended us. Only God knows all, and so God is the One who can forgive all.
If we’re honest, none of us have lived the gospel. None of us have loved as we could love, or as we have been loved by God. I talk about it from the pulpit much better than I live it. And yet that very recognition—that I have not yet lived love—allows me to stand under the waterfall of infinite mercy. It’s only then that I know how to let mercy flow through me freely. That I receive it undeservedly allows me to give it undeservedly.
Note from Eileen: It scares me to pray: “Lord, show me my sin, so I can be forgiven and freed to forgive.”
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
The Love of God is so incredibly different and beyond compare that it challenges our ability to accept it. No matter how much we have been loved by family and friends, no matter how famous and wildly adored we may have been by the multitudes, nothing has ever been more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God. To accept the unconditional love of God with our whole mind, to experience it with an open heart until our spirit is so filled with it that we can just let it overflow to others is pure grace.
The Love of God can free us to see ourselves exactly as we are, fragile and unfinished and to accept our need for forgiveness without guilt, just a true sorrow that sets us free from fear and shame and gives us grace to grow. It begins to not only free us to forgive ourselves, but also others.
The Love of God can heal the insecurities that come from being tiny vulnerable humans in a huge unknown universe, insecurities that stunt our ability to love. The Love of God is the grace that uses our mustard seed of faith to begin freeing us to die to self and live again.
The Love of God fleshed out in Jesus is personal, unconditional, and eternal. The Love of God opens our hearts to joy.
The Love of God frees us to say, “I am yours, God. Take my life and help me become the unique person you created me to be.” There is nothing as healing, powerful, and eternal as the love of God for you.
Today I checked out a blogger that started following me without comment. She is twenty-five and the first post I found seemed to be on masturbating. Actually, it turned out to be about the Love of God that doesn’t shame us no matter where we are in our journey to become the people God created us to be. She also admitted that she kept sorrow away by physical sports and running and that it had become an addiction to avoid her feelings. She proceeded in a just a few blog posts to share wisdom that it has taken me fifty years of my journey with Jesus to learn. I have been frustrated that I haven’t been able to communicate my hard earned wisdom to younger members of my family. Maybe I should have been listening.
Here are some jewels: 1. Jesus is about PROCESS and compassion. Well, yeah, but the problem is that for most of us it’s a very long process to become truly compassionate. Compassion includes everyone. We can disagree, but there’s no room in compassion for judging.
And process is simply another word for change. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy to see how others need to change and judge them when they don’t recognize it. I only lack compassion for people who lack compassion. Which is my first clue that I also need to change.
She writes about forgiveness of those who have wounded us and says, “We have all left scars on the people we love the most.” My response was, “Well, ain’t that the truth Ruth!” I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts in order to share some of what I’ve learned, but in writing the memoir, I’m recognizing some ways I’ve hurt others that I was oblivious about. I’ve admitted to enough already that this isn’t a surprise or particularly devastating, just a reminder that I can’t throw stones.
Here’s three things she says God asked her to do:
1. To give my heart a voice.
2.To walk with him alone for a time.
3. To let go of everything I’ve “known” Him to be.
These are three things I too have slowly recognized, but still find challenging. 1. I’m pretty good at recognizing problems, but not so good at letting my self experience the emotional pain. Unfortunately, that’s the narrow gate I don’t want to go through, but it’s the only way to healing.
2. To walk with him alone would seem to be easy while in quarantine, but I find it almost impossible to quiet my mind. Plus, I can escape the challenge by doing what I’m doing now, connecting with the outside world through face book.
3. I thought I did this when I recognized how Jesus realized that he had to change in his understanding of his saving mission as only to save the Jews. He was challenged to change by a woman who was “unclean,” by a heretic uncouth Samaritan, and finally by a soldier of the hated enemy power. Who is “unclean” or unacceptable in Christianity today? Who is a heretic in our mind today? And who is someone with power we hate?
I realize that there is still much I have to unlearn because each generation has new eyes to see what I have not questioned.
Alexis Williams says, “I have to become fully alive in who I am, so I can be who God created me to be.”
I might express it as, “I have to become fully aware of who I am and that I am known and tenderly loved as I am, so I can with the grace of that Love become the unique person God created me to be.”
Her blog is named “Do I Stay or Do I Go?”
Loving the books my friend Tracy loaned me for getting through this isolation. The author Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says what it seems to me is crucial to experiencing the Good News. “Repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”
A year ago, a friend of mine from church dragged a homeless person to my apartment to talk to me. He knew him from years ago as kids and later when the man had his own successful contracting company. Now he was in an advanced stage of alcoholism and literally living on the streets. As we talked, it became clear that as a soldier in the war with North Vietnam he had done things that he could not forgive himself for and did not believe God would forgive. We both tried to convince him that he was already forgiven, all he needed to do was accept it, be freed to begin over by the grace of that amazing love, and let God show him how to get on with his life.
He talked some about being Catholic, so I could understand why he felt that way since I was Catholic for most of sixty years. But even when I tried to tell him that the church had changed since Vatican II and even Catholics were understanding that all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus died for our sins. If Jesus’ death didn’t redeem us, what was the point of it? The veteran couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking. And he went on self destructing and finally succeeded.
I think we all sometimes forget that we were already forgiven before we even sinned, so we carry burdens of guilt over things we can’t undo. We see God as a Judge keeping count of our sins and we struggle under a debt we feel we owe, instead of letting the grace of that love continue to heal us and free us to change.
My very kind and loving husband, Julian, felt that way and couldn’t understand the freedom and joy I had from accepting that Jesus died so that by recognizing and accepting that incredible love and forgiveness, we would be freed to grow more loving. Forgiveness is the heart of love and God’s love cannot be earned. We are his beloved children. Period. Once we experience that love, it is so glorious that we want to let it fill us, heal us, free us, direct us, and empower us to somehow share it with others. It’s a taste of heaven. When I was more or less a “second hand Christian” having been brought up in the church, I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, but I could never imagine anything I’d want to do for eternity in heaven either, not even the things that gave me pleasure or made me happy. But once I experienced that mind blowing joy of being both known and loved totally and tenderly by a God who is Love, I knew I would be fine with an eternity of the joy of that Love. My Julian was not a verbal person. He thought mostly in images and related best to logical concrete things. One day Julian was driving to work and decided to test some of the things I said. So, he prayed as he was driving, “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us if we listen. So okay, I’m listening.” As he thought these words, a flashing light and siren started behind him. And a trooper pulled him over for speeding. When the trooper went back to his car to check on Julian’s credentials and fill out the ticket, Julian was thinking sarcastically, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about how God spoke to me!!” Then the trooper came to the window again and said, “Mr. Norman, while I’ve been working on giving you this ticket, every car that went by here was speeding, most of them more than you were. So, I’m going to tear up this ticket. You be more careful now.” And he literally tore up the ticket. When Julian got to work and called me to tell me this, all I could think of was, Romans 3:23… “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a GIFT through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” What a perfect image! Thanks to Jesus, we know that God tears up our ticket.
Freedom from Religion is the flip side of freedom of Religion. As a born again Christian I try to share the joy of knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God who fleshed that Love out in Jesus. But no one experiences the Love of God in Jesus by force or by the abomination of discrimination in his Name.
It’s a conundrum: Here are some controversial issues from the views of both conservatives and liberals. How do we love the people we consider unloving because they fear floods of immigrants? How do we love people who want the freedom for women to kill a potential child even possibly as a convenience? How do we love people who want to deny medical treatment to the old and send the middle class into poverty from the cost of staying alive? How can we love people who we believe are going against nature and the bible? How can we love people who don’t see the danger in giant corporations owning those that govern us. How do we love someone that wants security for all, more than freedom from control by government. In a democracy we have a voice and a vote. When it has become a voice of hate on both sides, how do we love? How do we heal so we can once again become Americans, not Democrats or Republicans, not Capitalists or Socialists, not conservative Christians or Liberal Christians, no matter who wins the vote? How do we love what we don’t try to understand on either side? What happens if we continue to grow in our hatred of one another? What will a country of growing violence, with or with out automatic rifles, be like for our children and grandchildren? Who is willing to become a reasonable voice crying in the wilderness of antipathy, disgust, suspicion, distrust, self righteousness, fear, and hate? What good will winning do anyone if we dig our trenches at the extreme opposites, forcing moderates into the camps of extremists until we are hopelessly divided as much as enemies in wars?
No one is winning anymore. We have lost our way as a nation.
Bloggers, if you agree please write a similar post on your site or re-blog this. And ask others to do the same. We who want moderation and kindness need to speak out.
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.