• Forgiving Is Hard, Not Impossible

    One of my many idiosyncratic beliefs is that Africa has a special role to play in God’s upside down kingdom. For so long, Africa has been last which according to Jesus’ words, means that the day is coming when they will be first. I suspect that we will be looking to them in order to understand God’s kingdom rather than assuming that it is our job as westerners to hand out the kingdom like a goody bag to the rest of the world.

    I bring this up because, as you might know, it is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days. It was a remarkable spasm of violence and hatred such as the world has never seen before. Truly unspeakable things happened during those 100 days. Rarely has humanity’s capacity for evil been put on such lurid display.

    One startling and fascinating thing about the Rwandan genocide is that in the early 80s, there were a series of Marian apparitions which took place in Rwanda. Three different youth were given horrific visions of the genocide which took place in 1994. The apparition of Mary in Rwanda is one of only three Marian apparitions which has been given approval by the Roman Catholic Church.

    In one of her messages, Mary said, “Today, many people do not know any more how to ask forgiveness.” Now, on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the people of Rwanda bring an astonishing testimony of forgiveness to the world.

    I hope that we will take their witness seriously and allow their example to inspire us to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. The witness of the Rwandan people shows us that whether we are dealing with conflicts between neighbors or between nations or groups, the seeking and giving of forgiveness are the only way forward for humanity.

    Below are images and quotes from Rwandan perpetrators and their victims. You can find more pictures and quotes, along with an explanation in this New York Times story “Portraits of Reconciliation”: Continue reading

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    Self Righteousness, Election and Healing

    How’s this for the most pretentious opening line I’ve ever used for a blog post?

    So, I was talking with my therapist yesterday . . . .

    OK, maybe pretentious is too strong a word. But yes, really, I was talking with my therapist yesterday. Because when you’re going through so much and your support system is failing like a fat woman’s bra and you have a bunch of kids who might be adversely affected by watching their mother break into a million tiny shards, the responsible thing to do is to get a therapist. I’m just hoping I can get my shit straight before they start coming after me for all the co-pays, but that’s another story.

    Anyhow, my therapist was going through the 8 types of emotional experiences/stressors which can end up being stored as unresolved issues in our autonomic nervous system. As she went through, I stopped her and said, “that one – unmet needs. That’s exactly what I’m hung up on right now.”

    We talked a bit about some of these unmet needs – little things like the need for comfort, belonging, affirmation, knowing that someone gave a crap if I ended up as a self-sufficient adult or a hobo. Stuff like that. And for a moment, I started to feel that strangely narcotic thrill of self-righteousness. I’m sure every human knows just what I’m talking about – that simultaneous feeling of being superior and victimized. The one which allows us to use other’s wrongs to elevate ourselves while condemning them.

    There’s something about feeling self-righteous which is so  . . . . satisfying. Ego boosting. Seductive, even. Over the years I’ve noticed that I can let go of many things pretty easily, but there’s something about this feeling of self-righteousness which feels almost like being in a warm embrace. Letting go of it feels like a loss in a way that letting go of anger or desire or frustration just doesn’t.

    But as I sat there in the momentary thrall of this feeling of self-righteousness, my spirit whispered, “those people who didn’t comfort you, who comforted them when they were small and hurting?” Which brought me and my gloating pity-party up short.

    The reason I think self-righteousness is so enticing is because it feeds on the knowledge that we’re right. We’re (at least in our own minds) innocent – or close enough to innocent to count. The other person is guilty. Not just guilty, but unjustified as well. What’s wrong with simply pointing out facts?

    But the reality is that the other person has an identity that has nothing to do with what they did or did not do for me. No matter how satisfying it is to slap the name tag “Guilty, Unjustified” on their chest, their true identity is actually “Human, Image Bearer, a little bit broken”. Continue reading

  • Forgiveness

    Disbelieving Forgiveness

    Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been dealing with some heavy stuff here. I think it’s getting better. Prayers are appreciated. Or if that’s not really your thing, cash is always an acceptable alternative. ;)

    Today, I want to talk about what happens when we refuse to believe we are forgiven. Like everyone else, the people around me have sometimes treated me in ways that weren’t the best or even done outright awful things which I then needed to forgive. Fortunately for me, forgiveness has always come fairly easily. If nothing else, my self interest kicks in and I realize that the benefits of letting go of the wrong far outweigh whatever payoff I might get from hanging onto my hurt. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. That what other people do is about them and not me, for example. And that it’s easier to recover from being hurt than it is to recover from the way the fear of being hurt warps us.

    However, I have often been befuddled and frankly, hurt, over the years that some of these same people who I have readily extended grace to for some pretty major things were often unwilling to extend grace to me for relatively minor faults and failings. For a while I thought that maybe the problem was that the sort of people who required extreme grace were also the sort of the people who were just kind of jerks anyways. However, over the last couple of years, I have discovered that there has been something entirely different at work.

    What I’ve learned is that either because I didn’t communicate it well enough or they still felt guilty or the easy grace seemed too good to be true, a few of these people didn’t believe that I had really forgiven them. They believed that even if I had openly communicated forgiveness, in my heart, I was secretly angry, hostile and score keeping. Which made it easy for them to see my (numerous) faults and failings as evidence of hostility, passive-aggressive revenge or withholding. The truth of the matter is that I’m just far more flawed than these people may have realized. Continue reading

  • Forgiveness – VIDEO

    ‘K – something you need to know about me; I am freakishly un-photogenic. Seriously. Not that attractiveness is terribly important, but I am much better looking in person than on this video I’m going to share with y’all. Even my 13 y.o. when he was helping me format the video commented, “you don’t look anything like this in real life, mom. It’s really weird.”

    Which is all cover to make myself feel better before coming out from behind the text and sharing my video with you. The video’s my top 5 strategies for forgiveness. Something which I have had my fair share of experience with. Ahem.

    (If you were on facebook last night and saw me freaking out – this was what had me all in a tizzy. Thank you to all the peeps who gave me a boost. BTW, if you’re not following The Upside Down World on facebook, you should go do that. After you watch the video:)

    If you enjoy the video, please pass it around. And all of the ideas I share here are also found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide To Enjoying the Hard Life. Along with 40-some other tidbits of brilliance. It’s totally worth the $5.98 that you should go spend on it right now. As long as I’m bossing y’all around! ;)

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    Forgiving God*

    We’ve all heard that we need God’s forgiveness, but rarely do you hear people speak of our need to forgive God. More’s the shame because anyone who has ever had or will ever have a real relationship with God will at some point struggle with the necessity of forgiving Him. It may not be theologically sound, but it’s true nonetheless.

    We are hurting people. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. Or wasn’t. This world is filled with wonder and joy, but it’s also hard. People die when they shouldn’t. We’re born to parents who have no business being allowed in the same room with children. (Not you, mom and dad!) There are terrible, painful illnesses that cannot be cured. We are told to forgive, but who do we need to forgive when the floods come? Who do we offer absolution to when our best efforts do nothing to improve our lot in life? Continue reading

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    The Sacrifice of Jesus and the Prodigal Son

    So, a couple of days ago I laid out my argument as to why the idea that God demanded the blood sacrifice of his son for the forgiveness of sins is an error. (If you missed it, you should go read that post before continuing with this one: Did God Really Demand the Death of His Son for the Forgiveness of Sin?) Today I further elaborate my explanation/argument for a better understanding of what happened and why.

    The writings of the New Testament draw a very clear line from the animal sacrifices used to atone for sins practiced by the Jews and the death of Jesus on the cross. For example, Ephesians 1:7 says that we have “redemption by his blood”. Revelation 7:11 says of the saints “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” However, in a rather complicated passage from Hebrews explaining why the death of Jesus was more perfect and more complete than the sacrifices which were offered by the priests in the temple for the forgiveness of sins, Paul refers back to Psalm 40 which makes the reality of sacrifice clear: “Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, ‘Here I am . . . To do your will is my delight.’” And at the risk of offending my Catholic friends who hold the doctrine of transubstantiation*, Jesus further distances the will of God from the desire for blood by declaring that the wine and bread of the Passover and communion meals were metaphorically his blood and body. Since none of the disciples commented on the strange, metallic taste of the drink he gave them or the sweet, porky taste of the bread, I think we can assume that the wine and bread remained wine and bread and the need for actual blood is done. Again, the need for the human ritual portion of the relationship between God and man was complete and the God-given portion now emerges cleaner and clearer than before. Continue reading

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    The Prodigal Son – The Hangover Edition

    Have you ever wondered what happened in the household of the prodigal son after the party was over? The father has accepted him home, restored him to his place in the household, the family and his community and a celebration was held. But then what? Did the son retain his humility or did he slip all too readily into his old habits of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and short-sightedness? Did the older brother start acting up in order to prove that he too was a treasured son who could get away with murder and still be accepted home? The fortunes of the family would be reduced from what it once was, now that the younger son had sold off his portion. (If I’m not mistaken, his portion would have been 1/3 of the estate – the older brother being entitled to double the portion of the younger.) When the family felt the pinch, did they struggle not to be resentful towards the one who put them into such a situation? Did signs of the same flaws and faults that had led to his son’s outrageous behavior send the father into fits? Did the older and younger brother fight like cats and dogs or retreat into chilly silence? Did they react to the inevitable insults and gossip of neighbors who knew of his unthinkable sins and dereliction of duty by becoming the town toughs – always ready for a fight to defend themselves and their family’s honor. Did the son ever give his father reason to wish that he had remained lost for all the trouble he caused? Continue reading

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    I Need an Editor. Or Something. . . Forgiving. For Real.

    A few years ago, I was writing an obituary for a friend’s father who had passed away suddenly.  As many of you may have noticed, I do alright with the writing part of things most of the time, but I’m not quite so skilled as an editor*.  So, you shouldn’t be too surprised at the fact that I accidentally put the word “believed” where “beloved” was supposed to go.  So the first line read: “Mr. Bob Kennedy, believed father of Teddy and Linda Kennedy. . .”  Suddenly it seemed like not such a bad thing that Mr. Kennedy’s ex-wife hadn’t shown up to help her children handle the arrangements. 

    (I spent the weekend with Mr. Kennedy a couple of years earlier when his son Teddy got married.  We were both just-outside-the-inner-circle participants in the wedding.  My ex was the best man and Mr. Kennedy was the now sober  and present father.  I am quite certain that Mr. Kennedy absolutely laughed his ass off over the whole thing.  I mean, he valued his children more than men who never went without them sometimes do.  But the whole thing was pretty rich.  He would have seen the humor.)  

    I keep thinking about that story, because I keep thinking about her – the former Mrs. Kennedy.  Continue reading

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    Could you forgive the way that the father of the prodigal son forgives?  Would you want to? 

    Last winter as things were really unravelling with the qxh (quasi-ex husband), I was, of course, very upset with him.  I was considering at what point a couple could say that they had hit the point of no return.  At what point would it be reasonable to say that I’d had enough and wasn’t going to consider trying to fix things anymore?  To my horror, as I prayed God brought to mind the story of the prodigal son and challenged me to be like . . . the father.  Really?   Uh, that’s not for me.  Tell me I’m the prodigal who needs to come home or tell me that I’m the older brother who needs to get over himself.  But don’t tell me to run out to joyously meet someone who has willfully ripped my heart to shreds without even getting an apology and admission of wrongdoing first?  Ugh. 

    I’m not kidding when I said I was horrified.  Yet each night before dinner our family prays “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  When we pray that, it’s not just a quid-pro-quo: “I’ll forgive him and you’ll forgive me”.  It’s also telling us that forgiving as God forgives is our goal.  And God does forgive by running out and making a complete fool of himself to welcome back the wayward son.  He doesn’t wait for us to grovel, to set up a payment plan, to promise on our lives never to do it again.  He just says, “welcome back.”  Continue reading