Monday, April 29, 2013

Forgiveness, Part I

On my way into work this morning, I was scanning through radio stations and ended up listening (why, oh why did THIS catch my attention?) to a woman explaining how her fiance cheated on her so she found a friend and cheated back and that because of this "getting even" she is now very happily married to that same fiance.  She said, "My motto is, 'a lady's best revenge is forgiveness...after she's gotten even.'"  Huh.  People continue to astonish me.  Just in case it is not clear, let me describe my problems with this:
1.  Definitions of "lady" - "a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken." or "a woman of high social position or economic class".  Generally speaking I don't like this term because it has, historically at least, referred to women who are chaste or pure, and I think lifting that up is problematic and leads towards a dualistic view of women as either virgins or sluts.  However, if a person IS going to insist on using that term, I would think it would not be claimed by someone who would be acting out revenge, especially not in this particular way of cheating on someone.  
2.  I admit, it may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but I guess I just can't see any justification for cheating on your partner.  
3.  How does this revenge build trust?  "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" may be popular, but it does not build us up.  And it is distinctly unchristian.  As Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."  Or, to use a non-christian saying, "two wrongs don't make a right."  If I were either party in this marriage, I would have a very hard time trusting the other.
4.  Revenge and forgiveness are in stark contrast to each other.  The top three definitions of forgiveness are: A. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
B. To renounce anger or resentment against.
C. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).
All of these definitions include letting go of the need for revenge, letting go of the anger and hurt and wrongs that another has done to us.  Forgiveness means not forcing "payment" in the form of revenge.  We all make mistakes.  If our partner becomes the "enforcer" - making us pay for each of these mistakes, it isn't a partnership so much as a controlling or legalistic relationship.  It becomes a relationship based on making sure everything is even, and focuses on wrongs rather than on the good things, the gifts, the graces, the love.

Tomorrow I will talk about this more personally, but for today I want to say that I know this isn't easy.  It isn't at all easy to forgive without seeking revenge.  It isn't at all easy to be so deeply wounded, hurt, devastated and not somehow strike back.  I get that.  But I maintain with all my heart and being that the persons we hit when we strike out are ourselves.  The person I harm when I seek revenge is none other than me.
The woman on the radio this morning said she was happily married now that they've both cheated, and I pray for her and her husband that indeed, they are happily married.  But for myself, that "eye for an eye" would only be destructive and devastating of my own being as I would then struggle with guilt on top of anger, and shame on top of feeling betrayed.  I pray for all of us that we might seek a better path, a path towards forgiveness, a path towards peace, a journey towards fuller wholeness.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Privilege of Caring

It is a privilege to be able to be concerned about the problems of the larger community and world.  I used to think it was only a responsibility.  And while I still do feel that for Christians, praying for the larger community and world as well as working for justice, peace and reconciliation for the larger community and world are still centrally important, I now realize at some level that it is from a place of privilege that we can do that.  It is from a place of privilege, both in terms of time, energy and commitment that a person can dedicate themself to the eradication of the problems in the world, to the care for and of God's people, to living lives that serve others.  I have functioned from a different place over the last 2 1/2 years, one in which there were times when it was all I could do to get my three children off to school wearing appropriate clothes and having eaten breakfast, and gotten myself off to work.  There have been days when "simple" things like getting the children's hair and teeth brushed before school are tasks that are simply too big, when getting to the grocery store to just buy a gallon of milk required a major scheduling overhaul, when getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night or being able to go for a 15 minute walk to get some exercise were understood to be the luxuries that, in fact, they are, even while they may be "necessary" for one's health.  The church's Tai Chi instructor made the comment to me last week that surely I could squeeze in 10 minutes a day for practice.  And for most of us middle class folk, I think carving 10 minutes out of television watching or 10 minutes out of our primping activities or 10 minutes out of talking on the phone or playing on facebook, or sleeping eight hours a night would be an appropriate consideration.  But this is not the life that everyone leads, and I have a much better understanding of that now.  There was a good long period of time during which I never watched TV or movies (because there was no time to do this), was unable to find time to read a book, was not on facebook, and was still only getting minimal sleep.  Every minute of every day was simply taken up with the necessities of living, providing for my kids, working, surviving.
      I am not complaining.  I am deeply grateful that I had work that could support my family, that we never faced the financial challenges that many families with tragedies have to deal with, that I did not have to move or try to find extra work or ship my children off to live with others.  I am beyond grateful for those realities.  And I am actually grateful for the experience, for a time, of not being able to do much beyond survival as well.   As I move into a more balanced, centered place where I do make time again for walks, I do have time to watch episodes of "Downton Abby", talk or write to friends, reconnect on facebook, and do find time to learn what is happening in the world, in the news, and to speak about it, to write letters to congress people, to work for justice and peace, I am grateful for the time that these things were not possibilities for several reasons.  First, I can no longer judge others who do not have the time or energy to be more involved in caring for the world.  I get it now.  While I used to not understand why people would not tackle issues that impact their own lives and the lives of their kids in such profound ways, I do understand now that there are times and situations in which all a person can do is survive. I think about single parents (mostly mothers) who work several jobs to support their kids and I understand why that is all they can manage at this point in their lives.  I get it, I have compassion for it, and I have great respect for those who do the work of caring for their families at the cost of giving up pretty much everything else.  While I have not chosen this, I also have more compassion for people who partner quickly and easily in attempts to get help and to raise themselves out of that place where all they can do is work and care for kids.  Additionally, I have a much, much deeper daily appreciation for the little breaks I do get in a day.  I am deeply grateful for the privilege of being able to care for more than just my family and my work.  I recognize that the ability to keep a blog is a luxury, that talking with friends, HAVING friends is not a given, but a gift, that the ability to hear what others are experiencing, to delight in their joys or to grieve with their sorrows - that again, these are gifts - deep, deep gifts that cannot be taken for granted - ever.  And finally, I found that the time away from the problems of the world has shown me what Jesus meant when he said, "the poor will always be with you."  I return to the world and see that the challenges are the same - they remain and beg for our help whenever we can attend to them, whenever we do feel that urging and deep call to respond and act towards the creation of a more loving and whole world.  For all of this I am grateful.  I see much more clearly that our responsibilities are our privileges, and that not all are given the same gifts and challenges.  I am thankful for my gifts and challenges and pray for the strength to accept them both with grace.